Sinclair Station – Sparta System
Zachary Sinclair sat behind his nephew Emil’s desk watching the lines of figures march down the simulated screen in front of him. He was looking at the consolidated balance sheet of the Sinclair family fortune.
The numbers were so large as to be incomprehensible.
“I had no idea…” he mumbled. The elderly gentleman sitting across from him in one of the armchairs on either side of a love-seat sofa facing the desk said nothing. He was exhibiting a relaxed posture as if he was familiar with, and comfortable in, the august setting of Emil’s office. His name was Lathrop Jennings. He was the comptroller for the Sinclairs, had been for decades, and had been hired by Walter and Emil’s father. He was regarding the present master-of-station with a bemused look of disapproval.
Mister Jennings had known Zachary since he had been his first employer’s kid brother. He was intimately familiar with Zachary’s youthful indiscretions. Lathrop hadn’t approved then, and had, in his own mind, little reason to change his opinion of the man now. He looked across the desk and compared the two Sinclairs.
Emil had been tall and slender, esthetic, imbued with a sense of style in his dress and manner that his stocky brother lacked. Zachary had been a linebacker in college and fought in the MMA ring for sport. He was squat and powerful. His thrice-broken nose gave his gnarled and battered face an intimidating visage. Through college, and for four years thereafter, Zachary drank, chased women, and fought. It was his life, he loved it and didn’t see any reason it shouldn’t go on forever.
His older brother had slightly different ideas.
Jantz Garet Jr. had called Zachary into his office at the ranch on the morning of his brother’s twenty-fifth birthday. He had brought the young man in, he informed him, to offer him a job.
It was the kind of offer, Zachary discovered, he couldn’t say no to. The reason being, if he didn’t take it, he was cut off without a farthing. Zachary was headstrong and rebellious, opinionated and reckless, but he knew very well, JG did not bluff and was not known to make idle jests. Faced with penury, he took the job.
His major in college had been mining engineering. Even with all his partying he had graduated cum lade and had, somewhat surprisingly, come away with a decent understanding of his chosen field of endeavor.
His brother had given him a mining company whose sole asset was the mineral rights to a moon-sized asteroid in the far reaches of the belt. It was a tough assignment, far from the nightlife of Sparta, but after a few months; Zachary found he loved the job, the challenge and the sense of accomplishment derived from wresting wealth from cold, airless rock.
The miners on Igneous were a rowdy lot, tough and stubborn. They had broken the spirit of the last two supervisors who had tried to corral them into doing their jobs and sent the administrators scurrying for Sparta with their tails between their legs. Despite the billions of credits the Sinclairs had poured into the operation, it had never turned a profit.
It helped that Zachary was an owner. It didn’t hurt that within an hour of his arrival on station he had broken the nose and left arm of the station’s union steward and left the two men who had come to the steward’s aid, writhing on the floor, with limbs twisted out of joint.
Within the week the station was running in the black.
Zachary had been out on Igneous a little over three years when disaster struck. He had turned the operation around and was starting to squirrel away a little nest egg of his own. Luckily for him, he had been on the opposite side of the moonlet when a stray house-sized asteroid slammed into the main facility traveling at twenty-five kilometers a second.
They saw the flash and felt the impact. The force was such, it knocked Igneous out of its orbit and sent it spiraling toward the sun. Nearly a trillion guilders in investment, ore and processed metal was wiped out in a single second.
Zachary and the two engineers who had been with him had been surveying a new vein of scandium and yttrium that promised to be the most exciting find in the last two years. They spent the next two months trapped in an exploration vehicle, clinging to life, awaiting rescue.
Zachary had spent two months in hospital on Sparta being treated for radiation poisoning, hypoxia, and hypothermia. When he was released, his brother informed him his mining days were over. He was given the job of managing the Sinclair estates on Sparta.
Zachary thought he would die on Sparta doing the job he had come to love until Emil had swallowed a bullet from his own gun. Now he was thrust into the cauldron of Sinclair Station lacking even a ghost of an idea how to run it or what to do next.
