– by Nestor X
“Final copies, proofed and printed,” said the woman, gracefully tossing a thick stack of forms onto Morshan’s desk. “Just missing the signatures. Two, on the last page,” she added helpfully.
“Thank you, Kay,” responded the man behind the desk. With a gesture he dismissed a report scrolling just above the desk’s worn surface, and turned to the documents, leafing through them idly. All seemed in order. Selecting a black pen he signed twice at the appropriate locations and handed the documents back.
She took the papers, and then hesitated for a moment. “Something else, Kay?”
“It’s just that…” she paused. “Prices are up again. The front’s still a dozen systems away, but… what am I saying; you’ve seen the reports.”
Morshan’s shoulders slumped. “I know. Everything’s gone up.”
Kay gave him a long look. “I trust you. I know the cuts are across the board. Still—most people won’t even read the reports. They’ll just see the numbers falling.”
“Falling, Mister Aduralis! That’s all wages did over the past four months!” The People’s Voice strutted about on the short platform, a thin man with a keen lawyer’s nose for blood in the water. One didn’t rise to People’s Voice without a talent for prosecution, after all.
The Voice rattled a form in front of the unkempt figure sitting behind the dull steel table. “Morshan Aduralis, this is you, correct?”
Morshan looked at the paper. It was his signature all right. It looked naked, sitting on the line at the bottom of the form in bare black ink. None of the little flourishes that made penmanship an art, none of the strong lines of a proud decision. Just bare black scratches.
“I signed the order.”
“Straight to the point. I like that about you, Morshan,” jested the Voice in an aside. “Never bothered with splitting hairs; always liked lopping them off instead. A clean cut, just like with our salaries,” he added in a louder voice for the benefit of the cameras. “Care to explain just what Order 207 did?”
It saved your lives, you idiots, screamed Morshan silently.
“Order 207 instituted a global freeze on benefits and started a series of pay reductions, to accumulate in a twenty-three point nine percent drop over the next six standard months,” he recited stonily, staring the Voice in the eye.
“Wow,” replied this other sarcastically, “I’m impressed. You managed to say that without blinking. And without looking at the document, either,” he added for the cameras. “A guilty conscience makes the crime hard to let go of, after all.”
Laughter outside, where a huge crowd had undoubtedly assembled. The courtroom was closed to the general public, but somehow managed to be packed with various notables and dignitaries, all of whom probably contributed a nice pile of isk towards the High Archon’s retirement fund. He looked bored up there behind the raised platform; this wasn’t much of a trial anyways. The cameras confirmed that.
The Voice had kept talking, but now had finally come out of the flowery mode of address reserved for the cameras and found another question for the witness.
“So tell me, Morshan, aside from your hatred of the Glaaran people, what drove you, a harsh but mostly rational planetary administrator, to take a plasma torch to this planet’s economic infrastructure?”
He ignored the barbs and answered the question straightforwardly, in an unperturbed voice. “Without the cuts this planet is not and cannot be profitable.”
“Ah, the almighty god of isk. So that’s who you serve, hm?”
“No,” Morshan replied sharply, “but the Cranton Corporation does. The same corporation that owns—” he caught himself. “That owned this planet and paid for the defence fleets,” he continued in a strong tone that made even the preposterous Voice pause.
“If this planet isn’t profitable, Cranton pulls out. You’ve all heard the news reports about the Sansha. Unless this planet is in the black, no one will want to defend it.”
“That’s a mighty fine plan right there,” conceded the Voice. “In fact, it’d be a great plan. If only,” he nearly shouted, “if only you were right! The People’s Voice invites Wilsung Strage to speak!”
A man rose from the audience, wearing in an impeccable suit of the highest Empire fashion. “People of Glaarus! On behalf of the Hakatena Corporation, you have nothing to fear. I’ve seen the books, run the numbers, and—” here he paused and gave a genial smile, “—you’ve got nothing to fear. Cranton Order 207 is rescinded. I present to you Hakatena Order One: full pay and bonuses, effective immediately!”
Morshan didn’t need to read the summary his defence coordinator had provided him; the statistics spoke for themselves. Hakatena forces were drawing closer. They had been for weeks now, but this was a full-scale offensive; Glaarus wasn’t a strategic system by any means, but its planetary infrastructure made it ripe for the taking. Assuming the pay cuts didn’t directly lead to rebellion, Glaarus would remain profitable, and thus Cranton would defend it.
Still, he feared it was already too late. Sooner or later Hakatena would come. Glaarus was a source of income, but when push came to shove Cranton would pull out in favor of more important assets in nearby systems. Capsuleers may be immortal but their ships were not; Cranton couldn’t afford a siege. A dedicated push by Hakatena would lead to the fall of Glaarus. Morshan hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
Optimism wouldn’t stop him from writing the letter, though.
“To the Hakatena Planetary Administrator,” he wrote. Then frowned. Crumpled the paper, grabbed a new one.
“To the poor bastard they stick here after getting rid of me,” he began.
Wilsung Strage gave a little bow and sat back down as the crowd outside roared with approval. The Voice waited for a bit, knowing that the throngs would need a bit of time to simmer down again. He got the High Archon’s attention with a nod and strutted to the center of the courtroom.
“Your Honor! I thank the esteemed representative from Hakatena. I think Order One speaks for itself.” The Voice gave a low bow, then returned to his platform.
The High Archon rose. “After deliberation—” Morshan noticed the old man hadn’t said considerable deliberation, as was traditional for sentencing, “—we find Morshan Aduralis guilty of conspiring against the welfare of his corporation and a traitor to the Glaaran people. He will be shipped back to the Empire immediately and shot on sight if he should be found on Glaarus again.”
The gavel’s thump echoed in the chamber, mixing with the muted cheers of the crowd outside.