Book 2 - Stand Against The Night

Chapter 2 - Extinction Trend

Something shifted; late-morning sunlight greeted Myron as he awoke. He ached all over; the previous afternoon (and evening, and night) of strenuous physical strength and endurance testing had given him aches in places he hadn’t even known he had places. The therapeutic deep massage he’d been given after the testing had worked most of the acids out of his muscles; he had gone to sleep while lying prone on the table, only to be awakened in time to take a final shower, climb into clean clothes, a clean pair of flip-flops, and get into the passenger side of his car for someone else to drive him home. He remembered his car being put into the garage properly, then the driver handing him the keys before catching a ride back to Menlo Park, and he remembered checking to be sure the garage door was properly closed and secured. After that, things got more than a little fuzzy, but he remembered coming upstairs, tossing his clothes into the hamper beside the closet door, and crawling into bed. The blinds had been shut then, but were open now; he supposed his Mom had opened them at some point after she got up this morning.

His mother, Emily Setsuko Watson, was on vacation, her teaching United States and California history during UC Berkeley’s regular terms was over for the summer and she enjoyed having the time to herself; time to rest from the term just completed as well as to prepare for the fall term coming all too soon. Myron’s father, Zachery Taylor Watson, Colonel, United States Air Force (retired) worked at the NASA-Ames research complex adjacent to the now-“inactive” Moffett Naval Air Station just this side of San Jose; he’d be gone until sometime around 6:30 in the evening. So, unless his Mom was in the house, he was most likely alone. He briefly debated whether to just drift off again but decided not to; he could have sworn his bed had just moved. Oh well, probably there had just been another little earthquake. Nothing to worry about: the house was still standing.

He opened his eyes; the clock on the little bedside table between his bed and the wall read 11:48 – most definitely time to get up and start moving, lest he stiffen up. He started to roll over to his left side because he wasn’t comfortable getting up between the bed and the window – and fetched up against something heavy blocking his movement. That got his attention; especially when he realized that the easy breathing he could hear was no longer entirely his own – and a low contralto chuckle made his heart leap.

“Good morning, sleepyhead,” came Carole’s voice from behind him. She got up off the left side of his extra-long full-size bed, where she’d been sitting atop the covers, clothed in indigo blue jeans and a long-sleeved, white Western-pattern blouse. “Less than three minutes since I sat down – I lost the bet with your Mom; I’d said you’d sleep the rest of the morning, and I was really careful when sitting down there, too. She’s standing by the door timing you. Oh well, up and at ’em; we have lots to do today!

“We’ll wander on downstairs and start getting lunch ready; don’t take too long or I’ll eat yours too, and then you’ll have to fend for yourself.”

Rolling over and smiling at Carole, Myron said, “Welcome home! You’ve been practicing; you sounded exactly like Mom just then. Okay, shoo, go ’way so I can get up.”

“Oh?” she said, her eyebrows arching. “Well, I suppose we can let you have some privacy to get decent. But make it snappy; you passed your physical last night and our instructors don’t put up with slackers. By the way, they got your current measurements during yesterday’s torture session and sent them up to the station; Alice packed up your clothing there for modification or replacement. See ya!”

Carole smiled at him past his bedroom door as she softly pulled it closed, and Myron rolled out of bed to get his clothing for the day, then ducked into his shower. Carole’s presence confused him; this was Thursday, June 9, and he’d thought she’d be arriving this evening; he was scheduled for the flight out on Saturday night, but was happier to see her than he cared to show. They’d hoped to see each other during the Easter break, but she’d been on a training flight outside Earth’s solar system and couldn’t make it; this was the first time since early January they’d been together. That she and his Mom got along so well comforted him; he’d have committed to Carole regardless, but that they liked and accepted each other without reservation was a source of great comfort. That his father also approved of Carole just put the icing on the cake – she had been well accepted by his entire family, despite her unconventional appearance in his life.

