I’ve had a pretty good week; three out of four days I’ve managed to persuade Adam to allow two chapters instead of one. Score for you guys!
Seriously, though. These two chapters are so consequential to What Came After I can’t have them separated, a point I made clear to Adam. Plus one’s only, like, three pages long.
Don’t forget to enter to win an AUTOGRAPHED copy of Triumph’s Ashes! This is an Author’s Proof copy, one of the preliminary copies Adam receives to check for errors and proper typesetting and all that other felgercarb (don’t ask me, I just tell the stories, he has to write them down and do the fiddly bits). The contest runs until August 14, so don’t hesitate, enter today! Click the Rafflecopter button below. And you can also buy your own copy of the book if you’re tired of waiting for chapters by either clicking the BUY ME NOW button or any cover image.
Ceres, Miner’s Guild
“Moderator, a message has arrived for you.”
Tamara Kumlien glanced up her desk. It was bare, as she preferred it, and she saw with dismay that Dashiell, her assistant, was carrying a hardcopy message instead of a padd.
“What does it say?”
“I don’t know, Moderator.”
That got her attention.
“Why not? That’s part of your job, isn’t it? Screening out the rubbish?”
“Yes, Moderator, but I cannot.”
In answer he held the hardcopy before him. “It’s sealed, Moderator.”
Now she was puzzled. She took the message from him, noting that it was, indeed, a sealed message pouch.
“It came in today, Moderator. It was carried to Ceres by –”
She waved off the explanation; it really didn’t matter who brought it in, as she was certain it was merely the last link in a long chain. If there was any compensation due she was sure it had been collected. She turned the pouch over in her hands, looking for clues to the sender, but there was nothing specific. There was only the official security seal, used by members of the Guild’s government, and given the size of the Guild it could have come from anywhere in the Belt. Many Representatives used the pouches to send confidential information when their presence was required in their home habitat.
“Thank you,” she said in dismissal.
As soon as he was gone, she pulled her seal out and applied it to the one on the message. Security measures within the seals only permitted the person to whom the message was intended to open it. Anyone else would find the message within the pouch had been rendered unreadable. She was relieved, then, when the seal popped off and the pouch peeled back.
Moderator, she read.
We have reached an agreement in principle with the Terran Federation to incorporate the Miner’s Guild into the Federation. The highlights are as follows:
- Withdrawal of all Guild citizens from SUN ships immediately upon acceptance of terms
- Upon return of citizens, joint announcement wherein the Guild renounces Solarian Union membership and withdraws from all military agreements. Trade agreements are not terminated
- Guild citizens with military experience can be immediately placed in accelerated training within Starfleet
- Guild navy becomes purely local patrol; Federation assumes all responsibility for defense
- At such time as a Federation government is formed, the Guild will be invited to participate equally. Until then, current government of Guild will be responsible for internal governance, with foreign policy decided by current Federation leadership
There’s more, but that’s the core. If the Negotiators Executive Session approves this, notify me. Admiral Kendra Cassidy has indicated that she will travel to Ceres to sign the Treaty of Alliance.
This was stunning.
She’d hoped for some kind of beginning for discussions, but this was utterly unexpected. She quickly leafed through the draft treaty, then got to Lusardi’s notes.
“Ah!” she said a moment later. “That’s how this happened so fast!”
“Pardon me, Moderator?” said Dashiell, appearing at the doorway. She hadn’t realized she’d spoken aloud.
“Sorry, Dash, just thinking out loud.” He disappeared again.
This Admiral runs the Federation, with her wife. A monarchy in all but name. She considered. We can deal with this. The Negotiators won’t be an issue; they’ve already given preliminary approval. The Representatives may argue a bit, but they’ll come around…
“Dashiell!” she called out.
“I need a message sent. Radio.”
“Yes, Moderator. To whom?”
“To Representative Lusardi.”
“Representative Lusardi? But she’s not even in Guild space.”
“I know that. She’s aboard the Federation habitat.”
“Yes, Moderator. The message?”
“’Accepted. Sign immediately. Kumlien.’ Got that?”
He read it back.
“Clear signal, Moderator?”
“Yes. No mistakes.”
“Very good, Moderator.”
Now. How can I secure the most advantageous place for myself in this new government?
“Minister, again, I apologize.”
“Captain, I assure you, once again, that no apology is necessary. I appreciate the sacrifices you have made to accommodate myself and my staff.”
The small man bowed and backed away. They’d gone through this dance at least once a day on the voyage out to Titan, and Minister Arthur Dent was heartily sick of it. He honestly didn’t mind being crammed into quarters smaller than his refresher in his Artemis City residence. He understood that the Haise was a military ship, a small one at that, and there simply weren’t luxuries. But the fear of the power of the Ministries the commander demonstrated was tiring, at best. At worst, it led him to thoughts he’d rather not contemplate.
No good thinking about that now! he remonstrated himself. Not with you finally about to arrive.
