I'd like to thank Mulligan and Steve T for their assistance in turning this into a better story than my initial effort, any errors remaining are of course mine.
The majority of the highly polished tables were arranged in four rows, the two centre rows were set up so that the sixteen seats were facing each other in two equal rows, seats for sixteen very important people. Each position had a high leather backed chair and a set of gold writing implements next to a blotter pad. Alongside these desktop accoutrements stood a cut glass jug complete with matching tumbler, the jug was freshly filled with chilled water and a slice of lemon if the drinker had that preference.
The outer tables may have been physically the same but their purpose was not as high profile. The chairs were not as luxurious and there were twice as many of them. These tables were already crowded with folders and laptop computers, notes and writing implements were scattered haphazardly about.
A fifth table was positioned across the head of the two centre rows of tables, a position of authority, the most important of all the important seats. It too carried the same trappings of power, only its position setting it apart.
With barely a whisper the double height double doors at the end of the room swung open and the first of nearly a hundred men stepped into the room. He and his partner scanned for anything untoward and then dropped back to guard positions flanking either side of the entrance.
Satisfied that all was well another man, this one in the long flowing robes that made up the traditional dress for a Gulf Arab entered the room. Without any undue hesitation he strode to the right hand table and took the first seat, his two advisors had followed him into the room and scurried to the table behind him.
Quickly after that the remaining fifteen positions of importance were filled, the noise level grew as people passed comments to one another concerning mundane things, many of them glancing towards the head table as they spoke.
The noise abated as soon as the single door behind the prominent chair began to open, by the time the man who entered had reached his place the room was deathly silent. Like the others he wore the white robes of an Arab but unlike many of them he didn't look out of place. His dark eyes looked out from a weathered face; his large hooked nose more like a beak than anything that could be described as delicate. Beneath this protrusion was a hard mouth, the compressed lips unused to smiling for any reason.
He lowered his mature body into the seat and glanced from side to side of the room. With prayers over it was time to resume the meeting. He indicated the first man to his right; "You have a progress report for us, Ali."
Ali bin Ahmed bin Saleh Al-Fulani rose to his feet. He was a minor sheikh from the area known as the United Arab Emirates but for this council he held a far more important position. He was the leader of Project Salah al-Din, described by those who knew of it as the last great hope for Arab kind.
He bowed slightly to the head of the table. It was always wise to keep in with Bahir bin Jamil bin Abdul Rahman Al-Sa'ud, as it was with any other member of the Saudi Royal family, no matter how tenuous that connection might be.
"Salah al-Din is on schedule and just as importantly on budget," he began, "The majority of the key stages have been implemented and are progressing well." He glanced down at his notes, not really needing them but it did give a pause to his speech. "We have been able to identify several systems that contain planets suitable for human habitation and have earmarked three that we believe are ideal for our project."
"What makes them ideal?" asked a voice from down the table.
Ali was unable to identify who had spoken, concentrating as he was on the head of the table. When Bahir raised an eyebrow, he answered the question.
"Going to a planet that isn't fit for human habitation would be pointless." He actually thought stupid but didn't want to imply that anyone around this table was such a person even though he had heard rumours that someone was pushing forward a system based solely on its name being one of those used by the Prophet, praise be upon him.
"Of the habitable planets available," he continued, "it had to be one that the infidel's Confederacy had no plans to use as we are not yet in a position to oppose them militarily. It took us time to determine their preferences."
He glanced down the tables and was greeted by blank looks; no one took up the challenge of denying their military inferiority. Two Gulf wars and the continued existence of Israel had proved that beyond doubt, thought the fact that the Jewish state found itself in a similar position to themselves did seem to provide a certain level of justice.
"The third factor governing our choice of system was the expected axis along which the Sa'arm would be advancing," stated Ali. "Colonising a planet they are likely to reach in a short space of time would simply be to provide them with a different variety of food, a task I am not willing to perform."
"After a great deal of consideration we have settled on three possible options." He held up a finger. "The first is the third planet of the star Valderon. It is a G two star similar to our own sun and the third planet has a slightly larger orbit than our own. Conditions at the equator would be similar to those in Norway and as such our people would feel that it was cold."
He raised a second digit, "The second option is the only planet of the star Proxima Regulus. This is a G nought star and the planet is at the very inner edge of its habitable zone. To be honest my own personal thoughts are that it would be too arid even for us. It does have the advantage of being at the very extremity of Confederacy space.
He raised his third finger, "The third option is the F six class star, Escardis," he said. "Again the target is the third planet of the system. This one is a little large than Earth and would require our colonists to work under a gravity that is ten percent higher than they are used too. The biggest changes of note are that the planet is nearly two hundred forty million kilometres from the star; it will look very small in the sky compared to our sun. That distance also gives the planet a very long year, in the order of six hundred fifty days." He glanced down the row of tables, "This will allow us to plant at least two full crops each year," he carefully didn't mention how long the winters would be.
"This is your preferred option?" asked Bahir from the head table.
"It is unless new information comes to light before we depart," replied Ali.
"Continue," responded Bahir with a casual wave of the hand.
Ali glanced down at his notes, this time needing to re-establish the order of his report. "A selection process has been underway for the last two years to choose those men who will be part of the crew. Their training has been in progress for the last three months and has generally gone well. Drop-out rates have been very low."
Again Ali found his statement being interrupted, this time by Zubair bin Isa bin Abbud Al-Khalifa, the member of the council representing Bahrain. "These people represent a security risk, what is being done about them?"
Ali turned to the man, "Whilst we are not as well equipped as the Darjee are with their mind compulsions we do have methods that ensure our security. You can take it that none of the people who fail to reach the required standard will present a security risk," he paused for a moment, "ever again."
Zubair bowed his head in understanding and hoped that any members of his family didn't disgrace him.
Ali picked up the thread of his report once again. "The modular design we have gone for on the ship means we are planning on sending between a thousand and two thousand of our finest young men to establish the colony."
Ali looked up and down the two tables; "We will be providing the maximum number of wives for each of our men when the time is right."
No one questioned where these women were coming from or whether they would have any choice in the matter. After all, the Confederacy kidnapped whoever it wanted to support their 'volunteers.'
Ali took a sip of the cold water and drew a deep breath before continuing. "Working with our allies in several of the former Russian Republics we have managed to gain access to the raw materials required to build the interstellar craft. That material has been transferred using launch facilities provided by the Russian Federation, albeit at considerable expense."
"Currently we have sufficient material floating in orbit to complete the basic vessel, the habitation zones and the two synthetic farms that will provide the colonists with food, oxygen and various other essentials." He glanced at his notes and frowned, now comes the bad news.
"The actual construction is going to be difficult and will depend greatly on the Russian space workers we have on contract and the Pakistani immigrants they have agreed to train." A murmur went through the hall as Ali mentioned the immigrants. Calling them immigrants was a misnomer to say the least. They had been forcibly detained when the Middle East had closed its borders to the rest of the world, especially the Western portion of it. Anyone working within its borders at that time was 'invited' to stay indefinitely.
.... There is more of this story ...