You didn’t miss the announcement, did you?
THERE’S A RELEASE DATE!
September 15, The Road to the Stars will be released to the world – but you can pre-order your copy NOW! Just follow the link HERE and you’ll be in line to get your very own copy at midnight on the 15th!
In the meantime, you can read the next chapter in the book. Enjoy!
The political center of the Solarian Union was Artemis, of course. It was the largest and oldest extra-Terrestrial center of humanity, after all, and was best positioned to monitor activities on the mother planet. Theoretically, all four of the semi-autonomous polities that comprised the Union had an equal say in the decisions. However, after Artemis, all the other colonies and outposts had issues of their own which led their interests inward rather than outward.
The Martian Colonies were doing fairly well now, after a rocky start in which nearly twenty percent of the colony perished in an as-yet unexplained plague. Mars had an atmosphere, albeit thin, and some stores of ice, and archaeobiology suggested that life had once existed on the red planet. The planet itself was poor in most resources, forcing them to rely on Artemis for most tech, food, and raw materials. Artemis wisely maintained close ties to Mars and could reliably count on their vote of support in the majority of matters.
The Asteroid Miner’s Guild held the largest volume of space, occupying asteroids, cometary remnants, and planetoids throughout the inner system, but were also the second-smallest polity by population. They did contribute to the Union’s economic health and military far out of proportion to their size, which explained their seat at the table of the Union, but of their hundreds of small outposts only a very few were self-sustaining. All the others depended on trade to survive, within the Guild or within the Union, depending on the need. Fortunately, the very nature of their existence – asteroid mining – provided sufficient valuta to keep the food flowing. Their mineral-rich territory also led them to oppose the general policy of enforcing the Amendment, but they hadn’t yet been able to swing any others to see their point of view.
The final polity, the Titan Colony, was too newly-established to spend much energy doing more than surviving. Indeed, the colony had only been barely founded when the brief conflict between Artemis and the UE occurred, so their independence was more an accident of timing than an expression of political desire. Still, they were recognized by the other three. Unfortunately for them, their distance, nearly eighty light-minutes from the sun, made communications in real time impossible. However, if they could keep the colony going long enough, the riches of Titan could make even the heavy metals coming from the Miners seem paltry.
Titan was uniquely positioned in that it was the only planetary body to have oceans, lakes, and rivers of ethane and methane, all floating on a water ice surface. While other moons in the system possessed water, they all had profound issues. Ganymede, Europa, and Callisto all orbited Jupiter, whose broad and powerful magnetosphere presented a formidable obstacle to human exploration. The other outer system moons, those around Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, along with the Oort Cloud and Kuiper Belt objects, could hold potential, but they were even further from the sun than Titan. That left Enceladus, orbiting Saturn, but there was a particular problem with Enceladus: the Non-Colonization Treaty of 2064.
The treaty, signed by the member states of the United Nations, as well as the Artemis and Martian Colonies, and reaffirmed in 2104 by the UE and Solarian Union, forbade any permanent manned habitation on either Enceladus or Europa. Both moons were known to possess conditions which made them potentially amenable to life similar to that found on Earth. Astrobiologists howled at the possibility of a permanent human presence on either moon, leading to a rare show of alignment between science and realpolitik. No serious effort to breach the treaty had been made, perhaps due to the disproportionate percentage of people in the Union who were involved in the sciences simply to survive the hostility of space.
Titan, though, had the potential to be a source of volatiles and organic raw materials second only to Earth itself. Unfortunately, that potential was locked beneath an atmosphere of methane blizzard, lakes of ethane, and a surface of literally rock-hard ice. Soil and rocks as found on Earth, or Luna, or Mars, were conspicuously absent, leading to huge issues in the colonization process. The colony survived, and had even begun to grow, but their seat in the Union was predicated on potential, not current abilities. They, too, were hugely dependent on Artemis to keep the colony viable, and rarely dissented on any policy direction Artemis set.
Within Artemis, certain families had risen to prominence. While outwardly presenting themselves as a representative democracy, they were in truth an oligarchy with the merest sheen of democratic principles. There were elections, and the citizenry – all residents on Luna over thirty days – could choose freely, but surprisingly the Free Luna Party always ended up with the lion’s share of the legislative seats. Oddly, too, all of the elected (and selected) officials of the FLP tended to have some sort of connection to each other, usually by family.
