Deborah Horsbrugh accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on 12 December, and to be printed (Bill 116).
Oral Answers to questions the Prime Minister was asked—
6 Dec: Column 1329
Daniel Stewart (Rutland and Melton) (LD): The Sunday Telegraph carried a UK-wide poll which shows that 62 percent of the British people believe the government is not doing enough. Will the Prime Minister tell us what he plans to do to alleviate the fears of the population? Or will he stand before this assembly and tell us he will simply ignore two-thirds of the British people?
The Prime Minister (Frederick Canning): This is not a popularity contest. This is a time to do the right thing, and, sometimes, doing the right thing means being patient. We have to deal with the reality of the situation. Part of that reality is that the United Kingdom is part of a worldwide organization known as the United Nations. That organization has a branch whose sole purpose is to handle situations such as this one. We have a responsibility to the rest of the world not to engage in the kind of hasty action that would put the entire planet in jeopardy. Make no mistake, this situation concerns everyone, not just the people of London. What we do here, now, will define the relationship Earth has with an entire civilization. I will not take that lightly, and I will not put the population at risk by succumbing to public pressure.
Daniel Stewart (Rutland and Melton) (LD): I would like to remind the Prime Minister that this government survives because of Lib Dem votes. It would be imprudent for the Prime Minister of a minority government to brush aside our concerns if he wishes to continue governing. The Prime Minister thinks he can ignore the British people until the next election, but he cannot ignore us, or that election will happen much sooner. Liberal Democrats will not be silenced. I for one will give some serious thought to these issues before casting my vote next week.
FILE NO. 1429
INTERVIEW WITH MR. BURNS, OCCUPATION UNKNOWN
Location: New Dynasty Chinese Restaurant, Dupont Circle, Washington, DC
—Greetings, Mr. Burns. I took the liberty of ordering for you.
—Did you get the Indonesian rice?
—Kung pao chicken. It has been nine years after all.
—What if I’d been here yesterday? You know people do eat even when you’re not around.
—Forgive me. I did not mean to be presumptuous. I assumed you had been away since I have been unable to reach you for nearly a decade. I have also had this restaurant under surveillance, and I know you have not eaten here since we last met.
—For nine years? I should be flattered.
—Only during business hours.
—Of course. I wouldn’t want anyone to work overtime on my account. No sniper this time around?
—No. Not this time.
—Ahhh. I’m touched. How’ve you been?
—Occupied. Can you tell me why you disappeared?
—I didn’t disappear! I was…occupied. And now I’m back!
—You are back, just as a giant alien robot materializes in the middle of London. That seems…convenient.
—I know! Can you believe I almost missed it?!
—Are these the people who built Themis?
—Oh, it’s them all right.
—Can you tell us what their intentions are?
—I don’t know. Right now—
—The robot is not moving at the moment.
—It may not be moving, but it’s doing something. Right now, it’s scanning everything and everyone around it.
—For what purpose?
—Maybe they’re curious.
—What should we do?
—Now? We should eat!
—Please. We are in the midst of a pivotal moment in our history, one that could signal a new era of discovery, or put an end to us all. Whatever…personal conviction is stopping you from helping us must be weighed against the stakes at hand.
—You really haven’t been listening to anything I say if you think I’m keeping things from you out of some misguided principles. That robot will do what it came here to do, whatever that is. There isn’t anything you can do about that. For now it’s scanning you, so be scanned.
—Is it here because of Themis?
—It could be. Does it really matter? It’s here.
—My understanding of space travel is very limited, but if traveling from their home world to our planet takes several years, or decades, they might not be aware of what has transpired recently, or that we have discovered the robot they buried. This may sound stupid to you—
—No! Not at all. You’re a little off. It takes about ten days to get from there to here. But you’re absolutely right in that they’re probably completely unaware of what happened during that time. If you did anything really bad last week, you might just get away with it.
—Making fun of my ignorance will not stop me from asking. I am trying to prevent a war. There must be something you can tell me that will increase the likelihood of a peaceful resolution.
—Do you like squirrels?
—I ask for your help in preventing a conflict of apocalyptic proportions and your answer is: “Do you like squirrels?”
—Yes. I have a good squirrel story.
—Of course. By all means.
—Squirrels can hide thousands of nuts every year. They—
—Does it matter?
—There are several species. Some bury nuts individually in multiple locations, others will stockpile them aboveground.
—I don’t know. The grey ones with the bushy tail. The ones in the parks. They bury thousands of nuts every fall and they look for them during winter when they get hungry. Squirrels have tiny brains, though. They can’t remember where they hid them all, so—
—Studies suggest they recover about one-quarter of the nuts they bury, but—
—That’s what I said. So they end up sniffing around everywhere and they find a lot of nuts that were buried by other squirrels.
—I was going to say that they do remember a significant number of cache locations. In a controlled environment, they have been shown to retrieve nuts from their own cache sites up to two-thirds of the time after delays of four to twelve days.
—Can you stop interrupting? It’s a story. There’s a fairy in it. No, I don’t know what species of fairy.