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Frances was just where she wanted to be. She had made captain recently, which meant more pay, and a spacious cabin just for herself. She was not really interested in a career, but she needed one to live well. She had also managed to land the perfect job for herself. She was supervisor of the fleet.
Her mother kept saying that she needed to get married. In fact, Frances had no shortage of suitors. At this time, she was dating two men and she was enjoying every minute of it. She doubted, however, that she would marry either of them. Neither had made captain, nor had they any hopes of doing so.
Frances had managed her job easily. It was her duty to keep the fleet flying. That was a total of 150 ships. They were mostly small maintenance ships, suited for sorties around the mother-ship. There were also twenty vessels, with a capacity of 500 people each. These vessels were capable of staying in space for years, at least in theory.
In fact, none of the vessel had ever flown on Frances’ watch. Frances had found that if she kept ten small ships in working order, her superiors wouldn’t bother her. That was easy, as she had the workers siphon off spare parts from used the rest of the fleet.
Today however, a visit captain from had Frances worried. As a three star captain, he outranked her. But he was part of the internal security division. His visit had been completely informal, however. He had claimed to just stop by, as he was in the neighborhood.
However, X had raised some very pointed questions, focused on the state of maintenance of the fleet. Jokingly, he had asked if she thought that any of the vessels would still fly. How many of the small ships where ready for a space sortie? And then he has asked just how long the vessels could survive in outer space.
These questions had made Frances wary. Truth be told, she did not know how to answer them. She had assured the captain that the ships were perfectly space-worthy. But she felt trapped by his questions. Frances had a good feeling for the ship’s politics, and the captain visit left her suspicious.
She decided to go to the deck and inspect the vessels. What she found was not very encouraging. Most of the smaller ships had been cannibalized. Maintenance panels were off, exposing wiring hanging loose. Stray pneumatic lines were dripping oil. Workers had taken out parts they needed without even caring to cover up their work.
Frances had done an inspection once before, but that was when she was assigned to her new post. She did not remember the ships to be in such a poor state. And it got worse when she moved on to the vessels. At first glance, it was obvious that these would never fly again.
In fact, with her master-key, none of the vessels even came on-line. There was no power to the ship’s bridge. One vessel, PV-25, was different. It appeared to be in tact from the outside. In fact, it looked clean, like it had been worked on. But she could not get in. The lock malfunctioned, would not open even with a master-key override.
Frances went back to her office. She checked the maintenance logs on PV-25. The last some-one had had access was several years before she had made captain. It was a name she did not recognize, Albert Gonsalves. He was not with her crew now.
Frances was unsure what this meant. How big of a problem did she have? Was she going to be requested to put ships into space? If so, for what purpose? You never knew what political games were being played. But Frances knew that this matter was too important to ignore. So she called her mentor, and invited him to a private dinner at her cabin.
Hamid would eat alone on Tuesday. He wife played bridge, and was usually too tired to eat at the mess. He would heat something up, and would watch one of the movies. But he had seen them countless times before. So he gladly accepted Frances’ invitation for dinner.
Frances intrigued him. She was a political animal, as he called it. She was looking to advance not by hard work, but by the right connections. So Ehmad realized that she had an agenda behind this dinner invitation. Ehmad, however, was fascinated by Frances’ beauty. He called his own marriage insignificant. Their children where on their own feet, and there was no romantic interest.
Ehmad had always considered it his duty to keep an eye on Frances, as she grew up. Her father had been a childhood friend of hers, but he got killed in the civil war. Frances had been been a mere toddler at the time, and her mother had refused to remarry.
Now, however, Frances had blossomed into a beautiful young woman. And Ehmad could not help but notice that. So he was looking forward to what he called ‘dinner with a beauty with a hidden agenda’. This should be an interesting way to get through Tuesday night.
So Ehmad left his bodyguards outside the door of Frances’ cabin.
My theory on that is that the real power lays with ‘the indispensables’. By that, I mean the people who have an indispensable skill. People like the farmers, the doctors or the astronauts. If these people stop working, the whole ship is hurting. Food becomes scarce, people get sick or systems fail. So by their job, these people have real power. And they are hard or even impossible to replace.
That’s why I always insisted you finished engineering school. I know your heart wasn’t in it. But it makes you one of the indispensables.
