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The Ship of Storms
by Ken Doggett
PROLOGUE: THE DEBATE
On the fringes of the small, brightly lit circle, radiant beneath a spotlight of her own, stood a beautiful woman of Asian descent. Her attention was on the mosaic of scanning tiles that lined the walls beyond the lights, and her black eyes on the glowing square that moved within it. As it shifted, she would follow it, first with the eyes, and then with a liquid altering of her pose, keeping her face always in line with the square. And when she spoke, the sound of her voice was the slightly amused but professionally neutral tone familiar to billions.
“If you've been hiding in a closet for the past ten years,” she said, “you may believe you're witnessing a critique of an old twentieth-century video. And it is, indeed, Earth versus Mars. But in reality there are no monsters. The protagonists on both sides are human—Earth's governing authorities on the one hand, determined to provide the leadership and guidance they believe necessary for the future of a colony born nearly a century ago, a child of Earth. And on the other, the top civilian leaders—some say a loosely organized rebel government of the colony itself, equally determined to turn the independent nature of their people into a political reality.”
Taka Namuro smiled for her viewers. “Now let’s meet our guests.” She turned as if to view the seated visitors, but her eyes were on an electronic scroll display, which would allow her to read the introductions. At the same time, the monitoring screen on the director’s console, as well as the vide-screens of the home viewers, centered on a close-up of one of the guests. From off-screen, sounding so natural that no one outside the studio could have known it was being read, she made the introductions.
“Janet Lubov, Citizen Minister for political affairs, Senior Majority Leader of the Geneva Political Legislature, founder and ranking member of the Human Cohesive Alliance, member-in-good-standing of the Organization for Interwoven Self-Reliance, honorary chairperson of the Spectrum of Inclusion Committee, and an active participant in other, equally distinguished organizations as well—too numerous to mention in the time allotted. Welcome, Minister Lubov.”
Lubov, who maintained the well-fashioned, well-dressed look of dignity and a leader of nations, had sat quietly and modestly through the introduction. She now smiled and acknowledged the listing of her achievements.
The wall mosaics made an instantaneous shift and displayed a close-up of the other guest.
“Lars Clayborn, founder and editor of the newsletter, ‘View From Mars.’ He is a well-respected businessman on that planet, which makes him an active participant in Martian finance. Welcome to you as well, Mr. Clayborn.”
“Small businessman,” he said. “I don’t own any corporations.”
“Thank you, Mr. Clayborn,” Namuro said. And she now became the moderator, joining the small circle and taking the empty chair between them as the peripheral lights dimmed and brought the gathering at once into a stark, intimate setting surrounded by darkness.
“It should be noted,” she said, “that Mr. Clayborn is here at our invitation, and does not represent any official office of the Martian Colonial Government. He is not employed by that body in any capacity, and the opinions he will express are his own. Mars has neither sanctioned nor officially opposed his privilege to appear here today.”
Namuro turned to the Citizen Minister. “Would you start the discussion, Minister Lubov?”
“Certainly, and the first thing I would ask Mr. Clayborn is whether he holds any official capacity with the so-called rebel organization. Have they sanctioned his appearance here?”
“I’m not one of the top people she mentioned,” Clayborn said, indicating the moderator. “I’m just a small businessman.”
“Why didn’t any of those ‘top people’ choose to participate in this discussion?” she asked him.
Clayborn shrugged. “I guess they didn’t care to. Ask them.”
“And when will they care?” Lubov prodded. “After their followers are devastated by the violent consequences of what they’re pursuing?”
Clayborn laughed. “Nobody’s proposing any violence—”
“You have a childlike view of politics, Mr. Clayborn—perhaps endearing to the home folks, but your so-called leaders seem painfully nearsighted as well. And that isn’t endearing, given the probable results. It’s downright dangerous and irresponsible.”
“It should be pointed out—as I’m sure you’re well aware, Mr. Clayborn—that Earth’s Moon-based military forces alone are many times stronger and far more organized than your civilian militia, which consists primarily of near-space patrol vehicles, and those are used only for traffic regulation in the shipping and commercial lanes.”
“And technically,” Lubov added, “they fall under the control of the colonial government anyway. And even if your so-called rebels could gain firm access to these craft, the armament they carry isn’t up to combat standards. Any move for independence there would most certainly meet resistance by the colonial government, with all its resources and military power—backed by the threat, should it be necessary, of the swift insertion, into key areas, of a large number of transports loaded with fresh troops from Moon-based groups.”
Namuro looked from Lubov to Clayborn. “Would the rebel government—whose actual existence is unproven—be capable of maintaining itself intact in the face of such odds?”
Clayborn picked at a bit of lint on the jacket of his business suit. “They’re building fighters, too.”
Lubov smiled. “Someone built three mock-ups. Shells. Maybe it was this mythical government of his, maybe pranksters. They didn’t even have engines when the colonial authorities seized them.”
Clayborn’s eyes went swiftly to Lubov. “Mock-ups? Oh, that was months ago. Only last week I saw over two dozen real ones, sitting at a departure terminal. And that’s just in Homeport.”
