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Volume 30, Number 1, Fall 2011

To Remain Free, part 2

By Jay McIntyre

Unfortunately, by the time the shareholders had realized the danger they faced and sent the alert throughout the colony, two individuals had already sold out.

The younger of these two was Asar Barrett. He had always sought the path of least resistance, especially when it came to doing his share of the work. He appreciated the freedom of Prospero, but resented the responsibility that came with it. He agreed to help the surface colonies; his plan was to sabotage the power infrastructure; electronics were his skill. But that presented two problems. First, the infrastructure was not centralized, which meant a lot of work dealing with the sections. Second, he would have to work around the attempts by the colony interfacers to correct any faults, all while not getting caught.

A lot of work, especially for someone like him. But if he pulled it off, it was the last work he would ever have to do in his life. That was what he signed on for; a life of leisure and luxury as his reward. It would be more than worth it. He felt a little guilty, but not nearly enough to stay his hand.

 

The older of the two traitors was Marcus Donner. He was the secretary to one of the major shareholders. Oh,technicallyhewasa shareholder, too, every citizen of Prospero was; but a very minor one. Only four shares. He wanted more. He was more ideologically inclined to Prospero than Barrett was; but he was also older, had worked harder, and waited longer, without any real result. It pained him more than it did the boy to ‘sell out’, but he was much more determined and motivated.

What he didn’t have was a plan; unlike Barrett, he was not creative. So he sat and brooded, trying to work something out in his mind.

Each insurgent was aware of the existence of the other, but not their specific identity. Nor was their any coordination between them. This was deliberate; the surface colonies wanted multiple attacks. If one failed, the other might succeed. Prospero’s main bulk was at the bottom of the cold Europan sea. Most of the population lived and worked there, including the shareholders and the interfacers. There were a few shareholders still back on Earth, but only to maintain a presence there; most everyone else had moved to the colony years ago.

Donner knew the history; the power of various governments (and the world government, first under the aegis of the United Nations, and later under the successor organization of Global Dominion) had waxed and waned over the years. Some people were tired of it; they wanted out. By then private space tourism was already an industry in its own right; trips to the Moon and various space stations. A group of rich and middle class people had pooled their resources and bought one of the private space companies outright, renaming it Prospero. Europa had already been scanned by then, and shown promise; but the governments had sent only robotic probes to analyze it. So the Prospero company had outfitted three ships and launched them. They had found landing relatively easy, but building the undersea colony proper more difficult. The first generation had struggled; but after that, the colony had thrived. Shares had been inherited by descendants who were born and raised here. They still got occasional new members from Earth, but their numbers were steady. At least until terraforming technology became viable, which at the most optimistic estimate was still 20 years away.

There were no windows here on the deep sea colony, not because they weren’t curious for a view, but because there was nothing to see in the deep waters. Europan indigenous life was barely above the microbial level in any case. So they made do with computer simulations. Some of these were recorded or reconstructed Earth views, but most were art. News reports weren’t given wall space. The only time any information was displayed on the big walls was when there was a danger to the colony.

Not to say that this was any kind of censorship; the colony didn’t recognize such. It was just that, by consensus, technical information wasn’t displayed on the wall monitors. Personal datascreens and implants were used for such things.

Trade was lively on the main meeting floor, and in the access tunnels. Barrett and Donner passed within twenty feet of each other, never noticing one another in the crowd of haggling people. Barrett was looking for access points; Donner, still trying to formulate a plan, was staring at the wall art as it moved and shifted.

Prospero was no utopia. The fact that everyone was armed and that almost anything other than people could be bought or sold made things a bit...tense at times. And of course they had their dissidents, besides the two traitors. But even those dissidents owned a bit of Prospero, and felt pride and responsibility for what they were. While it was true that they had an Earth presence, they were neither bound nor beholden to any nation or collection of nations. That was part of the surface colonies’ problem with them. Prospero was their home, their nation, their realm.

Even Donner and Barrett felt that way; but for them, it was no longer enough.

 

Barrett skulked around in the lower areas, near the depths where the interfacer life support pods were. The interfacer who had raised the alarm had already been re-jacked into a different pod, to ensure any enemy interfacer attack would do him no harm. Barrett was vindictive enough to want to find him and hunt him down for that; but he hadn’t even known which pod the interfacer had been in before, much less the new one. Besides, once he shut down some of the power infrastructure, all of Prospero’s interfacers would have their hands full just staying alive.

And shutting down the interfacers first was a priority; otherwise, they would detect the sector shut downs as they occurred, and notify the unhookedpopulation.Therewere no security monitors of the hallways and byways in Prospero, but there was most assuredly status indicators on the colony’s infrastructure. It was one of the tasks of the interfacers to monitor them. The colony’s survival in the deep seas was always a concern. There were back ups, but Barrett knew how to block those, as well. His main concern was to shut them all down without getting caught.

