Hera of Lexington

Chapter 7 (read Chapter 1)

by Anta Baku


“I can confirm Alistair’s claim,” said Fred. “Shale wrote the document he found. No question about it.” 

He was meeting privately with Jean in his own quarters to share his efforts at verification. Neither of them knew who else to trust, but at least the two of them could still work together. With Hera out of contact, leadership naturally fell onto the shoulders of the priest; at least that was Fred’s opinion, and Jean, though they would clearly have liked an opportunity to do anything else, wasn’t willing to give up their authority to anyone else who might have wanted it. Not with Hera needing to be rescued. 

Jean sighed. “What can we do about Shale, then? They’re locked out of the ship’s controls, but I’m not sure I want them running around inside the ship’s computer if they might want to cause damage.”

“I can force them back into Hera’s special space suit,” said Fred. “That’s how they got here in the first place.”

“Will they be able to move about in it?”

“Not without a person inside. They’ll be immobilized until we figure out what to do.” 

“Too bad there’s not a way to do that to Alistair.” 

“He was right, you know,” said Fred. “I’m not sure we can punish him for it.”

“He’s also insufferable,” said Jean. “And he went missing from the mission to get that information. I’m not saying we would be better off knowing it. But he might have been able to help Hera, and he was thinking about something else.” 

“The whole thing is just a mess,” said Fred. 

“And you and I are the ones who have to clean it up,” said Jean. “Alistair’s not going to do it.” 

“I’m not sure what that even involves,” said Fred. “I can restrict Shale, but then what?”

“Then we get Hera back so that she can make these kinds of decisions,” said Jean. “I’m no good at them.”

“And how are we going to get Hera back? She’s the one who usually does rescue missions.”

“I don’t know,” said Jean. “You and I will have to go in, somehow. We can’t trust Alistair, and we really can’t trust Shale.”

“I’m not a going in sort of person,” said Fred. “I’m a stay in the ship and support sort of person.” 

“We both have that problem. We’ll have to get past it. Why don’t you start by making us some Foundationist identification?”

Fred wasn’t sure he was as happy about Jean being in charge anymore. 

Making false identification was something Fred was confident in. He’d done it hundreds of times, during the Occupation and after, and didn’t expect that to provide much of a challenge. But Foundationist identification was on an entirely-different level than mainstream Lexington society. No pulling together vital statistics and photographs and using confidence to make it through on Saratoga. The Foundationists had an integrated, cryptographic identity system that interfaced with a public, decentralized database which could be accessed from anywhere within their dome. On Saratoga your cryptographic signature was your identity, and while a few of their systems were open to outside information requests, most of them were restricted to Foundationist logins. Including, of course, the systems for creating digital identities themselves. 

Jean wasn’t pleased to hear that Fred would have to access the system in person before he could even make an attempt at providing them with false identities. Especially because they only had one personnel pod, after salvaging the one Malachite had used to steal the First Cup and later abandoned in low orbit. Fred wasn’t happy about using it himself, given that it had recently been taken over by a third party and they hadn’t had anything like enough time to do a security evaluation and patch whatever had allowed Malachite to do that. At least the Gavidarian himself was gone. They would just have to hope the Foundationists didn’t have reason to try to repeat the exploit. 

They had to land the pod farther away from the Foundationist dome this time, and Fred had a more difficult time getting in than Hera had. But airlock security was still substantially less strict than they expected it to be after a major incident. Part of that might have been a Foundationist tendency Fred had already noticed. They were less advanced than mainstream Lexington society when it came to guarding physical locations, while being considerably-more advanced in guarding information. There was something interesting to learn about Foundationist priorities there, but for the moment he was just glad to be able to get indoors without too many problems. 

Of course, it also meant that hacking into the identification system was going to be a serious challenge. The system itself had access points all over the dome, but they all required a cryptographic identity to log in. The database was maintained by twenty independently-operated computer systems distributed throughout the dome, and initially Fred had thought he was somehow going to have to gain access to all of them at the same time in order to insert their unauthorized data. But of course the Foundationists themselves had to have a way to create new digital identities, and that was going to be Fred’s way in. 

So he made his way to the birth center. The population of the dome wasn’t large enough to need more than one, so it made sense to issue new identities in the same facility where they made new citizens. Jean had been startled when Fred told them about this part of the plan.

“We’re going to be babies?” said the priest.

“It’s the easiest way to get a digital identity,” said Fred. “There’s a process for immigrants, which I thought was surprising, since nobody ever comes here. But it requires cryptographic signatures from five officials to issue a new one that way. At the birth center they issue them from a single computer.” 

“But what kind of access can babies have?”

“It looks like it’s the same access as anyone else,” said Fred. “As far as getting information from the network is concerned, if you know enough to look for something, presumably you’re competent enough to read it.” 

“So we can be newborns and they’ll tell us where they’re keeping the offworlder who tried to steal the First Cup?”

“That’s the theory, anyway.”

“They won’t think that’s strange?”

“Reads aren’t tracked,” said Fred. “That’s actually guaranteed in their constitution. It’s interesting, you should look at it. All information generated by their government is added to the cryptographic network, and all citizens have a right to access it.” 

“They have no secrets?”

“It’s essential to their form of government. Everyone votes for a representative here. They see their government as a mechanism for collective action. So everyone has a right to know what the collective is doing on their behalf, and everyone has a need to know so they can vote meaningfully.” 

“And this works?” said Jean.

“It’s hard to tell,” said Fred. “I’m trying to break into it, not judge its effectiveness.” 

“I wonder how their priests handle that,” said Jean.

“You’ll have to look into that yourself,” said Fred.

Or course, the birth center wasn’t an ideal location for a surreptitious mission. It didn’t have an off shift. Fred supposed that was part of the reason identities could be issued there so easily; having to staff the place at all times was easier if you didn’t have to have five people’s approval to do your job. The Foundationists seemed to be obsessive about making sure everyone had a digital identity as soon as possible, even though babies would be unable to actually use theirs anytime soon. It was a security hole, inherent to the kind of cultural blind spot Fred especially enjoyed seeking out and exploiting. 

He wasn’t sure the lack of physical security was quite the same thing. It certainly made it easier for him to move around the dome, with no one checking that he had a right to access. But it wasn’t clear to him whether that was a cultural blind spot or just a cultural choice. Sometimes the boundaries on that sort of thing weren’t easily determined. Nothing prevented Foundationists from going where they weren’t supposed to be, and as a design feature it was so universal that he decided it must work for them somehow. Like the total freedom of government information. 

So he didn’t have any trouble getting into the birthing center, or even into the identity office. His main problem was being quiet about it, a skill he’d never needed to develop. But if Foundationists never went places they weren’t supposed to be, it followed that the ones who were already there were far less likely to be watchful. And the woman on shift in the identity office eventually had to go to the bathroom. She didn’t even secure her computer when she left. 

Actually creating two new cryptographic identities was a matter of moments, and sending the keys to Jean in orbit didn’t take much longer. The priest could work on finding Hera while Fred got out of here before the clerk got back from the bathroom.

That wasn’t a problem, but before he got all the way out of the birthing center he was stopped by a short, slight man who knew he wasn’t supposed to be there. Who wanted to know who he was and what he was doing, and probably wouldn’t be satisfied by a baby’s identification. 

Jean had a solution in mind. “Knock him over and get out of there,” they said. 

Fred sent back an “I can’t” meme that he always had easily available. That was one he needed disappointingly often. 

“Channel Hera,” said Jean. “She would be past that guy and out of here by now.” 

“I’m not Hera,” said Fred.

“You’re still bigger than that guy,” said Jean. 

He sent back a shoulder-shrugging meme that was also in his regular rotation. Maybe violence really was the answer here, but that didn’t mean he could do it. This was why Hera and Alistair did missions and Fred stayed in the ship. He didn’t doubt they could overpower one suspicious man who wasn’t even very big. But Fred couldn’t. Fred was the one who was there.

“I can’t rescue both of you,” said Jean as a last plea for action. But there wasn’t anything Fred could do about it. Someone else might have easily gotten away, but he had been captured.

The slight man took him out of the birth center to a cramped room that looked like it was storage for obsolete technical equipment that might be needed again someday. Fred had one of those of his own, back on Lexington. Ninety percent of what was stored there was completely useless, but which ninety percent? He might be a prisoner, but on some level he felt completely at home.

“My name is Martin Hawk,” said the slight man. “What’s yours?”

