Worthy – Chapter 5
“Huh, that’s the story you want me to tell you?” Jonah raised an eyebrow, bemused, “It’s not really a story, just a historical figure.” Jonah had dropped all pretenses, clearly Dr. Cadhenu knew he was human, but he seemed willing to tell Jonah about humanity’s ascension, so Jonah didn’t really have anything to lose.
The tall, grey archivist, Dr. Cadhenu, made a scoffing noise with his broad, scaly mouth, “what difference does it make, history or not, it’s the most compelling story I’ve ever read! It touches on much of what’s unique about your species, and I have so many questions about what it means to you. Please, share what you can recall. Give me the context and emotional connections I am missing from the books. And please, if you can, tell it in English. I try to study all my texts in their original language.”
“Well,” Jonah began uneasily, he’d never spoken to an alien in English, “I guess he had special significance to me, but we all learned about him in our classes.” Jonah thought back to a figure he hadn’t had much call to think about since his college classes. “I guess if you want context, you should know I grew up in the same nation he did. It was before Uplift lead to global unification, in a country called the ‘United States.’ It was a diverse nation built from a colony on land stolen from native people, and populated mostly by poor immigrants and slaves over the centuries. That led to a lot of… tension at times.” Jonah paused. He had thought so much about how utterly unworthy humanity seemed to be right before Uplift, but he had forgotten how many offenses humanity had in its very recent past: institutional racism, and genocide were as recent as the last atomic bomb.
Dr. Cadhenu waited, studying with an expression Jonah’s implant translated as “patient and attentive.” He didn’t seem horrified yet, at least, so Jonah continued, “The nation outlawed slavery, but it took a war that tore the country apart, and even after that… In the areas that had a lot of slaves, the former slaves still weren’t treated like equals a hundred years later. They had to use worse facilities and give up their seats in public. They couldn’t get the kind of jobs or education that the majority race had access to. The majority race didn’t want to give up any of their power or control, so they found every way possible to dehumanize the minority races, mostly the former slaves, but others too.”
Dr. Cadhenu interrupted quietly, in uneasy but proper English, and with a look of fascination, “and these former slaves, they were identified by their dark skin, right? Like yours?”
“Yeah, that’s my personal connection to all this. Not everyone with dark skin is a descendant of a slave, but I am.”
Dr. Cadhenu nodded like he was making connections, waiting eagerly for Jonah to continue.
“So after our second worldwide war….” man, humanity was not coming off well in this backstory, Jonah thought. “After the war, the politics shifted and these minorities started to demand to be treated as equals. Some of them resisted violently, but there was also a movement, eventually led by the guy you’re asking about, to resist peacefully.”
“Resist peacefully,” Dr. Cadhenu said with what amounted to a chuckle, “What a concept! Please, continue.”
“He was a minister, a religious leader. One of the tenants of that religion was ‘love your enemy.”
“Yes, Christianity” Dr. Cadhenu said, “but this is what confuses me, many of his opponents used that very religion to oppose him, yes? It was used to justify many other evils in history?”
Jonah shrugged, not a terribly religious man himself, “sure, but there’s a word for that, ‘hypocrisy.’ Most people now recognize that isn’t in line with an honest reading of the religion, it was just used to justify what they wanted. But, Dr. King, he followed those beliefs even when it didn’t seem to help him. He was so committed to loving his enemy that once, when a protester rushed the stage and assaulted him, he refused to fight back. He left his hands at his sides as his supporters pulled the man away, calling on his supporters to ‘pray for him’ rather than harm him.”
“Yes,” Dr. Cadhenu ventured, “Yes I had read that story. And he also called for peaceful marches in the face of violent resistance and terror campaigns against his family and his race?”
“Yeah, he really believed in non-violence. And it worked! When everyone saw how committed he was to non-violence, to love in the face of injustice, the oppressors couldn’t very well call them “lesser” people anymore. Eventually, the public turned to his side, even a lot of the majority race, and discrimination was outlawed. It took a few more generations to root out, and there are still disparities left over from that time, even today, but something huge shifted because of him.”
Jonah steadied his voice, he had forgotten how much this period of history really meant to him, “after a decade or so, he was assassinated, and that was the last straw for many people. After early violent protests, his movement hung onto non-violence and was able to win a string of important victories. They eventually named a holiday to celebrate him and his work. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for his work. I doubt humanity would have been uplifted at all if one of its strongest nations was still legally discriminating…”
Dr. Cadhenu made a laugh-like noise at that, but then seemed to change the subject, “but this is what I mean, his response to such a great evil made your world a better place! Such a beautiful story! You have great violent heroes, like many rejected species: “William Wallace,” or your “Bryan Mills,” but also such peaceful hero-figures: Gandhi, Dr. King, Gates! People who used their mind, and their moral character to face down evil! Your people captivate me!”
“Is that why we were accepted,” Jonah ventured, trying to steer the conversation back to why he came here, “because of our peaceful heroes?”
A laugh, again, this time deep and rolling. When Dr. Cadhenu recovered, he clarified, “no, of course the Council on Undeveloped Species would never take such aesthetic qualities into account. They and all of their accepted species have such a clear, broad notion of evil in others, but no sense of how to oppose it, to really challenge it. I’d venture to guess they’d see nothing redeeming in these stories, not without practice.”
The archivist began to stare off wistfully, “I try to stay out of the politics, if you can believe it. No one asks for my opinion on these matters, an expert though I am. But the commotion surrounding your people’s case was impossible to miss. Somehow, a former diplomat convinced the Council to accept your people, at great personal cost to himself.”
“Personal cost?” Jonah asked, at the edge of his seat.
