“What was that all about?” Tribune Waterford asked.
“I can’t be one hundred percent sure; not until I see these people in person. But, if you remember, I mentioned that they had been one of the species that came along with us in the Armada, from our originating star system. They disappeared shortly after we arrived in this one, and were never heard from again. If I am right, the person I was contacted by was one of their descendants.” The Tribunal Elder replied.
No one, except The Tribunal Elder, had lived long enough to remember those days, but the current members of the Tribunal wanted to know more about what was happening.
“Would they really carry out their threat to kill every settler who has landed on Martian soil?” Tribune Synric asked.
“If these people are who I think they are, I would have to say yes. There is no doubt in my mind that they would murder every man, woman and child there, if they thought there was no option.” The Tribunal Elder answered.
“They expect us to travel over that amount of distance in less than a week?” Tribune Vasalon asked in disbelief.
The Tribunal Elder smiled, as he replied, “They know approximately what our ship is capable of. They were being generous. By giving me that much time, they are saying that they are willing to talk or negotiate.”
“Realistically, how long do you think it will take to make this trip?” Tribune Synric asked. He had no knowledge of the ship’s capabilities, and he doubted if anyone here, other than the Tribunal Elder, did either. Most of the members of the Tribunal were too young to know very much about the ship at all, although some, who did know, had their own ideas on the matter.
“Two days,” The Tribunal Elder answered, before adding, “Which means we need to speak with the members of the counsel now. We are also going to have to move fast to gather them. We don’t have any time to waste. This cannot be our decision alone, because if we take the ship away from Tantalus, those who remain will be without any defenses from outside interference. I doubt if that will be a problem, but you never know. We live close enough to the asteroid belt to be prone to collisions with any that venture out of orbit.”
“Do you think the threat to the Human settlers on Mars might be a ruse, to lure us away from our people, along with our most powerful form of planetary defense?” Tribune Waterford wondered.
“It might be a consideration with another species, but not the one I am thinking about. Also, despite the way I made it sound, I don’t believe we are necessarily the most powerful form of defense this planet has. I think the Phoenixes pose more danger to anyone who would try to invade their world than either the ship or our people. Getting back to the people we are talking about, they do not play games. They do not utter idle threats. If they say something, they mean it.” The Tribunal Elder warned.
“And if we are a day late arriving at our destination for some reason beyond our control?” Tribune Synric asked. He was half afraid of the answer the Tribunal Elder would give him. His fears were given credence with the next words the Tribunal Elder uttered.
“Even if we had a good excuse for being late, there would be no reasoning with these people. They have given us a time limit, while knowing what our ship is capable of. We either show up on time, or we will arrive to find a lot of dead settlers,” The Tribunal Elder spoke bluntly.
“I believe the Humans would be capable of fighting back. They aren’t completely helpless.” Tribune Waterford voiced his opinion.
“I understand they don’t have weapons. What would they use to defend themselves?” Tribune Vasalon asked.
“Tools, if they had to. These people would find a way to protect themselves, even against overwhelming odds, even if it resulted in a bloodbath,” Tribune Synric stated.
“I didn’t say it would be pretty,” the Tribunal Elder answered.
“Where did the people who originally colonized Mars live all these years? Our people came to this Solar System eons ago. I don’t remember any mention of that planet having any indigenous life forms.” Tribune Vasalon stated.
“Those who came with us could have survived wherever there is an abundance of water,” The Tribunal Elder answered.
“In other words, they settled under the surface of the planet,” Tribune Vasalon replied, before asking, “But why?”
“They are a peculiar species. They prefer a strict form of segregation. They do not invite anyone who is not like them to share the same space as they do. By now, they will have adopted Mars for their own. That planet is their home.” The Tribunal Elder explained.
“How do they know about you?” Tribune Synric asked.
“The one thing that seems to be passed on, from generation to generation amongst their people, is their memories. I will have existed somewhere in one of their minds.” The Tribunal Elder answered.
Everyone was quiet as they thought about this new state of affairs. They had a good idea of what was about to happen in the near future, but not what would come of it. The Tribunal counsel members had exhausted their mental and physical resources during the battle with the Witch Hunter, as well as after. Their people were still busily trying to help the Humans who were under that fiend’s mind control to return to some form of sanity. They decided they would take the time they needed to rest first. When they woke in the morning, they would hold a meeting with the members of the planetary counsel who were in charge. For now, it was time to return to the ship. It was also time to issue orders to every high-ranking Tantalarian on the planet to appear at the meeting. The skies were going to be very busy after the people of Tantalus woke up in the morning.