“Fred,” he said. “Just Fred. We don’t do the whole bird thing.” He involuntarily flapped his arms a little when he said it, and tried not to be embarrassed. He knew the Foundationists had a unique double-name system where one of them was a bird, even though there were no birds in the thin atmosphere of Saratoga, and never had been.

“Are you sure?” said the man. “I think you’re something flightless. A penguin? Or a kiwi?”

“I’m just bad at running away,” said Fred. “You don’t have to insult me about it.”

“Oh, no insult was meant,” said the man. Martin. Or was it Hawk? Wait a minute.

“Martin Hawk,” said Fred. “But which one of those is your birdname? I don’t remember the order, and they’re both birds. That’s unfairly confusing.” 

“Hawk is the birdname,” said the man. “I chose Martin for the joke. I didn’t think about it confusing outsiders. I didn’t expect to ever meet an outsider.” 

“You’re not a security officer, then?” said Fred.

“I work in security,” said Martin. “But no, I’m not an officer. I’m a data analyst.” 

“What right do you have to arrest me, then?” said Fred.

“You’re not under arrest,” said Martin. “You’re a captive. Which would be very illegal if you could go to a security officer and complain, but I don’t think you want to do that. You don’t exist here.” 

“I have an identity right here,” said Fred.

“Oh, yes,” said Martin. He checked his feed. “One which was created in the birthing center eighteen minutes ago. You know, you don’t look eighteen minutes old.” 

“I’m precocious,” said Fred.

Martin laughed at that. “And funny,” he said. “But not much of an operative as far as I can tell.”

“You know, I told my boss that,” said Fred. 

“And they sent you in anyway?”

“There wasn’t much of a choice,” said Fred. “You’re holding our real mission specialist captive. I was supposed to rescue her.” 

“Did she have something to do with all the things going on outside recently?” said Martin. “Explosions, and ships, and other things they’ve been very slow to upload into the database?”

“Yes,” said Fred. “But she’s not your enemy.” That was stretching the truth, since the Foundationists certainly weren’t interested in giving up the First Cup. But Hera had declined several opportunities to kill large numbers of them. They certainly weren’t friends, but they might theoretically be considered not enemies either.

“I don’t know about anyone being captured,” said Martin. “That information should have been added to the database immediately. Holding a prisoner without public notice is a major violation.” 

“Well, I guarantee she was captured by your security,” said Fred. “I guess they haven’t needed to ask you to analyze any data from her.”

“That’s not how it works here,” said Martin. “Nobody has to ask. They put the data on the network, and I analyze it if I want to.”

“But so could anyone else,” said Fred.


“Maybe it’s sensitive information,” said Fred.

“I know what you mean,” said Martin. “But only because I read historical novels. They love that sort of thing. Secrets, and corrupt governments, and intelligence services, and all that. It’s very romantic but not very realistic.” 

“We still have those things on the outside,” said Fred. “I don’t think Lexington’s intelligence service is quite up to speed yet after the Occupation, but they’re definitely rebuilding it.”

“And does it make you happy?” said Martin. Fred didn’t have an answer for that. “Does it serve the interests of the people? Do you get better analysis from restricting who can participate in it?” 

Fred hadn’t thought of it that way. “I don’t know,” he said.

“It never does in novels,” said Martin. “But it’s hard for me to know if that’s because those things are legitimately bad, or because it makes for better novels.”

“What if there are enemies too powerful for the people to fight?”

“It seems to me that the intelligence service is a subset of the people,” said Martin. “Something that can defeat the populace as a whole surely can defeat any part of it.” 

“Are you that unified here?” said Fred.

“Mm, I don’t know that unified is the right word,” said Martin. “We have factions. Sometimes they even work against each other. But I think we’re always more effective as a whole than we would be by keeping secrets from each other.”

“So why isn’t Hera in your database?” said Fred.

“That’s a very good question,” said Martin.

“And how did you find me, anyway?” said Fred. “I swear I didn’t leave any tracks in the identity system.” 

“Sheer coincidence, I’m afraid,” said Martin. “Not your fault at all. I’ve been watching the network. I always watch it, but since the incident I’ve been obsessive about it. Well, before then, really. Information that should be there doesn’t always seem to be. There’ve been rumors floating around about things happening that no one was told about. Increasingly-credible rumors. When we brought it up we were told they were preparing for an attack, and didn’t have time to manage the data. People were beginning to be upset about that, and then there was an attack. So it’s cooled down a bit.”

“We didn’t mean it to be an attack,” said Fred. “We were supposed to be in and out without anyone noticing. We were the ones who were attacked.”

“By our security?” said Martin.

“By a Gavidarian who has been following us,” said Fred.

“Oh,” said Martin. “A three-way conflict makes some of the things I saw make more sense.” 

“He got away,” said Fred. “But our leader was captured trying to get back to our ship. I was supposed to rescue her.” 

“It’s still very funny that’s not recorded on the network,” said Martin.

“Is that why you were watching it so closely you knew the two recorded births were fake?” said Fred. “How could you tell?” 

“I couldn’t, from the data,” said Martin. “Like I said, it was a complete coincidence. I was monitoring the network from the waiting room of the birthing center. My sister is in labor. And I knew she was the only one in labor.” 

“Which is also why you could catch me so quickly.”


“And why you didn’t have a team of goons.” 

“I suppose so,” said Martin.

“And why I’m now in your utility room instead of a holding cell,” said Fred. 

Martin looked embarrassed. “Yes.” 

“Except, why am I in your utility room instead of a holding cell?” said Fred. “I know how you could bring me here. But if everything here is so unified, why not put me under arrest?”

“I said unified was the wrong word,” said Martin.

“Even so.” 

Martin hesitated to answer that. Fred had an idea, though. “It’s because you’d have to put my capture into the information net, isn’t it?” he said. 

“No!” said Martin.

“And yet we’re here, just the two of us,” said Fred. “It doesn’t add up.” 

“That’s why you’re here,” said Martin. “Because things haven’t been adding up. And I need to find out why.” 

“Before you let anyone else know that I’m here at all.” 

“That’s not it,” said Martin. “Well, maybe that is it. I don’t believe in secret information, but you’re right, I’m not broadcasting this conversation. I believe that it will be proper to put it all on the network eventually. Soon. And that’s probably what the others are telling themselves, and I hate that I’m thinking like them, but I don’t know what else to do.”

“What others?” said Fred. 

“I don’t know,” said Martin. “Whoever is keeping information about your leader from the network. Whoever is stalling on details from the incident outside. Whoever has been doing things for months, little things, that show up only in rumor and innuendo. We aren’t supposed to have rumor and innuendo.”

“How do you manage that?” said Fred. “I thought it was a human necessity.” 

“I mean about the government,” said Martin. “We still have plenty of rumor and innuendo in our personal lives.” 

“It sounds like you’re pretty mad at those people,” said Fred. “The ones controlling the network.”

“Because they’re not supposed to be controlling the network,” said Martin. “Nobody’s supposed to be able to control the network. That’s why we built it, why we maintain it, why we watch over it to make sure all the information entered is accurate.”

“But you can’t do anything about information that’s not being entered at all,” said Fred.

“Oh, I can,” said Martin. “I just haven’t yet figured out how.” 

“These are the same people who captured Hera,” said Fred.

“That’s a logical conclusion,” said Martin. “Anyone else would have followed procedure.”

“So if you’ll let me make a suggestion,” said Fred, “you and I are on the same side right now. You want to find and punish the people who are keeping public information to themselves. You should let me help.” 

Martin equivocated, but if he hadn’t wanted Fred’s help he would never have captured him. If he had turned Fred over to the authorities, or even simply let him go, Martin would have been back in the birth center being present for the birth of his niece, not stuck in a closet with a prisoner he had no idea how to interrogate. Of course he wanted Fred’s help. He just had to be convinced that the offer was legitimate. Or be allowed to convince himself. 

The first thing to do, anyway, was to walk Martin through what had happened to Hera from the team’s perspective. If the Foundationist government was offending him by withholding that information, presumably Fred could befriend him by providing it. And he couldn’t see any reason for secrecy. 

He hurried through the first part of the story, as Hera’s surreptitious landing and destructive entry to the dome weren’t likely to prompt Martin’s sympathy. The Foundationist became more interested when it got to the part about the security checkpoints in the water reclamation system.

“There were rumors about those,” he said. “That was one of the things that had us suspicious before the incident. I didn’t think they could be real.”

“Why not?” asked Fred.

