2: For Better or Worse
Jarrid Fortinbras was a civilian guide for the tours around the deep caverns of the planet Mecca-Surfnir. This unremarkable looking man was about 30 years old, had brown hair, eyes, and a permanently vacant expression and monotonous voice, which suited his job. He had married once, 10 years ago, but his wife died from an industrial accident on Cordaelius III.
In fact, the only really interesting thing about his life was that it was completely fake.
Jarrid sat at a table in the tourist business' cafe at the east end of the main city. The desert surrounded them on all sides. There was absolutely nothing out there except bleak, bleak emptiness stretching on halfway across the planet. Yet, it was this world specially, among several others, that he had chosen for his assignment.
He knew the cafe owner well. At the first sign of any trouble, Jarrid would simply receive a beep in his ear, and quietly disappear over the side of the palisade.
His 'friend' entered via the wooden walkway up to the platform overlooking the Eastern Expanse. Jarrid restrained the urge to stand up and meet him. He knew he wasn't in much danger of being arrested, but it was always better to be safe.
Eventually the man found Jarrid and sat down. His manner betrayed a clipped effeciency of movement, despite his plain civilian clothes. He did not do things that were unnecessary.
'Hello, friend.' Said Jarrid.
'Greetings. I've come from Bors Reinz.'
'Ah yes?' Jarrid said this unconcernedly, but few other people on this planet, or in the entire Union of Worlds would have reacted like that. To say 'I've come from Bors Reinz' was not a joke, ever.
'Yes.' Continued the man. 'He would like more information.'
'Ah yes, about what?' Jarrid was tapping his foot like mad under the table. Admiral Murda had given him strict instructions about what to, and what not to reveal.
'About certain things. The attitude of your government to ours?'
'Is cordial, nothing less.'
The other man shifted forward over the table.
'I understand, that Jihilites are losing power. In a few months, you'll have an election. I believe Mor Draemien is the favoured candidate. When is peace on the table when the Cossacks are in power?'
So, the discussion had shifted quickly to war between their governments.
'Never. But the Cossacks are not in power yet. My Director,' He stopped himself from saying Murda. It was never good to be overheard speaking the names of important ESF officials on a Union planet. The greater majority of the Union populace knew who ESF's president was and that was it. 'Is interested in creating an atmosphere of congeniality with the Union.'
'I see. Please continue.'
'To do this, she has decided to give something to you. I believe I know what can be delivered. How does peace between us, for 10 more years, sound?'
'I would be happy to help extend the peace.'
'There needs to be a miracle to keep Molex Reeves in power. He is suffering from the attrition that 30 years of his parties' leadership has imposed on the people. They have been in power for so long, that almost every difficulty that now exists could be blamed on the policies of his predeccessor's, somewhere. The other parties are exploiting that, but it's not the Ragna's who have the support of the mining corps.'
'I am aware of this, of course.'
'So what she would like is a token of friendship on behalf of the Union. Something that could help Molex Reeves immensely.'
'Ah.' His friend put his arms on the table and leaned back. 'Let's see, what will it be? Resources, terrorism, a treaty?'
This was not planned for. This was obvious in the other man's reaction.
'Technology?! What sort of technology?'
'We know you've been making strides in certain fields. These fields have caught the eye of the scientific community in the ESF. Also, some of the other communities.'
'Yes, the omnipresent Jupiter Command. I'm sorry, but even if I had the clearance of Admiral Graylan himself, I couldn't give you those technologies. That ability belongs solely to Bors Reinz. And he.' Remembering himself, he dropped his voice. 'Is not going to hand the ESF the only advantage we have.'
Jarrid had agreed with the owner of the cafe, that the only time someone would come over, was when he put up his hand. He did so now.
'Excuse me, 2 synthetic Acids please.'
An Acid was a drink composed by artificially joining certain chemicals together. The resulting drink technically embodied all the taste virtues of various wines and beers all rolled into an alcohol free-substitute. Of course, since it was 'perfect' there was only one variety.
'I know, I know. Just testing the waters. But you realise, even a seemingly small advantage can be a big one. And Murda won't return Molex to power until she has complete assurance it won't hurt the ESF.'
'In other words, she thinks this peace will preserve the ESF's power at the expense of ours?'
'Of course.' Well, there was no being diplomatic about it. He knew that his friend would receive the same information, any way he said it.
'I see.' He said nothing for a few moments.
A man came over with the acids. Jarrid thanked him and payed him a large tip.
'Then perhaps I cannot help you. If you are not,' He motioned submissively, 'Going to accept the smallest compromise?'
A bit disappointed, Jarrid went to the next item Murda was willing to barter.
'Decreased pirate activity. We know you've been funding the pirate groups that have been annoying the ITA. Just give us the name and location of all of their bases, and Murda guarantees Molex Reeves will get into government.'
'That would be betraying our allies.'
He seemed lost in thought. Eventually, he noticed his drink. He lifted it to his lips and sipped it.
'Actually, we are prepared to do some limited harm to our pirates. We'll stop sponsoring them.'
'Oh? And that will do?'
'Well, they won't be able to raid as many convoys.'
Jarrid didn't like it.
'And how much will that assist Murda? Do you realise, the election is in 2 months, 2 months. '
'Well then any assistance is going to look suspicious.' He snapped.
'Perhaps I should cancel this discussion.' He made as if to rise.
Predictably, his friend said, 'Wait.'
Half an hour later, Jarrid had the datapad in his pocket and a ticket to Majestic III in his hand. Finally.
He considered how pleased Murda would be. Not very. Not that she had really expected a technological gain, still clearance to observe Union ships in operation might yield some valuable insights . Not to mention the location of half of the pirate bases in the sector. He wondered exactly how she would make use of that
He shuddered from the cold of the starship, compared to the warmth of Mecca-Surfnir it was a change indeed. He wondered how his friend, Rear-Admiral Lockwood, was coping.
Rear-Admiral Lockwood was coping very well.
He walked into the cool spacious room which catered to the Council, the ruling body of the order he served so devotedly. He took off his military hat (he had entered in full attire) and sat down at the end of the long oval table. This did not mean he was superior to the other people in the room, merely that the chair was free and he sat down on it.
'Greetings Admiral. I trust everything went well?'
The man who spoke was Bors Reinz, the current Councillor-Governor and leader (or dictator, depending on your perspective) of the Union of Worlds. He was a moderately tall man with decent, almost handsome features, an aquiline nose and extremely intense aura he carried with him at all times. He wore a white Admiral's uniform, a single piece of plasto-textile that wove diagonally from his neck to his lower torso. It was sustained by a myriad of gold buttons. There was no rank or insignia.
'Yes, sir. I submitted my report 2 hours ago.'
The other people in the room were silent. Clearly this was a conversation meant only for the Rear-Admiral and his superior.
'I've read it of course. So.' He tended to pause. 'Another 10 years of peace.'
'Yes sir, if Director Murda is to be trusted.'
Bor Reinz paused as he looked down on the datapad on his desk. He seemed lost in thought. Then, after a while, he looked up.
'Admiral, your service has been truly commendable.'
'Thankyou sir.' Lockwood stood up and bowed in the direction of Bor Reinz. Bor Reinz returned the compliment by smiling amicably.
'In fact, I believe you should be rewarded.'