Part 1: Ubuntu
There is no irony quite so poignant as when an instrument of horror and destruction becomes the saviour of mankind, reflected Professor Martin Mandho. Floating one thousand kilometres above the surface of Mars, he looked out upon the dream which had taken most of his life to realise. He could not feel elation. He saw not beauty in the silver lines, but death. He could not reassure himself that his original intentions were pure, motivated by both a desire to defend humanity and a fierce, fierce pride of his people. The Earth Alliance, strength through unity. Compassion for fellow humans.
Humanity had almost turned this weapon against fellow humans!
I did not take leadership of this project for selfish reasons, thought Professor Mandho, yet, I cannot escape my conscience. I am a hero to my people. But I am damned at the same time.
Today was the launch of the second-largest artificial structure ever constructed by humanity. She was second only to the cage which bound her.
Professor Mandho had been invited to the hastily-prepared launch ceremony on the observation deck. He declined the invitation, citing ill health. In reality, he did not wish to celebrate the commissioning of the ship. He wished only peace in the solitude of his quarters.
Yes, he was a party to humanity's most astonishing accomplishment. But at what price was this achievement bought? Blood, thought Mandho. Some of it mine, some of it innocent lives. Now that the project had achieved fruition, he wanted nothing more to do with the ship.
"Professor Mandho." Rear Admiral Carey had looked up at him with grey, steel-flecked eyes. The younger man had aged to such an extent in the past few days that age lines now traced their way across his haggard face. "What I am about to reveal to you is classified information. Unauthorised dissemination of this information is punishable by law. Am I clear on this?"
"Good." Carey took a deep breath. "Very good. I received a communique from the Security Council this morning. Our defensive line has been unsuccessful in halting the advance of the Gigas-class warship. As of 0335 hours, the Shivan vessel is en route to this system and is expected to enter Sol space within the next few days. I've been informed by GTVA command that they are unable to commit any further assets to the defence of this system." Admiral Carey, one of the most powerful officers in the EA fleet, looked at Professor Mandho with a haunted, defeated expression. Mandho understood. The objectives given to the Ships of the Line were clear: draw the line, give no ground. If they had failed, Admiral Wright could only be asking one thing.
"Admiral, I have already given you my report. The Icanus is not ready for combat operations. The weapons systems have not been tested, we've barely finished our tactical simulations, and she is still crewed by only one fifth of her complement. If you send the ship out there, it's suicide!"
"I've read your report Professor, but, frankly, we've all run out of options. In a few days every man, woman and child in this system will be dead unless we can stop the Shivans from reaching Earth. I'm authorising the launch of the Icanus at 0600 hours, tomorrow. Your ship has become humanity's only remaining hope."
When the dark news had hit the station, there was a storm of activity. Civilians well aware of the tactical significance of their orbiting home immediately booked seats on departure shuttles. The destination wasn't important: Mars, Io, Titan, anywhere else but Earth or the station on which they were based. The last shuttle left with barely 30 percent of the total population having evacuated. Military personnel were stretched thin between keeping the remainder of the station's inhabitants in order and making launch preparations. Professor Mandho, despite his misgivings, had done his part to ensure that the launch was to go as smoothly as possible. With the completion of everything that had to be done, he had retired to his quarters to brood.
Maybe I'm just an old, old man, he reflected. An old man weary of fighting, and who has lost hope. Maybe, maybe if the Icanus managed to save humanity from extinction, his dream would be vindicated. His conscience would be put to rest. His life's work would mean something other than death.
The mighty engines flared up, died, flared up again. Docking tubes detached from the ship with a hiss of escaping air. With a wrenching groan from the hull that was felt rather than heard, the Icanus edged forward. Unlike the launch of the EASD Nemesis, there was no ceremony to this. There were no flights of ships taking escort, no fireworks, no camera crews. There was just the silence of space, and the stillness of an entire race holding its breath in anticipation.
Mandho closed the blinds of his window and walked over to his private liquor cabinet. He opened a bottle of Scotch whiskey which he had been saving for this occasion. He did not see the ship clear the dockyard, nor did he see the 20 kilometre-long behemoth leap forward and melt into a dazzling circle of blue and white light. He did not hear the sudden cries of jubilation that would have come from the observation deck and echoed throughout the station. He heard instead the sobs of a people so tormented by nightmares thought long vanquished, that it was on the verge of breakdown.
He raised his glass to an imaginary audience. "Ladies and gentlemen," he intoned. "I give you the Icanus."
