Prime Minister Maciel loathed speaking before the Senate. All the Senators would be preening, showboating, making points they’d made a hundred times before. Too many critics on both worlds had declared that she couldn’t make a case for war on TV, in front of a deliberative body. NATO had grown weary of voting, and now, with the A.A. mothership a week away from Earth, the window of possibility was closing. NATO had promised to watch the Senate speech and debate and then convene one final vote on the measure.
Minutes before the speech, alone in another bathroom, the Prime Minister asked herself: was she really doing this as well as anyone could? Norine certainly wasn’t enjoying any of this. She did not run for the Prime Ministership of Mars United thinking that she would face genuine secession. When she was elected, Rhodes, Nystrom and Uribe were closer to a band of disgruntled libertarians.
During her first year in office, Norine tried to appease the rurals. Her pro-business reforms were also seen as pro-government; one thing led to another, and she became a symbol of federal over-reach. She became a cartoon, constantly ridiculed on the internet. It was hard not to take it personally. It was hard not to wonder if they would have talked about a male prime minister this way.
The Prime Minister’s ring revealed that she’d succeeded in drawing out her…less supportive Senators. Nystrom and Uribe were openly treasonous, making incendiary speeches back in their states, but they were “attending” the meeting via holo. The others had chosen not to skip a publicly called meeting of the Senate, especially during wartime, especially now that both worlds were really watching. Guen-hye hoped to pump the separatist Senators for information. Weaver had caustically remarked that if they showed, they should be searched for knives made for backstabbing.
The Mars Senate Chambers looked something like historical records of the early American Senate, with a cantilevered podium well and Doric columns setting off a cozy central chamber. Like everything else, this was strategic architecture. No reason to give anyone the impression that there would ever be more Senators. The galleries in the perimeter took up more space than the central chamber, and they were often packed with press, never more than today. Norine Maciel entered and assumed the podium without fanfare.
“Senators, gallery members, my fellow citizens of Mars United, and people of Earth,” the Prime Minister began, leaning in, “We are now in the fight that our founders predicted. We are fighting for our survival, for our independence, for our very existence. Should we lose, Mars will cease to be an independent planet. We shall become a colonized non-republic. We will be treated by the A.A. the way Leopold treated the Congo, as Senator Rhodes’ ancestor treated South Africa, as a series of properties to be exploited by any means necessary.
“I know you have heard from some who dispute this. Some say the A.A. will simply return us to our status quo, with themselves in charge. Some say that the A.A. will bomb New Jerusalem and then leave the rest of the planet alone. I say check the history. Has any empire ever conquered a land and then left it alone? What sort of fools do they take us for?
“Senator Rhodes says not to worry, the A.A. soldiers aren’t acclimated to Mars. What he doesn’t admit – what he can never admit – is that he has no power to stop them doing whatever they want. He has no power to stop them leaving regents on our planet who may have a little trouble adjusting to our gravity and atmosphere, but who, if NATO doesn’t intervene, can and will treat us as their lowest colony.
“My fellow citizens, look at the history of conquering empires! When this war is over, if we lose, our conquerors will not ask who was loyal to Rhodes and who wasn’t. They won’t care! They will either kill us or rape us and make us slaves. All of us!” Too much? Norine asked herself.
“Ahem. There’s another history to examine. Every nation worth its salt won at least one battle that they shouldn’t have won. They overcame the percentages.
“So I want you to join me. Together we will never surrender. Together we will refuse to become slaves. Together we can win this war!”
At that, Weaver, Samoset, Falke, and the holo of Mansourian stood and applauded. Yoshimura and Guen-hye offered more muted, but clear, support. Norine cast a wary eye toward Cagampang, Lazio, and Ngorongoro.
“I’d like to thank you for passing the registration act,” The Prime Minister continued, “and I’d also like to thank the many citizens listening who have lawfully registered for the draft. Per the act’s details, beginning tomorrow, we will begin arrests of those who have not reported for duty. We regret this necessary action, but all our lives are at stake. One way or another, every able-bodied person is going to join the military. Should you force us to hunt you down, you ask us to later put you on the front lines.”
