Thursday, July 21, 2011

Chapter Draft: "First Duty"

original work © 2011 by A. Dameron All rights reserved. 

Starlight reflected on the quiet water of the Sea of Tranquility. Bass and halibut swam next to Aurelian rainbow fish and Caledonian pike. A Terran dolphin peeked over the gentle waves and squeaked at his comrades. Together, they headed for a cove on the opposite side of the Sea.

Terraformers had deepened the lunar crater and imported the water from the Earth Homeworld itself. Fifteen anti-gravity plates buried under the sea floor kept the liquid secure in its depths. Other plates simulated the effects of Earth’s normal gravity all over the complex. The Footpath surrounded the lakeshore, bordered by hotels and eateries, and led into the clusters of private homes.. At this moment, Luna Colony buzzed with visitors and locals alike; neighbors threw parties in their backyards, schoolchildren adorned their classrooms with flags and banners, and music boomed in the streets. People gathered at the shores of the Sea, and waited for the main event.

The artificial wind blew from the east and ruffled the flags on the lakeshore. Each flag represented an Earth Colony, from the silver-blue of Luna to the blood-red of Mars. A lone figure stood on the pier; he was short, but powerfully built through the shoulders and waist. The wind scattered his hair and mustache. He ran a hand through the shaggy black locks and laughed to himself.

. You really must get a haircut. You are a politician, not a member of the Border Guard. Enrique Quartez laughed aloud at the trivial thought. His office as Lord Speaker of the Earth Homeworld Senate required a neat appearance, but he’d relaxed his standards on this vacation. It was bad that he looked like El Bandito; worse that he was talking to himself in second-person.

A lake that drifts under perpetual night, even as the sun rises in the heavens,” Quartez murmured under his breath. The quote fit his surroundings; he made a mental note to include it in his latest monograph of poetry. Quartez’s sharp black eyes picked out the blue and white Earth Homeworld eagle at the north end. First in peace, first in war, the Homeworld endures. I wonder if the Homeworld will endure this new wind of change. I suppose we’ll see.

He turned and oriented himself towards the west, towards Earth. Of course, the courier ship Kennedy was too small to make out in the heavens, but he knew Deena Maracois was there. The President of the Republic was coming home in triumph, just in time for the celebration of Patriots Day. Of course, no one missed the significance of her dramatic arrival.

Lord Speaker, the boat pilots are on station. We will have live feed in sixty seconds,” whispered a voice. Briel Hanson twisted his hands together and glanced over his shoulder. The people milled about impatiently, trying to get the best view of the Sea.

I understand, Master Hanson,” Quartez replied in a soothing voice. “The Luna Regatta will go smoothly, my friend. Non se preoccupado...we have tight security and my own personal Security force is on duty..”

I understand, Lord Speaker, but you can never be too certain—“

Quartez shook at his head at Hanson’s paranoia. The roar of the crowd echoed under the lunar dome, and Enrique shook his head. It was amazing how different each Colony was from the other, and how loyal each Colony felt towards the Earth Homeworld. Some were completely loyal, others—

Those were the ones who worried the Homeworld leaders the most, and Enrique was concerned indeed. He wanted peace and prosperity for all, but what if these rogues didn’t? They became a threat. War, he thought. God forbid it. The Lady President has vowed not to let it happen, and so do I. We owe the future generations of the Republic that much.

If it meant sacrifice, Enrique Quartez was prepared to do it, at any cost.

He gave the Public Affairs officer another reassuring smile and said, “The Colonials here have close ties to the Earth Homeworld, Master Hanson. They see themselves just like any other Homeworld citizen, and I expect your crew to treat them as such.” He brought his gaze back to the water. “Now, you said that the Hamilton boat is favored to win?”

Hanson sighed, relieved at the change of subject. “They’ve got the firm backing of Tanaka Enterprises, and rumor has it that Chairwoman Tanaka would take the helm herself, if she hadn’t chosen to oversee the reconstruction efforts...”

I’m sure she would; that sounds like her. The rose in the steel glove, indeed. He glanced over the crowd and noted whom he saw. There was Babbette Johnson, the queen of vid-stars, draped over her younger lover. At the outside bar was Lord Senator Uwe Hildebrandt and his wife Ina. Hildebrandt held stocks in the Hamilton Company, and came here to show the yachting crew his support. A pity that Sumiko Tanaka was not making an appearance this year. Quartez would have liked to match wits with the famous businesswoman.

A pair of eyes in the crowd met his. Captain Razvena Rujiek adjusted the shoulder strap of her vidcamera. He nodded at her; Rujiek gently elbowed her way through the audience and paused every now and then to snap a picture. Many of the social butterflies asked her for an image, and she cheerfully obliged. Later, Enrique and his Security Council would analyze the photos and store them in their files. Those files held all kinds of secrets, secrets that belonged to the powerbrokers, the politicians, the chairmen and women of the Homeworld Companies and other influentials.. Quartez treated some of them with kid gloves, some with respect, and some with the scorn they deserved. More and more of them seemed to end up in that last category. If it wasn’t for Esme’s light touch and gentle humor...