Oh well – he quickly showered and rinsed off, toweled dry, shaved, brushed his teeth, then put on his briefs. There was a fresh shirt on the bed that hadn’t been there when he’d gone into the shower, so he switched from the T shirt he’d been planning to wear to a lighter one that would go well under this mostly white Western-pattern long-sleeved shirt that actually fit him properly. He opted for a pair of loose indigo jeans, a plain brown leather belt with an understated Western-style bronze buckle, and white socks; he’d figure out which shoes – or boots – to wear when they left the house. Making sure his towel was smoothly hung over its rod and that his bathroom door was open to allow maximum air circulation, he went back into his bedroom, quickly made up his bed, and finally headed downstairs, his stomach letting him know it wanted food.

Carole met him at the bottom of the stairs, and they shared a warm, welcoming hug. Myron was pleasantly surprised; Carole’s shape had changed subtly in the six months since he’d seen her last. Her waist was a little smaller, and he could feel on her back that she had put on some muscle during those months; as they stepped apart he could see that her shoulders and arms were also better muscled and more clearly defined, though (thankfully) not too much so; he’d already learned back in December that she was surprisingly strong for her size.

Myron was even more surprised when Inspector Ooo’s voice came from the kitchen. “Yes, Professor, they look very good together indeed. It’s instantly obvious Myron’s your daughter’s brother; he’ll fit right into that bunch she, the Pilot and my principal have started. Half a dozen young ladies now, plus two or three of the young men aboard the station are already becoming recognized as a group. All very quiet in public, well, most of the time, that is. They run as a group in the park at least three times a week with Pilot Williams setting the pace and the route unless she’s off for training, at which times your daughter leads the pack. They’re pretty much the brightest, most multi-talented of the younger people aboard the station, and have all been regarded once in a while as just a little strange – but as a group they’ve established a pattern of behavior that would be just plain wrong to criticize. A couple of them have started opening up their areas of study; your daughter isn’t the only one beginning to make useful insights, but she’s really the one who started that whole thing rolling.

“And the Admirals are both pleased as can be; I think they’ve been hoping for something along this general line of spontaneous breakout among the younger people on the station for a long time. Your daughter has been quite a catalyst – well, actually it’s the combination of the three girls that has formed that catalyst. It makes me both happy and a bit nervous, but it’s a wonderful thing to see that group together; there’s no slightest hint of anyone being at all uncomfortable with the different kinds of humans in their group. It started with your children and the Pilot, here, then expanded to include my Lady; I think now they’re consciously seeking out like-minded people for whatever this association of theirs will eventually turn out to be. My impression is that they seem to be training up for some serious program or mission they’ve set for themselves, and appear to think will take centuries if not millennia; there’s a growing feeling around the station that we normal sorts are looking at something from the future, somehow misplaced into our own time.

“Prime hasn’t made any comments to me about their association, but it’s known they get into some pretty involved discussions with it – that’s the first time anything even remotely like such free contact with Prime has happened during the whole time that Home Station’s been up and running. Not that Prime has actively discouraged contact; I think most people just don’t feel comfortable talking with it. But those kids are all in many ways smarter, tougher and stronger than most of the rest of us; they’re training themselves up really hard, both mentally and physically, somewhat as has Myron here – and they claim they’re just getting started. I wish I knew whether to be happy or terrified.”

Myron had been listening very carefully, but also letting his mind sift through the history of the entire Refuge Confederation, Éhofen in particular. “Um, Inspector, that sounds vaguely like the sort of thing the founders of your society did. Are they showing any indication they think they’re any better than anyone else?”

Inspector Ooo thought about that for a while, then shook his head. “No, quite the opposite in fact, at least at this time. My people didn’t start out with that sort of attitude either, at least not until there were several hundred in their association, but right from the start they’d been trying to emphasize their perceived differences from the rest of humanity. Your sister’s group is different from the rest of the people aboard the station only in that it seems they’re just demanding far more from themselves than does the average person, and are looking centuries into their future – which, because our society is generally developing very slowly, it’s often quite possible to do. No, I’d say theirs is a benign philosophical movement at this stage, emphasizing freedom of thought and learning, and the responsible use of what is learned – and it appears to me to have genuinely tried to look far into the possible future of where that may lead. Except for the Pilot they’re still very young and pretty much unformed as individuals, but your sister’s wild talent regarding commercially viable fusion power generation currently serves as inspiration for the rest of that group. Two of the others have made unexpected discoveries or theoretical advances in other fields; I apologize but those are outside your limits of data exposure for now.

