The gallery area of the enormous Admiralty Board Hall on Quesann was filled to capacity. Space Command and Space Marine officers, Galactic Alliance Senators, and newies filled all seating. The convention center next door to the Admiralty Building where huge monitors were already projecting live imagery from the Admiralty Hall was accepting the overflow. Additionally, the session was to be broadcast live to all Space Command bases, all ships in the First and Second Fleets, all Space Marine bases, and all GA offices, although it would take days for the S-band transmission to reach the furthest points in Galactic Alliance space. The reason for the extraordinary interest in this regularly scheduled AB meeting was simply that the first new Supreme Commander in thirty years would be chairing this meeting. The former Admiral of the Fleet, Richard E. Moore, had retired and returned to his home in Region One, so the day's meeting would be chaired by his replacement, Admiral of the Fleet Jenetta A. Carver.
Senior officers below the rank of admiral who hadn't requested and received seating assignments for the scheduled session at least three days earlier were standing against the wall around the outer perimeter of the gallery seating area. The SRO attendees considered themselves fortunate just to have an opportunity to witness the historic session in person. Once the SRO space was filled, everyone, even those who could have been assigned seats if they'd applied early enough, were directed to the large convention center next door. The convention center, with guest accommodations, had been constructed to provide temporary housing and exhibit space for planetary representatives other than GA Senators when they came to Quesann for meetings. The main exhibit hall could hold several thousand attendees. It was not available for commercial use because everyone attending events on Quesann must have a security clearance just to land on the planet.
The front three rows of the AB Hall gallery seating had been reserved for, and were now occupied by, invited newsmen and news women representing the largest media organizations in the GA. Immediately behind them were the GA senators who had reserved their seats as soon as their staffs notified them of the scheduled meeting and the requirement to reserve seating. And behind the seated GA Senators were the Admirals and Captains who had requested seats before all seating was assigned.
A few minutes before the meeting was scheduled to begin, the members of the Board began entering the hall through the door in the wall behind the large horseshoe-shaped table. All were already seated when Jenetta entered the hall with her two Jumakas and approached her chair at the center of the table. Although attendees had been asked not to make any noise during the session, a member of the press stood up and began to clap. The action resulted in a spontaneous reaction in the room as other press members stood and joined in the applause. Within seconds, the rest of the crowd joined in and the building seemed to reverberate with the clapping and then cheering. It was the most rousing response Jenetta had received since giving speeches at both NHSA and SHSA on Earth years earlier.
Jenetta smiled, took her seat at the conference table, and pounded the gavel on the sounding block once to signal that the regularly scheduled session was about to begin.
The attendees stopped clapping and took their seats as all conversations ended. Jenetta pounded the gavel once again and said, "I call this public session of the Space Command Admiralty Board to order." As the highest ranked active-duty officer in the service, Jenetta's position on the AB was mandatory, and her role as chairman was automatic. Tradition held that each member of the Board had an equal vote in all matters, but technically their votes were non-binding. The Admiral of the Fleet could accept the consensus or override the vote and simply order a particular action take place as long as it was in accordance with Space Command regulations and Galactic Alliance law.
"Before I begin the formal proceedings," Jenetta said, "I want to again thank the GA senators, their staffs, and all Space Command and Space Marine officers, enlisted personnel, and our civilian staff for the exceedingly warm welcome I received upon my return to Quesann, with a special thank you to the members of the Admiralty Board. While on my extended leave of absence, my thoughts were never very far from the problems and issues facing my military brothers and sisters, as well as those facing the GA Senate. It's wonderful to be back and I look forward to the years ahead as we work to establish and maintain the rule of law within the greatly expanded boundaries of Galactic Alliance space.
"Before we begin the agenda, I have a personal announcement for everyone here on Quesann, and also to the people of the Galactic Alliance wherever you might be."
Standing up, Jenetta walked around the table with Cayla and Tayna, stopping a few meters from the center of the gallery section before she began to speak.
