Hong Fang sat in her office and brooded, tinkering with one of her drones as she waited to be summoned by her employer. Cradling the ‘head’ of the four-legged thing as she tried to calibrate its forward visual sensors, she reflected on her decision to leave this series vaguely canine in shape- it was a matter of subconscious reference, she supposed. After all, a dog is loyal to its owner- the faithful and determined tracker or protector -and to its owner’s quarry, that same dog is the fearsome and relentless pursuer.
She finished her adjustments and brought the drone back into standby mode with a “good boy”, giving it a pat on the head as it nuzzled her in a preprogrammed response to maintenance. “Bogdan: sit, there.” Fang pointed, and the drone, named for an engineer she had met on her pilgrimage, took its place next to its ‘older brothers’, while she leaned back and reached a hand to her desk, tapping a secured recording device and recalling where she had left off in her dictation, “New model sensors show reduced wear over previous versions, good sync with wetware components… I think it was a good decision to nix the wetware temperature regulator. Too many additional considerations for an inefficient setup- it was pretty adorable, but I’m pretty sure giving them tongues would make them too much like a dog for them to market well in the Clique. Remember, we’re trying to make a companion and protector available for every household in the Association and cultural sensitivity is key. I’m not such an iconoclast to forget that.”
She thought a moment in silence, “On that, note, testing of the user voice imprinting seems to be going well. Pressing need is to reduce calibration times following memory scrub. After that, we need to consider working out the problem of registering inflection. QA has repeatedly requested a ‘sarcasm filter’… Look into the viability of a moodstate-system as a base? Ugh, I’ll have to look at Dar designs- or we could actually get competitive recruiting for our engineering programs! …yeah, right. New blood for engineering? More like the whole damn country needs it.” She shut the recorder off with a sigh, and as if on cue her secretary pinged her, “Dr. Hong? Madame Hu has asked for you to join her.”
“Of course. Let her know I’m on my way.
“No way, you never struck me as a Christian, Rhee. Hell, I thought the only holy rollers you really have out there are the Muslims and the… you know, the weird guys with the ships always creepin around.”
Fred Rhee set down his coffee and looked out at the waters that slowly encroached on Lincoln, grinning a little at his American counterpart, “Well, raised Christian- Presbyterian, specifically -but I haven’t believed in that stuff for a long time. Part of why I moved out to the Jovians- with my family you either live the faith or you fuck off, so I joined up with great-uncle Jeong’s side of the family- that’d be the KLO ones –and now here I am, working for Zijin. Hell, I’m sure you might have a pretty interesting story yourself, Nathan, but our lunch-break is about to end, and prying does take time, so I guess you’re hoping I’ll get to my point.”
Nathan checked his watch, “huh, sure enough. Yeah, I suppose it would be nice to know why an atheist keeps bringing up scripture.”
“Well, I’m not a man of faith, but I love your book. All the metaphor, especially- though I suppose we’ll never get people to agree to what’s supposed to be literal and what isn’t, I prefer to just look at all of it as metaphors. But there’s one I really love, Nathan. ‘And I say also to you, that you are Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church. And all the powers of Hell will not conquer it.’” Fred smiled, “You see- and maybe you’ve heard this one, but indulge me –Peter is derived from the Latin for stone: in the original Aramaic, Jesus named him as Cephas, which means essentially the same thing. Son of God and the man’s making puns.”
“And so Peter became the pope and the foundation of the Church. So are you supposed to be our Peter?”
He chuckled, “Well, Christ is the foundation of the church, but… eh, I’m digressing. Not me, no, but you’re on the right track. You’ve probably heard about the coup by now. My people are telling me the Kurultai and our African friends reached a settlement with our... former leadership, and a lot of Zijin and Soros’ upper management gracefully stepped down and accepted a reassignment to sunny Lincoln colony.” He chuckled, “Michael Soros is actually a pretty swell guy, I hear, when not being shoved into high office- great architect, and I happen to know he has big ideas about helping out his new home… and I may have sold him on proposing my plan for how to do more than save this colony. We’re putting Lincoln on the map, Nathan.”