The family at the heart of the FLP was the Newling family, descendants of the third person to alight on Luna when the Artemis IV mission landed. But what mattered to the family history is that the first two had returned to Earth, while Newling and three others had remained on Luna. Through carefully arranged alliances and marriages, the other three First Families had all been inextricably bound to the Newling family and followed their lead in all public policies.
At least, that was the illusion presented to the masses. Behind closed doors, it was somewhat different.
“Get this traitor out of my sight,” snarled the person at the head of the table, pointing halfway down the left side. “He’s a disgrace to his family.”
The unfortunate man was roughly seized by a pair of guards.
“What shall we do, Primus?” asked the shorter of the two.
“Toss him out the nearest airlock. Wait,” said the Primus, as they lifted him from his feet. “That would be a waste.”
“Thank you Primus, thank you, thank you for your mercy,” babbled the man. He was middle-aged, with brown hair starting to thin, and was dressed as suited a member of the Four Families.
“Throw him in the reclamation system,” amended the Primus. “He can give one last service to Artemis.”
The guards easily hauled the screaming man from the room.
“Primus Newling,” said a woman next to the now-empty seat. “My uncle only suggested that we could reduce our reliance on Earthly materials where we can substitute from the Miners.”
“Be very careful, Cousin.” Newling pointed a long finger at the woman. “They will fulfill every jot and tittle of the Accords as long as I am Primus.”
Primus Newling looked about the room at the remaining nineteen members of the Families, ignoring the double dozen of her personal armsmen lining the walls. Squabbling and fighting over scraps, she could handle. That came with the territory, and it kept the lesser Families occupied. But questioning her decisions, the decisions of the Primus, just couldn’t be tolerated, no matter the source.
“President Whitmore,” she said, turning to the right. “Let us examine the points that my late brother raised. If we wished, could we maintain our current rate of development and expansion solely from Union resources?”
While Primus Newling was the power behind the Families, she held no official position in the government. Indeed, she rarely made a personal appearance in public, preferring to be seen only remotely with the various members of the leadership she wished to support.
Tom Whitmore was descended from the fourth and least prestigious of the Four Families. They still wielded enormous power, compared to the citizens of Artemis or the other Union members, and he was determined to improve his family’s standing. Being chosen as President, putatively the most powerful office in the growing nation, was a step toward that goal.
“Yes, Primus. We could. It would even be a net economic gain for us.”
“Minister Pitt has the details, I believe.” Whitmore gestured toward an older woman across the table from him. She was tall in the manner of Luna-born, with prematurely white hair and the radiation scars of someone who had spent far too much time on the surface. Her mind was sharp, and she’d held her position as Minister of the Treasury against all comers for over fifteen years. Many of the other Families suspected that, when she finally left the post, there would be a rather embarrassing mess to clean up, coincidentally explaining how the Pitt family had risen in power during her tenure. Unfortunately for the families, that revelation seemed very far away indeed.
“I do, Mr. President,” said Pitt, rising. “If we were to turn to the Miners exclusively for our supplies of palladium, platinum, and the other metals we claim from the UE under the Amendment, we would realize an annualized savings of roughly seventeen percent.”
“How is that possible? The UE supplies are provided to us at no charge, as the Amendment decrees. There’s nothing cheaper than no charge,” said the Deputy Assistant Minister of Production, Autumn Newling. She was a member of a cadet branch of the family and had no realistic chance of ever reaching a more powerful position, but she was diligent and hard-working.
“You are correct, Deputy, but you forget the lift costs we pay to have the supplies boosted out of the gravity well.”
“Surely they can’t be so great!”
“For some of the companies we’re forced to deal with, no. The issue is the largest provider, a company called HLC. Their rates had been consistently lower than their competition, which is why they became our provider of choice. That allowed them to increase their share of the overall lift industry, which in turn allowed them to keep their rates lower. It was beneficial for both the Union and the company.”
“That seems reasonable.”
“About five years ago, there was apparently a change in philosophy within the company. A woman named Aiyana Cassidy, who had previously been a researcher at one of their labs, emerged as their chief executive, and one of the changes she made was to increase the tariffs for lift to the Union, but only on the Amendment-mandated items. The previous rate was ten thousand Sonoran credits per kilogram to low Earth orbit. She increased that to ten thousand Sonoran credits per decagram.” She peered at Autumn. “That was before your time with us, I believe.”
“That’s outrageous! Didn’t we protest?”
“Oh, certainly we did. We registered a complaint with the UE, worded most strongly.”
