The claim was made ad infinitas, to infinity, though no one thought that it was necessary to do that. But Erich insisted on it when we staked the claim, and who would debate the great historian’s assertion? So the Foundation staked its claim. We thought we would only need it for a couple hundred years—we’d outlive New Earth, and the best estimates from our scientists said they had maybe that long left. They were probably already looking for another series of systems, light-years away, like they had when Telluria died. They’d leave us alone. Besides, the Colonial Office had always done right by claimants, and we had the Guard to protect our claim if something should happen.
— Katina Mason-Grace, early settler of E-557, c. 5090 PD
8 Octem, 5249 PD
Miriam Jacobi had worked for theNewEarthCommonwealth’s Colonial Office for six years. She liked her job. It was perhaps one of the few places left in New Earth space where you could afford to be openly sympathetic—even agree with—the mission of the Rose Foundation on E-557. She even worked with a few psychics, former members of the now all but dead Psychean Guard, who were protected under the laws of the Commonwealth. Of course, they rarely left their homes except to come to work and then go home again. For all the protection the Commonwealth offered, it was hardly enough, one had told her recently. You can’t help what happens in the streets after dark, she’d said. Miriam had supposed that was true.
She was sifting through some files that morning and had come across a request for a claim in the same system as E-557, to a handful of asteroids that were already claimed by the Rose Foundation and the colony on E-557 under the charter for the colony. The new claim was close to getting approved, despite the conflict with the previous claim. She frowned, flagging it, and called her supervisor.
Padraig Danson had worked for the New Earth Commonwealth’s Colonial Office for nearly ten years and in that time he’d always claimed he’d seen everything—twice. It was the middle of the afternoon by the time he made it to Miriam’s desk to talk about the claim she’d flagged, looking harried and hassled, as usual. The Colonial Office’s work was never done, apparently, and he was the picture of that motto. Briefly, Miriam wondered if he’d slept in his shirt as she looked up over her shoulder at him as he leaned over her to get a look at the files on her screens.
“You flagged something that we needed to talk about?” He rubbed at an eye and the dark circle beneath it.
Miriam nodded and pulled up the file. “There’s a file thatAndersonis processing through for approval higher up that’s a conflicting claim.”
“Conflicting with who? How far back?” He seemed slightly more awake now—and slightly more interested. Usually, flagging a file just meant that there had been some sort of error in the renderings of data, or the fair use of the claim.
“Rose Foundation claim on the Eridani Trelasia system, designated four four seven niner E. Dated from 5090 PD ad infinitas. They hold the claim into infinity, Padraig. Why isn’t this other claim being laughed off the map?”
Padraig deadpanned, staring at the screen. “When I joined the Colonial Office, it would have been. There’s a problem with that, these days, though.” He pressed his lips together, hard. “There’s no teeth to back up the Foundation claim. The Guard is gone.”
Miriam blinked, confused. What does that have to do with anything? A claim’s a claim. “But the Foundation made the claim, Padraig. What do you mean there’s nothing to back it up? We have all the documentation that supports their claim. It’s theirs. Forever. That’s what ad infinitas means.”
He shook his head slowly. “Ad infinitas only means infinity when the claim can be defended militarily, Miriam—especially right now. Politics…politics isn’t going to save the Foundation this time, and there’s no Psychean Guard left to be afraid of. I don’t know how we can block the secondary claim.”
“What do you mean? It’s their claim!”
“That doesn’t matter to the Compact,” Padraig said, looking grim. “They couldn’t give a damn who’s got prior claim to those asteroids. They’ll take them if they want them, even if we deny their claim.”
“So you’re saying we’re not going to deny their claim?”
“I’m not saying that at all,” he said carefully. “What I’m saying is that we have to be careful, and fully aware that no matter whether we deny their claim or not, they’re going to take it unless someone with teeth stops them. And there’s no one with teeth left to stop them, unless they’re just going to seize those asteroids for themselves.”
“You mean like Chinasia or Taurena.”
“Taurena isn’t strong enough or stable enough for that,” Padraig said, staring at the screen still. “The only people that would dispute the asteroid claim militarily is Chinasia. The Commonwealth doesn’t have the manpower or the ships to do it.”
“And neither does E-557 is what you’re telling me.”
“Unless you know something I don’t, Mir, yeah, that’s what I’m telling you.” He straightened. “I’ll erase the claim the Compact put in. That should buy us some time if you and I pretend we never saw it.”