“The important thing is that theirs is a gathering of open but highly disciplined and motivated young minds, synergistically feeding off each other but not yet clearly pointed in any recognizable direction. And it’s only in a situation such as theirs that such an association could properly form and flourish, where just one random factor – in this case your family – could possibly have catalyzed the pot in just the right way and at just the right time. The other factors were already present – the various players in this explosive growth, including the Pilot, even my Lady, but it was your family’s presence that triggered whatever that association turns into. For good or for ill, and it seems the drivers now are your sister and my Lady; they appear to share a vision and various insights they don’t always share with others.”

The Inspector turned to Emily, a concerned expression coming over his face. “Which brings me to what I hope isn’t too uncomfortable a question, Professor: Is there any evidence of unusual psychic abilities or gifts on either side of this family, as far as you’re aware?”

Emily thought for a few moments, said “None of any kind that I know of, but when they were very young both my children complained about being very aware of when they were near high-tension, or high-voltage, overhead electrical transmission wires. We lived for a while a few miles from the nearest town, and occasionally we had to cross under a set of transmission lines, and they both would become very, um, uneasy as we approached and passed under them, even after my husband and I explained what they were.”

“I remember that,” said Myron. “We could hear the crackling and buzzing of the electricity at the insulators on the towers, which was bad enough all by itself, but just being close to those lines made my head feel kind of – buzzy, is the only way I can describe it. Not confused, but kind of jumpy, and not as peaceful as I liked. I suppose I might have been picking up on the low-frequency electromagnetic radiation from those wires, but then I was always kind of sensitive to direction, too, and if I was too near those wires that seemed to get kind of scrambled.”

“Could you tell me what that means, Myron,” asked Carole. “When you say ‘sensitive to direction,’ do you mean something like a magnetic compass, or more like something inertial, where you’re sensitive to a change in direction?”

“More like the first, although we were both pretty good at the latter. I could almost always tell which way was north, even when I couldn’t see landmarks or the stars at night. Sometimes I still get to have that again, after I’ve been away from urban development and radio and TV transmitter towers – and cell phones! – for a month or more,” said Myron.

The Inspector was leaning forward, paying close attention. “Did or does your sister have anything like that, Myron?”

“Come to think of it, I believe so. If anything, she was more sensitive to the power lines than I was; she was certainly better at directional awareness than I was then, but of course she’s a couple of years older than I am. I think I might be a little better at that than she is these days, at least when we’re ’way out in the boonies. And I’ve always been able to dowse for water, while she could never do that at all. I haven’t practiced that recently, though – not since last summer.”

“Ellie’s said she can do that without rods or even a stick, Inspector,” said Carole, who then suddenly blushed. “Oh, I'm sorry, I should have said Élowynn, but we’ve been calling her by the shorter name for a couple of months. To her face, because that’s what she said she’d like, just as among us Robert Sandor’s known as Bob. We try not to use their short names outside our group, but because this is family and you’re always so close by aboard the station I thought it would be acceptable to use her nickname here.”

The Inspector had at first looked outraged, then merely bemused, and finally burst out in a pleased laugh. “It’s perfectly all right, Pilot Williams,” he finally said. “Her parents will be scandalized, at least until they come to know your group, after which they’ll merely be terrified. Not of you! – No, not of you at all, but rather by how far beyond the usual attitudes of my society she has developed herself and her thinking due to her association with you. It’ll do them a lot of good, actually, though for a while they’ll bitterly resent being so abruptly dragged into this new reality until they meet you in person! And no, I’m still not going to tell you who they are; they’ll have to do that for themselves. I can tell you that they’ve noted a change in the tone of the reports she sends home, and have wondered why she now seems so much happier than ever before in her life – happier, but also far more aware of what’s going on around her and of what she says than at any time in her past. Plus she’s more careful, detailed and precise in her accounts of her class progress as well as of her dealings with non-Éhofen people. Part of that’s just normal maturing, of course, but she has seen and taken part in such explosive growth of the personalities of those with whom she now associates – as well as her own accelerating development – that it has likely had a profound, lifelong influence on her. And she now sees other people on the station merely as people, instead of first as non-Éhofen, unlike most people on our world. Better, we are now generally accepted around the station as just people instead of as Éhofen first and people second, as was the case from when we first arrived and until shortly after your family’s visit, Professor, and Miss Watson taking up residence there. In my opinion, that’s likely a very fortunate and positive influence indeed, though of course that remains to be seen.