Now what is bizarre about our history, is that the indispensables never united as a political faction. For some reason that I don’t understand, they are not aware of their power. So it is up to other factions to court them, and to bring them into an alliance.
You see, I believe that politics is the art of robbing Peter to pay Paul. I still wonder where that expression originated. Anyway, you gain power by creating an alliance of supporters. But what makes people your supporters? The answer is always you’re your supporters must have an interest in you remaining in power.
That interest can be material or it can be status. Usually it is a little of both. Now where can we get the things we need to give to our supporters? It can only be taken from those that are excluded from the alliance. These people do not support us, so there is no harm in robbing them.
Now, when the equalitarians gained power, they had a hard choice. You seem, people are always attracted to equality. That is, until they actually experience it. When it is in their face, equality becomes a nightmare. At the end of the day, people are simply too individual.
But because of the attraction of the idea, it is easy for the equalitarians to rise to power. But once they have power, they have a hard choice. They can stay true to their ideology, in which case they will alienate their supporters. Or they can keep their supporters, in which case they need to alienate from their ideology.
Now their leader, Joan was a stubborn woman. She was a ideological fanatic. She insisted in total equality. Everyone needed to eat the same menu. She introduced uniforms. Even haircuts were proscribed. All women had their hair at shoulderlength. All men had short hair and a moustache.
So people grew discontent quickly, already after a few years. In our history, there seems to be a generational pattern. A power structure is often good for a generation. Apparently, when a new generation gains power, it seeks a new equilibrium. New leaders come to the fore, and they shape new coalitions.
But the equalitarians only lasted three years. That is when your father, Gustav, Roman and me started conspiring. It all started innocent enough. We were young men, I was the youngest. And we were really serious racket-ball players. That is how we became friends.
And often the conversation turned politics. We needed to be really careful, of course, not to get caught by their police. But Roman worked as a maintenance technician on surveillance equipment. And he knew that the racket-ball courts were not wired. So we could talk freely during the games.
We knew of course that there was widespread discontent. One could feel that. It was simply the atmosphere in the ship. And we knew that supplies were running low, especially food.
But how do you start a revolution? Where to begin? After a lot of consideration, your father came up with the air-lock plan. These air-locks are wired to be controlled from the main computer room so in case of an emergency areas that are losing air can be isolated.
Now Joan had twenty people that she shared power with. They were something like her cabinet, I suppose. Anyway, they were called the committee. And the plan was to isolate the committee by closing the air-locks on them while they were in a meeting.
Your father had handled it very smartly. He had gotten deep into the wiring and rearranged how the air-locks were controlled. So, even for his colleagues in the main computer room, it looked like the air-locks were malfunctioning. So, if the revolution failed, your father would pretend that a false alarm had activated the air-locks and that it had taken him a while to fix the problem.
So that part of the plan worked well. Now, and it was our task to get a revolution going. I mean Gustav, Roman and me. I guess that our job was the most dangerous. You see, the police remained loyal to the committee, and they were still all over the ship.
The plan was to go to the broadcast center first. A revolution does not exist if the people do not know about it. We had with us ten armed men, completely loyal. I called them our militia. We sat down before the camera, read a statement denouncing the committee, and stated that our militia has taken control.
That, of course, was a gross overstatement. We did not control the ship. We had a list of twenty police commanders, and we starting calling them individually to sway their loyalty. Now, we did not know that the committee had left orders with three of their most trusted police-commanders. They were instructed to secure the main computer, the broadcast center and the ship deck.
Our calls to the police-commanders were successful, at least in making them hesitate. They generally decided to hold back and see which side would be victorious. We have a shoot-out for control over broadcast-center. There were only three policemen in that detail and they were killed. But we had no defense on the ship deck, and they easily took control there. They rigged it with explosives and then they just waited.
The detail that went to the main computer packed a greater punch. They held your father at gunpoint, ordering him to open the air-locks. When your father refused, they decided to set an example. They executed him on order to scare the other technicians to open the locks. Of course, they did not know that the secret to open the air-lock died with your father. The other technicians tried as hard as they could, but they were clueless.
We got into a stand-off that lasted a day. The police held the main computer, and the ship deck. Some of the ordinary police had reluctantly joined them, other has pointedly remained neutral. Like I had predicted, most of the indispensables were on our side, and quite a few took up arm. But the larger population seemed to sympathize with the committee.