The next day began much as the members of the Tribunal had expected, but nothing like anyone else had. Even Mitchel had been surprised when he arrived at the central building, to find out that the meeting was not going to be held in the counsel chambers as was common. Instead, a huge circle of chairs had been placed in the entrance area, where there had been nothing but open space before. Humans and Tantalarians were placed side by side, until every chair was filled, to show equality. They needed to have everyone understand that they were working together. They would make this decision as one, and because they were new at this, they were expecting mixed results.
Some of the leaders who had been called into the meeting, were still in a degree of shock from the sudden death of the Witch Hunter. Others were exhausted from the fight, and helping those in need after it was over. The Tribunal Elder placed a Human on either side of each Tantalarian on the board, until every chair had filled, and then raised both of his arms for silence. This time it wasn’t Mitchel who was at the helm, he was doing this on his own.
“We have been contacted by another species to intervene in a dispute on their behalf.” The Tribunal Elder announced.
Both Humans and Tantalarians alike met the Tribunal Elder’s words with stunned silence. They hadn’t expected to be plunged into interplanetary politics so early in their development. Most couldn’t help but wonder about the timing. Why now? It was close to becoming more than what they could handle at the moment. The emergence of another Alien race took them by surprise. They hadn’t even begun to recover from the last bout of trouble, and now they were being confronted by the possibility of even more. They needed time to recuperate from what had happened. It was too much to handle all at the same time. How much more could they take before they lost all claim to sanity? They had barely gotten settled on this world, with hopes to build a future for their families. They hadn’t come to fight intergalactic war. Was this one? Were these people a threat to them on Tantalus? Did they stand a chance of defeating this new danger? Did they have a choice?
“What do they want from us?” Mitchel asked. He knew what people were thinking and he hoped this was not what most of them feared. He could hear the thoughts the Humans were transmitting, and considered them dangerous. They had obviously reached the end of their endurance.
“Simply put, they want us to remove every man, woman and child, who travelled from Earth to colonize Mars, off that planet.” The Tribunal Elder answered.
“Are you saying that Mars already had people living there, and that they don’t want to share the planet?” Martin asked. He wondered how they had missed that detail.
The Earthlings could easily understand what they must be feeling. If the same thing had happened to them on Earth, they wouldn’t be happy about it either. Thousands of stories had been made up over the centuries, about Aliens coming to Earth to take over the planet, and they usually ended with the Humans fighting the invaders off. There was no difference, when you got to the basics. Despite that, they felt insulted and wondered why those who had landed there hadn’t been welcomed with the same enthusiasm as the Tantalarians had shown here. Now, they had to worry about how they were supposed to move the settlers? The ships they had arrived on Tantalus with were already on the ground, and had unfolded to create the cities they were living in. The same had happened here, with the Noah’s Arc and the Arc Royal, which was what they had been built and programmed for.
“How are we supposed to remove our people from that planet without space ships?” One of the newly established members of the counsel asked.
“One problem at a time. For now, the question is whether or not we should do this,” The Tribunal Elder asked.
Again the room went silent. They might be shell-shocked and tired, but none would willingly walk away from a fight, especially if it meant saving the lives of their own people.
“Perhaps we should start from the beginning,” Mitchel suggested, which allowed The Tribunal Elder a new platform to start off with.
“Yes, that would probably be for the best,” The Tribunal Elder replied. He was surprised when everyone immediately went silent, and focused their attention on him. Even the members of the Arc Royal stopped to listen to what he was going to say. He took a deep breath and then began.
“The Armada that came from our original solar system was massive. The mother ships were capable of carrying complete civilizations. As we travelled, the numbers of species that came with us dwindled, as they found habitable planets to suit them. By the time we got to this part of the solar system, only a handful of ships were left. We decided we had reached the end of our journey as only a handful of us remained. One civilization had not come by choice, so much as necessity. Like the rest of us, they recognized the importance of saving their people. They were reclusive by nature and not willing to travel, but they did. Their citizens were beautiful, extremely intelligent, and very protective of the secrets of their species. They were also aquatic, so we were going to have to make sure that was taken into account when it came to settling them into a new environment. We all had specific genetic traits that individualized our species, and respected those differences. As these people hadn’t developed the technology that was needed to create a space faring vessel, one was adapted for their use, and they were provided instructors, to teach them what they needed to know to operate the ships.” The Tribunal Elder paused for a moment.
“We assume their people were not like the species that spawned the Witch Hunter,” Martin commented.
“No, they were nothing like them,” the Tribunal Elder replied.
One of the Humans from the Arc Royal took that opportunity to ask a simple question. “Were you one of the instructors?”
“I was one of the younger members of those who later became known as The Elders. I spent a brief period of time on their ship, before their leaders severed all contact. They were, as I said, very reclusive.” The Tribunal Elder repeated.
“If you don’t mind my asking, what were they so worried about?” Another Human wondered.
“They were not concerned about material things. The only thing they guarded heavily were their women. Other than that, they appeared to be a peaceful people. No one who was not a member of their species, was allowed to touch one of their females or, in most cases, even see them.” The Tribunal Elder continued.
