Every Tuesday (Monday night this time) until the book is released, I'm going to post a chapter. That's a total of three chapters between now and the release date, starting with chapter one today.
Village of Concordia
Arcadia – Wolf 359 III
“Things are even worse on Columbia.” Will Thomson stood in front of a small group of locals, farmers and business owners, mostly. He was tall with short brown hair, and he had a scar on the left side of his face that multiple skin regens had shrunken but failed to entirely eliminate. He stood almost rigid, as if at attention, despite the constant ache in his leg, and he spoke clearly and deliberately. “They’ve had a federally-appointed Planetary Advisor since before the war ended. The planet is a powderkeg, and there are rumors that some type of Federal garrison is going to be sent there.” Will was ex-military, which would have been obvious from his bearing, even if everyone present hadn’t already known him. Almost half the men and women in the room had been Marines, including old Silas Hampton, who’d fought way back in the First Frontier War. Once a Marine always a Marine. Silas even taught a class at the Academy…that is when we wasn’t trying to grow a tarter, firmer apple on his spread north of Concordia.
“Are they doing anything in Arcadia?” Kara Sanders was a member of one of the original colonizing families and one of the largest landholders in the Concordia district. She and Will had an intermittent relationship that was the sector’s worst kept secret, but that didn’t stop her from being a pain in his ass. “Or did you all just sit on your brains in that new Assembly Hall we paid to build and enjoy the sounds of your voices?” Like many in the colonies, Kara had a deep mistrust of government and an overdeveloped instinct to speak her mind. Though she’d been born on Arcadia and had never set foot on Earth, she’d been raised on her grandfather’s stories…and the old man had never in his life had a good thing to say about Alliance Gov.
Old man Sanders had been a top notch computer designer and a member of the upper level of the middle class. He’d enjoyed a comfortable enough life back in one of the satellite cities of the San Fran metroplex, but he was a throwback to an older time. He chafed at being told what to read and think and where he could go. He resented the political class and the way they controlled every aspect of citizens' lives, and he considered moderate physical comfort an unacceptable substitute for freedom. When the chance came to join a colonization expedition, he jumped at it, even though it meant danger and hardship. Age had mellowed him somewhat since, but he could still rail on for hours about the government and its many failings, and there was still no hazard that could dissuade him from what he thought was right.
Will had retired from the Corps after he was almost killed in a training accident while attending the Academy, and he’d decided to stay and settle on Arcadia. He had friends at the Academy, and even though he was retired and on reserve status, he sometimes taught small unit tactics to the cadets. A veteran of the infamous Operation Achilles, he was highly respected even though he’d been out of the service for more than a decade. That didn’t matter - once a Marine, always a Marine.
He taken his land grant just outside Concordia and taught himself how to grow grapes…or more accurately, the genetically-altered grape-like hybrid that grew so well in the Arcadian soil. He’d been there fourteen years now and was so well liked he’d been voted Concordia’s representative to the planetary Assembly. He’d just gotten back from the capital city, which the original settlers had confusingly named Arcadia, the same as the planet itself. Visitors usually referred to it as Arcadia City, but not the locals, who tended to know if one was referring to planet or city by overall context.
“Kara, what did you expect us to do?” He looked at her with a mix of affection and frustration. “Start shooting at Federal officials? Burn down the Federal Complex?” He continued to stare intently at her for a few seconds, but it was clear she didn’t have another comment. It was easy enough to criticize inaction, he thought, but quite another to offer substantive alternatives. “However, to answer your question, we did discuss some specifics, though not in open session, which was undoubtedly monitored.”
A ripple of renewed interest swept through the room, as faces that had been downcast or distracted now looked up expectantly. “If we are to resist these encroachments – indeed, if we are to have any hope to maintain our freedoms – the colonies must become self-sustaining.” He paused, looking out over the small group. He already knew he was among friends and peers he trusted, but he reflexively hesitated before continuing. “We are dependent on Earth for much of what we need. Computers, heavy machinery, shipping, pharmaceuticals, defense. As long as that is the case, we will remain highly vulnerable. We will lose the freedoms we treasure. If not immediately, eventually…bit by bit.”
The room was silent, every eye on Will. “We must produce our own machinery, our own computers…” He paused again. “…our own weapons.” There were a few gasps, but everyone's attention remained focused. "Indeed, Earth would be incapable of producing many of these finished goods without the raw materials the colonies provide. The colony worlds ship resources to Earth and buy back the finished goods we need at enormous markups, because we do not have the production facilities we require." Another pause. "We must build them. We must develop our own industry."
There was a ripple of sound from the assembled group, but it was at least half a minute before anyone spoke. "How are we going to fund that? And how will Alliance Gov respond?" Kyle Warren's voice was loud and echoed through the tiny hall. "I agree with what you are saying, Will, but how are we supposed to actually do it without putting everything we have in jeopardy?"
Kyle Warren was another retired Marine, one who'd enjoyed bragging about serving under Erik Cain in the attack on the Gliese 250 space station…until one night when he and Will Thompson had closed down the local watering hole. Will wasn't one to brag about his fighting days, at least not unless there were four or five drinks in him, but that night Warren’s boasting had gotten to him and finally he proclaimed that he'd not only served with Cain, but actually commanded him in Operation Achilles. Kyle had dismissed it as empty bluster until he looked it up on the Marine database and discovered, to his shock, that it was true. Indeed, Thompson had fought alongside Cain for three years, and was his superior the entire time. That was the end of Kyle Warren trying to outdo Will on war stories, but the two became good friends anyway.
"It won't be easy." Will's leg was aching badly, and he shifted behind the small podium, trying to get more comfortable. "But everyone in this room has done pretty well for themselves. We're all going to have to be willing to risk what we have…to invest in these new ventures. To secure our future…the future that really matters."