The American leaned back in his chair, “Hm, sounds like it must be pretty great, Fred. What you got to show me, though?”
Grinning, he pulled out his tablet and began pulling up survey results, sketches, blueprints- “Say hello to the bright future of Lincoln, my friend. You are now on the ground floor of the Venice Beach Initiative.”
Sometimes Hong Fang wondered what it would be like not to have been born in her position of privilege. It vexed her that she did at all, sometimes- she knew there was any number of nobles who didn’t consider or care what it was like for those whose lives hung in the balance of their decisions, to whom the people were numbers and resources. She had been one, once, and it had been simple in its own way: meetings, and her machines, and prayer, and parties; smiling for the camera and playing celebrity- it was what she grew up knowing, and it came easy.
She supposed she had Hu Xifeng to thank for it no longer feeling easy- to wonder if she would be a more virtuous person if she were toiling on an assembly line, if undertaking the Hajj were a remote dream she might achieve if she scrimped and saved her whole life- nevermind a Grand Tour of Earth. The woman had a way of doing that to people she took interest in: plucking them out of their bubble of arrogance and trying to make them more. It worked surprisingly often.
Fang glanced at the screen set into the wall- constant coverage of what some were calling the Hui Uprising (though they were far from the only ones doing so) and others the Jovian Revolution. She pondered whether it would really be a revolution in the full sense of the word- it was doubtful. She felt her changshan tunic- a practically ancient garment in this day and age, but one that had been brought back, made egalitarian –and thought to herself that political philosophies are like this suit. They are born, they grow old and die; they are reborn again, just a little different, and the cycle goes on. Her changshan and her headscarf- dyed the traditional green for a woman of her age -would still be made of the same expensive silk blend tomorrow. She would be no ascetic murshid, hiding from what she was. She found herself chuckling bitterly, “It is more righteous to call oneself a prince and try to act as a shepherd than be a dictator and claim you are a first among equals.”
“Is it also righteous to hide your doubts from yourself by talking tough, child?”
She looked up to see the scarred visage of her mentor as Madame Hu Xifeng put a hand on her shoulder, “I had hoped that you had finally made peace with yourself after your pilgrimage.”
“Apologies, my lady, I didn’t hear you come in. I… I suppose I didn’t, no. A little, perhaps, but not enough.”
Madame Hu smiled, an act that always seemed to Fang like it must be painful, tugging as it did at the old burns that had marred one side of her face, and yet always seemed to come so easily to the leader of the Hui Clique. “There is no need to apologize, except perhaps to yourself- life is a struggle to improve ourselves, and even a little matters.” Her hand became a little heavier, “But I feel I’m the one who should apologize, my dear. I will be asking something of you soon, something important- but I only ask because I know you are capable of doing it.”
She nodded, “Of course, my lady- what do you need me to do?”
Still smiling, Madame Hu simply patted her on the shoulder and motioned for her to follow, “I will explain everything to you on the way, but come along now- our peers are waiting for us to decide the course of history.”
Daiyu Sykes-Cao finished watching the video transmission for what must have been the fourth time, still hardly believing what had been asked of her. “She’s lost it! Old woman’s finally gone off the deep end,” her secretary piped up, the AI displaying cost-projections in a second window. “Assuming we don’t wind up dead- or worse, exiled -she’s really going to ask you to do this essentially pro bono? That price doesn’t even pay the expenses for all the ships required!”
Daiyu sighed, “It will cover the expenses of the other companies, and then some. Just not ours: she’s asking us to eat the cost on this one, because she knows we’ll do it.”
“Excuse me?” The AI’s synthesized voice got a little louder, “Why the hell would you-“
“Our families’ shared history. You heard her say that, right? That wasn’t just trying to guilt me on account of our longstanding professional relationship. Not even asking me to repay her for all the big contracts she’s tossed our way over the years, which is why she knows we can afford it.”
“So then what is she doing, Ms. Sykes-Cao?”
