"Enter," the Councilor said through his implanted earpiece.
Desur On-tru-zota opened the entrance to the Councilor's office and walked in. The Councilor was resting on an elevated recline with his four legs hanging loosely over the side so his entire weight was resting on the padded recline. In front of him was a large work table also elevated. This forced him to look up at the Councilor while he could only look down on him. He approached the bright orange work table with his head and neck bowed until he reached the required two standard lengths to the Councilor. Then he dipped his head and neck almost to the floor in deference to his superior. It was an uncommon occurrence to him since the Councilor was the only superior to him at Station One except for the Leader of the Armed Might.
"Well Desur, do you have the Operations Plan for Sector Eight-One-Three ready," he asked still studying the holo projected in front of him.
"Yes Councilor," he answered with deference. "However there have been some new developments that you, the other Councilors, and The Pathfinder need to know about."
"Explain," the Councilor ordered.
"The original plan for this operation was to only observe the natives during our occupation of their system. Exo-Psychology and Exo-Anthropology both agreed that with the discovery of Level One technology, the native species were so aggressive and distrusting of each other that a war with this technology would break out shortly. We projected this war would destroy most of the native population, leaving any survivors with a pre-technical s civilization. This would leave us free to occupy the system and harvest the resources in their asteroid field. In fact, with their reduced technological state, it is doubtful they would even know we were in the system. Local interference to our presence would be impossible."
The Councilor moved his head and neck to the right indicating his understanding. "So what happened?" he wanted to know.
"The war never happened," he answered. "While there was ample conflict between the native populations in the six kihun periods until now, there was no major war. This is unlike the two global conflicts see on the planet in the previous two kihun. Somehow the natives managed to keep their aggression partly in check. Their civilization is still intact and their technology is advancing. Exo-Anthropology's latest estimate indicates at their current rate of development, they will reach Level Two technology within seven kihun. At that point, they will definitely know of our presence in their system and may even be able to mount a limited resistance."
The Councilor's four eyes squinted and he retracted his neck indicating anger. After several deep breaths, he looked down at him glaring.
"May I remind you that The Councilor for Resources and Production has told the rest of the Council and The Pathfinder himself that we will need the resources of this system in about fifteen kihun. That is when the resources in System Mulcor are expected to become so scarce that it will become uneconomical to gather them. We will need that system then; in fact, we will need that system long before then. It will take at least three to four kihun to complete the resource evaluation, move in the collection equipment, and have resource production up to the point where it will not interfere with our other manufacturing schedules."
He retracted his neck involuntarily bending his four knees slightly. He was afraid. He dreaded what he had to do now. "Unfortunately, Councilor, that news is not the worst of it."
The long gray neck fell to the desktop in complete frustration. "Let's have it all," he growled and closed his eyes.
"There is one area they are particularly advanced in. As we pointed out in previous reports, the development of in-system travel with native crews has been slow. However, the instrumental exploration of not just their system, but other star systems is proceeding at a high rate. They have already sent instrument probes to all their major planets, and some of the asteroids and comets. They are still unaware of the resources located in their asteroid field, but that will soon change. They have also been studying the nearer stars for signs of intelligent life. Their ability to observe not only own their system but also other nearby systems will increase greatly in the next kihun as the natives create larger and more sophisticated instruments. While we have no colonies within a light-kihun of this system, they soon may be able to detect our presence and our signals. In brief, they may know soon we are here and they will certainly know if we come closer. They are not stupid and the natives are becoming increasingly technologically competent."
"Mother of Cosmic Dawn," the Councilor cursed. "I am supposed to take this information to the Council and Pathfinder. We planned this operation to be a simple occupation leaving the natives, or what remained of the natives, alone. We would use no military force. That is why we chose this system for development and not the system the Atobar have already occupied. We need these resources, but we do not need another major war to get them.
He knew all that but he did not understand what the problem was. "With respect Councilor, we could bring in two High Avenger destroyer ships in the system and destroy all life on that planet easily. We were never going to use the natives as slaves because Exo-Psychology indicated it would take more resources to keep them docile than the population would generate as slaves."
"Idiot!" the Councilor shouted lifting his head and neck to full height and looking down on him as if he was the most minor of servo-bots. "Do you not remember what happened when we did that very thing to the population in Sector Six-Three-Five?"