"A great many people in the GA know that two Jumakas from the planet Taurentlus-Thur have been my constant companions for many years. On my left is Tayna, and on my right is Cayla. What most people don't know, or even suspect, about the Jumaka population is that they are sentient beings."
The hall suddenly became so quiet that you could hear the proverbial pin drop.
"Yes, it's a fact. Jumakas are sentient beings. I've known since our first day together that Cayla and Tayna were highly intelligent, but even I didn't fully understand the level of their intelligence until the King of the Hudeerac Order gifted me with a male Jumaka. When I saw my two friends calmly conversing with the male and realized they were communicating information just as you and I would, I was greatly surprised, but pleasantly so. So I began looking for a way to communicate with them also, but their speech is so unique that my language translator failed to offer anything intelligible. I contacted a Terran wildlife expert, Mr. M.A. Wilkerson, who had been studying the Jumaka population on Taurentlus-Thur for a number of years in an effort to learn if he had made any progress with their language. Although considered to be a foremost expert on Jumakas, he'd actually had little success with direct sightings. The Jumakas had always become aware of his presence immediately, regardless of how well he concealed himself. They would then quickly disappear into the dense forest. He had to be satisfied with recorded imagery produced by cleverly concealed cameras.
"Although Jumakas can no longer be exported from the planet Taurentlus-Thur, the authorities there allowed Mr. Wilkerson to bring one to my estate on Obotymot because they knew I had two females. I'm very grateful to the officials on Taurentlus-Thur who permitted the transfer and I want to again assure them that Nicky, as Dr. Wilkerson named him, is quite healthy and happy at his new home. Once there, Mr. Wilkerson was able to begin a real study of the Jumakas because Cayla, Tayna, Nicky, and Thor, were just anxious to converse with us. They willingly donated their time and effort to the cause. I can't tell you how excited I was when the first, crude translation device allowed a basic two-way communication with my friends.
"Improvements to the translation device have progressed rapidly since the first bulky devices constructed by Mr. Wilkerson, and they are now small enough that my friends can wear one. They appear like the collars placed around the necks of pets on Earth and other planets, but I assure you they are not there to control or dominate my friends. Rather they free my friends from the inability to communicate with Terrans and other species. I realize that Cayla and Tayna look very much like the jaguars of Earth, but aside from general appearance, they have little in common. Many of you probably know that Cayla and Tayna saved my life when an assassin tried to end it, and Terrans who witnessed the event were frightened by the ferocity they saw, but my friends only did what any bodyguard would have done and which was necessary on that occasion. The observers were frightened because the only weapons Cayla and Tayna had available to use for self-protection and to prevent the attacker from injuring me or anyone else that day were those they were born with. They have never attacked any other person in our many years together.
"I will soon be presenting a petition to the GA Senate to declare that Jumakas are sentient beings, and in doing so extend to them all the rights, privileges, and freedoms held by all sentient beings in GA space. All Jumakas presently caged in zoos or forced to perform guard activities must be freed immediately, as would be the case with any other sentient species. And anyone caught imprisoning a Jumaka after an established date, must be charged with slavery. People currently using Jumakas for guard duty must establish an employment contract that gives the Jumaka the right to terminate their employment subject to the terms of the contract agreed to by both parties and within the labor laws of the planet that cover work regulations for all sentient life.
"I'm sure the members of the media wish to ask a few questions, so Cayla and Tayna will answer directly. The hall's public address system has been linked to the frequency of their collar translators for this occasion. The overhead speakers in the hall will carry their comments so everyone may hear. Cayla will go first. Does anyone have a question for Cayla?"
A newsie in the first row of seating raised his hand and stood up. "I'll start," he said.
"Please identify yourself and your employer."
"Jonah Tidestrum, Earth Today news syndicate."
"Go ahead, Mr. Tidestrum."
"Uh, Cayla— do— you— understand— my— words?" Tidestrum asked, in very precise, loud, and condescending speech.