Our problem was that time was not in our favor. None of us had realized that time is so much of the essence in a revolution. If the revolution does not succeed immediately, it falters and you feel that your supporters are beginning to doubt you.
It became apparent that the equalitarians would not give up as long as there was a glimmer of hope for the return of the committee. We needed to make a drastic decision, and were under immense time pressure. In the end, Roman was the only vote against. Gustav and I voted to poison the air supply of the committee room.
We had to wait for them to die, and then we linked the spy camera to the broadcast center. That is how we showed everybody that the whole committee lay dead. That is how we broke the equalitarians’ resistance. But we paid an immense price, because we had discredited ourselves as lawful rulers.
Now, looking back, I realize how crucial that decision was. We lost the moral high ground after that. It landed us on this slippery slop, we lived in fear of revenge from the equalitarians ever since. So, we were forced to clamp down on dissent ever since. And the more we clamp down, the more we delegitimize ourselves. We were on a path from which there is no return.
So Roman, Gustav and me ruled as the triumvirate ever since. As you know we ruled together. I disbanded the police and create the militia in their place. Roman was always a religious man, and he has been running the magisterium. Gustav has been chief technical officer, which is probably the most powerful position.
But we are old. Gustav is ill, he has not been on duty for over a year. We are approaching the end of our time, and there is no-one to transfer power to.
“Father, do you know captain X?” Frances asked with a worried voice.
“Yes, I do. Well, not personally. At least not very well. He is one of the militia-officers that are attached to the technical staff. Why do you ask?”
“Why would captain X suddenly be interested in the flying capacity of the fleet? He came by today, and asked some very pointed questions. But he made a point of stressing that it was not an official visit. Claimed he happened to be in the neighborhood.”
“The fleet? I don’t know. Maybe he was speaking the truth. Maybe it was a chance visit. Maybe he has a romantic interest?”
That remark made Frances blush. “No, I don’t think so. That would be something that I would feel, right? He wanted to find out what the state of repair of our fleet was. Of course, I told him that the fleet was space-ready.”
“And is that true?” Ehmad asked, searching Frances’ face for some truth.
“Honestly? No, it is not. Of course not! None of the vessels could fly. Most of them are beyond repair, I would say. And we have only ten maintenance ships at the ready. But it is an academic problem, isn’t it? We don’t have anywhere to go. Not without a sighting of a Potentially Inhabitable Planet.”
The truth is not quite as exciting. We are running this ship at 5% of its capacity, to reduce wear and tear. That means that we keep the population at 5,000 rather than the 100,000 that the ship could house.
Not everything is taught is history class. One of the things that would have been excluded, is that there have been at least fifteen escapes that I know of. And by an escape, I mean an individual or a group that took a ship and left this mother-ship and never returned. Quite possibly there have been escapes that I do not know about. And surely, there must have been many failed attempts for every successful escape.
Now, by a successful escape I do not mean that they found a planet and lived happily ever after. I just mean that they managed to get off this mother-ship. But we think that all escapes failed. For sure, not a single one has established radio-contact to let us know that they survived.
So the only reason that these escapes are hushed up, is to prevent copy-cats. There seems to be such a fertile ground for escapes on this ship. All it takes is charismatic leader with a fancy. They may claim to have received some prophesy. Or they may claim to have found a potentially inhabitable planet. This ship’s history is full of desperados that want to escape.
This fruitless search had been the origin of the so-called Third Heresy: that a planet with an atmosphere containing oxygen is physically impossible. The Third Heresy sounded logical enough, since oxygen burns, and. That thesis was still being discussed by theologicians, but had been discarded as the Third Heresy.
It was also in line with the ship’s motto: “on our way to a better world”. But Joah was no fool. He knew the prophecy. The ship’s destination lay in the Andromeda Nebula. There, they would find a planet of milk and honey.
So Joah suspected what would happen if he went ahead and reported his findings through the proper channels. Captain Johnson would simply ignore the PIP. And even if his findings would be entered into the ship’s log, some verbiage would be included to the effect that the risks and demands on scarce resources of altering the ship’s course do not outweigh the hypothetical benefits of the planet.
I think you’ll find this interesting. It is a planetary exploratory kit. For one, it contains a kit of extremely lethal viruses, and antidote (?) for humans. They are intended to exterminate intelligent life-forms, which might oppose your invasion of their planet.