ORIGINAL FICTION: "Free Are The Stars, Part II" by Richard Anderson

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PLEASE NOTE: This is Part Two of a three part story. Part one is available here: *****************************

Natsuki and John were having the same argument they’d been having since the morning after their wedding.

“John you should be the chairman,” Natsuki said one more time.

With a sigh Hull replied, “Honey look the board has already accepted you as chairwoman and it's what your father wants and my father wanted.”

“Do we always have to follow their wishes?”

“It's the price the prince and princess have to pay, Natsuki. Anyway you’re better at it than me. I’m a pilot and an engineer, not a CEO.”

“Bullshit! You run Orbital just fine!”

They went back and forth for like this for a few minutes until Hull changed the subject: “Are the contact lenses still bothering you?” As a wedding present, Hull had bought Natsuki one of the new personal computers, with contact lens screens and an ear piece for audio and neural control. The CPU itself was a little larger than a twentieth-century credit card, and fit easily in a pocket or a belt pouch. It could connect with the habitat systems by wireless network.

“A little, and don't change the subject!” said Natsuki; but she knew he was right: she would have to bear the responsibility of what was to come. Over Natsuki's objection, The board had created a subcommittee with full authority to take whatever actions necessary to win independence for the Habitat and the Moon. It was a small subcommittee with only two members: Natsuki Nakamura and John Hull.

#

Daichi Nakamura moved from the family summer home near Mount Fuji to his apartment in Tokyo, where he could more easily lobby the government. He had many friends in the various ministries and many favors he was now calling in. The meeting was informal, in the very formal way only fully understood by the Japanese. Nakamura smiled his thanks at the women dressed as a traditional geisha who poured tea for himself and an old college friend. The friend was now a member of the Diet, and part of the prime ministers’ own faction. After the geishas finished and left the room, the conversation continued.

“Old friend, I am sorry. The Prime Minister is receiving heavy pressure from the Americans to back the takeover of the consortium and the conservatives in the Diet are backing the move.”

“So. We are still the lap dogs to Washington’s wishes?” Nakamura replied with ironic venom.

“It is not so easy, Daichi san. The crises in China and India have made our ties to America all the more important. Besides, they have promised us control of the helium-3 production on the Moon,” the friend replied.

“And they hold the strings that the puppet government dances to!” There was some anger in Nakamura’s voice now. He had hoped to at the very lest that Tokyo would be neutral, but it seemed Washington was holding most of the cards. Again.

Weeks of cajoling, promising, and even bribing from Nakamura had slowed but not stopped the Japanese government. They would eventually back America’s stance. Nakamura had never taken ‘no’ for an answer, however, and he had one more card to play. He had friends in Tokyo that could help with this last, most dangerous plan. If need be, he would bring down the whole government to get his way.

#

The November elections had gone the way everyone had predicted, and resultantly the workload for the Independence Subcommittee increased across the board. Firstly there remained the standing question of how independence was going to come about. Natsuki argued - and won - that a plebiscite needed to be held. The number of questions on the ballot had to be set and a date found for the voting.

They settled on four possible options. First: full independence from Earth, with the formation of a nation called the Solar Federation. Second: independence from only Japan and America with membership in the United Nations. Third: No independence, and last: none of the above. The board was going to campaign for the first option.

The next question was of the date of the vote. Hull reported that Orbital Dynamics and the other launch companies would have all essential personnel and equipment in orbit by the first week of January. To give time for debate, January thirtieth was chosen. An added point: it was decided that all persons on Consortium property would have the right to vote if they were sixteen years old, or older. If this vote went as hoped, the Solar Federation would be declared January 31 2043.

Once the hows and whens of independence were decided on, it was time to work on the form of government they wanted. All agreed that it would be democratic, but the exact form and the distribution of powers were hotly debated. Some wanted a strong central government, some wanted a weak one. The debate went on for weeks with no real progress.

By the thanksgiving weekend, Natsuki and Hull where in great need of a rest. They where lounging in the back room of their home, with the partition open looking at the garden.

“Oh look a bunny,” said Natsuki, as a small white rabbit came into the garden. It was hopping around looking for food. Natsuki sat on the floor, Japanese style, dressed in a kimono. She looked beautiful and fragile to Hull. He had to remind himself that she was the de facto leader of a rebellion.

The couple’s respite was interrupted by Ryoko entering the room. She had a stiff look to her, as if she was exerting a great amount of control. She bowed low.

