Right after we got back from that epic first flight I had to come back to Earth, as it were, and talk with Mya Hartman.
Talk about a letdown.
Not that I didn’t like Mya. She was a rare breed, an honest politician. Of course you know the old joke, don’t you?
How do you define an honest politician?
An honest politician is one who, when you buy them, stays bought.
She was also a decent person, and she became the first person outside my own little circle to know anything about my plans for the future and for the Federation.
So if you’re tired of waiting for chapters, Adam has three options for you. First, you can go to Amazon and buy the book. He’d love for you to do that (and leave a review!), but there are other choices. Click on the FIRST button (or any image) for this option. Second, if you have Kindle Unlimited you can borrow the book, and if you don’t have KU you can sign up and get a free month! Click on the SECOND button for that option. Third, if you prefer listening to your books you can do that, too, on Audible. If you don’t have Audible, no problem! You can buy it for cash money, or you can sign up for Audible and get it free! Click on the THIRD button for this option.
And as always the audio sample is at the end of the chapter.
“I understand congratulations are in order.”
Mya Hartman’s voice was somewhat distorted, and her holoimage flickered and wavered. That was expected, given the encryption and other security protocols they were using. After they’d gotten O’Quinn installed as a ‘Consultant’ at OutLook, one of his first tasks had been to create an utterly secure communications link between Hartman and Cass. He had provided the intimate knowledge of the UE systems, protocols, weaknesses, and backdoors; Mac had supplied the wizardry with cybersystems. Then they had applied a liberal dose of Harriman money via Dick Evans to acquire an off-the-books AI core.
This core was installed deep under the OutLook headquarters, awakened, given the name Harpocrates, after the Greek god of secrets, and set to work guaranteeing the security of all the Harriman Trust communications.
Harpo – nobody called him by his whole name – was very, very good at his job.
“Yes, Mya.” Kendra had taken the comm; she was home with the girls today, while Cass worked aboard Enterprise. Her second at HLC, Kim Culbertson, had taken over most of the day-to-day operations. The only exception was the ongoing salvage of Second Fleet, which Kendra and Cass were managing to juggle, for now.
“Broke the warp barrier,” continued Hartman.
“We did,” she confirmed. Where was Mya going with this? It was the first time they’d had direct contact with her in months; while the test flight gave them a suitable cover story, it was still a risk…
“And gave yourself a promotion. Mr. Lynch is quite upset about that.”
“He’s absolutely out of his skull furious, you mean. Which probably improved your day no end.”
Finally, a hint of a smile cracked Hartman’s facade. “Well, perhaps. Possibly. Just the slightest bit.”
“What can I do for you today, Mya? As much as I appreciate the image of Lynch foaming at the mouth, I can’t imagine that’s the only purpose of your call.”
“You’re right, of course. I wanted to ask you if you had figured out how to keep your shiny new starship out of legal trouble, should it get into any, let’s call them vigorous discussions, with the Solarian Union.”
“Not yet. So far the best our legal experts have come up with has been to let them take the first shot, then anything we do is in self-defense. But that gets sticky when it comes time to prove who fired first.”
“It’s a pity you won’t take the flag of any of the UE member states; we’d be able to take you under our wing, legally speaking.”
“Which is exactly the issue, Mya. We can’t accept your protection without becoming subject to all of your other legal entanglements.”
The flickering image seemed to sigh, though there was no accompanying sound. “I rather suspected that would be your answer.”
“Sorry to waste your time, Mya –”
“Oh, I’m not finished,” said Hartman.
“There is another solution.”
“We could – theoretically, of course – issue you a letter of marque and reprisal, on behalf of the UE.”
“A letter of what?” Kendra did a quick ‘plant search, then giggled. “You want us to be a privateer?”
“Well, it’s not that I want you to be privateers…”
“But it would give you legitimacy that you currently lack.”
Kendra checked further. “Mya, you know that there haven’t been any letters of marque issued in more than a two hundred years, right?”
“Well, that was mentioned.”
“And the last recorded ones were issued by Bolivia?”
“And it’s been outlawed twice? By countries that are part of the UE?”
“Yes, but the UE isn’t necessarily bound by the agreements of its member states.”
“I’ll bet you’ve had some interesting discussions the past few weeks.”
“You have no idea.”
Kendra finally relented. “We’ll have our experts look into it. It’s creative, I’ll give you that.”
“It’s the best solution we could find.”
“Which is one more than we’ve found.”
“I am genuinely thrilled for you and Cass; I know that you, particularly, have been really driving this project forward for several years. It must be rewarding to see it start to come to fruition.”
“It’s like nothing else I’ve ever done, Mya! In a day – less than a day, an hour! – we, I, went from Earth orbit to Jupiter! Did you know that the first robot probe to Jupiter took twenty-one months to travel the same distance? No, of course you didn’t, I didn’t either, but that’s the point! We just did, well, not the impossible, but the really, really improbable. Yeah, it’s rewarding!”
