Jazmynde awoke with a start and looked around the room. No alarms were blaring, but something triggered her wake routine. A small jolt of adrenaline was pumped into her while she was sleeping; she could still feel the subcutaneous chemical burn.
Her eyes blearily adjusted to the dim amber lights, bathing the circular white room in a soft glow. She carefully removed the IV and sat up. she wiggled her toes, then feet, then legs, getting her blood moving again. There was no telling how long she was out.
She sighed and looked at the readouts above her head, then summoned an information dump. Readouts containing scans and her position with the system flashed in front of her. A quick scan showed that she wasn’t anywhere near Titan.
She stood shakily, the minimal gravity barely holding her to the floor, then carefully made her way to her terminal for more detailed information. After the initial handshake, she blinked her eyes a few times until she could see the illusion of a display in front of her.
All systems checked out. No collisions. She was just past the orbit of Jupiter with another nine days to go until she was in Saturn’s system. Every system came up green.
“It must be news or messages,” she muttered, then brought up her feeds.
She cursed loudly.
RSIU VVSG1UNIDENT UU MSHL
CALLEDRR TSPND CALLSIGN_SRDMARISTOTLE
R 160304 APR STNDRD CRDL
YUMI/WILHELM: MERGER PROCEED – MARRIAGE ANNOUNCEMENT
YUMI/WILHELM: MARSHALL JAZMYNDE DECLARED DEAD – HUNT FOR MURDERER
YUMI/WILHELM: MARSHALL MARA DECLARED ASSASSIN OF MARSHALL JAZMYNDE/ENEMY OF STATE
She hid the message and growled. She hadn’t counted on Yumi and Wilhelm coming together. This meant that Jazmynde was flying into a potential war zone. So far as she knew, Titan was on war-footing and an invasion of the moon was already on the way. This felt like Yumi’s doing. She was a planner. Wilhelm could only plan for whatever was right in front of him.
“Think,” Jazmynde muttered. “The date… this was sent on April 16th. That was five days ago.”
She brought up a map of the Solar System and looked at the relative positions between Mars and Saturn. Jazmynde would arrive at Titan long before any kind of fleet could, assuming they would dare send something against Mara.
“Wilhelm will dare,” Jazmynde muttered. He never thought much of defensive positions, mainly because he had taken most of the other settlements, colonies, and cities with ease.
Everywhere, save Io.
Jazmynde knew how much that would influence Wilhelm’s desire to attack Mara. They only took Io after bribery and betrayal – in other words, through Jazmynde’s intervention, not Wilhelm’s costly assaults. Mara enraged him. Somewhere under his immense ego, he saw Mara as the only person who defeated him utterly.
“He’ll do everything he can to crush her,” she said. Then it hit Jazmynde. She wondered if they really thought she was dead.
And was she right in her assumptions? She had been wrong in her guesses so far. Was she operating on bad data? Or worse, from her own wishes?
She sighed. “I’m a tool now, not a craftsman,” she said. Jazmynde’s flight locked her into a single path for survival. Her options for the first time in a very long time were limited and predictable.
“Time to recalculate, not to despair,” she muttered. “Review what we know, not what we assume.”
Jazmynde stood up uncertainly. Although it was impossible to feel, she could sense her spinning as the Universe wheeled around her.
When she was a child on larger open-cabin centrifugal ships, she practiced tossing a pen in the air just lightly enough to reach the weightless pocket in the middle of the spin. People could always tell where she had been by the telltale pens floating in the air while people walked underneath. No amount of yelling or begging by her mom could stop her.
Jazmynde laughed lightly and smiled at the memory, then sat cross-legged on the ground. She felt her muscles stretch and complain from disuse, but sat in a lotus position anyway. Her aches faded as she sank into thought. “This will require delicate tossing,” she said. “I must not overthink this.”
“Wilhelm is an egotist,” she started. “Even when he defers to someone, he prefers to think of himself as selflessly deferring to someone lesser than him rather than actually considering what that other person has to offer. He wants other people to know that he’s being reasonable. He will rage if directly disagreed with, and he expects others to bend to him. He wants to be loved and feared, and cannot figure out why people cannot do both.
“Yumi is a provider, but she’s no less of an egotist. She spends a lot of time worrying that others will overlook her contributions to any endeavor. She knows that she is probably more important than Wilhelm in war, but is terrified that no one else will see this. As such, she is jealous of her position and cannot stand being in the shadows. She needs people to see her as able and brilliant.”
The only time Jazmynde ever saw Yumi become physically violent was when Wilhelm once said, “I am a warrior, and you, Yumi… you are a lunch lady.”
Jazmynde stopped. Mara was still a locked door to Jazmynde. There was no key that Jzamynde could think of.
“Mara says as little as she can, expresses as little as possible, seems distracted or bored, as if she would rather be anywhere other than where she is at any given moment. And she is a genius engineer.”
There was a key there somewhere, there had to be.
Jazmynde sighed and stood unsteadily, too agitated to sit for long. “Everyone confesses who they are,” she said. “Everyone is dying to express who they really are if you just know how to look. Everyone wishes others to understand who they are. Wilhelm is a simpleton, Yumi considers herself subtle but requires the constant reassurance that a narcissist craves – the external confirmation that they are as wonderful as they think they are. Even the Leader was easy to read once you had the cipher. They all loudly confessed their core, but Mara…
“She has her own army that is fanatically devoted to her,” Jazmynde recounted. “How does a blank slate like that create such loyalty? I thought I was able to get that kind of loyalty until Iaian…”
Jazmynde choked a little. It was too near and too painful. She had no time to think of it – she had rushed out of her home so quickly. “No time,” she said. “Later.”
Jazmynde called up the message again, reading it carefully and thinking of Wilhelm and Yumi together. “There is a fault line there somewhere,” she muttered. “There’s a breaking point. That is not a stable pairing. Wilhelm isn’t a long-term planner and Yumi is too prideful to be Misses Wilhelm. What was it Wilhelm once said? There can only be one sun? There is no way either will settle for less in the long term. They will kill each other once they are certain that their usefulness has ended, and because they both love drama, they will do it in as tragic an ‘accident’ as they can create. Either could be a very useful corpse to the other.”
But Mara… Mara felt unbreakable.
“And if I wreck Wilhelm and Yumi, only to unleash Mara upon all of us? What would that society be like? I need to see what Titan is like. I have my own plan. The key is letting no one else know that I have one.”
She smiled to herself, suddenly sure. “I did the right thing, running,” she said to herself. “It was a reaction, not an action – but useful. They won’t suspect a fearful, lonely woman. They’ll expect someone grateful and pliable. Let them see an old woman running from danger. They mustn’t see an angry woman charging at them.”
She was certain of one thing: Mara had to have some inkling of Jazmynde’s goals. No one else could’ve figured things out, but if anyone could, Mara could.
Would Mara be allowed to live? “Did I suckle a viper when I recruited her,” Jazmynde asked herself. She had no desire to kill Mara, but then she had no desire to kill anyone. Anyone who died by her actions were necessary casualties to save even more people. It was something her teachings called her “grandmotherly kindnesses.”
There was something else Jazmynde knew: if she didn’t have something to offer Mara by the time she arrived, she would spend her entire time there as a well-kept prisoner. Perhaps it was Jazmynde’s pride: she had to be an equal, not a supplicant.
“I need more ideas, more sleep,” Jazmynde muttered. She walked to her bed and lay down, replacing the IVs in her arm and re-adjusting the delicate chemical balance.
“More data…” she muttered. She settled in for one more week of dreams.
THE CONQUEROR’S WITCH