On the Outside Going In
"So how is the guy on short count," I heard from behind me.
I turned and saw Stimy Peters, a Biotech Third Class from the lab. In the five years I had been on this rock, this was maybe the third or fourth time he had ever initiated a conversation with me. "I feel great," I told him. "Another two shifts and I am gone from this dump."
"Good," he muttered and then walked by me like I wasn't even there. That didn't bother me. Mr. Popularity was never my nickname around here. When people rarely referred to me, I was always the Slime Doctor, or the Bug Guru. There are many more names even less flattering people used, but they were always wise enough not to say it to my face. Like I said, I haven't cared much about what the rest of this Terraform crew thought about me for a very long time.
It was 07:30 local time when I walked into the lab. Tembo Mathisson was there waiting for me. The man never slept. He had his face in a computer display and wore the same studious look as an old Oxford Don from the old vid stories of the 20th Century. He didn't even bother to look up from the display when I came in.
"Gregor, I have those bugs you ordered," he told me dryly. "The Gene Lab spliced in the Vitacare N-453 carbon dioxide metabolite gene you requested. They grew about 500 liters of standard plate count culture. The cargo boys put it in your flyer." With that he stopped and looked up his expression more serious than before. "Gini's crew will apply it to the carbon dioxide vents in Shinkin's Valley."
I began to object. I do my own applications, less complicationsin the long run. Before I could utter a word Tem raised his hand and in through the door leading to the lab walked two security guards. Both were in uniform armor and both carrying Auto Pistols and stun guns.
Tembo added nonchalantly, "Orders from our fearless leader, he wants to see you now. Don't ask me why."
The taller guards walked up to me and reported, "Engineer Gregor Tillman, please come with us."
I had never been approached by planetary security since I got here and never said more than half a dozen words to any security guard. Why were they bugging me now? "Am I under arrest?" I wanted to know.
"No, Engineer Tillman," the tall guard answered almost mechanically "Governor Morrisy wants to see you. We are to escort you to his office immediately."
I had no clue what that was about. I had been clean and kept my mouth shut since I arrive. I doubted the Governor even knew what I had done before coming here. I just shrugged my shoulders. "I assume I have no choice," I said calmly. "Lead on, you know the way."
I followed the taller guard, the other one dropped in behind me five steps back. I was obviously going nowhere except to the governor's office, as if I could escape off this rock to begin with. We walked the two hundred meters to the nearest tube station. Instead of the larger crowded transport cars, we walked through the station, behind two security doors to a smaller tube car that could sit maybe four people. VIP's used them to get around the base so they wouldn't have to rub elbows with us rabble. We sat down as the taller security guard punched in a code and the tube car took off. Both guards sat in the seat directly across from me keeping their eyes firmly planted on me as if they expected me to bolt out of the car. Of course the tube outside was evacuated so I doubted I get very far.
Although transport tubes are made of metal, there is a transparent section ever hundred meters so I could guess we were going up from the limited view. The base was built like a beehive with the workers, labs and field equipment on the lower levels, storage and life support in the middle, and Admin at the top. The only time I had ever been to Admin in my five years was to present my annual report to the All Peoples Party's Terraforming Coordination Committee. Other than that, the Admin staff didn't mix with us peasants. For the most part they had their own food supplies,their own entertainment, and their own security. The workers got what was left.
The tube car stopped at the main entrance to Admin Central. Normally I go through about ten minutes of scanning before they let me inside. First they look at both retinas, then my DNA, and then my personal favorite, the body cavity search. We walked right through, no one said a word. About one hundred meters down the hall there is another security station and we normally go through the same procedure again. I guess that was in case I changed identities after our first search. We blew past that one too. We went up a security lift to the top floor. Only government administration hangs out there, even the corporate admins aren't allowed there without a special invite. We got out of the lifter and walked about twenty meters until we came to the Mahoney door that had the title Planetary Administration engraved into the gold door plate.
"Please go to the second door on the left," the security officer said as he opened the heavy outer door. As I walked through it I noted on the back side of the door was blast steel monofilament plate just in case someone tried to knock with E-21 explosives. I walked in, they closed the door, and I found myself alone in a twenty by twenty meter office full of desks, chairs, computer terminals, and other office equipment, but not a living soul. The place was empty and I knew this nerve center should be humming 24/7. Now I was starting to feel antsy, but I could hardly change my mind at this point. I went to the second door on the left that had the gold engraved door plate of Planetary Governor' mounted in it. I thought about knocking, but just walked in like I owned the place.
There was a beautiful solid oak wooden desk behind which sat the 165 centimeter tall, chubby figure of Governor Gerald Morrisy. He looked up and said nothing. We were not alone. There was a chair with its back to me. In it sat a figure. I couldn't see much other than the sleeves of his jacket which bore the insignia of a Naval Captain.
