The observation deck on The Sea of Tranquility wasn’t that different from similar decks on seagoing ships. Those decks loomed high above the water to give people an excellent view of the horizon. On the Tranquility the deck stood high above the bridge and below a massive transparent ceramic window, giving the officers and crew who came there an excellent view of the activity within and without. For the most part, Vice Admiral Jalak Carrington preferred the view outside to that within. He’d spent decades serving on various ships in the Copernican Spacer Corps and had seen more than enough command deck activity to last a lifetime. While the bridge of an Olympus Mons class orbit ship was bigger than any other he’d been on the general ebb and flow of life there was the same.
Earth was something entirely different.
Copernicus was roughly 95% the size of the Homeworld, yet Earth seemed to take up a much larger part of the sky below them. The colors were different from those he’d gotten used to as well. Newton was the closest of the Triad Worlds to the Homeworld’s appearance, a patchwork of blue and green not unlike that above him but with a pattern more like a checkerboard than the graceful, sweeping peaks and basins of Earth geography. The moons of Galileo were blue-gray spheres of rock, starkly different than the Homeworld. And Copernicus itself was still mostly brown, only slowly terraforming into something that would one day be a green world. Water was less common on the surface of the oldest Triad world. Rivers were plentiful and, once all the glaciers and ice caps fully melted, it might even have proper ocean. But that was still a generation away, at least.
Somehow, in spite of how alien the planet below should have been, the sight of it never failed to fill Carrington with a sense of contentment. On a primal level he felt more at home here, over Earth, then he ever had among the Triad worlds. Or perhaps it was just a trick of the mind. He’d expected the vague sense of awe he felt from seeing the Homeworld to fade over time.
They’d been there a month and found the people of Earth to be unpleasant, arrogant and stubborn, not to mention dangerous. The Homeworld itself, on the other hand, had lost none of the appeal.
“Tell me, Director Mond. Why would Earth want to give up this view of itself?”
“We didn’t. You can still see this from the surface, with the right equipment.”
Carrington pulled his attention away from view to the man seated next to him. Stephen Mond used to be a tall man, definitely taller than Carrington’s just below average height, but now he was confined to a maglev chair that tapped into the ship’s UFT field to hover four inches above the ground. He’d lost his arms and legs in the grisly incident that led to his capture and imprisonment by the United Colonial Fleet. His arms were replaced with basic prosthetics from the ship’s medical stores but they hadn’t replaced his legs.
Although it seemed his medical nanotech system was hard at work regrowing all four lost limbs and the doctors were pretty sure he’d be back on his own feet in another six months or so.
“Pictures don’t do it justice,” Carrington said.
Mond sighed. “You’re not wrong. But it is important for sapiens to restrain our impulse to dominate and control or we will loose sight of who we are. The drive to senselessly fill space was one of our unfortunate habits taken from our martian neighbors. Better to send satellites than come ourselves.”
Carrington grunted noncommittally, once again mystified by the psychobabble that Mond used to justify the strange habits Earth had fallen into in the centuries since Departure. There was a time to dig into the arcane twists of the UNIGOV mindset that had produced Mond. This wasn’t it. “We’ve finally received an official response from Earth.”
“Oh?” Mond was clearly surprised. “I suppose there is enough of the Directorate that could be convinced to talk to the Martian remnant, if given enough time.”
“I said a response, Director Mond,” Carrington replied. “I didn’t say they spoke to us.”
“How can you be sure it was an official response if you didn’t speak to a Director of UNIGOV?”
Carrington pursed his lips and nodded. He’d expected that response based on previous discussions he’d had with Mond and, in many circumstances, it was a valid response. He didn’t think the disassembler field Starstream squadron had encountered was one of those circumstances. Today wasn’t a spear fishing expedition, though. The plan was to bait some hooks and see if Mond would nibble. So, he strung things along. “Actions can be a response, can’t they, Director?”
“Of course.” Mond settled back in his chair, wiggling his shoulders a bit as he tried to find a comfortable position. The doctors thought the regeneration process was triggering phantom pains far more often than was typical. “But actions can be personal as well as collective. Perhaps you’ve mistaken the actions of a few – or even one – person for the actions of UNIGOV. You said the response was official – and UNIGOV is the official source for Earth’s collective actions.”