“Something like your people with your women,” A Human male teased.
“They were considered magical, but not in the way of a sorceress. I was never lucky enough to see one of their females, much as I would have liked to. I can be as curious as the next man about these things. As far as our women are concerned, I believe enough of you have witnessed what contact with them can do to your people, to understand why we passed a law making sexual contact with them illegal for you.” The Tribunal Elder replied bluntly.
“What do you have in common with those people, that they would reach out to you?” Martin asked.
“They disappeared from the Armada, shortly after we entered the planetary system. We had naturally assumed they had chosen one of the satellites that revolved around one of the outlying planets to settle upon. We then forgot about their existence, although, we wished them well,” The Tribunal Elder answered.
“I assume you haven’t been in contact with them since then. Am I right?” Martin asked.
“We have not heard from them since then, and it didn’t happen in the way anyone might expect,” The Tribunal Elder responded.
As the Tribunal Elder talked, the members of the Tribunal began to walk out of what seemed like a long corridor, to stand behind him. The moment they finished taking their places, Tribune Vasalon addressed him.
“Sir, everything has been prepared for the trip.”
The Tribunal Elder nodded his understanding, before he stood and announced.
“The people I have been telling you about have given us an ultimatum. The planet they chose for their new home in this system is the one you call Mars.”
“But Mars has no great amount of water, or at least none that we have found. I thought you said they were Aquatic people,” One Human interrupted.
“What is the ultimatum?” Martin wanted to know.
“They say that if the Human population isn’t removed from the surface of their planet, they will kill them all.” The Tribunal Elder stated bluntly.
“Do you really believe they would do something like that?” Martin asked.
“Without any doubts. To protect what they believe is theirs, they will kill. There would be no regret for doing so on their side. They are not the type to trust others easily. Nor do they back down from a threat, once it has been issued, no matter who gave it. We have prepared the ship our people travelled in to this Solar System. Our intention is to travel to Mars, and bring your people safely back to Tantalus to live here, if that is their choice. You are more than welcome to come with us. We will take our unmated Guardians and half of our Warriors with us to help man the ship.” The Tribunal Elder informed them. “The others will remain here, to restock the ice caves and see to the safety of our planet and people.”
“You have a space ship? Why haven’t we seen any signs of it?” Martin asked. “Why has it never been mentioned?”
“Most of our own people don’t even realize that it exists any more, why should we mention it to yours?” The Tribunal Elder asked logically.
“Why are you asking us to come along? Why not just go to Mars and order the settlers off the planet?” Another of the members from the Noah’s Arc wondered.
“Because that is not how our people operate. Your people have the right to decide their own fate. Our job is to offer them an alternative. I am hoping to intercede with the Martians, to allow enough time for them to fully understand what is happening. I would like to know why as well. Even from a mother ship, there is only so much that we can do. We cannot land, but there are other things we can do to help.” The Tribunal Elder informed them.
“If we went with you, what role would we play?” Martin asked.
“You will be expected to talk to the members of your people. You need to let them know of the danger, as well as the solution. Help them decide what they need to do to help themselves,” The Tribunal Elder instructed.
“Why us?” Captain Fraser asked. He had come a long way on his road to regaining his original state of mind, under Tribune Sterling’s care. He was now considered well enough to return to command.
“Because you are one of them. If we were to arrive, spouting off orders, we would alienate everyone there. The result could be catastrophic.” The Tribunal Elder concluded.
Captain Fraser responded, “The Tribunal Elder is right. I doubt if the colonists now living on Mars would be willing to listen to our friendly hosts, any more than those who are in possession of Mars would us. Count me in. Who else wants to travel to Mars to help save our people there?”
One after the other, all the Humans stood, until only the Tantalarians remained seated. No one asked if they were going, even if they hadn’t stood. They understood that the question tabled by Captain Fraser was one purely meant for the Humans. It was they who needed to respond, not the Tantalarians. With the results given, it was time to move forward, for there was no time to waste. They were heading to Mars.
“One more question, if you don’t mind,” Martin asked the Tribunal members.
“Carry on,” The Tribunal Elder allowed.
“Where is this ship that you were talking about?” Martin asked.
“Tribune Vasalon,” The Tribunal Elder passed the matter over to him.
“Come this way, gentlemen.” Tribune Vasalon replied with a grin, as he led the way out of the building.
When everyone was outdoors, Tribune Vasalon pointed to a large moon, as he announced, “Behold, the mother ship.”
At those words, the ship everyone had assumed was a moon, up to this point, began to descend until it hovered only a couple of hundred feet over where they were standing. The vessel couldn’t land, but it came close enough to make them feel like ants on the ground in comparison as it covered the sky.
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