“There are too many people who should have objected to not having checkpoints officially recorded in the network,” said Martin. “The people setting them up, the people manning them, the people passing through them. The water engineers who worked nearby. Their families. It requires a giant conspiracy.” 

“Or just a giant indifference,” said Fred. “How many of those people are even on your network?”

“You don’t understand,” said Martin. “Everyone is on the network.”

“But everyone can’t really pay attention to it the way you do,” said Fred. “Many of those people might have gone along assuming it was recorded properly, and never thought to check.” 

“I suppose,” said Martin. “I don’t really understand that approach. But you could be right.” 

“So it would only require a small conspiracy of the people in charge.” 

“Which is still too many,” said Martin. “I wonder how long this has been going on?”

“A few months, we thought,” said Fred. “At least that’s when your politicians stopped arguing about rebuilding the recycling system.” 

“What do you mean?” said Martin.

“You have to have that,” said Fred. “It was on your public news channels. There was a political conflict about who was going to pay for the reconstruction of your water recycling system. And then there just wasn’t anymore.” 

“Yeah, there was,” said Martin. “I remember. I just hadn’t associated the two things. Why would security checkpoints have stopped the conflict over rebuilding the system?” 

“It’s not the checkpoints,” said Fred. “It’s what they were guarding. What we came here for. The First Cup.” 

“You mean some sort of technological leap in water reclamation?” 

“No, I mean the literal First Cup. The Relic.”

“Milo’s First Cup?”


“The one that purified the Prescott Reservoir?”

“That’s the one.” 

“Why would we have had it?”

“It was put on a probe to keep it safe from the Gavidarians,” said Fred. He didn’t think sharing the whole history of the Preservation Mission was necessary. “We think your space fleet found it accidentally.” 

“And that’s what you came here to steal.”


“Whatever. That’s why your boss broke into our dome.”

“Yes. It’s our job to recover the Relics for the Lexingtonian Church.” 

“But why were they keeping it in the water reclamation system?”

“They were using it to treat the water.”

“It works? After all this time?”

“It seems to,” said Fred. “Didn’t you notice a sudden improvement in the water recycling efficiency?”

“I’m sure someone did,” said Martin. “But it’s a big leap from noticing a bump in the recycling numbers to thinking we must have found a holy artifact that we didn’t even know was missing.”

“That seems like the sort of thing that should have gone onto your information network,” said Fred. 

“You know, I’m not sure,” said Martin. “Theoretically you’re right. Something major like that should be revealed to the electorate immediately. And yet, I can see why someone who discovered it might want to wait until they had a plan. Might want to secure it first and talk about it later. We don’t really have a theft problem here, because there’s not really anything to steal. But the First Cup, people would want that. Inside and outside of our community. That’s what you came for. I can understand the temptation not to tell anyone about it.” 

This wasn’t what Fred had hoped for from this conversation. It had been going so well, with the revelation of the checkpoints. But now Martin seemed on the verge of justifying the checkpoints, and their secrecy. Fred might be talking himself into a real arrest. But the only thing to do was go on with the story and hope it came out right.

Things turned back in his direction unexpectedly quickly. “There was a Gavidarian inside the dome?” said Martin.

“Yes,” said Fred. “Hera ran into Malachite before she even left the reclamation center.” 

“Now that should not have gone unreported,” said Martin. “The Gavidarians may have ignored us during the Occupation, but we had protocols, and they haven’t been revoked, just in case. Any Gavidarian presence here is supposed to be broadcast to all citizens immediately, so we can prepare to resist.” 

“Malachite isn’t the first step of a new Gavidarian invasion,” said Fred. “We’re not even sure he has any connection to their government. He lives and works on Vexor Alexi somehow. He has a Vexorian ship, and he’s been following us by himself.”

“But nobody here knew that,” said Martin. “He might have been anything. And any sign of Gavidarian activity is supposed to generate an all-citizens alert.” 

“He was also the one blowing things up,” said Fred. “We didn’t blow anything up. We wanted to get in and out as quietly as we could.” 

“But he followed you here,” said Martin.

“I don’t know how else he could have gotten here,” said Fred. “But that doesn’t make him our fault.”

“If you hadn’t come to steal the First Cup–”


“Steal. You didn’t ask for it through diplomatic channels. You broke in and took it.” 

“It belongs to the Lexingtonian Church.” 

“Because they had it before the Occupation?”

“You can’t imagine it belongs to you.”

“I’m not sure who it belongs to,” said Martin. “Milo, I suppose. But Milo has been dead for two thousand years. Are the Lexingtonian Church more legitimate heirs than we are? Why?”

“We need it,” said Fred. “The Gavidarians left most of the water on the planet permanently polluted. People are dying.”

“Not a bad argument,” said Martin. “But this planet has barely any water at all. Perhaps we need it just as much.”

“Milo didn’t want Saratoga terraformed,” said Fred. 

“That’s a lie the Lexingtonian Church invented to persecute us,” said Martin. 

“Besides,” said Fred, “the Cup doesn’t create water, only purifies. On a planet with few liquids, there’s not much to do with it.” 

“Well, let that pass for the moment,” said Martin. “Who the Cup belongs to is moot right now anyway.” 

“Yeah, Malachite got away with it. And I need to free Hera so we can follow him.” 

“I still don’t see why I should help you.”

“Let me tell you more about what Malachite did. And what your security forces did.” 

Martin got more concerned, slowly, as the story went on. Though he was pleased that everyone except Malachite had acted with respect for the Saratogan natives. “That’s why we aren’t terraforming the planet,” he said. “Not an imaginary order from Milo. The Saratogans might be in the final stages of their civilization, but they deserve the right to live through them.” 

“I’m not sure everyone here agrees with you,” said Fred. 

“What do you mean?”

So Fred skipped ahead to Hera’s confrontation with Foundationist security within what was supposed to be the ruined hulk of the ancient terraforming project, but turned out to be surprisingly refurbished. Martin didn’t believe him at first, but Fred was insistent, and eventually his captor allowed him to contact the ship and get the feed recordings of Hera’s time in the facility. Jean was glad to hear he was all right, but Martin didn’t allow them time to talk more than that. 

He did take the time to go over the feed recording frame-by-frame. From the very beginning he was agitated, before Hera even got inside.

“There’s a lock on that airlock,” he explained. “She secures it against the Gavidarian. But that shouldn’t be possible. We don’t secure airlocks against entry. What if someone is trapped on the surface?”

“We wondered why it was so easy to go in and out of the dome, even after the alarm was up.” 

“Because keeping them closed might kill somebody,” said Martin. “What is wrong with you people? Don’t you understand that if you’re out on the surface you can’t breathe? Masks only last so long. We design airlocks to be easy to operate because one of us might have to do it while trying desperately not to suffocate. And we certainly don’t lock them. That’s not why they’re called that.” 

“And that airlock is new,” said Fred. “It’s not left over from the original design.” 

“You’re right,” said Martin. “No one who wasn’t a Foundationist could have put it there. But I’m not sure how you would even get someone to build a securing mechanism for an airlock door. It’s sociopathic.” 

“It seems like there’s a lot going on here that’s being hidden from you,” said Fred.

“Yes,” said Martin. He advanced the recording. “These computer panels, the style of the controls. Even the light fixtures, before your boss started shooting them up. Someone’s been rebuilding out there, with the best equipment we’ve got. And the only reason to do that would be to restart the terraforming project.” 

That was upsetting enough to Martin that he didn’t want to handle Fred, and Fred’s disturbing information, on his own anymore. He may not yet have been convinced that they were on the same side, but he let Fred out of the utility closet. Fred wasn’t sure if he was quite a captive anymore, but making a run for it wouldn’t accomplish anything even if he were as good at such things as Hera. The more he learned about this society, the more he was convinced Hera needed allies, not derring-do. And Martin might yet be convinced to become an ally.

The first step in this was meeting his spouse, who was a priest. That was disorienting to Fred, who had never known a priest to be married before. Lexingtonian priests didn’t formalize personal relationships the way other people did. But beyond that point, Teal appeared to be every bit the sort of priest Fred was used to. He reminded himself not to make any hasty assumptions; there were likely to be differences about priesthood in the Foundationist church which weren’t as apparent on the surface.

One difference was the presence of a birdname. They must have had a similar sense of humor as Martin to choose Teal as their priestly name; their birdname was Dove.

“Hawk and Dove?” asked Fred.

“We get a lot of mileage out of that joke,” said Teal. 

“Teal’s a very peaceful person,” said Martin. “Almost always.” 

