Chapter 32: Epilogue
“Ahhhh,” Caleb moaned in delight, lowering an ice-cold bottle of Milwaukee’s finest. “That tastes soooo gooood,” he sighed, as he dropped his head back in contentment.
His chair was reclined slightly, and his feet were elevated. By most standards, he was the picture of indolent leisure.
“Yessss,” Scotty hissed, lowering his own bottle of beer. He shook his head in disbelief and said, “Caleb! Of all the things you’ve shown me, I like this one the best! I can’t think of anyone else that would think of using the armor’s frequency manipulation to draw heat from a substance, and controlling it well enough to maintain a specific temperature! It’s pure genius! Why would you even think of such a thing?”
Caleb shrugged, pensive, and then said, “Five years! We faced down the aliens five years ago today! I wanted something that would be an appropriate commemoration,” he quickly finished with another shrug, his voice softer. He took a longer pull at his beer.
“Finding ways to keep your beer at your perfect drinking temperature is the way you’re commemorating today?” Blake asked, flabbergasted. He shook his head in consternation as he set his own beer on the arm of his chair. The arm automatically recessed to hold the bottle. “That doesn’t make sense! How do you connect the great ‘Moon Battle,’ with keeping beer cold?”
His tone was curious, and grateful. Cold beer was exactly the distraction he needed. Caleb’s odd statement heightened that distraction. Blake was the leader of a group of the younger, fully-melded Guardians. They were attempting to mitigate damage caused by the sudden exposure to real, live, aliens. It was impossible to save everyone, of course, but thousands could thank the young Guardians for their lives.
The experts had been partially correct about what would happen if aliens appeared in our skies. Money markets did crash, but they quickly rebounded, too. A few governments collapsed, but hindsight showed those governments were already on the verge of collapse. The biggest problem was fringe groups around the world, and in every religion. They declared the end of the world had arrived, and urged their people to act! In some cases, hundreds died by self-inflicted or mutually-inflicted damage: poison or weapons. In other cases, cult members picked up arms and attacked their neighbors, simply because their neighbors didn’t believe in one obscure detail or another of their religion. Tens of thousands died. Five years later, Blake’s group was still dealing with fringe groups, and it was frustrating. He compared it to following in his Grandpa’s footsteps. Blake was not a happy camper, and any distraction was welcome.
“We lost a man,” Caleb explained, melancholy seeping into his words and thoughts. “Commander Ed Murphy was one of the good guys, if you know what I mean. In remembering him, I’m remembering a lot of other friends that I’ve lost. Ed would have appreciated a way to keep a beer cold.” He harrumphed, and continued, “He always complained that the last third of the beer was too warm, the few times I got to have a beer with him,”
Scotty nodded in understanding, seeing the point from a combat soldier’s perspective. “More and more people are talking about making today an international holiday, like Christmas,” he noted, giving Caleb time to collect himself. “I’m not sure I like the idea of an international holiday. Christmas used to mean something, and look at it now. It’s the same with Veterans Day and Independence Day in America, or Bastille Day in France.”
“A holiday would be kind of cool,” Blake protested weakly before savoring another sip of beer.
“Blake, you’re going to live a long time: thousands of years and more,” Scotty explained patiently. “How are you going to feel in a hundred years when ‘Dodge a Bullet Day, or whatever the hell they call it, is celebrated with marketing plans?”
“That would bother me,” Blake agreed thoughtfully.
“I still can’t believe we only lost one person. The squadron exceeded everyone’s expectations. Those kids impressed me,” Caleb mused.
“As one of those kids, thanks,” Blake toasted sarcastically with his bottle of beer, before taking another sip.
Caleb snorted a laugh before saying, “All the kids impress me! I think the younger generation took to this Companion business in a much different way than us older folks. I’m not talking about just the kids in the squadron, either!”
