The other two aki’Drednanth in the Earth contact convoy, Gydanna and Silver Bane, seemed perfectly happy with the change ‘Truck’ had undergone and whatever else was happening down there. They agreed to take part in the preliminary meeting with a selection of the major Earth government representatives, but otherwise wouldn’t comment on Truck’s mission to the surface or the ‘Ogres’ she had met there. Whatever was going to happen, Char realised, was going to have to happen without active aki’Drednanth support.
“So this is the place,” she said, tapping the map. “The … International Ethics and Diplomatic High Commission building, in the city of Detroit, in the country of Lostlake, which is part of the greater multinational entity of the Unified Nations and Sundered Commonwealth of America.”
“Can we call it something shorter?” Bolian Ront, Head Communication Specialist And Final Voice On Things Intercultural, said with perhaps forgivable hypocrisy.
“Divine President Dolan Cavanaugh just calls it ‘the Ethics Building’,” Char said, “and ‘Detroit’.”
“Are we going to talk about the death threats?” Malerious Hara Scodd asked.
Char suppressed a sigh. Scodd was head of Fleet military, such as it was, and he took his ceremonial duty seriously in an admirable, but usually annoying way. A military was aggressive by necessity, otherwise there was little point in having one. You could call it a ‘defence force’ until you were blue in the face, but shields were only half of their equipment. And that was entirely fair enough – Char just wasn’t sure it was necessary to interpret the need for aggressiveness in quite such a literal manner, turning every exchange into a confrontation to be won or lost. Just because the purpose of an institution was to defend against attacks, did that mean said institution needed to attack first? It was a question for the philosophers, but not one she had the time or patience to deal with every time Scodd opened his mouth.
Also, his name sounded like a skin condition.
“If you like, Malerious,” she said, “although I thought we had concluded that they were insignificant and well within the expected-”
“Forgive me, Captain, but there have been more since then,” Scodd interrupted.
“Yes, Malerious,” Char was aware of this, too. There had been a few different threats, from different small groups and through a variety of channels. There had even been a couple of decidedly slapdash attempts to attack the Worldships, although so far nothing had – literally – gotten off the ground. Well, one had. But it had then fallen into the ocean and exploded, and the incident was being written off as a failed communications-satellite launch even though everybody knew it hadn’t been.
Those responsible were insignificant minorities at best, and most of them were just tiny groups of twenty or ten or even just single people, but the humans seemed inordinately worried about them. A reasonable sentiment, to some extent, as Char could readily appreciate the concern government representatives might feel. A small group of insane people might be risking an inter-species war, after all. This was a delicate diplomatic situation. Misunderstandings were going to occur, but there was only so much you could do to ascribe ‘misunderstanding’ to a missile strike.
Even so, the human concern seemed disproportionately grave – even graver, although he bluntly refused to credit their worry with being genuine, than Scodd’s own. At first the Fleet Council had been concerned that the humans’ apprehension was indicative of some secret weapon or capability that the Fleet was not aware of. As if a governmental authority group with the sort of weaponry hinted at by that ship they had in orbit – and a dozen different weapons emplacements on the surface besides, all of which were peacefully dormant – could possibly be afraid of a few violent extremists!
And indeed, Scodd’s vigilance aside, the experts led by Bolian Ront had established that the death threats really were nothing to be worried about. The problem was that humanity had institutionalised their own fear to such a terrible extent, it was like a racial characteristic. And it was the sort of fear that made an animal attack, not the sort that made it run away.
They were afraid of anything that wasn’t them, and they had spent millennia, apparently, fabricating ways in which almost every group on the planet could consider almost everybody else to be outsiders. This constant state of low-grade suspicion and hatred was apparently very profitable for some groups, allowing other groups to drive the industries required to support a series of ongoing small-scale conflicts. These seemed to serve the purpose of distracting the majority of humans from what their leaders, and the other elite of Earth’s multitude of nations, were stealing from them. Whenever a population looked as though it might be about to rise up and declare sanity, a new threat was laughably easy to manufacture.
This state of affairs kept them all frantically busy, and when they weren’t busy, they were squinting with suspicion and terror at their fellow victims.
The Molren had been watching this happen, albeit in a cautious and non-judgemental way as befitted data without cultural, biological or historical context, ever since the first fuzzy Earth broadcasts had hit the Fleet. They had tried to explain to themselves what was happening on Earth, but the truth was it simply defied Molranoid reason. By now, human fear of the outsider was self-sustaining and more or less mutually-symbiotic. It was stable. Of course the humans saw threats and attacks by hostile subcultures as far more dangerous than they really were. They’d been raised to overreact to that sort of thing, even to the point of complete illogic. They had to know, intellectually, that a handful of fanatics with a non-orbit-capable-missile-mounted nerve agent that was 75% effective against humans was absolutely zero threat to Molren. They had to know this. And they had to know that the Fleet, representatives of an advanced alien culture who had travelled an impossible distance to be here, would not overreact to such a hysterically trivial non-menace.
But knowing something intellectually, and convincing yourself to speak against the perceived unanimity of your entire tribe, were two very different things. And the human leaders and spokespeople had a vested interest in expressing the same sentiment, even though they had to know even better that there was no real danger. They were the source of the fearful voice that kept the species under control, after all. If they suddenly said “ehh, it’s no big deal,” where would they be tomorrow?
Of course, the human elite weren’t quite insane enough to use the Molran Fleet as a source of intimidation in the same way, which was why the hostility was generally only coming from the fringes. They probably would have tried to use the aliens as a populace-cowing threat, had they known anything about their capabilities and motivations. As it was, the Fleet was simply too big. It was too unifying, too alien. Branding them as an enemy would succeed in doing precisely what the human elite were so afraid of – ending the outsider-fear human cultures had so painstakingly cultivated against one another.
So the elite bided their time, and made noncommittal and passive-aggressive threatening noises until they could be sure what these aliens were all about. And the vast majority of humans remained horribly apathetic, content to simply argue about the whole thing amongst themselves and wait to see what the ‘famous people’ thought.
To be honest, the more Char thought about it, the more frustrated and despondent she became. And Scodd probably didn’t deserve to bear the brunt of that reaction, but bear it he did. Because, in their own way, Scodd’s endearingly earnest tactical considerations were mirroring the human condition.
And as short a time as she had spent in direct contact with humanity, Gadrion Aran Char was already pretty sure she didn’t want her species mirroring anything the human race had to offer.
 Scadt: A genetic and to some extent sexually-transmitted disease of the skin and particularly the sensitive membranes of the nose and ears, eradicated in Molren and Blaren and only rarely encountered among Bonshooni even as far back as the First Feast. The disease is completely eradicated in the 39th Century YM. The word is thought to have originated from the archaic Xidh word s’crath, meaning (roughly) unclean / impure / to-be-shunned.