He’d been dispatched, finally, after the Titan ambassador had passed. Bennett Dryden hadn’t survived the ‘enhanced questioning’ MinSec used; Dent suspected they hadn’t tried particularly hard not to send his heart into cardiac arrest. At any rate, in a macabre way it simplified his mission. Rather than having to explain why his government had tortured an ambassador from another nation to his death, Dent was instead providing an honor escort for Dryden’s remains. Titan had already been notified, as well as the condition of the body, which had been reduced to a skeleton.
MinSec had naturally destroyed the flesh to conceal the proof of their actions. The explanation was left to Dent. It was decided he would explain, due to the dearth of accessible organics on Luna, all citizens who died had their soft tissues reclaimed for use in the production of food. This had the benefit of being true, and Dent would further spin it into an honor for a non-citizen to be so recognized, immortalizing him in the farms of Artemis. In recognition of his extra-Lunar origins his skeleton was being returned home.
It was a load of crap. Dent knew it, too, which was going to make it even more challenging for him to sell it. Still, he was good at his job, and if he could keep the Federation negotiating for over a year without conceding anything of significance then he could make being tortured to death a thing to be desired.
Dent sat down to review facts.
Titan was the newest of the four nations that comprised the Solarian Union and the one most dependent on Artemis. Their independence was an accident of timing, a distracted moment when Artemis and the UE were in open conflict, and they had been careful to cultivate ties to Artemis in the intervening years.
Titan’s population was tiny, barely more than a million. That million was far more heavily weighted towards the sciences than any other in the Union. As a consequence they had fewer farmers, yet their imports of food had actually dropped in the recent past and nobody knew exactly why.
They only had two ships in their ‘navy’, so weren’t a military threat to anyone.
This was interesting; they were officially a democracy, as well, but their President was elected by the technocrat class. If you chose to opt out of the pursuit of technological improvements and innovations, you lost your vote. Hmm.
Yet there was the issue of their antimatter bombs and suicide ships. Where were they getting the antimatter? That was the burning question, the question Dryden had died for, but he didn’t know the answer. He’d been in Artemis for eight years, though, and if this were a recent development might well be kept in the dark by his government.
A change in the pitch of the engines let him know they had arrived in orbit. The Haise wouldn’t be landing on Titan; the thick nitrogen/methane atmosphere prevented it. Instead, he would be relying on a shuttle from Titan to ferry him (and Dryden’s skeletal remains) to the surface.
The shuttle trip was as terrible as he’d anticipated. The thick atmosphere was churned by the influence of Saturn. As a result the restraints built into the seats which had closed on him automatically were a necessity, not an affectation. He was tossed from side to side, and he thought they may have gone inverted briefly, though he wasn’t sure.
The landing pad was on the surface, and he half-expected the shuttle to be blown away, but then the pad descended into the ground and a heavy hatch slid into place above. At least, that’s what was told had happened; he couldn’t see anything from inside. However, it did explain why he hadn’t required a surface suit, though being a born-and-raised Loonie he had his at the ready.
And walking was a bit easier than on Luna, as Titan’s gravity was about 80% of what he was used to. Just enough less so that he had a pleasant bounce to his steps, not so much less that he was hopping off the surface like Terrans did on Luna.
Upon landing he was astonished to see a greeting party awaiting him led by Titan’s President no less.
“Minister Dent, it is truly a pleasure to meet you.” She inclined her head slightly.
“I regret the circumstances, Madame President,” answered Dent with a deeper bow.
“Yes. Ambassador Dryden’s death is a true tragedy, and so unexpected.”
“He was given the best medical care we could provide,” Dent said, truthfully, leaving out exactly why such care was required. “It was an honor to have known the Ambassador.”
“Thank you, Mr. Dent. That is very kind of you.”
“I have also brought the casualty lists from the Federation’s recent attack on the Solarian Union and the destruction of four cruisers.” He passed over a datachip. “We are still attempting recovery operations.”
“Again, Mr. Dent, thank you.”
No more was said until they reached their destination.
The meeting was taking place in the President’s official residence, a thoroughly modern habitat. He had noticed, while he knew he was under the surface, the lighting and the space had been carefully designed to mimic a more Terran environment. The buildings, for example, had exterior walls, and windows which looked out over open space with green, growing plants. Frankly, he was amazed and said as much.
The President, Kyra Smith, laughed at his reaction. “It’s simple, Mr. Dent. We may have to live underground; the surface of Titan is not exactly pleasant. However, our founders felt that we should live as normally, as openly, as possible. Within a few years of our founding, all the inhabitants of this world had moved out of the surface domes and into these artificial spaces.”
“How deep are we?”
“About four hundred meters; the caverns we have carved are generally half that high.”
“And does everyone live in this cavern? City, I suppose.”
“City is how we refer to them. Yes, most of our people live in this one, which is called Xanadu after the surface feature, but there’s another by Kraken Mare near the northern pole.”
“Why there, Madame President?”
“Kraken Mare is a huge sea of hydrocarbons, Mr. Dent, and a source of much of the raw materials we need to keep our habitats viable.”
“Ah. I had wondered.”
