The Tree of Liberty–Snippet

10 Aug

I just had this scene running through my head.  Comments?

Chapter One

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Captain Yates said, “I give you the United States of America and President Andover.”

Zachary Lynn raised his glass, but didn’t drink. He had loved the concept of America, of a state controlled by the people, for the people, yet six months on Earth had convinced him that the United States was now nothing more than an empty shell. In those six months, he hadn’t spoken to – or seen – a single ordinary citizen. He’d seen corporate executives, greedy politicians and media personalities who read crap written for them by drunken scriptwriters, without bothering to think for themselves, but he had never met an ordinary citizen. It hadn’t taken him long to realise that he was being kept away from them deliberately.

He’d failed New Washington. Of that, he had absolutely no doubt. The Colonial Alliance had sent him to Earth, at some considerable expense, to take their words to the United States, to represent them to people who had never visited one of the colony worlds. But none of the people he’d spoken to had really cared what he had to say. In the end, money spoke louder than his words and the corporations that ruled the colonies, in the name of the government, of course, had enough money to ensure that the politicians did what they said.

There was a brief rumble as the stewards pushed in trolleys laded with food, the diners looking up in delight. Normally, even the wealthiest passengers on a starship could look forward to nothing more than reconstituted food, produced from matter grown in the hydroponic gardens, but the final night before arrival was always special. Foodstuffs that had been frozen for the three months it took to travel between Earth and New Washington were brought out of the storage holds and cooked by the chef, producing what looked like a feast, certainly after three months of little more than flavoured gruel. One of his small pleasures on the return voyage had been telling an administrator’s wife just what happened to their piss and shit after they went to the toilet. The woman hadn’t been able to touch a thing for several days!

Captain Yates stood up as the trolley stopped in front of him and began to carve up the turkey with practiced skill. Behind him, other stewards distributed potatoes and vegetables to the passengers, taking orders for wine as they loaded plates with good things to eat. Zach rolled his eyes at some of the orders, wondering – again – just how the political class could be so stupid. Lincoln might have been one of the largest starships in existence, at five kilometres from bow to stern, but even she didn’t have the storage space to carry all of their wines. They would just have to get used to drinking the beer produced on New Washington. It’s quality tended to vary sharply, yet some beers were really very good.

A finger nudged him and he glanced over at Professor Leo Cassius, a short balding man with white hair and a face that hadn’t – quite – been marked by the traumas he’d suffered over the last two years. From what Zach had heard, Cassius had made the mistake of questioning the official dogma put forward in the schools, claiming that it produced armies of obedient and unquestioning ants. As punishment, he and his family had been exiled to New Washington.

“Most of these people had proper schooling,” the Professor muttered. Zach had honestly never realised that there were different grades of schooling on Earth, let alone that most citizens never realised that there were better schools out there. “You’d wonder why they think they can bend the universe to their will.”

Zach nodded, sourly. It was hard to escape the impression that Earth was stupid or evil or insane – or an combination of all three. The last two years before he departed New Washington had seen the government – at one remove – trying to issue orders to the colonists, reshaping them into the properly obedient citizens they had on Earth. But the sheep on Earth had the luxury of a society that could take care of them from cradle to grave, one where independent thought was not only rare, but also actively discouraged. The colonists had no such luxury.

He looked over at Governor Hastings and shivered, inwardly. Hastings wasn’t a stupid man; he’d certainly been willing to play chess with Zach while chatting to him about the colonies, but he had shown no willingness to meet the colonists halfway. His mission was to continue developing the colonies as a source of wealth and resources for the homeland – and to hell with whatever the colonists might have thought about it. Legally, the homeland was in the right; morally, Zach saw trouble in the future. What would happen if – when – the colonies finally resisted. Hastings didn’t take the Colonial Alliance as anything other than a private group; how could he, when al such political bodies were hedged around with rules to prevent them actually becoming a threat?

The steward placed his meat in front of him and he started to cut it up with a knife, listening to the chatter between two other corporate representatives. They’d been sent out to maximise profit for their patrons; they didn’t care that the colonists might object to being bled to death by the corporations, as long as their term in office showed a hefty profit. Beyond them, General Williams held court in front of his officers, reassuring them that duty on New Washington would open up their chances of advancement to ranks beyond their dreams. It was impossible to look at Williams and feel that the government simply didn’t care. Williams hadn’t seen a battlefield for nearly thirty years, his career propelled forward by strict adherence to the rules and plenty of ass-kissing. And his troopers were down in steerage, eating gruel while their commander hobnobbed with the governor and his staff. He didn’t even have the basic devotion to his men that the great generals of the past had shown.