“She’s calling in goddamn life-debt level shit is what. If it weren’t for her I wouldn’t have been born, much less head of the Union- my old man’s old man would have died in the last Titanomachy. You don’t just stiff her, not on shit like that.”
“So we’re going to fight for her, for free. Great- I’ll start filling out expenditure reports now. Should I go ahead and start the bankruptcy paperwork, too.”
“Har har. Maybe. Send a dispatch first, though, Hot Lips- The Freelancer’s Union is going to war for Madame Hu.”
It was a cold day on Ganymede when the conspiracy formally met in Xin’an- the people outside the small conference room totally unaware of the change being born within. In attendance were representatives of those opposed to the policies of the ruling Imperialist faction: the most numerous being those from houses of the High King faction, but they were joined by conspirators from the military stations, the Freelancer’s Union, and the Cooperativist technocrats. Madame Hu and Hong Fang had arrived fashionably late, as hosts to the discussions, and so it was that Fang had found herself seated between two women she recognized as the twin inheritors to the holdings of the minor House Savalas, and the commanders of the Acropolis citadel on Metis and the Hera military station, respectively: Elizabeth and Elena Savalas.
“So the illustrious princess joins the party,” Elizabeth said. Her voice sounded rough in a way that reminded Fang of seeing drill sergeants in movies, and she couldn’t help but imagine the woman barking orders. She gave her a pleasant smile- derision was a sentiment she was used to from people who believed Madame Hu kept her around as a spoiled rotten accessory or surrogate child. The more common was fearful acquiescence. Finally the woman’s sister piped up, “Oh, don’t mind her, Doctor- my sister gets antsy when she has to leave her fortress of doom for anywhere other than a ship’s bridge. I’m sure she’s simply too overcome by emotion to admit how honored she feels that we get to meet with Madame Hu and yourself today.” Elizabeth muttered something sarcastic in reply.
“There is no need to worry, Lady Savalas- indeed I believe the honor is mine, to finally meet the keepers of such treasured keys to our defense. Perhaps more if my lady’s proposals are agreed to- I believe we three will have much to discuss later.”
At that, a discussion between Madame Hu and the leader of the High King delegation concluded, and the two rose from their seats as Hu began to speak, “Ladies and gentlemen, I believe it is time we began in earnest. I believe it is obvious, given that we meet in secrecy or under pretense, that an era has ended. Those gathered here believe that it is not feasible to right the course of this association through electoral politics, that for our society to survive, we must change and we must change radically.”
A murmur of agreement rippled through the room, and she continued on, “The High King noles have long advocated for a central government- that measure alone will likely prove insufficient to maintain order. The common man needs change- needs promise for the future, that things are getting better. I believe that is a cause that our reformer friends gathered here today can get behind. But we need someone to lead this coup- to share the laurels if we succeed and willing to take the lion’s share of the punishment should we fail. President Ratko from House Svoboda proposed to me yesterday that I would be acceptable for the job.”
She waited as another wave of murmuring came and passed, “If we agree to this, my protégé and heir, Dr. Hong Fang, will replace me as head of the Hui Clique so that I can devote myself to our undertaking. I have agreed to the High King proposal on the condition that our conference- this Kurultai, as it has become -approves.
There was a moment of silence in which one could hear a pin drop, as if no one dared to speak and leave themselves vulnerable to the rest. Fang wondered if this what the houses had come to- too divided to trust democracy even in secret. Then the leader of the Freelancer delegation and Association Boardmember Daiyu Sykes-Cao rose, “I trust Madame Hu as a commander and I doubt you could find a ‘lancer worth their salt who doesn’t respect what she and her fleets have made happen. Her business acumen speaks for itself. Most importantly, though, she came from nothing. She doesn’t have a pedigree like almost everyone in this room- everything she has, she earned it. The common Hui respects it- they respect the hell out of it. The workers in the rest of the Freeholds will respect it, too. Hell, they’re going to find it inspirational. She has the Union’s support, and I’m moving for a show of hands.”
Fang saw the Savalas twins share a look, wondering if it was intuition or the help of an implant as they both rose and spoke in unison, “seconded!”
