A snippet from April #6

Annette used to like rice. It had been an occasion treat and change of pace in their diet when she was growing up in Armstrong, the North American moon base. When her family escaped Armstrong and established residence in Central it became even rarer. In Camelot it was the main source of calories. They still had a huge stockpile of it from the Chinese. Like the peasants at home the administrators of the Chinese base, she still couldn’t pronounce its old name properly, had always ordered a little more than they used and stockpiled the rest. Even in the upper classes hoarding was a deeper cultural instinct of the Chinese than they would ever admit. Of course now it would stretch a lot further because the majority of the residents had elected to return to China. There had only been a dozen who chose to stay and that had removed so many absolutely essential people another dozen had been sent with Annette to keep the base open. Four from Central and six recruited easily from Armstrong and sworn to Heather.
It had been four months now since the new Chinese government had decided a lunar base was impossible to keep if they could not take armed ships past L1 and ceded it to Jeff Singh. The other Earth powers had not seen that as an obstruction to keeping a lunar presence, but the Chinese government had enough other troubles at home right now without needing the negative cash flow of a base that didn’t really return anything but propaganda value. The prestige of scientific achievement and demonstrating it to the rest of the world was less important while there were still doubts about who was going to rule their homeland.
Back in China there were not only recurrent pockets of trouble from those who did not favor a new regime, or at least not this one, but every minority region on the edges of their empire saw it as an opportunity to succeed. Neighboring states saw it as a chance to seize a little territory while their giant neighbor had bigger problems. That would at least be a buffer against China’s habit of nibbling at their border when it did get its house in order. The chaos of civil war meant the most important business in China right now was suddenly back to what it had been for millennia, producing the same rice she was so tired of already. It was suddenly much less abundant at home and more important again than a new com pad, electric scooter or exports to the other Earth nations.
Annette had also grown quickly used to the spaciousness of living under the surface of the moon at Central instead of in prefabricated domes and huts like at Armstrong. If anything the structures and amenities the Chinese enjoyed were inferior to what the North Americans enjoyed. Her mom had assured her it wouldn’t be long before they tunneled deep enough for the walls not to need layers of foam and radiant insulation. The rock itself would naturally be at a shirt-sleeves comfortable temperature just a few kilometers deeper. She’d had no idea at the time that she wouldn’t see that happening because she was away administering Queen Heather’s new territory.
When she protested she didn’t have the experience to be an executive her mom, Dakota, and Queen Heather had kindly but firmly pointed out that she was only a bit more than a year younger than Heather. They also were very candid in explaining that her inexperience made her the best of several choices to send because they needed the experienced people at Central. The handful they were sending along with her had specific technical jobs that would fully engage them and no time for administrative tasks on the side. It was sort of bizarre that being less qualified made her more available when there was a shortage of experienced people but she hadn’t been able to think of a reasonable argument against it, sitting there with the queen and her mom. It still seemed a conflict in her mind but they owed everything to Queen Heather and she couldn’t turn her down when obviously she needed somebody to do the job.
The advice Heather had given her worked better than she ever imagined. Heather had pointed out that her own experience was limited. She had considerable talent and ability with electronic design, and her association with Jeff Singh had taught her a lot about nanoelectronic fabrication, but she had no formal training in governance. Annette had always enjoyed history and read much more of it than was strictly necessary for her education. She still had a backlog of it to read on her pad if she ever got a few hours free. But she had never considered before, as Heather had explained, that many of history’s rulers didn’t have the luxury of training for the job. Many of them were focused on removing the previous regime and not all of them had any grand vision of what they would put in place of it if they won. Sometimes they were good at fighting but so unprepared to rule once they won that they did a worse job than the tyrants they threw out. The worst of them didn’t know when to stop fighting since that was their only real talent.
Heather said that there was seldom anything that needed an immediate decision. If it didn’t involve plugging an air leak, taking cover or shooting back it could probably wait a few hours. If it was that immediate people usually did what was obviously needed without requiring coaching anyway. If she wasn’t sure what to do she could solicit opinions from the locals. Chances were somebody would have an idea what to do. The trick then being that the best choice wasn’t always what the majority wanted to do. But an outsider had an edge there in not automatically wanting to do what had always been done, or what came easily to their culture. They had chosen to stay after China abdicated and had no reasonable expectation the new law of Heather’s kingdom would resemble Chinese law so she wasn’t constrained that way. She could also tell folks she wanted to take time to ponder it and most would take that for wisdom rather than indecisiveness if she projected the proper demeanor. At worst she could use the delay to call Heather and ask what to do, but she was warned not let it be a daily habit.
