Sunday was cloudy but warm in Washington DC. The crowd below the Capitol steps,
extending westward along The Mall, numbered over ten thousand and was still
growing. Although colorfully arrayed in summer garb with a sprinkling of coats
and jackets, its mood was ugly. Banners displayed above the forest of raised
arms, fists punching skyward in unison, proclaimed contingents from individual
states. The most highly represented were those like California, Texas, Illinois,
heavily dependent on advanced-technology industries. Other banners being waved
in the foreground before the news cameras panning over the scene protested:
ALIEN PAYOFFS MEAN EARTH LAYOFFS; another: NO TO FARDEN SELLOUT; and:
DEMAND TRADE CONTROL. To one side near the front, a black female agitator in
red leather and braids was leading a group chanting militantly: "Fuck
you!/Where's ours too?" Riot police looked on from the sides, with
vehicles and reserves being held back on Canal Street and Louisiana Avenue.
From the podium at the top
of the steps, flanked by grim-faced figures in suits and a few military uniforms
behind a cordon of police armed with shields and batons, the speaker who had
been repeatedly interrupted leaned toward the microphone again.
"Will you people hear
me out? . . . Is a little bit of common decency and courtesy too much to ask?
. . . What I'm saying is that things are not the way you think. The contraction
of some businesses and industries is natural and inevitable when two diverse
cultures come into contact. It spells even greater opportunities opening up
in other areas—areas where the things we're better at will be uniquely favored."
Somebody with a bullhorn replied
from among the crowd. "That's bullshit."
The voice of the police commissioner in charge of crowd
control came over loudspeakers set up on pylons: "THIS IS THE LAST
TIME. THERE WILL BE NO FURTHER WARNINGS."
The speaker resumed. "To suggest that our
economy is being sold off piecemeal is an emotionally motivated misrepresentation
of the facts. The facts are —"
"Tell it to the Bolivians," the
Somebody at the front, a TV camera trained directly
on him, raised both arms wide to draw attention and shouted, "Why won't
Farden come out and speak for himself? We know he's in there. What's he afraid
"Senator Fardenis —"
"Selling us out," the bullhorn completed.
A roar went up to endorse the judgment. The speaker at the podium looked in
the direction of the senior police and Internal Security Service officers watching
and shook his head helplessly. The commissioner nodded to an aide, who gave
orders into a hand phone. From among the police massed on the lawns bordering
Independence Avenue, a helmeted snatch squad in gas masks, flailing batons and
using their shields as battering rams, plowed through the crowd toward the spot
where surveillance cameras had located the bullhorn. Some of the crowd closed
protectively around the target, while others assailed the snatch team with bottles
and other missiles. Reinforcements moved in; figures began falling, others
retreating, and within seconds mêlées were breaking out across the entire scene. An
angry surge pressed back the cordon guarding the Capitol steps. Above, the police
helicopter that had been circling came in lower. The commissioner signaled,
and security agents began herding the speaker and entourage back toward the
doors into the building. Armored cars with mesh- protected windows nosed out
from the side streets. Through the rising clamor, the flat plops
sounded of gas grenades bursting where the clashes were fiercest, followed by
figures falling back, coughing and retching amid clouds of white vapor.
Senator Joel Farden from Virginia watched darkly from
a window in one of the rooms of the Capitol. He had said there was no point
trying to reason with a crowd in that mood. People with no concepts beyond immediate
gratification or waiting passively for a better investment to pay off would
never be possessors of anything worthwhile to bargain with. Therefore, inevitably,
they were the first to lose out in any reshuffle. There was nothing anyone
could do; it was the way things were and had always been. The exploitation
they complained about was in their genes, just as it was in those of others
to come out on top. Trying to deny what everyone had to know deep down was
obvious could only result in the denial and rage that they were seeing. Now
the mess would take years, probably, to work itself out. Then somebody else
with delusions would start demanding fairness for all, and the pattern would
go on as it always had. Unless those with the power to do so changed the system.