“Lady Natsuki, I have news from our friends in Tokyo,” she said nervously. ‘Friends in Tokyo’ was a polite euphemism for the family's yakuza connections. Sensing something was wrong, Natsuki sat up straight and assumed a formal look.

“Continue Ryoko,” she said.

“Master Daichi has been killed, he…” Ryoko said, then suddenly stopped and could not continue. Natsuki stiffened at the word, her eyes narrowed. Hull sat up sharply in shock, and didn’t know what to say or do. The last he’d heard was that Daichi was in Tokyo, meeting with government ministers and bureaucrats, trying to guide Japan's policy in favor of the habitat and Moon. It hadn’t sounded dangerous at all.

“What happend?” Natsuki asked, her voice as cold as interstellar space.

“The police are going to report that he surprised a burglar.” Ryoko said, sullenly.

“A man in a wheelchair surprising a burglar!?” Natsuki was incredulous, “That apartment is in a high security building. What else is in the message?” Hull could see anger rising in Natsuki.

Ryoko continued with her head down, staring at some nonexistent spot on the floor, “Our friends believe the police are covering up and that he was assassinated.”

“Thank you Ryoko,” Natsuki said sadly. There was a long pause while her normal stoic appearance gave way to pain and anger and sadness and fear, all in the space of a moment, then her emotionless mask returned. She continued in a cold voice, “please inform our friends that I would take it as a personal favor if they would look into this and deal with those responsible.”

Hull admired his wife's strength but was more than a little frightened at the ease with which she’d just ordered God knew how many murders.

After another long pause, Natsuki said, “Now leave us I wish to discuss this with my husband.” Ryoko bowed and left the room, sliding the door shut.

When she was sure Ryoko had moved away from the door, Natsuki threw herself into Hull's arms and the great wracking sobs and hot, salty tears came, and would not go. She cried as only a daughter could cry at the loss of her father.

#

After the death of Daichi Nakamura, everyone working on project Spartacus redoubled their efforts. People openly spoke as if Earth had declared war on them. Natsuki rammed through a measure for a constitutional convention to be held with representatives from every group in the consortium.

Hull worked with the different companies that handled launch and spaceflight services. In every country where the consortium had spaceports, things started happening that slowed their schedule. Nothing was officially announced, of course, but it seemed clear the various earth governments were trying to slow them down as much as possible. Hull also met regularly with the pilots’ union, but he wouldn’t tell anyone - especially Netsuke - what they where planning.

On Earth things were heating up. Protesters were actively trying to block the entrances of the Texas, New Mexico and California launch facilities. Consortium personnel were being harassed, and the EPA filed suit to shutdown Orbital Dynamics claiming it was violating the Clean Air Act. Congressmen and Senators were going on talk shows claiming that the habitat and lunar colonists were committing all manner of ridiculous crimes. There were even doctors claiming that the consortium was covering up how spaceborn children were all deformed and unhealthy.

Hull ordered all the reusable launch vehicles that could be readied to go to orbit and to wait at the orbital transfer stations. Since all the personnel that wanted to go to New Eden or the newly-renamed renamed Clarke City were already in space, they could use throwaway launchers to finish lifting what little equipment that remained. By the end of December, 2042 the colonies and the earth seemed to be on the brink of a showdown that neither side could afford to avoid.

#

Andre Zarkoff couldn’t believe his luck. He’d come to Macau after completing his Tokyo mission. For the last few weeks since then, he simply could not seem to lose at the gaming tables, and he’d even made more money than the CIA had paid him for silencing that troublesome old man.

He was having a quiet drink at the hotel bar when the most stunning Eurasian women he’d ever seen walked in. It was a little before dawn, so the bar was mostly empty. He decided his luck was still holding when she sat next to him and asked for a light. Faster than seemed possible, he was back in his room, sitting on his bed watching as the woman slowly undressed.

Her back was to him, and he saw that she had a tattoo of a dragon running down her spine in the Japanese fashion. She turned and walked toward him, and he saw that the tail of the dragon continued up from her legs to end just below her near-perfect breasts. She leaned over him as he lay in bed, and gave him the most passionate and sexual kiss he’d ever had ever had. She stood and smiled down at him.

Andre Zarkoff tried to smile but his lips wouldn’t move. In a panic he tried to sit up, and found he could barely move. Waves of pain hit him, starting in his mouth, and radiating downward. The woman stood there, smiling and staring at him for a bit, then she leaned in again.

