Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Chapter Two: The Newton Declaration

With the Orbit Jet safely landed and its systems shut down, Rocky Jones and Winky DelPonte had changed into their groundside duty uniforms of navy blue and white tunics and peaked caps. At the foot of the gantry, DelPonte glanced up at the ground crew and called, "Okay, lock her up in the barn, boys!" Joining Jones on the ground, he continued their conversation on one of his favorite topics: where to spend their leave. "Hey, what about the seashore, Rocky? I know a place called Paradise Isle." His voice waxed lyrical as he described its manifold delights. "Balmy nights and soft music under a big tropical moon! White sands washed by an emerald sea! How's it sound?"

As usual, Jones refused to allow himself to be swayed by DelPonte's florid speech. "Let's see what Drake has to say about that, hmm?"

DelPonte refused to allow his parade to be rained upon. "But he's already said, leave papers!"

The discussion between the two men continued as they walked the half mile between landing pad 17 and the Armstrong Building. They could of course have taken some form of motorized transport, but the two had been in space for four months, and by unspoken mutual consent, they felt the need to stretch their legs under the familiar tug of natural gravity and feel the afternoon sun warm their faces. DelPonte, still trying to sway Jones' opinion in favor of Paradise Isle, was describing a previous leave he had taken there, which involved an improbable number of beautiful women vying for his attention.

As they neared the Armstrong Building's main entrance, however, DelPonte's description of an accommodating Hungarian beauty on a glass-bottomed tour boat was interrupted when the two of them barely escaped being run down by a speeding ground car. The driver, DelPonte noted automatically, was blonde, and from his brief glimpse of her, very pretty. As the two followed the ground car to the entrance, DelPonte couldn't resist motioning toward the sky and saying, "Hey, you know something? It's safer up there."

Both men watched as the driver left the ground car and hurried up the steps into the Armstrong Building. DelPonte felt that his initial analysis of the situation was confirmed: definitely blonde, and definitely pretty. She was dressed in a fashionable ensemble of a light blue minidress and short burgundy cape, with calf-high black boots. DelPonte, who of necessity was as much a connoisseur of women's fashions as of women themselves, could tell that they were the product of some high-toned boutique in Paris, or Tokyo, or Quito.

Grinning, DelPonte added, "But who wants to be up there? Come on, Skipper!"

* * *

Back in his office, Ronald Drake had watched in stunned amazement as the unidentified ground car and its fashionably-dressed occupant braved one hair-pin curve after another as it barrelled up the twisting mountain road ascending the Andes to the alpine plateau holding Tsiolkovsky Spaceport. Aircars of course were forbidden within the grounds of the spaceport due to the danger of collision with arriving or departing spacecraft.

Griffin stood by the controls of the spaceport's defence grid, with the car and its driver centered on the viseograph. Every square foot of the spaceport grounds was covered by the most advanced energy weapons available to the Department of Space Affairs. His hand hovered over the button that would destroy the vehicle. "Shall I fire, sir?" Griffin asked.

Drake shook his head. He could tell that the driver was neither saboteur nor terrorist, but simply an impatient -- and reckless -- young woman. Like DelPonte, he had noted her expensive clothing, which was well-matched by her ground car, a centuries-old antique that had been carefully preserved -- presumably by someone else, since the woman's driving suggested that she wasn't worried about maintaining its pristine condition.

The woman was making straight for the Armstrong Building -- straight for him, unless he missed his guess. He said to Griffin, "Meet her down in the lobby and escort her up to my office."
His aide had simply said, "Yes, sir," and left the office. In the few months Griffin had been working for him, he had learned to humor his superior's occasional peculiar notions.

Drake continued to monitor the woman's progress through the spaceport, smiling at her close encounter with Jones and DelPonte. It wasn't long before she entered his office with Griffin at her side.

Although he had been amused by the woman's behavior, it wouldn't do to let her know that. He gave her a severe look and greeted her with the words, "Do you know you're a trespasser? On any foot of that mountain road you could have been destroyed?"

"Yes, Mr. Secretary," the woman insisted, "but I had to take the chance." Reckless, and determined, Drake told himself.

"What's your name?" he asked.

"Vena Ray," she answered simply, as though that explained everything. In fact, it explained much. The Ray family was one of the most prominent associated with the ongoing effort to terraform Venus. They had taken on what might well be the most formidable task in the Solar System, and were making a success of it. The Ray family was a large, wealthy one, and there were half a dozen Vena Rays in positions of power and influence throughout the United Worlds. This one, though, was too young to be one of them. He decided he needed more information.

