Her ship twirled, giving the illusion of a light but comfortable gravity. It was a month-long trip out to Titan in a ship for one. The ship was huge by flight-founder standards, but tiny compared to what Jazmynde was used to. It would be a long and lonely flight out, with no Jupiter in the way to give her a boost in speed.
She would have to spend the time sleeping. Too much isolation would drive anyone insane, even people who appreciate their solitude.
Jazmynde sighed and prepared her chambers. There was just a touch of hallucinogenics in her fluids; not enough to trigger a massive hallucination, but enough to lend sharpness and depth to her dreams.
She hoped to get good use out of her time asleep. She hoped to remember whatever clues she missed about Mara.
She lay down in her bunk, the stars whirling around her displays. There were no windows, only readouts. Windows represented a structural weakness and she wanted this ship built for metaphorical rough weather. She stripped down naked and sat on the bed, adjusting her IVs.
Her ship was small enough to evade attention. Her communications were set to receive only, and sensors were down to a minimum. The ship was painted dark to leave as small an albedo as possible. Magnetic shielding was up to repel micrometeorites and the solar wind, but not so strong as to leave an obvious blip. Her ship was not invisible but was as close to it as they could design.
She had her system designed to awaken her with little injections of adrenaline if something happened – some object came within 500,000km or if some sets of keywords were found in the news broadcasts.
She laid down and closed her eyes, brushing her hair out of her face. She remembered her yoga training and slowed her metabolism, then felt herself merge into her memories.
FIVE MONTHS BEFORE THE DEATH OF THE LEADER
“We have won our place in the system thanks to Earth’s indulgence and bottomless laziness,” Jazmynde argued.
“Earth’s fear, more like,” Wilhelm said. “They’ve sat back and watched as we’ve taken over every base and settlement on all of the other planets and dwarf planets as far out as Makemake.”
They were at Europa deep in the Tidal ocean, sitting comfortably inside the Leader’s main colony, Atlantis. They were meeting inside a large, comfortable room separated out from most of the administrative wing, close to the main meeting hall where the Leader held court. The room was brightly lit in a warm off-white glow, the walls displaying a holographic seascape. There was a large conference table, mahogany and glossy, sitting in the middle.
Wilhelm stood, passionate as ever, arms crossed, staring angrily at Jazmynde and Yumi. Mara sat off to the side, feet on the table, distractedly sketching on a tablet.
Jazmynde shook her head. “There is nothing to fear from us so far as they are concerned,”
“So much the better then!” Wilhelm said. “Our troops are the terror of this system. We have conquered more territory than anyone in history.”
Jazmynde laughed. “Have you seen our territory? Irradiated wastelands, utterly hostile to life. We have taken moons and planets, all of which cannot support a single blade of grass without heavy intervention.”
“We have the best-trained corps of troops that history has ever seen.”
“Which means nothing at all.”
Wilhelm pounded his fist on the table. “You dare to…”
“Calm down,” Yumi said softly.
Wilhelm stepped back. “Explain yourself then, Jazzy.”
Jazmynde’s eyes narrowed. “Certainly, Billy. Yes, our troops are great – for their environment. Have any of them actually been born on Earth? No? One G would crush them. The quick, slashing movements you love to employ? Slowed, blunted. Even our troops trained on Venus – the gravity is lighter there too. Earth has the highest gravity of all the rocky worlds out to the Oort cloud. If our troops landed on Earth, they’d get winded pretty quickly. We’d be wheezing our way into the capital.
“All of our attack ships and massive transports are made for space. They are landers, certainly. Some are even adapted for the hellscape that is Venus – for very brief times. We would not own the skies in an invasion. We wouldn’t own the land. We certainly don’t have anything for the oceans. All of our submersibles are in the ocean moons like here and Enceladus, and we have no way to move them even if we wanted to.
“But all of this is moot,” Jazmynde added.
“How so,” Wilhelm growled.
“You don’t win wars with troops or generalship.”
“Try to win a war without them.”
Jazmynde smiled. “History is filled with stories of nations that lost battle after battle and still won their war. Troops win battles. They don’t win wars.”
Wilhelm stared at Jazmynde with rage. “Battles win wars! Are our troops meaningless to you? Tell that to the troops we’ve lost at Boyne Sulci, or Mimas, or at…”
“Spare me the roll call, Billy,” Jazmynde said. “I never said our victories were fruitless and I have never doubted that everything we’ve built on is on their sacrifice. It’s just that there is a huge difference between taking Ceres and invading Earth. The difference is something Yumi there knows all about.”
“Me?” Yumi asked.
“Material,” Jazmynde said. “Wars are won with resources, of which troops are only a part of. Bloodlust is great, the will to conquer is great, but without guns, supplies, ships, food, quarters, stuff like that, you’ve got nothing more than a well-organized fight club. The narrative is that you won the siege at Tharsis Rise, but the person who won that for us was Yumi.”
“So?” Wilhelm asked. “We have supplies in abundance.”
“Earth has supplies we’ve never dreamed of. They have higher gravity which we would find oppressive if not completely unhealthy. They have control of the air, the seas, and the land, and they have unlimited troops. We can muster millions? They have billions. Our little empire exists because Earth can’t be bothered with it. They have their territory, as far as the light side of the moon. If we go after Earth, we’d be poking a sleeping tiger. They infight too much to be any kind of worry for us. But if they united due to something as stupid as an invasion, we’d get chased out of the system. We’d have a few months total reign in the area while Earth reared back its fist, then they would strike and destroy everything we’ve created. Why do you think the leader has kept trade with the Earth a priority in all of this?”
