As Ace’s warships were making their journey back to Earth, neither he, Dot, Nelson, or the humans knew about the political storm which was about to throw the planet into turmoil. In the five months of the Nation’s campaign against the Rexx, the Earth changed radically. By December of 3507, the planet’s continents were rearranged with immense machines to optimize the efficiency of farms, shipping lanes, and roads. New spires made from tough, alien materials rose high into the sky, built in days by the same nano-tech factories that built the Nation’s cities. Plans to build impressive cities on the Moon, Mars, Triton, and other scenic moons of the gas giants were being mulled by corporate conglomerates in partnership with the Nation’s top construction companies.
But mixed in with the news about the strides that Earth had made in this short period of time was doubt and antagonism. For the last five months Gene worked with his agents in the global media, disseminating venomous talking point memos to commentators and writers. His squad of pundits constantly brought up questions about the Nation and its intentions, casting every trade ever made with the cyborgs as a potential Trojan horse. To help make their points hit home, Gene got his hands on top secret documents and with Newman’s blessing, leaked them to the press.
The documents themselves weren’t very informative, but it was what they didn’t contain that escalated the anti-Nation rhetoric to the international level. While the names of the Child High Council were used in press releases and news reports all the time, nobody knew who ruled the whole of the Shadow Nation. The leaked documents mentioned a ruling body known only as the High Command with ten unknown members who met in total secrecy. They also talked of a High Commander who would be working on Earth after the Rexx War. Gene quietly discarded a sentence which noted that the High Command was elected by citizens on a regular cycle rather than appointed and told the pundits to emphasize the secrecy of the High Command day and night.
“So, we’re trading with this mysterious galactic empire ruled by a secret cabal of… I don’t know what and apparently neither does our government and yet they still trade with them!” boomed one of them. “On top of that, we have some mysterious alien ruler working on Earth in total secrecy. That’s just ridiculous!”
“Let me ask you something,” seconded another pundit on his on-line talk show. “How in good judgment do you justify working with alien creatures you don’t know anything about? We’re just supposed to trust these aliens because they have high tech toys? But then again, I shouldn’t be surprised knowing these progressives. If it comes from the sky bearing gifts, it must be good.”
“Councilor Grey has outdone himself this time,” wrote a rather prominent, venomous commentator for a neo-traditionalist website. “I’ve always had a hunch that he would sell us out to the highest bidder to avoid standing up for the human race, but the ease with which these aliens were able to intrude into our daily lives is beyond my wildest nightmares. His actions only prove one thing. Like I’ve been saying for the past 36 years, progressives are naïve and cowardly sellouts who’d rather toss their own mother on an alien dissection table than actually stand up and fight to defend our freedoms.”
A few days after this article was published, the commentator and Gene read it aloud in an opulent office, laughed as they ate some ridiculously expensive sandwiches and planned further verbal lashes at Grey and the progressives.
“Oh my God,” wheezed Gene, his voice coarse from laughter. “I gotta say Frank, you’ve really outdone yourself this time. Toss their own mother on an alien dissection table… Oh my God… How do you come up with this shit?”
“Just call it a stroke of genius,” smirked Frank.
“Well, keep that genius up. We need a lot more of it when Grey retaliates. I hope that you’re not underestimating him. He’s going to fire back with a very good argument. ‘We got the goods, we got one hell of a bargain and we’re doing great.’ Keep plugging away on the selling out Earth angle.”
“Gene, do me a favor though.”
“Don’t bring Newman out. He actually believes this stuff and he’s just going to go off on some long-winded rant and embarrass us.”
But of course, Newman had to appear on television. Gene made a deal to put him on the friendliest neo-traditionalist talk show, hoping that the host’s softball questions would be soft enough for Newman to answer without incident. Focusing mostly on Newman’s legislation to limit how many destroyers and other armed vessels could be in Earth’s space at one time, the host portrayed his guest as a staunch, careful guardian of the planet’s population.
Next, Gene threw another kindling into the fire. Under his close watch, a few neo-traditionalist publications, web journals and rarely watched commentary shows, kept calling those supporting the cyborgs traitors. For a few weeks, the stations continued their verbal assault and Gene carefully watched the ratings and surveys. It was working. Slowly, a core constituency of neo-traditionalists were getting used to the new, controversial talking point. He slowly cranked it up and two months into his campaign, a new tone occupied the neo-traditionalist media.
