Authors: PP Corcoran
Bezled sat back, relieved the proposal had won their support. Now all they had to do was make the proposal a reality.
Rebecca Coston entered the underground rail car with her small entourage and security detail for the short journey back to her offices on the far side of Lake Geneva, her thoughts a mix of the Garundan proposal, the Earth First movement, and repeated images of the aging Tarrov. The Garundan decision to invoke Yolva on behalf of the Others was going to cause her a big political headache and it could only provide more ammunition, if any was needed, to the Earth First movement. She could already imagine the news vids full of strutting, self-centered senators, airing their opinions. A faint sickly feeling entered her stomach at the thought of them, preaching their isolationist views to all and sundry. Had these people never bothered to read human history? Isolationism didn’t work! The Earth First advocates asserted Earth’s interests were best served by keeping the affairs of other planets at a distance. One possible motivation for limiting inter-planetary involvement was to avoid being drawn into dangerous and otherwise undesirable conflicts. There was also a perceived benefit from avoiding inter-planetary trade agreements or other mutual assistance pacts. Rebecca suspected the real reason behind the growing Earth First movement was the pressure being put on certain political representatives by big business, who thought being outside the Commonwealth economic and trade treaties would give them more bargaining power, as well as allowing them a free hand when it came to exploiting mining and colonization rights.
It always comes down to money,
thought Rebecca, shaking her head.
"Jacob,” she addressed her aide, “could you reach out to Secretary Helsett and Secretary Manning and ask them to make themselves available for a meeting with me this afternoon?"
"Certainly, Madam President." The young aide began tapping away furiously on his PAD as he sent requests off to the staffs of Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Finance, warning them the president required their presence at a time to be confirmed. Then he began shuffling through Rebecca's appointments for the day, in an effort to find the most convenient time in her schedule for the meeting. No mean feat.
Rebecca allowed herself a small moment of amusement as she reflected on how much mayhem she had now caused two cabinet secretaries and a presidential aide. The moment evaporated when the carriage slowed as it passed through the blast doors before coming to a smooth stop adjacent to the platform deep below the skyscraper housing the offices of the president. The doors slid silently apart and Rebecca stood as her security detail formed its protective bubble around her.
Oh well, back to work
SLIVINO VALLEY - NORTHERN ITALY - EARTH - SOL SYSTEM
Seaton Anderson urged his horse up the steep path as the loose rocks slipped from under its hooves, cascading down the bluff and into the valley below. The rider behind him let out a half-concealed curse as his own horse sensed the doubt of the lead horse, but a quick prod with his spurs and the horse moved up. Reaching the top of the bluff, Seaton reined in his mount and got down from the saddle to watch his companion cover the last few meters of the path.
A sweating and out of breath Bryer Anderson dismounted and joined his uncle, who was staring out over the valley. Bryer went to say something but for some reason he hesitated and instead cast his eyes over the breathtaking beauty of summer in Northern Italy. Here and there, you could just make out the roofs of the ultramodern hunting lodges used by Seaton's guests poking up through the trees, but even those stylish lodges were put to shame by the massive edifice, which sat at the far end of the valley. Rising like a rock outcropping from the green forest sea that was the valley floor stood the imposing five-story mock-medieval castle that was Seaton Anderson's home and, since his indictment, prison. A magnificent prison, but a prison all the same.
Since his arrival on the estate two days before, Bryer had attempted to speak to his uncle of his plans for the future, but each time Seaton avoided the question and instead engaged in mundane conversation. However, over breakfast this morning, he had invited Bryer to go riding with him.
Bryer hated riding and had only learned at the insistence of his father, who firmly believed that every gentleman should know how to handle a horse. However, Bryer caught the unspoken order in his uncle's request. He changed into the riding clothes the servants laid out for him and joined his uncle on what turned out to be a more arduous ride than he ever imagined. After three hours, they reached the top of the bluff. It seemed Seaton was at last ready to take a break.
"Isn’t the view spectacular, Bryer?"
"Yes it is, Uncle," Bryer answered, struggling to keep the exasperation from his voice.
Seaton turned to face his nephew and saw that the tone of Bryer's voice was reflected in the obvious frustration on his face. "Bryer. As you know, because of this infuriating court business, I am restricted to living on this estate and even more annoyingly I’m no longer in direct control of the company I spent my life building. All that ends today."
Bryer's frustration left him only to be replaced by a strong sense of occasion,
a forthcoming announcement of momentous proportions
, he thought.
