Prime Minister Norine Maciel reviewed status with Chatterjee in the communications room next to the Octagon Office. NATO could possibly send a fleet of smaller aircraft that could travel faster than the mothership. But such planes would hardly be battle-ready after traveling through space that way. In any event, NATO had no such plans.
Plans! Norine thought. How was she supposed to plan this now? What more could she do to keep the other dominoes steady, hold the disgruntled corporations in M.U.? She looked at the fake backdrop of Mt. Sharp behind her, and punched a hole in it.
Chatterjee said, “Madam.”
“I know, they have to replace it.”
“No, there’s a new vid from General Rhodes that’s already going viral.”
“Don’t they all?”
“This one is addressed to Madam Prime Minister.”
Norine watched it on the small room’s big screen. A confident, corpulent Englishman was never a welcome sight.
“Hi, Norine. You know, it’s strange, but I miss you. I miss seeing you in the Senate every week, trying to pretend you’re not some bleeding-heart liberal. When we both know that you’d nationalize all of Mars’ industries in a heartbeat. Did I say heart twice? Well, you better enjoy the one you have while you have it.
“After all we had here, with business finally showing humanity how to run society, you and your bureaucrats just couldn’t leave it alone, could you? You love to talk and talk about how I’m like my ancestral uncle, strip-mining Mars the way he strip-mined Africa. The irony is that you’re more of a Rhodesian than I am. He’s the one who endorsed a one-world government. He’s the one who wanted to control other planets. You’re the one whose military is like his. You’ve got all his bad qualities. I’ve got the ones that people still want.
“And what did your hero Lincoln to do stop imperialism? He treated Indians as badly as Rhodes. Oh, by the way, I used your invocation of Lincoln to persuade the A.A. to invade. We looked at the history together and decided that if England had helped the American confederacy, England would have controlled the next century’s strongest economy. So thanks for repeatedly bringing up the 19th century! We won’t let that mistake happen again.
“After all this time, Norine, after all our years together in the libertarian paradise that Mars should be, can you believe it’s finally come down to this? You versus me. INVEST FAIR versus freedom. Socialism versus capitalism. Federal overreaching military versus a confederacy of self-governing states. Oh, I know what you’d say. That we’re going to make half of you slaves. What you don’t understand is that it’s not us doing that. It’s the market setting prices. You should be blaming Adam Smith.
“And when we put our thumb on the scale for our industries, by jove! That’s simply social Darwinism. It beats you trying to arrange every thumb on Mars to make the scales even.
“I don’t know why I’m bothering to tell you this. I suppose some part of me still wants your approval. Some part of me wants to see your face when the mothership arrives. Hopefully we’ll hack the right cameras at the right time. Absolutely something to look forward to. For example, I wish I could see you right now as we…pan out, will you Nigel? Good lad.”
The camera panned out to reveal Senator Felipe Cagampang sitting next to Cecil Rhodes. They both laughed uproariously.
“Hi Norine!” waved Cagampang. “You see, I and my people would rather be on the winning te…”
The Prime Minister shut it off.
Chatterjee had a twisted look on his face. For heaven’s sake. “What?” she asked him. “Do I have to watch the rest?”
“No. You’ve got a live call. From Senator Lazio.”
The Prime Minister braced herself.
“I assume you’ve now watched Rhodes’ latest,” he said. She waited. “Are you still going to New Moscow?”
“Yes. Would you like to come?” In public, New Moscow’s Czar, Elena Vasileva, had been claiming that they would never compromise their hard-won neutrality. In private, she had been insisting what a friend to Mars United her snow globe had always been. Certainly, in public and private, she was demanding the ceremony of a Ministerial visit. What they would get out of her, who knew.
“To watch the Czar laugh at you? Tempting, but no thanks. How’s training the new recruits?”
“Registration has been successful.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
Norine knew she couldn’t afford to dissemble. “…Everyone has an excuse. Including all the exemptions filed by McPepsanto.”
“Norine, does one really need seven months to learn how to fly a plane correctly?”
“How would you know?”
“Well, perhaps McPepsanto citizens assume the M.U. nukes will work.”
“I doubt the A.A. is traveling 200 million kilometers for a bluff.”
“If that’s true, then why should my citizens sign up for a suicide mission?”
“Mario, do you want to stand up and fight, or live on your knees?”
“Funny you should ask, because I have a third option. I take over what’s left of Mars United.” He let the words hang for a moment. “I can negotiate a peace with Binto, Applokia, and Airboeck.”
The Prime Minister fixed her face in a single hard expression, as Hollywood had taught her long ago. “You don’t know that.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Nice try. Goodbye, Senator.”
Norine’s ring showed that as of Rhodes’ latest vid, sims gave Mars United an 11 percent chance of victory against the mothership. When Mario publicly left Mars United, that would push the number into single digits…a number that appeared in the bottom-right of every Facrogle news feed next to that day’s woman in a bikini.
