Chapter Three: Factions
Sydney, Australia, the capital of the Terran Confederacy and the center of humanity’s diplomatic universe, was fifteen point one light years away from the anarchist planet Bakunin.
Only fifteen point one light years.
Dimitri Olmanov, the head of the Terran Executive Command and the human embodiment of all the political and military power within the Confederacy, could remember a time when fifteen point one light years wasn’t an “only.”
Dimitri was a hundred and sixty years old, patched together with all the technology at the Confederacy’s disposal— all the non heretical technologies, at least.
He sat in a small room halfway up the giant Confederacy spire. Ambrose, his bodyguard, stood at parade rest a half step behind and to the right of Dimitri’s chair. The room was a lushly appointed waiting area, all wood and plants, indirect lighting, and oil paintings instead of landscape holos.
The room didn’t need a landscape holo. One window filled the entire eastern wall. From his red leather chair, Dimitri had a panoramic view of the Pacific ocean, a view from five hundred meters up. From here he could trace the shallows and the depths with his eyes. The horizon seemed infinitely far.
Infinity’s a long way,Dimitri thought, when fifteen light years seems close.
For the first fifty years of Dimitri’s life, fifteen light years wasn’t just far. It was fifteen years standard worth of time. The late unlamented Terran Council had used manufactured wormholes to link star systems together, wormholes that were, for all practical purposes, one way. That didn’t concern the Terran Council, since they used the wormholes to dispose of criminals, dissidents, refugees, and eventually, any excess population the Terran bureaucracy could get away with.
Travel was instantaneous for the traveler, who’d end up fifteen light years away. But the traveler would see a universe aged fifteen years beyond the start of his journey.
Theoretically, someone couldtravel the wrong way down a wormhole and end up in their own past. However, the Terran Council had a policy of executing anything and anyone that came out the wrong end of a wormhole. The Council had no desire to deal with interference from a chaotically indeterminate future.
Dimitri had seen the Council crumble when the first tach ships were built. The possibility of two way travel between the stars had ended the Terran Council’s domination and gave rise to the Confederacy. The Confederacy that Dimitri had been trying to hold together for the last eleven decades.
Now, over a century after the first tach ships were built, that fifteen light year journey had shortened to the point where a military transport could clear the distance in twenty one days standard. The speed of tach ship transportation was closing on the speed of tachyon transmissions themselves. The standard tach comm link, one that had been in use even when humans traveled the realspace void in sub light ships, could clear that sixteen light year distance in less than a week.
That was, in fact, what Dimitri was waiting for.
A planet based tach comm message took nearly as much energy to send as a real ship. They were reserved for messages of diplomacy and intelligence gathering. And while incoming messages would be received by his subordinates and filter their essentials up to him, Dimitri sent many outgoing messages himself, as a reminder of the resources he was using.
This waiting room was for use of the diplomatic corps, representatives of the seventy five plus planets forming the Confederacy. The tach comm was seeing a lot of use lately. It was closing in on the date of the 11th decannual Terran Congress, the nearly year long legislative session for the entire Confederacy.
The tach transmitter wasn’t here, of course. This was only the ground based uplink. The transmitter was one of a dozen in orbit. Dimitri would record his message here and have it transmitted up to one of the tach comm ships, who would relay it once their orbit brought them in line with BD+50°1725, the dim red star Bakunin orbited.
The natives had named the star Kropotkin. Dimitri supposed it was an improvement over the original.
One of the techs opened an oak door and said, “We’re ready for you, sir.”
Dimitri leaned on his cane and forced himself to stand. It was a strain. The weight on his joints ached, especially in Earth’s gravity. Dimitri didn’t say anything. His bodyguard, Ambrose, didn’t appreciate Dimitri’s comments on mortality. Three quarters of Ambrose’s brain, and only slightly less of the rest of his body, was artificial. Cybernetics had been grafted on to what had been a piece of human wreckage, programming the malleable remains to be a perfect bodyguard.
Not enough of Ambrose’s brain was computer to trespass on the AI taboo. But enough of it was to make the remaining human mind uncomfortable when Dimitri’s speech conflicted with the programs in Ambrose’s skull.
“Come, Ambrose,” Dimitri said.
Ambrose followed. He’d follow if Dimitri had said nothing.
Dimitri walked behind the tech, through the door, and into the private comm suite. The sound proofed room was a stark black cube with an unremarkable holo comm sitting in the center. The tech who’d brought them here let the door whoosh shut on Dimitri and Ambrose.
Dimitri could have recorded his message and had someone else beam it up to the tach transmitter, but this was arguably more secure.
He sat in front of the terminal and felt the relief in his joints. “The weight is going to crush me, Ambrose.”
“Sir?” Ambrose took a step to help him and Dimitri waved him away. Ambrose didn’t understand metaphors.
“Not my weight. The weight of years, of lives, of accumulated evils.”
Ambrose looked relieved. “As you say, sir.” His conversational gambits were limited.
Dimitri switched on the holo and prepared his transmission to Colonel Klaus Dacham, the commander of the TEC’s Operation Rasputin, the project on Bakunin. Dimitri had timed this transmission as tightly as he could. The six TEC Observation platforms that Dimitri had sent to Bakunin space twenty one days ago would be arriving now. The Executive Command Observers were small, stealthy, tach capable ships crammed with sensory apparatus that could resolve a planet down to the square meter. The platforms would be a welcome asset to Colonel Dacham’s operation.
