"Lili, I don't understand this."
"Huh?" She followed the voice to the kitchen of their tiny Calafan apartment, holding their baby. He was nursing, but he started to cry as soon as they entered the kitchen and things got really bright. "Shh, Joss, shh," she soothed. "What's, uh, what are you doing up, Doug? It's the middle of the night." Lili yawned.
"I can't, I can't get this." Doug had a PADD with him, and his tone was one of frustration.
She sat down in the only other chair and looked at the proffered PADD as the baby began to quiet down. "It's our ballot."
"What's the problem?"
"I, I don't get it. What am I supposed to do?"
"You vote. We're voting tomorrow, remember?" The display on the wall chronometer scrolled through the time – 0206 hours – and then the date – April nineteenth of 2159. "Uh, make that today."
"How?" Doug asked.
"I don't know the specifics. It might be a show of hands or maybe we fill out slips of paper or we use machines or our PADDs or we tell someone which candidate we prefer. I'm not sure of the exact mechanics of it all."
"I don't mean how you cast a ballot, Lili. I mean, how do you vote at all?"
"I'm not following you."
"I, well, I don't know anything about governing. Why should I decide who gets to govern the Lafa System?"
"Because we're in a democracy, silly. Er, a constitutional monarchy, actually."
He looked a little wounded by that. "I should not be choosing this. We didn't have to do this last year. And what if I do it wrong? It'll all be on my head."
"No, it won't. C'mon, I think you're just kinda sleep-deprived because of the young master here."
"I can't do this."
"Of course you can. You just make a choice."
"But how do you make that choice?"
"You weigh the issues, and you pick whoever is in closest agreement with your values."
"You decide," he urged her.
"No, no, c'mon, Doug. This is your choice, too." The baby fussed a little, so she started nursing him again.
"We didn't have to do this last year," he complained a bit.
"That's only because we weren't citizens yet, and you were still working on getting an ID card. But we're citizens now and this is what citizens do."
"I can't. I don't know the first thing about it."
"Sure you do," her tone was encouraging. "Don't you recall when all twelve candidates got up and spoke on the viewer? They each answered five questions. One was about funding for the zoological park on Lafa IX, another was about diplomatic relations with Andoria, and I forget the other three."
"Uh, one was about modernizing the factories on Lafa V."
"That's right. See, you do know the issues."
"No, no," he shook his head.
"C'mon, you know this," she encouraged again.
He put his head in his hands and stared at their kitchen table for a few seconds. When he looked up again, his eyes were red – redder than the ungodly hour would have normally caused. "I can't."
She put a hand on his arm in sympathy. "What's wrong?"
"I, I have never, ever had any sort of power. Not like this. I don't know what to do."
"You were fourth in command on the Defiant."
"On the other side of the pond, in another universe, yes. But I never made these kinds of decisions, Lili."
The baby finished up, so she burped him. "How was your government run?"
He sighed. "Common people like me never made these choices."
"Who did? Doug, what was your original universe like?"
"I, you know I don't like talking about this. When the Calafans brought me over from there, all I wanted to do was forget that. I still kinda do."
"I see." She thought for a moment. "But if you tell me, maybe it'll alleviate some of this, this burden. I am your wife, Douglas Jay Hayes Beckett. And I am here to listen to your problems."
"Well, I'm just not sure you'd love to hear about what things were like when I was still just plain old Douglas Jay Hayes."
"He's the fellow I fell in love with, yanno." They kissed. "It's okay to tell me."
"Huh. When I was born, on December third of 2102, the Emperor was Philip the Third. His son was actually at West Point at the same time I was. Of course he didn't start off as Cadet Green. He was a lieutenant immediately. No one was gonna let Philip Green IV be a lowly private, or anything like that."
"Philip Green? On our side of the pond, way back when, he was responsible for a slew of deaths around the time of the Third World War. I wonder if your emperor's ancestor was that guy's counterpart."
"He probably was. Philip the Third was sometimes called Philip the Fat. He died when I was assigned on Titania. His son took over, of course. Philip the Fourth was also called Philip the Doubtful."