"Of course I understand you, Mr. Tidestrum. But why are you speaking in that very unusual manner?"
Subdued ripples of laughter floated through the gallery area. Even Tidestrum chuckled.
"I'm sorry, Cayla. I wasn't sure how well your translator worked.
"The translator is so you can understand me, Mr. Tidestrum. I can understand you without it."
"Cayla and Tayna understood me from the very beginning," Jenetta said. "I've since learned they had picked up Amer by listening to the freighters while being transported. They also have a good understanding of other languages they've heard while in captivity and since they've joined me as my companions."
"Aren't they in captivity now, Admiral?" another newsie asked."
"You name and employer, please?" Jenetta said.
"Leslie Hearst, Intergalactic Freedom Press."
"No, Ms. Hearst. They are not. Ask them."
"Tayna, are you free?"
"As free as you, I imagine, Ms. Hearst. Freedom is a relative term. If you're asking if we stay with Jenetta because we have to, the answer is no. Jenetta offered to bring us back to Taurentlus-Thur and endeavor to locate our relatives, but we declined. We were taken from the jungle when we were extremely young and we don't remember very much about it. We would be strangers there. Besides, Jenetta belongs to us."
"I'm sorry. I don't understand. Admiral Carver belongs to you?"
"Perhaps I can clarify that," Jenetta said. "It's the way Jumakas think of family unity. I belong to them and they belong to me. Their cubs belong to them, and they belong to their cubs. The cubs also belong to me and my children, and I and my children belong to them. I suppose it's like a mutual adoption process. We're all free from any restrictions on our movements, actions, or choices once we reach the age of consent, subject of course to the laws of any society. That naturally varies with the species. Jumakas mature much sooner, but also have a shorter lifespan than Terrans. Do you understand?"
"I think so, although it's a foreign concept that a Terran could belong to a pet."
"Ah, that's where the difficulty in fully understanding the premise lies. Cayla, Tayna, their mates and their children are not pets. That's the whole purpose of this discussion. I want everyone to understand that Jumakas are not pets or domesticated creatures and shouldn't be treated that way. They are entitled to their freedom just as much as you and I are. They don't need us to care for them as is normally required with pets. Everyone has to stop seeing them as either wild or domesticated animals who don't have a capacity for intelligent reasoning and thought. When someone sees a Pledgian or a Milora, they don't see a wild animal. They see an intelligent individual who simply has a distinctively unique appearance. That's all they should see when they see a Jumaka."
"Excuse me, Admiral," another newsie said. "The voices we're hearing are coming over the speakers in the ceiling. How do we even know what we're hearing is what the Jumakas are saying? There could be someone in a back room responding."
"A fair question, Mr.—?"
"Petraro Visconta of the Galactic News Service."
"What you've asked is a fair question, Mr. Visconta. Tell me, when you attend a press briefing where the speaker is talking into a microphone on a lectern in a language unknown to you, how do you know you're hearing the right message over the loudspeakers, or even through your personal translator?"
"Uh, I guess we— take it on faith."
"But you don't have such faith in me that I'm telling you the truth."
"Admiral, I didn't mean to imply that you would lie to us. Perhaps you're not getting the correct translation as well. You said the translator was developed by an M.A. Wilkerson."
"I trust that every word I hear from the translator is accurate, although you're correct that Mr. Wilkerson alone developed the vocabulary database used by the new translation collar while working with the Jumakas at my estate. I trust the translation is accurate because, as Cayla said, they understand Amer and have verified that the Amer they hear when speaking is exactly what they were attempting to communicate. The Jumakas all understand how very important this issue is to their species, and they are anxious to cooperate in whatever tests the appropriate government agency devises to test their intelligence and sentience as long as the tests are non-invasive and are the same tests used to attribute sentiency to other species."
"And Cayla and Tayna have verified the accuracy of every word Mr. Wilkerson established for the translation of what they were saying?"
