ORIGINAL FICTION: "Free Are The Stars" by Richard Anderson

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Last year, Richard Anderson wrote "Visions of Sound," an excellent story about humanity's first voyage to another star. This time out, he's written a prequel to that story, explaining how the world depicted in "Visions" came to pass. We will be serializing this story, but in keeping with our new policy of giving our readers great big steaks rather than literary chicken nuggets, the installments will be much longer. The story will conclude on March 21st.

So, without further ado, we are very please to present "Free Are The Stars,"

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October 30 2042

The New Eden Consortium board of directors had a meeting in the main conference room of the administrative building in the East Eden cylinder of the Habitat.

The speaker concluded his speech, “It is projected that the farming cylinder here and the farming domes at Clarke will provide all the food needed, with the new protein processors adding a meat substitute. The comet that’s passing within our range will provide water and other volatiles for years. Therefore, as of last week New Eden and Clarke base are totally self sufficient.”

“Thank you Doctor Walker; and now a report of our lobbing effort in Washington. Go ahead Mister Townsend.”

An older man stood and walked to the head of the table. “As you know, the US House of Representatives has passed the ‘Space Nationalization Act.’ Up ‘till now we’ve been able to keep it from closing in the Senate, but late last night the bill made it to the floor for a vote taking place two days from today. I can say with confidence that it will not pass this time; but after the elections in November we believe it will be reintroduced and it will pass then. We just won't have the votes to stop it.”

A question came from a speaker built in to the center of the conference table: “How long do we have Townsend?”

“Well, Chairman Nakamura,” Townsend replied, “the new congress meets in early January and we should be able to delay it until sometime in mid February of next year.” The radio message took some time to get to earth, the reply took some time to get back. After four seconds of silence, the voice from the speaker responded, “With this new development, I recommend to the board of directors that project Spartacus be activated.”

***

The old man used his left hand controller to turn off the display and close the connection to the New Eden habitat. He backed his powered wheelchair to the center of the room, then turned and looked out the open sliding door into his garden. Mount Fuji was in the distance, and the setting sun caused long shadows to be cast from the Cherry trees along the sides.

Nakamura felt sad it had come to this. Project Spartacus was intended as an emergency plan of last resort, but the politicians on Earth had soured on the idea of private companies in space. The UN had banned the new protein processors on Earth, and the environmental movement in the U.S. was protesting the solar satellites that were even now providing thirty percent of the western U.S.'s power. The movement had even won a victory in the courts that would stop the construction of fusion power stations using helium-3 fuel mined on the moon.

Nakamura felt angry: The fools actually believed that the processors were harmful even though they could produce any type of meat or protein substitute. The processors could help end world hunger all they needed was power and raw chemicals, both in abundance throughout the solar system. This latest assault was an attempt to appropriate the hard work of almost forty years. He had no choice. After a little time of meditation he called out.

“Daughter, attend me.” After a few moments a beautiful woman in her late twenties entered wearing a traditional kimono.

“Yes father, what is it?” she asked.

“Natsuki it is time to return to New Eden and for my daughter to take the rightful place as chairwoman of the board.”

“So soon? I have only been here a week and I do not see my father as much anymore,” She smiled at him. It was more a plea than a question.

The old man caused his wheelchair to back slightly and turn so he could move to a small Buddhist shine. On each side of it where framed photographs. On the left, his wife on their wedding day; on the right was his friend of over thirty years Larry Hull. Both had been killed in the same plane crash that had put him into this wheelchair. Reaching behind the photo of his friend, he retrieved an old style envelope sealed in wax. He gave it to his daughter.

“Give this to John. they are his fathers final orders to his son and my daughter. My final orders are included also.” He bowed to her as best he could manage in the chair.

“Is this necessary Father?”

“Obey me daughter for this one last time.” after a short, silent prayer he told her, “for Spartacus is coming.”
***

The plan evolved over time but it started out simply enough: In the mid 1990s, Larry Hull started a company called ‘Orbital Dynamics Unlimited.’ The company converted old ICBMs into satellite launch vehicles for the US government. Over time they developed an original design of their own and started to offer full commercial launch services.