“I think you’re right,” Blake said before pausing, sipping his ice-cold brew. “I’ve noticed a difference, too. People receiving Companions as adults continue solving problems in a ... a ... I guess in a linear fashion. Teens getting a Companion ... tended towards more ... ummmm ... intuitive problem solving.” He shook his head in frustration, saying, “That’s not right ether. I don’t know the right word, but Kim and I talked about it. Kim and I, and the rest of the hosts that became a host at a young age, solve problems in different ways than adults receiving Companions ... maybe more intuitive,” he said lamely.
Blake shook his head in frustration. At least this frustration didn’t involve life and death decisions. He continued with, “I’m not talking about tactical problem solving. I think tactical is thinking of solutions, and knowing how the opposition will respond. Intuitive problem solving seems to leap to solutions by comprehending larger blocks of data. The kids that were born with a Companion take that intuitive approach to a completely different level. Noah used to make my head spin, when he was little, but now... ! I don’t know how to describe kids born with the full integration! They just know things! Eddie comes up with solutions to problems I didn’t know existed! And they’re practical solutions!”
Caleb chuckled, nodding, “Don’t be too startled, Blake. Noah used to surprise me ... he still does! Murphy is surprising me, too! I think part of it is the ‘Dad’ experience.” He hesitated before saying, “The extra capacity of a Companion in a new-born was bound to have an effect on Noah, and his group of friends. Being born locked into a meld with a Companion and computer is bound to do more. Think about the person you were before receiving a Companion. You changed! Continue that line of thinking to how you changed after fully merging. It changed you, again. Think of ‘how’ you changed each time. There is more ... more substance to the definition of, ‘you’! What would change if you had experienced that ‘more you’ state since birth ... since before birth? I’m surprised they can relate to us at all!”
“I’ll find out next month,” Scotty said with a trace of nervousness. “Belinda is due in five weeks. We were waiting until we put the Presidency behind us. That reason became moot,” he added sarcastically glaring at Caleb. His sip of beer took the heat out of the glare.
The sound of running feet interrupted them, and three early teens burst from a doorway. Mike was in the lead, followed closely by Noah. Kylee, Singer and Gabby’s little (not so little) girl, was on their heels. She had a glint in her eye. Caleb wasn’t sure if the boys would be happy or sad, when she caught them. The three teens stormed into the alcove where the men were lounging, and out another door. Two boys, between four and five years old, one with brown hair and one with bright red hair, trailed behind the teens. They were a foot off the floor as they zipped from the doorway.
“Murphy! Eddie! No flying inside!” Caleb yelled. “It messes up the gravity settings!”
“Sorry, Dad,” Murphy sent back.
“But we fixed the gravity problem,” the redheaded Eddie complained.
“Eddie! We weren’t SUPPOSED to fix the gravity problem!” Murphy admonished. “Grownups are supposed to do that! If we do it they don’t have anything to do and they get mad!”
Blake rolled his eyes and murmured, “Sorry. Telling Eddie not to fix things is like telling the Sun not to rise! I’ll see if Karen can curb his fixit drive.” His tone didn’t offer much hope of success.
Caleb chuckled, saying, “No problem. I’m usually scrambling to keep up with Murphy the same way, except with him it’s programming. I think that kid has turned your macros into an art form!”
“I hope you saved one of those for me,” JJ warned, as she emerged from the same doorway as the kids.
“I did!” Caleb assured her. “It will cost a couple of kisses.”
“One kiss,” JJ negotiated walking up beside him. “Your kisses make me fat!”
“I’ll raise your one kiss to one kiss and one cuddle,” Caleb responded, as his chair widened just enough to make room for JJ.
“Deal,” JJ replied, sinking onto the chair beside him, “but I get the beer first.”
“Deal,” Caleb answered, handing her a bottle, and wrapping one arm around her.
The alcove darkened slightly, as the reflected light through the window dimmed.
“I was afraid that I’d be late,” JJ murmured, looking out the window.
The three men turned to watch the sunset sweeping across the face of the misty-blue globe.
“I never get tired of seeing that,” Scotty murmured.
“I don’t either,” Caleb replied softly, watching the world turn below him. He pulled JJ a little closer in contentment.