"Come on in and sit down, the governor is leaving," came a familiar voice from the chair.
The voice was familiar, It took me a second to place it. "Steward, is that you?"
The naval Captain got up and turned around. The bean pole thin, 210 centimeter tall figure with shiny blond hair stood in front of me. He hadn't changed much since we last tried to beat the crap out of each other seven years ago. There he stood with his usual broad sinister smile. This was his self-appointed highness, chief political analyst, public troubleshooter extraordinaire, and champion prick of the All Peoples Party, Steward Shard.
"Steward, congratulations on your promotion," was all I could think to say. "I didn't think you went in for the military life."
"I don't," he said in that jovial mocking tone of his. "New APP policy; all staff in Political Administration and Operations must now have a military rank equivalent to their civilian rank. It solves certain chain of command problems within the military. They made the Old Man a Vice Admiral."
More delusions of grandeur for the new masters I thought. I looked around for a place to sit but there were only the two others had been removed. Steward turned back and looked at the Governor. "You can go now," he said like he was ordering a stray dog. The Governor got up and walked out of the room without a word, but I could see a red tinge on his face. He wasn't used to being ordered around like us working slaves.
Steward pointed to the now empty plush leather chair. "Sit in the Governor's seat. You belong there more than he does if I read these status reports correctly."
I moved around and sat down. "It's not that bad Steward," I told him. "We are mostly on track here. This rock will end up a nice place to live someday. Hell our Grandchildren won't even need masks to go outside, assuming we live long enough to have them."
"It is nice you are finally getting to use that Terraforming degree you got from Univercity of Ceti," Steward said sitting down again. "You never got use it much when you worked for the Old Man."
He was making small talk and I knew he did not come here for this. I leaned forward in the chair. "Now, you don't travel unless you have too, and you certainly don't travel fifty light years to see a retiring Bio Engineer, so what gives?"
"Straight to the point, I do love that about you, Gregor," he said widening his smile. "Simple, we like you to come back and work for the APP."
I leaned back in the soft comfortable chair and didn't try to suppress a chuckle. "Me, work again for the All Peoples Party," I repeated shaking my head? "Steward, no one in that office wants me back, least of all the Old Man, I mean Vice Admiral Cuthray. You guys made that very clear when I walked out, you especially."
"I remember," he said looking at his left arm that I broke. "However, to be blunt we need you with your unique set of talents. You would not be working in the Planetary Affairs Office, you are right, no one wants you there. We have a long duration field job for you."
"No way, Steward," I said empathically. "I got tired of covering up the local atrocities some APP Senator's kid commits. That is one reason I left in the first place. You can hire more willing baby sitters than me."
Steward nodded and seemed totally unaffected at my comments. Seven years ago we would have gotten into a slug match on the spot. "No, that would be a waste of time for a man of your talents. We were wrong to give you those assignments back then. Looking back I admit the mistake and so does the Old Man."
Steward and Cuthray admitting a mistake; now that was something I never expected to hear. "I am impressed, Steward, self inspection is an art I never expected you to embrace."
"We've all had to learn new skills," he said quietly. "We are running into problems in the Outside. It's not just smuggling anymore, or some illegal tech freak. There have been border raids by freebooters and pirates. Things are starting to get out of control on the border and we need someone who can put a stop to this mess. We picked you Gregor."
Now he's admitting to problems he can't cope with. This was a day of firsts. The first thing the Old Man taught me when I joined APP Admin was never admitting there was a problem you couldn't handle. It was a sure sign of weakness, and the universe was full of jackals ready to pounce on anyone who showed weakness. Things must be close to anarchy for Steward to ask for my help.
"This is the first time I've heard of this," I told him. "I assume you're using media control to keep this off the nets?"
"Of course," he said like I was an idiot for even mentioning it. "If we admitted this openly it might lead to a general rebellion on some of the border worlds. We can't have that. We have to keep total control."
I have heard that term before. Control over the masses. It was the main reason I left the APP seven years ago.
"Steward, I don't want to repeat a lecture," I said. "You and the Old Man already heard it. You've had to expect this to happen. Calvin Lockhart our founder wanted to bring order out of the Chaos of the Human League in the last days of the republic. He set up this government with strong central control, but he let the people run their own lives as long as they towed the line, and that line was fairly broad. He was very much like Octavian Caesar who removed the Roman Republic and set up a benign dictatorship. He controlled, but let everyone do their own thing. It was a government that worked well for sixty years. My Grandfather and Father were avid supporters, and my Father still is although he hasn't talked to me in seven years."
