If there is one thing that can be said of the Rose Foundation, like its ally the Psychean Guard, it is that it breeds dreamers—ones who dream dangerously, desperately, out of desire and necessity. That is why we fear it. That is why it must die.
— Hans Trepanning (Eurydice Compact), Memoirs of a CEO, 5215 PD
11 Octem, 5249 PD
She sat quietly out on the front lawn, watching the fog drift amongst the trees. Brendan was still asleep inside—she’d tried hard not to wake him, to let him get another precious few hours of sleep. The rest of the world—or at least Nova Spexi—was still largely asleep on the gray, foggy morning. It was chilly, and the fog promised to turn to misty rain later, but for the moment, it was just a fog, drifting through trees that were old when she was born.
Was this what Old Earth had looked like, thousands of years ago, before humanity had killed it? Was this what it smelled like—wet grass, the salt of the sea that lay only a few dozen kilometers away, and the fog?
Sometimes, only sometimes, she wondered. Wondered about Old Earth, wondered what it was like. Usually when she was alone, while he was still asleep some mornings. She wondered if she was the only one that imagined what it had been like. She couldn’t possibly be the only one—intellectually, she knew that. But sometimes she wondered how many other people thought those same thoughts, and how often they thought them, and where. It was a little exercise she ran through sometimes—not often, but sometimes.
She had a blanket loosely clasped around her shoulders to ward off the early morning chill. She glanced toward the side of the house and the garden that wrapped around from near the kitchen door. They’d have to bring in some of the herbs soon. They were ready for harvest.
Before the Council meeting, I’ll do that. Harvest and bundle. Start drying them. She rubbed her face and sighed. The Council meeting… She wasn’t sure that she wanted to go, but she knew she had to. She’d been absent too often lately, and they needed her there. There was no denying it.
I hope what happened the last time doesn’t happen again. There were no guarantees—but then, what was there a guarantee in?
“You’re up early.”
She hadn’t heard him approach, and she looked up at Brendan now as he settled down next to her in the grass. “Only a little. Did you sleep okay?”
He still looked exhausted, but he nodded. “Yeah, I slept okay. Got worried when I woke up and you weren’t there.”
She winced. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to wake you. You just seemed so tired.” She kissed his cheek gently. “Go back to bed. I’m not going anywhere.”
“I’m up, now.” He stared out at the trees. “What’re you doing out here?”
“Thinking,” she said quietly, hugging a knee against her chest. “Looking. It’s pretty out here.”
“It is,” he agreed, raking a hand back through his short dark hair. He paused, then looked at her. “Thinking about what?”
She smiled wryly. “If this was what Old Earth looked like, before humans ruined it.”
“Oh.” He eased an arm around her, drawing her close to him. She smiled a little. “I guess I’d never thought about that.”
“I’m not sure why I do, sometimes.” Lindsay smiled a little and leaned into his chest, watching the mists drift in an unfelt breeze as he held her. She counted his heartbeats in the silence before she broke it. “You have to go in today.” It wasn’t a question.
Brendan nodded. “Yeah. Going to start putting some of the cadets through their paces in simulators a week early. One or two of them might have a prayer.”
“Full-on combat maneuvers?” She’d seen his notes, though she wasn’t sure exactly how much of what he’d scribbled down he was planning on putting into practice. There had been a lot of notes.
He nodded a little. “Quentin James and I are the closest they’ll get to enemy combatants. He said he’d play wingman to me in the simulators. I have to go in early to help him tweak the simulations. I just wish we had better intelligence on what sort of fighters the Compact and Chinasia are using these days.”
“You’re really worried.”
“Your aunt is really worried. Blame her for encouraging paranoia.” He squeezed her, staring off toward the woods. “I’m not sure if she’s more worried about you or the colony’s survival. Could be both.”
“She hasn’t been by in a couple days. I keep thinking I should go down and see her.” Then I end up thinking that it’d be a total role reversal for me to go down and see her rather than the opposite and I decide not to bother. She’s fine. She’s just busy. That happens. I get busy. Of course, I almost never leave the house. But Alana hasn’t been hanging around as much. That can’t be a bad thing. Maybe Aunt Rachel’s been dragging her all over the place. Maybe? Possibly?
