(cue John Williams’s theme to Star Wars)
OUR STORY SO FAR…
Meanwhile, two of New Mojave’s youngest survivors must contemplate their future in the face of annihilation by an enemy they have only ever heard about in history class. Robbed of homes and families, young Sandrine Whittmer and her friend Kapono Alohilani find that their thirst for justice is stronger than their tears. They seek the aid of Squad Sergeant Jeremiah Abbott, attached to the Emancipated Worlds Warship Opportunity. Which will soon be sent on a desperate mission directly into enemy territory.
Admiral Dung, captain of the Peacekeeper dreadnought Secretary-General, seeks his revenge on the EWDF, and the renegade former Peacekeeper officer turned heroine, Tanna Noribatu. His humiliation during the first war in 2685 has left him hungry for battle, despite his conciliatory words for Deputy Overseer Oljandra Brynhildjur, of the CAA. Where she seeks peace through intimidation, Dung thirsts for the EW’s absolute destruction — if only the stubborn Noribatu will give him precisely the fight he is spoiling for.
On the EW’s capitol planet Satrana, the government is in turmoil. Ill-prepared to face the well-armed and determined Peacekeeper armada, many of the Senators are already discussing the possibility of a brokered surrender; before more planets are destroyed. But on the eve of an emergency session, with General Noribatu’s head being demanded on a platter, strangers have come to call. Young Senator Dyan Yokotawa has been secretly contacted by a man from The Disassociated — worlds beyond the frontier, secretive and dangerous. They could prove either friend or foe. Will they join in an alliance against the CAA and its Peacekeeper minions, or leave the Emancipated Worlds for the wolves?
“I always love a good wind,” said a lone man’s deep voice.
Dyan didn’t turn to look. She knew who it was — had evacuated all of her functionaries from the suite in anticipation of the stranger’s arrival. How he’d managed to come to Satrana, much less penetrate the secured layers of the capitol building, was a mystery. But his intentions had been plain — his encrypted message intended for her eyes only.
“Is it windy on your world?” Dyan asked over her shoulder.
“No,” said the man, who slowly walked to stand beside her. Out of the corner of her eye Dyan saw that he was tall, and impressively built.
“My world is an airless rock,” he continued, gloved hands grasping the railing. “Everything is underground, and everything is structured and organized. But here? On worlds like this? It’s wonderful. The elements, moving according to the whim of nature. You don’t know what a pleasure it is for me to feel air on my skin — inhale it into my lungs — which has not passed through the bowels of a machine.”
Dyan turned her head and looked at the stranger, past the ruffling hem of her cowl. He was of Middle Eastern seeding, but with piercing blue eyes. A carefully-manicured moustache dropped from beneath his sharp nose to form vertical bars on either side of his full lips. If she’d expected one of The Disassociated to look any certain way, she’d not expected someone so handsome.
This hardened her against him — she’d not be manipulated in such a fashion, even if she was young. She turned away.
“Do you have a name?” she asked.
“I have several names, but you may call me Jibril.”
“Old Arabic for Gabriel, the Archangel.”
“The name your mother gave you, or the name you’ve given to yourself?”
Dyan allowed a few moments of silence to pass between them, only the wind and the roar of the ocean filling her ears.
“What can I do for you?” she asked.
“I believe it’s more about what we can do for each other,” Jibril said.
“General Portland’s plea for a summit has caused quite a discussion among us. To you were are a scattered, eccentric group. The Disassociated. Your label for us is almost condescending.”
“You seldom talk to us, and seldom trade with us,” Dyan said. “At the end of the Secession War you were unhappy squabblers who walked away from the table. You wanted no part of the new government.”
“And we still don’t. I am not here to debate the merits of our decision to abstain. But the arrival of the Peacekeeper fleet in Emancipated Worlds space is an event we dare not ignore. If your Defense Force cannot repel them, they will not be satisfied to simply reclaim their former colonies. Your territory will becoming a staging zone from which they will launch new campaigns — into our space. We cannot allow that.”