But that had been another era, a long time ago.

He took a bite of his turkey and chewed it thoughtfully. It was stringy, almost oily, the taste masked by chemical compounds laden on by the chef to disguise the meat’s true flavour , just like the entertainment pap on Earth that helped keep the masses content with their lot. Zach had eaten turkeys raised on New Washington, fed proper food by farmers who cared, and they had been truly flavoursome. This turkey was a disgrace.

And, he told himself grimly, it was a metaphor for the current state of America.

***

Governor George Hastings had grown up as corporate aristocracy before making the shift into politics, but it had taken every one of his contacts to secure the post of Governor on New Washington. Indeed, the deals he’d made might well come back to haunt him in the future, particularly when he returned to Earth and made the climb up into Congress. He had five years to turn New Washington into a success story or his career would hit a solid stone wall and come to a halt. Failure was not an option.

America had enjoyed nearly two hundred years of dominance in outer space – particularly interstellar space – but that dominance was coming to an end. The wars that had raged across the rest of the world, against terrorists, religious fanatics and people who didn’t want to sell their resources to international corporations – had kept the rest of the world nicely occupied for years, yet now they were probing their own way into space. Perhaps they should have been blocked – George’s family had been one of those demanding military action – but it had proven impossible. The future lay in space and the world knew it; they’d threatened to go to war if America refused to allow them their own colonies in space. And the Americans had backed down.

There hadn’t been any choice, the government had claimed; nuclear war would devastate the entire planet. Perhaps, George was prepared to consider, they might have been right. But now that the rest of the human race was exploding into space, it was threatening the underlying foundations of American dominance. Sure, every piece of good real estate for nearly a hundred light years had been claimed by the United States, but that wasn’t stopping the foreigners from expanding outwards. And what would happen if they made common cause with the American colonists on New Washington – and a dozen other planets?

That was the true nightmare. The colonials were dependent on Earth for everything from advanced technology to fuel. It enabled Earth to keep control over the colonies without needing to invest heavily in military force, but it was heavily resented by the colonials, who saw it as nothing more than an attempt to restrain their own economic expansion. The damned colonials were so uppity! Their cousins on Earth had been steered into gentle docility, unthinking obedience, over generations, but the colonials had been shaped by their environment, growing up into a population that mistrusted Earth and was barely loyal to America. What would happen if – no, when – the colonies started buying their technology and fuel from outside powers?

George scowled as he took another bite of his potato. Naturally, the food served to the first class passengers was excellent, but the taste couldn’t disguise the reality of the problem confronting the Navy – and its political masters. It took three months to travel between Earth and New Washington, which meant that it would take six months – if not longer – to send a message to New Washington and receive a reply. Controlling the colonies directly had proven impossible, so the colonists had been forced to develop their own political structures, even though it was technically illegal. They no longer needed the current Governor, the man that George had been sent to replace; hell, they no longer needed much of anything from Earth. Their new assertiveness had started alarm bells ringing in meeting rooms right across the homeworld, as politicians and corporate executives wondered if the colonists had already made contact with outside powers. It was illegal – the law said, quite clearly, that certain items were to be purchased from America alone – but why would the colonists care?

But their masters did care, he knew. Corporations that had grown wealthy exploiting the colonists, having used the politicians to create laws granting them effective monopolies, were not going to stand aside and simply see the source of their profits draining away into nothingness. George had his orders and he had little leeway. He was to assume control, ensure that the monopolies were not broken, and make damned sure that the colonies remained firmly within the United States. Failure was not an option. His career would be utterly destroyed by those who had backed him if he failed.

He looked over at Zachary Lynn and scowled. The colonial was one of their success stories, a fourth-generation colonial whose great-grandparents had emigrated from Earth and purchased land on New Washington. There was no mistaking his intelligence, or his genuine love for his homeworld – and his disdain for Earth. And there had been no mistaking his calm certainty that the colonies would continue to chart their own course, whatever Earth had to say about the matter. George had barely been able to refrain from asking a simple question; have you already been in contact with foreign powers?

But in the end, it didn’t matter. George had his orders – and if Lynn and his fellow colonials objected, they would be crushed by overwhelming force.

***

“And there is no mistaking the fact that the colonials have no stomach to fight,” General Williams proclaimed, loudly. “Why, they even begged us for help when the damned indents rose up against them!”

