Children of Heaven, Chapter 5

Chapter 5:

August 3rd, 4233

Sol
Sol Sector, Inner Worlds

United Terran Concord

Concordat Parliament, New York City

Nancy Rodriguez, Assemblywoman for the Renaissance Sector and head of the Progressive Democratic Party, was the picture of composure as she sat in front of the President’s desk, waiting for the meeting’s last attendee to arrive, sipping some of the delicious jade-leaf tea that one of the President’s aides had provided. Jade-leaf was a poisonous vine common to Eridani Beta, but when its leaves were treated to a simple, though time-consuming process, they provided one of the most delectable beverages she’d ever encountered. A misstep in the procedure wouldn’t kill one – the leaves didn’t normally hold enough venom for that – but it added a little thrill.

President Adeipho Erasmus drummed his fingers on his mahogany desktop impatiently and Nancy hid a small smile. If there was one thing she had learned about the president, it was that he hated to be kept waiting, by anyone. If that annoyance made him a little less likely to hear what her distinguished counterpart had to say, then she was not going to complain. It also helped that the President belonged to her party and owed his position to her (not inconsiderable) help.

Finished, she handed her empty cup back to another aide. As she did so, Adeipho gestured to the pair of his ever-present assistants. “Would you care for some more tea, Nancy? Maybe a biscuit?”

“No thank you, Mr. President. But… perhaps a small glass of water.”

Erasmus nodded. “Jenny?”

The young aide nodded. “Of course. Mr. President. Madam Assemblywoman.” Moments later she returned, handing the water to Rodriguez.

As she took her first sip, the doors to the President’s office opened and Henry Castlewick, Assemblyman for the Atreides Sector and leader of the Foundationist Party, came into the room. “Mr. President – sorry about the delay; there was a back-up on the I-173 and traffic was rerouted. Madam Assemblywoman.”

Erasmus didn’t – quite – frown. “That’s all right, Henry.” Adeipho nodded to the three other figures in the room. “I’m sure you already know High Admiral Lois Johannen and her chief of staff Captain Arnold Twofeather. Allow me to introduce you to Fleet Admiral Vater Hosst.”

Castlewick shook each officer’s hand in turn, pausing when he got to Hosst. “I’ve heard of you by reputation only, Admiral.”

“Hopefully a good reputation, sir.”

Before Castlewick could answer, Erasmus interrupted, nodding to the empty chair. “Now that introductions are out of the way, Henry take a seat and we can get this meeting started.”

“Thank you, Mr. President.” Henry seated himself; at one hundred seventy, he was well into middle-age, and building up a sizable midsection that did nothing to help him catch his breath.

“You’re probably both wondering why you were called here at the crack of ‘good God’, but it seems that we’ve got a situation developing in the Outer Reaches.”

Nancy set her water down. “What kind of situation?”

Erasmus looked up at High Admiral Johannen, who stepped forward. “The hostile kind. We’ve lost seven systems to an invading force of unknown intent, capability and identity.”

The PDP Assemblywoman’s composed veneer cracked a little. “What kind of situation?” she repeated, not entirely certain that she’d heard the admiral correctly.

“What are our losses?” Castlewick asked. A former serviceman himself, he’d toured aboard the Dominant during the war with the League until an Empty battleship’s broadside ripped both his legs off at the knees. By the time the replacements had grown in and his physical therapy was complete, the war was over.

Johanen answered the Foundationist’s question.“Militarily, we’ve lost all of TF 93 and every orbital and groundside asset in those systems. Civilian; we don’t know. Tebrinnin and Unicorn Alpha were nuked from orbit, but at last report all other civilian installations were intact. We have no idea if that’s still true. Worst-case estimates put the death toll up to twenty-four million.”

Castlewick felt himself take in a quick hiss of breath. He looked over at Rodriguez; the woman still appeared to be trying to get a handle on the situation and he felt a stab of pity for her, but quickly shoved it aside. The PDP had slowly but surely been grinding away at the military’s budget ever since the Zion Armistice; if the Navy had been allowed to keep a full base in Tebrinnin, then this entire situation might never have happened.

“Have these… attackers said anything?” Rodriguez asked at last.

Johannen looked over at Voss and the Admiral shook his head. “Every effort we’ve made to communicate with them has gone unanswered. We’ve picked what appear to be transmissions between their ships, so we know they know what radio signals are. But they show up, they kill and they move in.”

“There has to be a reason,” Nancy pointed out. “No one – not even aliens – just starts wiping out another species without any good reason! If they’re intelligent enough to build ships and wage war, then they’re rational enough to speak with us.”

“We’ve got the finest minds in the Concord already on it,” Erasmus assured Rodriguez. “If there’s a way to communicate, they’ll find it. In the meantime, I want you to be prepared for the shitstorm that’s coming down the pike. There’s going to be a lot of scared, worried people out there – even in here and Parliament. I want to keep a handle on this situation and I don’t want to see anyone out there using it to grind an axe.” His eyes drifted over to Castlewick with that last sentence.