“Homeport,” the moderator said, “is your city of residence, isn’t it? You and your family—wife and six children.”
Clayborn nodded. “And my business, Clayborn’s Complete Family and Business Apparel.”
Namuro touched the sleeve of his jacket. “Is this one of yours?”
He straightened his arms, and his posture, making the wrinkles disappear, and then looked himself over—shoulders, chest, arms, and back again. “The High-Profile line,” he said.
“Getting back to the subject,” Minister Lubov said, “last week's raid on Homeport’s terminals turned up no fighters. Where were they?”
Clayborn shrugged. “They must have moved them.”
“Who moved them?”
“For all I know, you moved them. But there they were, shiny and new.”
A smile crossed Lubov’s face. “How many of these shiny new fighters, total count, does your rebel government possess?”
“Probably fifty, sixty—maybe more.”
“All hidden away in someone’s closet, I suppose.”
Clayborn glanced over the Minister’s sleek attire, the matching shoes and headband, and then thumbed the lapel of his own, inexpensive suit. “They wouldn’t fit in my closet, but they might yours.”
Lubov’s eyes still maintained a slight smile, but her mouth tightened visibly. “I imagine that your exaggerations allow you to sell a lot of newsletters.”
“Everything I publish is substantiated. Last month I even proposed an alternative to independence, and it’s being taken very seriously.”
“And the proposal is?…” Namuro asked.
“That we move the Capitol from Geneva to Homeport.”
Lubov laughed out loud.
“No, I’m serious—”
Even Namuro smiled.
“—No, wait. More people than you realize do favor moving the Capitol.”
“Maybe so,” Lubov said. “Though I doubt it. But Homeport is an insular community of twenty thousand on the fringes of even Martian, much less spectrum, politics. Any comprehensive legislative body must consider communities beyond its physical boundaries, many of which have needs completely alien to its own. Homeport is a fine city, with its own unique qualities, but it isn’t the place for an interplanetary government.”
“Then let’s move it here.”
“Tranquility Port,” the moderator said.
“Why not? It’s already the hub of commerce because of its convenience to two other worlds, and the Moon itself is not only the center for most heavy industry but the primary base for at least half of all military groups.”
“Mr. Clayborn seems to have a point,” Namuro said.
“It’s a ridiculous point, and a ridiculous proposal. But I will concede that Mars has outgrown its colonial status, and at the next conference I plan to introduce legislation requiring the restructuring of all its governmental departments to make them more responsive to the growing complexity of Martian society.”
“Some would say,” Namuro pressed, “that it would also increase the complexity of government, giving it more control over Martian society, which is easy prey because the pleura-domes that protect its cities from the thin Martian atmosphere necessarily restrict freedom of movement.”
“That’s nonsense. We have no plans in that direction.”
“Then you think this legislation would defuse the tension there? I see Mr. Clayborn shaking his head, so it’s apparent that he doesn’t.”
“Mr. Clayborn,” Lubov pressed, “probably has no idea of what the legislation is, much less what it will do. As an example of how real we consider those fighters of his to be, no combat forces have been moved to Mars. And none are likely to be moved until the district governor there communicates a need for them. And after a thorough investigation he remains as skeptical as we are.”
“Do you think, with the problems that now seem to be surfacing in the Governor’s personal life, that he’s able to conduct as thorough an investigation as he otherwise might?”
“In spite of well orchestrated rumors, the Governor has been convicted of nothing, and until real evidence of any misconduct in office is presented to the Conference, the Governor’s personal life is of no concern to us. Yes, I think his ongoing investigation is capably conducted and very thorough. I can assure you that Mr. Clayborn’s so-called rebel government, like his shiny new fighters, does not exist. At least, not in any organized form. And even if it did, it couldn’t succeed, given the vagueness of its demands—a confusing concept based loosely on something they call ‘freedom.’ We don't call it that at all. And enlightened people know that true freedom is undesirable. No person can be free while others must depend on him. To call someone ‘free’ is an insult, equivalent to calling him shiftless and irresponsible.”
“That's a scandalous bastardization of our words and our values,” Clayborn said. “And Clayborn’s Complete Family and Business Apparel will not endorse it.”
Lubov’s eyes narrowed to slits, full of suspicion. “You said the rebel government didn’t care about this discussion, and yet you’re here—to what advantage I’ll charitably overlook for now. Suffice it to say that you’re here, and you know that this discussion is being beamed to Mars. Why would you care?”
“To whom? Are you saying that some of your people actually do care about their communities?—their families?—their future?”
“Would you mind letting us in on the joke?” Lubov said.
“Sorry. It’s all that community, family, and future stuff. The way politicians talk. It probably sounds good in Geneva, the way you put it. But in our own communities it sounds…funny.”
“Funny?” the moderator said.
Clayborn opened his hands in a shrug. “Just doesn’t play well to real people. It sounds fake.”