“So are you, though,” Teal said to him.

“The Hawk is coming out today,” said Martin. “Wait until you hear what our new friend has to tell us.” 

So Fred went through the record of Hera’s fight in the terraforming project again, and Teal was, if anything, more horrified than their husband. “Someone restarted it without permission!”

“And it looks like they’ve gotten pretty far,” said Martin. “Fred’s friend Hera set them back nicely. It looks like she pretty much destroyed the control room. But they’ll rebuild it again if we don’t do something.” 

“You’re right about the Hawk,” said Teal. “It’s coming out for both of us.” 

“There were a lot of security forces involved in capturing Hera,” said Fred. “I’m not sure trying to fight them is a good idea.” 

“Oh,” said Teal. “Don’t worry. When we talk about Hawk and Dove it’s not about violence. We have much more effective ways of being angry.” 

“This might be the thing we’ve been hoping for,” said Martin. 

“I wouldn’t say hoping,” said Teal. “I wish they hadn’t done it. But you might be right.” 

“I’m confused,” said Fred.

“Teal and I, we come from what most Foundationists would say are opposite sides of the political spectrum,” said Martin.

“But we don’t see it that way,” said Teal.

“Right,” said Martin. “I work with people who are dedicated to freedom of information within the community. We run some of the network nodes, we pay attention to the data that gets added. And the data that doesn’t, although maybe we haven’t been doing as good a job of that as we should, lately.”

“And I’m very interested in relations with the native Saratogans,” said Teal. “How do we live here without being destructive to their society? How do we address mistakes that we’ve made in the past?”

“Those two groups don’t really cross over much,” said Martin. “My people tend to live on the network; theirs want to meet in person. Mine, frankly, tend to focus on technical things in order to avoid their feelings. Theirs tend to let their hearts guide them way beyond practical considerations. So they don’t really get along with each other.”

“But you two manage to get along,” said Fred.

“We recognize that the two positions aren’t contradictory, even though the two approaches are very different,” said Teal. “It can be frustrating to watch two groups who ought to be on the same side but can’t manage to communicate. Especially when they could use more compassion and we could use more practicality.”

“So we’ve been hoping for an issue that would appeal to both groups,” said Martin. “Something we could use to show them they’re not as far apart as they’ve been encouraged to think they are.” 

“We weren’t hoping for this, though,” said Teal. “It’s so far along. This isn’t just a compromise issue, it’s an existential threat. At least to the Saratogans, if the terraforming restarts.” 

“All this secrecy is an existential threat to free government as well,” said Martin. “I won’t have trouble convincing the other watchers of that.”

“But this is more than a moment to prompt cooperation,” said Teal. “We have to act, all of us, together, if we want to stop this. And we have to do it now.” 

“When do we time the voting?” said Martin. 

“I’m the slow one,” said Teal. “You’ll get on the network and share with everyone all at once. You could be done in an hour.”

“It probably won’t be that simple,” said Martin. “People are going to be angry about this but I’ll need to convince them not to just lash out on their own. We’ll only be effective if we act together.” 

“Be careful you aren’t telling your enemies what you’re doing,” said Fred. “These people are dangerous. They’ll try to stop you.” 

“I hate that you’re right,” said Martin. “As much as I want to share everything freely, we can’t put this out in public until right before the vote. Until after we’ve got our allies organized and ready. That will have to be good enough.” 

“That’s still going to be faster for you than for me,” said Teal. “I have to find everyone in person. And then they’ll have to spread it in person. Maybe midnight?”

“Midnight’s a good time,” said Martin. “If we’re lucky, by the time this goes public some of our enemies will be asleep.” 

“We know what you’re doing, and what I’m doing,” said Teal. “What happens to Fred?”

“Take him with you,” said Martin. “I have the recording of our conversation, and the video from the terraforming project. That will be more than enough. He can help you make your case to the people who need to hear it directly.” 

“Hold on,” said Fred. “I’m willing to help you, but you need to help me. How does this get Hera out of prison?” 

“We’re hoping to pull together enough votes to win us a Council seat,” said Teal. “If Martin gets voted in, he can propose they release your friend.” 

“Wait, me?” said Martin. 

“You have more people than I do,” said Teal. 

“But I can convince them to vote for you,” said Martin. “Your people won’t vote for me.” 

“They will if I ask them to,” said Teal.

“No, a quarter of them will if you ask them to,” said Martin. “Half of them will say they will and then convince themselves at the last minute that voting for you is better. And the last quarter will get confused and not change their votes at all.”

“That’s not fair.”

“Isn’t it? We need to make it as simple for your people as possible. The watchers won’t mind a more complicated plan; they’ll think they’re being sophisticated.” 

“All right,” said Teal. “If enough people vote for me I can request your friend’s release in the Council. While I’m also demanding the release of all information about the incident and a complete halt to terraforming.” 

“And the Council will listen?” asked Fred.

“I have no idea,” said Teal. “How many of them were involved in this conspiracy? How many, involved or not, will see the need to conspicuously distance themselves from it when it comes to light? I think we’ve got a chance, but a chance is all I have to offer.” 

“And really, what’s your other option?” said Martin. 

Fred couldn’t see one. All of this election talk didn’t make any sense to him, but it was clearly extremely important to Hawk and Dove, here. He wasn’t sure whether to trust them, but none of this conversation seemed likely to be a show put on for his benefit. So he might as well go along to see what happened. 

From Teal’s reaction, Fred expected all of the pro-Saratogan activists to be just as angry. And many of them were, once Teal and Fred explained about the restart of the terraforming project. But there were others who took more convincing. Teal seemed to think it obvious that changing the planet’s climate and composition was an existential threat to the natives, and Fred certainly considered that to be plain fact. He’d lived it on two different planetary bodies under the Gavidarians. But there were members of Teal’s activist groups who wanted to justify the terraforming, or even claim that it would somehow revitalize the native civilization. They had always been water-based, and their decline paralleled the planet’s loss of water. Bringing it back surely would be helpful to the Saratogans, not harmful.

Even leaving out the inevitable expansion of the human population, that seemed like a facile justification to Fred, and to Teal. He followed the priest’s lead in not saying so directly, even though he wanted to. Apparently they needed the people’s votes, which meant needing to convince them in spite of their ill-conceived positions. 

And even the people who supported the idea of terraforming weren’t pleased with how it had been approached. Something so momentous was supposed to be considered, and managed, by the society as a whole. Not in secret, by people who wouldn’t even identify themselves. It wasn’t easy to convince everyone that terraforming was a bad idea, but it was surprisingly easy to convince each skeptic that this particular terraforming wasn’t being done the way they thought it should be. They didn’t have a single piece of evidence of methodology, but the same psychological forces that led people to believe that terraforming wouldn’t be a death-sentence for the natives could be manipulated into convincing them that this particular method of terraforming was sure to be doing it wrong. 

Teal was good at that, and Fred just followed their lead. He was good at providing information. Teal turned it just the right way to get each person to agree to their solution, at least for the moment. Fred watched each person become convinced that it was better to stop this terraforming now and then start it up again later, the right way, which was always the way they personally thought it should be run. It was some sort of political magic. He hoped things would somehow work out in a way that would allow him to ask Alistair to explain it all later.

That was tiring for Fred and exhausting for Teal, but they seemed to be accumulating the votes that Teal thought were so important. Many of the people they talked to left them with the intention of talking to others, and spreading the movement. Fred still had a hard time figuring out what specifically they were trying to accomplish, but Teal was pleased with their results, and that had to be good enough. 

At the end of the evening they ended up back at the Hawk and Dove home. Martin, who had never left, offered them food. But Fred and Teal had been the targets of hospitality from many of the people they were trying to convince, and came home more than satiated, both in food and in social interactions. Teal wanted a shower and to lie down somewhere quiet afterward. Fred was just happy to be out of performance mode and back with Martin, whose communication style was far more comfortable for him. 

“We’re about ready to release all the files on the public network,” said Martin. “Some things have been leaking out over the course of the day, and I think our opponents know something is happening. But I think we’ve mostly kept them in the dark about what.” 

“I don’t understand how this works,” said Fred. “Did I happen to come here on the day of an election?”

“This isn’t a historical novel,” said Martin. Fred looked confused. “Do you have election days on Lexington? I thought they were a charmingly-archaic bit of setting.”

“Some of the provinces are trying to have representative governments,” said Fred. “They have elections, I think every two years? Something like that.” 

“How quaint,” said Martin. “Maybe when this is over we should send them a design consultant.”