“So how would you propose to assist us in our efforts? General Portland’s grocery list was short. Weapons, ships, soldiers. The CAA has more of these things than we do — more perhaps than both of us combined, I fear.”
“More people, without question. But we are more organized than you know. Our technology more advanced. Our people have been using this technology to walk the streets of your Emancipated Worlds — undetected — from the very beginning.”
“Spies?” Dyan said sharply.
“Monitors, really. Keeping an eye on your progress. We didn’t want to be part of you, but we didn’t think you were our enemy either.”
“So now you want to use us to stop the Authority from invading Disassociated space.”
“Use is a poor choice of words, Senator. We seek a symbiotic relationship.”
“So why tell this to me? I am well removed from Chairperson Golgov’s inner circle.”
“That’s precisely why you’re interesting to us,” Jibril said.
“I don’t understand.”
“Let’s go inside where it’s warmer, and I can tell you more.”
Jibril’s arm was extended back towards the suite’s exterior glass doors. Dyan sighed, and walked towards them, stopping short as Jibril stepped ahead of her and opened them for her. Simple manners? Or was he ingratiating himself? Dyan remained hardened. If she’d learned anything in her short career in politics, it’s that no man ever did anything for her without there being a reciprocal expectation behind it.
The glass doors closed on their hinges, leaving the view of the bay intact, but the noise of the wind and water reduced to a gentle whisper. Warm air from the heaters gently tingled Dyan’s skin, her cheeks and ears suddenly alive with sensation. The wind had numbed them, and she gratefully shed her coat on one of the suite’s expansive couches.
She took a seat in front of the central coffee table, and motioned for Jibril to do likewise, across from her. Lights automatically came up as he sat, illuminating the table in a gentle halo of yellow.
“To us,” Jibril said, “the Chair is a Deputy Overseer in the making. Already he’s trying to determine if he can strike a bargain with Brynhildjur, as a potential interim governor during your transition back to Authority hands.”
“How can you know this?” Dyan said.
“How can I travel freely in the heart of your government without anyone caring or knowing who I really am?”
Dyan silently admitted that she didn’t have an answer for that.
“This war is going to rip the Senate apart, one way or another. We don’t trust the men who used the peace that Noribatu won to simply erect for themselves petty bureaucracies in largely the same mold as the CAA they claim to hate. We knew this would happen, which is why we chose not to partake in the process. If the war is brought to a successful conclusion in your favor — our favor — it will be people like you who will lead the way. A new way. A different way. Isn’t that what you said in your campaign speeches? I’ve seen them all, and I believe you meant what you said.”
Dyan was taken by surprise, for him to know as much about her as he did. She covered this emotion by going on the offensive.
“Just how is it you’re able to speak for all of The Disassociated?” Dyan asked, a finger suddenly erected between them. “You can’t have it both ways. On what authority do you pretend to advocate? And for whom? I hear a lot of ‘our’ and ‘us’ being thrown around in your talk, but you’re just one man. I need proof of your veracity.”
“This is true, and you are smart to question,” Jibril said, smiling slightly. “What sort of proof would you accept?”
“Everything General Portland has asked for. If you can provide ships, and the people to crew them. If you can provide equipment and weapons — this vaunted new technology you have so cheerfully dangled over my nose. Without these things, we’re just having an empty conversation. One I believe I am about through with.”
Jibril’s chin went to his chest for a moment. He seemed to be thinking.
“Fair,” he said. “Quite fair, Senator.”
Silence, for many seconds. Then, he reached into a pocket and pulled out a tiny memory drive, extending it across the table. Dyan took it hesitantly, seeing his blue eyes match hers without blinking. She returned the stare, slowly placing the memory unit into the slot on the coffee table by feel. An AV in the ceiling slowly extended, and the air over the coffee table came alive with three-dimensional menus.
