Taurian Invasion 23: The Conference

I had Sylvia escort me to conference center early the next morning. My excuse was to find a small out of the way place to set up a cot in case I needed to lay down, but I really want to see who was coming and who was already there. The conference center was by the main (impress the visitors) entrance, and there were already a lot of visitors. Young men in uniform and business suits were everywhere. They were still setting up when I went in, and by adding a couple of questions while figuring out where to set up my cot, I was able to find out that the Lecture hall was being set for 300, but catering was setting up to feed 600. I then allowed Sylvia to drag me back to my apartment for a quick nap before I got ready for the conference.

This was more than a conference, this was an international incident. Now, I was no expert on military uniforms, but it seemed obvious even to me that a number of the uniforms were not from the US and were not the same as each other. Also, almost all of the men and women that I saw in either uniforms or suits were young. This meant that they were for the most part security and staff for the attendees, rather than VIPs who had been invited.

So, why was I in the middle of all of this? Somehow, I was essential to this conference. It wasn’t what I had to say, that was simple enough that nearly anyone could have said it for me. For some reason, I had to be there personally, and that’s what didn’t make sense to me yet. If I could figure that out, I could figure out why they were treating me the way they did.

Sylvia knocked on my bedroom door, “Allen, it’s time to get up and put your uniform on, then come out here so I can make sure it’s done right.”

I followed instructions, and came out to find Sylvia had changed into a formal dress. She looked stunning. Calling upon all my grace and charm, I said, “Wow!” She gave me the first smile I had seen in a while and straightened a few things on my uniform. “Rats, I forgot to have someone fix the rank on my uniform.”

“No, that’s right. You went up a pay grade when you became a squad leader.”

“You would think that someone would tell me that.”

“I would think you would have noticed that from your bank account.”

“Well, I haven’t checked my bank account in … ever?”

“What do you mean you’ve never checked your bank account!”

“Going to the Amazon was the first time I left the campus since I arrived here. There really wasn’t any need.”

“Allen Spencer! I swear that I would hit upside the back of the head if you didn’t have a concussion! Listen, we don’t have time for this Savant lapse right now. We’ll go over your finances this evening when we get back.”

While we were heading to the convention center, she gave me a crash course on how I was supposed to act and how to escort a lady to a formal event. I got the part about how I was supposed hold her arm, mostly, but the whole secret handshake thing completely eluded me. (OK, they weren’t really secret handshakes, but there were different handshakes for different people, and I just got completely lost.)

I escorted her to a small conference room off the main meeting room, and found General Moore, Rodolfo, and his wife, Carmen, already there. The general seemed pleased to see me, “Allen, how are you feeling?”

“Better, not 100 percent yet, but I think I can survive this.”

He turned to Sylvia, “Has Allen been briefed on today’s events?” She just stared at him and put one hand on her hip and he tried again, “Have you told Allen what’s supposed to happen today?”

“No, because nobody told me what’s going on today. They just told me to have him here appropriately dressed and on time.”

“Crud! OK, this is our annual conference where we tell the world everything Prometheus figured out about the aliens this last year. Well, actually, this is the first conference, but we promised everyone that we would make this an annual event. Your little insight into why the aliens shoot some people don’t shoot others is going to be our key point in our alien psychology presentation.”

“So, would this be a bad time to mention that last night I figured out the pattern of tactical deficiencies in the deployment of bio-soldiers by bases in the absence of on site soldiers?”

General Moore was silent for a moment, “Say that again without all the big words so I can be sure of what you just said.”

“I think I can show why the Taurs have been so much dumber in the last few battles than they were otherwise.”

“And you have proof?”

“I have a full presentation 90% done that shows all the evidence. I think I could have it done in a few hours, but my recent injuries left me where I get tired really easily.”

The general whipped out a phone so fast that for a split second, I thought he pulled a gun on me. “Angelia … Get the Director to small conference room 16, ASAP. … Yes, this is top priority … Allen just blew the conference wide open.”

I sat down at the conference table and a computer seemed to appear out of nowhere (it was actually built into the table.) I was getting what I had of my presentation ready when Angelia and the Director arrived. “Allen, my boy, what have you got for me.”

“It’s not finished, but I’ll show you what I have.”

I showed them the combat overviews and footage followed by the how the game would play out in roughly the same situation. The game did not always play out exactly the same, but the parallels were obvious. The clincher was when I showed how the limitations had worked out to our advantage in our battles against the alien bases. Every time that the bases had been faced with a second threat before the first had been resolved; it ignored the second threat entirely.

“So, what’s missing?”

