“Wake up, Ian.” Lying in the larger than king-size bed with three sleeping children sprawled around me, I had a hard time prying my eyes open even with Sharon shaking my shoulder.
She had the wall on, volume turned far down to avoid waking me or the kids. Probably the news. My wife had a fondness for early morning news that had stopped bothering me a long time ago. Now she hardly ever had the news off and I got everything she thought I might need to know in short, simple sentences I’d understand.
I could hear the low grumble of the anchor’s voice but wasn’t alert enough to pull words out of the stream. Never a morning person, the soft comfort of the Shalash bed made it even harder for me to get up.
“Dammit, Ian, open your eyes!”
I tried, really, and almost got one open twice before I settled for just working ears. “Too early. I’m still asleep. What’s the matter?” I picked the word explosion out of the newscast.
“Someone attacked the Asoolianne!”
“The Asoolianne? What? Talya?” Eyes watering with the effort, I pushed up on one elbow to see the screen and tried to focus on the video. The barely audible commentary was easy to ignore as another recap began.
Each alien ship had dozens, or more likely hundreds, of news and amateur cameras focused on it every second of the day. They never shut off except to swap batteries. If something moved nearby, the world knew instantly.
In the early morning, just after dawn in Xining, a bunch of those cameras caught the bright explosion near the front—back? —of the shimmering Asoolianne vessel. Fire and smoke, but no sound. A few seconds later, a second flash, more brilliant than the first and lasting longer, made me blink several times. When it faded, the dissipating smoke showed an alien ship remarkably free of damage. At least it didn’t look any different than it had before the explosions. Did we even have anything that could scratch it? What level of arrogance or stupidity did it take to attack a warship that could travel between the stars?
The screen split, image of the Asoolianne ship shrinking to occupy the upper right corner of the screen, less than a quarter of the view. In the remainder, we watched a group of nine four-armed Asoolianne in pale blue combat armour marching eight men in black fatigues to the edge of the security cordon. The apparent leader of the Asoolianne unit spoke briefly and the network provided a subtitle translation. “Do as you will with these. See that this does not happen again.” When the Chinese army had control of the men, the Asoolianne soldiers disappeared, proving that transporters weren’t a purely Shalash device.
The prisoner turnover shrunk to the same size as the Asoolianne ship and slid across the screen to sit underneath it. Both sequences began to loop, but that was the extent of the actual footage. The explosion played through several times then held on a still image of the undamaged Asoolianne ship until the prisoner sequence began again. In the remainder of the screen, a respectedCBCnews personality interviewed whoever he’d found to answer questions at six o’clock in the morning. There would probably be a lineup of politicians, military leaders, political scientists, and other experts over the next few hours, none of whom would have any real idea what to make of the situation. The Chinese media, far more important to the world at large than it had been a few weeks ago, apparently had nothing to add, or nothing the CBC hadn’t already played. Only the video itself really mattered to me at the moment.
We watched for a few loops before Sharon turned the sound off. I spoke before I could yawn, before she could be worried out loud. “It can’t happen here.” Squeezing my eyes shut for a couple of seconds, I cricked my neck to each side then let the yawn out. My cheek brushed against a small blonde head and I looked at the clock in one corner of the screen. 6:07 and three children still slept in the bed. In our bed. We probably had fifteen or twenty minutes if we could stay quiet.
“How do you know?” The strain in her voice pulled me a little closer to being awake, and I slid myself up high enough that I could wrap an arm around her.
“Because this isn’t China.” A simple answer. A simplistic answer. Also the right answer, I hoped. It couldn’t happen here. If the Shalash suffered an attack, it wouldn’t be by a small group of people with a small bomb, but with all the military might that could be thrown against them by the aggressor.
I thought about China, and Xining’s location in more or less the middle of the country. I remembered Tibet and didn’t come up with any of the countries touching its borders other than Mongolia and Russia. Jealousy and fear could prompt an attack, I supposed, but China was a superpower more or less. Who had the ability or willpower?
I thought about Canada, with one real neighbor: the United States. Neither country would allow anything or anyone through the security cordon. The Canadian military could be counted as effective, but it’s a big country with a small population for its side. How much of our military had concentrated around Kingston? How much of the city had been evacuated? To satisfy my wife at the moment, not enough and not much, in that order, but the States, I knew, had plenty of assets just out of my sight. I wasn’t worried, much.
I doubted anything short of a nuclear weapon could do any real damage to the Shalash ship, but there were plenty of people around, and not just soldiers. Doubts sprang into my mind, paranoia and human nature asserting itself.
Nothing would happen here. It couldn’t.
Captain Razush gave me a very human shrug. “I find I can bear any hardships the Asoolianne encounter remarkably well. Equally the Hoon. It can only be laxity on their part. Such an attack could not happen here even if the attackers managed to slip through the perimeter set up by your human forces, which I find unlikely. Our sensors have pinpointed every projectile or explosive device in the city. Their technology is at a similar level to ours.”
“What about improvised devices?”
The Captain looked at me, as expressionless as always. “Such devices would require a detonator which is also an explosive device. It would not get close enough to the Shalan Triumphant to be allowed to detonate. If, for some reason, we let such a thing happen, I do not believe any of your portable explosive devices would be adequate to do more than scratch our hull. There is no need for concern.”
And that was that, apparently. The confidence was reassuring, but I had to wonder just a little. Had it been laxity on the part of the Asoolianne? Maybe, like the Shalash, they didn’t believe we had the capability to damage them at all. If that was the case, would they bother keeping such a close watch? The Shalash did, or Razush said they did.
Or maybe I wasn’t thinking about this the right way. Maybe the bomb had been allowed to reach the Asoolianne ship. They knew we were harmless, but we didn’t. Ignoring the bomb and then delivering the bombers a few minutes later would make a pretty effective demonstration of strength. That actually made a lot of sense in a twisted way. Some people might take that message away from the morning events in Xining. A couple of days ago I wouldn’t have been one of them.
But whatever the Asoolianne reality happened to be, I was reassured by Captain Razush’s confidence. A little. Enough to reassure Sharon, Maybe.
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