Providence

Have a sneak peek at Providence–the sequel to Chara’s Promise!  Shhh.  Don’t tell anyone that it’s here

Prologue

On the United Federation of Nations starship Chara’s Promise in orbit around Providence, the fourth planet of the Beta Canum Venaticorum system.

Earth reference date, June 3, 2128.

The planet ahead vaguely resembled Earth. It had a breathable atmosphere and was nearly ninety percent covered in water. It had two reasonably sized continents, a handful of island chains and two ice-covered poles. At nearly eighteen thousand kilometers in diameter, it was significantly larger than Earth, but a dearth of metals kept its mass near Earth normal. It was orbited by one moon slightly larger than Ganymede and two much smaller ones that orbited in a stable 2:3:3 resonance. It sat squarely in the ‘Goldilocks’ zone around the star Beta Canum Venaticorum—Chara and its designation was Chara D. To the settlers who would call it home, its name was Providence.

“Ellen, ease her into a geosynchronous orbit positioned for optimum shuttle transport to West Bay,” Grace Randall ordered her chief pilot. Then the captain of Chara’s Promise turned to the communications station and said, “Ayumi, get Cruz McBride on the comm. I want to let him know that he’s going to have guests for supper.”

McBride had come to Chara D twice. The first time as mission commander for the team that initially surveyed the planet. When he returned, he was the leader of the advance team that spent eleven years exploring the planet and building the nascent settlements at West Bay and South Point that would be home to the colonists.

Several minutes passed while Ayumi Mukai contacted the primary base at West Bay and asked for McBride. Finally, they heard a booming voice and a weathered, chiseled face appeared on the center holoscreen.

“Well Captain Randall, glad to see that you folks finally made it here. It seems like we’ve had the porch light on for you forever,” McBride said.

“Randall smiled as she replied, “You’d better call me Grace, Cruz. We’ve known each other too long to get formal now. I hope that light hasn’t been on since we left Earth or you’re going to have one heck of a power bill.”

“No worries, I know the bean counter personally and she’s pretty lenient about that kind of thing. When can we expect to see you on the surface, Grace?”

“We’re parking the ship in orbit as we speak. We’ll need to button up a few things before we launch a shuttle, but let’s call it three hours.”

“Just in time for dinner! How many are you bringing?”

“Six including myself. See you then. Promise Actual out.”

***

The landing gear doors in the shuttle swung open and the skids pivoted and locked into position. Slowly, the pilot dropped the last few meters and sat the bird down on the small landing pad near the edge of the settlement.   As the rear hatch dilated and the ramp extended to the pad, Randall stepped into view. She watched as a group of six, led by McBride and his partner, Miya, left the control building and strode towards the shuttle. McBride’s hand was out as he reached the top of the ramp in three long steps.

“Welcome to West Bay, Grace!” he said with a wide grin.

Randall met his hand with hers and replied, “Thank you. It’s been a long trip and it’s nice to see a friendly face now that we’re here. Where’s the rest of your team?”

“Mason and Ashlyn are on a walkabout. They’re not due back to the habiquad for another week or so.”

“Habiquad?” Randall queried.

“The settlement area. It sounds less military than ‘fort’.” Miya offered as she stepped forward to introduce herself. “I’m Miya Yamazaki, resident farmer and cook. Cruz should have introduced me, but after eleven years I suppose his etiquette skills have become a bit rusty.”

“Sorry, you’re right,” McBride agreed. “But, you can’t blame my lapse on the passage of time. My manners have always left something to be desired.”

Randall laughed and replied, “So I don’t get called to task along with you, let me introduce my team. This is Lieutenant Abbie Hollis my security chief; Cat Kilrain, our science officer; Gavin O’Leary, our logistics officer; Alan Layton, our medical officer; and Bryan Meade, my chief engineer.

McBride introduced the rest of his team, everyone shook hands and, when the introductions were finished, he said, “Let’s head back to the ‘quad. There’s a meal and an evening full of conversation waiting.”

***

“Crikey, that was the best meal I’ve had in years,” Bryan said as he pushed his chair away from the table.

“Are you planning to mention that to Cassie?” Abbie asked with a mischievous grin.

“Do I look daft?” Bryan answered.

“Cassie?” inquired McBride.

“She’s Bryan’s partner, and the ship’s horticulturist,” replied Randall.