“Many actions require the work of a collective, rather than just a few or even one.” Carrington gestured to ship around them. “This ship couldn’t exist without a great deal of collective effort to gather the materials and create the plans necessary for such a feat of engineering. Even with all the supplies and planning taken care of for you I doubt you could build one on your own before you died of old age. Nanofacturing and spacedock construction techniques just aren’t efficient enough for it yet.”
Mond nodded. “That’s true. And the facilities on Earth that could build such a ship all belong to UNIGOV. If they’ve launched a ship such as this one – or really, any of those in your fleet – then that is undoubtedly an official response. Has Earth launched such a ship?”
A moment passed while Carrington tried to determine if Mond was legitimately concerned such a thing could have happened, in direct contradiction of the values of UNIGOV’s so-called sapiens, or if Mond was just playing along with the scenario. However even crippled and far removed from his home territory, Mond’s face was as placid as freshly cooled obsidian. So Carrington admitted, “We haven’t seen a ship, no.”
“Then what exactly have you seen that makes you think only an official response from UNIGOV could explain it?”
“One of our landing groups was attacked earlier today.”
“Impossible.” Mond replied quickly and decisively enough that Carrington was sure he believed it. So far Mond had proved to believe a lot of bullshit, so Carrington wasn’t about to take his denial at face value.
“You don’t think our landing group was attacked, then?
“It could have been attacked any number of zealous but misguided people who have lapsed into martian behavior as a result of the stress and uncertainty your recent landings have brought on,” Mond mused. “I cannot imagine it is the result of an official response.”
“Isn’t the purpose of your ‘Schrodinger’s Book’ to insure that people aren’t exposed to any information that could prompt such a response?”
There was a long, uncomfortable silence then Mond admitted, “That is true. However, we weren’t even remotely prepared for your return to Earth much less your destruction of structures in orbit or on the ground. When last I heard there were entire cities where your interventions were public knowledge.”
So UNIGOV’s information control wasn’t as total as they liked to pretend. That wasn’t surprising, although the reports they’d received from the ground seemed pretty convinced of the iron clad nature of Earth’s Ministry of Truth. Then again, the experiences of three grounded spacers and two natives they’d captured along the way wasn’t a large sample size. “Regardless, we can be pretty sure this wasn’t the actions of a handful of independent actors. All signs point to this being part of a centralized response.”
“You can’t know that,” Mond insisted.
“They reactivated a fusion reactor just north of Anaheim,” Carrington pointed out. “We’re still detecting an active magnetic signature from it. I doubt you let anyone boot up a reactor that can power half a city.”
“Of course not, but turning on a reactor is hardly an act of aggression. Not even the old martians thought that.”
“Aren’t you curious about what they did with the reactor once it was running?”
Mond hesitated, as if he was looking for the hook that lay behind the question. “No,” he said, dragging the word out. “But I don’t think I benefit from listening to a story about that kind of naked hostility.”
“What if it’s an action that wasn’t intended to be hostile, but we’ve misinterpreted?” Carrington pulled a display screen out of the belt of his shipboard slops. “While I’m pretty sure it was an attack launched by UNIGOV there is a lot about your civilization we don’t know. A problem you haven’t been helping with, by the way.”
After studying the inactive display for a moment Mond finally shrugged and said, “Very well, Admiral. Since you think it’s so important I’ll ask – how was it you think you were attacked?”
Carrington signaled his AI and had it replay the transmissions of Starstream squadron along with telescopic footage of the fighters breaking down taken from the Principia and the Remus. Mond’s expression grew increasingly strained as it went on. Once it was done Carrington said, “We believe Starstream encountered what we refer to as a diassembler field. It’s a kind of wide scale, weaponized nanotechnology that requires huge amounts of energy and very specialized programming to create. I don’t believe it could be built or deployed without the knowledge of UNIGOV.”
“No. You’re quite right.” Mond started to rub the bridge of his nose then stopped and scowled at his prosthetic hand, displeased with the feel of it. “Your disassembler field was created by a separatist faction about sixty years ago. We called it the Light of Mars.”
It struck Carrington as humorous that UNIGOV had such a poetic name for one of the weapons they supposedly detested so much. “What happened to these separatists?”
