The only physical object on Admiral Hanemanns desk was an artwork Roxanne had given him. It consisted of a double glass sphere. In the inner sphere a cactus, nearly a bonsai, grew among some rocks, lighted and heated by a small lamp – a tiny desert with scorching air. Surrounding the sphere was another sphere, this one containing water and a tiny ecology of algae and transparent shrimps – a tiny sea surrounding the desert.
The Admiral looked at the sphere and the 3D map of the space surrounding new America, noting the similarities. A cactus seeking water, a planet screaming for help. And just outside, water and at least some help – unable to reach it. The diagram was blighted by red spots, marking places where Li infection could not be ruled out – including more than half of the planet. Thankfully there were few black spots, marking confirmed Li infestation. But with more than 80% of everybody trapped in code yellow or red quarantines, things were looking bad. Even his own ships, his own organisation were largely quarantined. And things were falling apart – space habitats and remote islands in desperate need of supplies, politicians on all levels claiming emergency overrides and accusing everybody of being an infiltrator. A president and vice president hiding from each other and trying to prove their sanity and loyalty. The slow rebuilding of compromised communications protocols, while the net was boiling with rumours, misinformation and information warfare. De-quarantining missions where crews where subjected to hours of brainscans to prove that they were not infected, tying up all his medical staff. Half of his ships sent away on a politically motivated attack against an unknown enemy.
He had long ago decided to never wish he had chosen another career – no point in mulling over things like that – but right now he would gladly have switched place with almost anyone. He was expected to save the planet, nothing more, nothing less. How, nobody knew, but it was clear that everybody believed that if there was any salvation for New America it was the uninfiltrated parts of the space navy.
"Sir? There has been a development." The lieutenant from Traffic Overview sounded puzzled.
"A ship has arrived in-system, not one of ours. It identifies itself as Trahan, sir."
"Trahan? What do they want?" Even the idea of those furry fruit-eaters in space seemed ridiculous. The last thing he wanted was to get involved in xenodiplomacy.
The Trahan looked out from the screen, snorting and whistling. Normally Trahans on metamedia looked slightly funny with their short bodies, fur and dangling baroque clothing. But this Trahan looked anything but cute. The elongated eyes watched the viewer calmly, the proboscis was carefully angled upwards, the clothes decorated with official-looking fractal brocades and in two of its hands it held out some kind of seal or device. The camera had been placed so that the impression was that the Trahan looked slightly down on the viewer – nobility and power without suggesting arrogance.
"People of New America, greetings and wishes of hope. This is the <Traschss-raar> of the Trahan Imperial System on a mission of mercy, sent to you by the Imperial Couple as advised by the Central Council and Victoria prefecture. We bring you help. We have travelled across the voids and sought you out, as we have heard of the disruptions and distractions caused by the incursion of badthinking carelessly thrown out by the Penglaiese. As the reality-forest is a unity, so is the Trahan Empire and New America one, and the incursion must be regarded as a challenge against the Imperial Couple and their <Nasstasch> as well as the liberty and safety of intelligent beings anywhere. Hence we were sent to help you overcome this challenge by bringing in our humble abilities. In this case our only ability is an inability, to wit the fact that Trahans cannot be infected by the Li badthinking. While human movement must be constrained to prevent Li spread, Trahans can move freely without acting as carriers. We modestly appeal to you that we might serve as go-betweens and interfacers, maintaining the fragile infrastructure you need while you free yourself of the incursion."
The Trahan went on, delineating how its crew of trahans could man the shuttles and bring supplies between the quarantine areas, keeping the populations of human separated while the dequarantining went on. The Trahans had brought equipment to help scanning people. They had even brought some emergency food from Victoria. They might even be able to free up the thinly stretched space marines for other duties.
The Admiral was stunned. They had a solution that any sane human would accept. There was no way New America could say no to the offer, even if the fundies and xenophobes would rage. It was too practical – let the trahans do the work – it was hard to reject without causing a major diplomatic incident with a potential ally. The messages were so perfect – the Trahans had clearly spin-doctored them, adjusted their style and content to fit humans. They had predicted the likely reactions of New America lightyears away.
He wondered whether the Li was the greatest threat in the system right now. On the screen the Trahan emissary outlined solutions.