“Well, we have an advantage that she doesn’t have,” interjected Miya. “Our crops are grown in soil. Say what you want about hydroponics, but there’s something about growing plants in dirt that just makes them taste better.”

“Speaking of the rest of the crew and the colonists, what’s the off-loading schedule?” asked McBride.

“First things first,” said O’Leary. “I have to assess the facilities you’ve been able to prepare both here and at South Point. When I’ve finished, I’ll put together a plan to unload equipment, supplies and essential personnel to ready the settlements for landing the colonists.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier and faster just to let them handle things by themselves? Weren’t they trained to do just that?” questioned McBride.

“Sure they were but, if we wake up nine hundred colonists tomorrow, can you feed and house them until they get everything built?”

“You have a ship full of supplies. Isn’t that enough?”

“We have a ship full of seeds, frozen embryos and equipment. We need time to off-load and set up equipment, establish a food supply and build shelters. We’ll wake fifty or sixty key colonists in the first wave, but my guess right now is that we’re four to six months away from a complete debarkation.”

“I guess I got ahead of myself a bit, didn’t I?” McBride said diffidently.

“Not at all,” answered O’Leary. “Logistics is my area. God help us all if I’m ever put in charge of a survey team.”

Everyone at the table laughed and the conversation moved on until it eventually came around to the trip they’d just finished.

“We were nervous for a while when we got the burst transmission describing the sabotage and the problem with your A-drive.” McBride admitted. “That was some inventive rigging you did to get things right.”

The smiles faded from the faces of the Chara’s Promise crew members and a hush fell over the table. Randall finally broke the silence when she said, “Yes, it was inventive…and costly.” Then she rose from her chair and her crew did the same.

“We’ve had a long day, Cruz, and there’s a lot of work to do before we can start bringing anything or anyone down. If you’d be kind enough to show us the way to our billets, I think it’s time for us to get some sleep.”

Miya smiled and stood as she said, “Absolutely Grace. Follow me; we have rooms ready for you.”

By the time she returned, McBride and the others had the table cleared and everything stored. As the others drifted away, Miya sat and gently placed her hand on McBride’s arm.

“I put my foot in my mouth a couple of times there, didn’t I?” he said.

“Oh, maybe a little, but not as much as you usually do,” Miya replied with an amused tone.

“That’s reassuring.”

“Don’t worry about it. They’re tired and nervous; so are we. We’re all still feeling each other out. Actually, I think it went rather well. They have a good team and I like them.”

“For the most part, I agree, except for Randall. I can’t get a good read on her.”

“She’s the captain. You’re not supposed to be able to read her.”

“No, it’s more than that. I’ve been a captain too. I know how to interact with someone who’s in a leadership role. There’s something else in play. Did you see her eyes when I mentioned the sabotage? There was something hidden there.”

“Something hidden? Like what?”

“I’ve always been pretty good at reading faces. What I saw in hers was sadness, a deep abiding sadness that went straight to her soul.”

They sat without saying anything more for a few minutes until finally Miya leaned over, kissed him on the cheek and said, “Come on lover, let’s go to bed. Morning comes early and we’re going to be busy tomorrow too.”

McBride smiled, stood and they walked, holding hands, to their room. Starting tomorrow, they had a colony to build.

*****

Chapter One

On Chara’s Promise in orbit around Providence.

Earth reference date, October 12, 2134.

It had been months since Bryan had roamed the corridors of Chara’s Promise.  Most of the time, there was too much engineering work to be done in West Bay for him to take the time to shuttle up to the orbiting starship.  Occasionally though, he was able to sneak away, especially if he could concoct a convincing story that there was a good reason for a visit.

Promise wasn’t quite a ghost ship; there were always a handful of engineers or technicians on board monitoring the ship’s condition.  Eventually she’d be dismantled and cannibalized for parts and materials for the colony but, until that time came, someone had to make sure that she dependably maintained her orbit around Providence.

After he docked and exited the shuttle, the first thing Bryan did was check the personnel log to see who was on board.  It was a busy day and there were over half a dozen entries.  Two of them, Sayaka Onishi and Eli Parker were doing routine system checks.  He wasn’t surprised to find Sayaka here.  She’d had trouble making the transition to colonial life and took every opportunity to return to the only place she felt at home.  He was a little curious that Elinor was on board.  The last he knew, she’d signed on as technical support for one of the survey crews scouting new settlement sites. That should have taken her off of the rotation roster, yet here she was.