"This evening, we are having dinner with my chief legal adviser, who will bring with him papers for me to sign. Those papers will transfer my stock in Zurich Lines to you. With it, you will have complete control of the company and once more an Anderson will be at the helm."
Bryer’s breath caught in his throat and he actually took a step backwards at his uncle's news. He knew Seaton must have something up his sleeve when the old goat somehow managed to release him from his naval service. Bryer had had his suspicions. He had dared to dream. Now, Seaton had confirmed that he was indeed handing him control of the single biggest shipping line in Commonwealth space. A company worth billions.
Seaton gave his nephew a few moments to take in the news before he went on. "Bryer, our family has a great many enemies both in business and in government who would like nothing more than to see my life’s work destroyed before my eyes. With this court ruling, they’ve effectively sidelined me and think they have a free hand, but with you in charge, we can stop them. I, of course, cannot take any active part in company affairs..." A sly smile creased the older man’s face. "But I'm sure you’ll be open to taking a little friendly advice from your uncle now and then?"
Bryer snorted with laughter. "Your advice is always welcome, Uncle."
"I believe our first order of business must be to insulate the company from the financial madness of the Coston government. It’s too late to stop her from signing the independence of Janus into law, but it’s not too late to ensure that our investments in future colonies are protected."
Seaton paused, waiting to see if Bryer could envisage the plan the older Anderson had formulated on the long, lonely nights spent in his gilded cage. A spark of understanding came to Bryer's eyes.
"Coston may be retiring after the next election, but we need to prevent her successor from granting the same loan moratoriums to more colonies potentially wanting independence. We would have to radically change government policy..."
Seaton waited patiently, letting Bryer work through the problem.
"And the best way to change government policy is from within... We would need a president who thinks the same way we do."
"Exactly, Bryer. A president who believes any colony Earth establishes should remain the property of Earth, no matter what those damn Commonwealth idealists have to say. A president who is willing to stand up to the Commonwealth and whom puts Earth and Earth’s businesses first and if the Commonwealth doesn’t like the idea, then the president must be willing to tell them to go to hell. Pull out of the Commonwealth and go it alone. Let’s see how well they would do without the industrial might of Earth propping them up, eh?"
Bryer warmed to the subject. For his uncle, this may all be about securing the future of Zurich Lines, but with the power that control of the company would bring him, combined with a friendly president, there would be nothing to stop Bryer from settling some very personal scores. First things first, though. Business, then pleasure.
"I take it, Uncle, you have a man in mind for the job?"
Seaton turned away from the view of the lush valley and remounted his horse. "I do, Bryer. But first I have something to show you which may give us the leverage we need to ensure our man gets elected."
Bryer, reinvigorated, swung himself up onto his own steed. "Would it have anything to do with how you managed to release me from my naval duties so easily?"
Seaton tapped the side of his nose with a finger as he led the laughing Bryer off down the trail and into a heavily wooded area.
2287 LIGHT YEARS FROM EARTH
The faint, regular rhythm of his beating heart came to him as his brain fought to disperse the fog of his long sleep and he struggled to full consciousness. The tingling sensation all over his body, like static electricity, slowly dissipated. His breath passes over chilled lips. Voices, faint to begin with, but now becoming clearer, come to his ears.
"Supreme Leader. Supreme Leader, can you hear me?"
With effort, he forces his eyes open and squints in the harsh artificial light. He tries to speak but only a crackling croak escapes him.
"Water for the Supreme Leader. And be quick about it!" He hears the insistent voice clearly now.
Focusing his vision, he turns his head on its stiff neck in the direction of the speaker, who slowly swims into vision.
"Stop fussing like an old woman, Lorai. I just need a moment."
"Of course, Supreme Leader, excuse my unprofessional outburst. It is just that we have waited so long for your return and now the time is at hand I find myself overawed by the moment."
Lorai's comment brought a burning question to the Supreme Leader’s lips. "How long have I been in cryogenic sleep, Lorai?"
"According to the master AIs clock, you have been sleeping for 1132 years."
The Supreme Leader let the enormity of the number sink in. He and his followers had known that by selecting the lesser half-breed race they had stumbled upon while fleeing from the Elders, it would ensure they bought the requisite time to allow Lorai and her fellow geneticists to produce the tools to achieve his goal of his people becoming the true inheritors of the stars. Not those filthy, inferior half-breeds to whom the Elders were willing to sacrifice their own people’s place in the stars.