“Yes, he paid a great cost, much like your Dr. King,” Dr. Cadhenu’s face seemed more downcast now, “a prominent diplomat from an old species. He had earned this prestigious post after a lifetime serving his species. Their people rewarded public service, and he expected a generous retirement, and looked forward to starting a family after his two terms were up. His office was just across from the Archives. He would visit me occasionally, and we would speak of his growing love for poetry and verse from newly discovered species. He never showed a particular concern for any species being rejected, despite loving their writing. Then I heard rumors that he had started trouble over your people’s case. For weeks leading up to the vote on humanity, he had a crowd of Council members in his office at all hours, yelling about this and that. Then the vote was cast, humanity was in the GF, and the diplomat was gone.”
“Just, gone?” Jonah wondered aloud.
“Yes, I assume he retired after that particularly stressful ordeal, but it’s worth noting that his species has never replaced him. Ten years later, and his post is still empty, just like the office across the hall. I wish I had the chance to thank him, I never would have all of these great physical specimens from humanity if your people were rejected,” the archivist gestured to a stack of books spread across his expansive desk. Jonah hadn’t noticed them before, but now spotted some books in English, along with several other languages from Earth.
“Did you ever find out what he did?” Jonah asked hopefully.
“No, like I said, I try not to get involved.” The imposing grey creature stood to its feet now, towering over 10 feet tall, “everyone went on as if the whole ordeal never happened after that. I haven’t heard the name ‘human’ spoken aloud in this building since then, nor for that matter have I heard the name of the species that had you admitted.”
Dr. Cadhenu grabbed a book off the pile, and flipped a few pages, then carefully highlighted a passage with an old-fashion looking writing implement. He put an ornate bookmark into the book, and walked over to Jonah, “I assume you’ll need to go talk to my old friend. I’ll tell you where I think you can find him, if he’s still around. Will you give him this gift?” He appeared to force his face into something of a smile as he held the book out to Jonah.
— o –
Cren walked slowly off the stage, favoring his healthier leg, the crowd of Synchrinia roaring behind him. He had spoken as long, and as confidently as he could manage, but couldn’t stop himself from scanning the crowd constantly, looking for anything amiss. He knew security had been drastically stepped up. He knew the crowd had been carefully screened. But he knew that nothing would dampen his victory like another mass murder of his supporters.
But his victory assured, and his acceptance speech unblemished by another attack, he retreated to the hall behind the stage where his staff swept him along back in his wheelchair to a secure room to plan the transition. His staff was convinced that if he didn’t project strength after the attack, he would lose, but they were wrong. He projected humility, called for grace and forgiveness, and assured his opponents that he would still respect the results of the election. This shamed them into committing the same, and the polls immediately swung in his favor and never dipped since the day of his “grace-speech.” He still suspected there were plans in motion, but for the moment, his party had unquestioned control of government, and a mandate from the people. His staff was ready on the plans before anything else could be done, and they stood in a circle around him debating to get their respective priorities pushed to the top of the list: his vice president wanted to dismantle the nuclear infrastructure, his chief of staff demanded they start to reduce military spending, his head of the state department wanted to dismantle the unfair trade policies which the less-developed countries were pushing back against, and so on.
Cren rose uneasily to stand behind his desk, feeling the need to calm his staff, “I know we’re excited, but we mustn’t move too quickly. We were elected to make changes, but we mustn’t forget that nearly half the nation is still terrified of the changes we are going to make. We need to get their input, balance their concerns, and come up with the best policy we can. We’ll…”
Just then, Cren’s security team burst through the door. One took hold of Cren’s chair as the rest corralled his advisors into the hall and down the door, all shouting “we need to go, now.” Cren looked back to see one of his minor advisors, the assistant to the head of nuclear policy, held back in the room. Just as Cren rounded the corner into the hall, the adviser was moving to pull something out of his pocket. Before the adviser could level it at Cren, there was a dull crack and the man fell to the ground.
Cren’s whole cabinet was running down the hall, the wheels of his chair wobbling as his escort struggled to keep up. Behind them, they heard another crack far down the hall, and many of Cren’s cohort took to flight, flapping madly as the guards tried to keep them moving quickly and in order down the hall. Cren looked back at the guard pushing his chair, his chief of security, hoping for an explanation.
The guard whispered quickly and breathlessly as they raced down the hall way, “Sir, we had intel that there was a mole in your cabinet. We believed his role was to move on you once you won, and it appears we were right. We also assumed there would be secondary plans for a coup in the event the first one failed. We are taking you to a secure location.”
By the serious look on the guard’s face, Cren knew that was all he was going to be getting. He reflected on the growing body count of his peace movement as he was whisked into an elevator, and heard more cracks and a few screams as the elevator doors closed. They managed to load him in a plane without incident, and after a tense takeoff, his staff seemed to visibly relax. Cren had only grown tenser, none of his staff had flown a plane before, but he had. And he had shot them down as well. He was glad they could relax in the sky, but he never would again.
His vice-president sat down next to Cren, placing a hand on his shoulder, “you gave them a good speech about patience and forbearance, but if they kill you before you can enact these reforms, that’s the end.”
Cren shot the man a puzzled look, which he must have taken to mean he was misunderstood, “I’m not saying I don’t believe like you do, but I’m not you. If they kill you, I’ll be pissed, and I’ll say so, even if it tears the country apart. I’m not the statesman you are, I think we need to get this done, consequences be damned.”
Cren looked around the cabin for a moment, the conversation in the quiet plane obviously overheard by the whole group, “ok, let’s get to work. Shut the whole nuclear industry down, whatever it takes. Who’s next? Let’s talk about those embargoes.”