He read the third name on the list twice in disbelief.  That name was Grace Randall.  It had been almost six years since Randall had left Promise for the last time.  She’d been the first person to hit the ground when the first shuttle landed at West Bay and when the last shuttle carrying equipment down broke orbit, she was at the controls.  Since then, she’d never returned.  Bryan had asked her regularly to accompany him on trips to the ship, but she always declined.  Once, during a late night conversation, she confided to Bryan and Cassie that there were too many ghosts on the ship for her, too many haunting memories.  Yet, here she was and that piqued Bryan’s curiosity.

Bryan concentrated for a moment and flipped the mental switch that engaged his neural interface.   “Kate, are you there?” he thought.

“Well, that’s going to go down in the annals of history as one of the silliest questions ever asked.  I’m built into the ship, where am I going to go?” Kate replied.

“A little cranky today are we?”

“I’m not sure about you, but yes, I’m a bit peeved.  Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve had someone to talk to?” Kate said with an edge to her voice.

“I know and I’m sorry.  I just couldn’t get away.” Bryan replied apologetically.  “There’s just so much work to do on the surface.”

“Hmmpf.  I guess I know where I fit on your list of priorities…just below fixing fences and installing bathroom fixtures.”

“Crikey Kate!  I said I was sorry.  It won’t happen again, I promise.  No more than two weeks between visits from now on.”

“Alright,” Kate said, accepting victory with good grace. “At least you’re here now.  Have you heard from Cassie lately?”

“I have. She’s still healing from the surgery, but she’s doing OK.  She told me to say ‘Hi’.”

“Surgery?  What surgery?” Kate said with concern.

“Damn, that’s right.  I haven’t been on board since it happened.  She was on a recon mission a few weeks back and had a run in with one of those mountain beasties, one of the gray colored ones that look a bit like a small bear with an extra set of arms mounted like outriggers.  She got a bit close to the paws on the end of one of those arms.”

“How badly was she hurt?”

“She was tore up fair.  Damn bunyip laid a set of tracks down the side of her face with its claws.  She’ll be alright, but she’s still got a ways to go before she’s mended.”

“My turn to apologize; I didn’t know.”

“No need to apologize, Kate. As small as West Bay still is, I didn’t find out about the accident for a few days myself. Since we went our separate ways, Cassie and I don’t run into each other very often,” Bryan answered as he opened the hatch between the docking bay and the corridor and turned towards the MCR.

“So it’s not just me you ignore, Cupcake?” Kate jabbed.

“No, I spread that around equally but, for the thousandth time Kate, please stop calling me ‘Cupcake’.”

Kate giggled at his admonishment and they talked as Bryan made his way to the Main Control Room.  While he checked the ship system’s status, they spent nearly an hour catching up.  He told her about the progress the colony was making on the surface and she gave him a detailed report on the condition of the ship.  When they were done, Bryan thought, “I’m surprised that Captain Randall is on board.  What’s she been doing?”

“Mostly making me nervous,” Kate replied.  “She went straight to Seth’s cabin after she docked and she’s been there for almost eight hours.”

“Doin’ what?”

“Sitting on his bunk staring at the wall.”

“Have you been keeping an eye on her?”

“Eyes and ears.  Sometimes she stands and paces for a bit, but so far that and sitting is all she’s done.”

Bryan pondered on that for a few minutes before rising from his seat and heading towards the doorway.

“Where are you going Bryan?” Kate asked.

“I’m going to go see the Captain.  It seems like something’s on her mind.”

***

Bryan stood in front of the door to Seth’s room judging whether knocking first or just walking in would startle Grace the least.  In the end he decided to just open the door and go in.  As the door slide away, Grace’s gaze went from the floor to the face of her old friend.  When she saw who it was, she feigned a smile.

“Is there no place I can go that you can’t find me?”  She said.  “You’d think that a starship in geosynchronous orbit would be outside your range.”

“I didn’t come looking for you, I just noticed you were on board and thought that this might be where you were,” Bryan replied with a hint of concern.  “I was a little surprised to see your name on the personnel log when I docked.  You’ve never shown much interest in coming back .”

“I know, but today I felt the need.”

“Why today?”

“You’ve forgotten?”

“Forgotten what?”