"Yep," Doug confirmed. "It was because he didn't originally believe the reports of his father's death."
"So this doubtful guy, how long was he in charge?"
"A while," Doug cast about, trying and failing to remember the specifics. "When we picked up the Defiant, Hoshi murdered Archer."
"That's right; I recall you told me that."
"Yes, well, here was Hoshi Sato with this advanced ship and a blinding ambition. She patched herself through to the Emperor and invited him over. I'm sure she was expecting kudos and probably a spot in his bed."
"How do you know all this?" Lili inquired.
"I was a guard for her; I was a major by then."
"We had advanced phasers because the Defiant was from; it turned out, your future. And so she vaporized him on the spot. Miller and Torres and Delacroix were supposed to be his guards, but they fell into line quickly. Funny how fast people swear allegiance when they got a phaser pointed at their guts."
"Those guys are counterparts to the men I know? But Brian Delacroix is such a sweetheart."
"Not over there. His counterpart sure wasn't."
"Lemme ask you – so Hoshi became the empress and all that jazz. But what happened to the little decisions? I cannot believe that she gave a damn about crops on Europa or anything like that."
"She didn't, and I bet she still doesn't. She's got lackeys to handle all the details. She's a big picture kind of a gal. Truth is, even for big picture stuff, she doesn't actually govern much. She doesn't make laws or deal with budgets, so far as I remember."
"But surely somebody does. Maybe don't think of this as choosing an emperor, because you really aren't, yanno. This is more like deciding about those five big issues. C'mon," she got up, "we're both tired. We won't solve the world's problems tonight. So let's try to get a little more sleep and we'll go to the Fep City polling place first thing in the morning. It's a holiday, and once we're done we'll spend the whole day together, okay?"
"Sleep? I just, it feels like such a burden."
"I'll make it worth your while to come back to bed."
He didn't hesitate.
The polls were open at 0900 hours and they were some of the first people in line. The native Calafans stared a bit, as Doug, Lili and Joss were the only humans in the entire system. They had been living there for over a year, but of course had not met everyone.
They walked into a large hall. "New voters!" was the announcement on a public address system. "New voters, come to Room Four!" They walked in with a large number of Calafan teenagers, who were all bald with solid silver arms and legs. Someone found an aisle seat for Lili. Doug stood nearby.
"New voters," a woman at a podium addressed them. She had flowing white-blonde hair and complicated silvery scrollwork up and down her arms. If Lili had to guess, she'd say the woman was perhaps sixty years old. "I am here to tell you how it's done. I am very glad to see so many new faces! And the new human settlers – welcome to voting."
Doug nodded quickly as everyone in the room turned to stare at them briefly. The woman continued, "As you are all aware, our parliament decided on five issues for this election for the office of First Minister. Recently, on the viewer, the twelve candidates presented their views on those five issues. And so many people have likely already made their decisions. For everyone who has decided on a candidate, you will stand on a line for the room for that candidate. So there is a room for Ollori, and one for Trialla and Emeg and the other nine. Fifty people at a time are given a number and are ushered into that room. They spend ten minutes discussing the issues and then they vote. Voting is nearly always unanimous. Anyone who does not vote for the candidate belonging to that room is then ushered to the undecided room's line. But anyone who votes for the candidate is finished for the day."
"Sounds easy enough," Doug whispered.
"As one group of fifty finishes up, the next group enters, et cetera. We try to move you through quickly but that's not always possible. Everyone is entitled to speak up if they so desire. But for those who have already decided, that is often unnecessary. As a practical matter, the numbers are returned at the end of the meeting and are reused."
A bald silver girl seated near Lili stuck her hand up. "Yes?" asked the woman at the podium.
"Why are there numbers?"
"You need to use the numbers. Even if you know everyone in the room with you – even if you are related – you use the numbers when addressing one another. That retains some secrecy in polling. Plus of course all deliberations are confidential. And now, here's a word about the undecided voters."
"That's you," Lili whispered.
