No matter the context, Prime Minister Norine Maciel hated to watch grown men high-five each other. But that’s exactly what was happening all around her.
Well, at least her generals were happy. The war had gone well. The Melas Space Port was demolished, leaving New Jerusalem’s Space Port the only proper way on or off the planet. Her soldiers had behaved admirably, never gratuitously punishing the Bintons.
In theory, the war room contained all the latest in 22nd-century technology: text, video and audio feeds from all around both planets, projected all around the room in a dazzling display of lights, graphs, and charts. In practice, to the Prime Minister the room was oversaturated with sensory images, like some kind of interactive Periodic Table.
The Prime Minister sat at the big table and took silent measure of the Senators and generals. General Hasan, running everything from here, rarely smiled; his current grin was especially salutary. The Prime Minister told herself that this day-long war had changed everything and nothing. Each Senator would still act from narrowly defined self-interest. Norine’s job was the same as it ever was: to anticipate that interest, to be ready with an offer that made each Senator feel that it was really their idea, and then do it again the next day.
Senator Jodie Weaver was striding like a lion, smiling ear to ear, looking a lot like someone taking a victory lap. So was Florian Falke.
“Well, Mario,” beamed Falke, “When can the Prime Minister expect your apology?”
“Apology?” Lazio was taken aback. “Apology for what?”
“You said this invasion wouldn’t work.”
“I didn’t say that.” Falke’s forehead vein throbbed as Lazio continued, “I said that we may engender more enemies than we eliminate, and that’s still…”
“Even today, Lazio?” scoffed Falke. “Even today, you can’t admit you’re wrong?”
“What about the air war?” Senator Uribe inquired. “We should never have lost that many planes.”
“You’d find bent a bent thread on a wedding gown, wouldn’t you?” growled Falke.
“I’m just saying,” Uribe replied, “we’re a little vulnerable right now…”
“You voted wrong.” Falke pounded the large table. “And you root against us. Admit it, you root against Mars United.”
Eyebrows raised in the direction of the Prime Minister. Someone once said politics is the art of the possible. Norine found it was the art of flattery, always. In this case, Falke didn’t need more. Norine remained mum.
Falke looked at Senator Uribe. “Jose, you’re scared, and you should be. It’s time to rethink twenty years of misguided concessions to the rurals. We never should have agreed to a second Space Port, but now that we’ve corrected that error, we need to go back to a different tax structure.”
“On that we agree,” said Senator Nystrom.
“Oh, no we don’t, Ingrid,” answered Falke. “Your predecessor at Applokia played a great trick with that Tax Honesty Act. Now we can go back to how it was when we first arrived, when you couldn’t see how much was taken out of your paycheck.”
Norine didn’t want to hear this. It was not time to be punitive. “Senator Samoset,” she redirected. “Anything?”
As usual, Samoset was viewing Facrogle feeds from Mars and Earth through several screens. The joke was that Samir Samoset was 50% subcontinental, 50% Native American, and 100%…nerd. Samoset’s ring sifted through the data and highlighted new information, but he obviously enjoyed manually scanning. “You’ll hear when I do.”
“Any movement on the 20%?” Their pre-battle sims had estimated a 20% chance of retaliation from either of Earth’s large government federations – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Asian Alliance.
“Would you be willing to look at my speech?”
Samoset looked up. “Of course.”
“I need to see that as well,” put in Falke.
The Prime Minister didn’t want to seem to be playing favorites, but…the other Senators weren’t holding their breath. Norine found that one can tell a lot by how someone is breathing.
“Of course,” replied Norine Maciel. “I want both of you to take a look.”
The Prime Minister sent the draft directly into their rings. Norine was more interested in the 12 – well, 11 – Senators than the televised images of the smoking federal buildings of Binto City. The future of Mars relied upon her keeping her ducks in a row. Norine also felt you could tell a lot about a person from how they act in a crisis. Nystrom, for example, was sweating like a squirrel in a sauna.
Norine watched with her peripheral vision as each Senator checked their customized feeds, gauged and catalogued reactions, and texted their corps on Earth, even though the communication turnaround time was 40 minutes. There was no doubt that this little war would send off shockwaves back on Earth. The question was if any of those waves would do them any harm. Norine watched the sweat pour off of Nystrom’s brow as she tapped.
Norine forced her eyes to watch the screens showing the battlefield. Mars United had done well; Generals Hasan, Rainier, and Chee had good reason to be proud. Their soldiers were picking off all, or almost all, of the air war casualties who’d chuted to the ground. Colonel Lida Al-Basani was leading several teams of soldiers through the city, arresting anyone who could be said to have openly resisted. Per the Prime Minister’s orders, the soldiers refrained from following people into private homes.
Norine felt safe in thinking that it would be a long time before a city of Mars again attempted any open rebellion.
The Prime Minister preferred to wait for the speech from Senator Rhodes, now styling himself General Rhodes. He would say something about New Jerusalem having won a Pyrrhic victory, blah blah blah, and that his cause would eventually triumph in the end. Then she could look more – the American word was “presidential” – by appearing humble and magnanimous in victory. If he came on a second time afterward, well, that would just look desperate.
She’d never have a day of easier cheers, but Norine already knew she didn’t want to deliver her speech in front of a sympathetic audience. She couldn’t afford to make it look like a political rally. She and Rhodes shared a goal, which was reaching the many undecideds in New Jerusalem, Greater Melas, and the smaller towns. At the end of the day – literally, at the end of this blood-drenched day – Madam Prime Minister wanted those undecideds to feel that Mars was better off as one united democracy and not a lot of fragmented pieces.