“Buy us some time? To do what?”
He smiled grimly. “Find a way to do what we’re supposed to do in the Colonial Office—keep a promise to protect a claim made a hundred and fifty years ago.”
● ● ●
Later that night, someone knocked on her door. Miriam frowned, looking up from the book she was reading, setting her table aside and standing. It was after nine—who could be at her door? She hit the button to activate the small vidscreen next to the door, brow furrowing more as she saw who was on the other side. She opened the door. “Amie? What are you doing here?”
The other woman, still in her work clothes, glanced furtively over her shoulder, back toward the street. “I’ll tell you in a minute. Can I come in, Mir?”
“Of course!” Miriam stepped clear of the doorway, letting her colleague in and closing the door behind her. “Do you want something hot to drink?”
Amie Kaspersy nodded, shrugging slowly out of her coat. “Please. It’s cold out there.”
Miriam nodded and headed to the kitchen. Amie followed, perched on a stool by the island while Miriam got down an array of options. “So what’s going on? Did you work late?”
“I did,” she admitted, “But not that late.” She bit her lip. “Someone vandalized my house, Mir.”
Amie’s hands twisted and she shook her head. “Someone vandalized my house. Maybe even broke in.”
“You didn’t call security services?”
“Not when I knew someone was watching me, no.” Amie swallowed hard. “Someone started following me about half a block out of work. I lost him on the way here. I didn’t know where else to go to feel safe.”
“We have to call security services for your house, Amie.”
“I know, I know,” she said quietly. “But I couldn’t stay there and do it! Whoever was following me…”
Miriam’s stomach twisted as Amie’s voice trailed away. “They wanted to hurt you? You sensed it?”
“His surface thoughts were really bad,” Amie whispered. “Especially when I got close to my house.” Tears sparkled in her dark eyes and she bit her lip. “It took everything I had not to run all the way here.”
She swallowed hard and shook her head. “I can deal with the hate. Really, I can. It’s everything else that’s starting to scare me. What if he’d been better at guarding his thoughts, Mir? What if I hadn’t sensed him?” Her face went pale. “What if he’d been inside my house instead of following me?”
Miriam came around the center and wrapped her arms around Amie. “Don’t think about that, Amie. You’re safe.”
“But for how long?” Amie whispered, hugging Miriam back. “Time was working for the Commonwealth kept you safe. Now even that’s changing. I can’t afford to pick up and leave—and even if I could, where could I go? Mimir’s dead and I’m not religious. There’s just no place to go but here. At least the laws here try to protect us.”
There’s always other options. Ones we don’t think about. Miriam frowned. “What about E-557?”
“The Foundation’s pipe dream?” Amie laughed a bitter laugh. “I’m not sure I could sew my own clothes and make my own cheese, Mir.”
Miriam blushed, holding her friend at arms’ length. “I’m sure it’s not quite like that. I mean they say that’s where the Psychean Guard went, after Mimir. They wouldn’t have headed there if it wasn’t a good place to be.”
Amie shook her head. “I don’t think that I could do it.”
“If it’s either that or staying here?”
“It could get better.”
“And if it doesn’t, Amie? If it gets worse?”
She sighed. “Then I’ll have a decision to make. And it won’t be an easy one.”
Miriam sighed, shaking her head a little. “All right. I’ll make the drinks and then we’ll call security services, okay? You’ll stay here tonight and we’ll call Padraig in the morning and he’ll take us to work. Okay?”
Amie hesitated. “Mir…this could put you in a lot of danger, if whoever did that to my place is really out to get psychics. There’ve been rumors.”
“I’ve heard them, Amie. I don’t care. You’re my friend and you’re not any different from anyone else except for the fact that you can occasionally read minds.” It’d take a lot of balls to attack a house that belonged to a non-psychic to get to a psychic. They may think they can get away with vandalizing her place—and they might, if they can find a sympathetic ear—but they wouldn’t get away with doing the same here. Not yet. The yet worried her, though. Was that what things were coming to? Padraig’s comment about no more teeth for protection drifted back to her. She tried not to sigh.
“You’re a good friend, Mir,” Amie said quietly and squeezed her hand. “Thanks.”
Miriam shook her head. “You’re never going to have to thank me for giving you a place to crash, Amie. This shouldn’t have happened. Twenty years ago, it wouldn’t have happened.”
“A lot’s changed in twenty years,” Amie said quietly, watching as Miriam started to make some tea. She wet her lips before she spoke again. “Chinasia put in another conflicting claim.”