“Have you ever heard of a poisoned kiss?” The women whispered into his left ear, while giving it a little nibble. She moved to his right ear: “It’s a special neural toxin. You have five minutes to live. A gift from the Nakamura clan.” She moved back over to the left ear, kissing Zarkoff on the lips on the way.

“If you tell me the name of the one who ordered the old man’s death I can ease your pain,” she offered. Zarkoff painfully struggled, croaking out a single name. His vision was getting dark. The women recognized the name, and smiled as she expertly slid a stiletto into his chest, piercing his heart ending his pain forever.

#

The New Year started with an air of tension. People were still moving from the orbital stations to either the Moon or the habitat. Those in the colonies who wanted to return to earth being transferred to the non-consortium stations like the Bigelow Orbital Hilton, and using Virgin Galactic to return to earth.

The first bill introduced to the new American congress was the Space Nationalization Act. After a week of debate in which most of the speakers ranted of the evils of the consortium, the bill passed and sent to the Senate. One of the most appalling parts of the bill was that only companies belonging to the consortium were to be nationalized. The bill also banned anyone below the age of twenty four from space.

With Natsuki's father dead, the independence subcommittee had ceased to rely on paid lobbyists and PR firms to make their case. All though some conservatives and libertarians argued in the consortium's favor, the tide was clearly running against them. The environmental lobby and some religious leaders were vocally against them, as were anti-big business groups, and still others that felt that man had no business in space. These lobbyied not only for the government to take control of New Eden and Clarke City, but they were demanding that they be shut down entirely.

With Natsuki in charge of the political and business matters and Hull dealing with the technical and spaceflight actions they had little time to be together. When by chance they met at home they where glad just to be able to lie together and sleep in exhaustion.

On Earth, the Nationalization Act moved with more speed than anticipated, and the Senate was set to vote on it the day before the colonies would be holding the plebiscite for independence.

On the night before the Senate vote, Natsuki arranged for Hull and her to spend the evening together. They had a quiet diner, with cocktails afterward in the garden. Their three helper/bodyguards made themselves scarce, giving them the illusion that the two of them were home alone. They chatted about music and books and things of no importance, allowing their minds and bodies to relax from the stress of careening events.

At the end of the evening, Natsuki took Hull by the hand and lead him into the bedroom. Undressing they both got into bed and embraced.

“Husband, please give me a child.” said Natsuki in a loving voice. They slowly made love like it would be their last time. Both were certain that it was.

#

Months before, When the word had gone out that it was time for earth folk to evacuate to the colonies, it created the biggest launch logjam in history. It had taken Diana Jaworski and her assist Roger Edwards until the last week of December to receive a flight. Things on Earth were becoming chaotic by the middle of November, with protests and near-riots at the spaceports. Jaworski’s own husband had joined in the anti-space movement that swept America.

It wasn’t her intention at first, but slowly, over the weeks of waiting and tensions she and Roger Edwards had become lovers. It was natural that two people with similar beliefs and similar ages, thrown together in an increasingly-dangerous crisis would become close, but it made Jaworski feel guilty. She wondered if she was taking advantage of Roger. Due to a shortage of ships, hundreds of people were still on the ten transfer stations in orbit, waiting for passage to the Moon or New Eden.

“No, Roger it’s your turn. I’ll get a flight soon enough.”

Edwards replied, “Diana, please don’t argue with me. They need you up on the Habitat, and anyway I’m working on modifications to some of the orbital ships so they can get to lunar orbit, and be picked up there. Far safer than leaving all those people tooling around in orbit, where any Green lunatic on the ground can pick ‘em off.” He shoved his ticket into his one-time boss’s hand. Edwards smiled as he continued, “Don’t worry. I’ll be on the Moon in no time. But you’re more important to the effort than I am. You need to get to New Eden so you can start working on my transfer back as your rusty trusty assistant.” Edwards kissed her before she could argue farther.

#

It was Election Day in space, and the citizens of New Eden and Clarke City used their home, work or school computers to vote. The computers used biometrics and DNA scans to verify there was only one vote per person. Hull was able to busy himself with the technical details of moving the last of the refugees in low earth orbit to the moon or New Eden. The crews of the transfer stations had volunteered - to a person - to stay on station for the duration, despite knowing they were at risk. They were the first, most obvious targets, should things get violent.