“Walter should be here,” Jennings grunted. “He is the heir, after all. Just because of some judge…”
It had been twenty years since anyone had had the temerity to challenge Zachary. As the manager of all the Sinclair estates on Sparta, he had supervised over three thousand employees. The fact that he was being dismissed as unworthy, rankled. He felt a surge of heat come up in his throat. “Calm down, you need this man. You can’t bust his nose like a union steward. This is a different situation.” Zachary clamped down on his anger.
“Well, unfortunately, he is not. He is off somewhere on an important mission, so we’ll have to muddle along until he returns.”
“Zachary, I’ve known you since you were a little boy; are you sure you’re going to be up to running this station and managing the Sinclair businesses.”
There it was, out in the open. He had been judged and found wanting. There was no hand of fire, but the implication was pretty damn clear, whether it was written on the wall or not.
Zachary thought about his response, tamped down his anger. He knew the staff at Sinclair Station had admired Emil. In fact, they had almost viewed him as a minor god. They would have accepted Walter, the Navy hero, as the legitimate heir. His nephew’s reputation of courage and integrity would have ensured a smooth transition of power.
Zachary was going to have to earn it, the staff thought of him as a dumb farmer.
“I don’t know about that, Jennings,” Zachary said through clenched teeth. “What I do know is, that twenty-three years ago I went out to the far reaches of this belt and in a week turned an operation around that hadn’t made a farthing since it had been established.” He had used Jennings last name intentionally, setting the relationship in stone. “When I landed on Igneous I didn’t have a clue about hard-rock mining, but I knew how to work and how to get others to work with me. It succeeded then, and I have to think it will succeed now.”
As the other five department heads filed into the office for their introductory meeting, Lathrop was looking at the man across the desk as if a total stranger had come in to sit down behind it.
Zachary and Lathrop both rose to walk to the conference table at the other side of the office. Zachary walked to his place at the head of the table beneath the large portrait of Jantz Garet Sr. As the division officers were getting settled, Emil’s secretary entered the room from her office adjacent to Emil’s desk. She was carrying a paper in her hand and looking at it as if she was afraid it might explode into flames at any moment.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, Sir, but I thought you would want to see this immediately,” she said as she handed the paper to him and jerked her hand back, relieved to be shed of its menacing presence.
Zachary glanced down at the document and felt his heart rate increase. It was an inter-lens telex, sent through the lens in microburst packets during the few milliseconds when the lens opened naturally from time to time.
It had the seal of the Imperium and the return address of the IIS headquarters on Byzantium. Zachary quickly dropped his eyes to the text.
As I write this I’m leaving for New Jerusalem. I wish I could come to Sparta and give you this message personally, but I find it impossible at the present time.
When the time is right, I will return to Sparta.
I understand the National probate judge has appointed you as acting head of the Sinclair estate and Chief-of-Station at Sinclair Station. He has done this in my absence.
As the legitimate heir to the Sparta Sinclair Clan, I want you to know I’m in full agreement with this decision. I’m asking you to take control of Sinclair Station and manage it to the best of your ability.
I would like to remind you that from my great-grandfather down to the present, our position has been, we will not surrender ownership or management of Sinclair Station to anyone or any organization. We will destroy the station and all of its equipment before yielding it, and we will defend it to the best of our ability using all weapons at our disposal.
I would ask that you continue that policy. If you cannot, then please do not assume the leadership role. If that is the case, I have enclosed, under separate cover, detailed instructions to turn over management to a trusted friend and former comrade in arms who is named in that document and is living on Sparta.
If you are willing to assume command under those conditions, please accept my sincere gratitude and proceed knowing I’ve every confidence in your ability, loyalty, and competence.
You will find that Sinclair Station has weapons at its disposal unlike anything else the Imperium can field. If the Emperor or any of his lackeys try to take it, use whatever force is necessary to prevent it. You must never yield the station. The fate of the entire human race may depend on Sinclairs retaining possession.