He came to the very top of the first stairwell leading down to the interfacer life support pods. There were no elevator shafts down here, by design; anyone who wanted to see the interfacers had to really want to. Medics, of course, were trained to run down there fast while carrying their equipment.

But Barrett didn’t need to go all the way down; didn’t want to, either. He had passed by one power node on the way down here, deliberately ignored it. He knew how these systems were organized, with their cold chemical fluid links. More than two generations more advanced than those old fashioned electronics still being phased out back on Earth, the links tended to be self sealing when interrupted. While not toxic, they were bitterly cold. That feature had been included to prevent the sort of sabotage he was planning now. But the very nature of his work excluded him from suspicion.

No one had remarked upon him wandering around with his gear, bag of tools, and gloves. Goggles pushed back on his head, he seemed more cheerful and energetic than usual. No one had taken this for the danger sign that it was, instead choosing to see it as an improvement.

Barrett had bypassed the earlier power node precisely because he knew that doing so would enable him to take both of them out by accessing this one first; neutralizing the backup as well as the primary in one fell swoop. Carefully he keyed in the access code for that particular wall panel; the keypad beeped, and the whole wall segment came loose in his hands. Slowly, he peeled it back. He glanced around nervously; no one should be down here now, but after the interfacer had sent his warning, someone might be down to check on them, just to be on the safe side. Of course, in one of the government run facilities there would be security cameras. Not here. But that cut both ways; it was entirely possible that someone else might come down here and find him.

Carefully he took his injector. Severing the connections would not be enough; they would self seal, and given time they would re-connect. His injector was full of green bile mixed with the miserable chemical cocktail from Europa’s oceans, which was technically water but had a lot of other unpleasant things in it. He injected the power node three times, then waited long enough to see if it was having an effect. Nodding to himself, he resealed the wall panel.

The lights already were flickering as he returned upstairs.

 

He disabled a second, then a third node without being detected; twenty minutes of nerve-wracking work, followed by long minutes of walking or using elevators to avoid suspicion. After he shut down the second node, his personal text communicator bleeped. Only the interfacers had datastream implants here, unhooked people like himself avoided such cybernetic surgery. He could’ve had a full vidlink communicator, but freedom of choice was of course respected. The text message was from his more experienced coworker, Anishai. They had no bosses; each of them were independent contractors. She was checking to see if he had gotten the alert; he assured her he was already on the job. Perhaps he would’ve smiled as he texted it, but he was too nervous. His palms weren’t quite sweating yet, but they were shaky.

The fourth panel was actually in a semi-populated area, but as he expected, people had received warnings by now, just as he had, and were either keeping to their own homes and activating private generators, or else gathering on the main floor. By the time they suspected him, there’d be so many dark zones for him to hide in that it would be too late. He’d signal the surface colonies, and they would send ‘humanitarian’ aid...

A hand landed on his shoulder. He turned and saw the grim face of Alston Peth, one of the few colony members who had come to Earth in the last few years.

“Sloppy,” he said, voice thick with disgust. “You didn’t really think you’d get away with this, did you?”

“I don’t know what you mean—” Barrett began, trying to keep the nerves out of his voice.

“Anishai contacted me. Thought you might need ‘moral support’.” Peth’s face twisted. “She actually liked you, you know.”

Barrett was caught, but going by his manner, Peth hadn’t told anyone else. He could still savage this. His fear left him and he drew himself up straight. “She felt sorry for me,” he corrected Peth. “There’s a difference.” He kept his eyes on Peth’s. He could’ve gone for his gun, but Peth would likely anticipate that; his own shields would deflect it anyway.

So instead he used his injector, which was already in his hand. He stabbed under-handed, which most people wouldn’t anticipate.

But his injector thudded uselessly against body armor. His eyes widened; Peth shook his head. “Three tours as a mercenary against the Global Dominion. kid. That’s why I came out here.”

Barrett felt a deep, dark pit of despair open under him. Desperately, he lashed out with a kick; but he was slow and untrained. Peth knocked him out with one punch.

The trial was short, the sentence brutal; death by being ejected into the deep ocean without a pressure suit. Donner watched without apparent emotion as Barrett was sentenced. He felt for the boy, but didn’t dare give himself away. Only the girl Anishai wept for him; and everyone knew why that was. Only Barrett had misunderstood her affection.

But the boy’s sacrifice had not been in vain; he had given Donner time to come up with a much better plan.

And very soon now, he would carry it out....

 

...To be continued

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