Time Well Spent by Keith Kitchen

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"Are you serious?" He couldn't think of anything else to say. He had always thought this assignment was a waste of time and the research a supreme waste of money. He had felt he had been assigned here as a punishment, being surrounded by the self-centered scientists who couldn't appreciate his soon-to-occur success within the political pantheon that he saw clearly, even if they didn't.

"Positive! It is an audio signal, definitely artificial in origin from at least ninety to one hundred light years distant!"

"My God!" T'lorr breathed. There was a protocol he now had to follow, one unknown to the researchers. He had been briefed on it but never expected to have to implement it any more than the planners who had devised it. No one had actually believed the Deep Space Research would ever accomplish anything more than convincing the populace that the government was trying to find life in the universe. The government didn't want to find other life, it wanted to be left alone to control its own citizens, not find more life.

"Begin ‘RECIPROCITY'," Atrus called.

"Beginning," Klonos replied.

"What are you doing?" T'lorr gasped. He hadn't conceived that they would react so quickly.

"What we're paid to do, Commander. This is what we've trained for and what we've dreamed for."

T'lorr hesitated, unsure of himself for a second. He watched as Klonos reached out and threw a switch. Frozen in time, the Commander watched as the computer began to transmit the location of his planet and what was hoped to be a friendly greeting.

Exactly what he was supposed to prevent.

"NO!" T'lorr screamed as he reached out and punched the "Kill" switch.

"What are you doing?" Atrus snapped in disbelief.

T'lorr pulled out his hand communicator. "Diablo! I say again, Diablo!"

"I demand you tell me what you are doing!" Atrus screamed.

"I am shutting down this facility in the name of the President. If you resist, I am authorized to use deadly force."

The scientists of Deep Search Research Station #7 gaped in disbelief as two dozen soldiers dashed into the control room, guns drawn.

"I am sorry, Atrus, but I have my orders."

Atrus glared at the Commander. "I will take this to the Presidium."

"Be my guest," T'lorr sneered.

The Presidium, Capitol City, 7 days later

"Why? Damn it! I want an answer!" Atrus' face was flushed with anger. It had taken four days to bring the atrocity of the closing down of his research center to the attention of the Presidium and for the past three days, all they had done was feed him double talk.

He had been to the Chamber of the Presidium only once before, when his Deep Space Research had been approved. It had been a momentous day that he remembered with vivid clarity. He had been a much happier man that day, knowing he was about to fulfill his life's dream.

The Moderator of the Presidium sighed. He was a squat, heavy man who wanted to be anywhere but where he was at the moment. He had worked all his life to become Moderator of the Presidium, one step below the President, and that was his next step, God willing.

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