Authors: PP Corcoran
With a small sigh, Clement sat back in the comfortable seat. "Well, it was a nice thought at least... But seriously. Grant has got a head start and unless we find a suitable nominee very soon, Grant may have the election all sewn up before we get in the running."
"Do you have anyone in mind?"
Clement closed his eyes for a moment as his brain ran through a list of likely candidates. It was a very short list. He, like everyone else in the party, thought Vice President Harriman was a shoo-in, so nobody bothered to seriously look for a challenger but now that was all changed.
Harriman's announcement that he was retiring from public life so he could spend more time with his family had come as a body blow to the party’s election planning, leaving the party leadership running around like headless chickens.
The president publicly voiced her support for his decision but Clement knew she was furious and there had been more than a few cross words between them. Clement suspected there was more to it than met the eye and had already placed a few feelers out there to try to find the underlying cause of Harriman's radical U-turn. Opening his eyes, he fixed his gaze on Rebecca.
"I know that look,” Rebecca said. “It's the look you give me when you’re going to say something you know I'm not going to agree with but you’re going to say it anyway. Go on, get it over with!"
Clement inched forward until he teetered on the edge of his seat. "Senator Kris Madkin."
In the two decades Clement had been her friend, confidant, and political adviser, Rebecca had learned that whenever he made a suggestion, she should give it serious consideration before making a decision and this was definitely one of those times.
Senator Madkin was a second-term senator. He had come late to the political scene. Having completed a five-year hitch with the marines straight out of high school, Madkin had used the government sponsored ex-military bursary to put himself through law school. On passing the bar, he had become a prosecutor working closely with the Federal Investigation Bureau and leading more than a few high-profile cases. From there he moved into politics, where he ruffled a few feathers with the party hierarchy when he refused to follow their voting orders on the odd occasion. Instead, he voted as he believed the people of his constituency wanted him to. His voting policy did not make him many friends at the top; however, it proved him a man of conscience and that was something both the president and the voting public admired.
"He won’t have much in the way of a campaign machine and the party may not like such an inexperienced senator facing off against Grant," Rebecca said.
"But on the plus side, there’s never been even a whiff of any scandal surrounding him, either politically or personally,” Clement said. “His previous service in the marines should allow him to connect with all the returning service men and women. His voting record proves he is his own man and does what he thinks is best for people, whether he crosses party lines or not. In these times of uncertainty when nobody knows what’s waiting for us around the next corner, he may be just what the people need." Clement could tell Rebecca was still not convinced. "With the right guidance, I really feel he could be our man."
Rebecca understood Clement’s passion. If Madkin raised such strong emotions in him, it would do no harm to at least explore Madkin’s candidacy. Her main concern was his inexperience in top-level politics. He would need someone around him who knew his or her way around the system and could watch his back, just as Clement had done for her over the years... A wicked smile spread across her face. Clement knew whatever was coming next would give him a headache for days.
"OK Clement, let’s approach Madkin and sound him out. If he's up to it then I’ll give him my blessing, which should get the party leadership on board."
Clement was pleasantly surprised by her reaction but he knew she was not yet finished.
"I'll back him on one condition."
Here it comes
"If you really think he has a chance of winning against Grant, then he'll need a damned good Chief of Staff. This race is going to get real dirty real quick and Madkin hasn't been around long enough to know where all the bodies are buried and who the real power brokers are..." Rebecca pointed a finger at Clement. "But you do."
A loud groan escaped Clement and he realized he had just talked himself into a corner. His plans for his upcoming retirement from politics had just been put on hold indefinitely. "Deal," he mumbled.
Rebecca clapped her hands like an excited pupil. "Excellent. Now, moving on. Where are we with the Janus vote?"
"For once, I don't think we have anything to worry about. The results of the plebiscite were pretty plain. With over eighty-two percent of the voters opting for independence and strong support from all parties in the Senate, the vote is really just a formality. By this time next year, Janus will be an independent nation. The other heads of the Commonwealth have already expressed their willingness to grant an independent Janus full membership."
At the mention of the Commonwealth, Rebecca’s enthusiasm waned. "If we’re still part of it next year."