Your father is fine and still the head of MI-7, Steward added. "He is retiring next year."
"Thanks, but to go on," I added. "When Calvin died eleven years ago, and Christian Harriot took over as APP chairman, he wanted absolute control. He thought of the people as nothing than slaves whose only purpose was to serve the APP. That doesn't work. People don't mind the control, but they will not tolerate being treated like slaves."
"No that is wrong!" Steward said and slammed his fist down on his chair. "Control is useless unless it is absolute control. If the APP says 2 + 2 = 3, then 2 + 2 = 3. Most people have no sense of self control or intelligence to run a mult planet organization. Most of the sheep couldn't run a government if their own lives depended on it. We have seen this time and time again. There was the collapse after the end of the First Technical Period in the 2040s, then the failure of the PPP two hundred years later, followed by the failure of the Human League a hundred years after that. People can't run their own lives. They need control and control is absolute or there is no control at all".
I shrugged my shoulders. We had this conversation before and last time we both ended up in the hospital. "Fine, then have it your way," I said. "Things will only get worse."
"No they won't," Steward said with an icy glare. "Another reason we need you. Things may be getting worse now, but that won't last for long. The APP has hesitated to force the issue, but Harriot is sick of the disorder and has approved the plan. The new Omega Class cruisers are being built. Several are ready now. Once they are done, the planets will be given a simple choice: obey the APP or Die!"
Again, I had no clue what he was talking about. I kept up on military and APP issues, at least as up to date as I was allowed to get. "Omega Cruisers," I wanted to know?
"Something we have kept under wraps for some time now," Steward said, his trademark gleam was back in his eyes. "They are new super heavy cruisers that are not designed for ship to ship combat, but for orbital bombardment instead. They can pound cities into rubble. They each carry a battalion of Assault Marines to mop up after any bombing, but the best thing is they are the first ships set up to handle the new Enhanced Radiation bombs."
I didn't like the sound of that. "Do I dare ask what they are?" I said.
"My friend it is absolutely vital you know exactly what they are," Steward answered the gleam in his eyes brightening even more. "They are bombs that use antimatter in combination with a couple of the transperiodic elements to produce a radiation blast unparalleled until now. A half dozen of these bombs in the right orbits will cause an entire planetary surface to receive a dose of about five thousand REM mostly in gamma and X-rays.
I couldn't believe it. "Five thousand REM for the entire planetary surface, I repeated? "Steward that dose will kill everything on the surface."
"And several meters underground," he continued. "Actually, several of these bombs will sterilize any planet leaving only the equipment and resources available for us."
He couldn't be serious. With near gigaton thermonuclear bombs, it had always been possible to turn the surface of a world into molten glass, but the destruction of the biosphere made that an extreme last resort solution for planetary rebellion. These bombs would kill the living and leave the structures intact. His eyes and face were glowing now in anticipation. He couldn't wait to use these things against someone.
"Steward, planetary obliteration is not the answer to your problem," I said. "If you use these things, then you will never have the trust or support of the people again. You'll have to run a police state on three hundred worlds and I don't think you have the troops to do it."
Steward nodded, "You are again correct, Gregor, but that is the beauty of this plan. We won't need any troops. Each planet will keep itself in line or suffer the immediate consequences. I am quite sure that after three or four planets are rendered uninhabitable, the rest will get the message. As for the trust and support of the sheep, frankly I never gave a shit about that. When you have them by the throat and by the balls, you don't need their love and support; you need absolute control, and that is what we will have."
I sat back in the Governor's padded leather chair and shook my head. "Steward this is still crazy, you will never be able . . . ."
Steward slammed his fist on the desk again even harder and stood up. "Yes I WILL!" he shouted. "I will do this! The APP will rule! In fact we will rule forever because before we give up an iota of power; every planet in human space will burn. Everyone will die. It is us or genocide for the entire human race."
This was extreme even for Steward. The power had finally gone to his head. He truly believed this plan would work over the long haul. Crazy or not, Steward was dead serious and I knew he was not bluffing. This plan appealed to his sense of grand destiny, to be master of all he surveyed. It looked like he was finally getting his wish. I decided to change the subject. It occurred to me I wasn't being let in on the grand APP design for jollies.
"OK, Steward, you convinced me, now what exactly is my part in the master plan for the Fourth Reich?"
Steward sat down and again smiled broadly. He was enjoying this immensely. "That is another beauty of our plan; we are sending you to Galoway."
"Galoway," I repeated. "Steward I worked for two years as an operative on Galoway. Everyone now knows me there. I show up and I wouldn't last a week. Too many people out there hate my guts for the work I did for the Old Man and the APP."
