Shadow Of Freedom – Snippet 05

Between them, Loomis’ resources would have been more than enough to provide the system’s population a comfortable standard of living…except, of course, for the tiny problem that the system population didn’t control them. Not anymore, anyway. For the last forty-five T-years, that control had belonged to Star Enterprise Initiatives Unlimited, headquartered in the Lucastra System, only seventy light years from Sol. SEIU had secured the typical transstellar hundred-year leases from the LPP, and that, by one of the tortuous and circuitous paths with which Venelli and Frontier Fleet had become only too familiar, explained why she and her ships were in orbit around Halkirk at this particular moment.

Her gaze swiveled back from the visual display to Osborne, and she pursed her lips.

“How the hell did it get this bad?”

Her own question surprised her, because it wasn’t the one she’d meant to ask. It wasn’t exactly the most tactful way she could have phrased it, either but the disgust in Osborne’s answering grimace wasn’t really directed at her.

“It wasn’t hard at all,” he said. “Not with an idiot like Zagorski calling the shots.”

“I thought we’d been called in by President MacMinn and Secretary MacQuarie,” Venelli said sardonically.

“President MacMinn is so far past it by now that I doubt she seals her own shoes in the morning.” Osborne reply was caustic enough to dissolve asbestos. “MacCrimmon’s the one who really calls the shots inside the LPP these days. He’d probably retire MacMinn to a nice, quiet geriatric home — or an even quieter cemetery — if he could, but she’s still the Party’s Beloved Leader. One of those little problems that arise when politicians encourage personality cults.”

Venelli nodded. Ailsa MacMinn and her husband had been the leaders of the Prosperity Party when it seized power in a brief, bloody coup, but Keith MacMinn had been dead for over twenty T-years, and by now Ailsa was well past seventy — without the benefit of prolong. Vice President Tyler MacCrimmon was less than half her age, but although he was widely acknowledged as her inevitable successor, she was still the Party’s public face. He might be the power behind the throne, yet he needed her to give him legitimacy.

And he also needed Senga MacQuarie and her Unified Public Safety Force to prop up the entire Prosperity Party edifice. Fortunately for MacCrimmon, MacQuarie was still a relative newcomer to the cabinet (her predecessor and mentor, Lachlan MacHendrie, had been one of MacMinn’s “old comrades” until his recent death due to unspecified “medical problems”). She needed him as much as he needed her, at least for now.

“Part of the problem,” Osborne continued, “is that the LPP didn’t make a clean sweep of the MacRorys after the Revolution. A miscalculation on the MacMinns’ part, but it’s a little hard to blame them for that one, really.” He grimaced. “Tavis III probably meant well, but he’d never been a strong king, and most people didn’t really seem to mind when he ‘voluntarily’ abdicated in the Party’s favor. I expect Keith and Ailsa didn’t want to risk generating sympathy for the dynasty after the fact by having him assassinated, since as near as I can tell he died of genuinely natural causes shortly after the Revolution. But they didn’t prune back his family, either, probably because Clan MacRory had so many relatives scattered around the system. Oh, they banned them from politics — such as they were and what there was of them — and kept a close eye on them, but they didn’t really go after them or ‘encourage’ them to emigrate. And as long as things went reasonably well, that didn’t matter all that much, but after SEIU moved in and started turning the screws on the locals, a lot of people started remembering the good old days and ‘Good King Tavis.’ Of course, by that time he was safely dead, but his son was still around.”

“And he started conniving to regain power, did he?”

“No.” Osborne shook his head. “Or not as far as I’ve ever been able to discover, anyway. There were enough people who wanted him to by then, but it looks to me like he was smart enough to realize he wasn’t going to accomplish anything through any sort of open reform process and that he’d only get a lot of people killed if he tried something more…energetic. Unfortunately for him, that didn’t prevent MacQuarie’s predecessor from arranging a fatal ‘traffic accident’ for him fifteen years ago. Got his older son in the same ‘accident,’ too. The bad news from their perspective was that they missed his younger son, Mánas. The good news was that he’s no idiot. He understood exactly what had happened to his father and his brother, and he stayed as far away from politics as he could for as long as he could. Which was working out just fine…until SEIU promoted Zagorski to System Manager.”

He grimaced, and Venelli felt herself grimace back. As a general rule, her sympathy for Frontier Security’s minions was distinctly limited. In this case, however, she’d had the dubious pleasure of meeting Nyatui Zagorski shortly after her arrival in-system, and she hadn’t enjoyed the experience.

“What is his problem?” she asked.

“Disappointment,” Osborne replied. “He expected better than he got, and he wasn’t happy with the consolation prize.”

“Seems like a pretty sweet deal for him to me,” Venelli observed, waving one hand at the planets on the smart wall. “Of course, I’m only a naval officer. My perspective may be a bit more limited than his — him being such a mover and shaker of the universe, and all.”

Osborne’s lips quirked at her ironic tone, but he shook his head.