“Why don’t you do that today while I’m down on the base?”
Lindsay shrugged. “Because I’ll see her at the Council meeting anyway. What’s the point? I’ll stay home and get some of the herbs bundled.”
Brendan stiffened at the mention of the Council meeting. His brow furrowed, hazel eyes suddenly troubled. “You’re going to go?”
She sighed a little. “They’re right—all of them are right—I’ve been gone too much lately. I’ll just have to find a way to make it work, that’s all. One way or another, I’ll have to find a way to make it work.” She rubbed at a temple a little. “I’ll take a pill or something. I’ll be fine.”
“You hate those things. I hate those things and I don’t even have to take them.”
I’m glad you don’t have to take them. Hopefully, you never will. I’ll just have to figure out a better way to handle the ruckus that goes on in my head so I don’t have to take them, either. “It’s either that or not go, and if half of what I saw was real, Brendan, they need me.”
“Half,” he said hollowly. “You know more than half of it’s real.”
“It’s all real,” she agreed, “but how much of it can be prevented is the bigger question. I’m hoping more than half.” She settled in against his chest again. His arm tightened around her. “I just hope we’re not too late to stop the worst of it all.”
“Do you think we are?”
She shook her head slightly. “I don’t know, Brendan. I don’t know.”
He nodded slowly. “Do you want me to come straight from base to the Council chambers?”
She looked up at him, smiling faintly. “Would you?”
He laughed a little, looking down toward her. “You have to ask? Of course I will. I’ll be there as soon as I can this afternoon.”
“It’s an evening meeting.”
“Do you want me to come pick you up here, then?”
She shook her head a little. “I’ll go down to Aunt Rachel’s. Drive in with her.”
She nodded. “I’m sure. You can just meet us there, and then maybe if things go well, we can have dinner in town. Maybe. Depending on my headache and how many people I want to hurt.”
He laughed. “If you want to, sure. We’ll play it by ear, okay?”
Lindsay smiled, nodding. “That sounds good. We haven’t been out in a long time, have we?”
“More than a year,” he admitted. “Just hasn’t been an occasion or anything, or an opportunity.”
“We’ll make one,” she said, looking back to the mists.
He nodded. “Tonight.”
● ● ●
Someone rapped on the doorframe of his office. The door stood ajar, so he could hear when people were approaching, but this time there had been no sound to herald any arrival. That meant it could only be one from a bare handful of people.
Ezra pushed away from his desk where he’d been reading over some of the latest medical studies to come out of New Earth space in the last several months—they’d arrived in hardcopy on the last cargo hauler coming to pick up a shipment of wheat to the Whispers. He tilted his head, wearing a quizzical expression as he realized who his visitor was.
“Alana, what’re you doing here?” Thought for sure you’d be attached to Lindsay at the hip for the next month and a half, after what happened at the Council meeting. How’d someone pry you loose? He leaned back in his chair, looking at her. She was dressed in baggy pants and a tightly-fitted sleeveless top, despite the morning’s chill. She looked like she’d been out running. She only ran in the morning, before most children were up and around—she was convinced that the sight of her heavily cybered arm would frighten them.
She was probably right. It was a frightening sight, that arm. The Eurydice Compact designed it as much for effect as it did for function. Easily hidden beneath a sport coat of some kind or a uniform jacket, bared it was a silver-gray color, servos and polymer muscle-augments set tightly against pale flesh. Wires connected different components, clustering up at the shoulder, then down at the elbow cap and again down her forearm to her wrist and hand. The hand was perhaps the most remarkable—it was sheathed in a silver-gray metal. Tiny holes in the fingertips concealed hollow injector needles that were now empty, but during her service to both the Eurydice Compact had held a neurotoxin. During her service to E-557’s military, Ezra had been told, the injectors had been loaded with sedatives.