“Yes. Liquid ethane and methane is much easier to deal with and refine into other molecules than the atmospheric gases.”
“I would imagine.”
He considered his next words carefully. He didn’t know when, or if, he’d have another chance to interact directly with Titan’s leader, but he also didn’t want to alienate her.
“Madame President, may I ask a question?”
“Certainly, Mr. Dent.”
“My leadership would like me to express our appreciation for the generous support that Titan has been providing in our struggle against the oppression of the Federation. The latest, unprovoked assault upon our sovereignty is an assault upon all of the Union. The deaths of so many of our sailors, brutally murdered without ever knowing their killers, just proves the absolute inhumanity with which the Federation operates.”
She nodded in apparent acceptance of his statement.
“We need to rally together as one to successfully resist. This ravening foe has again demonstrated their willingness to do anything, go to any lengths, to impose their will upon the free people of the Solarian Union. Our resistance must be unified, quick, and certain. Hesitation and delay will only get more of our people killed.”
“I can see how Artemis would feel that most keenly, Mr. Dent, but you haven’t gotten to your question.”
“The question, Madame President. Your missiles and robotic ships have been most impactful, but apparently could have been even more impactful. The thinking is, and I had to have it explained to me as I am not a military man, your distance from the target allows for interception. If Artemis was to be provided with antimatter –”
She cut him off sharply. “No, Mr. Dent. We will not provide antimatter to Artemis directly. If the Union wishes, the Union can request us to provide antimatter as our contribution to the joint defense program. We have received no such request.”
“Madame President, I completely understand your position.”
“No, Mr. Dent. I don’t think you do.” She settled back in her seat and leveled her gaze at him.
“We know that Artemis feels that they can order us to do their bidding. Don’t shake your head, sir; your Primus has made it clear in her communications that is exactly what she expects. And, to our shame and folly, we have done so. We have needed to do so, as we have depended upon Artemis.”
“That is changing, Mr. Dent. No, I will not provide you with antimatter. I will not provide you with our source. I assure you, as long as we are in the Union, we will fulfill our end of the bargain we struck with your Primus. We will continue to deliver our projectiles on schedule. But, no. You will not get any antimatter from us.”
“Madame President, will you tell me what I can do to heal this breach in our relationship?”
“There is no breach, Mr. Dent. We are simply no longer as dependent upon Artemis as your Primus might like, which is not in any way a problem from our perspective.”
“Madame President, we are committed to the independence of all the members of the Union; the Union only exists to ensure our mutual safety, after all. But in light of the extraordinary circumstances we currently face surely you can convince your government to make this concession?”
“I’m certain I could, Mr. Dent. But I agree with them. Antimatter will be the great equalizer in the power dynamics of the Union, and we will not give it up to the strongest single member, no matter what the implied threat.”
And warp drive isn’t?
The thought gave him another idea. Perhaps he could work a deal with them, exchanging access to the warp technology in return for antimatter. He hadn’t been forbidden to do so, after all.
Although it would be easier to negotiate if he knew what pressure the Primus had put on them to get the initial commitment. Smith seemed to be a rather straightforward sort of politician; perhaps if he asked?
“Madame President, if I may, what convinced you to begin your bombardments of the Federation in the first place?”
“That was a decision of the previous administration, Mr. Dent, one which I personally opposed, but which I will honor. I don’t know exactly why they agreed.”
“Perhaps I was unclear. What are the terms of the agreement?”
“You don’t know?” She sounded surprised. Well, damn it, he should have known, so if he was her he’d be surprised too. Maybe play up the mutual ignorance angle?
“No, Madame President; the Primus has kept me in the dark, as it was a negotiation directly between her and you; that is, your government.”
“The usual promises, Mr. Dent. Increased access to Artemis markets, subsidies on purchases, that sort of thing.”
“There may be something we can offer in exchange for the antimatter.”
“I’m listening, Mr. Dent.”
“We have recently launched our first warp-capable ship. Perhaps you have been keeping pace with the developments?”
“Warp technology has been of interest for many years,” she non-answered.
“What if we were to make this technology, this advance, available to Titan?”
“In exchange for antimatter?”
Unexpectedly she laughed.
She held up a hand, asking for time to recover. He waited.
“I’m sorry,” she finally gasped. “You think we don’t have warp technology?”
“Mr. Dent,” she said, still sputtering. “The theories behind warp drive have existed for nearly thirty years, for warp bubbles even longer. While we haven’t yet built our own warp ships, we have built and tested warp drives of our own design. Thank you, Mr. Dent, but we will be declining your very kind offer.”
She rose, graceful in the low gravity. Caught by surprise again, Dent stood quickly and briefly left the ground.
“Thank you for bringing back the Ambassador, Mr. Dent.”
She left without waiting for his reply, her guards falling into step around her, and he sighed.
At least she hadn’t ordered him off-planet; perhaps a little discrete digging would produce results. It was amazing what trivialities the publicly-elected officials found embarrassing and wanted to conceal.
“Keep an eye on him,” Smith said to her lead guardian, a tall man named Darnall.
“Yes, Ms. Smith.”