‘It’s too dangerous,’ said the Head of Diplomacy. ‘Once anything leaves Terrestra at the moment, it could come under attack, if not from the Zandrians themselves, from their sympathisers.’
Razjosh had just finished putting his case for the transfer of himself and the new Peace Child from Terrestra to Zandra. He looked round at the hall full of Council members. It wasn’t the first time he had had to talk to them. Of course Elders should be able to talk to Council of Heads’ members. But they were all very clever people, all of them in charge of one aspect of life on Terrestra, and Elder though he was, it was still daunting.
Frazier Kennedy was staring at him. Razjosh had a lot of respect for the Head of Education. He was one of the most sincere Heads of Services that there was. But he had changed since that daughter of his had gone missing all those years ago.
‘And the boy is quite ready, you think?’ he asked Razjosh.
‘He certainly is,’ replied Razjosh. ‘And raring to go. You know how bold our youngsters can be.’
‘I certainly do,’ said Frazier. ‘Thank goodness they are.’
He grinned briefly and then a cloud seemed to pass across his face.
I guess he’s thinking about one youngster in particular, thought Razjosh.
The Head of Education was staring, day-dreaming. Then he grinned.
‘You’ve always got to trust to delegate,’ he said. ‘After all, we made them what they are.’
Not all the faces in the Council Chamber were as friendly as Frazier Kennedy’s, though. Razjosh could not tell at all what some people were thinking and others were positively hostile. The Head of Transport slouched in his seat. He had not said anything during the debate and he had his arms crossed in front of his chest. He was scowling at Razjosh.
He’s not supposed to look like that at an Elder, thought Razjosh. But he knew that he shouldn’t be expecting automatic respect. He was supposed to command it. I’m losing my touch, definitely.
The Master called order.
‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ he said. ‘We shall vote after the recess. Refreshments will be served for thirty minutes.’
The members of the Council kept their distance from Razjosh. People never did quite seem to know how to deal with Elders. He guessed Frazier Kennedy would have been friendly enough, but he was deep in conversation with the Head of Building.
Suddenly someone rushed up to him.
‘There is no way, no way, any vessel will ever leave this planet again!’ shouted the voice. It was Ponty Davidson, the Head of Transport. ‘Not if I have anything to do with it. No way do we want any contact with others. We had to struggle to get this planet clean.’
Several people had turned to look to see what was going on. Razjosh recognized the face of Danielle Thomas, the Head of Science. She smiled encouragingly at the Elder.
‘It will bring havoc. There’ll be others wanting to come here next. We don’t need others. We don’t need that pollution. We don’t need Terrestra to return to being a free access planet,’ shouted Davidson.
‘It doesn’t need to do that,’ said Razjosh, quietly. ‘There have been people who have come and gone to the planet from time to time. You know that happens. You know that we just have to keep that from the general public. Surely someone in your position must realise that?’
‘Hah!’ said Davidson. ‘That’s probably how the disease came to Terrestra in the first place. This right that the Elders have to overrule what the Council says. Just who do you think you are? What has happened now just about proves that it’s time to modernise. We want proper democracy on Terrestra.’
The soft mumble of people talking and the gentle clatter of cups had stopped. Everyone was staring at Razjosh and Ponty Davidson. Razjosh knew he had a point. When he himself had left the planet that first time all those years ago, the Council had been hung: there were as many votes against as for. The Elders had overruled and he had been allowed to go. That wasn’t democratic, he knew, but the Elders had access to information which ordinary people did not, and which they were, in any case, in no position to understand.
All sympathy he had had for Davidson’s point of view, however, disappeared immediately in the next few seconds.
‘We do not want help from sub-human beings. Nor do we want to mix with them. I am amazed that Elders have picked a throw-back as a Peace Child. Can we even be sure that he’s a thorough-bred Terrestran? Where did he get that strange appearance from anyway?’
No wonder Kaleem had problems with Stuart Davidson, thought Razjosh. That child has obviously learnt a lot from his father. How can someone like that get into the position of responsibility he’s holding?
‘I’m sure you really don’t mean that,’ Razjosh said quietly to Davidson. But the Head of Transport turned his back on the Elder and marched back into the Council Chamber. The other Heads of Ministries gradually put their cups down and started moving back onto the meeting. No-one spoke a word. Several of them gave the Elder dark looks. Just one or two smiled thinly.
Razjosh braced himself for what he was certain was going to happen next.
The Master called the Council to order again, though this was just a formality this time. No-one was speaking anyway.
‘We shall commence the vote,’ said the Master. ‘Will all Council members connect via the iris scanners and make their choice.’
Razjosh watched the two bars filling up on the screens. He knew that he and Kaleem were not going to be allowed to leave the planet.
The red ‘no’ vote bar was getting longer by the second. The blue ‘yes’ vote bar hardly moved. There was going to be no Elder overrule this time.
The gong on the dataserve signalled that the vote was completed.
‘The Council have voted that there shall be no further mission to Zandra in the foreseeable future,’ said the Master.
Several of the Council Members started to pack away their things and make their way out of the chamber. Danielle Thomas caught Razjosh’s eye. She raised one eye-brow lightly. He guessed he knew which way she had voted. Not that she would have dared say anything. At times like this it was more important than ever to keep your views to yourself.
As Razjosh slowly made his way to the transporter that was waiting to take him back to the Citadel, he asked himself what he was going to tell his young trainee. How was he going to be able to tell him that it looked as if all that training had been for nothing? And there was then the question of what to do next. It was vital that they should negotiate with the Zandrians.