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Hallowed Space

by Bill Bowler

Part 1, Part 3
appear in this issue.
part 2 of 3

It was not unusual for the Governor to come to our offices and meet behind closed doors with his brother-in-law, our CEO. Because of the high sensitivity of my in-ear microphones, sitting in my cubicle, I was able to pick up their voices without difficulty. Normally, I paid no particular attention, as their conversations seemed not to concern my area of operations.

I recall one day, though, some months after my arrival. I was idling in my cube, gazing out my window up towards Central Square, running market calculations in the background. The Governor General had disappeared into Arnold Bottoms’ big corner office and they had shut the door. I was watching a cloud drift by. It took a shape that reminded me strangely of a galloping horse.

From behind the closed door, von Lembke’s deep bass voice spoke first. “Arnie.”

“Yes, Leo.”

“Something big is in the works, something right down your alley! You know we’ll be commemorating the 200th anniversary of the discovery of Planet 3 and the founding of Golconda.”

“Yes, I’ve read about it.”

“It’s going to be huge, a celebration, the likes of which have never been seen in Golconda. We have three years to organize it. We’re inviting government and industry representatives from every populated planet in the Alpha Centauri system. But that’s not all. The Vice Deputy Under-Secretary General of United Earth will come to Golconda for the celebrations at the head of an official delegation.”

“That all sounds wonderful,” said Mr. Bottoms. “But I don’t quite see how any of this involves me.”

Von Lembke’s bass continued, “As the crowning jewel of the anniversary celebrations, I have approved a plan, submitted by the House of Counselors and backed by the Chamber of Interplanetary Commerce, to erect a tower on the elevated plain near the center of Golconda City, on the site currently occupied by Central Square.”

“A tower, you say?”

“Yes! A grand, magnificent tower, the tallest structure on six planets, the tallest in all of Alpha Centauri. It will symbolize the economic strength of our city and of our planet. The tower will be constructed of Golcondan glass and titanium and festooned with diamonds from the northern mines. The foundation will be excavated forty floors underground and the tower will rise five hundred stories, a mile high, topped with a gold-leafed spire upon which will be mounted a giant rotating beacon.”

“You’ve got my attention now, Leo.”

“Well, I should think so, Arnie. And I want Golconda Properties to handle the sale and leasing of the commercial space in the tower, 40 million square feet, on the basis of an exclusive franchise.”

I heard a chair scrape the floor and soft footsteps. Arnold had apparently risen from his desk and begun pacing the floor.

“It would be a great honor, Leo. I can say without hesitation that Golconda Properties would be proud to be associated with the tower project and with the anniversary celebrations.”

Sitting at my cubicle, listening idly to their conversation, the words “exclusive franchise” had caught my attention. I began a series of calculations. Forty million square feet. Current municipal vacancy rate: 0.5%. The tower would represent a 1.5% increase citywide in the stock of Class A commercial space, tending to reduce the market price in the absence of increased demand. However, the temporary decline in price had to be correlated with the specific financial advantage to Golconda Properties of the exclusive franchise. I pulled up the template and began to compose the next issue of my newsletter.

For the next three years, I watched through my window as the foundation was dug and the great tower erected. Floor by floor, huge cranes lifted the titanium beams and hardhats and “hardheads” (construction robot laborers with steel reinforced craniums) assembled the gigantic structure. The rays of Alpha Centauri A reflected from the huge glass panels and tenants began to move in to the lower floors before construction on the upper floors had been finished.

At the end of the third year, ahead of schedule and well in time for the anniversary celebrations, the great Golconda Tower was completed and open for business. A broad flight of Golcondan granite steps led up to the grand entrance, a magnificent archway rimmed with sparkling diamonds. The entrance led through a bank of beveled glass revolving doors into a hexagonal, glass walled, forty-story atrium.

Light through the atrium walls nourished a jungle of red-leaved Golcondan pamplemoose trees set in large vases arranged in parallel rows. Along two walls of the atrium, a 10-story high aquarium was installed, stocked with Golcondan Giant Squimp; a rare, Great Speckled Septopus; and darting schools of striped Golcondan Spittlefish staring out, wide-eyed and unblinking, from the tanks.

A bank of external glass elevators lined the far wall, lifting passengers quickly to dizzying heights as they looked down through the elevator floor and the atrium below fell away from beneath their feet at startling speed.

The beam of light from the golden beacon on the tower spire swept the horizon and could be seen at night for 500 miles in any direction. The great tower was the only man-made structure on the surface of the planet that was visible from space. Visiting delegations aboard spacecraft approaching the planet for the anniversary ceremonies peered out the viewports in wonder as they caught sight of the shining Tower of Golconda and the sweeping light from the great beacon.

About six months before the commencement of the celebration, the Anniversary Steering Committee held a meeting in the large conference room of Golconda Properties offices. From my desk, I picked up their conversation without difficulty.

Von Lembke’s deep bass brought the meeting to order. “Thank you for coming, gentlemen, and thank you for having us at Golconda Properties, Arnold.

“First of all, let me confirm what many of you may already have heard: tower construction has been completed ahead of schedule and in time for the anniversary celebrations as planned. The interplanetary delegations, including the official delegation from Earth, are already en route.

“Arnold, perhaps you could give us an update on the status of the occupancy of the tower commercial space?”

“Of course,” Mr. Bottoms’ familiar tenor replied. “Golconda Tower has become the most desirable and prestigious location in the city. All of the major industries of the planet — mining, manufacturing, export-import, insurance, and finance — have established a presence in the tower.