“And what’s next?”
“More test flights, higher speeds, longer durations, making sure all the systems work together –”
“No, no, I mean for you, personally.”
“Ah, that’s easier. I’m bringing all of our space projects under a single umbrella: Diana, Enterprise, Endeavour, the Wolves. It’s a pain, setting up a company like that, but I think it’ll be worthwhile in the end. Reduce redundancies and streamline decision-making if nothing else. It might even save us a few credits in the end.”
“That’s quite the task,” commiserated Mya.
“That’s why I have really good lawyers,” answered Kendra.
“Have you a chosen a name yet?”
“Not yet. I’m thinking of Via ad Sidera.”
“Yes. It translates into, The road to the stars.”
Mya’s hologram nodded approval.
“We’re starting a training school, by the way. The Terran Federation Naval Academy. Most of it’s going to be on-the-job training, but eventually we’ll have enough people up to speed so we can have groundside, and eventually orbital, instructors.”
“Diana. We’re going to keep expanding her. Eventually we’re going to have as much of our manufacturing, training, and living quarters aboard the base as possible, but that’s a long way off.”
“I wanted to ask you about this Terran Federation,” said Mya. “What is your vision, your plan?”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, my fellow Directors couldn’t help but notice the similarities – United Earth; Terran Federation. Kendra, are you planning to replace the UE?”
“No. And yes.”
“That’s not very illuminating.”
“It’s complicated,” Kendra said. “But I’ll try. No, I’m not planning for the Federation to replace the UE. My focus is on the exploration of space; I’m neither competent nor egotistical enough to think that I could manage a planet. I chose the name to inspire people to come together, to attract people who might share the same sort of dream. But do I believe that eventually the Federation will supplant the UE? Abso-damn-lutely! Hold on, hold on there Mya! I’ll give you a chance, but you asked the question!”
Kendra waited for a nod from the hologram before continuing.
“Now, the UE was founded to replace the old UN. That’s fine, that’s good, the UN was a century out of date and nobody was paying attention to them anyways. The problem, and this current crisis is just the latest example, is that you also took on all the flaws that led to the UN’s eventual failure. You took on all the promises, all the commitments, without actually getting anything back you needed, like cooperation, or authority. You got all of the shit but didn’t even get a bag to carry it in, if you’ll pardon my bluntness. Honestly, I’m amazed that you’ve managed to limp along as long as you have.” She paused for a moment, composing her next thoughts.
“When we take down the Union – and make no mistake, Mya, we’re going to take them down – we need to have a template, a plan, an organization, to take over their role. If we don’t, then we’re going to have a hundred million colonists either starving, suffocating, or killing each other. The Federation is going to be there to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
“What happened to ‘I can’t run a planet,’ Kendra?”
“I can’t. I don’t know that I can run the Federation. I do know that the UE can’t, either, so I’m to give it my best shot. Cass and I have spent the past five years doing everything in our power to make what we inherited better, to get rid of the people who were abusers and users, to instill loyalty to something larger than themselves. We’re going to build on that core. As for the UE, the only thing I plan to do is to release the UE from the Accords, make a clean break between the Federation and the UE. That will give you your best chance to put your house in order, without having to look to your skies.”
“So you’re going to take the place of the Union?”
“Mya, you’re not listening. That’s exactly what we aren’t going to do! Look, I’ll send you our plans, but please, believe me: you’re not trading one Dane for another. Yes, we’re going to be in the system, but if the UE wants to join us, we’re going to welcome you! There’s plenty of real estate for everyone out there, for generations to come! Like I said, though, you’re going to have your chance to take care of things on Earth. Who knows? Maybe, without the Accords to drag you down, the UE can rise!”
“You certainly make it sound appealing,” said Mya. “I’ll look forward to seeing those plans. But that doesn’t sound like you’re going to supplant the UE?”
“Really, really long-range plans. When the system is unified, happy, prosperous, and peaceful, and it’s the Federation overseeing it all, I anticipate countries on Earth petitioning to join. I can even see the UE submitting a petition, someday. The only catch is that the Federation isn’t going to be anyone’s paper tiger. We’re going to demand concessions in terms of authority; maybe I’m being idealistic, but I envision something like what there was in the best days of the United States.”
“I think I understand, and I do look forward to learning more about it.”
“Unless there’s anything else…?”
“Just wondering how the salvage operation is going?”
“I’m checking in with Ted later today, but from what I last heard, the plate’s roughed out, the survey is complete, and the first hulks are just about ready to be raised. I’ll shoot you a copy of his report if you like.”
“I’d rather not have anything in writing if you don’t mind.”
“I get that, Mya. Okay, then. I’ll talk to you sometime later.”
“Until later. And Kendra?”
Kendra answered, “Yes?”, with her hand hovering over the disconnect.
“Thank you.” The hologram disappeared before Kendra could reply.