Chapter 7: Subverting the Subversive
Contri, Mothri II
March 26th, 174 Post-Set
‘For want of a nail, the Kingdom was lost.’ The phrase hung from a placard over the door of Malcolm Wyatt’s study. Hailing back to the time criminals held in stocks bore their guilt around their necks. The proverb had taunted his family since the time of his grandfather’s overthrow and death, ten years before he had been born. His skeleton staff begged him to move it. His wife had tried before their divorce. His daughter Jessica had pleaded with him, to no avail. It’s message, left by the ‘liberators’ of Morthri II when they removed AHD Technologies Unlimited from governance and confiscated the entirety of its accumulated planetary assets, remained seared into his consciousness. Every hour of every day he sat working paper fantasies in this room, he took heed of its message. Nothing would be left wanting when the wheel turned.
“Bring in the powder,” Malcolm Wyatt ordered.
The make-up crew arrived scurried about him. As they did, he motioned to his personal attendant, a man who made the pot-bellied shut-in slender in comparison. Upon his arrival, Malcolm motioned for him to lean in and waited for him to comply before whispering, “Tell Mister Callister that because of this unexpected media circus, we’ll have to reschedule our meeting for dinner this evening.”
“Of course, Mister Wyatt,” he answered. “Also a Gavin Sweet had asked to see you at your earliest convenience, sir.”
Malcolm had to remember not to jerk his head to request more information, and instead rolled the stubby index finger of his left hand. His attendant answered, “He represents the Gaesati, sir.”
“Ah. Well my earliest convenience will be: ‘When he can breath in the Void,’ Adam,” he answered with a sharp glance. “That’s what our friend Justev is for. There is to be no contact with any of them on our part.”
“Of course, Mister Wyatt.” His servant bowed.
Malcolm nodded, followed Adam’s departure with his eyes, and then sat in silence until the touch-up artists had made his round face with heavy jowls and deep-set eyes as palatable for the camera as imaginable. It was all too delicate. None of them could understand. He risked too much trying to enlighten them. With a sigh, he frowned at the portrait of the pretty brown-haired girl with her inquisitive eyes and bright smile. Not even you, Jessica.
Like on Elendil, on Morthri II the Corporate Democracy that Acamar touted as the key to its unmatched prosperity had failed to take hold. On both failed worlds, before humanity had adapted the Vorcar’s gift of FTL technology to their own needs and reconnected with its Diaspora, the populace had risen against the Corporation and removed them. In the case of his world, the planet proved too resource-poor to support advanced technological development and manufacturing processes. Poor in fossil fuels, there had been only so long the fission reactor of their sleeper ship could continue. And without recreating the industrial revolution, there was no way to create the synthetics and composites necessary for a Space Age, fusion-powered information economy. When the core died, advanced technology followed. So while Graham Rocheforte sat as benevolent tyrant over prospering Acamar, Malcolm Wyatt lived one step above a prisoner for an accident of birth and the sins of his elders, on a largely agrarian world.
Morthri II had found a niche in the galactic economy through cash crops. Its semi-arid climate proved ideal for grapes and tobacco. Unfortunately, that still left little room for an advanced technology firm. Even if its name had not been equated with mud by the planet’s history books. That despite saving their lives in the first place by bringing them here, Malcolm groused.
“Mister Wyatt?” The brown-haired woman, with tanned bronze skin and Latina features entered the study, her large eyes not hiding their disdain at his bloated form.
None of them could understand, he thought while answering, “Yes Miss…” he paused as if searching for her name, though it flashed in his NNI before he answered, “Coval? Correct?”
“Please, for the interview, call me Catalina,” she answered.
“Of course. That’s a pretty name,” he agreed with a smile.
Tilting her head with nose and chin wrinkled, Malcolm guessed she was unsure if he had made a pass at her or if she were afraid he was ill-at-ease and would make a hash of the interview. All the better, if she underestimated him, he might be able to control the dialog, and perhaps undo much of a hundred years of slander to his family name.
They shifted from his study to the deck outside. He passed the time guessing where her NNI was located, until Catalina tapped the fake chrysanthemum over her left ear. She refocused on him and shifted her chair to the left, toward the camera between them, and advised, “Ten seconds.”