“That’s not how you do it here?” said Fred.

“Of course not,” said Martin. “We can vote any time we want to. Otherwise the only things that would matter are ones that happened right before an election. And if we made  a mistake we’d have to wait two years to fix it? That doesn’t make any sense.” 

“So you, like, call an election of your own?”

“Votes change all the time,” said Martin. “Usually it doesn’t matter very much, but if a representative has a scandal or does something a lot of their voters don’t like, they can lose their seat. And if someone shows up with an idea that resonates with the populace, they can pick up votes as they go. That’s essentially what we’re trying to do here.” 

“So you’re not trying to vote out someone in particular?”

“Who would that be? It would probably be easier if we were trying to vote out someone specific, if there were some Council member we could blame for this. But with what evidence? We don’t know who’s behind any of this. So we have to be satisfied with knowing it’s happening.” 

“So how does Teal get a seat if you’re not voting someone out of one?”

“Everybody gets one vote for Council,” said Martin. “And anyone who gets more than one-fortieth of the total votes gets a seat.”

“So they would replace whoever has the fortieth-most votes?” said Fred.

“Not quite,” said Martin. “We usually have about thirty-five Council members; there are thirty-three right now. The rest of the votes are overvotes, or are going to candidates who don’t meet the minimum. Sometimes a candidate has so many overvotes they hold two Council votes, but they’re expected to nominate someone else to a seat if that happens.” 

“So you need to get Teal a certain number of votes–”

“About nine thousand.” 

“And you don’t know where they’re coming from? You don’t care where they’re coming from?”

“We aren’t really set up to care, since we’re in a hurry,” said Martin. “The goal here is to make our point, demand that the constitution be followed, and shut down the terraforming project. I don’t know if we’ll try to keep our votes beyond that. They might go back to the representatives they were voting for before.” 

“But some of those representatives might lose their vote minimum.” 

“That’s why we organized it all for midnight,” said Martin. “Normally, if somebody’s losing votes, they make an effort to maintain the ones they have or get some new ones. Changing representatives is usually a slow process, if there’s no news driving it. But this is huge news and we hope a lot of votes will change as people react. We just have to hope enough of them go to Teal. If all of our supporters vote for them at once it will look like they have momentum. Some other people might join in, if they’re sufficiently unhappy with what’s been going on. If we can make Teal the face of voting against the current government, this should work.”

“But we don’t have enough votes lined up already?”

“I don’t think so,” said Martin. “It’s hard to tell. Who’s listening to me on the network without saying anything? How many people have our people been able to recruit? Who just thinks well of Teal and will vote for them given the opportunity? They have connections beyond the native activists, people we didn’t have time to communicate with today. And when this goes public in… four minutes, how will the general public respond? Most people aren’t watchers, aren’t activists. They’re hard to predict sometimes. I need to go make sure Teal is awake for this.”

When the priest returned they were dressed immaculately, and fretting about having to make a video statement. “I wasn’t supposed to be a candidate,” they said. “Why did we make me the candidate?” 

“You’ll do fine,” said Martin. “Just remember to make both points equally.”

“I can do that part,” said Teal. “We’ve been practicing that part. It’s the part where I ask everyone to vote for me that scares me.” 

“You’ll do fine,” said Martin again. “Just say it how you want to. You won’t do it wrong.” 

“I’ll try to have as much faith in me as you do.”

“The data has been on the net for almost ten minutes now,” said Martin. “The news services should have started writing about it already. It’s time.” 

“All right,” said Teal. “Clear out and let me do this.” 

“Wait,” said Fred. “Am I supposed to be a part of this?” 

“I think it’s best if we leave you out for now,” said Teal. “Some people here react badly to foreigners. And this is complicated enough.” 

“All right,” said Fred, relieved not to have to be a functional part of this unfamiliar process any more than he already had been. “Good luck.” 

“Thank you,” said Teal. Martin and Fred moved out of range of the camera, and Teal switched it on. 

“This is a message to all Saratogan citizens,” they began. “My name is Teal Dove. Many of you know me as a priest, or as a friend of the native Saratogan people. Some of you know me as a colleague or a social companion. But I think all of those people know me as a loyal Foundationist who tries to live up to the values Milo taught us: communicate, sacrifice, persist. It has always been important to us that these are verbs, not merely concepts, as those outside see their false interpretations of Milo’s Word. We communicate. We sacrifice. We persist.”

Martin mumbled the words along with his spouse, as if it were a common response. Fred imagined Foundationists across the dome doing the same, although few of them would probably see this in real-time. Teal knew how to preach. Would it resonate in a political context?

“I come to you today because our leaders have failed to communicate. They have taken actions, hugely significant actions, without sharing information about them with the electorate. They have engaged in conflict both within and outside the walls of our dome without seeking your endorsement, your permission, or even your understanding. Information about this is now available on the network, not from our perspective, but from the perspective of an outsider who was part of this conflict. An outsider who has been more willing to share information with you than has your own elected government.

“Some months ago our leaders, through the workings of chance or of Milo’s will, came into possession of one of his ancient Relics: the First Cup which he used to purify the Reservoir at Prescott, and save the people who had come hoping to provide relief to the lost city. Instead of seeking the wisdom of the people of Saratoga, our leaders kept the knowledge of the Cup to themselves. They created security checkpoints to protect it, without public authorization or even public notice. 

“And worst of all, they planned to put it to use in the most vile possible way: to restart the terraforming project which has lain dormant for two thousand years, and commit genocide against the last remaining natives of this planet. 

“They did not seek your permission for this, because they knew you would not grant it. They did not seek your approval, because they knew they would receive only outrage. They kept their intentions secret, with the hope of revealing them only when the terraforming had gone too far to stop, because they were not interested in their own sacrifice. They were only interested in sacrificing the native Saratogans.

We communicate. We sacrifice. And We will persist in holding those values core to our society and our government. My name is Teal Dove, and I have agreed to stand for election to the Council on those grounds. I will demand that you be given the voice in our government that you deserve, and have exercised throughout your lives. I will demand that we stop planning genocide against our peaceful neighbors. I thank you for your votes.” 

Teal hit the video cutoff. “That was really good,” said Fred. “I mean, I didn’t understand half of it, but it seemed really good to me.” 

“It’s not your fault you were raised in a false religion,” said Teal, which wasn’t quite what Fred had meant. “I trained as a preacher, and there’s not as much difference between sermons and political speeches as you might expect.” 

“You said everything you needed to,” said Martin. “Now we just have to wait for the votes.”

“There will still be people wanting to talk to us,” said Teal.

“Me on the keyboard, you on the vid,” said Martin. “As always.” 

Teal clasped his hand. “Good luck, love. Only a few minutes left until we know if this works.” 

The first call came in only moments later, and Teal was back in public speaking mode, answering questions, clarifying positions. Fred left them to it and followed Martin, who was soon so occupied with answering questions and directing people to the right data that he forgot Fred was even there. He had an electoral display on one of his monitors, with all of the current votes listed on it in real time. Fred just ignored everything else and watched that. 

A few minutes before midnight Teal’s name showed up on the bottom of the list, with a half-dozen votes, and then twenty. Their count stopped rising there, but Fred noticed that the council members at the top of the list were slowly losing votes. Some of them had started the day quite close to the nine-thousand threshold, and before it got to midnight the Council had dropped to thirty-one members. 

He interrupted Martin to ask about that. “Those are our people,” said Martin. “We asked them to wait until midnight to vote for Teal. But they’re removing their existing votes early.” He put up a countdown clock on the same monitor and went back to trying to add more votes at the last minute. 

The Council fell to thirty, but most of the members who had lost their minimums stayed in the high eight-thousands. Fred supposed it would balance out over time; if they didn’t regain their seats soon, gradually their supporters would defect to candidates who might. Hawk and Dove were doing more than contesting one seat tonight; they were reshaping a large chunk of Foundationist government. Even if they didn’t win, the composition of the Council would be different going forward. 

At midnight things changed dramatically. Teal’s name jumped from the bottom of the list to the middle, with over four thousand votes coming in almost-simultaneously from their supporters. He noticed Martin’s name on the bottom of the list as well, with over four hundred; apparently Teal’s activists weren’t the only ones who thought their own judgment was better than voting as directed. Perhaps if they needed those votes in the end, Martin would be able to convince them to change. 