“To lure them into a false sense of security.”
“To keep them off our backs. So long as Earth gets what they want from us, they don’t care what happens out here.”
Wilhelm shook his head. “Then why are we even doing this then? Why are we uniting the colonies? There cannot be a part of the system that is untouchable. We have to unite all of the system, not ‘all except.’ There cannot be more than one sun in the sky.”
“Binary systems are among the most stable and the most common systems in space,” Mara said, still focused on her drawing.
Wilhelm laughed. “The Turtle speaks! As usual, interjecting some odd fact that has no bearing here.”
“She was just completing your metaphor, Wilhelm,” Yumi said. “Saying that a binary system can be stable – that the colonies and the Earth can exist in balance.”
“Then just say so, Mara,” Wilhelm snapped. “I am so sick of your oracular bullshit.”
Mara looked up briefly, her eyes dead and uninterested, then went back to her tablet.
Wilhelm rolled his eyes. “I am just saying that taking Earth is the next – actually, last logical step in our movement to unite humanity. What’s the point in telling everyone that we are uniting humanity if we stay away from our cradle world?”
Jazmynde shook her head. “Why am I having to tell you this? Uniting humanity has nothing to do with what we are doing. That’s a slogan. This is something we are selling to the troops because we cannot state boldly what the Leader really wants.”
Yumi and Wilhelm perked up. Even Mara looked up from her tablet.
‘Too far,’ Jazmynde thought. ‘I have to reel this in and lie.”
“What do you suppose the Leader wants?” Wilhelm asked calmly.
“He wants change,” Jazmynde said. “Uniting humanity… that is a means, not an end. Bringing all of the colonies under one flag – it is meant to free us from the dictums coming from Earth-bound corporations and nations. To allow us to make our own destiny.”
Jazmynde was warming up to the lie. ‘Making it believable lies in believing it‘, Jazmynde reminded herself.
“The Earth has no idea what life is like out here,” Jazmynde continued, “how tough it is, and how much we’ve changed. None of us born out here could live the rest of our lives on Earth, and no Earthling could live out their entire lives out here. We are two different people, and because of the massively different environments we live in, given enough time we will be two different species. This is a diaspora, and the Leader sees this clearly. Earth’s concerns are not ours and vice versa. We could thrive together, but not so long as we were separated into nations and ownership. United, we could talk to Earth as an equal partner and all could prosper. Earth will see that once the war wraps up and we can negotiate. They have raw materials, but they have no production set in a vacuum. We are metals and technology-rich, food-poor. We could form a partnership with Earth.”
Wilhelm waved his hand dismissively. “Partnerships? This is all about partnerships? Negotiations? Trade? You’re not a strategist, Jazzy, you’re a shopkeeper.”
Jazmynde almost blurted out, ‘No, Billy, I’m a babysitter. It is my job to point you to a battle and then tell you how great you are afterward, praising you like a child who has learned to write their name in crayon at school.’
She held back, then said, “Maybe, but I am right. And these are the Leader’s ideas. Would you like to discuss it with him?”
Wilhelm balked. “He’s always welcomed my input. I’ve been able to change his mind before.”
“About tactics, Billy. Tactics. You wish to lecture him about politics now? Economic policy? War aims? A possible end game? I encourage you to do so, provided I can watch.”
Wilhelm narrowed his eyes again. “Perhaps not. I am allowed my ideas, witch.”
“Yes you are,” Jazmynde said evenly. “Even the very bad ones.”
“Friends,” Yumi said, “you are both too energetic. You both have the same aims, you work on the same side, we are all united together under the Leader. This is merely a difference of opinion. Both of you need to step away.”
Jazmynde turned slightly to Yumi but refused to break Wilhelm’s stare. She would not yield. Not this time. Wilhelm was demanding his way too often lately, trying to command everyone around him. He needed to see he could not command her.
“Please?” Yumi asked.
Jazmynde could see it play out in her head, how after this Yumi would calm Wilhelm down by telling him he was right about everything, slowly deflating his tumescent ego until he was “Happy Wilhelm” again. Then she would come to Jazmynde later and do the same. Yumi the supplier – Yummy Yumi – supplying each person what she felt they needed.
And solving nothing.
Wilhelm stuck out his hand. “For myself, I apologize. Not for my ideas, but for how I expressed them,” he said.
‘Always have to be first, don’t you,’ Jazmynde thought.
“My vehemence was unbecoming,” Jazmynde said, taking his hand. “We are both too eager to seize victory.”
Yumi smiled. “See? Not so difficult,” she said, pleased. “I have to talk logistics with Wilhelm now. Tethys beckons. Come, Wilhelm.” She took him by the arm and led him out.
Mara continued sketching.
Jazmynde sighed. There was never much to say to Mara.
“‘The leader wants change,'” Mara quoted. “‘We could form a partnership with Earth.'”
Jazmynde smirked. “Yes?”
Mara looked up, no emotion on her face. She was as inscrutable as a statue. “I love it when you lie, Jazmynde. For some it is survival, for you it is art.”
Jazmynde’s face went neutral. She felt exposed.
“I only hope you know when you are lying,” Mara said. “You can lose yourself in those twists.”
“There are two types of lying,” Jazmynde said. “Lies via creation and lies via omission. I do one, you do the other.”
Mara smiled and her eyes twinkled. “I like you,” she said, then resumed sketching.
Jazmynde left the room in a sudden hurry.