Malcolm allowed himself an inward smile while affecting a nervous fidget. The red light came on and Catalina announced, “Good evening! Tonight, as part of the Centennial Celebration of a Democratic Morthri, we thought it would be illuminating to chat with the one who would, by the original charter, serve as Planetary Governor: Mister Malcolm Wyatt.”
Facing him, she offered a smile brighter than anything she had shown before. “Mister Wyatt, thank you for agreeing to speak with us.”
“Of course, Catalina,” he answered with a nod and a palms-up gesture. “It’s a pleasure to be granted the opportunity to talk about the real history of my family. As well as discuss some of the serious issues our planet faces. Please, call me Malcolm.”
She nodded politely. before casting a patronizing glance at the camera. “That’s very gracious of you, Malcolm. How do you feel the Front for Liberation and Democracy has governed over the past century?”
He cocked his head while folding his hands on the round wicker table between them. “First, I would say the Centennial Celebration is a misnomer. My grandfather made mistakes, but he wasn’t a tyrant. Ask the people of Acamar if they believe they lack freedom or prosperity as participants in AHD’s Corporate Democracy. I believe, if we had maintained patience and a concern for the whole, our world would now be as stable and industrious as theirs. The Revolutionary Court investigated every family that supported my Grandfather’s administration. But there’s no evidence the Parliament has improved the lots of those not actively receiving the largess of this government. What’s more, because of how thinly our people were spread, we were unable to protect everyone. But the Capital’s spent so much time demonizing the wealthy that they have driven away many of the best technological firms. So I don’t see how much has changed. Unemployment is rampant. Our children are left without parents for eight years or more. The League’s Military takes jobs, meaning we import goods and export people.”
The reporter blinked, a dubious note slipping into her voice as she smiled indulgently. “Of course you’d feel aggrieved Malcolm, since your family lost its place of privilege. But Saunder Wyatt made our world into a Banana Republic. We had an elite building mansions like yours, which the people kindly let you keep, while half the citizens starved in the streets.”
Malcolm wanted to scream at her for the insult, but instead laughed softly. “So instead we’ve exchanged one ruling class for another? We went from a developing world to Socialist Stagnation. We built the infrastructure and tamed the world. The government doesn’t have to guess which crops grow or what animals we can eat. Which ones migrate away, and which attack our farms and children. They inherited all our knowledge, while claiming all the work, resources and the treasure we invested to make this world grow. But, without the aid of the Vorcar, which would’ve come regardless, what have they accomplished? How much of the technology they gifted us has never made it to the common Morthrite?”
“Mister Wyatt.” Catalina glowered at him. “That is a very unseemly accusation.”
He affected a small, wounded smile and shrugged. “More unseemly than when Oihane Blanco charged that my parents had embezzled from the company and sank gold in the ocean against our overthrow? An accusation many historians now believe not only false, but trumped up for the sole purpose of triggering the revolt?” He tapped his finger on the table in front of him. “They deserve to be remembered better than thieves who told the masses to eat cake like Marie Antoinette.”
The reporter’s face twitched, and Malcolm smiled inwardly as he sat back in his chair. She brushed a hair past her NNI, and he guessed she was taking cues from the network now. “Mister Wyatt, I sympathize with your desire to defend your family’s honor. Perhaps it would be better to discuss the challenges ahead for Morthri.”
“Absolutely,” Malcolm answered with a polite nod. “We’ve already mentioned the current economic crisis: Ten percent of the work force cannot find a job. Our economy is consistently ranked in the lower part of the second tier of colonial worlds. A GPI surpassed by Acamar Three, which has only been colonized for thirty years.-”
Catalina interjected, “True, but they’ve had substantial aid in development and governance from Highgate!”
“But I thought AHD were evil overlords who couldn’t rule fairly or develop a world?” Malcolm answered with a wry grin. “Our world had a hundred year start on Acamar Three. But while the Rochefortes led the people of their world in a fight to clear enough space for humanity to live on, we fought each other. It’s a wound that’s never healed.”
“Our world isn’t nearly as resource-rich as theirs was,” she replied with a firm shake of the head. “You can’t imagine the government could match their production.”