Enrique, you are getting grumpy again. Watch the billowing sails, not the ugly anchors, querido.” Esmeralda Quartez-Modeno appeared next to him without a sound. Esme knew how to make a dramatic entrance, and this time she didn’t disappoint. Her elegant crimson robe was hemmed in gold, and every lock of dark hair was twisted into a pleasing braid. He accepted her loving hand; she squeezed it in response.

Buenos dias, cara,” he said softly.

Buenos dias, Enrique. Did you sleep well?” she asked, with a sly smile and a wink.

He laughed and replied, “Of course, I was completely relaxed. Ah, here they come!”

The first boats made their way over the horizon. A roar came from the assembled crowd at the lakeshore. Tourists clapped, cheered and blew their air horns. Children laughed as they crashed into the manmade surf. In reply, the lead boat fired a golden flare, which soared overhead and exploded in a flower of sparks. Quartez chuckled as low alarms sounded over the complex. Republic Security panicked at any unexpected event, but they had to learn to forgive certain instances. Indeed, the alarms ceased after a few minutes of chaos.

Master Hanson nodded at Quartez, and he raised his arms for silence. The chaos died down to a tolerable level. He exchanged another warm smile with Esme, then began his speech. “Honored guests, welcome to the one-hundred and eleventh Luna Regatta on the Sea of Tranquillity. Luna Colony celebrates its founding on this day, and we remember the spirit of those first pioneers with an exciting race upon the Sea. Now, without further delay, we will begin this race, and may the best crew win!”

The crowd went wild with cheers and applause. Hanson passed a flare gun to Esme, who raised it high above her head. Quartez reached up and covered her delicate hand with his own, and together, they pulled the trigger. The burst of golden light illuminated the skies above them, and with that signal, the boats began their circuits around the Sea.

Esme’s eyes glowed as the yachts turned into the wind. She squeezed her husband’s hand as they jockeyed for position before the first turn. She was more of the sailing enthusiast than he, and the Regatta always brought out the little girl within her. Her presence made these events bearable. Quartez knew she would have all kinds of stories to tell about the social and political circles of Luna later that evening; under the cheerful exterior was a mind as sharp as any computer.

One of the yachts fell off the wind and spun out of course, and the crew worked frantically to get back on track. Another two fought over a single patch of blue water, colliding in the process. A loud crack echoed over the Sea, and a fourth boat lost its mainsail, rigs and all. The crowd gasped at these tragic turn of events, as bookmakers cursed and Company Representatives screamed at their crews. As expected, the red sails of Tanaka Enterprises sailed serenely in first place, the delicate, golden chrysanthemum symbol dominating the water.

Enrique’s earpiece buzzed and he pressed it with his free hand. “Quartez.”

Your have a Priority One message, Lord Speaker,” replied Major Suba Rahpavi. The Lord Speaker’s Protector’s voice was breathless with excitement. “Relaying it to you now.”

Quartez listened for a brief moment, then murmured,. “Thank you, Major,” he murmured. “That’s gratifying to hear.”

Enrique?” Esme asked, puzzlement on her delicate features.

Politics,” he said simply. He waved at Hanson, who immediately came to his side. After a whispered conversation, the PA man gave frantic orders over his earbug. The screens switched back to Quartez, but the Lord Speaker’s face held no trace of the good humor. Howls of protest came from the crowd; he raised his arms for silence.

Forgive the interruption, citizens, but we have news of a Colonial revolt on Enki. The Enki-rai made a defiant stand against the Republic. Their dockstations attacked two military task forces, as those ships came out of jumpspace to restore the peace.” A swell of anger grew from the spectators, but he quickly continued, “This revolt has now been contained, and our military is now in control of the government. Homeworld Companies are enroute to key production facilities for reconstruction.”

At that last sentence, a weak cheer came from the Representatives. The other guests clapped politely. If this had been Earth, every citizen would be listening to the news. Hanson’s mouth twitched nervously; Quartez wondered what kind of spin Public Affairs would take on this camera feed. “Luna has always been a strong supporter of the Republic and the Homeworld Companies, and on that note, let’s cheer on the boats as we return to the Regatta!”

The screens picked up the race as the Hamilton boat pulled ahead of its nearest competitor by meters. New electricity went through the crowd as the remaining boats drifted far behind. Enrique sighed and shook his head in dismay. Esme squeezed his hand in reassurance and inclined her head towards the Sea.

Don’t be disheartened, Enrique. The Luna Colonials hate to be reminded of their brothers and sisters who aren’t as...enlightened as they are. Most think of themselves as Homeworlders, you know, even if they aren’t.”