There was silence for a second as he could not think of an answer. Then the Councilor spoke in a barely audible tone. "Of course you don't," he muttered. You were still in Pre-ed when that happened. I was the Second Voice of Systems Intel then. You must have read about it since then. That species, the Light Beings, they called themselves. There were similar to the natives of Sector Eight-One-Three. They would not accept our dominance and secretly planned and launched a planet-wide revolt. The natives killed many of our resource staff and a few security monitors. Afterwards, the natives declared their freedom. They were still celebrating when three ships of the Armed Might came in and turned the planetary surface into a pool of bubbling, radioactive, liquid rock. Once it cooled down, we went back and finished stripping the planet of its resources. The problem was those in the Herd Gathering found out and raised a huge commotion. Some called us killers, some called thieves, some even called us predators of all things. The clamor got so loud that in the next poling of the herd, the Pathfinder and all the Councilors were removed and put to the Question. The current Pathfinder was put into service and since I objected to the action, he made me First Voice of Systems Intel and later, Councilor of Exploration and Evaluation."
He had heard about it but did not think anyone would care what they did to a system so far away from the borders that no one ever heard of it. Why should the Herd care, he didn't.
"Well they are not putting me to the Question," the Councilor went on, "And I guarantee you the Pathfinder and Councilors will not stand for it either. They will be no turning that planet and its inhabitants into cosmic dust."
He thought about what the Councilor said and had an idea. "There are other options," he said with some confidence. "If we put an orbital base and attack drones above that planet, we could destroy any ship they could build to oppose us. We would then not hurt anyone unless they attacked us. That would leave us free to strip their asteroid field, and then leave them in peace."
"Quite true," the Councilor said seeming to calm down a bit. "However such a base would need supplies over many kihun and staffed with Herd Guards. We have little to no military infrastructure in that area and would have to build one and that would take time and resources no one wants to spend. No, the original plan was our best option. If they kill themselves off, no one in the Herd would care and we would be free to act. If the natives are not going to oblige us and do that, then we might just have to abandon the project and go elsewhere; although I have no idea where this 'elsewhere' would be."
He leaned back on his two rear legs and folded his two gatherers in front of his chest. Now he was worried. He did not need a Seer to tell him that if his Councilor went to the other Councilors and Pathfinder and reported failure on System Eight-One-Three, he would be likely get dismissed and even recycled at his age. A new counselor would be appointed, and the first thing he would do is replace him with a new First Voice and put his staff into positions of authority. That would mean he would be dismissed, but most likely not recycled. He was still young enough where Assignment Section would send him back to his Herd for retraining and to start over again. That was something he was loath to do.
There was another way to solve this problem, but he did not want to admit to it. Exo-Biology had found a biochemical flaw in the natives and he had authorized a study of that flaw. That approval was above his authority level. He could be punished or even dismissed because of it. Still, it was better to let his Councilor know and chance the discipline, than start out again as a Level One in a different service.
"Councilor," he said. "There may be another option for us."
The Councilor looked lost in thought but looked down at him again. "And what would that be, Desur?"
He reported factually. "An extensive study of the natives by Exo-Biology discovered a flaw in their biochemistry. There are susceptible to biological infection by simple life forms. In the history of the natives, such simple life forms have caused great sickness among them, sometimes reducing their numbers up to half the population in a given area. We might be able to use this flaw to accomplish our goals."
"Would they not develop standard countermeasures as we did in our early history?" his superior asked.
He answered sharply. "Their biological technology is not that advanced at this time. They are still susceptible to these organisms."
"You seem very sure of yourself, First Voice," the Councilor asked looking at him warily.
He just decided to come out and say it. "I am because I have already tested for it."
"What!" the Councilor almost shrieked. "You authorize the use of a biological agent on these natives. Only the Pathfinder can do that."
"No, Councilor," he interrupted. "I authorized a test of the biological resiliency of the native population and the efficiency of their social and medical systems to respond to a crisis. The test organism was mild and caused little damage. It did show us, however, that the natives have no effective means to respond to such an organism."
"And if they see this as an attack?" the Councilor went on.