“Yeah, it’s pretty neat,” Blake agreed, without any real feeling. His mind was drifting back to his problems. One of his key issues revolved around defining the status of Guardians. Sometimes, the best way to unite two sides is for a Guardian to show up. They would unite against the Guardian.
“Majesty is wasted on the young,” Scotty complained.
“Right!” Blake snorted. “Did anyone come up with an answer to the Evolution question?” he asked, watching Earth as it turned.
It was an awesome view, and Blake felt a pang at something lost.
“That’s one of the big questions we’re running into, and it looks like you’re running into the same thing at the UN,” Blake continued. “Are we an evolutionary step, or not? If we are an evolutionary step, how does that change our status, or does our status change? If we aren’t an evolutionary step, then, are we just a small voting bloc in the United Nations, needing to follow stupid orders and rules? Doesn’t what we know and what we can do count for anything?”
“What do you think?” Caleb asked.
“Do you mean about the evolution question, or the controversy about the question?” Blake asked, definitely sarcastic this time.
“I know why the controversy is there,” Scotty volunteered with a chuckle. “It’s a political smokescreen. It’s an effort by a small block of nations to get more power within the UN. It’s all politics! It doesn’t matter if their actions endanger the whole planet, as long as they have power when the boat sinks!”
“All we want to do is save lives! Why is that a bad thing?” Blake protested.
“It isn’t a bad thing. You didn’t kiss the right butts, or grease the right palms,” Caleb laughed. “I guess you get the evolution question. Scotty nailed the controversy part.”
“Are you serious?” Blake mentally asked, his expression incredulous.
Caleb nodded, mentally advising Blake, “Yes! We’re taking a moment to celebrate a fallen comrade. Stop trying to fix things for a moment. You might find your answers.”
Blake grimaced, sighed, and nodded. His face grew thoughtful for a moment.
“I would define evolution as an organism gaining a trait that can be passed to its descendants,” Blake mused. “That definition doesn’t limit how the trait is gained. It also doesn’t address lack of changes in our DNA.”
“Who said our DNA didn’t change?” JJ asked curiously.
“Um ... Everybody knows it?” Blake answered/asked as only a son can answer his mother.
“Everybody would be wrong!” JJ informed him. “My DNA didn’t change with either a Companion or armor. It didn’t change after the full meld, and your DNA hasn’t changed, either. Noah and his friends also have normal DNA, but they have blocks of activated DNA sequences in their chromosomes that you and I don’t have. Murphy and Eddie, also have normal human DNA, but they have even more activated sequences. We have no idea what they do, but they are active, while they aren’t in the normal human population.”
Blake shrugged, and said, “Then, I say ‘Yes,’ we are an evolutionary step. Maybe not us, but our kids are. Eddie was born with an innate ability to use his armor; like a fish knowing how to swim. I didn’t know how to use armor, when I was born, and I didn’t for sixteen years. That makes him and his generation the next evolutionary step.”
“Good answers to both questions,” Caleb approved, saluting his friend and stepson with his beer with one hand while pulling JJ closer with the other. “I think Scotty’s answer will cause more problems than yours, though.”
“Nope!” Scotty replied. “Mine won’t be a problem at all! I had a problem, figured out the solution, and implemented it. I used some of that ‘intuitive problem solving’ that Blake doesn’t think us old folks have.”
“Really?” Caleb asked, his chair adjusting him and JJ to a sitting position.
“Yep!” Scotty nodded, and then took another sip of beer before nodding in approval of the beer. “I started the solution before I came up from Earth,” he said, smiling. “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about, before you got me sidetracked,” he added, waggling his nearly empty bottle. “I pulled us out of the UN!”
“You what?” Caleb exclaimed, sitting up straight.
JJ frowned, but it was unclear if she was frowning at Caleb for sitting up, or Scotty for causing him to sit up.