Part 2: Controversy
Fifty years earlier, the Great Hall of Representatives gave audience to a distinguished academic. He was softly-spoken, with a gentle accent that suggested an origin somewhere in East Africa. His address to the General Assembly was brief, but significant.
"Representatives of the Earth Alliance General Assembly, I thank you for your audience and for your charity in allowing me to appear today. I know that in this time of upheaval and disarray there is precious little time available for indulgence. Yet, in these times of change it is crucial that we do not lose sense of who we are, and we must always remember why these terrible events came to happen. I am here to propose a project which will reunite all of humankind in the spirit of ubuntu: the very essence of humanity that binds us."
The lights in the great hall dimmed, and the giant screen behind the speaker's dais lit up in a holographic display. The image of an Orion-class destroyer became visible, a wireframe set against a backdrop of stars. The symbol of the Galactic Terran Alliance was superimposed against the image, inciting murmers from several delegates in the assembly.
"In the years leading up to the Great War, no other ships symbolised Terran military strength to the extent of the destroyer-class warship. Citizens of star systems in which these vessels were based were assured of their safety. These ships of the line were crewed by the finest warriors that humanity could produce. They were a symbol of what all of humanity could achieve if it worked as one.
"The Vasudans came, and, in time, the Shivans. The need for these beacons of hope became more powerful. Legends were born. Mighty deeds accomplished by these ships and its crew were recited in story to every child, so that they are still remembered today. When the Lucifer stranded this system, we lost so many of these ships. However, the stories still remain. We still remember the heroes of the Great War.
"Times have changed. Because of the terrible cataclysm which forced us into introspection, we as a people have grown. We have become quintessentially human. Because of this, I propose that the time is right for us to create our own stories."
The wireframe representation of the Orion was replaced with a new, sleek design. The GTA symbol disappeared to make way for the arms of the Earth Alliance. Those delegates who were previously affecting a mild interest in the proceedings now stared at the screen with interest.
"Members of the assembly, I present the Icanus. My team of researchers have drafted a preliminary design for a new class of vessel that exceeds the specifications of the current destroyer class of vessel by tenfold. Utilising the most advanced armour composition that is available, she will be all but invulnerable to even the strongest Shivan weapons encountered during the Great War. My team expects-"
The speaker looked up, his address interrupted and his momentum disturbed. Demetri Al'faid was looking at him, his dark features matched by the dark expression on his face. "I'm sorry, Secretary-General. Is...is there a problem?"
"I apologise for the interruption, Professor, but I must have clarification over a few issues before we proceed." General Secretary Al'faid looked down at his desk, and Professor Mandho realised that he must have been taking notes during his speech. "First item. What you are describing, Professor, is essentially a new flagship for the Earth Alliance. Am I correct?"
"Yes, Secretary-General...well, almost. The impact of this ship is intended at more than just on a military level. She was also designed to harness pride and unity in our race, and serve as an icon of Earth military power."
"Which are all the desirable properties of a flagship, Professor. However, we already have a flagship project under construction. Daedra Steiner's Nemesis has recently been approved."
"It...it has?" Professor Mandho was shaken. Doctor Steiner's project was his primary rival, and his main obstacle in gaining government approval. For her project to have been approved was a dire blow to his project.
"If we are going to approve this project, Professor, then I'm afraid you must outline a new role for this Icanus."
"Yes, General Secretary."
"Second item. How do you propose to resource this project? We are already short on resources, and are in a process of extensive rebuilding."
"Ah." Professor Mandho licked his lips nervously. He was not sure of how his next statement would be taken. "As I was about to mention, General, the ship is designed to be invulnerable to all known forms of weapons, and allowing for more advanced weaponry in the future. She will be more powerful as an asset than her equivalent power in destroyers. Therefore, I propose that funding be diverted away from the fleet reconstruction program into this project."
This remark caused several of the delegates to mutter darkly to one another. Demetri Al'faid cleared his throat. "I'm afraid that your proposal is not feasible at this time, Professor Mandho. We require fleet assets to maintain a powerbase in this system, and there are still rogue elements in the outer rim that require neutralisation. Let us not also forget the possibility of a Shivan incursion into this system. Twenty Orions will provide us with a far better projection of force than a single ship."
"I...understand, General Secretary." Mandho bowed his head in resignation.
"Is there anything else before we submit a motion?"
"No, General Secretary."
"Then I hereby submit a motion to approve Professor Mandho's Icanus project. All those in favour of approval?"
