Nostradamus Jones plastered a look of confidence on his face as he entered the Admiral’s chamber. Jones was a legal attache representing the entire SkyFleet, which sounded prestigious, but in practice he spent his time running messages between the Galactic Security Council and Admiral Longwind.
“Ah, Mr. Jones, do come in,” said Longwind. The Admiral was nothing if not courteous.
“Here’s the latest draft, Sir,” said Jones, plopping a stack of bound papers on the Admiral’s desk. This was not how he had wanted to spend his Saturday. “The Council isn’t going to vote until Monday afternoon, but the language is finalized.”
The Admiral furrowed his brow as he took up the stack of papers and scanned the top page. “I, the undersigned, hereafter to be known as Cadet,” he said. “What’s this business about undersigned?”
“It’s pretty standard contract language, Sir,” said Jones.
“This is supposed to be a spoken oath,” said Longwind.
“Well, given the length, Sir, several members of the Council thought putting it in writing might be wise.”
The Admiral’s considered the stack of papers in his hand. “How much of this is the oath?”
“All of it, Sir.”
“All of it? And they’ll have to speak it and sign it?”
“That’s the idea, Sir,” said Jones. “The Braxians were quite adamant about having hard copies.”
“I see. And they expect new recruits to say all of this while standing in formation with their right hands raised?”
“Not exactly, Sir,” said Jones, “The oath will have to be administered without standing or hand-raising.”
“The Tortullians insisted, since they don’t have legs, Sir.”
“This is for the Terran army,” said Longwind.
“I understand,” said Jones.
“This oath will only be taken by humans.”
“Spirit of inclusiveness, Sir,” said Jones.
“And the hand-raising, what will we be replacing that with?”
“Actually, Sir, there was a commission to determine a non-offensive gesture, and they came back empty-handed, so to speak. It seems that there is no physical gesture that a human can make that is not offensive to some race of beings somewhere in the galaxy.” Jones suppressed a sigh. This was not the life he’d envisioned for himself when he took on this quote-prestigious-unquote assignment. The hours were horrible, the pay was laughable—it was supposed to be a resume-builder, but was becoming a dead-end. He wanted something better. He wanted a vacation home on Green Shore and had even put away a little money, but that dream ebbed farther and farther away with every passing year.
Longwind’s face contorted as he forced himself to remain calm. In his dealings with Longwind, Jones had worked out a rudimentary scale of the Admiral’s mood, and this was only Anger Level 1. No cause for alarm yet. “Let’s back up a bit,” said Longwind. “I gave you a paragraph-long oath three months ago.”
“Well, Sir,” said Jones, “it’s difficult to get delegations from fifty-eight different systems, representing thousands of cultures, to agree on the wording of a document.”
“Fifty-eight? There are only twelve planets with veto power on the Council,” said Longwind.
“The Thusians insisted that this be approved unanimously by all of the sovereign civilizations being defended by SkyFleet, Sir. They want to make sure everyone’s interests are being considered. Spirit of inclusiveness.”
“Be that as it may,” said Longwind, “there are practical matters to consider. How does one administer an oath that is this long?”
“The Forgro’sha’nianites suggested a weeklong orientation seminar to cover the finer points.”
“I thought boot-camp was orientation” said the Admiral.
“Yes, Sir,” said Jones.
Longwind continued reading. “I, the undersigned, hereafter to be known as cadet, do solemnly swear in accordance with subsection 12c… subsection 12c?”
“Clarification on the meaning of solemnity, Sir.”
“Are the cadets expected to recite the subsection and paragraph numbers?” asked the Admiral.
“That’s at the administrator’s discretion, Sir; however, the Mandragovian Alliance strongly recommends a two-week training course for oath administrators so they’ll know what to emphasize, when to pause for the cadets to repeat, when it’s best to have intermissions, etc.”
“You’re joking,” said the Admiral, now at Anger Level 2—a raised voice and a red face. “I can’t take two weeks to train administrators. That’s absurd. I already have 1,600 recruits waiting to start boot-camp.”
“I’m aware, Sir,” said Jones.
“Some of them have been waiting for over two months,” said Longwind.