Time had been the key. Time for the automated shipyards to build the required number of warships but, more importantly, time to build an army of faithful followers to operate those ships.
But 1132 years. How the universe must have changed while he and his followers slept, watched over by the master AI. Bracing himself against the sides of the cryogenic cylinder, he sat up. His head was dizzy and his limbs weak.
"Assist me, Lorai."
Lorai and one of her team immediately moved to the Supreme Leader’s side, lifting him clear of the cylinder and into the waiting chair. Once his brain cleared again, he was ready to ask his next question.
"And what of the others, Lorai? Have they all survived?"
The slightest hesitation in her voice suggested the answer might not be to his liking. "As per programming, the master AI awoke myself and the medical team first. I am happy to report that ninety-three percent of all those placed into cryogenic sleep survived."
"Who did we lose, Lorai?"
When she failed to reply, he went to ask the question again but he held his tongue instead, looking deep into her eyes. "Harama?"
Lorai did not trust her voice to reply. She cast her eyes downward and nodded slowly.
The Supreme Leader and his wife Harama, along with all the others, knew the risk of such a long cryogenic sleep. Nevertheless, it had seemed the only way to ensure enough time passed for the leader’s plans to come to fruition. His mind brought to him the final view of Harama’s warm, loving eyes looking back at him as the cylinders sealed closed. His eyes screwed tightly shut as he repelled his grief and locked it away until he could find the time to mourn properly. Another martyr to the cause whose life would be celebrated after the ultimate victory was achieved.
"A few officers and other ranks but all the senior officers and scientific staff have survived remarkably well."
"And what of the breeding program?"
"If I may, Supreme Leader?" At his nod of consent, Lorai approached the seat and with the tap of a small control, the chair raised itself a few inches off the metal floor on its repulsors, allowing Lorai to move it easily with one hand until she stopped it in front of an innocuous-looking metal wall. The touch of another key and the seemingly solid wall seemed to shimmer in front of his eyes until it became clear as the highest quality glass. The Supreme Leader’s breath caught in his chest. Laid out before him were curving green fields. Farm buildings surrounded by crops interlaced with streams and rivers. In the distance, he saw larger settlements, their buildings low and spread out on the edge of where the rivers flowed into a shimmering rich blue sea, upon which he could barely make out the sails of tall ships. Light, fluffy clouds moved slowly in the sky. And there, hovering so close you thought you might reach out and touch it, was a pale red star.
Lorai could not keep the proud look from her face. "Supreme Leader. I am happy to report as of this morning, we have 1.3 billion of pure blood at your command."
The Supreme Leader grasped the sides of the chair and forced himself to stand on legs still not adjusted from their long sleep. He pushed himself away from the chair and leaned heavily on the window, marveling at the achievements of his chief scientist and the engineers. Lorai had convinced him that, given sufficient time and resources, this amazing construction project would indeed be possible. The scale of what she envisaged was unbelievable, but what choice did they have? Once his move against the Elders failed, he had been tried like a common criminal and forced to wear the brand of one. When he was imprisoned, he managed to get word to his followers to put in place his alternate plan.
It took nearly six whole years before they were ready to act and when that day came, his followers assaulted the prison holding him, with Harama at their head. When she opened his cell door, he moved to leave, but hesitated and retrieved the prison jacket with the despised emblem of his conviction on it.
Harama ensured his plan was followed to the last letter. Before the Elders could gather their forces, he was aboard one of the disused starships that the Elders, in their blind faith, decreed were never to be used again. And so, with his followers crowded aboard six starships packed to the gunnels with everything needed to begin again, they fled out among the stars in search of a new home. One where they could rebuild the race. A place where he and his followers’ ideals would shape the future, free from the restrictions placed on them by the simple-minded Elders.
They traveled from star to star in their search until they had stumbled upon one of the half-breed worlds the Elders chose to be the legacy of the race. His first reaction was to order the half-breeds erased, as one would any other infestation, but Lorai approached him with an interesting idea. One that had a certain appeal to it.
Why not use these half-breeds against the very ones who conceived them? Lorai had always provided him with good counsel and this time was no different. His six starships held only 5000 of his followers. Barely enough to establish a strong bloodline, so he could ill-afford to waste any in a futile war against the Elders. Lorai's idea held promise but first he had to find a secure base from which to operate. A place where the Elders would never find them. Eventually they emerged in a system the engineers guaranteed held all the necessary ingredients to begin.