Clement noticed the change of mood. "Madam President, I think we seriously have to look into the ramifications of Earth pulling out of the Commonwealth. We, and any candidate we decide on, needs to make it damn clear to the public we are better off in the Commonwealth than out and to do so we need solid, indisputable facts and figures."
Rebecca knew, yet again, that Clement was right. "Agreed. The whole idea behind the Commonwealth is it makes us all stronger both economically and militarily." The president sat quietly for a minute as she considered her next course of action. Finally, she made up her mind. "Set up a meeting with Doctor Bath for me. I want her to head up a small team to look into the pros and cons of Commonwealth membership and what the results would be if we were to follow Grant and his Earth First model."
Clement nodded and tapped a few notes into his PAD.
Rebecca waited until he had finished before going on. "So, anything else?"
The conversation turned to the more mundane minutia of running a planet-wide government.
CARSON CITY - EARTH - SOL SYSTEM
Lieutenant Terrance Wilson sat with his feet up on his desk, staring at the slowly rotating black circle with the emblazoned red X floating in the holo cube. Terrance had, whenever his other duties allowed over the last three years, tried to fathom some connection between the Others’ use of the symbol and the fact that the Saiph database assigned the exact same symbol to the designation “military prisoner.” Stuck to the wall behind the holo cube were scraps of paper that bore the few precious fruits of his labor. A computer-generated timeline starting with the destruction of Balach, the original home of the Others, on or around 1000 AD, followed by the Others’ attack on the Saiph home-world in 1187 AD. Moving along, he reached the attack on the Rubicon world around 1482 AD. Then there was a huge empty space of nearly 600 years until the destruction of the original Pars in 2038. Things had moved swiftly from there. Humanity's first contact with the Others in 2186 was swiftly followed by the First Battle of Garunda in 2188. It was this fateful battle which introduced Earth to their Persai allies who, along with the Garundans and subsequently the Benii, had stood faithfully beside them in the war which raged on for a long seven years, back and forth across tens of thousands of light years and cost nearly a million lives on the allies’ side alone. Nobody knew how many Others were killed in the fighting, but it all paled into insignificance with the exploding nuclear weapons on the surface of Durav and the deaths of hundreds of millions of souls.
His earlier assumption, which many now accepted as fact, of the Others being controlled by highly developed artificial intelligence, led him to be given a near free hand in his research. Research in which he waded through so much data that, at times, he thought he would drown in it.
Slowly but surely, he had managed to piece together what he believed to be a realistic picture of how the Others had waged their campaign of Ehita, or holy war, through the stars. As humanity and its allies moved through the fourteen known sectors of Others-controlled space, they had found civilization after civilization laid waste. Terrance believed the hole in the timeline between 1482 and 2038 was explained by the time it had taken the Others to travel to, identify, and build up sufficient forces to destroy a new target. The grim discoveries only substantiated Terrance's theory. Not only were the Others targeting planets where the Saiph had manipulated the DNA of indigenous species, they were intent on wiping out all life which was not of their own. No matter how abhorrent this practice was, it raised an interesting question. If the Others had been the subject of Saiph manipulation on Balach, which allowed them to develop into the dominant species roughly equating the level most Earth humans had attained by the Middle Ages then who devised the Saiph-specific bio weapon which killed the majority of the population but left some immune? Furthermore, why would a race who obviously had star-drive technology themselves then bother to relocate the survivors to Durav, where over the course of the next 150 years they educated these same survivors to a level where they could now travel among the stars and carry out some pseudo-religious murder spree? Why not just do it themselves? And were they still out there? What he needed was a time machine to transport him back to 1000 AD so he could just follow this so-called Creator to wherever the hell he came from. Fat chance!
An incoming message on his comm link broke into his chain of thought. Activating the terminal on his desk, he accepted the call. His worries fell from his shoulders at the sight of Maggie’s smiling face filling the screen. "May I remind the lieutenant his pregnant wife and unborn child are patiently waiting at the clinic for his arrival?"
Terrance's eyes flew to the clock on the wall.
"On my way now, dear, I'll be there in ten minutes... maybe twenty."