“Today is the eighth anniversary of when we left normal space on our trip to Providence.  Eight years ago today was the last time that we saw Seth.”

The breath went out of Bryan as he realized she was right on both counts.  It had been exactly eight years since Seth took his place on that ill-fated repair mission and he had forgotten.  Bryan moved to the small desk along the wall and sat down facing Grace on the bed.

Many moments passed before he finally said, “How could I forget that?”

“Like nearly everyone else, you’ve moved on.  Eight years is a long time to keep a memory fresh.”

“It’s not a long time to remember that.  A hundred years is too soon for that memory to fade.”

“Maybe,” Randall said pensively.  “I suppose that’s why I came today.”

“To keep the memory fresh?”

“No, to turn it on its ear.”

Bryan looked at Grace quizzically and asked, “What do you mean ‘turn it on its ear’?”

At that, Randall rose from the bunk and walked to the small viewport that looked out to the stars. “I’m going to change it, Bryan.  I’m going to change it.  I’ve spent eight years working it out.  I’m going to go get him,” she said as she gazed at the stars.

“Get who?”

“Seth, I’m going to get Seth.”

“It’s not worth it Grace and Seth would be the first one to tell you that.  It would be nice to bring him home; God knows we could all use the closure.  But it’s not worth going twenty-six light years just to recover a body.  Besides, we were traveling at three quarters light speed when we inserted.  We don’t know what that did to his vector or even if the MMP survived intact.  It could be anywhere…or nowhere.”

Randall turned and her eyes briefly flashed with a hint of impatience as she said, “I had the ‘where’ figured out years ago after I analyzed the data from Chara’s Hope when she arrived.  The UFN distress signal that they picked up just before they inserted gave me everything I needed to extrapolate his course and position.”

“It’s still twenty-six light years Grace.  No one is going to let you take a starship twenty six light years to recover a body.”

“You still don’t get it, do you?  I wasn’t spending the time working out the ‘where’; I spent eight years working out the ‘when’.  I’m not going back to recover a body.  I’m going back to recover him.  I’m bringing him back alive and I wasn’t planning to ask anyone for permission,” Randall declared with an air of authority that, for the first time in many years, reminded Bryan that she was his captain.

Bryan sat up straight in the chair, stared at Randall and, somewhere in the back of his mind, heard Kate say, “Holy Crap!”

“What do you mean ‘when’?  Are you talking about time travel?”

“In a manner of speaking, yes, but it’s more than that.  If I have it worked out right, I’m going to twist and turn all ten space-time dimensions inside out.”

Suddenly, Randall sensed that the neural interface she hadn’t used in years had activated and from somewhere a female voice said, “Damn, now that’s what I’ve been waiting for.  Count me in!”

Randall’s eyes locked on to Bryan’s and she could tell that he’d heard the voice too.  Under the intensity of Randall’s stare, Bryan glanced away momentarily.  When he looked back, he took a deep breath, cleared his throat and said, “Sit down again, Grace, and get comfortable.  We have a few things to talk about. I suppose that I should start by introducing you to Kate.”

*****

Chapter Two

In Washington, DC at the White House Cabinet room.

Earth reference date, October 12, 2134.

Tyler Allen, the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of American States, walked through the open doors of the Cabinet Room and strode quickly to his place at the head of the table. He stood silently for a minute to his thoughts. Then he sat down, took a deep breath and said with a weary voice, “Alright, ladies and gentlemen, let’s start around the table. What’s today’s bad news?” Ann, you’re up first.”

“Yes, sir,” replied Anna Clay, the Domestic Security Minister. “It was a rough night. We had bombings in Philadelphia and Chicago and the riots in New York are threatening to spill out of Brooklyn and into Manhattan.   The borough police and the DDF are containing the situation but, unless we give them some tactical latitude, temporary containment is all we can expect of them.”

“What kind of ‘tactical latitude’?” Allen asked cautiously.

“If the Domestic Defense Force is going to regain control of Brooklyn, then we need to give them permission to mount a full offensive. That means abandoning crowd control procedures and releasing them to use military surface and air drones. If that doesn’t work then we may have to widen their tactical options further.”

“Absolutely not!” Allen said as he rose to his feet and slapped the table with a closed fist. “We’ve already declared martial law in Brooklyn. Now you’re asking me to suspend Article Six of the Constitution. If I do that in the mood the populace is in, then we’ll have all out civil war.”

