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For descriptions of each episode, check out my Show Notes at the top of the page. This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to real people or events is purely coincidental.

WARNING: Some of the language may be offensive, but no worse than you would expect in an R rated movie.

Special thanks to NASA for the image of the galaxy.

Podcast of the novel BETWEEN EARTH AND ARCTURUS

Chapter Five



Navy Admiral Wolfgang Higgs watched the Exploration Corps admiral strut through the West Point spaceport. He enjoyed watching people and figuring them out.

He now understood it was his own vanity that misled him about his protégé, a perverse dolt like Gary Fisher can only rise so high before he can no longer keep up with real leaders. Fisher was as high as he could ever get, and perhaps too high.

“Admiral Fisher,” Higgs called out from the cocktail lounge where he waited.

Fisher came into the lounge with that toothy smile of his. He was a reasonably handsome man, twelve years younger than Higgs, and looked excellent in an admiral’s uniform.

Higgs was jealous. When Higgs was given his position after the coup, he had to get a uniform made for his extra-large girth and always felt he didn’t look military enough.

“Admiral Higgs,” Fisher said with the tight jaws that Higgs had learned were a sign he was trying hard not to stammer, “I expected to see you at the Capitol.”

“I thought it best to meet you early and review a few things before the meeting.”

The dolt nodded several times with a raised-eyebrow ‘oh, yes, of course’ expression, meaning he didn’t have a clue what they should talk about.

If it had been anybody else, Higgs would offer him a drink and chat for a bit before going downtown, but he’d chatted with Fisher before and saw no need to try it again. He pushed away his half-finished whiskey and dropped a generous tip on the table. They went out to Higgs’s waiting car.

“You’ve done well with your new responsibilities, Admiral,” Higgs said as the car got moving. “I know the financial side of things isn’t the usual business of your department, but we have a keen interest in Stokes Industries and want to know everything about their business practices.”

“Yes, sir. I’ve got a pretty good overview of the whole operation concerning this particular starship.”

“Of course, but what we really need is information on the company’s vulnerabilities, especially anything that might be used as leverage on Stokes himself. You can send everything you’ve got to the attorney general.”

The puzzled expression on Fisher’s face made Higgs impatient, but he merely explained—again,  “The new government will eventually be like the old Corporate State, but with all the little problems fixed so everyone would stay happy. To do that, everything happening among the corporations must be monitored.”

Higgs put it in the simplest terms possible. It was a risky thing to admit while—after forty years—most of the world still despised the Corporate State and would willingly fight another war to stop it from coming back.

Higgs was a scholar of history and understood where things had gone wrong. It would be done better this time, and would only be an intermediate step leading to an even better, perfect system that will last forever. It was his dream.

There was actually a lot more to it, but he wasn’t about to start educating Fisher on the finer points of designing a new society, especially because Fisher wouldn’t fit into the new society. What Fisher would fit into were some nasty plans Batastia had going, many of which Higgs wished weren’t necessary.

While they talked about expanding the responsibilities of Fisher’s department to deal with political issues, the car slowed to pass through the warehouse district. Higgs chose this route to see Fisher’s reaction.

“Look at these people.” Higgs indicated shabbily dressed men standing along the street. “They’re always here, waiting for someone to stop and offer them work for the day, odd jobs and such. They come from outside the city where they live in crude huts.”

“Mm…primitives,” Fisher sneered. “We have them in Kansas too. They’re called grasslanders there.”

“Yes. They’re called swampies here, because they live on the little delta islands. The ones in the Rocky Mountains are called stonies—short for stone-age, I suppose. There are more in South America, Europe and Asia, too…holdovers from the bad times following the Great Disaster. In 500 years they haven’t progressed enough to join the rest of the world.”

“They should be arrested,” Fisher said, “and forced to learn some useful skills.”

This was the response Higgs had hoped for.

“Well, there is a plan, a sort of a pet project of mine. I don’t think there’s much we can do with the adults, but the children could be…rehabilitated...for their own good. The vice president hasn’t warmed to the plan yet, but I think he will once I clarify the benefits.”

A waifish girl of perhaps fourteen years carried a basket of fruit for sale. A faded yellow skirt and a ragged, oversized shirt hung on lean, wiry limbs that came from walking miles each day in her homemade sandals. Her face was innocent, pretty, and friendly.

Fisher’s eyes raked her body and he laughed, “I could think of something that one would be good for.”

Higgs was disgusted. “Tell me. What’s your conclusion about the new starship? The paper trail of how the Hanno is being funded seems to run in circles, which is typical of the old government’s bookkeeping.”

They discussed his concerns until arriving at the Capitol. Before the Great Disaster there was a university about 400 kilometers northeast of the old United States capitol. Through the perseverance of the faculty and students, the school survived the worldwide calamity, becoming a center of law and order for the region as nation-states began to reappear in the twenty-fourth century. Today, it was the capital city of Earth and, essentially, the galaxy.

The Capitol building was originally made of stone blocks taken from ancient ruins, but was gradually remodeled with modern materials and white columns and gabled windows: A grand mansion.