“They were put into shutdown and their research and stockpiles were turned over to the Environmental Restoration Bureau.” Carrington had to think for a moment to sort through the gobbledygook. If he was right Mond was saying UNIGOV put the separatists into medically induced comas, hooked their brains into a computer and left their work in an abandoned city to rot. Mond wasn’t finished. “In order to recreate that research in such a short period of time the Directorate would have to have drawn some of those separatists out of shutdown.”
“You weren’t interested in their research at all?”
“No. Most of UNIGOV’s research efforts at the time were focused on improvements to the medical systems and recycling advanced polymers. Large scale construction projects like those the Light of Mars was originally intended for were nowhere in the five or fifty year plans at the time.”
So there were separatist movements on Earth after all. Perhaps that wasn’t too surprising. Something had reduced the population of the planet below five billion in the two centuries since Departure and zealous pogroms against UNIGOV’s political opposition certainly explained part of it. And it raised an interesting question. “Is it possible some part of that separatist group escaped and is living in or around the city of Anaheim?”
Mond shook his head. “The New Martian Front was based in the city of Sarajevo and was never that large. I was part of the cleanup project and I’m quite confident we rounded up all the important leaders and researchers. Even if a few of the rank and file did escape no one has emigrated from Europe to America in decades.”
“No one has moved from one continent to another in the last sixty years?” Carrington found that hard to believe. “Why not?”
“We have very good communication technology, Admiral. We don’t need to be physically around other people in order to enjoy their company. Why traumatize the environment with needless travel when we can already speak to one another at will and manufacture anything we need via nanotechnology? Contment is a sapiens virtue. We don’t need to cross the planet just to say we did it. I know that you martians don’t share that ideal but we do try to make the best of our own situation rather than continually imposing our difficulties on others.”
Once again, Mond managed take a normal human behavior and make it exclusive to his own cadre. Carrington controlled his urge to tear into him for it. There were more important issues at hand. “To be clear, Mr. Mond, do you now believe Starstream squadron was, in fact, attacked on the orders of UNIGOV?”
“I would hardly call it an attack,” Mond objected. “While it’s distasteful, the Light of Mars is essentially a construction tool. If they hadn’t trespassed in Earth airspace they wouldn’t have accidentally stumbled across it.”
Carrington felt his cool starting to slip and struggled to hold on to it. “Mr. Mond, you may believe that it doesn’t make you aggressive or hostile to place a hazard in the path of people you dislike but where I come from, where we think quite a bit about violence towards each other, it does. Furthermore, ever since my fleet arrived in orbit Earth has disregarded all known laws of space. You didn’t have navigation relays on station, you destroyed one of my ships or allowed it to be destroyed by negligently leaving hundreds of unmanned, automated weapons stations in orbit and on the ground with no warning of their presence and you’ve refused all attempts to establish peaceable communications. To say nothing of the summary execution of a prisoner in custody which you, yourself, are responsible for.”
The last bit Mond at least had the decency to be ashamed of. “Admiral-”
Carrington cut him off with a chopping of his hand. “I’m sorry, Mr. Mond. I’ve been patient and done my best to balance the desires of UNIGOV with my own orders and the desires of the worlds I represent. But the actions – and targeted inactions – of UNIGOV have made it very clear to me that they do not want peaceable communication. Now they are attacking my ships even as we try to avoid direct confrontation. You leave me no choice but to inform you that, as of this moment, UNIGOV and the Triad Worlds are at war. I’ve consulted with the commanders of the other world’s delegations within the fleet and we are in agreement on this. If there’s any way for you to communicate that reality to your fellows on planet please inform me and we’ll arrange for anything you need to facilitate that message, short of your release. Otherwise…” He sighed. “Well, diplomatic channels were never open to begin with so I suppose they can’t be cut off.”
Mond stared at him for a long moment, bewildered. “What is the point of telling me this?”
“Because…” Carrington drew the word out as he struggled to reign in his temper. “We have found that talking before violence is the best way to avoid it, even if it’s not likely.”
“Oh.” Mond looked surprised. “I didn’t think avoiding violence was a martian priority.”
“Of course not.” Carrington strode off the observation deck, passing Mond’s guards as he did. “Take Director Mond back to his room.”
The two men nodded and ushered the Director away, leaving the deck empty but for the distant light of Earth.
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