That was the big jump, but more votes kept coming in slowly, and most of them were going to Teal. Martin’s people were more likely to focus on getting the timing precise, while Teal’s were probably still out trying to talk their friends into voting with them. The priest’s vote count made it to forty-five hundred, and then to five thousand. But the gains slowed there. 

A new face came on the video, another public address. “That’s Jared Barn Owl,” said Martin. “He runs one of the watcher nodes.” 

“More importantly, he’s only about a hundred votes over the threshold to keep his Council seat,” said Teal. “How will he try to protect them?” 

“He has to come in on our side,” said Martin. “He’s probably more offended by the secrecy than I am.” 

And that was indeed how his speech started. He thanked both Teal and Martin by name for bringing the information to light. “It is extremely important to our society that all the information about the recent violent incidents, brought to our world by foreigners, be uploaded to the network, and shared with you, in a timely fashion,” he said. “It’s very disappointing that we’ve seen delays in that access, and I will be diligently investigating the source of those delays, I assure you.

“But it’s a huge leap from mere delays in data provision, especially after a moment that was one of the most chaotic we have ever seen, to accusations of a widespread conspiracy containing even members of this Council. Your elected representatives have served you well in the past, and are capable of serving you well in the future. These informational delays are disappointing, but they are the result of reacting to unprecedented and unanticipated acts of destruction from people outside of our society. Procedures for managing and distributing such information simply do not exist; our security teams have sought to handle the incident as well as they can, when they have had to determine what to do about each action in the moment. 

“Hawk and Dove are correct that the provision of information from our security forces has been unacceptably slow to fulfill the purposes of democratic government. You deserve to know what your government is doing, as clearly and quickly as possible, in order to make good voting decisions. But what I see here today is a process that failed under unexpectedly chaotic conditions, not a conspiracy. It is necessary both to make sure the information from this incident is shared as quickly as it can be shared accurately, and to review the procedures which have resulted in the unacceptable delay to make sure that similar mistakes do not happen again.

“I believe that the people best-positioned to do those things are the members of the current Council.”

Teal shook their head. “I suppose that’s a way to try to keep his votes,” they said. 

“I can’t believe that,” said Martin. “A mistake? How can he believe it was a mistake?”

“It’s not a bad narrative,” said Teal. “As long as you ignore two-thirds of the facts. Or can get voters to ignore two-thirds of the facts.” 

“A Gavidarian was in the dome,” said Martin. “He can’t say we don’t have procedures for that, we have decades of procedures for that.” 

“But people might be more interested in things blowing up,” said Fred. 

Martin pulled the vote-count back onto the main screen. Teal had fallen back below five thousand, though oddly enough his own numbers had gone up a little. Jared Barn Owl’s was now over two hundred above the threshold. His narrative might have been deliberately incomplete, but it was working. 

“He left the terraforming out completely,” said Fred. 

“That makes sense,” said Martin. “All of the people who are against it will be voting for Teal anyway. There’s no anti-terraforming faction on the Council because nobody thought it would be an issue in this millennium. His constituency is people who care more about information.” 

“But the terraforming secrecy is much more damning than being a few days late over the violence,” said Fred. “Isn’t it?”

“It is,” said Teal. “But it’s also the sort of thing that makes people want to change the government. If Barn Owl can convince his people that the terraforming project isn’t important, maybe they won’t look closely enough to notice that he’s been keeping secrets about it for months.” 

“You think he was in on the conspiracy?” said Martin.

“I don’t know,” said Teal. “He might just be scrambling for anything that can save his seat. Would the people doing this have risked bringing in a watcher?” 

“Or risked doing it without a watcher,” said Martin. “I was voting for him yesterday. I feel like a fool.” 

“Can we recover from that?” asked Fred.

“I don’t know,” said Martin. “Things were already stalling out. I think we might be sunk.”

“There’s still time,” said Teal. “Our people are still working and there’s still pressure on some of the other Council members who have lost votes.” 

As if on cue another broadcast came on the screen. Martin pulled it up to full; a woman’s face this time. “Marjorie Cape Gannett,” said Martin. “I suppose she can’t resist the urge to weigh in on anything.” 

“She’s fallen below the threshold,” said Fred.

“Well, at least something good has come from today,” said Teal.

“You think she’s part of the conspiracy?” asked Fred.

“Nobody with any sense would trust her that much,” said Martin.

Fred got the sense they weren’t hoping Cape Gannett would endorse their cause, but she was starting to talk, and the three of them in the room fell quiet to listen. 

“People of Saratoga,” she said. “Do not fall victim to false accusations and lies. All the data you need to understand this moment has been available on the network for years. Our infrastructure is failing. Our maintenance has been unable to keep up. Living on a hostile planet is not something we can continue indefinitely. The moment is coming when we must choose to leave this place, or to make it more hospitable for our civilization. I do not believe that any of you would choose to become refugees, and if our government has been preparing for that moment in secrecy, then surely their reasons are good ones. 

“I trust our security forces. If they have been slow to record their actions for the public, it is only because they must consider the public good against this invasion, theft, and destruction by outsiders. In time I am confident they will tell you everything you need to know, when they have had an opportunity to consider that necessity. 

“We must stand behind our security forces. We must stand behind our Council. And we must acknowledge our need to terraform this planet. We have a right to continue living here. We have a right to continue living. If secrecy is required to support that right, then secrecy is necessary. I trust our leadership to make those decisions.” 

Martin didn’t hesitate to flick her face off the screen the moment she was done speaking. Cape Gannett’s vote count didn’t immediately change much, but Teal’s had started going up again. “The worst thing for the conspiracy might be her endorsement,” said Martin. 

“It won’t be enough,” said Teal. “How many people will vote for me because they don’t like her? A few hundred? I’m surprised we took as many votes from her supporters as we did at the beginning. They won’t be offended by what she said; if they could be offended by anything they wouldn’t be voting for her.” 

“It looks like it’s drawing off a few from people with higher vote counts,” said Fred.

“It won’t be enough,” said Teal. “We need something else. But I don’t know what else to say. I thought more people would see that the terraforming was wrong.” 

“When I was very young,” said Fred thoughtfully, “I lived on Menotomy, Lexington’s largest moon.”

“Before the Occupation?” said Martin.

“Yes. It was sparsely-settled then, habitable for humans. My parents were subsistence farmers, like most of the population. Milo had allowed the terraforming there to continue, since there were no natives. And it was successful, but that didn’t make anyone want to move there when they could live on a real planet. When the Gavidarians came, they decided we didn’t matter.” 

“I thought they decided everyone didn’t matter,” said Teal.

“Well, yes,” said Fred. “That’s the Gavidarians. But on Menotomy in particular, they thought it would be more convenient for them doing something very different. Gavidarians need large amounts of bromine. It does something in their metabolism, I’m not quite sure what or how. After twenty years of Occupation you would think we would have gotten a better idea of how they work. But one way or another, they need a lot of bromine, and they needed somewhere to store it.”

“So they built a toxic storage facility on Menotomy?” asked Martin.

“They made a toxic storage facility out of Menotomy,” said Fred. “When I say they need a lot of bromine, I mean really a lot. They deterraformed the entire moon. It was always called the Red Moon, for the iron-rich soils, and terraforming never made it especially blue-green. But I’ve seen pictures of it from the old days, when it was a dull red. It’s a hellish red now, hanging in the sky over Lexington reminding everyone there of the evils of the Gavidarians. There are seas of liquid bromine there now.”

“And the people who lived there?” said Teal.

“Well, they don’t live there anymore, that’s for sure,” said Fred. “The Gavidarians didn’t even care enough to provide evacuation transport. The humans could only scrape up enough money to get their children out. I was one of the oldest to escape.” 

“That’s terrible,” said Martin.

“And it’s what’s going to happen here,” said Fred. “What your people are choosing to do here. If I can tell my story, maybe they’ll see that they’re choosing the same fate for the native Saratogans as the Gavidarians chose for my family.” 

“We can try,” said Teal. “I’m sorry that happened to you. To them. I don’t know how to make that comparison in a way that our people here will understand. But what do we have to lose?” 

“Both of them brought up outsiders,” said Martin. “I think we need to be very careful if we’re putting an outsider in front of the camera.” 

“I could tell that story if you gave me a week to plan, and to ask Fred questions about it,” said Teal. “I can’t do it tonight.” 

“I don’t think it’s going to resonate with our people the way Fred just told it,” said Martin. 

“So how do we make it better?” said Teal. “He’s right about what’s going to happen to the Saratogans.”

“We’ve seen that being right isn’t necessarily enough,” said Fred. “If your people only cared about being right we’d be in the Council chambers already.” 