Hull was a dreamer, a romantic, and highly technically skilled. This lead him to the goal of building an orbital Habitat. It was a long-term plan he thought his company he could slowly work toward as it grew.

The dream changed into a priority on September 11 2001 as he watched the emergency news coverate in horror. Hull realized that if mankind didn’t expand outward, it would be doomed to a cycle of war after war as the world fought over ever decreasing resources. He started looking for like-minded people in science and industry. Two years later he found the person that would become not only his partner in his dream but also his best friend. On a business trip to Japan Larry Hull meet Daichi Nakamura.

Before World War Two the Nakamura family where yakuza, Japanese Mafia. The one-two punch of American victory and occupation gave them the opportunity to become a legitimate business family. They cheaply bought factories ’liberated’ from those the US occupation judged to be militarists. The factories became the core of what would become ‘Nakamura Heavy Industries.’ Although they had long since ended all criminal activity, the family maintained their centuries-old connections with the underworld.

Hull and Nakamura met at one of the after-hours parties that seemed to be where most of the real business in Tokyo took place. Hull was never shy about talking about his dreams and ideas. Over several hours he explained his plans for a separate space habitat and moon base. He also explained why he thought it was important for mankind.

Nakamura listened while the Bar TV showed scenes of American tanks on their way to Baghdad. Hull’s words and his grandmother’s memories of the war years - his grandfather was killed by the first atomic bomb - and the daily news conspired to make him believe Hull was right. That night the New Eden Consortium was born.

***

The view out the window was Presidents favorite: idyllic woodland. She had always thought that the Camp David retreat one of the best perks of the job.

The Speaker of the House interrupted the Presidents reverie, “Madam President, I can assure you that the Space Nationalizion Act will pass after the new congress starts its session.” The voice of

“Thank you, Ted,” she replied, “Once we control the helium-3 production and the solar power satellites, the United States will once again be in control of our own future.” She flashed her crocodile smile, made famous on the campaign trail. She had promised to return America to its former greatness.

“And the question of the Habitat?” asked the Secretary of Defense.

“Yes, Bill, it’ll be turned over to the Air Force. We should be able to dominate near Earth space from there.” She answered absentmindedly. She was already thinking about the next item on the meetings agenda.

***

Diana Jaworski checked her daily influx of email. As one of the nuclear engineers working on new power systems for Orbital Dynamics, she received several dozen a day. She was working through the latest batch when as she skimmed through what she initially thought was a normal corporate announcement. Suddenly, she stopped cold staring at the words in the message.

To the casual reader it would appear as a random typo that slipped through a spell checker. But that was the point of covert messages, wan’t it? The ability to go unnoticed by uninitiated people reading the email? Jaworski - and thousands like her - were now faced with the most important Decision of her life.

She called her assistant, “Roger, I need you to clear my calendar for the next few weeks and book me a flight to New Eden.”

“Actually, I was about to call you. I’ve been asked to go to Luna for a meeting so I’ll arrange both our flights. Will you need a ticket for your husband?”
Jaworski immediately realized Roger was one of the people the covert message had been intended for. An ally right under her nose, and she never suspected.

“No, he won’ be making this trip.” Jaworski resigned herself to the knowledge that knew the words in the message would not only start her on a new journey, but that it would end her marriage.

***

On the New Eden colony, John Hull waited nervously for the tram from the zero g dock at the arrival terminal. He could have used his position on the board to meet her right at the airlock, of course, but he had always hated to see people abuse their status back on earth. He wasn’t going to set a bad example here.

The tram arrived after what seemed an eternity. He checked his impulse to run to it, stood still and waited. People from the tram started walking passed him. It was crowded and he couldn’t see Natsuki. Did he get the date wrong or the time? He started to doubt himself, then he caught sight of her.

Natsuki Nakamura wore a standard jumpsuit, but to Hull she looked as if she wore the finest outfit from Paris or Milan. She was with three other Japanese women, all around her own age. Two walked in front of her and one in back. Officially, they were her secretaries and assistantsm but in reality they where bodyguards trained in the latest hand to hand techniques. Natsuki stopped a few feet from Hull.

