At the Tiger’s gangway, Meriel found a small package that had been left for her, logged the mass in her allotment, and then supervised the cargo loading and undocking. Hours remained before they would reach the jump point safely away from the station mass and traffic. Meriel could do nothing about the Princess until she heard more from Teddy or Nick. She wanted to tell Elizabeth what she’d learned, but her sister could do nothing but worry. The package beckoned, but Meriel needed to respond to the messages before they synced again and went to the mess.
She cued a message from nineteen-year-old Penny Hubbard. Penny had heard that Sam Spurell, Tommy’s kid brother, had been beaten up on eIndi.
The Snapdragon crew did it, but I’m sure his crew set him up, M. They all seem so happy to see us get hurt. The second we let it slip that we’re trying to get back together on another ship, they start accusing us of disloyalty and lack of commitment—all kinds of lies. Can you get him reassigned, M? I’m afraid they are going to arrange an “accident” for him, and he’ll really get hurt. Please, M. Please.
Sam didn’t mention that, Meriel thought. Trying to tough it out and not whine, I bet. So, what can I say to her that she doesn’t already know?
Sorry, but Sam’s under contract for another six months. We don’t have enough to buy him off and don’t have another ship to put him on. Sam knows all that. I’ll send him a note. M.
She looked at the vid of the Princess. I’m screwing up, Mom. We’re falling apart. We’re all split up, and I can’t do anything about it. Meriel put her head on her arms and wanted to cry. Crying won’t help. Eighteen days of crying and the Princess will be gone forever, and I will have no chance of getting us all together again.
She sent another message to her hacker friend, Nick, at the next station and then typed in “L5,” where John grew up, as a search keyword. She knew most of the L5 story—it was the first habitat in Earth’s L5 libration point.
The link within the article projected a hologram of a garbage can with slits along the sides, parallel to the axis. It then panned out to show L5 poised dramatically against the edge of Earth and the rising sun to give contrast to its shape. Some shots inside looked like an idealized planet Earth with farms and buildings and playgrounds. That was when L5 was brand new.
L5 grew steadily with success. To house the growing population, parks became high-density arcologies and farms became hydroponics tanks. Over the course of a century, the beauty was eradicated. When business weakened, the bond ghouls tried to abandon it with the inhabitants on board. The L5ers revolted and declared their independence. After a few years, they disappeared. If I believe John, the L5ers were med-geniuses and turned up on Haven. So, what about this Haven colony they occupy now? She looked up Haven and LeHavre in Galactipedia but found nothing and gave up. She would need to wait for Nick to find something.
Meriel opened the package and found a book with a handwritten note within.
Your mother gave this to me when I went through a rough patch some years back. She said it was her favorite book and that her mother had given it to her. I’m sure she would want you to have it, especially now.
“Be not the stone upon which the wave of history crashes; be the wheel upon which it turns.”
From Teddy. My grandma’s book. Physical books were rare now that photons were free and fuel was expensive. She laid the book on her desk, and it fell open to a dog-eared page. Meriel began to read.
“Once in an age, the forces of darkness align to bend the arc of history.
“And once in an age, the arc of history bends around the wheel of one committed person who, acting from his or her own virtuous interests, changes the course of history: the child who raises the flag above the barricades; the mother who thrusts the picture of her murdered child before the dead eyes of the tyrant; the girl who refuses to deny her love for God while her flesh burns at the stake—individuals who grip a shred of civilization with both hands and will not give it up…”
Meriel finished the passage in tears. Thanks, Teddy.
Eight light years away, a tight-beam laser carried a very private conversation.
“We’re on a schedule, and the pieces are moving into place. We need this closed, Benedict.”
“I told you that we can’t force this earlier than the twenty-one days. The courts won’t let us,” Benedict said.
“How much more are they asking?”
“It’s not about money now. There were too many policy changes, and the authorities are suspicious. There have been…inquiries, and our friends are afraid of exposure.”
“The forces are in motion. We can’t delay.” There was a pause on the line. “What about just blowing it up?”
“It’s an option, sir, but it would endanger Enterprise Station. Sir, are you willing to risk the viability of the station?”
“Hmm, not yet,” he said, but conviction was absent in his voice. “What about the orphans? Are they still quiet?”
“Then watch them closely to make sure something does not…remind them, especially the older one. What’s her name?”
“Hope, sir,” Benedict said. “Why not just terminate her now?”
“It might draw attention to our plans. The quiet disappearance of either the ship or the girl would be optimum.”
“We have someone close now, sir.”
“How close?” he asked. “Never mind. I don’t need to know the specifics. He has discretion to…terminate?”
“His talent is cleverness rather than wet work.”
“Then please make sure that his cleverness has a backup. If there’s any hint she can put this together, we want this over quickly and quietly.”
“Collateral damage control?” Benedict asked.
“Our concern is unwanted publicity, not casualties,” he said and ended the communication.
(c) 2014, 2015 Benjamin R. Strong, Jr.
(c) 2014, 2015 Benjamin R. Strong, Jr.