The Foundationist folded his hands in his lap and met his president’s stare evenly. “Of course, Mr. President.”

~

“This a complete fiasco and it rests solely on the military-industrial complex’s inept shoulders!”

“So,” Amanda Huang whispered in Castlewick’s ear. “When Erasmus told you that he didn’t want any axe grinding, he meant everybody but the PDP, right?”

The older man nodded, his eyes on the Parliament’s floor, where one of Nancy Rodriguez’s attack dogs was yapping away. The woman was too civilized to get her hands dirty; she’d let her fellow party members do all that, while remaining aloof and ‘moderate’. Castlewick stifled a snort; Rodriguez was no more a moderate than Kroener, but at least the conservative leader admitted it. Erasmus was closer to the center than not, but it was an open secret that Rodriguez had been the brains behind his campaign; he’d promised just enough to attract the undecided voters but not enough to alienate the PDP’s base and once he’d gotten himself elected, many of his centrist policies had found themselves shifting towards the PDP’s designs.

Despite all the hammering that the Conservative Alliance and the Foundationists had been doing, the PDP’s standing remained strong in the Inner Worlds. They were the ones with the largest populations, the ones that had seen the least combat, the ones that no longer saw the military as the thin line that stood between them and marauding pirate clans or League war fleets. Instead, the Navy was considered a dangerous provocation, a drain on the budget and an anachronistic throwback to a less civilized age.

Henry reached down to clasp one knee, keeping his foot from impatiently tapping. How quickly they forget, he thought to himself. “Apparently,” he whispered back to his young protégé; Amanda was something of an army brat; her mother had been in the service and after ten years of hopping from base to base, had decided to send her daughter to family on Earth, to give her the kind of stability that she never could. Two days later, well-armed commerce raiders fell upon the convoy Captain Gillian Huang was escorting. There were no survivors.

It was always suspected, but never proven that those particular pirates were, in fact, League partisans that hadn’t given up the war with the rest of their comrades. As a result, Amanda held a grudge towards the Empties that had occasionally boiled over into altercations with their diplomatic staff, though since Castlewick had taken her on as his protégé, she’d gotten a better handle on her temper.

The Foundationist returned his attention to the speaker; Elizabeth DuPre, the Assemblywoman for the Renaissance world Roughlanding. Up in the galley, he could see Rodriguez watching her champion, nodding only slightly as DuPre continued. The problem with Rodriguez, was that she was a true believer and a smart one at that; she’d written several essays on the failure of diplomacy that the League/Concord war represented and was very adept at twisting words. Not that the Concord was blameless; they had been plundering the Empty worlds of every natural resource for decades, shoving the original colonists to the side, using every legal trick they could to screw the Empties quite thoroughly. But Rodriguez and her ilk insisted that it would never have gotten to the point of armed conflict, had the League not felt threatened by the Concord’s military.

Her audience only too gladly lapped up such tripe, assisted by League emissaries who wholeheartedly embraced the idea that the Concord was solely at fault. To the leftists, the self-serving proclamations of one star nation who had every reason to shade the truth ‘proved’ their own beliefs that the Concord was evil incarnate.

A light flickered on the display board above the Speaker of the House’s podium and the Speaker looked towards the wings where the Foundationists and the Conservative Alliance found themselves seated. “The Chair recognizes Assemblyman David Kroener from the Conservative Alliance.”

“Thank you, Mr. Speaker.” Kroener said as he stood, straightening his jacket. He was old money, from one of the Founding Families of New Prussia and as right in his politics as Rodriquez and DuPre were to the left. “If I am to understand Assemblywoman DuPre’s claims, it is the military’s fault for the current situation we find ourselves embroiled in. I may not be as worldly as my colleague from Roughlanding,” a stir of subdued laughter ran through the assembly. “But I’m curious as to how she came to that conclusion. All the reports I have seen indicate that these… Lefu have never responded to a single one of our hails, never indicated that they want anything to do with us except commit murder and genocide. At Tebrinnin, they shot first. At Unicorn Set, they shot first. At Kevin’s Folly, they shot first. At every single world they have… visited, they have been the aggressors.”

Elizabeth was about to respond huffily, when Nancy waved her down. “If I may respond to Assemblyman Kroener’s questions in place of my colleague?”

Of course DuPre had no objections, nor did the Speaker. “The floor recognizes Assemblywoman Rodriguez.”

“Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Allow me to first say that I and my constituents grieve with the families and friends who have lost people in this attack. No one deserves to have those they care about taken from them so senselessly. I will admit that I am worried, I am worried not only for our people in the path of what seems to be a treacherous, unprovoked attack from a hostile alien force, but I am also worried for reason and rationality.

Can we be so sure that this is an unprovoked attack? Do we know for a fact that it was treachery and malice aforethought that drove these beings’ hands? They are alien, ladies and gentlemen. Alien. Never before has the Concord encountered a species as advanced as we. This is a momentous occasion and one that we should not immediate drape in cries of ‘blood and steel’ and calls for revenge.