"You, Mr., need a better clock. Now get a move on, or else! Love you." Maggie laughed as she cut the connection. Terrance fled the office in the direction of the nearest elevator, thoughts of distant stars forgotten.
MAINTENANCE AND SUPPORT STATION 13
ASTEROID BELT – SOL SYSTEM
Commander Bryer Anderson attempted to keep a look of unbridled joy off his face as he stood waiting for the personnel airlock’s door light to turn green. Three years he had been banished to this pimple on the rump of Sol system and before that, a year as a supply officer on a research station beyond the orbit of Neptune. Now though, now he was coming home and all he had to do was hold it together for another few minutes until he boarded the Zurich Lines yacht sent by the company,
new company, to transport him back to Earth. For a fleeting moment, he felt the old anger stir in him as the vision of Admiral Elizabeth Wilson came to him, that smug smile of hers plastered on her face as she threw him out of his plush office at Naval Intelligence Service headquarters in Carson City. His mind replayed the moment as it had nearly every day since she had so succinctly signaled the death knell to his naval career.
Well we shall see who has the last laugh.
Bryer had laughed aloud when he received the private and confidential message from his uncle, Seaton Anderson, some six weeks prior. The message informed him Seaton’s army of lawyers had set to work on releasing Bryer from military service in order for Bryer to continue the Anderson bloodline as Chairman of Zurich Lines, the largest freight line in the Commonwealth. Bryer's release from military service would be no easy thing to achieve. Technically, the Commonwealth and the Terran Defense Forces in which Bryer served were still in an active state of war, so pursuant to the Emergency Powers Act, all members of the armed forces were ineligible for release from their duties without a review of their circumstances by the head of the Bureau of Naval Personnel herself. The very same admiral who signed the orders that sent him to this hellhole in the first place. Seaton’s lawyers argued, successfully, that officers should be afforded the same rights as enlisted personnel, large numbers of whom were being released back into civilian lives with the drawdown of military forces. The war was won so why should a technicality chain officers to the service while other ranks were free to leave.
It was also the case that Bryer was the only person who could legally take up the reins of the vast Zurich Lines while a federal court order prevented his uncle from exercising control of the company. The lawyers made mention of a large and expensive lawsuit aimed at the admiral in charge of the personnel bureau, which would potentially prevent said admiral taking any promotion. Knowing the admiral was on the short list for the position of Chief of Naval Operations, her aide pointed out it would be far easier to simply sign Commander Anderson's release papers than spend the next few years fighting it in court while the opportunity of a lifetime, the position of CNO, passed her by. Reluctantly, the release orders were signed, and as of 12.00 hours today, Commander Bryer Anderson became Mr. Bryer Anderson.
Lieutenant Cathy Allenby trembled with anticipation at the thought of her stuffy, sexist commanding officer finally leaving the station. “Station” was an overly generous title. Maintenance and Support Station 13 was nothing more than a converted decommissioned freighter the navy had picked up at a rock-bottom price from some scrap yard somewhere. A couple of weeks in the naval dock yards added living quarters for fifty-four officers and other ranks There was also a shuttle bay big enough to hold three shuttles and, more importantly, the workshops and stores which were the true purpose of the station.
Maintenance and Support Station 13 was one of over 200 stations spread throughout the asteroid belt that maintained the thousands of emitter buoys that made it impossible to operate any form of gravity drive within the inner Sol system, and the Sherlock surveillance platforms that kept a watchful eye on anything approaching the system. The station’s shuttles were employed on regular runs out to the buoys and platforms within its designated area of responsibility to carry out routine maintenance and, where necessary, repairs or replacement. It was a mundane but necessary task and one that, perversely, the station crew took pride in doing. Probably because the usual length of a tour of duty on this type of station was only twelve months and the station commanding officer was normally a senior engineering lieutenant, so life on the stations was more relaxed than on a ship. Not so on Station 13, though. When Allenby had first received her orders, she had been quite excited. Command of a station, even out in the middle of nowhere, would be a challenge for the young officer. It was only when she reached the end of her movement orders and read that she would actually be second-in-command of the station did she realize her dreams of a command were on hold. The station CO was a Commander Anderson. What the hell was a full-fledged commander doing on a maintenance station? When Allenby had made a few discreet inquiries, she was horrified by what she heard about the commander. He reputedly treated his crew like serfs, especially the women. He insisted on inspecting the station twice a week and if he found anything he considered below standard,
standard, not naval regulation standard, he wrote up the crewmember and their section chief. Worst of all, he had been in command of the station ever since it came on line, nearly three years ago.
