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 members of the mass media had arrived early, although that didn't improve their seating options. All seating was by reservation only, and all seats had been spoken for days earlier. The reason for the extraordinary interest in this regularly scheduled A.B. 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.
Live imagery from the Admiralty Hall was already being broadcast to the enormous convention center building directly across the park-like quad for those unable to reserve seats. Huge monitors distributed around the main convention arena were projecting the events for those turned away from the Admiralty Hall due to lack of space. The G.A. political campus on the planet Quesann had never seen such activity for any assembly.
The session would also be broadcast live to all Space Command bases, all ships in the First and Second Fleets, all Space Marine bases, and all G.A. offices, although it would literally take days for the S-band transmission to reach the farthest points in Galactic Alliance space. As with Senate meetings, the mass media would televise the session for civilian viewing, although the signals would likewise take many days to reach their audiences.
Senior officers who hadn't requested and received seating assignments for the scheduled session at least three days prior were standing against the wall around the outer perimeter of the gallery seating area. The attendees forced to stand considered themselves fortunate merely to have an opportunity to witness the historic session in person. Once the SRO space had been filled, everyone, regardless of position or rank, was being directed to the convention center. With guest accommodations for special visitors, the center had mainly been constructed to provide a space for special exhibits when planetary representatives other than G.A. Senators came to Quesann for meetings. Although the main exhibit hall could hold several thousand conference-goers, it was not available for commercial use because a special security clearance was required just to set foot on the planet.
The front three rows of the A.B. Hall gallery seating had been reserved for— and were now occupied by— invited newsmen and newswomen representing the largest media organizations in the G.A. Immediately behind them were the G.A. 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 G.A. senators were the Space Command captains and Space Marine generals and colonels who had requested seats before all seating was assigned.
A few minutes before the meeting was scheduled to begin, admirals began entering the hall through the door behind the large horseshoe-shaped table with an opening that faced the gallery seating. All were seated when Jenetta entered the hall with her two Jumakas and approached her chair at the center of the table. The slight delay wasn't to make an entrance, but to make sure her uniform looked perfect in every respect, and ensure that every hair on her head was in its proper place. She knew that millions, perhaps billions, of G.A. citizens would be watching her first appearance.
Although attendees had been asked not to make any noise during the session, a member of the press stood up and began to clap. This tribute 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. They all knew that Jenetta had done more to protect the people of the G.A. from outside invaders than any of her predecessors and perhaps more than all of them combined. 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 all conversations ended as they took their seats. 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 A.B. was mandatory, and her role as chairperson was automatic. Tradition held that each member of the Board had an equal vote in all matters, but technically their votes were nonbinding upon the Admiral of the Fleet. He or she could accept the consensus of the attending admirals— and almost always did— or choose to override their opinions and simply order that a particular action take place as long as it was in accordance with Galactic Alliance law.
“Before I begin the formal proceedings,” Jenetta said, “I want to again thank the G.A. 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 G.A. Senate. In addition to the regular members of the Admiralty Board— Admiral Roger Bradlee, Admiral Shana Ressler, Admiral Arnold Hillaire, Vice-Admiral Brian D. Holt, Vice-Admiral Raymond Burke, Vice-Admiral Raihana Ahmed, Vice-Admiral Lon Woo, Rear Admiral (upper) Loretta Plimley, and Rear-Admiral (upper) Lesbolh Yuthkotl, I want to welcome the visiting admirals who have joined us at the table today— Admiral Evelyn Platt, Commander of the First Fleet, and base commanders Rear Admiral (upper) Jorge Mendez, Rear Admiral (upper) Vincent Sprague, and Rear Admiral (upper) Rebecca Colsey. I also welcome retired Rear Admiral (lower) Stanley Bendzet.
“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 today's agenda, I have a personal announcement for everyone here on Quesann and for the people of the Galactic Alliance, wherever you might be.”
Standing up, Jenetta walked around the table and stopped a few meters from the center of the gallery section before she began to speak. While in the A.B. Hall, an admiral's implanted cranial transducer, usually referred to as a CT, sent their spoken words directly to the speakers mounted around the room, so it wasn't necessary that any carry a portable microphone. Cayla and Tayna had immediately assumed their customary places on either side of her once she left her seat.
“A great many people in the G.A. 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 as jaws dropped and attendees seemed to stop breathing momentarily.
“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 appreciate their sentiency until the King of the Hudeerac Order gifted me with a male Jumaka. When I saw my two wonderful friends calmly conversing with the male and realized they were communicating information and sharing values 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 a foremost expert on Jumakas, he'd actually had little success with direct sightings. The Jumakas were always 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 miniature cameras.
“A number of annuals ago, Taurentlus-Thur enacted a law that makes removal of Jumakas from the planet a very serious crime, but authorities there allowed Mr. Wilkerson to bring a male 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 Mr. Wilkerson and Nicky arrived, Wilkerson was able to begin a real study of the Jumakas because Cayla, Tayna, Nicky, and Thor were just as anxious to converse with us. They willingly donated their time and effort to the cause. I can't tell you how excited and overcome with emotion I was when the first crude translation device allowed a basic two-way communication with my wonderful 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. Terrans who witnessed the event were frightened by the ferocity they saw, but my friends only did what any bodyguard would have done, 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 G.A. Senate requesting that they declare Jumakas sentient beings, and in doing so, extend to them the rights, privileges, and freedoms held by all sentient beings in G.A. 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 covers 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 responses so everyone may hear. Cayla will go first. Does anyone have a question for her?”
