The suite was smaller than the one Jazmynde assigned Mara. The lights were a dim amber, the color of a setting sun. Mara sat cross-legged on the floor, back resting on a couch. She was dressed in a “fat suit” – a weighted, full-bodied, white unitard that helped people acclimate to lighter gravity environments. Two comfortable chairs flanked her.
Mara held a small metallic box in front of her. It looked cobbled together and rough, wires and boards peeking out of the improvised white casing. The wires led to the far right wall. The panels on the wall close to the floor were removed, allowing a tight space for Mara to crawl through.
“So,” Jazmynde said, “You rigged the door to your suite to open only on your command, triggered the vacuum seal, then…”
Jazmynde walked further into the room, knelt, and peaked through the hole in the wall.
“… then created a tunnel through the rooms, used the wiring to maintain remote control within your own suite, undoubtedly hid the exits very well, and set up camp in a room where people might overlook you. Do you have full control of all of the cameras in this residence wing?”
“Internal and external.”
Jazmynde nodded. “Did you put your own actions in your room on a randomized loop?”
“Well, by my order we were not spying on you. But if we were, we’d notice something if the person was no longer wandering around their room. Create a number of scenes of you walking past the camera but never lingering. Learn the blind spots. Then once you gain control over the video systems, compile a randomized video of you wandering around the room and loop that. We’d eventually discover it, but it would’ve bought you more time.”
Mara smiled slightly. “I wish I would have thought of that.”
Jazmynde shrugged. “I am sure it would have come to you.”
“Don’t patronize me,” Mara said.
“So how did you know to look for me here so soon?” Mara asked.
“You set up a wonderful puzzle with that door. It could have taken me hours to figure out how to open it. Those doors – they’re built to withstand explosive decompression. They’re tough. We could have spent a long time trying to get it open or to burn through it.”
“But you didn’t.”
Jazmynde nodded. “I didn’t.”
Jazmynde smiled slightly. “I didn’t come to figure out the problem with the door. I came to figure out you.”
“And that room, any room with a barricade, is a trap. You know that the door would be opened eventually, and then what? I know you well enough to know that you’re not that short-sighted. The door was just there to delay us; buy you time to find another bolt hole. None of the guards saw you exit the corridor and the vents are far too small for you to fit through. But there are other rooms. You could hide out there.”
“Yes,” Mara said flatly.
“It was still short-sighted, Mara.”
Mara stared at Jazmynde silently, her face a mask.
“What would you have eventually done?” Jazmynde asked. “Where is there to run to? You can’t steal a ship. You cannot hide in some cargo hold; they don’t have an atmosphere. You wouldn’t survive hiding in a storage container; most aren’t radiation shielded and the ones that we use are heavily scrutinized. You cannot leave the moon let alone the system. Did you think you would be a ghost in the system here? That we’d eventually forget the ‘Defender of Io?’ We would have found you and placed you in a cell. That would be a ridiculous waste.”
“A waste of me?”
Jazmynde nodded. “And of time. You don’t belong in a cell, you belong on a pedestal.”
“Apparently I have no say in wherever I belong,” Mara grumbled.
“Do any of us? Do you mind if I sit?”
“It’s your place,” Mara answered.
“It belongs to neither of us.”
Mara nodded. “Ah, everything belongs to your Leader. Is there anything at all that belongs to you?”
‘Your Leader,’ Jazmynde noted, then said, “My thoughts belong to me, and if I thought that that couch knew what I was thinking, I would set it on fire.”
Jazmynde sighed and let the silence pass between them. “I slightly regret interrupting your progress,” She said. “I would love to see what you could create uninterrupted.”
Mara looked away.
Jazmynde nodded. “I bet you thought that couch knew what you were thinking, you would set fire to it too, Mara.”
“Common ground,” Jazmynde said, then smiled.
“Not so…” Mara started, then stopped.
Mara remained silent.
“I encourage honesty.”
“I bet you do,” Mara said evenly.
Mara sighed testily. “Am I to exchange pleasantries with my conqueror?”
“I don’t care what Wilhelm or your Leader claims,” Mara growled, “I know you were the one responsible for the fall of Io.”
“I will accept that,” Jazmynde said. “Io was taken with a far less bloodshed than what Wilhelm intended. That there was bloodshed in the first place was because Wilhelm insisted on his methods first. He wanted a victory.”
Mara whispered angrily.
“Speak up!” Jazmynde snapped.
“I would gladly bleed that pig until his squeals dried up.”
Jazmynde nodded. “Get in line. If he had his way by the end, we would have glassed the entire moon and started over.”
“So you’re claiming that you saved my life? Am I supposed to be grateful now? How do I thank my conqueror?”
“I conquered no one,” Jazmynde sighed.
“Sophistry,” Mara said.
Mara laughed. “And what would the conqueror’s witch know about truth?”
Jazmynde sighed and shook her head. “That, again.”
“It is how you are known, Jazmynde. Yumi supplies, Wilhelm kills, and you? You are your Leader’s soothsayer.”
“His strategist,” Jazmynde retorted.