"And your reason for being here?" he queried.

Again, her answer was simple but provocative. "Professor Newton."

"I have no interest in anything that concerns the Professor," Drake stated flatly.

Dominic Newton had been one of Earth's greatest resources in the struggle against the Ophiuchians. He had devoted his life and intellect to understanding the secrets of the ancient alien technology that served as the foundation of the Ophiuchius Group's power. For thirty-five years, as head of the Department of Advanced Studies at the University of Earth, Newton had been able to match the Ophiuchians advance for advance, discovery for discovery. Drake could point to half a dozen devices in his office and say with complete honesty, "If it weren't for Newton, this wouldn't exist". On a mountaintop on the outskirts of Quito, Newton had built an observatory that was unmatched elsewhere in the Solar System, and very possibly in the Ophiuchius Group as well. Using principles that were understood by perhaps half a dozen other humans in the universe, Newton was able to peer into the depths of space and bring back crucial information. More than one of the Ophiuchian plots that had been foiled by the Space Rangers had been uncovered by the Newton Observatory.

Thirty-five years of honored service to the UWSS had ended the month before. Newton had joined a team of other scientists from the Solar System in a cultural exchange program that brought them to the Ophiuchian homeworld for an interstellar scientific conference. The conference had ended in disarray when Newton announced his intention to remain on Ophiuchius Prime and become an Ophiuchian citizen. The reverberations from that announcement were still being felt within the halls of power on Earth, and Drake knew that Newton's actions might yet cause the fall of the Torres administration and the loss of his own position as Secretary of Space Affairs.

"I know," Vena Ray answered. "I know. You believe he's a traitor to the United Worlds of the Solar System."

"Yes," he said with finality. "His own words prove it."

"But, Mr. Secretary," she pleaded, "during our exchange of scientists with the Ophiuchius Group, I was an interpreter. When the rest of us left, I shook hands with the Professor. His eyes tried to tell me something. He gave me this." She held out her hand to him.

Drake shook his head in sadness. It was a medal he himself had awarded to Newton five years before. He read the inscription, "To Professor Newton from Secretary Drake, with profound gratitude and eternal friendship."

Vena Ray's eyes were shining as she appealed to him. "But, Mr. Secretary, why did he leave the medal in my hand? He must have wanted me to bring it to you."

"I don't know." Drake understood what Ray was trying to tell him. By giving her his medal from the Department of Space Affairs, she thought that Newton was sending a message that his defection hadn't been genuine, that he was somehow being coerced by the Ophiuchians. Drake himself wanted with all his heart to believe she was right. Nevertheless, he felt compelled to explain to her: "Professor Newton recorded his decision on film. The Ophiuchians left it at our outpost on Secinnus to be delivered to me. It is proof positive." He turned to Griffin. "Griff, project the Newton Declaration."

"Yes, sir," said Griffin, moving off to operate the library console in Drake's office.

Looking back at Ray, Drake noticed that Rocky Jones and Winky DelPonte had entered the office, and he felt his heart lifting at the sight of them. The problems of interstellar politics receded from his mind, as they always did when Rocky and Winky returned from another successful mission. He excused himself to Ray and joined them. "Mission complete and job well done, boys," he said, beaming as he shook their hands. "Congratulations."

"Thank you, sir," they both answered.

"Now, I have new orders," he continued, picking up two documents from his desk. With a chuckle, he said, "Here are your leave papers. Relax. Stretch out and watch the stars as something mysterious and beautiful, not as places you've been to make friends or fight our enemies. Report back on the 20th."

DelPonte's eyes lit up. "Hey, Rocky, two months leave! How about that?"

"Ready with the Newton Declaration, Mr. Secretary," Griffin reported.

"Thank you, Griff." Turning back to Jones and DelPonte, Drake added, "Enjoy your time off, boys. You've earned it!"

"Thank you, sir!" exclaimed DelPonte. "Come on, Skipper, let's not waste a second of that two months! Paradise Island, here we come!"

Jones, however, didn't seem to share DelPonte's enthusiasm. "Wait a minute, Winky." He turned back to Drake and asked, "Sir, what does Griff mean by 'the Newton Declaration'? Has something happened to Professor Newton?"

With a heavy heart, Drake explained to Jones and DelPonte about Newton's trip to Ophiuchius Prime with the scientific exchange, and about his sudden announcement that he intended to remain among the Ophiuchians. He dreaded seeing their reactions. The younger men of the Space Rangers idolized Professor Newton. Although he had never worn the uniform of the Space Rangers, he was considered as much a part of the organization as they themselves were. He was like the fixed center around which their universe revolved. Hearing that he had defected was like hearing that the Sun had defected.

