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Stories from the Verse
Verse Three, Chapter One
Chapter 70: Slade 23
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 69: Kondor 23
It was a huge ship with a small crew. The "captain" was John Alexander, former Federation commander court-martialed for insubordination when he refused to destroy the major civilian population centers of a planet whose leaders were unwilling to accept "membership" in the growing empire. Although officially the crew was a democracy, they looked to him for most decisions and directions largely because of his experience. The other who had spoken to him was Philip Banson, a recognized genius who had felt under-appreciated by the current regime and collapsed a planetary power grid so he could steal a small ship and escape. Ann Parker was their communications specialist. She had some kind of brain implant that enabled her to plug herself directly into the com panel and process communications at the speed of thought, but why she was part of this crew wasn't said. Gary Kozakowski was their pilot; Slade wondered that an African man would have a polish name, but held his tongue. It was he whose weapon Slade had damaged; the other "security guard" who had been escorting him away was actually a thief, a convicted cat burglar named Tom Titus, who was thought of as security more for his skills at bypassing it than anything else. Bert "Burly" Bently looked like the sort of guy protection rackets and loan sharks would hire to beat up defaulting customers, but apparently he was the engineer and had a pretty good idea how to fix things when they broke. Ishara Takamura was an assassin and weapons expert who, fortunately, Slade thought, had been sleeping when he arrived. Bert's wife Toni was also his assistant, George White was a sort of jack-of-all-trades who filled in where needed, and Marilyn Wells rounded out the team. Slade didn't ask what she did; he'd have included her on the team just for looking good.
The ship was not Federation. The captain and Banson had found it adrift. As well as they could tell, it was a marvelous piece of technology from some alien culture, but the previous owners had either died or fled. Their speculations had suggested many theories, usually leading to many dead aliens, but there was no evidence to support any of these. Whatever had happened, the computer had cleaned up the mess, and was not very forthcoming with details about the disaster. However, it was a very useful piece of equipment, an artificial intelligence capable of running ship's systems as long as it didn't have to do too much at once, interacting with the crew verbally, monitoring events throughout the ship, and providing a wealth of information about the galaxy, except where it originated. Banson thought it might be running away from home, a theory which the computer, which gave its name as Torbin, never admitted or denied.
They called the ship Destiny.
Destiny was faster and more powerful than any two ships the Federation could bring against her. Her weapons were more potent, her shields more resilient, her steering more maneuverable. In every way she could outfight, outrun, even out-dance Federation opponents. And Captain Alexander, now in his late forties, had taught many of the young Federation commanders, and knew what they knew, often knowing their strengths and weaknesses from personal experience in the classroom and the field. Thus equipped, the team had made it their mission to support and even spearhead the cause of the rising anti-Federation rebellion. They had gone from being wanted criminals to wanted revolutionaries.
So, what was the problem with this Federation, Slade asked. Apart from that one incident--pretty severe, granted, to order the destruction of cities merely because the planet didn't want to join the club, but often it is the details of things that mattered. Hitler, after all, didn't want to be part of the League of Nations; that didn't mean World War II reflected badly on the allies. Destroying cities, well that happened in war, at least as far as Slade knew.
Banson explained, in his all-too-technical vocabulary. The Federation had started as exactly that, a collection of inhabited planets, human populations spread through this end of the galaxy, who met together to discuss how to deal with mutual problems such as space piracy. Earth was the meeting place of this group, partly for sentimental reasons and partly because it was pretty much in the center of the three-dimensional expansion to the stars. Since Earth hosted the meetings, the Earth ambassador assumed the chair at meetings without objection. And for decades this continued.
The Federation in those days did wonderful things. It established trade agreements, organized disaster relief, settled many disputes. But in the real issues that had brought it together, it proved powerless. Space piracy continued to expand, and no one had the resources to prevent it. Some planets, it was believed, actually supported and benefited from these activities, but because of individual planetary sovereignty there was little which could be done about it.
In 2317 that changed. An agreement was reached which gave the Federation full authority over all interplanetary and interstellar space, and authority to pursue violators of interstellar law into planetary jurisdictions where they could arrest not merely those who were directly engaged in space crimes but also those who supported them and benefited from them while remaining on the ground. A smaller Council of Seven, led by the Chairman, was given executive control. Taxes were assessed and a military raised and equipped; many of the taxes were collected in the form of equipment, stripping the planetary governments of their own now unnecessary space force militias. But space crime, especially piracy, was reduced drastically within the decade, so the few complaints and objections faded.
But the power of the committee grew; and so did the list of activities which were considered "space crime". It regulated and taxed interplanetary trade, established customs offices on all member planets, took control of communications and other satellites, and disbanded the remaining military units as conflicting with its jurisdiction. It then created a unified law and justice system, claiming that for interplanetary commerce to be successful, laws, procedures, and rights had to be consistent throughout the galaxy so citizens traveling between planets would not be arrested for conduct which was perfectly legal on their own planet. Administrative government burgeoned as law enforcement became part of the Federation mandate, and soon there was only one nation stretched across many planets.
Centralization and regulation increased. The chairman today was the most powerful ruler to have controlled humanity in its known history. No one was allowed to dissent, to object, to suggest that anything should be other than it was, other than what the Committee decided. Planetary rulers had either toed the line or been arrested and replaced by Federation governors.
And there were many people who wanted to put an end to it. The crew of Destiny was becoming an emblem of that struggle, and a leader in it.
Slade had landed on the rebel side of a civil war.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with five other sequential chapters of the novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #47: Character Routines. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter.
As to the old stories that have long been here: