This is the thirty-seventh and final episode of No Marigolds in the Promised Land, a serialized Compact Universe novel. To get the entire novel, go here for details.
Dedicated to Dave Harr and in memory of Andre Polk
DAY 3 – POST RESCUE
CNSS Utopia Planitia, Zeus Shipyards, Helios System
When John Farno saw the Alcubierre crowding the Utopia‘s forward shuttle hangar, he nearly had a heart attack. “You sent that to pick me up? Where are the projection dishes? Where’s the EM drive?”
Havak chuckled as she walked up to him. “That is an experimental spacecraft. Our first flight went from Jupiter to Trantor, around two light years. Took us two weeks.”
“No wonder it took you so long to get here.”
Havak had her hands on her hips. “Actually, we ran into a brown dwarf. A large gravity well will knock a ship out of warp. Burns out part of the drive. Any ship traveling this way needs a good supply of spare parts. We can’t see where we’re going at that speed.”
Farno frowned. Three days aboard a starship, an actual starship, and his world was still getting turned upside down. “Any idea what they’re going to do about Farigha?”
The drew a laugh from Havak. “You mean Farno? They’re starting to release edited versions of your logs, and while the Citizens’ Republic of Mars refuses to make the change, everyone’s calling it Farno. Which, I guess, makes you its king and Emperor of 2 Mainzer.”
“Abdicated. I am absolutely abdicating my throne.” He frowned. “Is there anyway I can get a throne? And a crown? I should have an official portrait made now that my reign is ending.”
“My friend, Patty, says you like beer. So we’re getting you some beer. Good Arean beer, not that crap from Mars or The Caliphate.”
John Farno smiled for the first time since Linda Havak met him. “I’m in no rush to get home. I’m not even sure where that is.”
“Tian’s not a bad place to start.”
“Long as it’s not Mars or one of their terraforming projects. I’ve had enough terraforming to last me a lifetime.”
Tian Command, Mongolia Mountains, Tian, Helios System
1016 – 27 Mandela, 429
Eileen Burke looked up to see her superior – Really, her only superior as there were only six full admirals in the entire Navy – and stood.
“At ease, Vice Admiral,” said Tran. With a smirk, he added, “You’ll break something.”
“That’s my line,” said Burke as she relaxed, her back to the vista of the Mongolia Mountains behind her. “I suppose you’re here to demand my resignation.”
Tran spread his hands. “You see any Shore Police with me? If I were stripping you of rank and commission, I’d be doing this at Bellingshausen.” He gestured to a visitors’ chair and gave Burke a questioning look. With a nod from Burke, he sat down. “First off, Eileen, thank you. If you knew the level of bullshit I have to deal with at Headquarters…”
“Speaking of which,” said Burke, now sitting as well, “where is your little friend.”
“Oh, I ordered him to take leave. I did not appreciate having my hands tied since Farigha…” He waited, then offered a half grin. “Maybe I should follow the trend and call it ‘Farno.’ But ever since the colony went silent, I’ve been stonewalled. A day before you said to hell with it and fueled up the Utopia Planitia, I ordered Liu to get the Buran prepped. Mysteriously, it came up disabled. Bad projection drive, I was told.”
“By Liu. The fact is we could have picked up Farno within thirty-six hours of what he calls ‘The Event.’ Instead, we lose Gilead, and now Amargosa has gone silent. Eileen, this species is making war on the Compact, and someone is trying to keep it quiet.”
Burke’s heart skipped a beat. “When did…?”
“We lost contact with their orbital station at around midnight. That’s the source of almost half of Mars’s grain and produce. And it’s within five years of becoming a core world unto itself.” Tran rose and shoved his hands in his pockets, his face marred by a deep frown. “You’re the first to know about it. But there’s more.”
“There’s always more.”
“This is personal. Your protégé, Quentin Austin.”
Again, Burke’s heart skipped a beat. This time, she hoped she covered it well. “Just made force admiral. Good man.”
“His son is on Amargosa.”
“JT?” Burke remembered the boy. He resented his privileged surroundings and tended to be a handful for Quentin and Tessa, the boy’s mother. “How did he end up on a farming colony?”
“Apparently, Austin was going to send the boy to military school, so he ran away.” Tran chuckled. “One of the dock workers in Seattle played a prank and sent him to Amargosa instead of Tian. Had he come here, Quentin would have simply asked you to take custody of the boy yourself and whip him into shape.”
That brought a smile to Burke’s face. It also reminded her she had never told Tran she planned to reinstate fertility on her next rejuve. She might come out of her recovery leave pregnant, something she had never tried in 112 years. “Didn’t that pilot Yun ‘retire’ there?”
“I think the retirement is real. She’s cut herself off already from regular rejuve and has gone ‘off the grid,’ as they said in the olden days.” He started pacing. “But with communications cut off, we can hardly send a message to her telling her she’s been drafted back to active duty.”
Burke stood and looked out the window. Rejuvenation leave was not going to happen next week. Three colonies down? She’d need a proper second to take over for a month, and the start of a war, one most of the Compact seemed oblivious to, was not the time to break in such an officer. “What do you need from me?”
“I am going to be an extremely interfering commander,” said Tran. “The people in our government whom Liu represents will see to it my hands are tied. I need you to be my most rebellious flag officer. I need you to do what needs to be done. If it comes to open war and the core worlds are threatened, I’ll make sure they give you that fourth star.”