I know how that sounds. Please believe me, as unlikely as it may seem, it is just.that.simple.
You will find attached proxies from my sister and I giving you full authority to vote our combined stock in any stockholder’s meetings. Those proxies give you total control of the entire Sinclair estate and all its assets. Use it well.
Best and warmest regards, may God bless you and keep you,
Zachary stood in shocked silence, studying the telex, rereading it to make sure he understood what it was telling him… and the rest of humanity, for that matter. Instead of taking his seat he walked to the other end and handed it to Jennings.
Jennings read it, his face turning white as the implications of the telex sank in. Finally, he looked up at Zachary and smiled sickly.
“Well, little brother, it looks like your time has come. You are now the richest, most powerful man in the Sparta system.”
“I wish I could say you were welcome to our world, Commander, but frankly, you bring so much baggage and potential trouble, I’m afraid I’m conflicted,” President Aaron Ben Gabriel told me. Rosslyn and I were sitting next to each other in the president’s office in front of his desk on one of two facing sofas. The president sat across from us with a coffee table between loaded with pastries and a tea service.
“Perhaps what I have to tell you will assuage your misgivings, Mister President,” I replied.
“I hope so. You realize this is very irregular, I’m being criticized from all sides by agreeing to this meeting.” I had requested a one-on-one meeting with the president because what I was going to tell him, was not going to be well received, by the Knesset and the ruling hierarchy of the Jewish nation.
We were leaving and we were going to take the child prodigy with us. Isaac Mendel was a celebrity in Jewish society. His brilliance in mathematics was only exceeded by his knowledge of Holy Scripture. He had been speaking at the Cathedral of Solomon since he was twelve, captivating his audiences with his commentary.
He had developed a popular theology, tracing Yahweh’s promises through four-thousand five-hundred years of Jewish history and demonstrating how New Israel was the actual promised land. His teaching had sparked a revival of faith and a renewed sense of national purpose. The people thought he had the hand of God on him and was blessed by the Spirit. Some said he might be the promised Messiah.
My taking him away was not going to sit well.
“I know our presence here has caused you quite a bit of angst. We are aware, the Imperium is adamant that we be detained and turned over to their tender mercies. We appreciate your support and continued refusal to bend a knee to the Emperor’s threats and demands. We know the pressure has had to be intense.”
‘Hmmm,” the president, grunted but didn’t reply for a long moment, as if trying to frame an appropriate response, or perhaps debating on telling the whole truth. Finally, he continued.
“Honestly, up to this point, it has been all talk. The Imperial fleet is still moored in home-port on Byzantium and the threatened sanctions have not been implemented. Quite frankly, we are puzzled at the Imperium’s actions. On one hand, they seem to want you returned at all costs, on the other, they apparently are aware of our inability to accede to their demands.”
“Why are you puzzled?”
“It seems to indicate an unprecedented level of common sense has prevailed at the highest levels of the Imperial government.”
“Yes,” I laughed. “Common sense and the ruling hierarchy of the Imperium seems to be an oxymoron. However, what you are seeing is evidence of an internal conflict within the power structure of the Empire. There is a significant block that is just as happy that I am gone. I’m a threat to their iron rice bowls. As long as I’m absent, the status quo isn’t threatened.”
“Well, I can appreciate that. Your presence here is certainly a threat to our status quo. You must understand, that to my people, the Empire is a looming, ever-present menace, a towering dragon that threatens to devour us. A significant plurality of those folks has allowed their fear of Imperial aggression to become obsessive. They are convinced our harboring you and your ship are harbingers of doom.”
“First, let me assure you, Mister President, the Empire is no threat. The Imperium is a shadow of its former self. It’s hobbling along, under attack from within and without. The body politic is rent with dissension, Islamic terrorism has raised its ugly head again. Pirates are raiding commercial routes and two different alien races are threatening the borders of the Empire. Believe me, the dragon has no teeth.”