"The undecided voters enter in groups of one hundred apiece and are also assigned numbers. The first thing they do is; they are asked to fill out a questionnaire on their PADDs. This is just the five issues for the election. They vote yea or nay or undecided or they may, if they wish, add brief commentary. For anyone who comes up with a perfect agreement with any of the candidates, that person is sent to the line for that candidate. For those who do not, deliberations are held."
She stopped to sip a bit of water nearby. "These deliberations are intended to be respectful, of course. You speak of the issues. Perhaps you have a clear idea of what you want. Perhaps you do not. After ten minutes of deliberating, a vote is taken on your PADDs. It's just a vote to determine whether you have decided on any of the candidates or any of your positions have been swayed on any of the five issues. For anyone who has come to a decision, you get onto another line. And, as people are removed from the group, others are added in their place. Because it can sometimes take a while to accomplish undecided voting, there are several such rooms set aside. Furthermore, we have sometimes seen frustrations. Voters are separated if they cannot get along."
"How long does it take?" asked a youth in the back.
"As long as it takes," replied the woman. "But the polls close at twenty-two hundred hours. So if you are undecided even then, well, then your ballot is marked as undecided. If there is no clear winner in the election for First Minister, then you may be called upon to deliberate again. Otherwise, you are finished. Now, look around you. Except for our new human citizens, you are all sixteen years of age. And of course you will be voting next year for representatives to Parliament. But you won't vote for First Minister again until six years from now. If you've got younger brothers and sisters who are ten years of age, they will be new voters for First Minister then. Thank you."
They all slowly walked out. "I'll take Joss," Lili said. She kissed Doug. "Good luck."
"Uh, yeah, thanks." He left to find an undecided line.
She glanced around a bit. "Are you in need of assistance?" asked a young Calafan man. He had a green hat on – a sign that he worked there.
"Uh, yes. I'm looking for the room for, uh, the candidate's name is Ubvelwev. Man oh man, that's a tough name to say."
"The name means Master of Defeating Evil, did you know that?" She shook her head. "Huh, let's see." He looked around at signs. "They don't alphabetize them, so you don't get a sense of prominence from just being first or anything like that. Hmm," he read off, "Trialla, Yipatro, Yimali, Emeg, Liwev, Corwev, Yitra, Pran, Esolen, Torreva ah, there's his room." He pointed, his bare arm a mottled mass of silver.
"Thank you." She got onto the line and shifted the baby in her arms.
The line moved quickly – those people clearly knew what they wanted. When she got to the front of the line, the clerk took one look at her. "You are the female human settler?"
"Charlotte Lilienne O'Day Beckett."
"Your name cannot be that long. We do not have last names here. You must select a name."
"What does your name mean?" the clerk asked as she tapped out the name on her PADD.
"It's a kind of flower."
"And your child? What is the age?"
"He's a little over half a year old."
"Ah, then in 2175, he will be a new voter. Take a number."
Lili took a number; it turned out to be 42. She walked into the room and the door was shut behind them. A man got up and spoke. There didn't seem to be anyone specifically in charge. "Does anyone need to deliberate?" he inquired.
"Let's take a quick vote," suggested a woman in the back.
Everyone's PADD flashed as the official ballot was transferred. Lili tapped next to the name Ubvelwev and hit confirm. A green-hatted clerk called for quiet. "We have unanimity. Thank you for exercising your civic duty. Deposit your numbers as you leave."
Joss was entertained by Lili depositing her number into a tube which grabbed the bit of plastic and whooshed it back to, she guessed, the front of the room where she had initially gotten it. She walked outside to the warm Calafan day. The system's four stars were all shining brightly. She clicked open her communicator. "I'm done."
"Oh, uh, I'm still on a line. Take the car and head home, okay? I'll call you or I'll take a transport," Doug said.
"All right. See you soon."
There were enough undecided people that it took Doug a good hour before he got to the front of the line. "Name?"
"Douglas Jay Hayes Beckett."
"You can only have one name."
"Very well." The green-hatted clerk began typing. "What does your name mean?"
"Uh, it means dark stranger."