Orderliness and discipline. The Hyadeans had the right idea.
Below the window, knots of demonstrators broke through
the police cordon and started scrambling up the steps toward the building.
A squad that had been kept in the rear moved forward, equipped with back-mounted
devices connected to nozzles. They resembled flame throwers but fired a white
stream that turned into an expanding foam engulfing the oncoming rioters. In
moments, the foam congealed into an elastic, adhesive mass, inside which the
forms of victims could be seen struggling ineffectually. Those immediately
behind fell back, while howls of outrage came from farther back. On both sides
of The Mall violence intensified as groups trying to flee the area ran into
police reserves moving in. An intense, low-pitched drone that seemed to fill
the air came from outside, rattling the window, vibrating the structure of the
building, and churning Farden's stomach even at that distance, making him feel
mildly dizzy and nauseous. Across The Mall, figures were screaming and clutching
their ears, others doubling over and vomiting. A hand gripped his shoulder.
He turned. It was Purlow, the ISS security agent assigned for Farden's personal
"I'm sorry, Senator, but speeches are over for
today. The whole situation's deteriorating. We're getting you and the general
out early. The flyer is waiting now. This way please, sir."
Farden hesitated briefly, then nodded. He followed
Purlow back through the suite of rooms, across a marbled hall, and down a stairway
to one of the entrances on the far side of the building. A secretary was waiting
with his briefcase and topcoat among the group of officials, uniformed officers,
and several Hyadeans in the vestibule. Farden took them from her just as Lt.
General Meakes appeared with his own small personal retinue. Meakes was another
figure that the agitators had demonized and the mobs loved to hate. Farden
had never really seen the connection, since Meakes didn't have a financial angle,
stayed out of the politics, and had always confined himself to Army matters. But
since when had truth or concern about character defamation troubledpolitical
terrorists when they saw an opportunity?
Edmund Kovansky, from the White House staff, seemed
to be organizing things. "You were right, Joel," he said as Farden
approached. "This was ill-conceived from the start. I guess we'll be
having a moratorium and plan-of-action meeting out at Overly later." Farden
would be going back to Overly Park, the Maryland estate where he was staying
while visiting Washington. It was owned by a financier called Eric York, who
was part of Farden's social and business circle. There was little gratification
in being told that just at this moment. Not bothering to reply, Farden stepped
forward in the direction of the doorway, following Meakes and another officer
who it seemed would be traveling with him. Kovansky caught him with a gesture
indicating two of the Hyadeans. "And there's a last-minute addition,"
Kovansky said. "These two want to go with you, if that's okay. They
have business with Eric."
Farden paused long enough to return a shrug. "Sure.
Why not?" It was their flyer, after all.
Surrounded by a security escort, the party left the
building and walked briskly across the open area of grass and trees separating
the Capitol from the Supreme Court and Library of Congress, which had been blocked
off by police barricades. The Hyadean flyer was waiting among an assortment
of official vehicles and several black-painted ISS helicopters. Dull silver,
about the size of a typical hotel courtesy bus, it had the form of a flattened
ellipsoid blending into stub wings toward the stern, with a tail fin and several
streamlined nacelles and bulges. There were no crew stations, operation being
fully automatic, and no nozzles or visible propulsion unit. Farden climbed
the steps unfolding down over the port wing root and entered behind Meakes and
the other officer, with the two Hyadeans following. The interior was typically
Hyadean: stark and utilitarian, with seats and decor of uniform gray making
some concession to comfort, but beyond that not a hint of pattern, contrast,
or ornamentation to relieve the drabness. Hyadean minds just didn't work that
The occupants settled themselves in; moments later,
the door closed soundlessly, and the vehicle lifted off. One of the Hyadeans
said something, and two of the cabin's upper wall panels became transparent
to admit a tinted view of the cloud bank enlarging and taking on detail as the
flyer climbed; at the same time, a screen at the forward end activated to present
a downward-looking view of the turmoil among the crowds along the east end of
The Mall and the surrounding streets.
