Diplomatic Act

Copyright 1997

by Peter Jurasik & William H. Keith Jr.

Prologue

As a cultural xenophilosopher of the eighth ranking, Dahnak often doubted the specifics of any given research program, but he rarely doubted the program itself. How could he? Though he'd only arrived at the Watcher base in this system less than two cycles ago, he'd been studying the Emergents of this world for nearly fifty cycles now, since not long after they'd begun broadcasting, in fact. He'd been brought here because of his experience with paleotechnic Emergents, and to doubt the value of the program would be like doubting himself, a kind of self-abnegatory suicide-by-philosophy that might have appealed to the ethereally minded group consciousness of a Hjarghan Composite but would simply never do for one of the stolid, practical-minded Kluj.

He didn't doubt. Not really.

Even so, as the subject was marked and tracked, as the time for action approached at last, he couldn't help but feel a flutter in both his hearts and sense an anticipatory pingling of his own snasnet and a quickening in the dlool glands. Was what they were doing right?

The Unity would certainly condemn them for what they were planning. Still, what other options were there?

The Watchers had been observing this particular world for well over a hundred of its rotations about its sun. At first, they'd been there primarily to protect the Emergents from starfaring predators; there'd been little they could do in the way of actual cultural studies, of course, save watch from a distance the inexorable growth of those grotesque city-masses of poured stone as they slowly engulfed vast stretches of living planetary surface and darkened the atmosphere with their emissions.

Before long, however, the Emergents had begun transmitting on various radio frequencies, announcing their presence to the Galaxy as they began the long climb toward technic sophistication. Their technology, of course, was almost ostentatiously primitive and of little interest even to paleotechnohistorians. Radio, television, and nuclear fission, after all, represented such obvious initial steps on the upward path to full awareness--at least on the gross physical side of sapient evolution--and there was little to be learned there by even the most careful paleotechnological field studies. Zhast! These beings still shoved electrons through copper wires, for Eldar's sake! They were just a few toddling steps beyond chipped stone, deistic pleading, and ethnic humor.

But the cultures . . . by the vanished Kaala Tah, the cultures!

The Kluj had been sampling the creatures' broadcasts for almost ten fives of the planet's revolutions now, trying to understand even a fraction of the astonishing variety of thought, social interrelationships, and philosophy revealed there. Tremendous progress had been made; much remained to be learned. It would take a thousand cycles at least to comprehend this rich, emotional, and polycultural species, which called itself . . . human.

It was tragic, of course, that the Kluj needed to intervene directly. They were Watchers, after all, and direct action never came easily. But the crisis that loomed over the entire Galactic Unity might annihilate them all before another cycle was complete . . . and if some of these most recent broadcasts from the Emergents' world were to be believed, the humans might possess the ability to defuse the crisis and avert the first pangalactic war in half a million cycles.

So much depended on the identity of the subject they were tracking. Either he was an Eldar in disguise, as Thujan and the Harmon-as-Alien faction insisted, or he was human but somehow controlled by hidden Eldar somewhere on the planet. There were no other possibilities that made sense. Laakenthu's theory--that this thing the humans call "fiction" was intended as a form of metaphilosophical actualization--had to be wrong. No rational species could be that bizarre.

No, either the subject was Kaala Tah, or he was their puppet. There were no other options.

Dahnak, frankly, favored the puppet idea--with the real Eldar somewhere out of sight and possibly controlling the human through some form of psychic remote control--though he intended to keep an open mind.

In any case, the question would soon be answered once and for all. The subject would be abducted. And while Thujan and Nalis were carrying out their part of the Plan, Dahnak would get his long-dreamed-of chance to study the humans up close, to actually go among them in disguise. A daring gamble . . . but a necessary one.

As ever, the Unity was less than totally . . . unified in thought, theory, or action concerning the new Emergents. The Homus argued that the new-found race should be left strictly alone, the Nagrech insisted that their offensively pollutant radio and television emissions should be terminated, the Grondel felt the beings should be communed with until they slephered, and the Daughters of the Night, as ever, argued that the new species was not truly intelligent and would therefore provide excellent long-term opportunities for recreational feeding.

And every one of those Unity member-species, and countless others, would have shrieked like a shucked momogremin if they'd known what Dahnak and his little cabal of Klujan Watchers were about to attempt.

It was, Dahnak was forced to admit, just a little terrifying.

He could hardly wait to get started. . . .

Copyright 1997 by Peter Jurasik & William H. Keith, Jr.

Return to Baen Books Home Page

Baen Books 02/02/03