“They are alien, but also intelligent. Irrational, mindless killing machines cannot build ships, cannot create interstellar civilizations. In that, we have the hope for peace. For understanding. This unwarranted assault must have a reason. My esteemed colleague, Assemblywoman DuPre, blames the military entirely for this incident. As I have said, how can we call this unprovoked until we know what happened? The records we have from Racking Roll do not show what happened in Tebrinnin, only telling us that Captain al-Imad was moving to intercept the intruders. It is entirely possible that they misconstrued his actions – actions dictated by military protocols – as the hostile ones.

“In Unicorn Set, it was Rear Admiral Lucian Hernandez who ordered the Alfred Thayer Mahan to deploy its HAVOCs and then sent them to intercept the alien force; a clear act of aggression. Is it any wonder that they responded with violence themselves? Would one of our task force commanders, confronted with an unknown fleet deploying fighters, assume this was a peaceful action?

“We must, of course, secure the safety of our planets. But we must not forget that we are not dealing with the boogeyman. Humanity has been expanding throughout the galaxy for centuries; could we not be seen as expansionistic and aggressive to other powers? We have come through a devastating war only thirty years ago and our military officers continue to insist upon bigger and better weapons and ships, more efficient means of killing other people. If we were looking upon a species such as ourselves, would we not declare it to be a threat, possibly one to our very existence? Would we not try to make contact, to ascertain their goals and if confronted by apparently hostile responses, would we not respond in kind?

“Mr. Speaker, members of this body – I urge you all not to succumb to jingoism and self-righteousness. There is the very real chance that we, knowingly or unknowingly, precipitated this conflict and as intelligent, rational beings we must do everything in our power to set it right. Or else, what are we? Certainly no better then these so-called ‘Lefu’ that many of us are already calling to be destroyed. Mr. Speaker, members of Parliament, I urge you to search your consciences and examine your duty; blind militarism is not the answer and never will be.” She seated herself to applause.

“My venerable counterpart from the Progressive Democratic Party talks a good game,” Kroener began. “But, her views remains short-sighted and naïve.”

“This should be good,” Castlewick said under his breath to Amanda. Despite not being the official opposition, Kroener and Conservative Alliance were still smarting over the president’s snub this morning.

“It’s fine to suppose and to conjecture and to assume, but the fact of the matter is that we are the ones under attack. It’s fine for the opposition to slur the names of dead soldiers by inferring they were trigger-happy or incompetent. But that is not a carte blanche for murder and mayhem. Frankly, Assemblywoman Rodriguez’s hastiness to blame the military confuses me. For all we know, these Lefu are like the Spanish conquistadors of old: unprovoked butchers after whatever they can lay their hands upon.

“For our own safety, we must assume that is precisely what they are. For our own survival, we must think of ourselves first, to secure our worlds and people against this unexpected threat that we neither asked for nor deserve. We must reactivate Reserve Fleet, we must defeat this threat before we can countenance talks – if any are even possible – for when one side is mindlessly dedicated to the other’s destruction, there can be no hope of peace. This is the United Terran Concord! We have seen war in all its shapes and sizes for as long as humanity has existed. We have lit candles to remember the fallen, unfurled flags to show our support. And now…

“Now, we have been attacked. Without cause, without justification in an act of savagery and treachery. By an enemy so cowardly that they don’t even show their faces to us and refuse to accept pleas for surrender. Are we vermin to them? Are we rivals? Do they see us as a threat? We do not know. All we know is that they arrived in our space two months ago and began to kill. They continue to kill, even now. Slaughtering people who have done them no wrong. Members of the Assembly, this is a war. A war on all of us, on all of our freedoms and rights, including that most basic right of all: the right to life. The right to live without fear.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we must not forget this. We must not forget the dead. And we must be prepared to do everything, anything in our power to make sure that the guilty are punished. For what are we then, if we will not avenge the senseless deaths of our own citizenry?”

~

“The measure passed by a supermajority.”

“Of course. Rodriguez would never oppose pulling the Reserve out of mothballs, no matter what the extremists in the PDP want. The woman’s not stupid and that entire dog-and-pony she put on was for her base, even if the Conservatives don’t realize it.”

“Kroener was practically giggling. I suppose the contractors he’s in bed with are happy, too.”

“Of course. Atreides is the biggest producer of munitions in the entire Concord. Peace has been bad for business.”

“Hmm. Do you think it’s them?”

“I don’t know. The last sleeper fleet we intercepted was on the other side of the Concord. This doesn’t sound like their MO, though. It could be a killfleet.”

“God, I hope not. Their sleepers are bad enough.”

“I know. We’ll play it as it lies. Not much else we can do. Cut orders for Cain and Defiler to head out to Hyperion. I think Foraker’s going to need all the help he can get.”

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