Jibril’s hands dove into the menus and he manipulated them almost too quickly for Dyan to keep up. Suddenly the menus shrank and a new image ballooned — something like the armor suits the EWDF used, but much bigger. Twice a normal man’s height, and so broad in the shoulder it looked like it could carry a car on its back.
Dyan stared at the display.
“We can provide thousands of these,” Jibril said. “And the pilots and technicians necessary to train your Defense Force to maintain and use them. They’re stronger, tougher, faster, and better armed and armored than anything in the EWDF or the Peacekeeper arsenals.”
Dyan kept staring, her fingers clasped and her chin balanced on her thumbs. She’d never been in the Defense Force nor set foot in a recruiting center, but even she knew that thousands of units like the one being shown would substantially bolster the Defense Force’s existing, aged collection of all-environment mechanized infantry units.
“It’s a start,” she said. “But from what I’ve seen of the carnage at New Mojave, even a million of these armor suits won’t matter worth a damn if Admiral Dung’s armada carves up the Defense Force squadrons in orbit. Have you got an answer for the weaponry they used to cook an entire planet?”
“I must admit,” Jibril said, “we we’re a bit shocked by the New Mojave footage. We’re fairly certain we know what kind of technology the Peacekeepers are using, but we’re not sure we can shield against it. Antiproton beams will chew through anything.”
“Then we’re back at square one,” Dyan said.
Jibril held up a hand, “Just wait, I have something else to show you.”
He wove the hologram until something new appeared. A sleek spacecraft, not bulky like the ones the EWDF currently operated.
“They’re small,” Jibril said, “but they can move without detection. We’ve been using them to come in and out of your space for years. More importantly, we’ve improved on Korolovska’s original drive design. Our drive is at least 20% faster than anything you’re producing — even your advanced shipyards, like the ones at Muehling. If you can’t match the Peacekeepers in a stand-up fight, you come in quick, with numbers, and you come in undetected. Get them in the ass, then get away before they can strike back.”
“Jackals and the rhino,” Dyan said.
“More or less,” Jibril replied.
“So how come you’re not executing the idea? Sounds like you don’t really need us at all.”
“Our drive is new, and we don’t have the production capacity to match the EW. But we’re prepared to lease the technology to you. If you’re prepared to disseminate it as quickly as possible and begin full conversion to a war footing.”
Dyan stood up and walked around the back of the couch, brow furrowed.
“That’s where we’ve got the problem,” she said. “Until the Senate makes official policy, all of the EW is holding its breath. Half the populace is talking surrender, while the other half is defiant, but also unsure of what to do. It would take months, maybe even years, to get the industrial centers retooled to produce what we need — whether it’s your new designs, or our existing stuff. I just hope to God that when Noribatu gets here she can rally people and make an effective stand.”
“You expect her to defy Brynhildjur’s ultimatum?”
“What choice does she have? If she hands herself over, she’s going to be put in front of a firing squad and executed for treason.”
“And if Golgov and a majority of the Senators decide that it’s more expedient to offer the General up as a peace gift? Do you think the government can survive having the General betray her civilian authority?”
Dyan stopped and looked at Jibril, a hand over her mouth.
“I don’t know what will happen, if the Senate votes for surrender and the Defense Force fights under Noribatu.”
Jibril sat back and slapped his hands onto his thighs. “This again is why we do not trust the current power structure. If the Defense Force — Noribatu — is undermined, we will all lose. Someone has to get the civilian sector mobilized, before the Peacekeeper fleet gets here and finds Golgov on bended knee. The EW must back Noribatu, with or without the Senate’s approval.”
Dyan’s eyes went wide at the implications.
“It would be a coup. A bloody military coup.”
“Not if the ones seizing control are themselves civilian,” Jibril said. Now he stood up and walked around the table to stand before Dyan. His blue eyes had turned electric.
“You want to know why we chose you? Why I chose you? You’re popular with the other members of the Senate who will remain strong for independence. They see in you the same quality they saw in Tanna Noribatu when she was your age — an idealist, who will fight for what she believes in when the time comes. No matter what.”