Amie sighed, nodding. “They’ve been doing that a lot lately. Testing the limits of the claim system. They tried to claim the Whispers.”
“The Whispers? Really?” Miriam frowned, getting down a pair of mugs. Why would they try to do that? It’s not much more than a rallying point for the Wanderers. A trading post. A tourist attraction for folks interested in celestial phenomenon. “That doesn’t make any sense. There’s nothing there.”
“I know. We rejected the claim. The Wanders still hold the claim for the next century and a half.” Amie rubbed her face, shaking her head. “But they’re testing their limits anyway. I don’t know why. Maybe they’re running out of space again.”
“Or resources. Or both.” Miriam sighed. “Everyone is. There’s three more cylinders almost ready to go operational.”
Amie shook her head. “It’s not so bad here, but I hear it’s getting really bad in some places, and in some of the conglom-held areas you can’t even go near the water anymore.”
“History repeats itself,” Miriam murmured, shaking her head as she poured the tea.
“What do you mean?”
Miriam shook her head. “I’ve just been reading a lot lately. My father’s history collections, mostly. Some of the new social commentary pieces here and there, but they’re not really saying anything that hasn’t been said and ignored before.” She slid one of the mugs across the island to Amie. “New Earth is going to die sooner rather than later, y’know? The congloms mostly moving off world hasn’t stopped that. The regulations the Commonwealth enacted forty years ago are helping, but they’re not going to stop the inevitable.”
“The hunt’s already on for another homeworld, isn’t it?”
Miriam shrugged. “I wouldn’t know. Don’t pay attention to stuff like that. I figure by the time humanity moves, I’ll be dead. I don’t have any kids. I don’t have anyone that’s going to have to move…” She shrugged again, almost helplessly. “It’s not a good situation for the planet, but I won’t live to reap the consequences.”
“Seems like people have been taking that sort of view for generations.”
“They have been,” Miriam murmured, then sighed. “I keep thinking that maybe, just maybe, the Rose Foundation was onto something when they started talking about ecological sustainability. I know here we think about it as sewing our own clothes and making our own cheese but I think there’s got to be more to it than that. Have you heard of Tavelian and Ives?”
“They make soap, right?”
“Soap and personal care items, yeah. But they’re based out of a facility at E-557 and they’re huge. Now you tell me that they’re making all of that by hand as a small-scale operation.”
Amie frowned. “It could be.”
“Maybe, but I doubt it.” Miriam took a long swallow from her mug. “I’ve been reading Erich Quizibian. A lot.”
“He was Foundation hardcore.”
“I know. But he was also one of the most respected historians and social scientists of his age. And he didn’t start out as Foundation, either.”
“You’d think that, wouldn’t you?” Miriam grinned. “He was Guard-educated. His parents were mid-level management at Casearras.”
“Really? And they had him Guard-educated? Casearras allowed that?”
“According toWindsor’s biography of him, it seems they almost encouraged it. He just wasn’t cut out for corp life, so they sent him on scholarship to Andrewsbury on Mimir. His senior thesis was on kinship in the Casearras Conglomerate.”
“I never knew that.”
“Neither did I until I read the book.” Miriam smiled wryly. “Amazing what you learn from reading books, right?” She set down her mug. “Enough, though. We need to call security services for your house.”
“I can do it,” Amie said. “Where’s your comm?”
Miriam pointed to the closest unit, the one there in the kitchen, then took her mug of tea back to her couch to give Amie a little privacy to talk with security services. She picked up her reader again, to get a little more reading in while she waited. Amie eventually joined her, cradling her mug in both hands.
“They’re sending a patrol to check it out. Said they’d secure the place and I could call them tomorrow for an update. I’ll call them from work tomorrow.”
Miriam nodded. “Until you feel safe, you’ll stay here with me.”
Amie frowned a little, starting to shake her head. “I can get a hotel room, Mir.”
“Why? I have a perfectly good spare bedroom. You’ll stay here.”
She smiled. “You’re a good friend, Mir.”
Miriam laughed. “I try. Sometimes I succeed.”
Twenty minutes later, they heard a boom and a rattle, saw a flash of light to the north. Miriam frowned, starting to get up to walk to the window.
“What was that? Sounded like a transformer blew.”
Amie’s face was sheet white when Miriam turned to looked back. “I think it was my house.”
Miriam’s arms went around her friend as she began to weep.