“John, I am pleased to see you again,” she said, and did a little half-bow. Damn, thought Hull, she's gonna’ be all proper and Japanese on me.

“Ryoko, Ayeka please see to the luggage,” Natsuki ordered. They didn’t move right away. “I am sure that I am safe with Mihoshi and Mister Hull,” she added in a stern voice.

“Yes, Lady Natsuki,” they both said. They bowed and left to do her bidding.

Although loyal to the whole Nakamura family, Ryoko and Ayeka where creatures of Natsuki's father, and she wanted some private time with Hull. Presenting her arm for hull to take she started to slowly walk toward the monorail station.
Arm in arm theymade small talk while the third girl, Mihoshi, followed a few steppes behind. Unlike the others, Mihoshi's loyalty was to Natsuki. This extended to Hull, and she would gladly give her life to protect both of them.

When both Natsuki and Hull were teenagers, they’d rescued Mihoshi from a life on the streets of Tokyo. She’d been owned by a local street gang. With their help, she was able to withdraw from the drugs that the gang used to force her into a life of prostitution. Calling upon family connections, Natsuki had Mihoshi sent to a Shinto shrine in northern Japan. There she was able to complete her high school education, and train in the martial arts. Eventually she decided that the life of a shrine maiden was not for her she asked to be placed in the service of Natsuki.

Although she’d left her streetlife behind, there was one thing she wouldn’t do: as was common in Japan's underworld, Mihoshi had tattoos. Her back and legs where covered with them and even though Natsuki had offered to have them removed, she wouldn’t get rid of them. Unlike American gang tattoos, Mihoshi's were of the highest quality and artistry, some of the best of Japan. When nude, she was a work of art.

The trio found themselves in a private car where Natsuki felt more comfortable and was able to show her true feeling.

“I missed you, John,” Natsuki said as she took his head in both hands and gave him a loving kiss. She snuggled with Hull, her head on his shoulder feeling content and safe with his arm around her.

“Look at the beautiful world we helped build,” she said as scenes of the habitat slipped by the car window. After a moment she added with venom, “It's a shame those damn looters from Washington are trying to steal it from us.”

“Been reading Ayn Rand again dear?” laughed Hull.

“Yes. But it's true anyway: they pissed away their space program, and now that we have New Eden up and running, they want it. To make it worse, that damn bill bans having children in space. They don't want a colony, they want a labor camp.” Hull could see she was working herself back to a serous mood. Though he agreed with her, he wasn’t in the mood. He changed the subject.

“I have a surprise for you, honey. We’re not going to the apartment.”

“Where then?”

“You'll see.” was all he‘d say.

***

The fight had lasted all night and Diana Jaworski was at her wits end. Her husband Nikolaswas an environmental lawyer and had become active in the anti-solar power station movement.

“They are destroying the upper atmosphere and irradiating hundreds of square miles of the earth!” Nikolas yelled at his wife and wildly waved his arms to emphasize his point.
“That’s just stupid Nicky,” she responded, “It’s non-ionizing radiation, not harmful. All the studies - some of which I did myself - show none of the effects that your group claims.”

“I demand that you quit, and stop hanging around that bunch of perverts and whores in space!” Nikolas’s face was getting red as he became more agitated.

Diana Jaworski made her decision right then. After throwing some clothes into an overnight bag, she left her upscale home in Orange County never to return. She drove her electric two-seat smart car into Los Angles and arrived at her assistant’s apartment. Roger Edwards showed surprise when he opened the door and saw his boss in the hall.

“Can I crash on your couch? I don’t feel up to a hotel tonight.” Embarrassed, she smiled and stepped through the door before he could recover.

***

John and Natsuki walked down a path ten meters wide, holding hands like ordinary lovers. Mihoshi followed quietly behind. The path went through what could have been a well-to-do American suburb of the late twentieth century, before war and economic collapse changed everything. They came to a high hedge that blocked the view. Walking along it, they came to an arched gate.Hull led them through. Natsuki came to a stop and exclaimed,“It's beautiful John!”

Before her was a replica of her family's summer home near Mount Fuji.