Not that this was her first concern, but how would losing Mars United reflect on women leaders on both planets? This wasn’t the 19th century; women led countries everywhere. Even Saudi Arabia, she smiled to herself. But still. Famous men didn’t have to worry that their infamous behavior might reflect badly on men. Somehow, it was still different for women.
“Madam Prime Minister?” asked Chatterjee.
Chatterjee showed her a light flickering on his ring. “They’re all here.”
As Norine walked into the Octagon Office, the Ten-Percenters all stood up from the couches and saluted.
She walked around and shook hands with each of them: Chee, Sapolu, Al-Basani, Goldberg, Wittgenstein. “First, I want to thank you for all your work at Melas, and at the Space Port.”
“Madam Prime Minister, that’s no problem,” said General Chee.
“Sit down, and call me ‘ma’am.’”
“Yes, Ma’am.” They all sat.
“I realize how unhappy everyone has been with the new restrictions on outgoing flights. But I hope everyone understands the importance of reducing the risk of handing any weapons to the enemy.”
“Yes, Ma’am, we do, and they do,” said Chee.
“The A.A. is likely to commandeer any ship with a good weapon – or any good ship at all.”
Chatterjee cut the Prime Minister a look, as though to say Let’s get on with it.
“I didn’t bring you here because of the Space Port,” said the Prime Minister. “I brought you here because of Martina. You’ve noticed she’s been missing, I trust?”
“Yes, Ma’am, we have. We were going to ask.”
“I believe she’s been kidnapped.” A couple of jaws dropped. “Apparently, she went directly against my orders. Cameras show that she went into the ghetto, perhaps posing as a registration enforcement officer, to look for Rhodes.”
The Ten-Percenters shared a couple of glances – probably, I knew Martina would do something crazy like this, or I was hoping Martina would do this. Norine decided not to ask which.
Al-Basani asked, “How long has she been missing?”
“Day and a half,” said Chatterjee.
“So she could simply have her ring off,” said Goldberg. “She could have de-activated her tracking devices herself.”
“You think I haven’t thought of that?” asked the Prime Minister. “That’s why I didn’t call you until now.” She looked to her trusted aide. “Chatterjee?”
“This is her last known location. We caught this.” Chatterjee brought up a single vid on a bank of four holo-monitors: it showed her walking down Earhart Street and rounding a corner. “However, we were able to recover her ring data from a scan made back at the Space Port on the day she went missing. Seems she had a list. A little digging, and it appears this list is an unverified list of potential Rhodes hiding places.”
Sapolu coughed, “Internet conjecture?”
“Yes.” Chatterjee eyed the big man. “But it may have been the basis for her search.”
“I know I’m asking a lot of you already,” The Prime Minister said. “There’s the Space Port work, which I now need you to delegate to your lieutenants. There’s training rookie pilots over the next few months to be war-ready, hardly an easy task…but right now I need you to find Martina. And for no one to know about it.”
Chee stood up; the other Ten-Percenters followed his lead. “It’s as good as done, Ma’am.”
The Ten-Percenters left the Octagon Office. The Prime Minister stood for a moment, scanning the room’s various screens and scrolls.
“Madam Prime Minister,” Chatterjee said, “can I ask you something?”
She looked at him.
“It interests me that both your daughters are missing, and you’ve called in the cavalry for the one who can usually take care of herself, while the vulnerable one is…well…”
“Yes, Madam Prime Minister?”
“I didn’t say you could ask me something.” The Prime Minister took a deep breath, and watched how Chatterjee breathed. “I’m going into the communications room again. Wait here, follow the feeds.”
Norine went back into the room, sat down with a remote, and recorded herself.
“Juliana Maciel, this is your mother, Norine. The Earth date is April 22, 2154. Mars is at L.S. 170 in our own Year 61. Oh, Julia, as I record this, I desperately want to send help to Olympus Mons. But knowing you, I have to let that play out. I hope I’m not making the worst mistake of my life. I also hope that my hunch is right, that if the mothership does lay waste to New Jerusalem, you’ll be safer there.
“Now that my demise seems, ah, imminent, I have to share something with you. You’re descended from leftist ideologues, not so unlike yourself, although they were a bit more violent. Your ancestors are some of the original populist terrorists. It’s all on digital files I’ve left for you. You will wonder why I haven’t been as progressive as them. I have…tried. I truly believed in an incrementalist approach. I thought we could move the corporations steadily, steadily toward justice and higher INVEST FAIR scores.
“Oh, Juliana mi’ija, maybe you know how proud I am of you. But I’m not sure that you understand that I want you to be proud of me, too. Remember, what I next do, I do for you, you and Martina.” Norine laughed in spite of herself. “No, that’s not a contradiction. Remember the past, and remember future generations, Julia. You remember those things.”