“Perhaps it is as you say. However, my people have endured persecution, genocide and slavery for four thousand years. They have a genetic racial paranoia that is difficult to assuage. You’re saying the threat is not real will not change that.”
“I understand, Mister President. That is what I am here to tell you. We are leaving.”
I could see a sense of relief flow over the chief executive as he smiled and straightened his shoulders, but before he could reply, Rosslyn spoke up.
“The Empire is not an evil threat to anyone. The Imperium is the bulwark of civilization, the defender of order and the last true hope of mankind. Without the Empire holding things together humanity slips back into chaos, anarchy, slavery, and oppression. This is my belief and what I’ve dedicated my life to preserving.”
My sister was a true believer.
I didn’t know what to say. I had seen some of the seamier undersides of the Imperial bureaucracy and witnessed the corruption of a great number of the Emperor’s lackeys. I had no illusions about the Imperium being either the bulwark of civilization or the defender of anything other than the oligarchies’ privileges. I looked at Rosslyn with what had to be a blend of disbelief and sympathy; I loved her, but she was so naive. Before I could respond, the president spoke up.
“Perhaps it looks like that from the inside looking out. From our perspective, the Empire is governed as it was founded, state-centric. That is, the individual is forced to sublimate his or her wellbeing to that of the state.”
“For the most part, that is true. Any other way leads to chaos and anarchy.”
“Yes, I’m sure that is what you believe. However, I’m afraid you’re mistaken, there is a better way and I believe we have found it here.”
“I would be interested to hear how that works for you,” Rosslyn said skeptically.
“Israel has tried a number of different types of government through the centuries, ranging from kings to an almost pure democracy. None of man’s governments seem to work for us. When the founding fathers came out to the stars, they decided to go back to basics. They took the book of Deuteronomy, secularized it and developed a code of law to govern our people. This law puts the individual first. No man, no matter his station or position is exempt from the law.”
“Who enforces this law?”
“We have judges, just as God instructed the children of Israel. The judges have a police force to back them up, and they have me and the executive branch of the government to enforce their decrees.”
“Well, I’m happy that it works for you. You have your way and we have ours…”
“Your way is evil,” the president interrupted. He said it softly, without judgment, simply stating his case as if it were apparent to the most casual observer.
“Wait one minute…!” Rosslyn bit back.
“The Imperium has an entire people enslaved, disenfranchised and ignored. There are literally billions of your fellow citizens who are deprived of life, liberty, and property. How is that not evil?
“That isn’t true!”
“I’m referring to the people you call “skinnies.”
“They are taken care of, pampered…”
“They are trapped in their rings, unable to live on the surface of a planet. They cannot vote, have no say in their governance, and their lifespans are half of what a citizen can expect. How is that not slavery?”
“They are not forced to work,” Rosslyn objected. “…and rejuvenation therapy doesn’t work in microgravity.”
“No, I’ll admit, they are not whipped and beaten, then chained to a workstation. But incentives and disincentives are built into the structure of their culture. They really have little choice.”
“Look!” I said forcefully, breaking into their argument. “We don’t have time for this, as much as I’m sure you two are enjoying it. We need to get moving.” I paused to let their attention focus on me and allow them to cool down a moment before going on. “We need to depart for Calderon. The only person in the galaxy who can take the formulae we have and tell us how to design and build the equipment necessary to construct a time-bridging star-drive is there. We will need to take Isaac with us.”
“No, I’m afraid that is impossible,” the president exclaimed. “…there would be riots.”
“I don’t think so, Mister President. At this very moment, Isaac is addressing a crowd at the cathedral. It’s being broadcast worldwide by the media. He is telling the people that he is going with us of his own free will, and in fact, has been instructed by God to accompany us on a mission to save mankind.”
“Alright,” the president said after a long moments consideration. “If it is to be done, it is best done quickly. Begone, then, the sooner the better.”