Somebody high up in the chain of command clearly had it in for Commander Anderson, and he in turn vented his anger on the people below him. Allenby had contacted the Bureau of Naval Personnel directly, asking for a change of orders, but her request had been refused. The only light at the end of the tunnel was a small note at the bottom of the message which stated that all entries in her personal file made by Commander Anderson would be subject to review by the Bureau of Personnel and if found unsubstantiated they would be removed without prejudice. Further, on completion of her tour of duty, the Bureau would make all efforts to ensure she received her preferred choice of next tour. Obviously, someone in personnel was aware of the commander’s reputation and had taken steps to ensure that whatever his beef was with the higher echelons of the navy, it would not have an adverse effect on those who served under him.
Her four months on the station proved that everything she heard about Anderson prior to her arrival was true. The man was a pompous ass who strutted around the small station like a feudal lord, reprimanding crew for the tiniest infringement of regulations. Allenby soon learned to make copious notes during his frequent inspection tours and made sure that when a crewmember fell afoul of the CO and was written up, she added her own comments to those of Anderson before forwarding any entry which would appear in the crewmember's personal file. Hopefully any future CO of the unlucky sailor would be wise enough to read between the lines and see Anderson's rebuke for what it was, complete BS!
The soft tone and a steady green light indicated the pressure equalizing in the airlock and the station’s chief petty officer tapped the locks controls, allowing the inner door to slide effortlessly aside. With a casual glance at her wrist comm, Allenby checked the time. 12.01 hours.
Bryer Anderson was a stickler for protocol even when it meant he was forced to acknowledge those he considered beneath him. This was one of those times. Turning to face Allenby, he waited for her expected salute, which was his due as the senior officer. It never came. Instead, she remained in the at-ease position and simply called past him to the CPO.
"Please ensure Mr. Anderson clears the station safely, Chief. I'll be in ops." And with no acknowledgment of Anderson, she turned on her heel and jauntily strolled off down the corridor. Bryer Anderson could not believe what he was seeing. Anger boiled over and his face flushed red. How dare she ignore him! He opened his mouth to scream his derision at the back of the retreating Allenby, but a large, beefy hand on his shoulder spun him around and he looked directly into the face of a smiling CPO.
"I would advise against saying anything, Mr. Anderson. I may be forced to defend the honor of a real officer and as you are still on navy property, I would take great pleasure in kicking your ass. So why don't you pick up your bag and ship out?"
Bryer was dumbstruck. Did this Neanderthal just threaten to physically harm him? He took one more look at the grinning CPO and the look in his eyes. Yes, he really would do it. With all the pride he could muster, Bryer picked up his bag and walked down the length of the personnel tube connecting the waiting yacht to the naval station. All the time he swore he could hear the derisive laughter of the Neanderthal. When he reached the far end, the yacht’s airlock opened and the smiling face of a Zurich Lines flight officer greeted him.
"Welcome aboard, Mr. Anderson. Allow me to escort you to the passenger lounge. Is there anything we can do for you to make your flight more comfortable?"
Bryer looked down at his naval uniform. "I would like to change into something more comfortable."
"Certainly, sir. I'll have one of the cabin crew show you to your quarters where you can change. They’ll ensure your uniform is cleaned, pressed, and re-packed for you."
"Re-packed? No need! Eject that piece of crap into space. I won’t need it ever again, thank God!"
The plastic smile slipped momentarily before returning to hide the disgust the flight officer felt as he closed the airlock doors. He himself had proudly worn that same uniform for ten years before moving into the private sector. Bryer moved past him to follow the cabin crewmember, who miraculously appeared as if from nowhere, taking him toward his cabin and his new life.