“Just please don’t expect me to call her by that name! The results might be most uncomfortable, and I’ve grown rather fond of her and the rest of you.”

Carole thought about that one for a few seconds, then said, “I don't think it would have any bad effect if done in private, depending on the situation, but no, you wouldn’t want to get into the habit of it. I might be ’way off base, here, but I think I have a pretty fair idea of about where she and her family fit in your society, and that would be seen as your being insufferably disrespectful.” She brightened. “Now Alice and Myron, on the other hand, being merely unschooled barbarians, there’s no telling what they’d do. Especially as Alice seems to have taken her under her wing; Ellie looks to her as a particularly close big sister, which makes good sense as I’ve been away from the station several times on training cruises.

“By the way, Myron, I’ve completed my therapy related to the hit we took on ’21, and my flight certificate’s been renewed. Just in time for some more training, of course, but for now I’ve just started three weeks’ leave. After that I’m scheduled for three months’ classroom and simulator training aboard the station, but it’s all stuff I’ve already studied, so I’ll have evenings free to harass you, Alice and Ellie. At least, until you come back down here for your field exercises and then whatever remains of the summer mining season, that is.”

Myron smiled. “You said you’ve already studied what’ll be in those classes – I caught that evil little gleam in your eye! What, you think maybe you might just possibly know the material a little better than the instructor? Being you I could expect nothing less.”

Carole smiled impishly – a considerable feat given her size – and said, “Oh, I think you could safely say that, I do indeed.” There was nothing at all impish in her expression at those last three words; her whole countenance had subtly shifted into that of some great predator contemplating unseen prey.

Myron was completely unaware of it, but as he caught Carole’s confidence in just how far ahead of the instructor she was confident she already was, his face also took on a fairly predatory smile of its own. “Oh, that should be fun. I wish I could be the fly on the wall, though I know that wouldn’t be right. Yet.”

“Has he had that facial expression all his life?” Inspector Ooo asked Emily.

“No, but it started showing up around his 20th birthday,” she said, regarding both Myron and Carole carefully. “I didn’t at first recognize it, so it might go back a little farther than that, but it’s been showing up more frequently over the past two years. It wasn’t until he came back from the station, though, that it’s become fairly common when he recognizes real determination and drive in another person he respects. I don’t think he’s predatory against other people, but I’d hate to be a fact he’s hunting.” She smiled fondly at her only son. “Especially if the two of them teamed up on it. Barbarians!”

Myron glanced toward Carole, one eyebrow raised very slightly, and said, “What, now you're calling me a barbarian? Speak for yourself, Mom, there are barbarians – and barbarians!”

Carole hesitated only an instant, then said “‘You don’t have to be a butchering maniac to have ‘barbarian’ qualities.’ Is that the reference you’re thinking of?”

Myron's smile did in fact appear quite predatory. “Yep, ‘March to the Sea,’ by John Ringo, 2001. There's a copy in –” he turned, looked along the wall of bookcases “– that third bookcase, second shelf from the bottom, towards the left side. That man can draw characters I can practically see; I wish I could write like that! Oh well, if I’m a barbarian, then so are you. Long live barbarians!” He raised a glass of water to Carole in salute.

She picked up her own water glass, returning his salute, then turned to the Inspector. “Ellie – excuse me, please, Inspector – Élowynn has mentioned a few times that occasionally she sees in Alice what she interprets as a predator. Well, so do I for that matter, but she’s been unwilling to examine Alice as apparently she did both Myron and the Colonel. And even more unwilling to examine me; she says she’s not afraid of anything Alice or I might say or do to her, but of what or how we might feel; she won’t explain at all beyond that.”