“Probably, sir. But at least it’ll be a war of our time, place and choosing. If you ignore Brooklyn and it spreads, which it will, then it’ll be anarchy and we may never regain control. At that point we lose the entire Constitution, not just Article Six.”

“Then we find a way to prevent it from spreading that doesn’t involve a wholesale attack on our citizens,” Allen answered. “Our immediate goal has to be to protect the majority without attacking the minority. What’s the evacuation status of the citizens who aren’t seditious?”

“Sir, if I may. That’s part of the problem,” injected the Treasury Minister, Ryan Kelly. “We perceive the people leading and participating in these incidents as being subversives and dissidents. They may be dissidents, but they aren’t subversive and they aren’t seditious; they’re hungry, afraid and trying to do whatever they can to keep their families alive.”

“Don’t you think I know that?” boomed Allen. “I’ve been in office for five years and in that time we’ve only had one year with decent crops. I can’t remember how many times we’ve had to cut food rations. How do you grow crops; how do you feed the people with these unpredictable weather patterns and in this blistering heat?”

“Nine times, sir,” said Alyson Brewer, the Agriculture Minister, quietly. “Nine times in four years we’ve asked our citizens to eat less. Each time a series of storm cells, a flood or a drought has decimated our crops we’ve asked our mothers and fathers to feed their children a little less. Each time we’ve done that, they’ve straightened their shoulders, nodded their heads and done what had to be done. They can’t give any more sir; they simply can’t.” Brewer’s eyes focused on Allen’s and waited for his reaction. It soon came, but it wasn’t the fiery response she’d expected.

“So we’re back to that,” the Prime Minister said as he slumped back into his chair. “You want me to call that opportunistic vulture in Canada and tell her that I’ll listen to her offer.”

“We don’t have much choice, Mr. Prime Minister,” offered Kelly. “Canada, Russia, Argentina and Chile are sitting on the largest food stockpiles in the world. Europe and China are taking everything they can from Russia and South America can’t feed its own, let alone export. Not that it makes much difference; we don’t have the cash or the credit to buy food now from anyone. That makes the trade deal with Canada the only decent card we have in our hand.”

“You call exchanging the State of New York for a seven year supply of food a decent card?” Allen shot back.

“Yes sir, I do. But that’s conditional on the premise that we use the time judiciously,” replied Kelly. “If Parliament moves quickly on the Hypogeous Farm Act, within seven years we’ll be able to meet nearly ninety percent of our agriculture needs. We can make a defensible argument for that to the people.”

“And all we lose is our second largest state,” Allen exclaimed angrily.

“Yes, sir, we would,” Kelly conceded. “Canada has been landlocked on the east since Quebec seceded and took their eastern provinces along. They need an eastern seaport and we need food. Sometimes all you can do is make the best hand possible from the cards you’re dealt.”

Prime Minister Allen and Ryan Kelly stared at each other for several long seconds, one with an icy glare and the other with the calm resolve of a man who knew he was right. Allen blinked first and in a slightly subdued voice instructed his cabinet, “Have your teams pull together the data and a list of discussion points. We’ll meet Wednesday afternoon to examine our options. What’s next? Ann—what about the terrorist bombings?”

Clay sighed, retrieved two briefings on her pad and, with a quick thought, transmitted the images to the holoscreen in the center of the table. “Like the three last week, it appears that these two were coordinated. The blasts happened within thirty seconds of each other. But, there are peculiarities this time.”

“What kind of peculiarities? Allen queried.

“It doesn’t appear that they were looking for a high head count with these blasts. There were only three fatalities in Philadelphia and four more in Chicago. Between the two blasts, the number of injured is under thirty. The bombs were timed to explode when the both sites were least busy but still had enough traffic to interest the media. That’s no small feat considering that the population and the media are getting languid about terrorist attacks.”

“So they were just trying to get our attention?” asked Allen.

“It appears that way.   But that’s not the only thing that’s atypical. The bomb designs were totally different. My people think that one was Kidon and the other was Jundallah.”

“Are you serious? Are your investigators saying they believe that Jewish terrorists and Islamic terrorists have joined forces?”

“No, sir. They aren’t ready to say that yet, but they are starting to give the thought some credence. We’ve had sporadic indications over the past few months which support that conclusion, but this is the first time that we’ve had physical evidence.”