There where fish ponds on each side of the slate walkway to the house. Natsuki ran in, went to the back room and opened the wall partition to find a small Japanese garden with a Cherry tree and a brook running through the far corner. In the distance, instead of Mount Fuji, she saw the towers of the urban strip that circled the equator of the cylindrical Habitat.

She changed to some jeans and a comfortable blouse, and sat on a bench with Hull in the garden.

“I wish our fathers were here to see this,” he said, a little sadness in his voice. At the mention of their fathers, Natsuki signaled Mihoshi who had been standing a discreet distance away. Stepping forward, she handed an envelope to Natsuki and returned to her protective station.

“My father wished for you to receive this,” Natsuki said as she handed it to Hull.

He broke the wax seal and withdrew two smaller envelopes, each one having their respective names written on them in a shaky scrawl. They both read in silence.

The first few pages of the letter to Hull were instructions from his dead father: the steps that he wished taken when the habitat became self-sufficient. The last page was from Natsuki's father.

Natsuki's letter was from her father with special instructions that were a little different than the ones Hull had gotten. The last part of the letter was recently written in her fathers fading hand. It read:

“Natsuki, soon I will no longer be the head of the Nakamura clan. I know my dearest daughter has the strength and knowledge to lead us into the future, But she must also tend to her own future and happiness. I ask her to marry John-san as she and he are fated to be together. I have known of my daughter’s love for him for some time and I know he loves her. Natsuki and John-san represent the future world we have tried to build at New Eden; it was done all for my daughter and the son of my friend. It had been a wish his father and I shared that our children should be together.”

“Did you just receive orders to get married?” asked Hull.

“In a loving way,” replied Natsuki. But it still was an order.

***

It may have been fate or simply a plan but either way it happened slowly over time: Natsuki and John were born the same year, and both fathers liked to have their children close. Both were home schooled. Over the years, Nakamura and Hull had many face to face meetings as their fathers slowly worked towards their goal. It seemed natural for the children of partners and friends to play together at such meetings.

John’s mother died of a misdiagnosed cancer when he was three, so Natsuki's mother took it upon herself to care for him when his own father whas traveling the world, setting up their consortium. Natsuki and John grew up together. The earliest memories Natsuki had of him being more than a friend where from when they were eight. They were visiting the Hull's ranch in southern California. It was a beautiful day. and she wanted to go outside to play. She found John in his room building a model.

“What's that?” Natsuki asked

“It's the Enterprise.” he said has he held the model out for Natsuki to look at.

“That does not look like a starship,” Natsuki was puzzled.

“It's an aircraft carrier, silly. I'll show you.” John put the model down and went to a book case to grab a disk he shoved in the player. It started with a brown tinted scene of ancient planes flying over water.

Since they were only eight, neither noticed the irony of a little Japanese girl and a little American boy watching “Midway” together. John was mostly interested in the scenes of the planes and ships and, he really loved when they showed the old cars. Being a girl, Natsuki was more interested in the people and their relationships and emotions.

Natsuki was shocked to learn that Japan had once attacked America! She had thought the had always been friends. Even after eighty years, Japan still glossed over what happened in those dark days. She liked the scenes when the American fighter pilot was talking about how much he loved his Japanese girlfriend. When they showed the pilot at the fence with his girl talking - and then kissing - Natsuki unconsciously took John’s hand. John just smiled. They watch the rest of the movie like that.
Natsuki became upset during the battle scene when the American torpedo planes attacked the Japanese ships.

“Why are the doing that? Why do they keeping going when they know they’re going to die?” said Natsuki with tears in her eyes.

“Because that's what men do when you have to defend the homeland,” said John, with the certainty of an eight year old.

Years Later, Natsuki was in Tokyo taking her final exams for her degree in business administration, so she couldn’t be there when John graduated from the US Naval Academy. On the phone he sounded so proud when he told her he had been accepted for flight training. Natsuki had a vision of doomed torpedo planes going in for their final attack. She told John that she loved him, andran to the Buddhist shrine her father had in all the family homes. She fell to her knees and prayed to every god she could think of to keep John safe.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Copyright 2010, Richard Anderson

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