The relative quiet was shattered as most of those present began speaking at once. Grumbling about the government, complaining about encroachments on freedoms, that was one thing. But actually taking the risks, committing everything to the defense of liberty…that was a different matter, a far more difficult one. Will looked out over the room, holding up his hands, trying to get control through the confused cacophony.
Finally, Kara Sanders was able to get everyone's attention, though it was unclear if it was respect for her family's seniority or simply the fact that she yelled the loudest. "Will, you're talking about putting everything our families have worked for in jeopardy. What if it doesn't work? What if we lose everything? If we go down this road and fail we will have nothing." Most of the settlers who emigrated to colony worlds came from the lower classes on Earth. Having come from nothing - or grown up in families where mothers and fathers had done so - they tended to be cautious and conservative, protective of what they had. And Kara’s family had more than anyone, wealth and comfort built by three generations of Sanders.
Every eye in the now-silent room focused on Will. "I grew up in the South Philly Flats." Will was understanding of her concerns, of those of everyone in the room, but he was also a little annoyed. He was very fond of Kara, but she really had no idea what it was like to have nothing. "I ate rats, Kara. I didn’t learn to read until the Corps taught me when I was nineteen. When did you learn to read?” He paused slightly, but didn’t wait for an answer. “My father died when I was eleven because he had no medical priority rating and couldn't afford a few credits for the medicine he needed. I brought him cups of the putrid yellow water we got from our faucet and begged him to take a sip. I watched him coughing up blood, dying in agony for the lack of a few injections." His usual calm was cracking slightly. These were things he'd rarely talked about...with anyone. Things he kept buried deep, locked away in a dark place in his mind. "Do you think I don't know what it is like to have nothing?"
His impassioned speech silenced the room. They were feeling different things - shock, sympathy, shame. Some of them, mostly second or third generation colonists, had never experienced the type of deprivation he described. But many, the veterans and others who'd come from the lower classes on Earth themselves, had their own versions of this story. They'd experienced firsthand living on the wrong end of a system of total government domination, and they would do whatever it took to make sure that didn’t happen to them again…or to their friends and neighbors and children.
"I know just what life is like on Earth for most people. Is that what you want out here? Is that the life you want for your children, your grandchildren? To be slaves? Because that is what the Cogs are…slaves." His voice was rising as he became more emotional. "Do you think that can't happen here? It happened on Earth. It happened because people allowed it, because they let fear rule them. Because they wouldn't stand up and defend what was truly important. Because they sold their freedom cheaply and were cheated by the very people they elected to lead them. Because they stood up and said, if we resist we may lose what he have." Every eye in the room was glued to him. He looked out over the hall, his body tense as he gripped the edges of the podium. "If we do the same we will certainly lose all we have, and we will throw away man's chance at redemption.” He paused, moving his head slowly, looking out over everyone in the room. “And it will be our fault, the generations of suffering and deprivation that follow.”
Kara sat in her chair, watching Will in shocked silence, her mind adrift in wildly forming thoughts. She wasn’t yet sure if theirs was a great love story or not, but she was very fond of the grumpy ex-Marine. She’d sat and happily listened to him drone on for hours about grapevines and savage battles, each with the same enthusiasm, but she’d never heard him speak like this before. She imagined him, this man she cared so much for, as a child, scrounging in the gutter for food, hiding from the Gangs, and her heart ached. She thought of the children he’d mentioned, children she didn’t even have yet, living in such squalor, enduring each day with utter hopelessness. Determination suddenly coalesced in her mind, and her view of the future, of what was needed, became clear. Finally, she stood, turning to face as many of those seated in the room as she could.
“You are right, Will.” She spoke, slowly, deliberately, struggling to hold back the wave of tears she could feel building. Her voice was thin and soft, but firm. “What I said was hasty…and wrong. Our world is ours, and we must do whatever we can to insure it stays ours.” She stood and turned to face the others. “It is freedom that is precious, not possessions. I am fortunate; I have never faced the challenges that many of you have. Yet I can appreciate that I have something that hundreds of millions on Earth cannot imagine.”
She slowly walked up to the front of the room and stood next to Will. “The people on Earth were once faced with a dilemma such as this. We may hate and despise them for their weakness, for allowing the government to steal their freedoms, for bequeathing to those who followed them the hideous perversion the Alliance has become.” Her voice was louder now. She understood, she finally understood completely. “But such choices are rarely stark ones, nor are they likely to be obvious when they present themselves. I might easily have made that same error, to have chosen the illusion of security promised by inaction.” She looked out over her assembled neighbors. “But it is only an illusion. Were it not for Will’s words today I might not have realized. There are no safe choices, only true ones and false ones.
She turned and looked right at Will as she continued, her moist eyes boring into his. “Will is right; we must act now. He must not allow our freedoms to be stolen, slowly, imperceptibly until one day we realize they are gone.” She turned to face the rest of the room, every eye riveted on her. “I will pledge myself to this cause, and stake all I have - wealth, blood, breath – to it.”
The room was silent, every eye upon her. They had all known Kara for years, and she was respected and well-liked. Now they were seeing a strength none had ever witnessed. “But I am not enough. Will is not enough. We must all stand together or we shall all be defeated. Concordia must be united, and we must join with the rest of the planet…with all of the colony worlds. Now we must draw a line and make our stand. This far and no farther.” She thrust her arm into the air. “Will you stand with us, Arcadians?”
Kyle Warren was the first to his feet. “Yes! I am with you.” He turned and looked around the room. “Arcadians?”
It began slowly, and Will never knew who was the first. One voice joined and then another and another, until everyone there was chanting. “No farther, no farther!”