Everything happens for a reason, whether we know what it is or not. Sometimes, the reason is a test. Sometimes, the reason is to bear witness. Usually we never know why, we just thank our lucky stars that we were in the right place at the right time and curse the moment when we weren’t.
— Sara Farragut, circa 4857 PD
20 Novem, 5249 PD
Alana cursed softly under her breath, glaring at the control board as if it had betrayed her. She’d been staring and cursing at it for the past hour, since they dropped out of jump on the far side of Eridani Trelasia’s asteroid field—evidently not where she’d hoped they’d end up coming out of their jump from the Whispers.
“Swearing at the controls won’t get us there faster,” America said from inside the guts of the secondary boards. “And it’s not the console’s fault we popped out where we did. Gravity wells. That bullshit.” She peeked out and up toward the commando. “You’re not a ship jockey, Alana. Don’t beat yourself up because you don’t fly like one.”
“Every damn second of delay gives D’Arcy Morgause more time to poison the Council and convince them what we saw at the Whispers didn’t happen.”
“He can’t possibly be that powerful or that influential,” Grant growled softly from his seat in one of the observation chairs.
“If there’s only one voice shouting, it’s going to end up sounding like the truth no matter how you slice it,” Alana said, voice dripping bitterness. “He’ll put together some kind of mountain of manufactured and circumstantial evidence and since it’ll sound just credible enough to be true, everyone who wants to hope that maybe the Commonwealth isn’t dying, that maybe humanity isn’t so damn sick it would murder entire planets, will believe it because he’s the only one in the room speaking their language.”
Grant shook his head. “I don’t think the people of the Foundation could be that stupid.”
“They’re not stupid,” Ezra said as he straightened from tending to Brendan. “They are that afraid, though. Who would want to believe it could happen not once, but twice?”
“No one,” America said, voice half muffled. “But it did, and we’re the ones with the proof.” She hauled herself out from under the console, a glimmering bit of electronics stuck to one of her palms by sweat and lubricant. She held it out to Alana, who took it wordlessly and tucked it into a pocket of her jumpsuit. “And we’ve got multiple copies. You can’t kill the truth. Not easily, anyway.”
Ezra nodded, trying to quell the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. “You’re right—you can’t. But the proof we’re bringing is going to fuel more fear and that fear is going to lead to denial because what other weapon do most people have? If someone killed not one but two planets, they’re not going to have any moral compunction about killing more. That’s going to keep people up at night.”
“We just have to convince them that fighting back is a better idea than laying down and waiting to die,” Grant said. “That shouldn’t be too difficult.”
“You forget that we’re dealing with a planet chock full of pacifists.” Alana looked directly at Ezra, who flinched and looked away. “And with that comes a lot of fear and a lot of difficulty in mobilizing for war.”
“They’re already mobilizing,” Ezra said quietly, slumping into one of the other seats. “It’s just a question of whether there’ll be enough bodies and if it’ll be fast enough. Seems to me that the answer is going to be no on both counts, Lindsay’s warnings nonwithstanding.”
“Our daughter saw the war coming?” America asked as she cleaned her hands on a rag she’d left laying on the secondary boards, leaning against the edge of the console. “She saw it?”
“Lindsay sees a lot of things. She doesn’t always tell the Council what she sees when she sees them, but in this case, she did and she told them exactly what they didn’t want to hear.” Alana closed her eyes for a moment. “It should have been enough to get the entire planet to gird for war, but all it did was show us exactly where people are going to end up when the chips are down—until someone shows up shooting. Even then, I’m not so sure that ideals aren’t going to crumble under the weight of certain death.”
Ezra swallowed hard. “Give the pacifists some credit, Alana. Some of us realize when a fight is necessary.”
“Not all of them are as smart as you, Ezra,” Alana said, then turned toward the console. She swore at it again, this time under her breath, then sighed and leaned her head back. “I just want this bucket to move faster.”
Me too, Ezra thought glumly, glancing at America and Grant. Lindsay’s mother frowned to herself, then finally shrugged and shook her head. Grant just sat there, stone-faced, apparently deep in thought.
Ezra glanced at the timer. Three hours to go. Not fast enough. Not nearly fast enough. What if she’s right? What if D’Arcy manages to convince the Council that the Whispers weren’t destroyed before we manage to get there and prove the truth? What happens then? His stomach flipped over once, then again. Kara wouldn’t believe it. Neither would the Marshals, or Rachel and Lindsay. But everyone else…everyone else is a wild card, aren’t they? Mugabe would probably side with us. Amelda might—as deeply as she believes in the Foundation’s ideals, she knows that humanity has an innate capacity for self-harm, for self-destruction.
But it wouldn’t be enough. It’d split the Council. That wouldn’t do anyone any good, not when we need to be united.
“Damn,” he breathed, staring at the glowing numbers of the countdown clock.
Alana looked back at him. “Yeah. Exactly. Start praying again, Ez. We’re going to need it.”
“We can’t just tight-beam a message back or something?”
“I already did. The Marshals know we’re coming and they’re going to be there to meet us when we set down. I’m not handing this ship over to anyone but Aidan Church or Adam Windsor. The last thing we need is for D’Arcy to get his dirty paws on it and erase everything we risked our asses to get.”
Ezra didn’t remind her that it had been accident that pulled them out at the Whispers, happenstance.
Or was it? What if that was meant to be?
He shook himself, trying not to go down that path. Down that path lay madness.
But we were in the right place at the right time. There must have been a reason for it. It couldn’t have just been random chance.