“When you're in jail, a good friend will be trying to bail you out. A best friend will be in the cell next to you saying, 'Damn, that was fun'.”
My office is filled with people. Managing Illum is becoming a real hassle, so I decided to hold a monthly meeting with everyone who is of importance. There is my immediate command staff, but also the leaders of the workers.
Klein is currently giving me a report on the state of affairs. It looks good. The civilian quarters are done and a large part of the 'palace' is finished. The academy still needs a lot of work and the hired teachers are complaining that they need equipment like chairs and tables.
Klein taps his pen onto the sheet with his notes. “But those problems are all minor and in the process of being solved. What's a real issue, is the accessibility of the sky.”
I look up. “The sky?”
Klein nods. “We have a population of slightly over a thousand people. Most of Illum's surface is reserved as park area, but that's not enough. Even with Illum's increase in size, the gardens get really crowded in the evening. We had to introduce a wheel system to keep too many people from being at the greenery at once. The people will get depressed if they have to stay inside their quarters for too long. This problem wasn't urgent until now, but with our arrival in Laos I expect a huge increase of our population. More employees and even students. Edmund made some predictions and he expects that Illum will soon have a permanent population between two and three thousand people.”
I rub my chin. “I can stop the ring of unused matter from spinning. It's just a joke anyway. If I flatten it a little and connect it to the rest of Illum, we would have a huge walkway around Illum. I'll place it above the plane of the palace, so that everyone can have a good view. You can also plant more plants or create garden areas. I'll flatten available surface to a width of a hundred metres.”
Klein nods. “That would solve the problem.”
Kiara raises her hand. “I want to start the project with your 'greenhouses'. The two large glass spheres which we are currently using as water tanks aren't really needed. We can keep one of them, because the people are using it to swim. But as it is, one seems to be sufficient. We fill them to full capacity each time we travel through a large cloud system. Besides, can't you always use spacial magic to create a cistern within Illum? Then we have no need to expose an important resource to attacks. Then we can reconfigure the spheres into food plantations. Maybe even create more of them if the first proves to be a success.”
“You have my permission to start the project.” The two spheres are just a temporary solution, so if we have the manpower, there is no reason to keep them as they are.
There are a few more minor problems, but they are solved easily enough. Delegating work is the sweetest of all jobs.
At the end of the meeting, the crowd leaves the office. Only Oswin and Zane stay behind. It's good to see that the old man recovered, but he doesn't look very pleased. Zane is avoiding my eyes. He tried to stay out of my way since I had a little fun with him.
I lean back and smile. “Can I help you?”
“Yes.” Oswin takes a seat on the other side of my office table. “It's regarding the decision of my son. He took it without my consent, but that's not why I am here. We Biralds stay true to our word. I want to know how you intend to get our people up to Illum once they arrive.”
“I can give you the same control rings which my command staff uses. Otherwise, you can take the scheduled transports down to the city.”
I had to create a public transportation system for the masses. Two discs are transporting passengers at regular intervals. The people have various reasons to visit the town, though in Laos it's being used for the first time. Everyone who leaves Illum has to sign that he left. Strangers aren't allowed to visit Illum. It's strict, but nobody can say that I lock up my citizens.
I am already dreading the day when the first people start missing the last bus, but it can't be helped.
Reaching down, I retrieve two more command rings from the drawer beneath my desk. I throw one to Oswin and one to Zane. “You can ask Brian to give you one of his guard squadrons. Then you can wait for your people directly at the gate network down in the city.”
Oswin nods and puts on the ring. I am not entirely sure how they informed their people of the new plan, but I suppose that they have a hidden communication crystal. Sigh, so many things to do. I would love to play a little more with Zane's morals, but there is simply no time. “Is that all? I have a meeting with the Mirai envoy.”
Oswin nods and turns, but Zane stays behind. He turns to his father. “I need to discuss something, Dad.”
Oswin doesn't reply and leaves the room. As soon as he is gone, Zane turns towards me. “Please explain what that one evening was about!”
I furrow my forehead. “What do you mean? And is your old man mad at you? He seemed cold.”
“Oswin will come around. The evening when you seduced me! What was the meaning of that?”
I shrug. “I was needy and you were convenient. Don't make such a fuss about it. It was just sex. Go back to your fiancée and be happy. Or, if you have the urge, you are welcome to visit me on evenings. I've had better,” in another life, “but your tool isn't too bad.”
His mouth gapes open. “I am not that type of man. I know my responsibilities.”