“That’s very strange,” said the Inspector. “I wonder if she means that literally, or more along the lines of an emotional response to sharing in what could become a very intimate mental contact. About the most you’re supposed to feel as an examination subject is something like a warm kind of glow that washes through you, and then sometimes it changes as the examiner departs your mind. Occasionally the change feels like a kind of cooling of that glow sensation. I'm sorry; words don’t really do the feeling any justice at all. Usually the examination is done to find out whether someone has experienced any kind of stress-related mental or emotional damage that might need to be addressed by a skilled therapist, but sometimes it’s done to determine a person’s true motives for doing something, or their true character, or rarely to look for something that the subject might be totally unaware of knowing, but related to some issue with or concern for another person the subject knows. In my official capacity I’ve learned how to administer that kind of test, but it’s sometimes very taxing on the examiner and occasionally the person being examined, particularly if there’s any sort of emotional link between the two people. Even then, the worst thing the examinee is supposed to feel is something sort of like a very gentle shower, all over and through their mind – nothing at all distressing or disorienting. Most people feel nothing at all while being examined.”

“That first one’s about the way Dad described it,” said Myron. “It’s nothing like I felt, though, in my case it was almost as if there was something or someone else there, something ancient and. . .”

“Stop!” barked the Inspector, his face abruptly going pale. “My apologies, I shouldn’t have shouted. Please tell me, Mr. Watson – did my Lady look into your eyes when she examined you? Please tell me exactly what she did, but not for now what you felt.”

“Um, if I recall correctly, she stepped forward to maybe two feet or so in front of me, said something like ‘If you will permit me,’ then took both my hands, palm down, in hers, looking at them and closing her eyes. She brought my hands up just in front of her face, inhaled – it seemed maybe she was trying to catch some kind of scent – then she bowed her head to where I couldn’t see her face and put the backs of my fingers against her forehead. From the tips of my fingers, that would be between the first and second joints; my fingers were resting on the first finger of each of her hands, her thumbs on my second and third fingertips. My thumbs were touching each other. After she was finished, she took my fingers away from contact with her forehead, then released them entirely before raising her head to look at my face, I think maybe into my eyes, but I was – kind of dealing with the experience just then and am not entirely sure of that.”

The Inspector’s face blanched even more than before. Perspiration visibly beaded his forehead as he asked, “You’re sure about this? Is there anyone else who might have seen the two of you?”

“Well, Dad was standing right there, as were the two Admirals; why don’t you ask them? Dad should be home this evening around 6:30 or so, depending on traffic. Why, is there something wrong?”

“I really can’t say; I simply don’t know enough,” said the Inspector. “If I could request an enormous favor, though, would you permit me to examine you for the accuracy of your memory of the experience, against the description you just gave? I completely believe you, but this is rather important, and I wish to be utterly certain.”

“Not a problem, do I stand as before?”

“Normally we both would, but in this case I think we should both be sitting in chairs that will allow us to relax without falling out of them. Pilot Williams, Professor Watson, what you’re about to see is an Éhofen technique for determining the accuracy of someone’s account of a specific experience. In the way I’ve been trained, I can of course detect if the test subject is telling the truth – which I absolutely believe Myron is doing, so all I wish to do is verify fine details of his account – and it may be possible to gain images or even emotional content from the test subject if the event made some profound impression on him or her.

“Mr. Watson began to describe an experience that has occasionally been mentioned in some of the more esoteric studies of our verification process, which can be conducted only by people having a certain, um, what you might call ‘sensitivity,’ something along the lines of what you might think of as a medium or a particularly accurate fortune teller. I have a fair amount of that sensitivity; it’s an absolute prerequisite for my job. My Lady is, even at her young age, probably among the most powerful and sensitive of our practitioners of this art, but at this time her sensitivity to powerfully felt emotions by large numbers of people pretty much means she has to stay far away from locations of conflict. Even Home Station is sometimes a little uncomfortable for her; she literally could not survive if brought down here. The emotional tensions and outright hatreds by some people even within a few miles of this location actually give me a bit of a headache at times, but being far older, more experienced in dealing with such pressures, and not anywhere nearly as sensitive as she is, I can deal with them fairly well.