“We may just need to give them time,” said Martin.

“More time is just more time for damage control,” said Teal. “If we don’t look like we’re winning quickly the whole thing could fizzle out.” 

Another face popped up in a corner of the screen, and Martin reluctantly gave it priority. “Speaking of more damage control.” This man was very well dressed and meticulously groomed, like he’d had a stylist come in before his emergency public statement.

“That’s Bruce Snowy Egret,” said Teal. Fred had seen his name at the top of the list, with almost enough votes to hold down two Council seats. “He’s an industrialist and head of the Finance Committee.”

“And probably the most likely to be in on the conspiracy,” said Martin. “He owns all the chemical companies. You think he doesn’t know what’s going on in water treatment?”

“I don’t suppose he’s likely to offend people like that other woman,” said Fred.

“No,” said Teal. “He won’t take away my people. Most of them don’t like industrialists. But he’s very good and he commands a lot of loyalty. I think we’re sunk.” 

“We should start thinking about how to get you out of here,” said Martin. “We’ve pretty much admitted we’re keeping an unadmitted foreigner.” 

“All three of us out of here, certainly?” asked Fred. “If you don’t lose this vote the conspiracy will retaliate against you.” 

“That’s the one thing that would ensure our victory,” said Teal. “Political retaliation isn’t tolerated here.”

“We go to great lengths to pretend everyone in the political forum is being honest and straightforward,” said Martin. “Maybe we’ve gone too far. But no one will accuse the two of us of not honestly believing we’re doing the best for the community. Or they’d lose all their votes, and so would their allies.”

“So can we figure out how to fake that?” asked Fred.

“No,” said Martin. “That’s farther than I’m willing to go. We get you back to your ship, and we deal with this however we can in the coming days.” 

“And we let Hera stay in prison?”

“Do you have a better idea?” 

“You two can shut up and listen,” said Teal. “Maybe he’ll give us an opening. You never know. We can smuggle Fred out of here afterward if he doesn’t.”

Bruce Snowy Egret was a slow talker. Fred supposed it was intended to be gravitas. But once his attention was on the speaker, that style locked it in very effectively. 

“I have closely reviewed the information provided to us tonight,” he said. “And my staff have thoroughly considered its authenticity. They have concluded that it is accurate, as far as it goes. It’s difficult to feel comfortable drawing conclusions from data provided by an outsider, but with no government data to provide another side of the story, for the moment I am constrained to do so. As my colleague did earlier, I must thank Mr. Hawk and the Reverend Dove for contributing this information which has, for whatever reason, been unavailable to us from our internal sources. 

“I am not an expert on the data network, nor on the history of the terraforming project. I know a few things about water reclamation, and employ people who know much more, but I have not yet had time to consult them. I come here tonight from a position very similar to yours: I am an uninformed voter, and I don’t like it. I don’t think you like it either. 

“Councilor Barn Owl looks at himself, his skills, and his history, and believes that he is the proper person to address this lack of transparency. Perhaps he is correct. But I look at myself, my skills, and my history, and I cannot give myself this luxury. I have succeeded in business, and in politics, for many reasons. But one of the most important of them is that I can see when I am out of my depth, and seek the expertise of those who are closer to the subject.

“Those closest to this subject are clear, and they have offered themselves up for service. The time for management, and for finance, will come again soon, and when that time comes I hope you will once again accept my service. But now is the time for communication, and for understanding the effects of our actions on our peaceful neighbors. Other members of the Council have spoken of the violence of outsiders, but whatever may have come from off-planet, the native Saratogans have never been violent. They have never opposed us, though we come to make our own homes in the land of their ancestors. We owe them truth. We owe them justice.

“No one currently in your government effectively combines those two priorities, so we must seek expertise from outside the government. Two people have shown themselves able to resolve the two positions. I am told that Martin Hawk is not a famous watcher, but a stalwart one, an essential man who works behind the scenes to maintain the quality of data our society relies upon. I’ve seen in business how important those people can be, who do not seek the spotlight, but without whom the spotlight itself would fail.

“And I have watched with my own eyes the Reverend Teal Dove, as they tirelessly support the cause of the natives. As they keep us from allowing the fate of our neighbors, who are unable or unwilling to advocate for themselves, to slip out of our collective consciousness. It is not a cause to make people think someone a hero; it is merely a cause that would be taken up by one. 

“So tonight I am changing my vote.” He reached toward his console. “Tonight Bruce Snowy Egret is voting for Teal Dove. I ask my supporters to do the same. Hawk and Dove are the experts Saratoga needs in this time of conflict. They are the outside perspective we need to identify why we have been kept in the dark, why dangerous actions have been carried out in our name without our consent, and what we need to do to make sure those things do not happen again.

“Reverend Dove,” he added, looking straight into the camera. “We sacrifice. And I believe you will do your best for us when we do.” 

Teal just sat there stunned. “I didn’t even know he knew who I was,” they said. Martin was just as slow to act, and in the handful of seconds it took him to get the vote count onto the main screen, Teal had already passed seven thousand votes. They watched the count tick up steadily, as Snowy Egret fell out of the top spot and started descending past other popular members of the Council. 

“How are so many votes moving so fast?” said Fred.

“Snowy Egret doesn’t give speeches very often,” said Martin. “A lot of his followers probably had alerts set for anything he had to say.” 

“And they’re going along with it.”

“Like he said, we sacrifice,” said Martin. “He’s offering to give up his seat, and his voters must respect that. It’s ingrained in our culture.” 

“Even if it’s only temporary?” said Fred.

“Maybe especially if it’s only temporary,” said Martin. “It’s a risk, but he might end up with more votes than he started with, once the crisis is over.” 

“And we need to start getting this crisis over,” said Teal. “I’m still not sure I understand why he did that, but look. I’m at eight thousand already and it hasn’t even been five minutes. I don’t think we need to count it down. We can head for the Council chamber right now.” 

Martin and Fred went along, as witnesses. Fred had the thought of using the distraction to try to rescue Hera, but he didn’t know where she was being held. And after all, he still wasn’t that kind of action hero. Maybe this strategy would work and maybe it wouldn’t, but it was a style much more comfortable for him, and he wanted to carry it through. 

It took them twenty minutes to walk to the Council chamber, and by then there was an official in a fancy robe waiting to greet them. “Council member Dove,” he said. “Council member Hawk. Welcome.”

“Wait,” said Martin. “This is about Teal, not about me.”

“You have fourteen thousand votes,” said the official.

“What?” said Martin. “It was Teal we asked people to vote for.”

“They have thirty-four thousand,” said the official. “As of five minutes ago. It might be more now. The numbers keep going up.” 

Fred could see Martin pressing his lips together to keep his jaw from dropping open. That was more votes than could have come from Bruce Snowy Egret. Had other Council members followed his lead, or had the voters simply seen his point, even if they hadn’t supported him? Fred supposed it would matter which to someone at some point, but not to him, not now. Now he just had to use what leverage he had gotten from this election to free Hera. 

That leverage kept increasing, at least if he could trust Hawk and Dove. There was a formal investiture process, and while it was happening the votes kept going up. Over the exceptions of some of the more-conservative remaining members, the technical staff put a vote count up on the main screen of the chamber during the ceremony, so everyone could see the numbers in real time. By the time the ceremony was complete and Hawk and Dove were officially members of the Council, Dove comfortably had nine seats’ worth of votes, and Hawk was just passing seven. There were only fifteen other members remaining above the threshold. Those who had fallen below it stayed, mostly, though they no longer had the power to vote. Barn Owl still had his minimum, somehow. Cape Gannett had fallen somewhat farther below hers, and looked like she was evaluating the perfect moment to get some back by a dramatic, stormy exit. Bruce Snowy Egret had never been there in person; he was near the bottom of the count with only a handful of votes left from people who would, presumably, be embarrassed about it when they woke up.

Teal and Martin were still stunned, standing there in the middle of the chamber, freshly sworn in, somehow holding a majority between them. They had been right about the population finding the actions of the government unacceptable, even if it had required a push from someone better-known. Or perhaps those voters had just gotten caught up in the desire for drama and excitement. Either way, this was their moment, and they had to make the most of it.

Fred went up to Teal and whispered in their ear. “You need to make another speech,” he said.

“I didn’t compose another speech,” Teal whispered back to him. “And all my thoughts were as a supplicant, one vote against thirty, moral suasion, not… not whatever this moment is.” 