I dismiss his ideals with a flick of my wrist. “I am my own person. I am independent and you certainly don't have to take care of me. You have no responsibilities towards me and there will be no consequences. Isn't that a situation which every man would wish for?” I smile. Oh, his horrified expression is epic, so I place a leg on the desk and run a hand up the curves of my body. “Don't you want to touch me? I admit that it felt good to be in control.” My former master always tried to hurt and restrain me, so it was quite nice to be the one who is in charge.
Zane shakes his head. “I am very sorry, but what happened between us shouldn't repeat itself. I doubt that I will be able to live with it, so I have to confess it to my fiancée.” He stands up and bows to me, then he leaves without looking back.
I sit there, dumbfounded. What was that? I look at the ceiling and play with a strand of my hair. How long has it been since I was rejected in such a manner? Do I remember a single person who has such high moral standards?
At first, it was interesting to corrupt Zane, but it's slowly becoming a matter of honour. What was his fiancée’s name? Carmen? Karmilla? She didn't strike me as a noteworthy person. The impression I got was that of a cute doll with control issues. It's almost certain that she won't react well to Zane's confession.
Oh, well. Let's see how that turns out.
A signal informs me that Willow is about to return. I make sure that the shuttle's stealth function is activated and get up. The ship will enter the secret hangar which connects directly to my workshop. I want to be there to see how it fared.
I open the door of the shuttle and scowl when I see that Joyce is already waiting on the other side. “I am not a charwoman!”
Joyce raises her eyebrows. “Excuse me?”
I point at the large ship which is floating next to my shuttle. “Fifty-four bodies! It took me a whole day to scrub up the mess! I was so close to losing it! And the smell! I am a delicate fairy! I am not supposed to clean up corpses.” I know that I sound like a little child, but this had to be said.
“So the ship was a mess and you cleaned it all up? I only meant for you to kill the crew, just in case that some survived, but it's nice of you to do a little preliminary cleaning. I'll wash the ship in any case. Submerging it in de-ionized water should do the trick.”
I fall to my knees and curse my own stupidity. She already thought of a way to clean the ship. “The next time, try to be clearer!”
Clenching my teeth, I look up at her. “And why do you want the orks to rebel against the Sociocrathy? Are you aware that your actions could cause a worldwide war? The Empire will gain a lot of enemies because of your machinations, but they are still strong. It will take a lot of effort to bring them down! You will have the blood of thousands on your hands. Maybe millions! I am an assassin, but even I think that something like that is an atrocity!”
Joyce's expression turns sour. “So you met Gregor?”
She tilts her head and puckers her lips. “I could answer that question in a myriad of ways, but the easiest way would be that I want revenge and a clean conscience.”
I get back to my feet. “A clean conscience? How can you have a clean conscience after doing something like this!”
Joyce crosses her arms behind her back and studies me with an emotionless expression. “I was born as the child of a slave. For eighty years, I had to serve a weak-minded fool who took pleasure in abusing his pleasure slaves. And I wasn't alone. There is at least one slave for every citizen in the Empire. The Sociocrathy isn't that public about their slavery, but as long as the money flows, they have no issues about trading them on the black market.
“Meanwhile, the Alliance is doing nothing because their internal conflicts are more important. The Consortium is watching, hiding on their island. This world hasn't changed in over a hundred years and the average slave lives less than twenty years. Do you have any idea on how many bodies the Empire built its power? What does a puny war matter? It will be over in less than a decade.”
She spreads her hands. “I am guilty of killing a few goblins and bandits. I am guilty of forcing a band of murdering pirates to do my bidding. I am guilty of dangling a huge, shining toy in front of the ruling powers. And, I am guilty of selling weapons to those who want them. I'll even tell you that I am responsible for the rebels who are running amok in the Sociocrathy and the Empire, freeing slaves to join their fight for freedom.”
Joyce nods and crosses her arms in front of her chest. “But I forced none of the people who will initiate this war to follow their desires. I gave the orks weapons. What they do with them isn't in my hands. I am also not responsible for what others will do once they realize that those weapons come from the empire. All of the hatred already existed before I escaped. I am only accelerating it, bringing it to a quick end.”
I squint my eyes at her. “That doesn't free you from responsibility.”
“No, it does not. I am just taking the path which all the others aren't willing to walk. They prefer to uphold the status quo and to burn their young soldiers on something they call the Eternal Battlefield. An atrocity without equal. I have been to many worlds, but none of them had two ruling powers who fought a sanctioned war like that. How many people does their inaction kill? Nobody cares about that. A million people in a decade? Ten in a century? How many will I save if I force the war now, even if it will cost millions their lives?”
She squints her eyes at me. “You have to understand that this isn't a war between good and evil. There is no black and white. There are bastards on both sides.”
I shake my head. “I understand your logic, but what will you do once the Empire is defeated? Or worse, if the Empire wins?”
She laughs. “Who says that there will be a victor?”