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The Legend That Was Earth
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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 bullhorn responded.

    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 of?"

    "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 protection.

     "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 way.

    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 breast pocket.

    "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.

 
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