"This was not an overnight project. My friends worked with Mr. Wilkerson for many months in developing the translation database. They have stated that the translation is accurate and I accept that without question or reservation."
As Visconta retook his seat, Jenetta asked, "Are there any other questions?"
"I have another, Admiral," Leslie Hearst said. "How long do you believe it will take for sentience verification?"
"I really don't know, but I can say there's no question in my mind of their sentiency and I intend to keep pressing for that status under GA law. I also appeal to planetary governments to individually recognize the rights of Jumakas as sentient beings because new regulations can sometimes move slowly here at the Senate level. Senators must first communicate with their home world politicians and citizens to determine how they should vote on issues."
"Have the officials of your birth planet, Earth, agreed to this?"
"I haven't been in touch with anyone on Earth, but I can assure you that on my home world of Obotymot, and also on Nordakia, Jumaka sentiency is already law. This is the first time I've presented the sentiency request outside of the Nordakian sphere of influence. I wanted to wait until the translation database was refined to a point where normal conversation was possible. I believe we've reached that point, but Dr. Wilkerson continues to work on improving it."
"How can he do that with Cayla and Tayna here with you?"
"Nicky and Thor are on Obotymot, as are most of their cubs. Dr. Wilkerson is now working on a database that will convert Amer into the Jumaka language. When the cubs were born, their parents had to translate Amer for them because they had all they could do to learn their own native language. We knew that Amer would come later."
"How many cubs do you have?"
"Cayla gave birth to four. Their names are Orlando, Cheri, Kera, and Ruby. Their father is Nicky, the Jumaka Dr. Wilkerson brought from Taurentlus-Thur. Tayna gave birth to four as well. They are named Jake, Alex, Autumn, and Chelsea. The father is Thor, the Jumaka given to me by the King of the Hudeerac Order."
"Why didn't you bring any of them today?"
"Six of them are back on Obotymot with their fathers, who have responsibility for their education. Ruby and Jake are here, and their mothers will educate them. I didn't bring them today because they're still quite young and can be a little rambunctious at time, like Terran infants that have reached their— fifth birthday. During the work day they stay at my residence with my children, Kaycee and Kyle. The cubs have bonded with my children and want to remain with them just as Cayla and Tayna stay by my side most of the day."
"So your children have their own protectors?"
"It's their choice. All of the cubs wanted to come, but if you could see the way they race around the house all day, you'd understand why I had to limit it to the two who requested to come first."
"So you can't control them?" Viconta asked.
"They're like Terran children— full of energy and always looking for fun and games. When it's necessary to slow their enthusiasm, their parents talk to them. And when they're around my babies, as they often are, they are as gentle as a Terran kitten, although they're quite a bit larger."
"So you're not afraid they'll injure your babies?"
"Of course not. But if anyone else tries to harm my babies, Ruby and Jake will ensure the assailant certainly regrets it, if he or she lives."
"So you use the Jumakas as protectors."
"Use? No. The Jumakas are our friends— our family— not pets, protectors, or security animals. But— they have a sixth sense for danger, and they will protect us if necessary, as Cayla and Tayna have already done for me, and as most family members would do for another member of their family.
"We seem to have reached a plateau in the questioning," Jenetta announced, "So I suppose it's time to adjourn for today and allow everyone to think about the information that's been provided."
As Jenetta turned and walked back to her seat, Cayla and Tayna followed and took their usual places at her side.
Jenetta pounded the gavel once and said, "We'll now open the regular session beginning with a reading of the minutes from the last general session."
After the old business had been discussed, new business of a general nature was discussed. With the completion of that, the day's open session was ended.
"I thank everyone for their attendance today, and for the welcome I've received," Jenetta said. "The board will now take a brief break before convening in executive session. Thank you."
With that, the Admiralty Board members rose and filed out through the rear door that led to the office areas of the Admirals and their staffs. A lunch room reserved exclusively for the admirals and their aides was the destination of the senior officers, while the clerks headed for the AB staff dining hall right next door.