Your lady’s right, Lord Speaker,” said Hanson. The Public Affairs officer shrugged and added, “It’s nothing personal against you. They love their entertainment, and it keeps them distracted from their worries.”

Enrique smiled as the Hamilton boat streaked towards the finish line, all alone in the lead. Its crew focused on the goal ahead, and not on the celebration. It was a testament to Tanaka Enterprises’ self-discipline. He thought of the few bets he had placed and the results soon to be in his accounts. Even Homeworld politicians indulged in vices now and then; he was a puritan compared to some of his contemporaries.

Speaking of entertainment, Esme, we must present the cup to the winning crew. I’ll let you do the honors this time.”

She squeezed his hand again. “Of course, I’ll be fine, quierido. You go tame the tigers. I’ll deal with the fat and contented bears.”

Gracias.” He brushed his lips against his wife’s cheek, and he spotted Hanson’s broad grin. This was a gem for the Public Affairs files and for the gossip columns, but Enrique didn’t care. As long as the public was distracted, so was the enemy. He stepped back as the Regatta Cup arrived with great ceremony. The golden chalice was engraved with the Earth Republic eagle, and encrusted with precious stones. Along the edges was “Tanaka Enterprises, Hamilton Company, Luna Regatta 2147.” Enrique guessed the cup makers knew the winner ahead of time.

The Hamilton Company representatives climbed up to the podium, beaming with pride and self-importance. Esme thanked them for their perseverance, and their sterling example to others. Her cultured voice rose and fell, and the audience hung on every word. Camera lights flashed as they recorded this moment for posterity.

For his part, Enrique watched and listened. Under the polite veneer, he felt the tension among the Company Representatives. There was Okuro Limited, its members in a tight group, radiating pure malice. Huntingdon Properties stood behind them, watching Okuro stew in their resentment. Blaise Controls, Surikan Incorporated...they all spied on each other, and Enrique spied on them all. His mouth twitched in grim amusement. His own security controls were nearly foolproof; a pity that these players never knew it.

Perdone, Don Enrique. You have a message, Your Eyes Only.”

Mierda, they would pick the most inconvenient moment to interrupt. Quartez turned to the olive-garbed Political Officer behind him and every trace of humor vanished from his mind. The Politico’s broad face was impassive, but an uneasy feeling uncoiled within the pit of Quartez’s stomach. He nodded and stepped to the far side of the platform. Although they were hidden from any eavesdroppers, Enrique kept his tone low.

Please, don’t call me ‘Don Enrique’, Captain Reyes. I am only a humble public servant.”

Captain Victorio Reyes acknowledged the correction with an nod. His eyes were the flat, brown pebbles of a snake’s, constantly watching and weighing. “Perdon. The message concerns your niece.”

Which one of my nieces, Captain Reyes?” he asked dryly.”I have so many.”

Reyes chuckled. The Quartez clan was spread out all over the Homeworld and the Colonies, and even a savvy Politico like Victorio Reyes couldn’t keep track of them all. Quartez had several nieces and nephews, cousins, great-relatives and various family friends who should have been related, but really weren’t. It was so confusing to an outsider, but Reyes, whose family was the same kind, understood.

Reyes’s face was sober as he replied, “It didn’t say specifically, but I believe it is about Josephine, the diplomat..”

Quartez frowned. “From the Kennedy? I thought they were enroute to the Earth Homeworld for the Patriots’ Day celebration. Has there been a change of plans?”

The Politico activated his datapad and handed it to the Lord Speaker. It was only a few lines long, but the words filled Enrique with terror. Your niece is in danger. You must protect her from harm. They want to kill her.

Josephine is with the Lady President,” Quartez said, “and they are definitely not beloved by the Colonials. It was she who negotiated the treaty with the Middle Rim...”

Yes, that was my thought as well,” Reyes confirmed. “I have taken the liberty to contact Security and the Political Office. The Kennedy is currently in jumpspace, Senor, and they cannot be contacted at the moment.”

Have my personal skiff prepared, Captain. I want to be there to meet the Lady President as soon as she arrives in Earthspace.”

Don Enrique, we don’t know what the Colonials will do. You will also be in danger if you interfere—“

Which is why I want a full security force to accompany me. Make it so, Captain Reyes. I refuse to stand by while my family—and the Lady President—are in danger.”

The Politico pulled himself to attention. “Subito, Don Enrique.”

Quartez dismissed him from his mind as soon the Reyes disappeared into the crowd. Esme had just finished her speech, and the winners accepted the Regatta Cup. The audience broke out in polite applause and cheers; Okuro and Surikan left in disgust. At Enrique’s subtle gesture, plainclothed Security men followed them.

I only pray that we will not be too late to save Deena and Josephine. I will do all I can to prevent disaster from happening. Please, do not let me too late...


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