“I’m not going to do it anymore!” Scotty said, relaxed, comfortable with his decision. “The Guardians, as you so aptly named us, are a powerful force. We are powerful militarily and economically. Earth governments are limited to resources on Earth. We have a solar system full of resources, and relatively easy access to them. I have notified everyone that needs to know that we have withdrawn from the UN! The UN is no more functional than the American government was, before we forced the politicians to follow the same rules as the rest of the citizens. We can’t do that to the United Nations! If the US government is a herd of cats, the UN is a herd of drunken cats! I’m talking about blind, falling-down drunk, too!”
Caleb slowly relaxed back into his seat, watching his friend intently. “Damn!” he exploded. “You’ve always been able to block me! Okay ... I’ll ask. What’s the plan?”
Scotty grinned at him before explaining, “I informed the UN members’ heads of state that we no longer supported the UN. I explained that UN actions and policies are counter to Guardian Guidelines! We are forming our own alliance, and our headquarters will be in high Earth orbit, or on the Moon. Any Earth-based nation may join our alliance, and they will gain certain benefits by associating with the only true space-faring voting bloc on Earth. That would be us. Non-allied nations are welcome to trade, which includes space-based operational support, but at a significantly higher cost. Alliance membership includes mutual economic support and mutual defense agreements. Any nation that wants to join our Association need only apply, and comply with all Guardian Guidelines.”
“What are the Guardian Guidelines?” Caleb asked, tentatively.
“I have no idea,” Scotty replied, his grin broadening, before savoring the dregs of his beer. It was as ice cold as the first sip, and tasted just as good. He sighed in contentment before setting the bottle down and continuing. “That’s for you to figure out. Ask around, and see what you can put together. We’ll go with whatever you decide.”
“What do you mean?” Caleb asked in alarm, sitting up straight again, his eyes growing wider.
“Caleb, we have a lot that needs to get done, fast! Earth must be united, and I mean truly united! The UN is directly opposed to a united Earth. I know that isn’t what they say, but actions speak louder than words. Their actions say the only way unity will be accepted is if the most radical, violent nations are in charge. The UN is completely ineffective! It is a waste of time and money, and we don’t have time to waste!” Scotty explained seriously. “We were supposed to have an ambassador appointed by today, as per our agreement with the aliens.”
“The Grisa,” Caleb interjected. “By agreement, they are officially called the Grisa.”
“I know what we’re supposed to call them,” Scotty complained. “They’re still aliens to me. My point is, the UN has known for five years that today was the deadline, and they trashed every person we suggested.” He sighed, relaxing again before saying, “We were admitted to the UN as a separate voting bloc because the Guardians are unique when compared to every nation on Earth. We tried to do what needed doing from inside an established organization. It didn’t work! We must do it from the outside!”
“How do you really feel?” Caleb asked acerbically. “Shouldn’t we have talked about a decision like this?”
“Sure, if I weren’t talked out, and the situation weren’t getting critical! The UN is nonfunctional and a danger to world peace! Not to mention the damage they can cause with galactic relations,” Scotty replied heatedly. He sighed again, and explained, “The Iranian UN rep gave a speech on the floor of the UN this morning. He proposed that Guardians are contaminated humans, and should be imprisoned to protect humanity. He got a standing ovation! Not from everyone, but he was supported by a lot more nations than I thought he would be, and some I thought were allies. Germany and France applauded the speech!” he exclaimed, incredulity mixing with anger in his tone and thoughts.
Scotty visibly reined in his anger before saying, “You and the others put me in charge! I made a decision! The Guardian Alliance is how we will go forward. You make the rules, or put together a team to make the rules! I don’t care, as long as someone else is doing it! I’ll play nice, and be the diplomatic face of the Guardian Alliance for Earth, for now. I’ve assigned an ambassador for the aliens. He will let me know later today, after the ceremonies, what his conditions are. The job of actually running the Guardians is going to be up to you. You have to do the heavy lifting. I won’t have time!”
“Why wouldn’t you have time?” Blake asked curiously.