“That despicable scumbag Grey is selling us out to aliens. I say if these ‘cyborgs’ like being away from Earth that much, why don’t we help them pack up and get the hell out. Then, we should take any of these bleeding-heart traitors who support the Nation and throw them into space with these aliens. If anything, we’ll be doing them a big favor,” wrote a prominent neo-traditionalist.
“You know what my fellow traditionalists?” wrote another. “I’m willing to bet that the Nation set up the whole Rexx thing. Why not? They could get on the good side of the naïve progressives, shower an incredulous public with enough gifts to silence them, and then slowly integrate themselves into our power structure until we’re all slaves of these walking perversions of the natural order.”
Oh yeah… Big spike there, thought Gene as he looked at opinion polls taken right after that article. His pawn found an ideal talking point. Perversion of natural order. Let’s press on.
And soon enough, the neo-traditionalist media-sphere absorbed a new point of cyborg hate. The immortal cyborgs were demonized as hedonistic, selfish, cowardly, and power hungry. All this venom was derived from the human fear of mortality and the disgust and rage of the social traditionalists that some humans played God to cheat death by becoming partly synthetic.
While Gene got off to an early start, Tina waited and planned. In the progressive media-sphere her contacts were amassing ever more talking points, preparing for an all-out blitz on her command. As the neo-traditionalists fumed over the cyborgs’ synthetic bodies and shot smears accusing progressives of treason, cowardice, and hedonism to bring ancient grudges back to the surface, Tina unleashed her war hounds, ready to battle the enraged neo-traditionalists.
They attacked Newman and his supporters as maniacs, lunatics, vicious hate mongers, and selfish, authoritarian bullies who’d rather deprive humans of any advantage, any resource, and any technology rather than allow someone to deviate from the traditionalist dogma.
“The Nation flew 60,000 light years to Earth to stage a fiery and bloody battle around our equator just so they could eventually rule a species they could wipe out during lunch and that has little to offer them except some deuterium,” reasoned a progressive pundit. “What kind of arrogance and lunacy does is take to assume that we’re such an important species that hyper-advanced alien races have to rely on us to do all their grunt work? One robot from the Nation can print a 135 story tower in three days. They need us why again?”
“Calling us traitors for disagreeing with them is one of those typical attacks traditionalists use to justify their hatred of anything different,” charged his colleague. “If it was up to traditionalists and their ilk, we would still be in the Dark Ages, thinking that Earth was flat and rested in the center of the universe. They’ve been riding the coattails of the progressives for thousands of years to better food, medicine, technology, and knowledge. And how do they repay us for taking them along for the ride? By steaming, vile insults and slams in their private press!”
On a news network with a progressive lean, a commentator was grilling the prominent neo-traditionalist who wrote about how it would be a good idea to throw progressives who supported trade with the Nation into space. Even though he used a list of talking points provided by Tina rather than his own words, he wholeheartedly wanted to tell her off and didn’t hesitate to get nasty.
“… and I quote your article ‘Then, we should take any of these bleeding-heart losers who support the Traitor Nation and throw them into space with these aliens.’ What is that all about?”
“Well Tom, I was just being figurative…”
“I could be really figurative too. How about we chain every neo-traditionalist underground and beat them with sticks. I’m just making a figurative suggestion, no need to take me literally.”
“No, no that’s not the same…”
“Why? Because I’m talking about traditional movements?”
“No, because you refuse to grasp the distinction between respect for other people’s beliefs with betraying the human race Tom.”
“Show me where the human race is being betrayed.”
“We’ve incorporated a bunch of aliens who run on human brains into our lives and they’re selling us everything we use right now. We don’t know who governs them, who runs their empire, and we’re still buying things from them. When does it stop? When do progressives look beyond the buck and start worrying about ethics?”
“And when do traditionalists start caring about reason and logic? A thousand years ago, people like you sat in that chair and fumed on and on about how their country was so dependent on another country and how all of this wouldn’t end well and look at the world now! We have a powerful, vibrant global economy in which workers no longer have to worry about local recessions and corrections because they’re mobile! All people like you tried to do is dismantle that system.”
The debate ran for another half an hour. Neither of the pundits came up with a compelling set of reasons to convince their ideological opposites to adopt a different viewpoint but that wasn’t the goal. The goal was to energize the core of the neo-traditionalist camp and entrench them. Tina figured that a traditionalist core seething with rage, spilling their toxic venom and accusing the population of Earth of betraying humanity would offend voters and anger progressives enough to take action.
