Look at that, you’ve made it through another week. Congratulations! And that means we’re that much closer to release day!
Not to be pushy, but if you’re planning to order the book, you’re going to want to before Release Day on April 16th. Why? Because I have a pre-order DEAL going on which will end as soon as the book goes live!
Right now, you can get the book for just $2.99.
After it goes live, it goes up to the regular price of $5.99, same as The Measure of Humanity.
So jump at it now!
Now, on to today’s chapter!
Last week, Chief Stone was plotting and planning…something. Guess what? You don’t get to find out what it was just yet!
This week we’re back to Autumn Newling – remember her from the Prologue? It’s time to see what she’s been up to.
The cubic she occupied was less appealing than the space she’d been granted in the Rehabilitation Center, Autumn realized with a grimace.
But I’m free from my cousin’s whims, she thought. That’s worth something.
She hadn’t lied to James and Cassandra when she told them she wouldn’t be leaving with them. Not precisely.
The fifteen minutes’ loop was accurate, too.
In a very narrow sense.
Her plans had been in motion for far, far longer than either of the others had been confined. If she’d been entirely honest with herself, effecting their release had almost been more trouble than it was worth. But she had recognized that they would provide an excellent distraction from the real, more critical escapees.
A total of ten prisoners, not two, and not the four that MinSec admitted to, had made their way out of the Center that night. James and Cassandra, Autumn, three others that Autumn had carefully selected, and four chosen at random to wreak some havoc with the system and the predictive algorithms.
Her three started with Nour Zein-Hutter, an experienced MinSec agent provocateuse before she fell afoul of the Pittbull three years earlier. She had been assigned to infiltrate, corrupt, and dismantle the one of the few pro-democracy political groups, the Simon Jesters. The problem was she’d been converted to their way of thinking and started funneling information to them, rather than the other way around. And, unfortunately, MinSec was very, very good at detecting problems in their midst. She’d been pulled in, roughly interrogated, and then tossed into the Center to rot.
Sharon Mwangi had been selected by Autumn for her connections into the Artemis Navy. She’d served a long and, to be honest, undistinguished career, working her way up from the lowest enlisted rank to Chief Petty Officer, Engineering, for the ANS Collins during her sixteen years. Any career which lasted sixteen years would foster connections throughout the entire rank structure, and Mwangi had known how to network.
While her career was undistinguished, it wasn’t to say she wasn’t intelligent and capable; those were what led her into trouble. The Collins regularly visited the other Union polities, and she’d been able to see, first-hand, the differences in the various systems. She’d seen the meritocracy in the Guild, the feudally-based Martian system, and the almost colonial deference that Titan showed towards Artemis. She’d also been exposed to video, audio, and data transmissions from various Earth-bound countries, as well as occasionally interacting with their citizens aboard the orbiting habitats. All of this had conspired to open her eyes to the repressive and oligarchical system in place on Artemis. Ironically, she’d been one of those turned in by Zein-Hutter, a sore spot only recently healed.
Autumn’s final choice was Caitlin Novak. She’d been a diplomat in the Foreign Services Ministry, charged with conducting ongoing negotiations with the United Earth government on a broad range of issues. At her rank of Deputy Assistant Foreign Minister, she’d been granted a fair degree of latitude in her work and contacts. That had proven fatal to her position in the long run. No Ministry was safe from infighting, and Foreign Services was worse than most. When a rising rival had set his sights on Novak, all the minor indiscretions and foibles of her Earthly interactions had been magnified and exaggerated. As a result she had spent two years in the Rehabilitation Center before Autumn had arrived.
And despite Autumn’s brave words to James, she knew exactly why she had been confined. She opposed the current system, believed it was rotten to the core, and wanted to replace it with a more just and equitable one. If she was being fully honest with herself she’d admit that the replacement government would include her as the head, but ambition wasn’t necessarily a sin. She’d been dissatisfied for years as she’d climbed the ranks at the Production Ministry, seeing the abuse of power grow more and more blatant and egregious the higher she rose. She’d gotten involved in the nascent opposition, called Simon Jester, at first discretely but more and more openly as her frustration grew.
Finally her Minister had pulled her into the office and laid out her choices: stop agitating within the Ministry, keep her mouth shut, and let things settle down; or keep going and risk MinSec. She’d actually considered the first option. She was good at her job, liked her Minister, and suspected that he’d probably quashed several investigations into her activities. But she’d realized that she couldn’t stay silent.
MinSec picked her up half a lunar later.