Allen’s eyes flashed and one or two of the ministers involuntarily glanced away in the same way a witness to an accident will close his eyes when he knows there’s nothing he can do to prevent the carnage.

“You’ve known about this possibility for months and this is the first time you’re telling me!” Allen shouted. “That’s a game changing piece of information and keeping it under wraps is outrageous.”

“Sir, they were minor indications that could be easily misinterpreted. We hid nothing from you. It’s not our job to bring you rumor and whispers. It’s our job to bring you facts,” Clay pointed out defensively.

“Bull shit! Your job is to keep me apprised of anything that affects the security of this nation. It’s my job to sort out the relevance,” Allen countered. “This meeting is over.” He glared at Clay and said, “I want you back here in thirty minutes with a full report on everything you have that supports collusion between Kidon and Jundallah. Bring anyone you need with you. I want the rest of you back here at 1:00 PM to continue the daily briefing.”

With that, Allen rose and stormed out of the room.

As the door slammed shut Deputy Prime Minister Eric Hunt left his seat and made his way to Ryan Kelly. “Go after him Ryan. Calm him down,” Hunt implored.

“Do I look suicidal?” Ryan replied rhetorically. “Besides, isn’t that your job?”

“Maybe in a perfect world, but you know as well as I do that you’re the only one he still listens to.”

“There’s a big difference between listening to someone and heeding their advice.”

“You have to try. The opposition is within a gnat’s hair of putting together a successful vote of no confidence. This is not the time for Allen to be playing cowboy. If we’re going to maintain control of the government and get anything done then we have to do it as a team,” Hunt argued.

Ryan closed his eyes, arched his head back and took a deep breath.   After a few seconds he opened his eyes, exhaled sharply, looked at Hunt and said, “Alright, I’ll try to rein him in a bit. But, he has a point. Clay should have briefed him better on the terrorist information.”

“Agreed and I’ll take care of that issue. Trust me, that won’t happen again.” Hunt promised with a nod. Then he turned and left the room on a power walk to Clay’s office.

***

“Good morning JJ,” Ryan said as he opened the door to the anteroom of the Oval Office.

“Is that a declarative statement or wishful thinking, Mr. Kelly?” the Prime Minister’s executive assistant replied.

“I’ll let you know in a bit,” Ryan bantered as he continued towards the Oval Office door.

“I wouldn’t go in there right now if I were you Mr. Kelly. That door closed pretty hard when he shut it.”

“I’m sure it did JJ, but I still have to go in.”

“Is your emergency contact information up to date?”

“I believe so. Why?”

“Just checking. Tell you what. Let me tell him you’re here first. I know I don’t usually do that with you, but…”

Ryan nodded and JJ called the Prime Minister.

“I don’t need anyone handling me right now Ryan. I’m pissed off and I want to stay that way for a while,” Allen growled through tightly clenched teeth as Ryan entered the room.

“I totally understand, sir. Far be it from me to interfere when someone who should know better is having a temper tantrum,” Ryan answered as he raised his hands palm first towards Allen.

“Calling me ‘sir’ when we’re alone and having a private conversation, are we? That’s a sure indication that I’m in for a lecture.”

“Not at all, sir. I would never presume to lecture the prime minister of our sovereign nation, even if he had overreacted in a monumental way before leaving an important briefing to go pout like a five year old.”

Ryan stood passively with his eyebrows raised slightly and his hands clasped behind his back while Allen glared at him through narrowed eyes. They held that pose for nearly half a minute until, for the second time that morning, Allen blinked first.

“Ryan, sometimes you can be an infuriating ass.”

“That’s certainly true, sir. It’s a trait that I inherited from my father; I occasionally find it useful.”

“Stop calling me ‘sir’ when we’re in private. I was the best man at your wedding for Christ’s sake.”

Ryan grinned slightly and then walked over to the sitting area and took a chair. “Alright Ty, let’s talk this out. Why did you come unglued on Ann like that? You know perfectly well that we don’t feed you all the little details. We never have and probably never will. If we did, then you wouldn’t get anything done.”

“Of course I know that, but this wasn’t a little detail. It was huge.”

“You’re wrong. If it was confirmed then it would be huge. It’s not confirmed. We share information with every intelligence service in the UFN and they reciprocate. If any of them had concrete confirmation that the Kidon and Jundallah were working together, even just a little, then the situation would have escalated and Ann would have briefed you on it. You have to know that.”

