He fixed the collar of his jacket and looked down to make sure everything was aligned. “How do I look?”
“Your fly is open.” Came her laconic reply.
His hands swiftly flew to find that he was being lied to, again. “Why do you always do that?”
“Why do you always fall for it? You are fine. Now remember, slow down the speech, let them absorb what you are saying. We KNOW half of them are bought and paid for by the godlings but you still have a chance to sway the AGM. If they understand what you are saying. So. Slow. Down.”
“I don’t pay you enough, do I?” He smiled and ran his hand through thinning hair.
“No, but I will give myself a raise later.” His secretary brushed an imaginary piece of lint off of his shoulders and looked down at him. He was a stumpy little man, almost as wide as he was tall. He had been raised on a heavy world and it showed. His reflexes were always quick but each action he made was done made with exaggerated care and delicacy. What he lacked in height he more than made up for in personal presence. His smile and the booming voice were well know to the planetary media and to the larger audience of the Union as a whole.
He nodded to the escort and they headed out of his offices into the tunnel leading to the senate chambers. Two guards ahead, two behind, footsteps echoed off of rough hewn rock. “Did I ever tell you . . . ”
“That you were part of the crew that dug this section of tunnel? Every damn time we walk here.” She smiled tolerantly. “But go ahead, don’t let me force you to break tradition.”
“I was thinking about the work crews back then. Small planetary level Union, I was fresh out of the trainees pool and anxious to show my stuff. Came bloody close to carving my own foot off with the lase. ”
“Couldn’t have that happen, I’m not sure we’d find you if you were any shorter.” One of the guards following quipped.
The short man pointed a finger back at the comedian. “Keep it up and I will go back to making public appearances on big open stages.”
The guard laughed. “Only you would threaten to die to ‘teach someone a lesson’ Ok, ok, no more short jokes, not even the one with the bartender and you playing a tiny piano.” The laughter filled the tunnel as they proceeded the short distance to the assembly hall.
The assembly hall of the Great Union of Miners and Engineers was a pastiche of old and new. Each seat was either filled by a person or a hologramic image of the representative. Since this was the AGM (annual general meeting) very few seats were not occupied, in one way or another. Glowing images accounted for about 2/3’s of the seating but many took long trips to be here face to face for the various political dealings that are best not trusted to communication nets. Here, strikes were decided. Here, the artificial limits on rarer ores were set. Here much of the background dealings that affected all of New Edens industrial base were made.
“Ladies, gentlemen, and of course, MINERS!” The chairman of the AGM brought the house to its feet as cheers filled the hall. “I could spend some time telling you President Roanokes history . . . but he has told it all to us a hundred times over.” Laughter as the delegates returned to their seats. “I could tell you how he has fought for safety for our people, better wages and brought us from the brink of dissolution to the present state of power . . . but you know all that as well. So I will tell you what you want to hear. I give you the one, the only, Roanoke!”
The President stepped up and with an abashed grin shortened the microphone down to his own level. “Damn it. Now I cannot tell any stories about myself without you lot shouting me down. Who let that guy become the chairman anyhow?”
“You did” The chairman shouted, laughing from the wings.
“Hrrmf, musta been drinking.” He grumbled into the mic. “A lot going on right now, and a lot more in the wings, folks, I ain’t one to sugarcoat and I am not going to spend time talking about the past . . . or the present . . . but about our future. Right now decisions are being made at the high levels of the Securities and Trade Commisions of all the races. If they have their way we will be looking back at NOW as a golden age. Right now things could be better, but I doubt that they will be if we sit back and let the future run right over our rights, our homes, and our childrens heritage. RIGHT NOW . . .” His arms flew up as he started to stomp across the stage. “Right now we are looking at a massive change in the way mines can be bought and sold and it will change our homes and lifestyles forever. RIGHT NOW those decisions are being made without us having any say what so ever in them.” he paused and his voice dropped to a stage whisper “right now they are trading and negotiating away our futures . . . and our childrens futures. The road they are starting down? There will be no turning back.”
