I'm not often angry. I'm firmly of the belief that strong emotion is like strong drink: It clouds your judgement and makes you do things you'll regret. However, as I was seated across from where I assumed I would be seeing the CSSF General; I fumed.
No, I didn't fume: I cursed violently and loudly, and I vaguely remember banging things about; my arrival on Earth was only slightly less ceremonious than being hoodwinked and shanghaied by a press gang.
The problem with not allowing myself any strong emotions was that I didn't have much practice in using them when they unexpectedly arose. Like a rookie drinker, I was soon done almost as soon as I‘d lost control. Amazingly, that instant, the General breezed into the office and sat behind his desk.
"Have a seat, Bob! I can call you 'Bob', can't I? My name is Li "
I looked around. I had broken all the chairs. I didn't remember breaking the chairs, but there they were... broken.
"I think I'll stand, thank you"
"Suit yourself. Drink?"
He was a genial looking older gentleman. I wondered what ship he called home. but not enough to ask.
He looked me up and down with what appeared to be genuine sorrow in his eyes. "I deeply regret the inconvenience we've put you through, but believe me; it's for your own safety." He pushed a magazine across the desk towards me. I turned it so that I could get a good look at it... the date on the cover made it current, and my ugly mug was plastered on it. I don't remember ever having that expression, and I wondered who took that shot. I saw my face, dark with puzzlement and rage, the corpse of a Gagarin whaloid in the background. The word "Why?" was emblazoned across the magazine cover....
I felt some of that anger return. I still *wanted* to know why. Whales were all-but-extinct on earth. I’d been sent to the planet Gagarin in Tau Ceti to capture some of the local whale-like creatures - genetically all-but-identical to earth whales - in hopes that they’d breed together and repopulate the various species. It was a long and arduous trip - twenty-five years objectively, a year subjectively - and I’d nearly been killed. When we returned to earth space, I’d signed my cargo over to the United Nations Environmental and Wildlife Ministry. They’d thanked me for my work, and then slaughtered my whaloids in the name of some hokum about ‘protecting the genotype’ or some other xenophobic nonsense.
“Cutting straight to the point, Bob, you have become a symbol for us... this photo, more than any other, depicts our efforts to help our brethren on Earth, and the betrayal by those who we thought were friends"
"I didn't sign up for this"
"Actually, you did. All of us did when we agreed to join Gene's fleet"
For a minute, I wondered if feelings were subject to mathematic manipulation. Could you feel betrayed, squared? I think I did, but it was unpleasant, so I buried it.
"So I'm a symbol."
"Originally, yes, but now you're a symbol and a target."
"Oh. I see." I didn't, but by now, I had too much raw feeling running through me, and I really didn't feel like processing more. If every trip to Earth was going to do this to me, I believe that I may just stop leaving the ship. I'd spent the night in Hong Kong, the major spaceport in Asia, and was attempting to fly back to the 'States when several goons - apparently leashed to the General here - jumped me, knocked me out, and dropped me off on the couch in this now-trashed office.
"We had to get you out of the airport terminal safely and before anybody saw you. For your safety, really."
I was still a bit put out, but as my curiosity grew, my annoyance was starting to fade. I really had wanted to see Earth. I had seen all the publicity materials that declared a new "golden age,” with engineering marvels and lifestyle conveniences that had to be seen to be believed. I wanted to believe, but it looked like I wouldn't be seeing much this trip.
"Okay, so how're you going to get me back on the landing boat?"
The General stared blankly at me for a second.
"No, no, no! We have something for you that would help us out immensely! And I promise, you'll be able to get some tourism in. Earth has become rather nice since you've last been here"
I was puzzled. How had he