Statues from before The Disaster decorated the north and west gardens like a macabre tribute to an almost mythical era. Monuments from modern times lined the avenue leading from the public entrance on the south side.

Admiral Higgs was deep in thought as they walked through the rose garden to the main building. Fisher gawked like a tourist at the elegance of the place until they met an attractive young woman who directed them to the elevator.

Inside the lift, Fisher whispered, “Is she one of them?”

“Eh?” Higgs turned and raised his eyebrows. “Is who one of what?”

“That girl. Is she…one of the perks?”

“Oh, uh, no. She’s just an intern. Really, Fisher, you shouldn’t get preoccupied with the perks.”

Higgs watched with veiled amusement as Fisher blushed scarlet.

“Oh…I’m not p-p-preoccupied. I-I was just wondering. That’s all.”

Fisher briefly met Vincent Batastia once, but this was his first visit to the office of the most powerful man in the galaxy.

Higgs explained to Fisher just after the coup that vice presidents were almost never assassinated. Therefore, it was prudent to have an expendable figurehead while leaving the real power in more capable hands. The right hands. Batastia’s hands.

The New Federation’s president, Arnold Garane, was once a professional actor. The press adored him, at least for the moment, but the real power was Vincent Batastia, a man virtually unknown to most people until recently. He was the center of the Inner Circle, a discrete group of businessmen that Higgs was part of and Fisher aspired to join.

Higgs worked for TerraPharm as a drug industry lobbyist when Batastia recruited him for something he’d always dreamed of doing: rebuilding civilization into a perfectly designed empire that would last forever.

Batastia had a persuasive, old-fashioned charm that spoke of generations of wisdom distilled into a patriarchal figure of bold vision which touched Higgs’s yearning for great achievements. Only the rarest of men at the right moment in history could lead mankind away from the shortsighted policies that keep the human race from becoming gods. The time was now and, Higgs believed, Vincent Batastia was such a man.

His belief in Batastia was eroding, however. It started with the plan to take over the government. They looked at every possibility and simply couldn’t find a way that didn’t require the deaths of not only the old government leaders, but also hundreds of innocent people. After it actually happened, the body count turned out to be nearly five thousand. It weighed heavily on Higgs, but he became more comfortable with it as he settled into his new position. What still disturbed him was that it never seemed to bother the original members of the Inner Circle.

Such men were in today’s meeting. Batastia himself led the meeting from his gigantic, polished walnut desk. Attorney General Alexei Volk stood slouching by the window with his hands in his pockets, half turned so he could watch the room with his left eye and look outside with the other. Volk was a predator.

Chief of Staff Heinrich “Crush” Skor sat at Batastia’s right hand. He had a shaved head with old scars, and he never smiled. When Higgs first tried to find out more about the man, he ran into a dead end. Skor had no past except for being Batastia’s long-time acquaintance. No one ever talked about how he got the nickname, but Higgs knew ‘Crush’ kept a sledgehammer in his office.

The Secretary of the Treasury, like Higgs, was recruited from private industry.

“Ah, Admiral Higgs.” The vice president smiled warmly, transforming the fine wrinkles around his eyes into deep canyons. He was in his sixties—perhaps even seventy—a product of the old Corporate State that ended in the worst of wars. So many were displaced and changed their names that people like Batastia had to be forgiven for not knowing their own birth dates. “My golden boy, how do you like being head of the Navy, eh?”

“I couldn’t be more pleased, Mister Vice President.”

“And here is our Admiral Fisher, our hero.” Batastia turned his dark eyes toward Fisher who was grinning like an idiot. The words were accurate enough—Fisher received a medal for discovering the time and location where the previous government could be ambushed—but Higgs detected a subtle disdain in how Batastia said it.

The Secretary of State, another long-time friend of Batastia’s, came in with his nineteen year old son who was being groomed for some future position.

A general—the new head of the Army—followed them. Some referred to him as Higgs’s counterpart, which Higgs graciously tolerated.

There would be no public record of this meeting. Official meetings were with President Garane and resulted in nothing beyond good press, which also had its value. Four more politicos arrived and the business of building a new world began.

First on the agenda was money. The Secretary of the Treasury gave a good overview on the distribution of the planet’s wealth, with suggestions on how to get hold of a lot of it. This dovetailed nicely with a discussion on corporations.

“Big stockholders,” Batastia said, “must be made to understand that it’s crucial to stand united with the New Federation. They will have a voice in some things, but overall strategy must come from this office, otherwise corporate leaders will treat their positions as mere jobs rather than designers of a world that will come to fruition when their grandchildren are in charge.”

“Precisely the point I made in my master’s thesis,” Higgs agreed with delight.

“Yes, Wolfgang, I remember reading it,” Batastia said. “But to make it a reality, we must still overcome many challenges, such as the general population. As a scholar of history, as I am, you realize the old Corporate State lost control of the masses because they didn’t bother tracking trends outside of the corporations.”

“Well,” Higgs enthusiasm was building momentum, “the State never really had much control to lose.”

He saw the flicker of offense on Batastia’s face, and furiously backpedaled.

“No, no, what I actually mean is that there were too many people who chose to live outside the system. They didn’t participate in what was the legitimate commerce and productivity. Much has changed since then, but there are still many who fall into this category.”