Her confinement wasn’t terrible. She was a Newling, and thus at least somewhat insulated from the worst MinSec could do. There was no deprivation, for example, and no visits from the MinSec interrogators. Within reason, anything she wanted she could have, and that extended to communication with the outside. She’d been there for lunars, after all. Building connections with the more sympathetic, greedy, and ambitious MinSec minders was a relatively easy task.
Now she was out, which was rapidly becoming the simplest part of the entire plan. She had no idea of the whereabouts of her compatriots, or her chosen decoys, but wasn’t worried. The idea was to lay low for a full lunar before trying to meet, and she didn’t actually care what happened to any of the decoys. Yes, she felt badly for Cassandra, and even a twinge for James, but in the long run their escapes weren’t critical to Artemis.
Nour, Caitlin, and Sharon were. And as soon as she could get out of here, she’d start moving forward on her plans. As soon as she possibly could. Maybe even a bit sooner than that.
She looked around the cubic again. She’d practically memorized every square centimeter, but there wasn’t much else to do. Unlicensed cubic was fairly common in the undercity; all someone had to do was drill down, or sideways, into the rock. Air wasn’t much of a problem; yes, everyone received a bill, based on their expected usage, but it wasn’t tracked down to the last liter. The airlocks alone would create too much variance by themselves, even if you discounted the constant low-level leakage from the City itself.
Power, water, and data were more challenging to steal. All electrical circuits had to be installed by the city; there was too great a risk of a devastating accident if conduits and cables were set up incorrectly. Her light was embedded in the ceiling, but it was powered by a shipstone, taken out periodically and recharged off the residential systems. She didn’t have any other power in her little ‘home.’
Water was another issue, even more so than power. Water was the critical element on Luna. There was water trapped in and under the regolith, ancient ices, but without careful husbanding that most precious resource would be exhausted in a generation. So every milliliter was measured, tracked, billed. Every household, every business, was allocated a certain amount per day, based on projected use and historical data; usage which exceeded the allocation was permitted but charged at a ruinous rate which only the most profligate could afford, even briefly. Simply tapping into the pipes was a major operation, involving sophisticated security and tracing systems. Losses to leaks? Throughout Luna any such were localized, minor, and extremely temporary. The water she was drinking was gathered carefully, stealthily, in widely scattered areas, and she didn’t want to think about the last time she’d been able to properly bathe.
As for data? Not a chance. Few people outside the government knew that MinSec was the agency responsible for maintaining the infrastructure over which the LunaNet was broadcast. Fewer still knew that MinSec was also behind each and every company which provided access to the LunaNet. That allowed MinSec free and unfettered access into nearly every aspect of Loonie’s lives, which meant no padd for Autumn, no comms, nothing which could be heard by a microphone that might be on, nothing which could be seen by a camera that might be active.
Still, it wasn’t terrible. She was safe, for now. She had food and water and air. Best of all, and the only thing that was keeping her from going crazy from the confinement: she had a book. An honest-to-Gods book. By now she’d read it six times and could just about quote it, line-for-line. And she appreciated it more than she expected; it might have been a century-and-a-half old, but the subject was near and dear to her heart: the liberation of the moon.
She was holding it in her hands now, wondering if she ought to start it for a seventh go, see if there wasn’t something she missed.
The quiet knock nearly had her scream in surprise.
“Mistress Autumn? May I come in?”
“Come in, Samantha,” she answered. “What are you doing here?”
The ten-year-old daughter of her hosts ducked through the short opening and sat down next to her. “My teacher got done early, so we have the afternoon off. What is that?”
“This?” Autumn held up the book. “It’s an old, old book.”
“A book? That doesn’t look like any book I know.”
“No, I guess not. Look.” Autumn opened it up, riffed through the pages.
“Wow! I’ve never seen anything like that. It’s really cool!”
“Yeah, it is.”
“What’s it about?”
“It’s about a free moon.”
“But we live on the moon.”
“That’s right, but when this was written, nobody lived on the moon.”
“Then it must have been written a long time ago.”
“Yes, it was. You want to hear some of it?”
“Ooh, can I?”
“Sure.” Autumn adjusted the book in her hands and began to read.
“’The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein.’”
“That’s a funny title!” objected Samantha.
“It means that the moon is a tough place to live, not like Earth, where you can go outside without a surface suit.”
“It is. Can I continue?”
“Oh, yeah. Sorry for interrupting.”
“It’s okay. ‘I see in Lunaya Pravda that Luna City Council has passed on first reading a bill to examine, license, inspect—and tax—public food vendors operating inside municipal pressure. I see also is to be mass meeting tonight to organize “Sons of Revolution” talk-talk…’”