“I still need to contrast what happened in earlier battles with alien soldiers present, and to show where the bio-soldiers have certain built in reactions that can still be dangerous even when the base is distracted.”

“Then we will provide you with a computer, and you can work on it while you’re sitting up there. At least you won’t be as bored as the rest of us.”

Angelia cleared her throat to get everyone’s attention, “Sylvia will be watching over Allen the entire time making sure he doesn’t get too tired, and if she thinks he is getting too tired; he WILL take a break.”

And thus I found myself sitting at a table with many of the most powerful people in Prometheus, facing the audience. The podium where people made their presentations was between us and the audience, which made it just a little less awkward. I was kind of disappointed that I would be too busy with getting my second presentation ready to watch the other presentations until I realized that the screen was behind us and I couldn’t really watch them anyway. Sylvia made me take a break after about an hour, “so that I would be rested enough to actually give my presentation, rather than just collapsing in front of everybody.” She was right, of course. My vision had been getting blurry again near the end and I passed out as soon as I hit the cot, which had been moved to the small conference room. I hated feeling weak, but with both Sylvia and Angelia there I went without protest.

Then it was my turn. The presentation was not easy to watch, as I had to show many actual pictures of the dead in order to illustrate the point (I left out the pictures with dead children because what I had to show was horrific enough.) Everything went extremely well until the question and answer period, when someone asked the wrong question and I shot my mouth off again. Some officer asked if it would be possible to build a backpack based weapon that would allow us to walk among the enemy and destroy them at will. Without thinking I spat out, “That’s a stupid idea!” I really need to learn not to pop off like that, but I had already let it out so, I was forced to justify my outburst. “If we use the knowledge properly, we can save an untold number of lives. If we abuse this knowledge, we will be throwing all of those lives away. Our enemy is sophisticated enough to both create these biological weapons systems and to cross interstellar space to reach us. I think that they are capable of reprogramming their minions to shoot everyone instead of just people carrying things.”

“As it stands we have figured out one of the ‘rules of the game’ from the enemy perspective that correspond to our Geneva Conventions. This seems to be their way of saying ‘we kill enemy soldiers, but we leave innocent civilians alone.’ It seems to me that we always want to try to play by these rules except for the most extreme of circumstances. This gives the civilian caught in the battle zone and the wounded or lost soldier a chance that they wouldn’t otherwise have. Beyond all this, it will allow us to do the one thing that we have failed to do in this war: Communicate something important to our enemy! Despite any other differences we have, we share this one value: We do not slaughter the innocent. Yes, we could get some easy kills, but I think that if we go in that direction, we could easily start on a path that leads to a war of annihilation, and I can’t foresee any circumstances where that would be a good thing.”

When I finished letting all of that out, I was completely drained and the room started spinning. I had to grab the podium to keep from falling. I vaguely heard someone dismiss the assembly for lunch and someone came up on either side of me and half carried me back to the conference room. They laid me on the cot and I was so exhausted I couldn’t even move, yet for some reason sleep wouldn’t claim me. I lay there for a while listening to people move about the room. I felt a nurse come and check on me, but I couldn’t make my body obey to even answer her questions.

“He seems to be OK, just out cold. What happened?”

Sylvia’s voice seemed weak, “He was doing just fine. He was getting a little worked up over the last question, but nothing worrying. As soon as he finished speaking, he turned pale and almost fell down without any warning. You can watch the video yourself. He was fine one minute and collapsing the next.”

“I’ll be back to check on him in an hour. Call me if anything happens. If he’s not better by then, I’m taking him to the hospital whether the Director likes it or not.”

“If you think he needs to go, I’ll back you and Angelia will back me.”

“He may have just fainted from all the excitement, so I don’t want to jump the gun.”

“I hope that’s all it was, but he’d be mortified if that was what happened.”

Their conversation seemed to fade out and I may have dozed a bit, because the next voice I remember was Angelia’s, “How is he doing?”

“If he doesn’t wake up soon I’m taking him to the hospital.”

The Director’s chimed in, “Did the nurse check him?”

“She seemed to think that the big goof just fainted, but I can’t help but be worried.”

“We’re all worried about him.”

“Then why are you pushing him? He’s not well!”

“Everyone said it wouldn’t be a problem as long as he took it easy. This is a critically important meeting that is going to affect the course of this war. Even if he doesn’t give his second presentation, he has already made a difference.”

“By collapsing on stage?”