“I’m aware, Sir,” said Jones evenly. The Admiral didn’t start throwing things until Anger Level 4.
“This was supposed to happen quickly,” said Longwind. “I wrote out an oath of service and the Council demanded that they approve it. I expected some changes but not… how long is this?”
“Three-hundred and seventy-four single-spaced pages,” said Jones. “But, it’s not as bad as it sounds. There are diagrams.”
“The Krandalari are visual learners, Sir.”
“Are the Cadets expected to recite diagrams?” asked Longwind, a vein throbbing in his forehead.
“That’s at the administrator’s discretion, Sir.”
Longwind trembled with rage. Anger Level 3 was setting in, and he’d only read half a sentence of the document. “Sir, if I may,” said Jones, “they’ve piled on a lot of legalese, but the spirit of your oath is in there. There will be some logistical challenges, to be sure, but we can work those out. Just… give it a once-over. I think you’ll find that, underneath all the clauses and subclauses, there’s something profound and meaningful.”
Longwind inhaled sharply through his nose and looked back at the pages in his hands. He flipped through them, muttering as he read. “I, the undersigned… solemnly swear… subsection 12c… uphold the laws… follow commands, where commands are reasonable as outlined in subsection 5f… maintain the dignity of the SkyFleet, as per subsection… What’s this? I swear to dissociate any Prathovars I encounter from their terrestrial forms.”
“What was that?” asked Jones.
“Dissociate? Killing the Prathovars is part of the oath now?” asked Longwind.
“That wasn’t supposed to be in there,” said Jones. “No wonder the Ithcari delegate was in such a good mood.”
“We are not fighting other species’ blood-feuds!” said Longwind.
“Of course not, Sir,” said Jones. “He must have snuck it in. Let me take this back to the Council and have this removed. We’ll probably have to make other concessions to the Ithcari, but it can’t possibly take more than another week to get it all straightened out.”
“This has gone far enough,” said Longwind, rising. He punched a button on his desk. “Hillary, get me Bryson Goodspeed on the line.”
“Right away, Sir,” said a small voice through the speaker in Longwind’s desk.
“Sir, should I leave?” asked Jones.
“No, I want you to watch this. We’re settling this, and we’re doing it today. I’m tired of having other people make concessions on my behalf.”
“Goodspeed on fourteen, Sir,” said Hillary through the intercom. Longwind punched a few buttons and a wall lit up with the face of Bryson Goodspeed, a fit man in his fifties with thin hair and a warm smile.”
“Admiral, to what do I owe the pleasure?” said Goodspeed, his Indiana drawl seeping into the edges of his voice. “Who’s your friend?”
“No one to worry about,” said the Admiral. “I’ve been thinking about your request, Bryson, and I’m inclined to grant it. I trust your product will suit our needs.”
“We only make the finest ships in the Galaxy, Admiral. You’ll be plenty happy with them.”
“Glad to hear it,” said Longwind. “I will require something in return.”
“I suspected as much,” said Goodspeed.
“I’ve got an oath of service being bogged down by the Galactic Security Council. I don’t suppose you can convince them to approve my original draft.”
“How many of them?” asked Goodspeed.
“All of them,” said Longwind.
Goodspeed chuckled. “Politicians,” he said. “If you’re going to agree to my terms, then I can help you.”
“The five year, no-bid contract?” asked Longwind. “That borders on extortion.”
“Necessary evil,” said Goodspeed. “If I’m going to help you with your problem, I might have to expand my production operation into fifty-seven more systems.”
“I’ll have Hillary send you the paperwork by lunchtime,” said Longwind.
“And you’ll have your oath by the end of the day,” said Goodspeed.
The monitor went black. For a moment, the two men stood in silence.
“Concessions,” said the Admiral. His mind was elsewhere. “Do you feel like you’ve learned something today?” he asked, looking at Jones.
“I have, Sir.”
“Good,” said Longwind. “You’re dismissed.
Nostradamus Jones was just stepping out into the hallway when his communicator buzzed. He pulled it from his hip and saw a message.
“Good work, son,” it read. It was signed “Goodspeed”.
Jones smiled. It would take a few weeks for the kickback to find its way into his account, but it looked like that vacation home on Green Shore was in his future after all.