"That is the beauty of it. Several natives did think it was an attack and they immediately started to blame each other for it. Those who think this was an attack, also think other dissident members of the native's political sub-divisions were responsible. As we pointed out in our reports, they are hugely divided and simply do not trust each other. They are still arguing about it."
"Could they not develop countermeasures," the Councilor asked.
"Yes, they can and have in a short period of time. In that respect, they are well adapted to handle a threat like this."
"Then your test would be ineffective," the Councilor concluded.
"Not so for two reasons," he replied. "The first is the design of our organism. It mutates in such a manner that any countermeasures developed become less effective or completely ineffective the longer the natives allow the organism to increase within the population. We did this to test to see how fast the natives can adapt to a changing biological situation. The results are not conclusive in this area, yet."
Again the head went to the right indicating approval or understanding, "And the second reason?"
"That is the most remarkable of all," he continued. "It seems as if large numbers of the total population will not use the countermeasures."
"Repeat that!" the Councilor exclaimed.
"You heard me, Councilor," he said. "Some natives will not use the countermeasures."
"In the name of the Cosmic Mother, why?" his superior asked.
"One reason appears related to their society and economics," he continued. "Many of the less developed areas on their planet cannot afford the countermeasures so they are having problems securing them. Another reason is transport; it appears difficult to get the countermeasure to large parts of that planet. Due to the higher level of technology needed to develop the countermeasures, the supplies are mostly concentrated in the more developed areas. The local populations in these developed areas are insisting they be given the countermeasures first. I must also say there is a level of apathy in the more developed parts of that planet for the less developed parts. Frankly, as of now, we cannot make much sense out of it ourselves. All we know is that for large portions of that planet, the inhabitants are not getting the countermeasures."
"And the second reason?" the Counselor asked.
"That is the most remarkable of all," he said. "There are those who refuse to use the countermeasures."
His superior looked at him incredulously. "Are you joking with me, Desur? I do not enjoy jokes."
"By the Cosmic Mother and Father, I swear this is the truth," he said as solemnly as possible. "From our monitoring of their comm-nets, we had previously learned there are sizable groups of natives in many of the political subdivisions of that planet who do not believe the reports of their political leaders, medical officials, or scientists. We had reported this phenomenon previously for other areas of political development. Many of these natives believe the countermeasures are ineffective. I should point out that we do not agree with their conclusion. Many natives believe this is all a secret plan by their leaders to somehow harm them. Again, we are having some problems understanding this reasoning ourselves and more study is needed. What we know for sure is that a small but significant part of the population refuses to take the countermeasures."
"Hmmm," the Counselor moaned. "If all of this is happening, and they are having this much difficulty combating a test organism, then a more advanced organism with a higher mortality rate could run ramped over the planet."
"Exactly our conclusion Councilor," he replied.
The Councilor leaned back on his recline and looked out the station window into deep space. His superior was thinking and he knew better than to interrupt him while he was doing that. Finally, he looked back at him. The anger of before was gone. "Very well, here are my orders Desur. Your test program is hereby classified as secret. You will inform anyone who knows about this that they will remain silent or I will personally recycle them. I will go to the Counsel and Pathfinder in secret and inform them of your information and ask for approval. If they give it we will secretly prepare another organism for insertion."
"I understand Councilor," he said and lowered his head and neck again as an act of supplication.
"Is there anything else, Desur?"
"One thing Councilor and that is an update on their environmental problems," he added. "In previous reports, we had concluded there was a significant risk of their planet becoming partly or completely uninhabitable due to the imbalance between their increasing technological development and the environmental needs of their biosphere. Many natives in the past did not believe it so little to no remedial actions were taken. The natives have finally recognized this problem and are taking steps to correct it. Whether they can do this before permanent harm adversely effects their planet's overall environment to the point of collapse, we are not sure. Our best models show major environmental damage going on for several kihun into their future. It is still possible they may destroy themselves this way instead of in a war, but the likelihood is getting smaller."
"A pity," the Counselor groaned. "It would certainly be easier on us if they destroyed themselves, but we have other options now. I just have to see what the Pathfinder will let us get away with. Thank you for your report Desur. You may return to your duties."
"I am at the Counselor's service as always," On-tru-zota said and again lowered his head almost to the floor. He backed out of the room and closed the door behind him. He looked at the entrance and the golden plate that announced whose office it was. He was determined that one kihun, this would be his office.