“But back to the topic – there have been occasional reports over the past few thousand years – seven reports in all – of examinees reporting particularly intense and unusual experiences, the details of which I may not describe here or now. I’m requesting your permission, Mr. Watson, to examine your recollections of that event, and for as much as ten seconds before and ten seconds after the event. Because of unknown differences in our mental makeup, I might not be able to sense much; on the other hand, it is barely possible I might experience what you did at perhaps up to half the intensity your mind recorded. If this is too personal a request, you are certainly free to refuse, and nothing further will be said about it – this is for my own education, as well as possibly to protect my Lady, though you would never pose any kind threat to her – I’m referring to potential political danger from other people.”

Myron thought for a few moments, then said “Sure, why not? I don’t understand any slightest part of it myself; I could use some help from a professional in figuring out what it was that I went through. We can move this chair and that recliner. . .”

After the two chairs were moved, Myron and the Inspector sat facing each other, the Inspector in the recliner, with Carole standing to Myron’s right and Emily to his left. The Inspector visibly calmed himself, then sat forward. “Mr. Watson, if you will permit me, please?” He took Myron’s two hands in his own, palms down, then brought them to just in front of his face, inhaling deeply while closing his eyes. He then bowed his head, bringing the backs of Myron’s fingers into contact with his own forehead. For a few moments nothing at all happened, then without warning the Inspector collapsed, going totally limp as he lost consciousness, almost falling into Myron’s lap. Carole and Emily caught him, easing him back into a reclining position as Myron moved his chair back to permit the Inspector’s feet to be raised. Emily looked shocked and dismayed; Carole looked surprised and very thoughtful as she rolled the Inspector’s head to one side to ease his breathing. Myron was completely surprised; he hadn't felt a thing.

In seconds the Inspector began to regain consciousness, raising both hands to cover his eyes, and shivering violently for a few moments. Finally he took his hands away from his face and managed to sit up in the recliner, but his face wasashen, his breathing labored. He looked at the concerned faces around him, then at his own trembling hands. “Well, that didn’t go exactly as planned,” he said, smiling tentatively. “My apologies for putting on such a show; obviously I hadn’t the faintest idea of what I was in for.” Hisvoice growing stronger and steadier by the second, he continued, “Mr. Watson, or Myron, just now I haven’t any idea of how to properly address you, I saw exactly how my Lady approached you, and her form and procedure were perfect even if perhaps a little abrupt – she’s been the most meticulous student of this art I’ve ever encountered, certainly she’s already far better at it than I can ever be. She did everything exactly right – but when I should have been able to experience what you did, I suddenly had the impression I was being evaluated by someone infinitely more powerful than I could ever possibly be; who I am was being verified, and then something simply put me out cold. Oh, it was nothing any of you voluntarily did! This must be something set in your mind by whatever it was you encountered during her examination of you, and probably the only reason I’m still alive is because you believed and I knew I meant you no harm at all. I don’t think my Lady knowingly or deliberately set that defense in your mind; I doubt she even knew about it. Certainly her conduct after she returned to our building following that memorial service indicated nothing like a vicious intent towards anyone; she was merely quite subdued for most of the remainder of that day. We thought it was due to the emotions surrounding the memorial service. She’s very sensitive to that sort of thing.

“There's no written record aboard the station of anything like my experience just now ever happening in our history. When we get back to the station I’ll have to file a report with my office on Éhofen; maybe they might have some knowledge of what just went on here. But for now, I’ve been delaying our lunch, which is absolutely the wrong thing to do!”

Lunch was an easy, informal, friendly time, conversation ranging from current topics to light banter and the occasional self-deprecating comment by the Inspector. Emily and Carole had put together tuna sandwiches and a selection of fruit; the Inspector was very appreciative of the tuna and the Fuji apples. However, both Carole and Emily noticed occasional concern in the Inspector’s face when he glanced in Myron’s direction. Neither of the two women said anything about it, of course, but both watched very carefully.