“His witch. That is how everyone sees you. Everyone understands your Leader and Wilhelm, most people understand Yumi, but no one understands you. Io the unconquerable, conquered after three messages from the witch. Venus the mighty, conquered after two lone visits from the witch, Ceres, a vital military launch point, surrenders to the witch personally after four days.”
“None of which are due to mystical forces,” Jazmynde said calmly. “All of which are the result of talking with practical people. Pioneers all have this in common: we are independent, we are iconoclasts, and we are practical.”
Mara waved her hand. “Regardless, Jazmynde, am I to let my guard down here with the woman who stole my home away?”
“Your home? Citizens of Io have the shortest lifespan of any colony or campus out there. Shorter than the poor research sods at Caloris Planitia. Everywhere else was built for research or some other scientific endeavor. Io was built to mine by a corporation that wanted to funnel as few resources as possible to keep you alive. Io was a dump and it wasn’t slated for improvement. Another woman your age from, say, the Hellas Basin will statistically live at least ten years longer than you. And this is with essentially the same diet. We rescued you.”
Mara laughed sardonically. “Well, thank you for your bottomless kindness.”
‘My grandmotherly kindness,’ Jazmynde thought to herself. She said, “I am not going to pretend it was done because of altruism. We needed all four Jovian moons to solidify our hold here. There could be no outliers, especially one as large as Io. There was no way you were going to be left alone.”
Mara’s eyes narrowed angrily. “Why take over the Jovian system to begin with? I don’t see the point of anything your Leader is doing.”
“I am not going to bore you with a recital of the broadcasted reasons this is happening; unity, progress, whatever. As with nearly all things, the truth is more than what is being said.”
“So I know the reasons your Leader says he is doing this. Why are you?”
“Why am I…”
“Why are you doing this? Why are you helping your Leader?”
Jazmynde smirked. “Remember what I would do to that couch if I thought it know what I was thinking? I’d do it to people too.”
“You’d have no problems killing someone? Me?”
“I would have no end to objections about killing anyone needlessly. Let’s just say I have my own reasons, as does everyone. Does Wilhelm serve the Leader willingly because he is selfless? Does Yumi provide his armies with sustenance because she only wants to serve the Leader?”
Jazmynde leaned forward. “Everyone has multiple motivations for what they do. It’s common, and it’s meaningless. You will drive yourself mad trying to figure out all of the motivations people have for whatever they do. And usually, those motivations are justifications after the fact. They are people shooting an arrow and painting a bullseye around it. The key is you can reduce any motivation to the most basic need: fear and the ease of fear.”
Mara looked away.
“You are frightened, Mara, this is obvious.” Jazmynde looked around the room. “Why else do all of this? You are seeking to defend yourself from an invasion that has already finished. You are sitting in a suite on the moon of your enemy, trying to figure out how to win your previous battle.”
Mara sighed. Jazmynde finally saw Mara at that moment: a frightened woman seeking to master herself in the midst of the people who stole her home.
“Mara, I am not your jailer.”
“Yet you are the only one here who has all the keys.”
Jazmynde nodded and stared at Mara, her face settling into determination. “I did it. I took your home. I am replacing it with a far safer place than the place you knew, but yes: your place is gone forever, and I did that. My motivations don’t matter. What matters is we did it with a minimum of bloodshed and the result will be a far safer and healthier environment for the survivors.”
“Tell that to the dead.”
“I am not that kind of witch.”
“The dead are dead,” Jazmynde said. “That they cannot join us is heartbreaking, but they cannot be an excuse to avoid change.”
“And you cannot build a society on their corpses.”
“That is how all societies are built,” Jazmynde said. “Societies are coral reefs. We build upon the calcified dead.”
Jazmynde sighed. “Unfortunately, yes. So far. There have been glimpses of other ways.”
Mara frowned. “What other ways?”
“Peaceful societies. There are historical precedences, but those societies don’t last long. Perhaps there are ways to build better than the dead have before. Perhaps I would like to find a way.”
“What do you want from me, Jazmynde?”
“I want you to help us.”
“I refuse to serve.”
“Then don’t,” Jazmynde said. “Build.”
“I refuse to conquer others.”
“Then protect. Build campuses and colonies that cannot be assaulted. Protect what people you can.”
Mara nodded slightly. “I will need to think on that.”
Jazmynde stood up. “You don’t have forever to decide, but I will give you time. Move forward with me, Mara. Build unassailable homes for humanity. Save this system from future Wilhelms.”
“And future Leaders,” Mara added.
Jazmynde said nothing in response.
Jazmynde woke up with another slight boost of adrenaline. She sat up and removed her IVs. She looked at the readout. She was in a deceleration orbit around Saturn. Her ship was barely skimming the edge of Saturn’s atmosphere to slow down the ship for an approach to Titan.
She sat up, wiggled her toes, then her feet, her ankles, and on up. She ran her hands through her white hair, now longer and unkempt from the long sleep. She was seventeen hours outside of Titan. It was time to start broadcasting her courier codes. It was her best chance to get within Titan unassailed.
She was glad the trip was fairly uneventful. There was always a risk traveling interplanetary distances.
Even better: Jazmynde knew what she could offer. She found the key to Mara.