It was a great pity, Space Marshal Wilbur Hennings reflected, as he gazed through the one-way glass of the balcony door, that the local citizens had insisted upon decorating the square before their capitol with the hulk of the first spaceship ever to have landed on Pollux V.
A hundred and fifty years probably seemed impressive to them, amid the explosive spread of Terran colonies and federations. Actually, in the marshal’s opinion, it was merely long enough to reveal such symbols as more than antiquated but less than historically precious.
“I presume you plan to have me march past that heap!” he complained, tugging at the extremely “historical” sword that completed the effect of his dazzling white and gold uniform.
Commodore Miller, his aide, stiffened nervously.
“Around to the right of it, sir,” he gestured. “As you see, the local military are already keeping the route clear of onlookers. We thought it would be most impressive if your party were to descend the outer stairway from the palace balcony here ... to heighten the importance of--”
“To draw out the pomp and circumstance of opening the conference?”
“Well, sir ... and then across the square to the conference hall of the capitol, outside which you will pause for a few gracious words to the crowd--”
“And that will probably be my last opportunity to enjoy the morning sunlight. Oh, well, it seems much too bright here in any case.”
The commodore absently reached out to adjust a fold of his chief’s sky-blue sash, and the marshal as absently parried the gesture.
“I shall be hardly less than half an hour crossing the square,” he predicted sourly. “With the cheering throngs they have undoubtedly arranged, and the sunlight reflecting from all that imitation marble, it will be no place to collect one’s thoughts.”
He turned back to the huge chamber constituting the “office” of the suite supplied by his Polluxian hosts. The skeleton staff of men and women remaining occupied chairs and benches along only one wall, since the bulk of the delegation had been sent out to make themselves popular with the local populace.
Hennings presumed the bulk of the local populace to consist of Polluxians assigned to making themselves popular with his Ursan Federation delegation. His people would be listening politely to myriad reasons why the Polluxians had a natural right to occupy all the star systems from here to Castor, a dozen light-years farther from Terra. No one would mention the true motive--their illogical choice in naming themselves the Twin Empire.
“Well, now!” he said crisply. “Once more over the main points of the situation! No, commodore, not the schedule of experts that will accompany me to the table; I rely upon you to have perfected that. But have there been any unforeseen developments in the actual fighting?”
A cluster of aides, mostly in uniform but including a few in discreetly elegant civilian attire, moved forward. Each was somehow followed within arm’s reach by an aide of his own, so that the advance presented overtones of a small sortie.
Hennings first nodded to the first, a youngish man whose air suggested technical competence more than the assurance of great authority. The officer placed his brief case upon the glistening surface of a large table and touched a switch on the flap.
“It’s as well to be sure, sir,” the commodore approved. “Our men have been unable to detect any devices, but the walls may have ears.”
“They won’t scan through this scrambler, sir,” asserted the young officer.
Hennings accepted a seat at the table and looked up to one of the others.
“Mirelli’s Star,” an older officer reported briskly. “The same situation prevails, with both sides having landed surface troops in force on Mirelli II, Mirelli III, and Mirelli V, the fourth planet being inhabited by a partly civilized, nonhuman race protected under the Terran Convention.”
“No, sir. Maneuvering continues, but actual encounters have declined in frequency. Casualties are modest and evenly matched. General Nilssen on Mirelli III continues to receive Polluxian agents seeking his defection.”
“I never thought to ask,” murmured Hennings. “Is he really a distant connection of the Polluxian Nilssen family?”
“It is improbable, sir, but they are polite enough to accept the pretense. Of course, he rejects every offer in a very high-minded manner, and seems to be making an adequate impression of chivalry.”
He stepped back at Henning’s nod, to be replaced by another officer.
“One minor space skirmish in the Agohki system to report, sir. The admiral in command appears to have recouped after the error of two days ago, when that Polluxian detachment was so badly mauled. He arranged the capture of three of our cruisers.”
“Was that not a trifle rash?” demanded Hennings.
“Intelligence is inclined to think not, sir. The ships were armed only with weapons listed as general knowledge items. The crews were not only trained in prisoner-of-war tactics, but also well supplied with small luxuries. The Polluxian fleet in that system is known to have been in space for several months, so a friendly effect is anticipated.”