The Senate turned quiet as a graveyard.
“Ahem.” Norine wiped her brow. “I will now take your questions.”
“Norine,” Felipe Cagampang jumped right in. “You have a lot of nerve to invoke the founders. Rhodes wants to return to original Mars, before the imposition of government. Rhodes wants Mars to return to the shining example of pure freedom – free companies with no burden of taxation or regulation.”
“It was never that.” Samir Samoset was ever ready, and Mars’ procedural rules on dialogue were much closer to British Parliament than to the American Senate. “Mars’ companies created their own regulations. Mars always needed collectively pooled salaries for scientists, then later the military.”
And now, the predictable arguments. Nystrom’s holo extolled the elimination of government bloat – by eliminating every soldier in M.U.’s army. Cagampang argued that Japan and Costa Rica thrived without armies, while Falke countered that they had umbrella guarantees from other states. Uribe glorified a state of nature; Weaver grilled him to find out what sort of guarantees he, meaning Airboeck, and the other two had given the A.A.
Nystrom finally admitted, “They’re getting 90% of the resources that we are NOT using/producing for Mars.” The press gallery turned into a dust storm, a flurry of ring-tapping and cat-calling.
“Besides throwing away Mars’ independence,” Falke yelled over the shouting, “how can you possibly call that ‘pure Adam Smith’?”
“Oh come on, Florian,” yelled back Cagampang. “I’m sure they got the best deal they could, considering Maciel’s aggression.”
“What happens,” called out Weaver, “if and when the next A.A. government breaks the deal?”
“All the better,” said Nystrom as the hubbub died down. “Mars becomes even more independent.”
“No, Ingrid,” said Samir Samoset cagily. “Here’s what will happen. If NATO chooses not to help, the rough balance between the Asian Alliance and NATO will end, and within two years or so, the A.A. will become much more powerful. They will attack and defeat NATO, and bring most of Earth under the sway of one government – the exact opposite of your philosophy. Then they will attack defenseless Mars and turn it into their colony.”
“You don’t know any of that, Samir,” said Nystrom. “The A.A. is already far more de-centralized than Mars United, already a better example of less government being more effective.”
“Mars United has barely three million people!” said Jodie Weaver. “Of course it’s harder to govern 1000 times that many citizens!”
“Thanks, Jodie,” smiled Cagampang. “You just made the case for the Mars confederacy now, before it’s too late.”
Back and forth they went about some votes counting more than others. Norine looked at Lazio, a potential swing vote. She was waiting for the right moment to get him on the record.
“No one has a right to live on Mars,” added Nystrom, “and in some cases the pioneers who bore the burden of setting up civilization on Mars may exercise more say over how the civilization proceeds.”
“Sounds like,” said Guen-hye, “you mean unequal schools, unequal access to health care…”
“I mean,” answered Nystrom, “a board of directors that works much like a parliament, with representatives who read the polls but also go beyond them from time to time.”
Samir said sharply, “But they can’t be voted out.”
“But if they fail to perform, the business fails, and they are replaced or the system self-corrects in other ways.”
“How can they fail to perform,” sighed the Prime Minister, “when the businesses have near-monopoly power?
“Norine, you obviously don’t look at quarterly statements!” said Uribe, too contemptuously. “The corps compete with each other on Mars – Facrogle vs. Uniparney on content, Applokia vs. Airboeck on metal goods – and there are still many little-fish competitors.”
“What do you think, Mario?” asked the Prime Minister, knowing that McPepsanto maintained a forced agriculture monopoly, despite pushback from Wazgretco. “You support the law of the jungle?”
“Where is your daughter Julia?” asked Senator Lazio.
“Both my daughters are working for the war effort,” replied Norine. “I’m afraid I can’t comment on everything they’re doing.” This isn’t what Norine wanted to talk about.
“Follow up,” said Lazio. “Did she take an Army plane to Olympus Mons?”