As frightening as it was, it didn’t scare him. He knew how to take it apart and rebuild the muscle, flesh, and bone underneath to give her a natural, functioning arm again. Further, he knew that a tap here, a pulled wire there would prevent it from functioning. Most people didn’t know that. He’d spent most of his life fixing things like that, though, studying cyberware for the sole purpose of taking it off and out of people and giving them what many of them had craved since they were children—a normal life, free from the trappings of the old life. That was his job. That was what he did.
But she wasn’t here for that, was she?
Alana shrugged awkwardly. He rocked back in his chair. Alana was never awkward, she was always in control. “I came to make an appointment,” she said, licking her lips.
“For that?” He pointed to her arm. Now? She comes now? After the Council meeting, after—hell. After everything? Of all times, she picks now?
She shrugged again. “I’m retired. It’s time. Everyone else thinks it’s time. They’re right. It is. I’m never going back to that life.” She meant a soldier’s life.
She’s going to tear me limb from limb. “Hold off,” he said carefully.
“Hold off.” She deadpanned, ice-blue gaze pinning his heart against his spine. “What do you mean, ‘hold of’? Half the planet is asking me if they’re going to have to make the appointment to have this done for me, and now you’re telling me to hold off on having it done? Have you suddenly lost your bloody mind?” She was fully in the office now, well clear of the doorway.
He winced and put up his hands in a gesture for her to back off. “Close the door and let me explain, Alana. I haven’t lost my mind yet. At least I don’t think I have.” He moved some of the papers on his desk out of the way and opened a drawer, pulling out some notes he’d scribbled out in the previous day and a half.
Alana shut the door and appropriated a chair from behind it, turning it backwards and sinking down into it. She watched him for a moment, brow furrowing, then shook her head. “Start explaining or I’m going to start thinking you’re completely cracked, Ezra.”
He frowned, staring at her for a moment. “You know that Lin saw something, right? About her parents? And the Council confirmed that they’re still alive somewhere in New Earth space, right?”
Alana looked annoyed, by only for a moment. She smothered the expression quickly.
Ezra winced again. I’d better make the pitch fast or else she might decide to disembowel me. “I’ve been talking to my sister, and she says that D’Arcy Morgause and his people aren’t one hundred percent sure yet, but it looks like Chinasia and the Compact really do have her parents. One has one, the other has the other.”
“What does this have to do with me, Ezra?” Her voice was flat, monotone. “Right now, you’re not doing a very good job at coming to a point, and quickly.”
“Sorry, sorry.” He shuffled through his notes, more of a nervous gesture than anything. He knew what he was pitching to her. They were more a prop to keep his thoughts in order. Paper did that. It was soothing. “I think if we can plan it right, we can rescue her parents and be gone before either of the congloms know what hit them.”
She just stared at him like he was crazy. He winced.
“Don’t give me that look, Alana. I’ve been thinking about this since Kara told me what happened. I’m still…working on the details, but I think that with a little more time I can come up with something that’s going to work, and work well.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it, Ezra.” She made no moves to leave his office, though.
Is she giving me a chance to talk her into this? He leaned forward slightly, running a hand through his hair. “I don’t have my hands on D’Arcy’s documents—Kara’s going to try to wrest those away from him today at the Council meeting—but like I said, what Lindsay’s seen in visions pretty much confirms who’s got them. I figure the smaller team that goes in the better—three men, I hope, and sneak them out from under Chinasia and the Compact’s noses without much trouble.”
“All right. You’ve got my attention, Ezra. Keep talking.”
Keep talking, huh? “I was thinking you, Brendan Cho, and I would make up that three-man team.”
The air in the room thickened. She stared at him, almost through him, for a long moment before she leaned back slightly. “You’re serious.”
“Of course I’m serious.”
“You have,” she paused, as if fighting to put it delicately, “no military training.”
He blushed. “I know how to use a gun.”
“That’s not exactly what I’m talking about Ezra.” Alana rubbed her forehead with her flesh and blood hand. “I think that you’ll need to rethink who you want to send. Why me? Why Commander Cho?”