Malcolm Wyatt leaned forward and smiled. “Why Miss Coval, I think you’ve made my point for me. If the problem was the initial weakness of our world, and that was a problem that only could have been solved by the arrival of the Vorcar, and the subsequent establishment of a Galactic Human economy, why should anyone believe the Front for Liberation and Democracy has done more than the Corporation would have done if we hadn’t been shut down?”
Wyatt had to stop himself from laughing at the befuddled look that crossed Catalina’s face. It didn’t take much imagination for him to hear her producers screaming, “Cut to Commercial!”
* * *
Dinner was held over a native hardwood table. Colored like birch, strong as teak, it and the matching chairs were older than their host. Around the setting sat the head of PriCom Galactic, Alain Callister, and the disgraced Wyatt. Donovan had watched the Vid from the Morthrite News Network. The State-sponsored station had tried to spin it as an opportunity to see why the Corporations could not be trusted. But Koerner thought the fat man had bloodied the Government. If that was the best they could do after an edit, he must have mauled them in the event.
Donovan enjoyed visiting Morthri for two reasons: brandy and cigars. As he finished a well-glazed slab of beef, he sipped on the drink with a satisfied nod. Callister had been a cold fish on the transit; staying in his cabin. That hardly concerned the Zephyr’s Captain. Better to have someone out of the way of his crew. Still, executives in Donovan’s experience were control freaks. They had not become successful by ignoring details. Nor did they do so by leaving behind their personal staff. Something smelled fishy. Snooping went against his reputation, but he had not survived this long without trusting his instincts.
“Thank you for seeing me, Mister Callister. I’ve tried for years to get you to visit,” Wyatt began.
He nodded while waving at their surroundings. “You’re welcome, Malcolm. I was told you were essentially under house arrest. But this is rather pleasant prison.”
Wyatt took a sip of wine. His eyes never leaving Callister until he set it down with a scowl that had nothing to do with the flavor of the orange nectar. “Yes, the FLD thought they were being most generous when they let my parents keep the family’s estate. Of course, I’m supposed to pay for the staff. But I can’t sell off-world, and no one on Morthri will buy anything associated with my name.”
“Yet you’ve managed to keep with all the latest technology?” Donovan noted. “I saw the VR center when we passed through your living room. You aren’t struggling to make ends meet.”
With a nod of concession, Wyatt cracked a sly grin. “Well, I may have benefactors who feel I have been abused, and my family was good friends with the Rochefortes. So once humanity gained Jump Technology, our family received largess in compensation.”
“Perhaps that provides some explanation for why you’ve asked to meet me?” Alain noted. “I can’t imagine this won’t attract attention. Some of your household staff must report to the Government.”
Wyatt stood from the table and walked to the window overlooking the vineyards. “I’m surprised the Government agreed to buy a weapons’ contract from an off-planet firm, Mister Callister. What convinced them?”
“They need to bring their Internal Security up to League standards. But no arms contractor on the planet can match the requirements within five years. By the terms of the Callisto Accords, any planet that fails to do so will either surrender control of their military to the Alliance or must withdraw from the Accords,” Alain replied.
Donovan grunted a laugh before replying, “There must be five other worlds in the same state.”
Alain grinned slightly and answered, “Eight, actually. Though in most cases the world is a secondary colony, so the parent can step in and bring them up to standards. It’s not just small arms either. It’s orbital defense platforms that can hold off an attack until the fleet arrives. This is the only world I know of that’s faced with making the choice, so they turned to our company.”
“And it gives me an opportunity,” Wyatt smirked. “Would you be willing to provide weapons to locations I designate?”
“I might,” Alain answered. “But I can’t have it come back on our company.”
Donovan’s ears perked up. That did not match his reputation. In fact, PriCom Galactic had earned their place as a competitor on the stage by playing honest with the major powers. But then what better way to maintain a reputation with the big names than to cut corners in the backwoods?
“It won’t,” Wyatt answered. “If your pilot here is as good as his reputation.”
“I was only hired to bring him here,” the smuggler answered. “If you ask for additional services, I have to charge additional fees.”
“That won’t be a problem, Captain.”
Music to my ears. A slow smile spread across Donovan's face.