“The higher floors were most sought after and commanded a premium price for their spectacular views and for their greater prestige. Golconda Amalgamated Mining has moved its headquarters to the tower. First Golcondan Bank and Trust, GolCo Financial Group, and AlphCent Bancorp have leased space. The stock and commodities exchanges have relocated to the tower, as have Liberty Group Hedge Fund, Alpha Centauri Diamonds Ltd., and the Association of Golcondan Gold Dealers. There has been similar support and enthusiasm from the public sector institutions. Perhaps the Governor would care to comment in that regard?”

“With pleasure,” Governor von Lembke’s bass voice replied. “On the basis of the recent planet-wide referendum passed overwhelmingly by the voters, we have transferred the seat of provincial government out of the old State House and into new space in the tower.”

“Bravo!” “Here, here!” several voices chimed in.

“I’d like to hear the police report on security at the tower,” Mr. Bottoms said. “Chief?”

The Chief of Police’s gravelly voice replied, “We have retained the services of a security consulting firm that has provided a team of specialists to coordinate with the Police Department and Governor’s office in implementing security planning.

“As a first step, we have moved Police Headquarters into a specially built, reinforced bunker on the 6th floor, equipped with the most advanced electronic security, communications and surveillance equipment. This bunker will serve as command and control headquarters in case of emergency.”

“Which brings us,” Governor von Lembke’s bass voice said, “to the Barnard’s Star, hmm... problem.” The room fell silent.

In the years and decades following the arrival at Alpha Centauri and the discovery of Planet 3, mankind had continued to pursue its endless quest for ever more adventure and ever further expansion. Ships from Earth had continued their exploration of the galaxy and, by means of enhanced hibertransit and Photon Drive II, had reached the next stellar system beyond Alpha Centauri, Barnard’s Star. The explorers were followed soon after by colonists eager to settle on newly discovered planets in the system and to reap the riches of these new found lands.

However, the habitable planets in the Barnard’s Star system were already occupied. Moreover, the non-humanoid alien inhabitants of the Barnard’s Star system were technologically advanced. At the time their home planet was discovered by explorers from Earth, these aliens had already achieved rudimentary interplanetary space travel within their own star system.

The explorers from Earth discovered that the aliens were, in fact, on the verge of developing their own primitive form of photon drive that would permit them to reach neighboring star systems such as Alpha Centauri and, eventually, Earth within a decade or two.

The Barnard’s Star aliens stubbornly refused to accommodate the visitors from Earth. Displaying a complete lack of hospitality, the aliens ignored all peaceful overtures and refused all attempts to extend cooperation. They expelled all foreigners from their planet; denied landing rights to all Earth ships; banned humans from their stellar system; and, in a final slap in the face, cut off all communications with the explorers and colonists from Earth, great numbers of whose ships continued to approach the Barnard’s Star system despite the severe measures taken by the aliens.

Inevitably, misunderstandings occurred and led to unfortunate incidents. An alien population center was mistakenly vaporized by a missile apparently fired from an Earth cruiser in a case of human error. A regularly scheduled commercial spaceliner en route from Earth was then destroyed by a shot from a laser canon of uncertain origin.

Accusations and recriminations were made by both sides. A number of skirmishes broke out. The number and frequency of incidents increased and, before long, war broke out in all but name, with each side blaming the other for starting it.

The violence escalated; casualties and destruction of property began to mount; government leaders denounced the savage enemy; and the situation deteriorated to the point where both sides became consumed by hatred and the thirst for vengeance. Finally, each side, human and alien, came to seek no less than the total annihilation of the other, “inferior” species.

In the 18th year of the armed conflict, the year in which the 200th anniversary of the discovery of Planet 3 was to be celebrated, first reports reached Golconda of alien forces observed in photon drive ships. This was the “problem” to which von Lembke had alluded. The most serious concerns were raised on Planet 3 that the active hostilities, thus far confined to the remote region of Barnard’s Star, might spill over into Alpha Centauri, the nearest Earth territory to the fighting.

With the full attention of the Steering Committee, von Lembke continued, “You are all aware of the somewhat alarming news which has recently been received.”

“Yes.” “Yes, of course.” A number of voices concurred.

Von Lembke went on, “There has been some understandable if needless anxiety among the populations of the inhabited planets in our system.”

“Quite understandable.” “Can’t blame them.”

“Authorities on Earth,” von Lembke continued, “have assured all parties that the insurgency in the Barnard Star system is limited and our forces are in complete command of the situation with victory near at hand.”

“Thank God for that!” “I should hope so.”

“However,” von Lembke lowered his voice, “and this is highly classified information, the Supreme Commander of Golcondan Armed Forces has advised me that disturbing intelligence had been intercepted. Our agents, monitoring enemy communications, have picked up alien radio ‘chatter’ about a possible strike against Alpha Centauri.”

“What?!” “Impossible!” “It can’t be!” “They wouldn’t dare!”

“Our sources say a ‘major event’ was discussed, one that would ‘mobilize the struggle against foreign domination’ and would demonstrate the ‘internal weakness of the colonial invaders’.”

“What rubbish! Well, what are we going to do about it?!” the Chief of Police burst out.

Von Lembke went on, “This intelligence has been brought to the attention of the highest authorities on Earth. However, the source is considered unreliable and an attack on Earth or its territories unlikely. The insurgents simply do not have the firepower or technology to match our forces. Alpha Centauri is heavily armed and well defended. The several planets have more than sufficient military force to defend the system. A secure network of fail-safe early warning satellites connected to fleet headquarters enables our military to launch a massive counterstrike against any large body of alien spacecraft that attempts to enter the system.”

On that note, amidst the scraping of chairs, the shuffling of papers and the buzz of voices, with a hint of grumbling but generally reassured, the Steering Committee closed its meeting and preparations for the anniversary celebration continued unabated until the grand day finally arrived.

* * *

Proceed to part 3...

Copyright © 2007 by Bill Bowler

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