“You were watching him and not the audience. He had a group of the most powerful men in the world completely spellbound. His presentation was very harsh, but it was the first to bring the danger and loss home to everyone. He made them realize that people are already dying, and if we didn’t do something, there would be a lot more people who will end up like those poor souls. His next presentation will show them that our enemies have flaws and can be beaten. He made them care, and he will give them hope. If we don’t have these things, we will lose the war. That is why I am going to have him give his other presentation if he thinks he can handle it.”

“And if he can’t?”

“Then I’ll do it myself and just hope it’s enough.”

* * *

When I woke up, you cannot believe how happy I was to be able to move. It sounds silly, but I was really afraid that I’d done something stupid and paralyzed myself for life. Sylvia was sitting beside me reading a book. She looked very relieved when I sat up, “How are you feeling Allen?”

“I think I really needed that nap, but I’m ready to go again. Is there any lunch still available?” I didn’t really answer her question, but the previous conversation had stung my pride more than a bit. I had basically passed out in front of everyone, and now they were all worried that I was too weak to continue. I felt a bit weak and shaky, my vision was a bit fuzzy, I was developing a headache, and was starving besides. But, I wouldn’t have admitted if you put a gun to my head!

Sylvia went to get me a plate of food, and I staggered over and started working at the computer again. I was determined to get this presentation done if it killed me. Luckily, I was almost done. I was just going over everything to make sure it all made sense when Sylvia returned with the food. I scarfed down a couple of bites, but when it hit my stomach, it was all I could do to keep from losing it then and there. So much for showing no weakness in front of Sylvia. I was forced to only take one bite every few minutes to keep it down; even then I gagged several times but tried to hide it. I knew if I didn’t eat, I wouldn’t be able to continue, but it was the hardest meal I have ever eaten.

I rejoined the meeting after a short nap and put the finishing touches on my presentation. It was still two hours until my second turn, which was enough time to get thoroughly bored with listening to presentations I couldn’t see. I started to play solitaire on my computer, but the screen refused to come into focus. I might have dozed off a couple of times, but I felt pretty good when I went to the podium again.

I began showing both tactical overlays and battlesuit camera footage of where Taurians were making glaring errors in combat, and how we were taking advantage of it. And then the unexpected happened; People started cheering when I showed the parts where we devastated the bio-soldiers. When I got to the part where Lena and I took down the Cyclops simultaneously, I got a standing ovation. It hadn’t even occurred to me that people would get this excited. Everyone calmed down a bit when I got to the parts about how bio-soldiers were dangerous even without orders, and how much more dangerous they were when they had soldiers riding herd. Despite this I received a second standing ovation at the conclusion of my presentation. I think I blushed.

I managed to keep my feet until I got to my place at the table, but I was shaking all over. I didn’t complain when someone (General Moore I think) helped me back to my cot in the meeting room. It was odd; training and combat had never been this hard. I decided that getting injured in battle sucked big time. In the movies, the hero shrugs off being shot, beaten, stabbed etc. without it affecting him at all. I just hit my head and I couldn’t function for over a few hours without collapsing, and it was five days later. I decided that it would be a good idea for me not to get injured anymore.

I heard Silvia talking to the Director and Angelia, but I couldn’t make it out and fell asleep. I really wish I had heard what was said because when I woke up, Sylvia was there and she was pissed. “As soon as you feel up to it, we’re going to dinner.”

“OK lets go,” trying to sound casual. I felt terrible, I probably looked terrible, but I would have rather gnawed my own arm off than admit I was weak at that moment. I think that I usually have better judgment than this (others disagree), but for some reason, because I felt bad, I couldn’t admit that I felt bad (at the time it made perfect sense to me.)

On the way over to one of the more elaborate and expensive dining rooms at the cafeteria, Sylvia was mumbling to herself. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but I swear that it was definitely unladylike. She composed herself and was all smiles to everyone we met, but she had a grip on my arm that left a bruise.

The room was filled with older men in uniform and expensive suits (at least I assume the suits were expensive. I couldn’t tell a cheep suit from a designer one to save my life.) These were the powerful elite, the advisers to presidents, prime ministers, and kings. I felt more out of place than if I had wandered into the women’s rest room. I was introduced to dozens of Very Important People. The only two I recognized were the US Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security. I soon found out that there was a rhythm to these things. I would be moved to a group and seated, everyone would be introduced, and I would tell the story of how I gave myself a concussion taking down a Cyclops. After doing this about twenty times, I couldn’t even make out faces anymore. Drinking several glasses of something along the way probably didn’t help at all. When I sat at a table and went into my story without realizing I was talking to the Director and Angelia, Angelia decided that it was time for Sylvia to take me home. I remember getting into the cart, and that was it.

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