The images on the screen changed to a display indicating the affirmative responses from the assembly. Only thirteen percent were in favour of approval.
"Secretary-General." A voice from the general assembly. A tall, blonde-haired man with severe features stood up from his desk, standing at attention. "Professor Armand Eriksson. I beg leave to address the assembly." Al'faid appraised the newcomer for a few moments, and gave a nod of assent. Eriksson continued. "I'd like to contribute a few points to the topic at hand which may assist Professor Mandho in his proposal."
Professor Mandho looked up at his unlikely ally. He had heard of Armand Eriksson's achievements in the field of weapons research. Eriksson was the head of an old GTA project delving into high-powered Shivans weapon technology from highly-classified data gathered during the Great War and what devices could be salvaged from the shattered Lucifer hulk. The most notable achievement had been the construction of the Punisher: a huge platform-based cannon deployed in Earth orbit should the planet ever be threatened. Mandho had had deep personal misgivings about the prospect of a weapon capable of one-shot, 100% casualty-rate planetary bombardment orbiting Earth.
"Professor Mandho's ship concept may seem unfeasible when used in a standard destroyer role, but I see a potential alternative use of the design. If we can amalgamate the Punisher cannon and this new ship, then we may have a new mobile weapons platform. This will substantially increase the versatility of the Punisher cannon, while giving us a powerful fleet asset. The cannon need not merely be a reactionary measure, but will have the potential to be an offensive weapon."
"That is an interesting concept, Professor Eriksson," said the Secretary-General. "It provides an elegant and feasible solution to the first item of contention. However, what of the second? Where are we to find enough resources to build this ship?"
"Current resourcing operations would suggest that there are indeed too few resources to undertaken a project of this magnitude, General Secretary. However, I propose an alternative method to enable the extraction of minerals previously beyond our reach." He keyed in some data into his desk screen, and broadcast the information to other delegates in the assembly hall. "There are currently four privately-owned mining corporations on the surface of Mars that are still active. By implementing advances in resource-extraction, and by combining these corporations into one government-controlled super-corporation, resource mining can be achieved at a much larger scale."
Mandho looked down at the data on his screen, and was horrified. "Professor Eriksson," he said. "What you propose is the complete strip-mining of the planet."
"What I propose, Professor, is the acquisition of badly-needed resources at a time when the Earth Alliance sorely needs them most. Moreso, the choice of Mars is an prudent one, as it is highly centralised and in close proximity to Earth. Security of the project would be easier to enforce than if the project was based in, say, Europa."
"But there are three hundred million people on Mars!"
"Professor Eriksson," said Secretary-General Al'faid, "Your colleague's objections are not unfounded. Has your team conducted any tests to evaluate the extent of which the surface of the planet will be affected by global mining of this scale? I remind you of the terraforming project that is currently under progress."
"Unfortunately, Secretary-General, our study did not find any conclusive evidence on what the effects of the mining will be with regard to the planet's surface. Tectonic activity may increase, but it should not endanger residents currently on the surface. The terraforming process may slow, even halt, but I assure you that it will not be reversed. In any case, I request that the motion be resubmitted." Professor Eriksson turned to Mandho with a sardonic smile. "In the event that Martian residents experience a decrease in living standards...well, it wouldn't be the first time relocation became necessary."
"Relocation?!" cried Mandho in disbelief.
"Peace, Professor Mandho," chided Al'faid. "Professor Eriksson has provided possible solutions to both points of contention, which seem feasible enough to carry out at this time. I will hereby resubmit the motion to approve Professor Mandho's Icanus project. All those in favour of approval?"
The screen at the head of the assembly hall lit up to indicate the assent of those in the assembly. A full ninety percent of delegates approved of Professor Mandho's project.
"It has been decided. Professor Mandho, the Icanus has been approved for construction under the conditions of integrating the Punisher cannon into its design, and basing construction facilities in orbit of Mars. Under these conditions, are you willing to undertake directorship of this project?"
Martin Mandho looked over at the assembly, and at the smiling face of Armand Eriksson. He felt his control over the proceedings slipping through his fingers, and he saw his dream of uniting humanity twisting into something entirely different and sinister. Under these new conditions, the Icanus would be nothing less than a mobile planet-killer.
"Yes, Secretary-General." The only thing he could do now is fight, and try to shift the project back towards the noble ideology that he originally envisioned. No matter what happens, he thought, I will make sure that this ship is constructed for the good of all humanity.
Deep inside himself, he felt the first stirrings of his conscience as it started to begin its ceaseless attack.