“And they did nothing. There is no love lost between the Union and the UE, which could explain their inaction, but the reality is they simply didn’t have the authority to intervene. The main offices of HLC are located in a nation which is not subject to the rules, regulation, and control of the UE, and they simply ignored them. Well, that’s not precisely correct. They increased the tariffs again, to twelve thousand credits per decagram.”
“I advocated stronger measures,” spoke a woman with military bearing. This was Davie Whitmore, Minister of War. She had passed through the Artemis Military Academy and through the officer ranks quickly, partly on family connections and partly on ability, and had reached her current position eight years prior. It was unusual, to say the least, for the War Minister to remain in their post for more than two years, as they were officially appointed with the advise, consent and approval of the top ranking officers. Davie was tough and competent, despite the accelerants which had been applied to her career, and had earned the respect of her peers.
“And?” asked Autumn, turning to Davie.
“And I convinced the Primus at the time that we would be worse off,” said Minister Pitt, forcing Autumn to turn back. “Putting aside the public relations aspect of slaughtering the civilian employees of an Earthside corporation, the fact is that HLC is responsible for boosting nearly eighty-five percent of our total imports.”
“Madame Minister, I may not be in the Treasury, but couldn’t we contract with other companies?”
“We could, we have, but no other company has the capacity that HLC possesses. We might be able to squeeze an additional five percent from all the others, but that still leaves us desperately short. It’s not all bad news; the tariffs that HLC charge us on the non-Amendment supplies continue to be below the rates their competitors charge. It is only to the Amendment supplies that the surcharge applies.”
“What does this Cassidy person have against the Union?”
“We don’t know,” growled the Primus. “Not for lack of trying.”
Colin Dent, the Minister of Intelligence, picked it up. “She was virtually unknown before five years ago. Records show that she was, as Minister Pitt indicated, a researcher for HLC. She disappeared for several weeks around the time of her wedding, and that made a minor splash on the planetary networks as she was marrying a minor celebrity and an artist. She resurfaced only long enough to quell rumors and settle the story before disappearing into anonymity again.” He paused, obviously preparing the next statements. “We have been largely unsuccessful in gathering any other information. Their cybersecurity services are some of the best we have ever encountered, and we have yet to crack them despite thousands of man-hours” effort. Her physical security is excellent, as well; she is routinely escorted whenever she leaves her home. Our agents have attempted contact on eight occasions; on seven, they were unable to get within speaking range of Cassidy. The eighth occasion, our agent did get to speak with her for a few seconds.”
“It’s unclear. The agent has no particular recollection of the events. Somehow he ended up in the hospital with multiple fractures, contusions, and other injuries. Clearly, her security forces are committed to their jobs.”
“That’s not good.”
“The point,” interrupted Pitt, “Is that Cassidy is obviously opposed to the Amendment, for some unknown reason. She has since increased the tariff to twenty four thousand credits per decagram, purely as a punitive measure. If we simply stop the import of Amendment supplies from Earth, and pay the Miners rates, we will easily save seventeen percent. That is paying for the supplies, plus paying for transit.”
“Then – and please, Primus, excuse my ignorance, I simply wish to be informed – why not do so?”
Primus Newling glared, then relented. “We have to maintain the balance of power.”
“I still don’t understand,” said a nervous Autumn.
War Minister Whitmore answered. “There are over seventeen billion people on Earth. The Union barely comprises a hundred million. Our sole advantages are the Accords, and specifically the Amendment, and our position at the top of the gravity well. By demanding the UE fulfill their end of the Amendment, we cripple their ability to create any war materiel. And, by virtue of being above them in the well, we are well-positioned to suppress any active measures of resistance. If we were to allow them to build any ships, we would face a far more difficult challenge.”
“I thought we had a powerful navy?”
“We have the only navy. That’s not the same as a powerful navy. We can maintain order in the inner system, respond to emergencies, and project force downward onto Earth, but that is predicated on there being no effective resistance. If the UE ever manages to build armed spaceships, we are going to have a serious fight on our hands.”
“I think I understand.”
“We’ve spent far too much time on this,” snapped the Primus. “Minister Dent, I want you to personally take charge of another investigation into this Cassidy person. She sounds like she needs to be taught a lesson.”
“Anything else can wait until our next meeting.” The Primus stood and the various ministers jumped to their feet. Without another word, the Primus, followed by her armsmen, left the conference room.