"That is appropriate for one of the night people. You know, from the Mirror Universe. We occasionally have had nighttime Calafans voting – they are copper – have you noticed?"
"Uh, yeah, I've seen a few of them," he admitted.
"Take a number and proceed into the third undecided room."
"Uh, all right." His number was 14.
The room was crowded, and there didn't seem to be enough chairs. He didn't bother sitting, and instead deferred to a pregnant woman.
A green-hatted clerk stood at the front of the room. "We're going to take a straw vote. This is not your final ballot. You have two minutes."
Everyone's PADD flashed. Doug looked at his. There were the five issues.
Vote to increase funding for Lafa IX Zoological Park
Vote to further open up diplomatic relations with Andoria
Vote for a budget to improve factories on Lafa V
Vote for increased funding for unemployment office on Lafa III
Vote to approve increased mining operations on Lafa VII
He tapped out his answers quickly – yea for the first three and nay for the last two.
"Time!" yelled the clerk. "Check your PADDs. Some of you may have just stopped being undecided."
Doug did not have any new messages, but a good third of the people around him did. They got up and left and new people were given their numbers and seats.
"Is it always this fast?" he asked the pregnant woman.
"Not always. And it can turn into diminishing returns as the time goes by."
"I see. Thanks."
The clerk spoke again. "For those who remain after the initial straw vote, there were 27% in favor of issue number one, 39% in favor of issue number two, and 14% in favor of issue number three, 9% in favor of issue number four and 63% in favor of issue number five. These figures do not include the votes of the first 37 people who were turned decided. For those of you who are new voters, that is a very good start. Who would like to speak first?"
An older man, with hair and a beard almost like an Efrosian, got up. "I am surprised at you! Voting against funding for the Zoological Park! Children love it there!"
"But," came a woman's voice from the back, "people need jobs."
"There will be jobs once relations with Andoria improve," called a man from the side.
Then they all started talking at once, or at least it seemed that way to Doug. He quickly tapped out a message to Lili on his PADD – This may take a while.
And it did.
He was there to the bitter end, to twenty-two hundred hours. He was tired and starving. "Final vote!" called the green-hatted clerk wearily. There were only, it seemed, about thirty of them left.
Doug voted yet again. He had listened to deliberations all day long and the only thing he'd changed his mind about was the vote on the fifth issue. He tapped out his responses – all yeses except for issue number four.
"Time!" called the clerk. "Check your PADDs."
Doug's PADD had one message on it. "You have been declared undecided. You are free to leave." He found the clerk as the others shuffled out wearily. "What does this mean?" he showed the message.
"It means that you never decided today. You will only be called upon if there is a tie to be broken." His own PADD flashed so he took a moment to look at it. "It seems your tie-breaking skills will not be necessary. Ubvelwev has been declared the winner. It was apparently a landslide."
"Uh, can I ask you something?"
"Certainly," replied the clerk, taking the green hat off finally.
"Why did we go through this exercise if it was all for nothing?" His tone was not accusatory; it was just exhausted.
"It was not for nothing," explained the clerk. "Come with me and we will walk to the transport station together. It is not nothing," he repeated as they walked, "for you did make your feelings known. And your peers did all they could to try to convince you, yet they could not do so."
"But it seems amateurish. They aren't politicians. They're doctors or day laborers or whatever."
"And that is the secret of our system. The politicians make their case one time. But then it is the people who are in charge. For the politician, it is best for him or her to be as convincing as possible in that one time that they have to make their case. This way, most people aren't sick of politicians. And it is your neighbors who are working to convince you. There are no dirty tricks, for these are the people who you live and work with."
"And there is one hugely important thing that happened today."
"Yes. You see, the savvy politician will look at your choices. You, the voter who never decided. And that politician will try to determine whether your ideas are worth cultivating, and perhaps courting. There will be five new issues next year for the representative elections, naturally. You may be very decisive next year, and your wife may be in the undecided column."
"I guess so. Um, how'd you know about my wife?"
"You are the only humans, remember? You must be tired; I know I am. But we are not as tired as I am sure Ubvelwev and the other politicians are. See you in a year."