By prior arrangement, the Inspector’s ride back to where he was staying arrived at just after two in the afternoon, shortly after lunch, and it was with considerable relief that Emily, Myron and Carole saw him off. By habit, Myron went to the kitchen to clean up after their lunch; Carole came to help while Mrs. Watson took care of some of the household bills. After finishing the dishes, Myron and Carole went out for a walk, returning half an hour later. The three of them then gathered in the living room, Myron taking a side trip to the kitchen to get clean water glasses from the cupboard, and after filling them all he rejoined the women.

“So – what did we just learn?” was his immediate question after distributing the water glasses and sitting down on one end of the love seat.

The women – Emily in the recliner and Carole on the other end of the love seat – looked at each other for a moment before Carole spoke. “Well, from the available information at Home Station I’ve learned everything I can about the Éhofen, so I think I’m as well versed in their culture and social structure as any outsider can be. I’d be willing to bet Ellie – sorry, Élowynn – is from a family extremely high up in their society’s ranking. The way the Inspector refers to her as either his ‘principal’ or ‘My Lady’ means her family’s ’way up in their Government, and they have a monarchy with a lot of high offices concentrated in one extended family.”

Myron took up the thread: “The entire extended ruling family operates as far as it can outside of the public awareness. The only member of that family who’s ever identified as such is the current monarch, and of course all previous monarchs. No one else in the family is ever mentioned or identified as such; ostensibly this is so they can move freely in public without undue cause for fear of being recognized and mobbed – hopefully in a supportive way, but we all know there are other possibilities if the government is seen as being abusive.

“The last recorded assassination attempt there was about a thousand years ago, so I’d say that historically the monarchy has been fairly well received. Unfortunately, it seems the current monarch is not doing very well. One advantage of the Family members being able to move around in public anonymously is that supposedly they’ll be more likely to pick up on public sentiment, or gain spontaneous public input that’s not run through a lot of reservations about being critical of the monarchy or any individual in the Family. And the Monarch may be either a man or a woman; the current monarch is Éfair the Younger, a woman who’s been on the throne for something like 508 years. I have some images of her on my computer.

“But while digging around in miscellaneous data on the planet’s population, I noticed some things that set off serious alarms in my head. Recorded birth rates throughout the population have been dropping awfully fast for the past seven hundred years or so. The most recent census, taken only seven years ago, indicates the total number of recorded births in the 16 preceding years was only 1,472. In a worldwide population of about 380 million per their last census, and with a median lifespan of 2,197 years, they'd need an absolute minimum of 172,963 births per year just to maintain their numbers, assuming no infant mortality. They're now at around 0.053% of that number of recorded births.

“Élowynn's party aboard Home Station is doing basic research into the human genome as expressed here on Earth; also in the Refugees aboard the station, according to both the Admirals plus what I've learned from Prime. She’s only about 19 years of age, or thereabouts. Also, they’ve all been examined for their suitability for Confederation boosters, the first of her kind ever to be so examined. I haven’t tried to find out whether she’s been found able to accept them, or whether she’s already had them administered, but I believe she has.

“I think she’s a member of the Family, here in an emergency, last-ditch effort to find out what’s happening to her people and how to reverse their catastrophic drop-off in birth rate.

“Oh – and the ratio of male to female births? It’s now about one to 12, with the women currently outnumbering men in the overall population by around six to one. Worse, about 95% of the men born in the past 300 years are infertile. As are over 65% of the women.

“And worst of all – overall infant mortality from birth defects is now up to 81%, yielding only 280 babies to survive to their first birthday during the past 16 years, so they’re actually down to a hundredth of one per cent of their needed replacement rate.

“I think they're looking at an extinction trend, because in the previous twenty censuses, total birth numbers have been declining almost exponentially. Unless their birth and survival rates go up a whole lot, and that infertility rate is brought down to something reasonable, the Éhofen as a viable branch of humanity might die out within our lifetime".