“During America’s Quasi-War,” Norine Maciel replied, “President John Adams sent his son John Quincy, the future President, to negotiate for peace with France. Quincy succeeded, but would have been doomed if his every move was known. Next question.” Norine caught Samoset’s smile. That Adams bit was his idea.
“Did you intend to let General Rhodes slip into the city?” asked Cagampang.
“General Rhodes is in every sense of the word a loser. His rebellion has been crushed, his forces have been defeated. His whereabouts are unimportant.”
“Madam Prime Minister,” said Ngorongoro, and everyone quieted, knowing how rarely he spoke. “Isn’t Rhodes wanted for war crimes? And for murdering your son-in-law? Why are we even hearing from Nystrom and Uribe right now?”
“I remind you that we do not fight dirty like Rhodes.” The Prime Minister wiped sweat from her forehead. “That is one of the many reasons all citizens of Mars should reject Rhodes’s failed separatism and instead fight for our planet’s freedom by fighting for Mars United.” Samoset smiled; Falke frowned. Norine knew that Samoset thought that killing Rhodes would kill their chances of drafting the separatist-sympathetic; Falke, like Martina, would have been happy to kill Rhodes in secret or with half their forces.
“Stop distracting the people watching this on Earth!” said Jodie Weaver, thank God. “In this projected libertarian paradise, who deals with fires and dust storms? Trains breaking down? Schools?”
“Of course,” replied Nystrom, “Much like the 12 independent governments of South America, we still need corp-sponsored fire departments and disaster relief agencies and monitors for air and land traffic. Of course we will have corp-sponsored schools…”
“Teaching corp-sponsored history and math,” said Samir Samoset, “turning out children who can’t succeed in any other field and likely can’t even provide creative solutions for your field…”
“Samir, you’re so elitist,” said Cagampang, predictably. “Always thinking you know better. All your employees have this sort of superiority complex.”
“No, not all of them,” sniffed Samoset, “but the issei were selected to go to Mars. Most of them did pretty well in college. You don’t think Mars’ schools might reflect some of what they learned?”
Cagampang was more than ready. “The only reason urban schools’ kids test better than rural schools’ kids is that the tests are weighted toward the sort of Ivy League-Oxbridge-Sorbonne critical-theory mush that half your issei were doing before they got here.”
“Yeah Felipe,” said Weaver, “I guess all that ‘book-larning’ is a real problem.”
“That’s what he means!” shouted Uribe. “Miners and farmers and smelters and metalworkers are excellent pragmatic, practical problem-solvers. And their schools should encourage that.”
Amy Mansourian asked, “And discourage them from improving themselves?”
“You think,” Uribe argued holo-to-holo, “working coding at Facrogle or BankBank is some big improvement?”
“Over sewing clothes for Wazgretco?” Samoset scoffed. “Yes. Yes, it is.”
Cagampang said, “You really have no respect for the working class.”
“Felipe!” Norine had had enough. “We’re the ones insisting on them being paid a living wage.”
“There you go with words!” he answered. “They’re living on Mars, thus they’re making a living wage. Is it possible that Texrom can pay its janitors one wage, and Airboeck a different one? Just possible?”
“That’s enough!” blurted Florian Falke. “Madam Prime Minister, I’m afraid I must insist that the guards arrest Senator Cagampang. For promoting slavery and for high treason.”
“Don’t bother, Florian, I’m leaving this circus anyway.” Felipe Cagampang rose from his seat and kept talking as he walked. “In the end, both worlds will be run by a single alliance of a government and a few businesses. That’s the most sustainable way, back to Chinese dynasties, Holland and the Dutch East India Company, et cetera.” He paused at the exit door. “FREE MARS! FREE MARS!” he called out. Some of the press gallery joined in.
Later that day, NATO convened one final vote; anything later would be too late to make any difference. Ayes for war: 92. Nays: 118. NATO wouldn’t be coming, as Norine predicted. Mars United would face the mothership alone.
Norine thought: Wángbā all to hell.