Seated five chairs away from the General, Colonel Graham Woods wanted to roll his eyes as the General chatted to the corporate executives. His ass-kissing would have been disgusting at the best of times, but Williams had his own agenda for trying to find corporate patrons. He had risen about as high as he could hope in the military and he wanted to make the switch to the corporate world, perhaps jumping into a position as a hired gun. Not that he would see it that way, of course. The corporations had to protect their interests and he – Williams – had plenty of experience in making uppity locals stop their resistance to corporate interests.

Graham wasn’t too sure why he’d been assigned to Williams anyway. Most Generals got to chose their own aides, but Williams had apparently had Graham forced on him by his superiors – and it was very rare for a three-star General to have to accept any such order without a fight. In his optimistic moments, he thought that his real mission was to protect the troops from Williams; in his darker moments, he suspected that he’d mortally offended someone very high up the chain of command. Williams had been so long out of the field – whatever he claimed – that he knew almost nothing about command. Graham had to somehow translate his vague and bombastic statements into actual orders that the military could follow, never an easy task at the best of times. And he had to do that while enduring the brunt of the General’s tongue.

But there was no other choice. It had been decided – at levels far higher than Williams, if his angry ranting could be trusted – to assign a major military force to the colonies, officially to protect them against renegades. The policy of transporting criminals from Earth to the various colonies to force them to actually contribute something useful to society had worked, by and large, but there were rebel groups in the hinterland composed of escape criminals, trying to survive by preying on the colonials. Williams hadn’t bothered to conceal the real reason from him; high command thought that the colonials were growing too independent-minded and intended to remind them of who had the power. Five hundred soldiers, armed to the teeth, made one hell of a statement.

Graham scowled inwardly as the corporate drones minced around the General, ignoring the glances of contempt they shot in his direction when they thought he wasn’t looking. What did they make of a man with his hair shaved, who wore his borrowed tuxedo like it was a uniform? None of them had ever seen combat, not outside of the movies and television shows that boasted of the glories of war, shows where no friendly soldiers died. Graham had watched one such show a year after leaving Boot Camp and he’d been revolted. The movie-soldiers had just walked across the battlefield, miraculously untouched by bullets, and killed their enemies while pumping out one-liners that the scriptwriters had pulled out of their assholes. And then they’d been greeted by kidnapped female hostages who’d promptly started to make love to them…never mind that early scenes had shown the depravity of America’s enemies by having the girls be brutally raped. The movie had shown that scene to the watchers in detail, pushing the limits so far that they no longer existed. Graham had been disgusted, both at the producers and at the civilians who had lapped it up with spoons. He’d heard that there was a disconnect between military and civilian society, but he’d never really understood until then.

“My troopers have the firepower to cow any colonials,” Williams said, loudly enough to break into Graham’s thoughts. “Is that not right, Colonel?”

“Absolutely, sir,” Graham said, reminding himself of why he had to stay in position. Someone had to protect the troops from their superior officer. “They have nothing to match us.”

On the face of it, he knew, the colonials wouldn’t stand a chance if it did come down to a fight. Williams had five hundred fighting men, armed with the latest weapons produced on Earth and trained to deal with anything from an insurgency to stand-up fighting. The colonials shouldn’t have anything to match them. But…New Washington was a planet, roughly the size of Earth. Five hundred men wouldn’t have been able to dominate a city, let alone an entire planet. The colonials could simply melt away whenever the soldiers advanced against their positions, forcing them to spread their deployments thinner and thinner…until at last there was no pretence that they were in control.

He looked away as Williams, losing interest in him, returned to his boasting. For a moment, his eyes met Lynn’s eyes and they shared an understanding. Lynn, the one colonial he’d met, had impressed him – and had told him enough about the colonial society to convince him that any fighting would be far more dangerous than punitive operations in Kashmir or riot-suppression operations in Hispania. And they needed the colonies reasonably intact. The heavy firepower they’d been able to call down on mud villages in Africa or poison gas they’d deployed against terrorist camps in Central Asia was simply unavailable on New Washington. There was no point in destroying the colonies while trying to save them.

Lynn had told him that the colonials had tried to meet Earth halfway, but that Earth had been uninterested in compromise. That didn’t surprise Graham at all; the government on Earth was used to getting whatever it wanted, even if it had to exterminate locals whose only crime had been refusing to cooperate with their own destruction. But fighting on the colonies would be very different to fighting on Earth. The army’s unbroken record of success on Earth would have convinced them that they could win on the colonies, if necessary. All they had was a hammer, so every problem looked like a nail.

He tried to be optimistic, but he knew better than to believe the crap that Williams was sprouting. One way or another, it was impossible to escape the feeling that trouble was in store. And what would happen if it really came to war?

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