The hall was unusually quiet. He had them, now it was time to turn them into something more than a passive audience. “We are miners. Whether we ride the plasma scoops, float in the clouds of a gas giant, or burrow ‘neath the rock, we all are miners. Up until now we have had to deal with corporations that followed the laws set by the S&T’s and we were able to deal fairly with them. Oh, I will admit there have been strikes and walkouts, but they were solid folk, like ourselves. But that is coming to an end. In a few months, unless we do something about it, ownership of planetary mining will shift over to ‘Capsuleers’ Those petty godlings . . . these so-called immortals who do not deign to walk the planets anymore, who hold life in such low regard that they will throw away the lives of a thousand crew members over the possession of a moon. Over the right to claim sovereignity over a system. Now we are about to see them allowed to claim planets for their own.”
Murmurs filled the room as this news (though it was not news to all involved) filtered in. Roanoke waited for the room to quiet before continuing, hearing his secretary in his earbud urging him to ‘keep it slow’. He took a deep breath and looked out at some of the faces he knew, both friends and enemies. Then he started again, softly but building power, trying to convince his people of the danger approaching. “Isk. That is what motivates these homeless nomads. They have no roots, no homes save whatever ship they happen to be in, at the time. They buy and sell their loyalties working for ‘agents’ who may send them to do any number of acts that would have a person outlawed in a blind instant if they were caught doing them on a planet. Piracy, violence, getting the job done at ANY cost. at. any. cost.” He looked out, meeting eyes. “Soon we will be that cost. They will see us as tools and a means to their goals. We are not people to that sort . . . just entries on a spread sheet.”
“Fear-mongering” Shouted a voice from the hall. “You just want us all afraid so we will stay your little sheep and re-elect you.”
A wolfish smile grew on Roanokes face “Oh I want you afraid. All of you should be very afraid.” The hall lit with a data sheet projected on the main screen. “Afraid that the wheels are already in motion. That delegates such as yourself are now accepting payments from the lobbyists of the godlings. Five million isk? Was that the price of your soul, Hannity? I remember respecting you once. Even when we disagreed I knew you had your peoples best interests in mind. But now . . . this. Simmons, you settled for 3 million? Should have spoken to Hannity. Do you want me to go on? My people have been researching and watching for months. Do you all REALLY want to know how deep the rot is?”
The spreadsheets flipped faster and faster then blinked out, in the sudden darkness Roanoake was lit by a single spot. The rising roars of outrage died out as he held up his hands. “I have done the math. IF all of the buyouts I have tracked and accounted for keep true to their new masters, this battle is over before it has begun. I am sorry . . . we may have already lost. If nothing else, the godlings can do the math. They understand that to hobble us now will save them so much more in the future.” His hands dropped to his side. “I am making a motion to the floor that we hold a ballot right now. It is a confidence ballot. If I lose, I will no longer be your president . . . and know that it is the will of the Union not to fight the future that looms before us. But if I win . . . I know some of you still retain enough of your souls to be able to fight back . . . and I will lead you in that fight to the end of my days, for I know that it is unlikely I will live through the chaos that is to come.”
His hands became fists as he looked up to the roof of the hall. “I will fight the tyrants who would rape our worlds, make us pawns in their great games between the stars. Let them do their conflicts up there, where there are no children on the battlefield. Let them make war in the quiet of space. But for the sake of us all, for the sake of generations yet to come . . . please, do not bring them down here, into the dust and toil of our lives. You know it is true, if we try to stand against them, or if they disagree on ownership we will see their wars come to our homes. Mercenaries on our streets enforcing the wills of whatever Lord and Master has laid claim to what was once ours. Vote. Vote from the respect you hold for the people you represent. Vote for the future of those people, for your very planets. . . or vote from your bank balances. Sell your people for the thirty pieces of silver. Vote . . . now”
Backstage his guard whispered to the secretary. “Now is when our real work is going to start.”
This is an entry into Silver nights fiction contest