"I don't believe it, Mr. Secretary!" DelPonte declared. "There's just no way Professor Newton would have joined up with the Ophiuchians! It must be a set-up!"

As Drake had expected, Jones' reaction was less impulsive than his co-pilot's; his first instinct was to find out as much as possible before making up his mind. "As long as we're here," he said to DelPonte, "let's see the Newton Declaration too, huh?"

Drake escorted Ray into his office and seated himself beside her in a chair facing the output screen from the library console. "Whenever you're ready, Griff," he told his aide.

Jones and DelPonte followed him in. "Mind if we join you, Mr. Secretary?" Jones asked.

"Please do, Rocky."

As DelPonte closed the door to the outer office, the lights dimmed, and the library screen lit up. There was a legend in the bottom left corner marked, RECEIVED AT SECINNUS STATION 17 APRIL 2454. That disappeared, to be replaced by another legend marked PROFESSOR NEWTON'S DECLARATION. The screen darkened, then lit to show six men standing in a well-equipped laboratory. In the forefront stood Professor Dominic Newton, dressed as usual in a white lab coat and the antiquated clothing he affected. Flanking him were two high-ranking members of the Ophiuchian government that Drake recognized: Darganto and Atlasande, both wearing the elaborate uniforms that were the mark of power among the Ophiuchians. Behind them stood three more Ophiuchian men in plainer uniforms. Newton, who was not a tall man, seemed dwarfed by the towering, uniformed Ophiuchians surrounding him.

For perhaps the sixth time in as many days, Drake listened to Dominic Newton saying the impossible: "Secretary Drake, may I first say this? The decision to remain on Ophiuchius is mine and mine alone. I have been influenced by neither word nor act. These people," and here Newton looked around at the five black-uniformed Ophiuchians surrounding him, "are my friends. Perhaps, thinking singularly, I would not have made such a drastic move, and severed the ties of a lifetime. But I must consider my young ward, Bobby. A long life stands before him, and not by heritage, but by my choice, he can now share in the triumph and the glory of Ophiuchius." Newton paused, and looked over to his left. "Come here, Bobby."

Bobby Matthews' parents, George and Deborah Matthews, had been scientists at the Department of Advanced Studies. Two years before, when Bobby was eight years old, both had died as a result of Ophiuchian sabotage while testing a newly-developed spaceship engine. It had been George Matthews' dying wish that Professor Newton become the boy's legal guardian, and Newton had agreed. Not a week went by without a visit to the Armstrong Building by Professor Newton and Bobby, and the boy had been adopted as a mascot by the Space Rangers. Seeing Bobby's serious face, Drake couldn't help but be reminded of Rocky Jones at that age.

Drake heard DelPonte whisper to Jones, "Newton wanted Bobby to become a Space Ranger! He said it a thousand times!" He might have continued in that vein had Jones not shushed him.

On the library screen, Newton had been joined by Bobby, who, despite his youth, was nearly as tall as his guardian. As he usually was, Bobby was dressed in a replica of a Space Ranger uniform; it seemed terribly out of place among the black-clad Ophiuchians. "Mr. Secretary," Newton continued, "you've heard my wish, my declaration." Turning to the boy, he said, "Bobby, say good-bye to our friends."

Bobby looked out of the library screen and said, "Good-bye, Mr. Secretary, and please, sir, say hello to Rocky Jones, to Winky, and to the rest of the Space Rangers."

The library screen went dark, and the lights came back up in Drake's office. Drake turned to Ray, Jones, and DelPonte and added, "A detailed letter made the breach complete. He surrendered all his property, even the Newton Observatory."

There was a long pause while the other three pondered what they had seen and heard. Finally, Jones said slowly, "I'm sorry, sir, but I just can't believe it. Professor Newton was either drugged or forced to make that declaration by a threat on Bobby's life."

"That's true, Mr. Secretary," Ray added, "he's their prisoner."

"With your permission, sir," said Jones, "I'd like to find out." He handed his leave papers to DelPonte, who solemnly tore up both sets.

"Oh well," said DelPonte, "another day, another moon, maybe."

1 comment:

Paul Scrabo said...

Your "Rocky Jones" novelizations are absolutely wonderful. A marvelous job.
I believe Cleolanthe eventually turned good in her last episode along with Atlasande?
Once again, congrats on your fine work. Perhaps you could sell these novelizations? As the show is in public domain?
Paul Scrabo