That wasn’t why Dimitri had sent them.
Soon after this communication reached Bakunin, other ships would begin arriving in the system. The TEC Observation platforms were a deterrent. This tach comm was a warning.
This is also a test, Dimitri thought, a test for Klaus and his brother.
A few kilometers away from Dimitri Olmanov and the central hive of the Confederacy, a man named Jonah Dacham sat in a bar deep within Sydney’s non-human district.
Jonah was still fresh from a nine year exile on Mars, and he was here, in this bar, to begin to salvage the mess that his namesake— fifteen light-years away on the planet Bakunin— didn’t even know he was in yet.
Meeting in this place had been Francesca Hernandez’s idea. Jonah thought it was supposed to make him nervous. In fact, the surrounding fur, growls and inscrutable expressions made him feel less nervous than did the crowds of people in the Confederacy’s capital city.
He had spent near a decade in isolation on Mars, and while three weeks on Earth had acclimated him to the gravity, he knew it would take him much longer to acclimate to what passed as normal humanity.
Jonah had been surprised to find that there was, in fact, a large nonhuman population on Earth. He had thought that all remnants of genetic engineering had been exiled by the Terran Council during the Wars of Unification. Apparently, enough engineered creatures thought of Earth as “home” to have a substantial number emigrate back after the fall of the Council and the rise of the Confederacy.
As Jonah waited for his contact, he still thought that the creatures around him, feline, lepine, canine, were the minority of their kind. Most of the exiled nonhuman population of Earth had never come back. They stayed on the planets they had, The Seven Worlds, the smallest and most xenophobic arm of the Confederacy. Until this year, in fact, the Seven Worlds had almost been completely absent from Confederacy politics.
Absent until now.
For the 11th Confederacy Congress, the Seven Worlds would have a representative to sit along with the four other arms of the Confederacy— the People’s Protectorate of Epsilon Indi, the Sirius Eridani Economic Community, the Union of Independent Worlds, and the Centauri Alliance.
Those four arms represented seventy six planets, when you counted probationers. The Seven Worlds had sent onerepresentative to sit with seventy six others, Francesca Hernandez from the planet Grimalkin, the person Jonah was here to meet.
Jonah waited, barely touching his beer. It was a good place to meet, even with the smell of fur and animal musk, even with the patrons eyeing him predatory with slitted pupils. Jonah doubted either Dimitri or his equivalents in the four human arms of the Confederacy would have any ears here.
Finally, Hernandez showed. She was a lithe feline creature, a head taller than most humans. She wore a belt over her spotted yellow fur, and nothing else. That in itself marked her, even in a bar full of her fellows. All the others here had some sort of token clothing.
As she slid into the booth with him, Jonah found it hard to believe that she was the descendant of an archaic 21st century experiment and not the result of a more natural evolution. On second thought, Jonah realized that in a way, she was. During the exile period, the number of species that the geneticists had created was on the order of ten thousand. Jonah didn’t know, but he suspected that the number of species in the Seven Worlds had dropped below a hundred. The bad designs had all died out.
“I apologize for my tardiness.” The diction was of one who was still mastering the language. The accent was rumbling and honey-coated. Not a human voice.
You’re testing me. Seeing if I really want to deal with your people.“Not a problem. I’m not worried about time. Only timing.”
Jonah had a computer in his skull to keep track of time, to keep accurate dates. However, because of the nature of time over interstellar distances, he had still needed to reference the date when he had finally arrived on Earth after his nine year wait. According to his knowledge of events, it was about six Bakunin weeks— eight weeks Earth local— since 435 megagrams of hard currency had been stolen from the basement of Godwin Arms & Armaments.
His doppelgänger would be in Godwin, Bakunin’s largest city, preparing the takeover of Bleek Munitions.
Proudhon spaceport was about to be closed to outbound traffic.
Warships from all corners of the Confederacy were about to converge.
And, in the desert east of the Diderot Mountains, a place called the Ashley Commune, populated by over fifty thousand people, was about to cease to exist.
Thinking of Ashley made Jonah think of Tetsami.
He brought himself back to the here and now. Nothing was going to change on Bakunin. He was here because he had fifty-nine days left before the situation became hopeless, and a very short window within those fifty-nine days where he could affect the outcome.
“Timing,” Jonah repeated.
“Timing, yes. I sent the outline of your proposal in a tach comm to Tau Ceti as soon as you presented it to me.”
“So do you have an answer?”
She shook her head. “We have no diplomatic compound on Earth. Therefore, no truly secure tach communications. Even what little I coded to the capital was too sensitive for debate over the Confederacy’s devices.”
Jonah did what he could to conceal his disappointment. “So what now?”
“As I told you, I have no authority to commit all Seven Worlds to your proposal. So Tau Ceti is sending someone who can, another representative to the Congress.”
She shook her head. “That was also too sensitive to trust to the Confederacy’s comm. They will be here in forty days standard.”
“Forty days?” That was cutting things awful close. The Terran Congress would have already started its session. Jonah damned the Seven Worlds’ slow ships. He also damned the xenophobia that kept their power brokers away from the Congress. He managed to maintain good grace about it. “Then I must wait,” he said.
“Then you must.”
Jonah stood and held his hand out. His right hand, which was a crude biomechanical device, its chromed finish scarred and pitted from years of wear. He held it out in the same sort of psychological test that Hernandez had intended by meeting him here.
Hernandez shook it.