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 what I was saying 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.
“Your 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 take 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. Jenetta also offered our spouses, Nicky and Thor, the opportunity to return to the planet. They've declined as well. 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 my children and I 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 the society where we live. 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 throughout their lives, as is normally required with pets. Everyone has to stop seeing them as either wild or domesticated animals that 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 distinctive appearance that is unique from that of Terrans and other species. 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 that what we're hearing is what the Jumakas are saying? There could be someone responding from a back room.”
“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 translation database 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 in my employ. I trust the translation is accurate because, as Cayla said, they understand Amer and have verified that the Amer they hear played through speakers is exactly the message they were attempting to communicate. The Jumakas all understand how very important this issue is to their species, and they’re anxious to cooperate in whatever tests the appropriate government agency devises to assess 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 single Amer word Mr. Wilkerson associated with a Jumaka word or phrase?”
“This was not an overnight project. My friends worked with Mr. Wilkerson for many months in developing the translation database. Where Amer words had no equivalent meaning in the Jumaka language, they adopted one. It's entirely possible that a Jumaka on Taurentlus-Thur may not understand what a particular Amer word means, but that's true in any meeting with other species. I have stated that the translation is one-hundred-percent 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 G.A. 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. As representatives of their worlds, senators must often communicate with their home world politicians and citizens to determine how they should vote on different 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. The people on my planet know that Jumakas aren't dangerous unless dramatically provoked, and treat them just as they would any other resident of the planet. No one runs away in fear or cowers when they see a Jumaka walking down a village street. In fact, the children on my planet love to come over and walk alongside the Jumakas and play with the cubs. They know my friends don’t pose a threat to anyone. This is the first time I've presented the sentiency request outside of the Nordakian sphere of influence. I wanted to wait until the original 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 and expanding the dictionary.”
“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 recently completed a translation database that converts the Jumaka language into Nordakian, and begun work 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. Their father is Thor, the Jumaka presented 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 times, 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 by choice. All of the cubs wanted to come, but if you could see the way they race around the house and grounds all day, you'd understand why I had to limit it to the two who made the first request.”
“So you can't control them?” Visconta asked.
“They're like Terran children— full of energy and always looking for fun and games. When it's necessary to tone down their enthusiasm, their parents speak to them, although sometimes they must be reminded several times, just as Terran children must be reminded sometimes. But when they're around my babies, as they often are, they are as gentle as Terran kittens, 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 do 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 this discussion for today and allow everyone to think about the information that's been provided. Thank you.”
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 continue with regular business, 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 admirals rose and filed out through the rear door that led to their office areas. A lunchroom reserved exclusively for the admirals and their aides was the destination of most, while the clerks headed for the A.B. staff dining hall on the opposite side of the kitchen.
As Jenetta sat down at an oval table large enough to accommodate all of the admirals, she looked down at the two Jumakas and asked, “What'll it be, girls? Milk?”
“Yes, please,” Tayna said.
“Me too,” Cayla said. “And perhaps a few biscuits with peanut butter.”
Admiral Plimley, looking on, asked, “Did they answer?”
“Yes. I received the signal via my CT. Both said they would like some milk, and Cayla said to include some biscuits with peanut butter. 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 vocal 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're loyal, loving, and protective, but I don't believe they can communicate with each other except on very basic levels using vocal loudness and frequency, as well as 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 opposable digits for gripping imposes severe limitations in a world designed to suit hominoids. However, that shouldn't exempt them from being declared sentient.”
“I believe you have the support of everyone on the Board,” Admiral Platt said. “I witnessed the Jumakas interacting with you, your family, and the staff at your estate on Obotymot. There's no question in my mind that they're highly intelligent and sentient. However, the G.A. 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 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 down to where the two Jumakas were seated next to Jenetta. Only their heads and necks were visible above the edge of the table.
“On Dakistee, they ran when they saw us coming,” Cayla said.
“That'll change once they understand you won't hurt them unless you're attacked first,” Jenetta said. “Once the G.A. Senate confirms sentience, I believe attitudes will change almost overnight as the press spreads the word throughout G.A. 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 G.A. space with all the rights and privileges that entails. But democratic governments work ponderously slow at times so it may take awhile.”
“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 will be free everywhere in G.A. space.”
“Jen, if I might be permitted to change the topic of conversation,” Admiral Holt said after a few seconds of silence at the table. “While on leave, you were 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, Brian. And I've been spending every minute possible reviewing past sessions of the Board, both general and executive, and reading all filed reports.”
“Yes, but the reason I bring it up is because of the situation with the Denubbewa.”
“They've come back? After that last drubbing we gave them?”
“We don't think they ever left!”