Allen dropped heavily into another of the chairs, laid his head back and watched the ceiling fan rotate for a minute before quietly answering, “Yeah, I know.”

Neither of them said anything for several minutes. Finally, Allen broke the silence.

“You know, if anyone ever writes another history book, I’m afraid that the section on me is going to say that I was the leader when the last vestiges of the old United States of America faded away. That’ll be quite a legacy won’t it?”

“Did I miss something in school? If memory serves, the United States ceased to exist almost a hundred years ago. Remember, the old ‘three nations from one’ scenario?” Ryan asked.

“This is the real world Ryan, not some fairytale or politically correct textbook. The Liberated American States have never been anything more than a sequestered fantasy land filled with idiots clinging to survivalist cult leaders and, for whatever reason, the international community never fully accepted the Independent United States as a legitimate offspring of the original.”

“I’m pretty sure that the folks living in the IUS could build a pretty good argument for their birthright.”

“They might argue the point, but if anyone did a paternity test, it wouldn’t come out very well. All but two of the original colonies stayed with the Commonwealth. We have Washington, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles along with all the history those cities hold. More importantly, we kept the lion’s share of the national wealth…or what was left of it after twelve years of civil war.”

“So, in your view, instead of three nations we got one nation, an ‘also ran’ and a self-imposed penal colony?”

“Pretty much.”

“What do you say if we just keep that hypothesis between you and me? Every once in a while I have to work with my counterpart in the Independent United States. It would make things easier if I didn’t have to explain your theory to him over dinner.”

Allen took a deep, quiet breath before answering, “I suppose your right about that, but it doesn’t change the fact that I’m right too.”

“In the short term, you probably are correct. But you know as well as I do that all we’re jockeying for is a survival position. Sometime in the next fifteen to twenty years all of the international alliances are going to disintegrate,” Ryan commented.

“It’s impossible to know that with certainty,” Allen countered.

“No it’s not. If you were a trained social scientist, I could prove it to you mathematically. The world’s economic and political collapse is inevitable and has essentially already started. What you and I are doing right now, right here is designing the foundation for rebuilding after the dust settles.”

“I can’t afford to think that far ahead. There are too many fires to fight today for me to worry about fifteen years from now.”

“Given. What happens fifteen years from now is my responsibility. But, you have to give me the tools that I need to do the job. I know the price you’ll pay if we lose New York, but if it buys us the time we need to ensure long term survival then it’s a sacrifice worth making.”

“Can you promise me that the nation WILL survive?”

“No. But, if we do it right, I’m reasonably sure that mankind will. Do the deal with the Canadian prime minister. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

“Everyone except me. I’ll be impeached, maybe shot.”

“I don’t think they’ll shoot you. Besides, in a hundred years they’ll be calling you a visionary,” Ryan quipped as he grinned.

Both men sat silently for a few minutes until Allen looked at Ryan and quietly asked, “Ryan, why did you stay behind when your father and sister immigrated to Providence? I’m told that you could have had a spot.”

“I stayed behind because I knew that I could do more good here than there.”

“Do you ever regret your decision?”

“Sometimes. I’ll always miss Dad and my sister.   Once in a while, late at night, I think about having a family. If we’d gone along, Laken and I could have had children. Common sense won’t let us do that here.”

“Chara’s Destiny is leaving in a few weeks. I could pull some strings if you want. I still have a few favors I could call in.”

“Who would keep you out of trouble if I did that?” Ryan asked smiling.

“Does it make a difference? You’re not keeping me out of trouble now. You’re just making sure that I go out in a blaze of glory. Seriously, why don’t you and Laken think about it? This is the last train out of town for a long time, maybe forever. To be honest, I’m surprised that we were able to finish this starship. Politically, it hasn’t been easy.”

“No, I’m staying. Providence is doing just fine, but there’s a job to be done here.” With that, Ryan stood up and walked to the door. As it opened, he looked back and said, “Keep the emotions out of your meeting with Ann. She was just doing her job.”

Allen nodded agreement as Ryan walked out and the door closed.

“I see you survived intact,” JJ said as Ryan strode past her desk.

“Appearances can be deceiving,” Ryan answered with the hint of a grin as he continued on without slowing his pace.

*****

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2 responses to “Providence

  1. The gray geek

    We are ready for the completed works

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