“Triumph?” said Fred.

“It doesn’t feel like triumph,” said Teal. “It feels like an immense weight of responsibility on my shoulders.” 

“That might mean you deserve it,” said Fred. “But don’t tell me. Tell them. That’s your lead.” 

Teal took a deep breath. “Right,” they said. They took another deep breath, grabbed Martin’s hand to give it a hard squeeze. Then a third. 

“Friends,” they said. “Neighbors. Foundationists. People of Saratoga. Children of Milo. I am awed and humbled by the faith you have placed in me this night. And in my husband.” They squeezed Martin’s hand again. “My newest friend, my outworlder who has shown us the beginnings of truth over what has been happening here in the last few months, tells me I should be feeling triumph. You have voted for me, for us, beyond our wildest hopes, and I thank you for it. But it does not feel like a triumph. It feels like the beginning of the hardest job of my life. 

“I thank Bruce Snowy Egret particularly for his support, which has inspired so many of you to give me yours. And I wonder if he knew what he was putting me into. I suspect that he may have. I’ve promised to restore the proper freedom of information. I’ve promised to prevent genocide against the native Saratogans. You have put me here, not for myself, but as your instrument in those actions. And yet I, a human being, must now follow through. I owe it to all of you.

“As is tradition, in the coming days we will be nominating more candidates to help us with those difficult tasks. As your votes have flowed so readily toward me tonight, let them flow out from me to others who have skills and aspirations necessary to our cause. 

“I pledge tonight that we will not hold your votes any longer than is necessary. I do not fool myself that a large number of votes, driven by a single issue, is enough to make me a capable leader of a functioning government. You have voted me here because you need enough information to determine the future of Saratoga, and that information has been unfairly and illegally kept from you. I come here with a special purpose: to rectify that situation as quickly as possible, so that government in accordance with Milo’s principles can resume. 

“Perhaps this has changed the political face of our dome. Perhaps some of us will find that we fit in better on the Council than we expected, and perhaps some of you will agree. But for myself, I ask simply that you remember this day; a day when those who seek freedom of information, and those who look to the welfare of the natives who have allowed us to share their planet, found common cause. Our factions have not often moved together in the past. But Hawk and Dove are here today to show you that not every traditional conflict must last forever. 

“Thank you again for your trust, and your votes, and the confidence you have shown to us. It’s time that I stop giving speeches and begin the work you have placed me here to do.”

Some of the remaining Council members looked like they would do nearly anything to keep Teal from doing that work, but for the moment Hawk and Dove were ascendant, and Fred didn’t need to prompt them to move fast before the conspiracy recovered its composure and its ability to plot against them. They split up: Fred and Martin to the technical center of the Council, and Teal to handle the politics, and, they assured Fred, to make sure Hera was released from captivity. 

The information on the incident was remarkably easy to access; perhaps its exclusion from the public network had been an oversight after all. It certainly wasn’t being hidden from anyone on the Council, presuming, of course, that the mass of data they were seeing here was complete. Verifying that would probably occupy Martin and his friends for some time, as would locating the hidden information about the finding of the First Cup and the plan to restart the terraforming. Those did not come readily to their hands on the controls. 

There was a huge amount of data just concerning Hera’s mission and the Foundationist response. Fred started digging into the details of her captivity, not being as interested as Martin in how the things he already knew had been approached from the Foundationist perspective. He only had moments to skim the summaries from the prison, but what he saw was grim. He hoped Teal would be quick at getting her out of such a place. 

“I don’t think we need to review this in detail,” said Martin. “We can just dump it all onto the network as it is.” 

“We won’t know how your people will react to it,” said Fred.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Martin. “This information belongs to them. We have to provide it. If we pick and choose we’re no better than the people we just replaced.” 

“Did we replace them?” said Fred. “Some of those people still on the Council look like they were ready to kill you.” 

“All the more reason we have to get as much information out as quickly as we can,” said Martin. “When everyone in the dome knows enough to expose them, you and I won’t be particular threats anymore.” 

“They may still want impractical revenge,” said Fred.

Martin waved off that concern. “They won’t get it today,” he said. “And tomorrow you’ll be gone.” 

“And you?”

“I have a constituency,” said Martin. “I’m still not quite sure why or how. But they’re out there, and I promise my friends are watching. That’s what my friends do.” 

So Martin just shoveled data as quickly as he could out of the Council network and onto the public one. He didn’t even categorize it; elsewhere on the network people doing the sort of thing Martin usually did would be indexing and analyzing. They just had to make sure the data was there for them to work on. 

Fred took a copy for himself, and Martin didn’t object. It was beginning to look like he and Hera might both get out of here, and he needed reading material for the long ride back to Lexington, or wherever they were going next. Malachite would be too far gone to follow by now. 

He was surprised to see something go by in the files that was both familiar and unexpected. Alistair, holding a conversation with someone in the Foundationist dome? That was probably inappropriate and definitely something Alistair hadn’t reported. Fred stopped the transfer long enough to watch the conversation, which wasn’t very long. 

It was Alistair who had sent a file to a Foundationist encryption specialist. One that was heavily-coded in a method Fred didn’t recognize. Alistair hadn’t known what it was and wanted to find out. And thought the Foundationists were a better bet at decrypting it than Fred? That might have been true; Foundationists were excellent cryptographers. But it definitely wasn’t appropriate, especially in the middle of a mission. 

He skipped ahead to the second communication that inevitably had to come. Alistair’s local friend had managed the decryption, and Fred recognized the file now: it was the report Alistair claimed had come from Shale. Claimed he had found in the Foundationist system, when Alistair’s skills had no hope of ever gaining access to the Foundationist system. He had sent it to them himself.

But if he hadn’t known what it was until it was decrypted, where had it come from? It was a mystery that was beyond Fred, and he devoutly hoped that Teal was accomplishing their part of the plan. He needed Hera back, and soon, because she was the only one who could untangle this mess in the team. 

“Can I talk to my ship again now?” he asked Martin.

“What, you haven’t been doing that all along?” 

“You cut off my feed,” said Fred.

“Only while you were locked in my utility room,” said Martin. “You could have started it again anytime since.” 

Even Fred had no idea what meme he could use to communicate that fact to Jean. instead he grabbed one that said “I’m OK, everyone’s OK” and hoped that would do.

“Everyone?” said Jean. 

“I think so,” said Fred. “They’re supposed to be bringing Hera to me.”

“I got your ship permission to land at our spaceport,” said Martin. “It’s probably not up to your standards but I don’t think your friend should be trying to get out in a pod.” 

“I was almost ready to let Shale and Alistair start trying to find you,” said Jean.

Fred sent an urgent negative meme to that, and one that indicated more information was to come later. There was too much data in the Foundationist system to upload it to the ship; he would have to bring a hard copy. 

Jean was able to land the ship on their own. Martin got a message from Teal that they were bringing Hera back to the Council chambers, and Fred left the data center to meet them. 

Hera didn’t look well, and worse, didn’t have anything to say. Fred had been expecting a smartass comment of some sort, but he was met only by exhaustion. He knew how to provoke Hera in difficult situations with a meme, but wasn’t quite sure how to do the same thing in in-person conversation. Maybe it was best if they just got back to the ship.

“Good luck,” he said to Teal as they were leaving. “I hope you can get your society straightened out.”

“I hope you can find that Gavidarian and punish him for us,” said Teal. “I even hope you find the First Cup. Though I don’t suppose you can be convinced to bring it back to us.” 

“Lexington needs it,” said Fred. “But maybe the Church can be convinced to lend it to you from time to time.” 

“I’ll believe that when I see it,” said Teal.

“Right now I believe all political things are possible,” said Fred. Teal just acknowledged that with a wave and turned back to their internal task. Their very intimidating internal task. Fred was glad to be getting out of here while everyone on Saratoga was still pointed in the same direction. It might be a euphoric, optimistic atmosphere now, but he knew that political winds could turn quickly. 

He had to help Hera into the ship and into her bed. She refused medical treatment, or at least insisted on delaying it in favor of sleep, but her body made it difficult to get the rest she wanted. Fred stayed while she was restlessly tossing, just in case. By the time her breathing slowed and her body stilled, Jean had lifted off from Saratoga and set their course for home. 

They were coming back without the First Cup, with an injured leader, and with two crew members who couldn’t be trusted. Fred had gone out on a mission by himself, and won a result beyond hope. But his elation couldn’t last against the reality of the larger situation. 

Read Chapter 8 of Hera of Lexington.

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