Dyan felt herself blushing hotly, and turned away, walking back to the glass windows that showed the ocean. Jibril deferentially followed, standing a few paces behind her.
“You’re a charming flatterer,” she said, somewhat hotly. “You come into my chambers and you try to fill my ears with seditious dreams. I’ve got half a mind to call security and have you seized on charges of conspiracy.”
“You are free to do so if that is what you wish,” Jibril said. “Then I will be in your jail, The Disassociated will turn their backs on the Emancipated Worlds, and our peoples will, each of them, face their fates alone. You can’t want that, can you?”
Dyan didn’t answer. She simply stared at the sea. Her father had warned her that coming to the capitol would be an exercise in conflicts. She’d seen enough of that, even when times had been more or less peaceful. But she’d never expected anything like this. A cabal in the Senate, against Chairperson Golgov? In collusion with The Disassociated? It could go any of several different ways, most of them ending very badly for her.
“Admiral Dung’s Armada will arrive in 60 Earth days, no matter what else happens,” Jibril said. “Either we help each other and put those 60 days to good use, or…. well, you’re a very smart young woman. You figure it out.”
“To do what you are proposing would require elaborate planning on my part, both to keep my actions concealed from the Chair, and to ensure that the Defense Force was aware of what I was doing. General Portland and General Noribatu especially. There is no ansible in the capitol which can communicate with the military without passing through Golgov’s office first. That’s policy. Could you secure alternative means of communication, both to the EWDF squadrons, and to the rest of the EW as well?”
“Of course,” Jibril said.
Dyan watched the sea grow rougher, the clouds lower and more angry.
“Leave me,” she said. “I can’t make this decision now.”
“When will you make it?”
“I have your original message, it can be replied to, as before. If you have not received anything from me by this time tomorrow, that will be answer enough.”
Jibril didn’t say anything, though he didn’t turn to go either.
“Senator,” Jibril said.
“Leave,” Dyan replied, turning to face him, her voice making it plain that it wasn’t a request.
Jibril’s face was neutral, his blue eyes watching her intently. He hesitated momentarily, then somewhat surprised Dyan with a deep bow.
“As you wish,” he said. “May God bless and protect us all.”
Then he turned on a heel and walked swiftly to the hallway that took him, not to the front door, but to the service exit, where he passed without a sound.
The young Senator, elected representative of the people of New Hitachi, was alone.
She did not call for her aides, nor service staff, nor anyone else for the rest of the day. She pushed one of the couches across the carpet to the glass windows, laying across it with a blanket and pillows, watching the storm roll in and begin lashing the entire coastline. A tiny alarm chimed, and the glass doors locked automatically, sealing against both wind and water. Nobody would be allowed outside until the storm had passed. Huge drops of rain and even some seawater smacked against the windows, until Dyan finally fell asleep where she lay.
A blast of lighting and thunder awoke Dyan sometime in the night. She sat up suddenly, her clothes damp and sweaty, stuck to her body. Her head ached and her mouth was dry. She groaned and left the couch — the storm still raging outside — and padded quietly to the lavatory, where she stripped and sat down on a chair in the large shower. Multiple jet heads sprayed near-scalding water across her body as she hugged her breasts, temples pounding.
Once out of the shower she dried her hair and put on a robe, grabbing a plate of grilled fish from the auto-chef dispenser in the kitchen. Rice, vegetables, and protein calmed her headache, but the question of what to do still remained.
The Senator returned to her couch, and watched the violent storm.
She sat there all night, considering.
When the first rays of light began to poke through the clouds, and the rain had stopped and the winds died to a low moan, she got up from the couch and went into an adjacent room to sit at her desk. She’d be expected at the emergency session in a few hours. But there was something very important she had to do first.
Typing quickly, she dispatched the encrypted transmission to Jibril.
For better or for worse, Senator Yokotawa was now committed.