"That is very true," Steward said. "However you are not going as an operative, we are sending you as an official representative of the APP. Your arrival will be fully announced as well as your duties."
Not satisfied with putting a target on my back, Steward was hanging a megawatt light bulb there just to make sure no one would miss. "That is even more insane than you plan of galactic domination. Steward the government out there, the smugglers, the illegal tech companies, and just the usual gangs of criminal scum will have my head on a silver platter."
"Not so, Mr. Ambassador," he said and stood up in mock attention. "Gregor Tillman, I am pleased to announce you have been officially appointed as the All Peoples Party formal representative to the planet of Galoway and the Outer Worlds. Your appointment is being officially announced to the Senate and the planetary councils. You will be provided with the rank, resources, and privileges accorded to your position."
I heard the words, but didn't believe it. They make me an Ambassador; me the guy who couldn't stand the APP, and would bring it down if I could figure out how. I was going to be the personal representative of Christian Harriot, ruler of the known galaxy, to a group of worlds that wanted nothing to do with him. Besides, only the most trusted and loyal APP chiefs got these jobs.
"Look at me!" I told him pointing to my face. "Does this look like an Ambassador to you? I am nothing more than a good operative and someone who can smooth over problems with the APP elites and the locals. I have no formal diplomatic training."
"And that is the beauty of your appointment," Steward came back. "You are honest, up front, highly competent, and you have the uncanny ability to make people believe you. All those skills are vital to this job because you are going to have to sell the Outer Worlds they going to fall into line or else."
"So now I am the happy joker who tells the Outer Worlds they are now slaves of the APP?" I added. I shook my head in a resounding no. "No, that is not my style Steward, and you and the Old Man know it. They should send you. You love bossing the locals around."
"No," he said remaining calm. "I am a hatchet man, a henchman , even an enforcer, but even I can't convince people like you can. Oh you are going to be hated in the Outer Worlds, but it won't matter because you will have the power and the Outers will know it."
Didn't matter to me; I had no intention of doing this. "No, Steward, I am not interested. You can tell the Old Man and even Harriot himself Gregor Tillman is not interested in the least."
Steward broke out laughing. "You think I come all this distance if you had a choice in the matter? You do not. I thought this idea sucked myself until the Old Man explained it to me. Besides, there is one reason why you will accept this job willingly."
If he meant by willingly having a laser pistol pointed at my head, he was right, but then I just disappear the second I had the chance. "And what is that, to get away from your smiling face?"
"Hardly," Steward sneered. He was really enjoying this power kick. "No, you will go because despite your ability to work in the shadows, your unequaled intelligence, and your unquestioned skill, you still care about these people. Your weakness is that you care. If you do not go, then the Outer Planets will not be given this message. You are going to tell them what to do, or Galoway and those planets will be reduced to radioactive balls of dirt. You are their last chance and if you do not go, they do not get that chance."
I took a deep breath, Steward was right; I did care about those people. They were the only humans not reduced to mere work units for the APP. There was still freedom of thought out there, something the APP hated and feared more than open rebellion.
"I'm right, aren't I?" Steward said leaning forward like he finally had me. He was right, he had gotten to me, and yes I was going.
"Ok, Steward, you get this one. I will go and give them your message, but I am not your stooge."
"You are whatever Harriot and the Old Man say you are, nothing more and nothing less," Steward said leaning back again now knowing he was in control.
"When do we leave?" I wanted to know.
"Your things are being packed onto my cruiser now," Steward said. "We will leave in about an hour. Once in space, we will open a window to Glisten where the fleet is waiting for us.
"Glisten" I repeated. "That's a backwater. What is so special about Glisten?"
"Glisten is near the border and the Outers have been using it for years as a smuggling base. We have warned the governor for ages to do something about it. He never did and we just recently found out why. He had been taking payoffs from the Outers to look the other way. We executed him and his family publicly on Terra a few days ago. It made a wonderful recording. Now it is time to deal with the people of Glisten who foolishly thought they could play both sides."
"You wouldn't," I started to say?
"Yes we are," Steward answered. "Glisten is not worth much so when we sterilize it, no big loss. We are going to make a public demonstration that you are going to personally witness. We are going to record it and send that recording to the other planets who we know harbor rebellious citizens. For their sakes, I hope they get the message. We will also give you the recording to show the leaders on Galoway we are not kidding. With your eyewitness account and these recordings it will show the Outers it is obedience to the APP or death."
There was nothing more to be said. I let out a deep breath and got up from my seat. "OK, Maestro, I am following your tune. I just wouldn't turn your back on me or these worlds for the rest of your long, troubled, life."
Steward got up and opened the door. "Do not intend to," he said and walked out into the still vacant office.
I followed, for now.