The commentators in her network kept up the attack, making the debate all about the sanity of the neo-traditionalist movement. As the opinion polls confirmed her approach, Tina leaked Newman’s theory to the press. The press had a field day with the story, reporting that a Councilor has gone mad, imagining that small quantities of blood the Nation used for biomedical research was being used in some sinister plot to take over the Earth from the inside out.
Everybody soon forgot about the mysterious High Command. It was a lot more exciting to hear about Newman’s wild theories which sounded as if they were torn out of a third-rate conspiracy book than leaked documents about who was ruling what in some godforsaken part of the cosmos.
Gene started adjusting Newman’s theories for better wording so they wouldn’t sound quite so insane to the traditionalist public. With the combined effort of every pundit in his digital rolodex, he slowly drilled into the minds of millions that Newman’s theory was simply taken out of context by a vindictive press out for blood, a press that was working in the interests of the Nation and spiteful progressives who wanted to see Newman and all other traditionalists fail.
By the time that Ace’s destroyer was just a day away from Earth, the heated rhetoric was boiling, ready to split the planet in half. Ace and his crew would land right in the middle of this political upheaval with every pundit ready to tear into them, doing his or her best to get them to follow a party line. Oblivious to this storm, Ace, Dot, Steve, Nelson, and Christine were expecting a quick and pleasant vacation, a little rest and relaxation on a beautiful planet after spending months in the killing fields of the Rexx domain.
The small squadron of destroyers along with a few transports slowly approached Earth’s orbit. On the bridge of Ace’s destroyer, Christine and Steve looked at the reshaped world, noting how the continents were now lined up closer to the equator. Nelson and Dot also studied the planet, excitedly discussing how the new set-up of landmasses would weaken and reduce storms on Earth as it left plenty of water to evaporate into rain clouds which would support an entire continent worth of new farmland. It was good news for the Nation. It meant that more of those fresh delicacies from Earth would come their way as soon as they entered the final stages of the trade agreement made with the International Council.
“Why isn’t Ace here?” asked Christine. “This is beautiful, he has to see this!”
“Ace should be out of the shower now,” replied Dot.
“I’ll go get him,” said Christine and proceeded Ace and Dot’s bedroom on the destroyer.
She knocked and walked in to freeze in place, blush, turn around and cough with an almost tangible awkwardness. Behind her, barely dry and naked, Ace was trying his best not to burst out laughing. The most he allowed himself to express was an amused grin as he took his uniform and started getting dressed.
“You know,” he said. “I didn’t say ‘come in’ before you ran in for a reason. I’m just getting dressed.”
“Eh… yeah…” blushed Christine. “I’m very sorry about that.”
“Doesn’t matter. I doubt I’m the first guy you saw naked.”
“Guy, no. But cyborg…”
“I’m still technically human. We’ve been over this.”
“Yes, but you look so different.”
“Is that good or bad?”
“I don’t know. It’s just different.”
She paused and coughed anxiously.
“By the way…” she noted shyly. “I didn’t know that you were… anatomically correct.”
“Didn’t we have the reproduction discussion?” laughed Ace.
“I thought it was like a cloning thing… I don’t know.”
“You can turn around now.”
Christine turned around as Ace was fastening his belt.
“Ace, did you get the scar on your stomach on Rexx Prime?” she asked with concern.
“No… That scar is at least 1,300 years old.”
“I’m sure you could have it repaired…”
“Nah, I’m pretty fond of it. It says that I’ve been somewhere and killed something.”
“Well… I came down to make sure you saw the Earth. It’s like a whole new planet now.”
“Oh, so you mean you didn’t want to look at me naked?”
“Oh, stop it Ace…”
“I guess I could forgive you…”
“Oh, just come on.”
“I’m coming, I’m coming. Hold your horses.”
“That’s ‘stop revving your engine.’”
“Whatever. I’m old. I‘m entitled to obscure and archaic sayings that no one knows anymore.”
Ace and Christine soon joined the rest of the crew on the bridge, admiring the beautiful, almost alien world in the holographic wall. It was truly like a different planet from space, but on the surface, it was the same, old Earth and Ace would soon feel the full brunt of all its dirty politics, power schemes and yellow press.