She hasn’t said no outright, yet. Is that a good sign? “You’re from the Compact—and you look like you’re from the Compact, and unless I miss my guess, you still speak their language and know how to walk that walk and talk that talk. You’re also probably the most deadly person I know.” Is that how I should have phrased it? Bah. Too late now, I guess. “I’d tap Brendan for the same reason—and moreover, there’s no one on this planet that speaks the Chinasia corporate language. He’s the only one, and without that sort of knowledge, the kind of operation I’m thinking of would crash and burn in a heartbeat. There’d be no hope of rescuing Channing and Farragut. We’d have to do something drastic to make sure what they know doesn’t end up killing us all.”
“Only you could use the term ‘moreover’ in casual conversation and not flinch, Ezra.” Alana stood up, stretched, started to pace. Ezra felt ill at ease.
It’s like being in a cage with an agitated wild cat.
“They have a tactical language, too.”
He blinked. “Who has a tactical language?”
“Chinasia Corp. They have a tactical language, too. You’re lucky Commander Cho is probably more than fluent in that as well.” Alana smiled wryly at him, pausing in her pacing. “When you’re going to come up with a plan, Ezra, make sure you’ve got all the intelligence you can possibly get to back it up before you pitch it to someone. D’Arcy Morgause would be ripping you apart right now. He has enough brain cells for that, at least.”
He almost laughed in relief. “I knew there was a reason I was pitching this at you first.”
Alana shook her head, expression grim. “I’d do anything to bring her parents home, Ezra. But I’m not going to walk into a suicide mission. The plan has holes, big ones, and you need to fill those with intelligence before we can move on this. And you still have to convince me that you should be the third to come along.” She rolled her shoulder, stretching a little. “Where does your sister stand with all of this?”
“Kara knows I was going to try to come up with something, but I haven’t given her any details. She’s setting me up with the recordings of the Council meetings for the past month.” The transcripts would be more useful, but she said those would be missed more than the recordings. Go figure. Our love affair with things on paper, I guess. His own collection of printed journals and handwritten notes spoke to his own love affair with things on paper. It was something that had arisen at the beginnings of the Rose Foundation, he was convinced, something about getting back to humanity’s roots, and that included a movement away from digitization of knowledge back toward the printed word, the printed page.
Ezra leaned back in his chair. “I think she realizes that anything that D’Arcy’s people come up with will be something that’s too little and too late.”
“What D’Arcy’s people will come up with is either a full scale invasion or assassination, plain and simple, if he deigns to put any thought to this at all.” There was malice in Alana’s voice, mingled with annoyance. She’d never cared for D’Arcy Morgause, but no one really seemed to know why. Ezra was willing to bet that if anyone did, it was Rachel Farragut, but he’d never bothered to ask her. What was the point of asking, anyway?
“Do you really think he’d send people in to kill them?”
“If he decided it was too risky or otherwise too dangerous to try to extract them, yes. He would. He’s actually the most likely to because he’s lazy. But any of them would order their deaths if the lives of everyone here depended on it.” Alana winced. “Even Rachel and Lindsay would. That’s the reality of the situation. Thanks be to whatever powers might exist out there that we’ve been beneath everyone’s notice until recently. I’m afraid time’s running out, now, and the Compact and Chinasia will be working on finding out exactly what Commander Channing and Ms. Farragut know.”
Which means the clock’s already started, and rescuing them is a priority—but not for long. Ezra nodded slowly. “I guess we’ve got some holes to plug, then.”
“You did say you were in.”
Alana frowned, thinking for a moment, then sighed and shook her head. “I guess I did.” She moved to the door, locked it, then squared her shoulders as she turned back to him. “We need to get to work. When will Kara get those files to you?”
“Soon, I’d think.” It’d better be soon. Hopefully there’ll be more information available after tonight’s meeting—something to help with this plan. Maybe I should talk to Lindsay about what she saw… He discarded the idea quickly. There had to be another way to get information about what she’d seen in her visions. He looked at Alana. “What about Lindsay’s visions?”
Her expression was impassive. “I’ll tell you what I know.”