His mentor’s face softened and nodded. “Of course. You are referring to the primitives. What are they called around here, swampies? In Europe, people call them landstreicheren. You’ve been gathering them, I believe, and putting the land they occupy to better use, yes?”

“Ah…yes. I’ve worked out an arrangement with the governor of North America to take custody of the children of primitive families, starting in the Rocky Mountain region. The children will be raised as wards of the North American State, and taught to be productive model citizens under the New Federation. When they become adults, they will be integrated into society and help us steer the public in the right direction.”

“I understand, Higgs.” Batastia sat back with half-closed eyes. “They can also be our eyes and ears for any sign of conspiracy.”

“Yes, I suppose that would be another benefit. If it works in the mountain area, we can expand the program to other regions.”

“My sources tell me it is working even better than you describe,” Batastia said to Higgs’s delight, “except for the leftovers.”

“Eh?” Higgs was puzzled. “Leftovers?”

“The parents of all these children. You’ve got over a thousand kids in your special training, but the parents are camped at the gates of your new school making trouble and smuggling messages to the children.”

“Oh, that. Yes, I’m studying what might be…”

“Consider it solved.” Batastia rocked his chair forward and slapped the desk with a meaty hand. “I approve of your plan, Higgs, and I have arranged for the troublesome primitives to be moved elsewhere. Let’s not speak of it now, but rather we will turn to a different issue—our new starship.”

Higgs was flustered—not quite sure what just happened—but, consummate actor that he was, managed to smile and bow his head as if accepting a gift from his patriarch.

He looked at Fisher, expecting the man to say something intelligent, but was disappointed. Fisher was out of his league, overawed by the figures of power and authority that surrounded him.

“Admiral Fisher?” he said, hoping to break the spell and keep his protégé from making them both look ridiculous. “Your department has done exhaustive research on the Stokes Industries starship design?”

“Yes, t-that’s right. I have a report.” He opened the envelope and pulled out a sheaf of papers.

“Yes, of course, Admiral…” Batastia glanced down at something scribbled on his desk blotter “…Fisher, but we just need the conclusion. Is the Hanno everything that Stokes claims, or a waste of money?”

Fisher fought the urge to squirm when all eyes turned to him in expectation.

“Well, the bottom line is, the Starship Hanno is unsafe. Every expert in the field has serious doubts about Mister Stokes’s theories.”

“You say that it is unsafe?”

“Yes, sir. The moment the new engines are switched on, the entire crew will be subjected to dangerous energy fields.”

“Fatal energy fields?” Batastia asked with his eyebrows raised, forming an upside-down V shape in the middle of his forehead and producing lots of wrinkles above them.

“Yes. They may survive once, but they would certainly all die if they use the engines twice.”

“So, they might go somewhere, and survive, but they could not return.” It was not a question.

Volk laughed out loud. “What a shame that would be.”

“It is a shame,” the vice president said, “that such an expensive mistake was made. At least it won’t be a complete waste. In fact, this is an opportune way to ensure the security of the New Federation.”

His audience gravely nodded in agreement, and Higgs warily nodded with them, suspecting he was about to witness one of Batastia’s brilliant moments.

“How’s our list coming along?” Batastia looked to Volk. The blacklist didn’t officially exist, of course. It never officially exists, but every respectable bureaucracy had to have one.

All eyes turned to Alexei Volk. The Attorney General shrugged and leaned on the wall.

“Our list is too long—and growing.” He spoke with a slight accent. All of Batastia’s oldest friends seemed to be from Europe. “But this new starship can reduce it by at least three thousand. The Hanno requires at least two thousand crewmen for optimal function, but can hold another thousand. There are more than enough of these on the list. I suggest that we pretend to compromise with Captain Poluka. He will request people of his own choosing, and we will agree to give him anyone who’s already on our list, provided he accepts others who are also on our list. If we lose a few that aren’t on the list…well…they probably should have been anyway, if Poluka wants them.”

Batastia slapped the top of his desk with an open palm. “Perfect. He will think that his influence has triumphed, and we will get exactly what we want. Thousands whose loyalty is questionable will be smoothly eliminated.”

The Exploration Corps had personnel spread across the galaxy when the old Federation fell, and those on the blacklist were not reassigned outside the Solar System after returning from deep space. Batastia kept them close until a way could be found to deal with them, and kept them from joining the renegades who refused to return.

Higgs’s idol turned loss into gain but, again, it required killing people who hadn’t actually done anything—they just might do something. He sneaked a quick glance at Fisher, wondering if the man felt any disapproval of such cold-blooded maneuvers.

Fisher was gazing at Batastia with glassy-eyed worship, a half-sneer on his pale face.

“Admiral,” Batastia instructed Fisher, “I will send files to your office tomorrow, our list and Captain Poluka’s list. Find reasons to reject those who don’t appear on both.”

“Yes, sir.”

“By the way, Admiral, who else knows the Starship Hanno is so…unsafe?”

“Um…I believe…an ensign in my department knows, but no one else.”

“That ensign is now on the blacklist.”


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