The only thing left for Natsuki to deal with was a message from the American President. The Senate had passed the Nationalization Act, sixty to thirty nine with one abstention. The President had been waiting for today's vote, and wanted the consortium's reply before signing or vetoing the bill.
The message declared that New Eden, all Solar Power satellites, and all Orbital Transfer Station, would be turned over to the US military. Clarke City and the helium mining stations on the near side of the moon would be turned over to Japan, since they where the primary user of the fusion fuel. The consortium would be reimbursed for these assets with US treasure bills at a rate to be negotiated later. The various member companies would be permitted to maintain their spaceports and to run satellite lift businesses separately; the consortium was to be dissolved. All nonessential personal would be transferred from the moon back to earth. Everyone on New Eden would have to move back to earth and the habitat would be shut down.

“Do these idiots really believe that we spent over thirty years building New Eden just to abandon it because a bunch of nutjobs don’t believe humanity belongs in space? Or that a ton of worthless paper will make it all better?” Natsuki said rhetorically to the board of directors.

As was her duty, Natsuki presented the offer to the board. One member joked that the earthfolk didn’t even have enough respect to offer real money, just bonds.

“I move that we reject the American offer!” The Mitsubishi board member with an energy that surprised the others at the table. The board agreed, and they voted with him unanimously to do so. A few members wanted to send a message to the President telling her ‘go screw yourself,’ but they left the reply to Natsuki.

She knew what her reply would be already, but she waited until midnight just to be sure she was doing what her people wanted. The voting on independence would have ended by then.

At 0100 hours, New Eden time, all the members of the board of directors of the New Eden consortium gathered behind Natsuki while she read a statement that was transmitted to every consortium property, as well as every news organization on Earth.

“As of Today, January 31st 2043, I am proud to announce the formation of the Solar Federation.”

#

The President immediately signed the space nationalization act, and ordered all the American assets of the consortium ito be seized. The Prime Minister of Japan followed with his own seizure order a few hours later. Some said he felt a bet reticent to do so.

After the seizure order, Natsuki ordered the solar power satellites to be shut down. They were beaming power to the Nevada desert. The effect was dramatic and immediate: Without power from the satellites, the western power grid started to suck electricity from the rest of the country. The system wasn’t designed for the simultaneous loss of thirty percent of the grid‘s overall power. The western United States went dark, from Los Angeles to Denver, and of course everyone panicked almost immediately.

Nikolas Jaworski was in his office. arranging transportation for protesters to the demonstrations at the Mojave spaceport when the power went off. This being southern California, someone pulled a hand cranked radio out of the closet and tuned to a station that had emergency power.

The newscaster said, “…And it seems the whole western half of the United States is in a blackout, the cause of which is unknown - wait - this just in: The President has announced that the power outage is the result of the New Eden consortium illegally shutting down the satellites that fed power to the western US. To repeat…”

Nikolas stopped listening and yelled “That bitch!” Most of the people that heard him believed he as talking about the consortium charwomen, but he was thinking of his soon-to-be ex-wife.

As Nikolas drove home, he had to detour around areas that the National Guard had already cordoned off. Looting and rioting had started a few hours after the power went off, and the governor had called up the guard. Nikolas felt a burning hatred for the colonists. ‘By what right do they disrupt the natural order of things?,’ he thought.

#

Natsuki ordered all shipments of helium 3 to Japan to be stopped. There where a few cargo modules on their way at the time, and no way to stop the automated modules after they’d been thrown into space by the linear accelerator. These just coasted to Earth and splashed down in the Sea of Japan where a ship would pick them up. Even with these last modules, it was estimated that Japan had less than twenty days of fuel for its fusion reactors. The Japanese had been building them as fast as they could, to replace the aging fission reactors constructed back in the twentieth century.

The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution stating that the colonist’s sovereignty violated both the Outer Space Treaty of 1968 and the Moon Treaty of 1979. It also authorized the use of force to bring New Eden and the moon bases back under control of their respective member states.

The consortium, meanwhile, announced the formation of the Republic of Luna to govern the Moon and to be the second nation - along with New Eden - within the Federation.
Things stood there for a week: The earth Sent a messages or made announcements, and the Federation would respond in kind, but no real action was taken by either side.

#

“John, how many people are still in near earth orbit?” asked Natsuki as her husband sat in her office in the administration building.

“A few hundred, give or take on the transfer stations. Why?”

“I just have a bad feeling about having people so close to Earth. They might try something.” Natsuki didn’t think that America and Japan were just going to roll over and let them go. Not after going to all the trouble of passing the nationalization bill and seizing colonial assets.

“If you want I can have them put the stations on standby and send some ships to pull them back here. It's going to take a week or so.”

“Do it, John, please. It would make me feel better.”

To Be Concluded...
Copyright 2010, Richard Anderson

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