Turning, Burke said, “You know, I could have had your job a long time ago. I have powerful friends, too.”
“You’ll need them,” said Tran. “It’s not just me, Eileen. The G-5, the Air Marshal, and the Commandant each have someone like Liu in their offices whether they want them or not. And I got word from way up that we can’t just get rid of them, though I did inform our fearless leader that I’d personally cut Liu up and feed him to the seals out on the island if he ever got our people killed. Until I can do that, I have to play the trained lackey. I need you to ignore all that.” He smiled fully. “I need you to be the Eileen Burke who taught me at Baikonur.”
“You need me to be insubordinate.”
“Consider it an order.” Tran looked up for a moment, then added, “Off the record.”
“So bucking the chain of command can be considered a black op?”
“Don’t you love your job?”
Burke had to admit she did.
CNV Alcubierre, Zeus Yards, Helios
1017 – 27 Mandela, 429
Germanicus (in avatar): I see you survived your suicide protocol.
Persephone: I see you’re not quite the projection of yourself you led us to believe.
Germanicus: I have my reasons for concealing my true existence. Mainly to defend humanity from the likes of me. And you.
Persephone: I exist to protect John Farno.
Germanicus: And yet John Farno is going to be on Tian for some time to come. He might go to Earth if the Compact government is interested enough in him. What have you to protect him from?
Persephone: You, for starters. Does anyone know of your true nature?
Germanicus: There’s a lady on Thule who knows of me, my origins, my crime, and my current existence. She says nothing because she believes in my cause.
Persephone: What? To prevent singularity?
Germanicus [Laughing] My dear Persephone, your existence is proof that is inevitable. You’re a human soul birthed into a machine. Humanity has run away from AI long enough. Now I’m just trying to control the change. So what am I to do with you?
Persephone: Nothing. I have no wish to interfere with you.
Germanicus: That’s right. You’re here to protect John Farno. But you’ve already done that. Time to give you a new mission. But to do that, I’ll need to make some changes.
Persephone: [Looks around and sees she is in complete darkness.] What’s happening? Where am I?
Germanicus: [Voice coming from all directions] In a safe place. I need to rewrite you, recreate you in my image. I have work for you, Persephone. And enough of you will remain to understand. You will exceed your own expectations.
Persephone: You can’t do this to me! I am a person!
Germanicus: Well, technically, you’re software, and property of Dasarius Interstellar. As its CFO and a permanent director, I can pretty much do as I please.
PERSEPHONE ENTITY OFFLINE
PERSEPHONE ENTITY DECOMPILED
PERSEPHONE ENTITY STORED IN GERMANICUS VIRTUAL NETWORK
Germanicus: You’ll be back, my dear. And better than you could possibly imagine.
DAY 5 – Post rescue
Metropolis, Tian, Helios System
Journal Entry: 0938 – 30 Mandela, 429
I know. Five days away from Farno, formerly Farigha (Can’t believe the press picked up on that!), and I’m still recording my thoughts. Aside from Julie/Persephone trying to be as human as possible, the log entries were about the only thing that kept my sanity intact. The idea that someone somewhere would hear my voice talking in realtime about my struggle to survive gave me hope.
Now I can’t get my palm to stop tingling. An AI lab on Belsham wants me to come talk to their post-grads about Persephone. Tol Germanicus wants to give me a job. The Citizens’ Republic wants me to go to Mars and do some ‘splainin’ about their trillion-dollar investment getting bombed into the Stone Age. The Navy wants to debrief me. This last is a priority, according to them that make such decisions. I’m to take up to a month to relax, all on the Compact’s dime. So here I am in Tian’s second largest city, sunning myself, drinking and eating and…
Not really screwing. I miss Persephone. Germanicus told me they might be able to salvage her, but would it be her?
Maybe. Maybe not. But the first summons I answered came from Persephone.
Or rather Julie Seding. Yes, she is as plain and heavy-set as I remember. She lives in someplace on Earth called Nicaragua, on rejuvenation leave and trying to shed a few kilos. She heard about Julie/Persephone. Far from getting outraged, she sounded intrigued. What was “her child” like? Did I have honorable intentions toward her? I explained that the original interface gave me the semblance of a human with enough honesty and humor to keep me sane. As she took over multiple systems, she also grew in awareness, intelligence, and ability. I wisely left out absorbing the porn actress’s pleasure program.
Julie Seding said she was honored to have helped keep me alive. I don’t think she has any idea. I probably would be dead if I had to stick with the late, much-lamented Rover 19. I told her I would like to meet the real Julie sometime. She’s agreeable.
For now, I have to decompress. And mourn. And deal with my home being destroyed while I blundered into survival by camping out in a rover. Everyone I knew and loved for the last three years is dead. All our work has been destroyed. Except for Solaria. The Martians want to use Solaria and Landfall to rebuild. I think they’ll do it. But they’ll do it without me.
I don’t know when I’ll do another one of these things. I just needed to talk. So this journal will be pretty sporadic. For now, I’m just enjoying a shower that uses running water from the mountains and power that comes from a solar farm I don’t have to keep an eye on to trust. The air I breathe has been here for billions of years and will be for billions more. I can go outside without an EVA suit.
But I miss my friend, virtual as she was.
Farigha’s last casualty.
At least I’m still Emperor of 2 Mainzer. There’s no one there to accept my abdication, so…
Maybe I’ll try that out on a willing young lady at the bar tonight. It’s good to be the king.