“Madam Prime Minister?” spoke up Senator Yoshimura.
“Yes?” answered Norine.
“NATO and the Asian Alliance have both been called into emergency meetings.”
“Predictable,” said Nystrom.
“Let me know,” said the Prime Minister, “when there’s any news.”
“Absolutely,” agreed Yoshimura.
“Don’t get your hopes up,” said Nystrom.
This set off the Senators yakking. Norine decided to block them out and concentrate on her speech. At a certain point, she heard Senator Weaver say, “You’re right, Binto’s being awfully quiet. But in that 20% worst-case scenario where one of them attacks us, we have our agreements; the other will come to our aid.”
“Look more closely at the simulations.” put in Colonel Oltman, who ran most of the war room sims. “NATO only comes to our aid in 35% of such scenarios, the A.A. in 26%.”
“Why the discrepancy?” asked Senator Cagampang, rubbing his chin.
“Because the A.A. is considered likelier,” answered Senator Samoset, “to have some side agreement with Binto and its corporate allies.”
“The A.A. may even send its military,” said Senator Guen-hye, “to take us over on Rhodes’s behalf.”
“But that’s crazy talk,” Weaver fumed. “Rhodes’s whole case against M.U. is based on supposed federal over-reach. He’s going to give over Melas to the Asian Alliance? What hypocrisy!”
“I don’t see the A.A. moving in here like Mongol invaders,” put in Yoshimura. “It might, however, win the war for Rhodes in exchange for some agreement of control of, I don’t know, two-thirds of Mars’ resources?”
Falke looked up from his notes on the Prime Minister’s speech and said, “I thought you were data-mining for such agreements?”
“We are,” said Samoset, “but they use jamming and code, and auto-translate doesn’t work that well on Pan-Asian slang.”
“In the 26% chance after the 20% chance that the A.A. sends their military here,” Cagampang asked wryly, “they leave themselves vulnerable to attack from NATO?”
“Yes,” said Colonel Oltman, “but NATO only initiates that attack in 31% of those simulations.”
“Not everything,” Nystrom huffed, “is simulations and percentages.”
“If we only believed in percentages,” said Mansourian, with an unexpected smile, “we’d never be living on the surface on Mars.”
Two hours had passed since Norine’s abrupt holo-message to Martina and Julia. The good news was that satellites showed her daughters to be safe. The bad news was that Rhodes was agonizingly silent. Intelligence had not confirmed his death, and he was unlikely to have been anywhere near the front lines.
Once again, Rhodes had shown his ability to think two moves ahead. He would either follow the Prime Minister’s statement, usurping her rhetorical glory, or stay silent for a while, causing people to wonder if he’d been killed.
Now Norine had to think two moves ahead of Rhodes’ two moves. She believed Rhodes was alive somewhere beneath Binto City. Because the city was perched on top of the original robot-staffed Mars mines, there were hundreds of catacombs beneath it. M.U. had a map of them, but radar and their other sensors couldn’t overpower local jamming. Well…not that day, anyway.
The Prime Minister looked at messages coming through her news feed to the effect of “where is she?” and “why hasn’t the Prime Minister spoken?” If she waited any longer, she’d look weak even in victory. She called her TV people into the studio. They checked her makeup and hair; they adjusted the camera. It was time to speak to the worlds.
“Ladies, gentlemen, and children of Mars, and also to those listening on Earth, this is Mars United Prime Minister Norine Maciel. Today, the armed forces of Mars United have won a great victory against the separatist menace. We did not ask for this conflict. We were attacked repeatedly to the point that our constitutional democratic republic was in jeopardy. I am happy to say that after one day of exemplary, extraordinary work by our armed forces, we can all sleep much easier tonight. With impeccable honor, as we began our counter-attack, we warned citizens of Melas to flee our clearly specified military targets. Most citizens complied, and I can report that the planet of Mars has suffered very few civilian casualties. Of course we regret any loss of life, but again, the good citizens of Mars United did not ask for this conflict, and as of today, the rebel forces that took over Melas have been defeated. There are still a few pockets of resistance, and neither I nor any other political leader can promise a categorical end to separatist violence, but today Mars is a safer place to live.
“I now want to say something about how this is going to work in a very broad sense. As of right now, the entire Valles Marineris region is going to be led by a transitional government led by Senator Amy Mansourian of BankBank. While running this temporary office, Senator Mansourian will also be working overtime to schedule elections to occur in Melas in not more than six months’ time. The reason for the six months, which I hope you all understand, is that Senator Mansourian and Mars United need time to bring active traitors to justice.” And that BankBank controls all real estate exchanges, but Norine didn’t feel she needed to mention that.
“I know some will criticize me for this, and perhaps it’s my American childhood, but I find it hard not to reflect on that great leader Abraham Lincoln. Let us now recall the words with which he ended his second inaugural address. ‘With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him’ – and her – ‘who shall have borne the battle…to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.’ God bless you all tonight, and God bless Mars United.”
Norine stepped back into the war room and beheld a most unusual sight. Since becoming Prime Minister, Norine Maciel had given more than one speech from the communications room next to the war room. This was the first time that she returned to the war room to the sounds of a standing ovation! Even Lazio was clapping! She smiled broadly.
Nystrom and Uribe weren’t clapping. They had been awfully quiet for the last hour. That might have meant nothing. Or…something.
All right, Norine thought. Yes, most of the Senate liked my speech. Now what about everyone else on the planet? Samoset had already culled instant data. Aresians liked it. That was it, then. The war was over, except for the possibility of the other planet.