“I’m clearing my schedule of details better handled by someone else,” Scotty explained. “That includes trying to make homicidal maniacs see sense! Do you remember that unanimous vote barring me from revealing anything I learn, telepathically, or risk expulsion of the Guardians from the UN?” At Caleb’s nod, he continued with, “The UN may activate the penalty clause, from that vote.”
“Why would they do that?” Caleb asked cautiously.
“The UN ambassador from Libya was smuggling little boys and girls out of the country as diplomatic packages. I found out when I brushed against him in the foyer. I called him on it from the floor of the UN. Some of the threats ... well ... I’m going to be a father, and I will be around so the kid knows my name is daddy! I could fix the problem so easy! One little shot between the eyes, but I couldn’t do that. That wouldn’t be civilized, as if what that animal did to those kids was civilized. I considered immediately scrambling his brains, but I wanted to see how our ‘premier world body’ would handle clear violations of law and human decency. The nations that sided with the Ambassador were the expected culprits. The nations that formally abstained, or simply didn’t vote, made my decision easy!”
“Okay,” Caleb sighed in defeat. “How long do I have to get the Guardian Rules put together?” He wasn’t worried about the ambassador. Scotty never did a job half way. If the ambassador was still alive, he probably wished he wasn’t.
“You didn’t leave that Ambassador alive, did you?” JJ mentally asked angrily.
“Yes, I did,” Scotty mentally replied, his thoughts laced with glee.
“What did you do?” JJ asked, mollified by the tone of his thoughts, but still curious.
“I made some modifications to his blood vessels in his groin area,” Scotty replied smugly. “They will be held open, as wide as they can stretch without bursting. He will have a very powerful, very painful erection until he dies. The only way to get rid of it is to amputate, and they will do that eventually. I tweaked the nerve endings to ensure he experienced the maximum pain. They will amputate, and the blood vessels will remain open. He will bleed out, and every drop of blood leaving his body will be agony. That Ambassador will die screaming in agony, just like his victims.”
JJ shivered, but was satisfied with Scotty’s answer.
“As long as you want,” Scotty admitted, answering Caleb much too cavalierly. “There were only about a dozen applications forwarded in the time it took me to reach orbit. They will need the rules to know what they are agreeing too.”
“Great!” Caleb said, standing, and beginning to pace. “Just great! Scotty, I don’t know how to run the Guardians! I don’t know what to do!”
JJ rose with him, and Caleb’s armor sent a handshake, like a thank you, to the station for allowing it to use the station’s excess nanites as furniture. The chair dissolved into the floor. Like an afterthought, his beer bottle was absorbed, too. JJ sipped hers, and watched her husband.
“Ask the women what to do,” Scotty said with a chuckle. “They have some pretty specific ideas, and they aren’t afraid to tell you what they are, either. The women are protecting their children. A Moon Base was their idea. Apparently, some of them are concerned that the idiotic actions of Earth-bound humans will endanger their babies.”
“He’s right about that,” JJ said, joining the conversation. “Several families have returned to orbit because of their kids. We actually have a pretty kid-friendly place, up here. Their education on Earth was simply data dissemination. Our kids absorb data! They need to know what the data means to them. They need to know how to learn! They need to know why ethics are important, and how moral courage guides decisions. Their friends, up here, are actually friends, too. Have you noticed the lack of fights between our kids?”
Caleb nodded before asking, “They’re probably smart, moving back up. Who did you choose for the alien ambassador, Scotty?”
“Syon Chao,” Scotty answered. “He is versatile, flexible in his thinking, and very smart.”
Caleb thought for a moment, nodding his head. “Good choice,” he said. “Why is he giving an answer later today? Does he have a problem with the assignment?”
“No, not really,” Scotty replied thoughtfully. “He said that he would enjoy the new challenge, but he still has responsibilities to his students.”
“His only students are Noah, Mike, and their friends!” Caleb protested.
“I know. I think he’s considering taking his students with him, as a training exercise,” Scotty advised his old friend. “Consider this a heads-up. Think about how you feel about it. I think they should go.”
“Why would you say that?” JJ asked, surprised.