Space Madness: Episode XIII
ORION’S BELT OF BRAVERY
“Welcome, citizens of Orion. Today is an historic day. A day we welcome back a brother from our distant past. He has spent over two hundred years in deep space, seeing wonders, and dangers, that few can possibly imagine. I remember when his ship first returned to our system, hoping that…”
Paps sat behind the governor’s podium, taking in the speech, waiting to be introduced to the whole colony. It was a good turnout, a couple thousand people were packed into the auditorium. General Salazar sat next to him, still as a statue. An official military statue to be sure, but he was not moving a muscle. Paps leaned over and poked him. “General,” he whispered, “how long can the governor go on like this?”
The general leaned toward Paps without moving his lower body at all. He was clearly well trained at sitting through long, meandering speeches. “He’s been known to spend over an hour introducing the guest of honor. He doesn’t ever want to be upstaged.”
“And my political opponents all thought I was crazy for letting this man, this hero, lead our efforts to bolster our defenses…”
The general leaned over again. “Oh, and it’s an election year. He could go on for two hours. It’s a good thing he doesn’t get to make any actual decisions around here.”
Paps nodded. “You know, just two days ago you guys were ready to throw me in prison for the rest of my life…”
“I still am. Just give me a reason.”
Paps laughed. “At least I know where you stand, General. This whole ceremony gives me the creeps. It’s artificial. Not a single person who speaks today is going to mean a word of it.”
“…and he was amazed at the progress our society has made during the last two hundred years. And how that progress has accelerated over just the last four years…”
General Salazar smiled a smile designed to be caught on camera. “This ceremony is not for you, Captain. It’s for them. It’s to give them a hero, a good story to tell, a reason to vote for Governor Stone in 6 weeks. It’s to give them a reason not to doubt their leaders, to let us go about our business getting some work done. So whenever he finishes this speech, get up there, let him pin a medal on you, and thank all the wonderful people who made this possible. Afterward you can go back to the station and drown yourself with a bottle of scotch.”
“You sound like a veteran of this process.”
“…the new technologies he has brought back have the potential to revolutionize our understanding of the universe, and I plan on ushering in a new era of prosperity for us all…”
Paps was getting irritated. He hadn’t even met Governor Stone yet. Supposedly the governor was still afraid that Paps might kill and eat him if they met in private.
“…for the people, I, Governor Rocky Stone, do swear…”
Paps sat upright in his chair. “His name is Rocky Stone? What is it with people’s names around here?”
General Salazar was getting less amused. “You have a problem with my name too?”
“I wouldn’t, except that you look like you’re Swedish.”
The general returned to his statuesque pose. He didn’t want to know what ‘Swedish’ meant. Clearly it was some sort of outdated insult that the undisciplined men of 200 years ago hurled at each other.
And now, here to be presented with Orion’s Belt of Bravery, Captain Anton K. Pappas!”
An usher, or possibly a security guard, tapped Paps on the shoulder and motioned him to go onto the stage. Governor Stone held up a giant gold belt, reminiscent of a professional wrestling championship belt, walked over to Paps as the crowd applauded, and fastened the belt around Paps’ waist. The governor whispered into Paps’ ear. “Don’t say anything crazy up there, you’ll wreck the election for me.”
Paps was unaware that he was required to say anything. He whispered back into the governor’s ear. “Until three days ago, I hadn’t spoken to a single human being in ten years. What could possibly go wrong?”
Governor Stone backed up and led Paps to the podium, still wearing his public smile, but now there was fear in his eyes.
The applause died down as Paps stepped in front of the microphone. “Thank you… Rocky, for this tremendous honor.”
The crowd laughed, and Governor Stone laughed with them, uneasily.
“I have to say that it is great to be back among the human race after spending so much time in deep space. I’ve never felt more at home.”
The crowd erupted in applause. Paps turned and glanced in General Salazar’s direction, and the general’s eyes, and only his eyes looked at Paps in acknowledgement. Hal was standing next to the general, bouncing up and down and almost giggling. He seemed to know what was coming next.
Paps waved his arms to quiet the crowd down. “As you may have heard, I encountered an advanced alien race out there, and they were definitely not friendly. I have reason to believe that they may come here, to Orion, to wipe us all out.”
The crowd fell silent. If there were crickets on this planet, they would have been the only things making noise.
“If they decide to come here, however…”
The crowd was ready for a rally to war, a ‘we’re gonna give ’em what for’ type of pronouncement. The tension in the air could be cut with a positron beam.
“…they’ll probably kill us all before we even know they’re here. Thank you.”
The stunned crowd stood mouths agape. A lone spectator in the back began to clap, realized his mistake, then stopped.