The key point Heather made was that Annette was acting with Heather’s authority. Nothing she did should undermine that authority. “You are my voice and hand in that place. Act it,” she ordered. She took  her own weapon off and hung it on Annette’s hips. “You only keep what you can hold,” she demonstrated with a clutched fist. “You have the authority and mandate to act for me. Demand respect as if it is me standing there. I will not second guess you or recall you easily. It’s not an easy task I’m sending you on. I’m sending you as much for your personality as intelligence or any experience,” she confided. “Everybody tells me you are even tempered and can admit it when you do make a mistake. I’ve come to value kind and calm over even being smart in people. Smart is wasted on some folks.”
“I’ll get another from Jeff,” Heather said, when Annette objected to the extravagant gift.
Annette had taken Heather’s warning about calling her to heart, calling her mom instead a couple times for advice. She’d only called Heather once when a couple had decided to separate. Effectively to divorce, although they didn’t have case law or decree to deal with it then. They did now. The vehemence of their anger and the irrational accusations of both parties left her doubting she could produce a good judgment. Heather had counseled her that she probably wasn’t going to make both of them happy. “If either of them is satisfied by your justice you’ve probably just found the reasonable one,” Heather speculated. It seemed to amuse her.
She’d found out quickly neither were open to any agreement and their hatred was creating problems for the entire community. Her settlement was first of all a written decree of divorce. It was the first official document of which she had made and signed hard copies to distribute instead of electronic communications or word of mouth. The couple could also not come to any agreement as to their property. She had to instruct them to make a list of everything they owned, minus personal clothing, or any items that were family heirlooms, and bring it back to her. She conducted these proceedings in an open court with video saved to the system so anybody could see how her justice worked. When they first returned a list she had refused it. They had listed such things as a tea service piece by piece. They hadn’t know yet how she intended to use the list and why that would never work. She patiently explained that things which were not useful divided had to be listed as a set. The everyday plates and silverware or cookware for example could be divided and still be useful to each of them, but something with heavily aesthetic value like a tea service had to remain together.
When they had a proper list she informed them each would chose an item in turn until the list was divided. Since neither wanted to give up first choice she flipped a coin for it. It was painful to observe and took longer than it should have but eventually they had everything divvied up. She refused to hear any arguments about who brought more assets to the marriage or earned more and ordered them to divide the cash they held in accounts back in China equally. They had formed a partnership and she considered that put everything in one pot, so to speak. If the chaos below precluded them doing that now they were ordered to do so when it became possible.
“What about our home?” the disgruntled husband asked, scowling.
“It is my judgment, that your conflict though technically resolved will not end now given your attitudes. You have both insisted on a public display that I doubt you understand has left many in the community disgusted with both of you. Your insistence others take sides has put others in untenable positions at their work or in serving others in this downsized community. This has to end. Therefore one of you must leave. I will provide transportation to Central, any of the other moon colonies or Home. Points beyond those are at your own cost and pleasure. Whoever leaves will forfeit any ownership of your home. There is no market for it as of yet or indeed any way to value it at present. Unless you can show a willing buyer with a cash offer and explain where and how the one remaining is going to live without shelter, it passes undivided. The fact you recently gained ownership of it was strictly a gift of your sovereign and Peer Singh. China in relinquishing sovereignty over the base gave complete ownership to Peer Singh. He could have as easily retained ownership of every square meter and structure and demanded rent of those who elected to stay.”
“We are not peasants!” the wife sneered.
Annette stifled the urge to chose the woman for exile based on that remark alone. She took a deep breath and calmed herself.
“Of the two, does one have skills which would be more difficult to do without or replace?” she asked the audience. There were six people physically present since it was past main shift, all responsible workers, and several more observing on the local net.
The one administrator, Feng, who had stayed over was acting as a manager now. He looked from one spouse to the other.
“Wo is a heavy machinery mechanic. He works on the rovers and some of the stationary equipment. It isn’t that hard to recruit from Earth because except for some details of lubrication and temperature extremes the basics are the same. Training them for vacuum safety is a bigger issue. Chao-xing is a nurse. Of necessity she is a nurse practitioner because our doctor went back. We still need a doctor. Better yet a surgeon. I communicated that to Mr. Singh when I agreed to stay.” He looked very unhappy, but didn’t come to any conclusion or say more. Annette sensed there was much more he wasn’t saying though.