As Jenetta sat down at the main table she looked at the two Jumakas and said, "What'll it be, girls? Milk?"
"Yes, please," Tayna said.
"Me too," Cayla said.
Admiral Plimley, looking on, asked, "Did they answer?"
"Yes. I received the signal via my CT. Both said they would like some milk. Girls," Jenetta said addressing the Jumakas, "Why don't you activate the speakers on your collars so the other admirals can hear you when you speak."
"Okay, Jenetta," Cayla said, the words coming from her collar this time.
"That is just so amazing," Admiral Hillaire said. "I never would have suspected she was speaking a language because the sound she was making seemed, to my ears, to be a low growl. My little terrier makes a great deal of noise, but I know of no translator that could convey what he might be saying, if anything."
"I don't mean to offend you or demean your terrier, Arnold," Jenetta said, "but the intelligence level of Jumakas is far superior to the reputed levels of most Terran canine species. Canines do make wonderful companions because they are loyal, loving, and protective, but I don't believe they can communicate with each other except on very basic levels through bark loudness and frequency, and through body movements and positions. Dolphins, whales, and other marine life do verbally communicate with each other, but even they fall far short of how we define sentient life. The Jumaka body is ideally suited for life in the jungles and forests of Taurentlus-Thur, but the lack of a hand with an opposing thumb for gripping imposes severe limitations in a world ideally suited to hominoids. However, that shouldn't exempt them from being declared as sentient."
"I believe you have the support of everyone on the Board," Admiral Plimley said. "Admiral Platt has told me she saw the Jumakas interacting with you, your family, and the staff at your estate on Obotymot. There's no question in her mind that they are highly intelligent and sentient. However, the GA Senate will probably require extensive testing by anthropological, ethological, zoological, and biological scientists. Then the cognition scientists will seek to determine their intelligence levels, while the behaviorism psychologists will seek to establish their ability to fit in with hominoid society."
"I think that hominoid society will have more difficulty fitting in with Jumakas than the other way around."
"They're afraid of us," Tayna said. All eyes at the table immediately looked at her.
"They run when they see us coming," Cayla said.
"That will change once they understand you won't hurt them unless you're attacked first," Jenetta said. "If the GA Senate confirms sentience, I believe that attitudes will change almost overnight as the press spreads the words throughout GA space."
"I hope so," Tayna said. "We only want to live in peace and raise our families."
"We know, Tayna," Admiral Ressler said. "And I have no doubt that Jumakas will be accorded sentience status in GA space with all the rights and privileges that entails. But democratic governments work ponderously slow at times so it may take a while."
"We understand, Admiral Ressler," Cayla said. "Jenetta has explained the process to us. We will be patient because for the first time since hominoids began capturing or killing our people, we can see a day coming when we are free."
"Jen, if I might be permitted to change the topic of conversation," Admiral Bradlee said after a few seconds of silence at the table, "while you were on leave you've been receiving summarized reports, but now you need to delve into the full text. You have an enormous amount of catching up to do."
"I realize that, Roger. And I've been spending every minute possible reviewing past sessions of the Board and reading all filed reports."
"Yes, but the reason I bring it up is because of the situation with the Denubbewa."
"I haven't yet come across any recent reports on that topic. I thought the Denubbewa were on the ropes after the last encounter that had them building motherships much closer to this base than we ever expected."
"We stung them hard on that occasion, but the latest intel is really eye-opening. Most of my people believe the Denubbewa are on the verge of making an all out push to take over Region Three. If they're right, it's going to make our last major encounter look like a practice round."
"Do you suspect they've developed a new defense strategy?"
"We don't know. But we do know they're very quick studies. And the information we've collected indicates they may have already assembled a vast armada in Region Three. It's even possible they've been reinforced by mother ships from their home territory. My best people fear that a new war is about to descend on us that will make the deadly war with the Uthlaro seem like a practice drill on a target range."