“He can’t explain it, in other words,” Lubov said. “And it shows that within his circle of contacts family and community have a low priority.”
Clayborn was still softly chuckling. Then he said, “Your words make a pretty gift-wrapping for the package you're selling, but it's clear to us on Mars that the package contains nothing we'd want.”
“And what comes in your package?—besides misery and hardship. I don’t have to resort to gift wrapping in order to get my message across, Mr. Clayborn, because I believe in what I say. And so do all enlightened people of both worlds.”
“I’ve seen some of those ‘enlightened people’ around here and if they’re the ones running things I’d guess we’re in deep trouble…”
“And you’ve been guessing all evening,” Lubov said. “You don’t really seem to know anything.”
“Well, there you’re wrong. And the proof, needless to say, is in my newsletter, ‘View From Mars,’ available through paid subscription or free, in leaflet form, at any Clayborn’s Complete Family—”
“I question the validity of his appearance here,” Lubov said to the moderator.
Namuro glanced at her director and then back at Lubov. “Mr. Clayborn is in Tranquility Port on business. As the widely traveled editor and publisher of a popular newsletter, he was the most knowledgeable and most suitable guest available to us.”
“But his demeanor and lack of awareness of current affairs even on his own planet doesn’t form a basis for a knowledgeable and suitable discussion. It’s a farce.”
Lubov hesitated for a brief moment, and then rose from her chair to glare down at Namuro. “I think it’s obvious that he’s here only for the publicity he can get. Greed is a powerful force in his world.”
Clayborn looked at the moderator, who was watching her director.
“I think I resent that.”
“He thinks he resents it,” Lubov grumbled. “He doesn’t even know that.”
Clayborn frowned. “Clayborn’s Complete Family and Business Apparel and my newsletter, ‘View From Mars,’ need no cheap publicity. The quality of our products, and our prices, affordable to any budget, speak for themselves.”
Lubov brought her glare back to the moderator. “I refuse to participate further in this display.” She exited the small circle of light, which then quickly contracted until only Taka Namuro was illuminated. Her professionalism took over.
“We had intended this to be a two-hour discussion. Yet, the issues are clear, and they provide us with ample basis on which to draw our own conclusions. On one side we see an indignant, knowledgeable determination to keep things as they are and as they have been—and, to give credit—as they have smoothly and painlessly functioned for so many years.
“On the other side we see—what? Is our Martian guest truly representative of the Martian attitude? Or is he just a small businessman, as he claims, who found himself thrust briefly into the spotlight, the focus of millions, with his own unique qualities and ambitions?”
She smiled once more for the viewers. “I think we have brought many important points into the spotlight, and learned much in the process. Let us all hope that, in the troubled times ahead, they will not be forgotten.”
And the spotlight faded on the last recorded civilized exchange between Martian and Terran. Within a month, highly placed government officials of Martian sympathies seized the State Building in New Challenge, the Martian capitol city. Backed by swiftly materializing rebel forces, they accomplished a nearly bloodless coup within hours. The lightly armed, token militia unit stationed within the capitol city could not react in large enough numbers to counter it, and some of its members, after ripping away the colonial emblems on their uniforms, actually abetted it.
Finally, during the last stages, when the outcome was clear, hastily improvised escape routes became clogged with official vehicles. The disintegrating Colonial Militia managed to defend the city’s transportation center for a few hours longer, which was long enough to put names that formerly adorned the organizational charts of Martian colonial authority on the passenger lists of the last flights leaving Mars for Luna.
After Geneva moved confidently to reestablish control, it was rumored that its confidence must have come solely from viewing that last civilized exchange. It certainly could not have come from the freshly ousted Governor, who still denied that any serious military buildup had taken place right under his nose.
Another rumor maintained that Geneva staged the discussion to show the Martians as the pathetic clowns they really were, but that was denied by other rumors claiming that Mars had staged the discussion—or fed into it a predictable outcome—to show themselves as Earth wanted to see them, blundering and harmless.
Those and more rumors were only bewildered attempts to explain the actual fact that when Earth moved quickly and confidently to reassert its authority with six aged cruisers escorting twelve troop transports, it burned its fingers on a squadron of shiny new fighters.
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About Ken Doggett
I developed a love for reading almost as soon as I learned how. As I grew up in the sunny Southeastern United States I not only loved watching and playing baseball, and following our local team, but also became interested in astronomy. I was especially fascinated with the planets in our own Solar System. That led to the Science Fiction genre almost by default, and it helped that I was also interested in physics. I read widely on that subject, and became interested in math, too—well, sort of. I quickly found my favorite authors: Harlan Ellison, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, John W. Campbell, and Larry Niven, among others. I graduated from Avondale High School near Atlanta, served in the U.S. Army, worked in the field of electronics and electronic technology, and after a few years of reading all of those great stories, decided to try my hand at writing my own. I am now a veteran writer in the Science Fiction genre and have been published in several magazines and pro-zines, including Amazing Stories. Some of my other current interests are painting, genealogy, and old movies and TV shows.