Farden studied the two aliens in a detached kind of
way as they peered at the screen—they had been around long enough, and he had
seen enough of them by now, not to be unduly curious. They were tall and blockish
in build, with square-cut features like the heroes of old-time comic strips,
giving their faces a squashed look, and skin color ranging from purple to light
blue-gray. Their generally humanoid form had caused consternation among scientific
ranks when they first came to Earth, because according to the then prevailing
theories such similarity resulting from separate evolutionary processes unfolding
in isolation shouldn't have been possible. The matter had been one of indifference
to Farden, who had never paid much attention to scientific theories anyway,
and as far as he knew it still wasn't settled. Their hair came in all manner
of hues, the two present on this occasion having glossy black showing blue highlights
in one case, and a dull coppery red in the other, both trimmed in the standard
Hyadean manner. And both wore the familiar tunic-like garb, plain in color,
one drab green, the other brown, purely functional, devoid of decoration or
appeal to aesthetic styling.
They exchanged utterances in their own language. Then
the black-haired one spoke down toward his breast pocket. A voice replied
in Hyadean, but including recognizably the words "very long." Hyadeans
carried a kind of pocket Artificial Intelligence that acted as a secretary,
librarian, and could help them with language translation and other matters.
Terrans called the device a "veebee," standing for voxbox. The Hyadean
explained to the three Terrans:
"My companion is not here, at Earth, for very
long. The ways are new and strange. At Chryse, people acting like that would
be . . ." he consulted his veebee again, "unthinkable." Chryse
was the Hyadeans' home world, a planet of the hitherto unnamed star Alitair,
in the vicinity of the constellations Hyades and Pleiades, in the sign of Taurus.
"That word tends to suggest disapproval,"
Meakes commented. "That he doesn't agree."
The Hyadean who had spoken conversed briefly with the
red-headed one. "He does not approve. He asks how leaders can function."
"Tell him we agree on that," Farden said,
at the same time praying inwardly that this stunted attempt at conversation
wouldn't endure all through the flight.
"One reason we are here is that we educate . .
." (the veebee interjected something) "to educate Earth in organizing
a system that will avoid such things. That way means wealth and peace for all.
As is true for Hyadean worlds."
Meakes nodded. "I'll say amen to that."
"Excuse me. I am not familiar with 'amen' in
this context," the veebee's voice said from the black-haired Hyadean's
"It means . . . True? Truly?" Meakes looked
at Farden and the other army officer inquiringly. They returned shrugs. "Anyhow,
I agree with that too," he said.
"Thanks. Noted," the veebee acknowledged.
The black-haired Hyadean waved to indicate the interior
of the vehicle. "And we will make Terrans into better scientists, so maybe
one day you build craft like these too." What most people considered "tact"
wasn't exactly the aliens' strongest point. When they felt superior or considered
themselves to be at an advantage in some respect, they made sure to let everyone
know. Farden nodded noncommittally. The exchange continued bravely for a minute
or so more and then died, and the occupants lapsed into talk in lowered tones
with their own kind.
Farden leaned back against the rubbery headrest and
thought over what his position would be later at the meeting Kovansky had alluded
to, in the light of the day's events. At least the seats were of alien proportions,
which was an improvement over a lot of traveling accommodation that he had endured.
Another reason for preferring to use Hyadean vessels whenever possible was that
the on-board defenses were fast and accurate enough to stop any Terran-produced
missile before it got closer than ten miles, or a ground-launched shot from
immediately below within a second of firing. With political terrorists in the
U.S. taking on the regular military now, and acquiring all kinds of weapons,
one couldn't take too many precautions. . . .
Unfortunately, the bolt of plasma fired from below
when the flyer was twelve miles north of the city came from a weapon that wasn't
Terran, and the radars on Hyadean vessels fitted for Earth duty were designed
only to look for missiles. It hit the flyer dead center, vaporizing it instantly.