“So, It sounds as if we could do without a mechanic easier than a nurse. The rovers may be vital to becoming economically viable but if there is nobody with medical training that’s a lack which might put us in personal danger. Right?” she asked.
“No,” Feng said, surprising her. “Most of what she can do that requires physical presence several others can do who have had emergency medical training. Stitching or gluing a minor wound, dispensing drugs. Many things can be done with telepresense by a physician in which she could assist. However most any of us could do the same with a little coaching. I’d hate to have to intubate someone and even with the best waldos and stereo cameras I’d hate to see a serious operation performed remotely, but I’d have a doc do that remotely before I’d allow Chao-xing to cut me. No, But the real reason I don’t want her around is because she is political.” He said the word with distaste. “Politics is what divided her and her husband. Didn’t you know?”
“Politics concerns me. The reasons for their break-up didn’t. You might say politics is the only reason why I’m here. I’d better hear in some detail how Chao-xing is political. Are you opposed to my sovereign’s rule?” she asked Chao-xing, directly.
“I am not interested or concerned with your politics,” she answered, radiating haughtiness. “When everything gets sorted out back home then it’s going to matter a great deal who we supported. And Chinese politics will concern themselves with you and the moon again when they are not distracted. A lot of these traitors will be dealt with then,” she said. She gave a significant look around the room, trying to be menacing.
“You, Chao-xing, are banished from the Kingdom of Central, Annette said in a clear loud voice. “If you show your face back here after your expulsion it will cost your life. I will make an exception for you and your ex and promise your passage to ISSII. There is an official Chinese presence there and they can have the joy of you. I won’t inflict you on others.”
“What sort of Chinese?” the woman asked. “If it’s traitors there you are sending me to be arrested or worse.”
“I don’t know,” Annette admitted. “I suggest if you wish them to repatriate you to Earth you control your mouth and try to be as neutral in your statements as possible. To me you’re all much alike. As you just said, I am not concerned with your politics. When you agreed to stay here you forfeited your Chinese citizenship. Be happy I don’t shoot you out of hand for treason to Queen Heather. I thought everybody understood that, but I can see the only safe course now is to ask everyone to swear a formal oath to Heather or face expulsion.”
“As if I’d swear to obey a barbarian,” Chao-xing sneered. “One who sends a woman to govern us.”
“Get this woman out of my sight before I do something I regret later,” Annette ordered Feng. “Call Central and ask them to send a hopper to take her and Wo away. If there’s anybody else who wants a second chance to leave you best go with them. I won’t have any patience with repetitions of this stupidity.”
“Come along,” Feng told Chao-xing and laid his hand flat on her shoulder. She turned her head and spat in his face.
In low gravity it’s hard to get the traction to strike. You tend to bounce apart instead of delivering much force. That’s why Feng shifted from a light touch to direct her to a hard grip on her arm. When he struck with his fist he pulled her to the strike with his other hand. She twisted but couldn’t get away and the hit was devastating with no block at all.
Annette was shocked. She’d never seen this sort of direct violence before and she was ready to tell Feng to stop even though she had just visualized and spoke of shooting the woman dead herself. That was somehow… different. It was obvious he didn’t intend to continue even before she could say anything. He gave a come-here jerk of his head to one of the other observers and in the low gravity the limp Chao-xing was easy to carry out. ‘She asked for it.’ Was her immediate thought, but it still rattled her. She hadn’t seen it coming at all.
The remaining four looked frightened, and she realized they weren’t afraid of Feng for his actions, they were looking at her afraid. Then she realized her hand was around the grip of the laser Heather had given her. She didn’t remember consciously reaching for it. “That concludes this business for tonight,” she told them forcing a frown and turned away before they could read the shock on her face. She couldn’t afford to show anything that might be taken as weakness now.

10 Responses to A snippet from April #6

  1. Gary Roulston June 27, 2014 at 4:55 pm #

    I am glad I am getting much better so I can beta this new book. It is going to be the best yet.

    • Mac June 27, 2014 at 8:35 pm #

      I’m glad you are doing better too. Had us worried.

  2. Todd Stewart June 27, 2014 at 5:56 pm #

    Thanks for the taste of #6. Can’t wait. Looks Delicious.

  3. W. Gregory Klett June 28, 2014 at 10:00 pm #

    Thanks for this!
    I have really enjoyed the ‘April’ series so far, and can’t wait for more.

    • Mac July 5, 2014 at 9:50 pm #

      I’m still enjoying writing it. Try Family Law to hold you over?

  4. DitN September 27, 2014 at 2:59 pm #

    One question I have about long-term residence on the moon. Since, unlike the spinning space stations, there are no areas of high-G, how would the Lunarians avoid problems like bone and muscle loss?

  5. Mac March 8, 2016 at 7:53 am #

    With drugs a lot longer than zero G.


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