Madame Hu nodded, “very well, then. All those in favor of the High King proposal…”
In the twinkling lake of ice, rock, and metal around Jove, the Eyes of Hera tirelessly scanned. Radio, tightbeam, encrypted, open- nearly all signals passed through it at some point, and occasionally, originated from it. From station, to ship, to lunar based array such a signal bounced its way towards the massive ship.
“Attention MUSK, this is the Freeholder Association’s Jupiter Unified Command, requesting a moment of your time. Following change in the Association’s central government, the ownership of Argus has changed- rest assured, however, that the new owners intend to fulfill your order as previously agreed, and construction continues at the usual pace for such a job. The Freeholder’s Association wishes to discuss the matter of any possible future relations between the Freeholder’s Association and the beings known as the Unbound, and invite MUSK or a chosen representative to discuss the matter.
We would also like to state for the record that while the matter of cybernetic modification in regards to Islamic ritual purity remains a subject of some debate among the Muslim population of the Freeholds, the Hui Clique is not governed by the decision of Lunar clerics, and the secular nature of the Association’s government rules out the recognition of any such fatwa by civil or criminal law.”
A map displayed, highlighting several low traffic vectors to the Association’s Marathon City and UN Dove station, “If you wish to dispatch a representative, we would like to suggest the following as easily-accessible meeting places.”
On video streaming services, social media, and most political and news services within the last hour:
[A young woman, apparently Hui from her clothing, appears on screen.]
“Hello, Jovians- Fellow Freeholder, Dr. Hong Fang, here! Some of you might already know me from my work in the field of cybernetics, or my role as a cultural ambassador- bridging the gap between our people out here and our friends back on Earth. Whether you know me or not, though, I’ve got some big changes to fill you in on- as the newly appointed CEO of House Hu and the Hui Clique, Dr. Hu Fang.”
“Now you may be asking, ‘but Fang, what about Madame Hu Xifeng? You know, your boss?’ So we’re covering that first. As many of you know by now, Madame Hu is now Chairwoman Hu, after former-Chairman Soros resigned from office and the Central Commission voted her in. Given the responsibility of the position, and some of the problems facing our nation these days, she decided to retire from leadership of the Hui so she could devote her full attention to her new role helping all the Freeholders.”
“Our new chairperson has a lot of big ideas that she thinks you’re all going to love. I can’t cover all the details right now- I’ll have to leave that to Chairwoman Hu and the new and improved Board once she’s helped them with a little ‘tidying up’. [Hu Fang makes a coy smile for the camera and winks.] “So let me give a little summary that should give you a good idea of how good things will be going from here on out.”
“One of the biggest changes is going to be in how your government works. Chairwoman Hu wasn’t born into House Hu- she made it. And she wants to build on what she sees as the Freehold’s promise to its people- that if you work hard enough you can become something great, too. To do that, she and the Board have some plans to make sure you can play more of a role in your Freehold and reap the rewards of that participation- but to do that, we’re going to need to welcome some new friends.”
[The camera pans out, revealing a humanoid robot seated next to Fang- similar in shape to the Association’s ‘soldier bots’, but less bulky.]
“Everyone, meet Dervish! No, not this drone- the AI cyberbureaucrat controlling him! He just wanted to put on a fresh look to say hello to all of you. [She puts a hand to her mouth, stage whispering.] He’s pretty good at his job- He’s been handling schedule rotation on House Hu’s helium separation operations for about 4 months, now. But he can be a liiiiittle vain.”
[The drone’s head turns towards Fang] “Self heard that. The statement is false: no being handicapped by vanity could be so efficient.”
“Ha ha, Maybe you’re right, Dervish. Madame Hu seems to think so- since your test run has gone so well that she has already approved expenditures to support the design and testing of some little brothers and sisters to see how your family can help us in over 23 different industries and government services!”
“23? Self will be picking out birthday gifts all year.” [The drone puts up a manipulator to its ‘face’ in a gesture of surprise as Fang laughs, the camera zooming in to just show her again.] “Well, I’ll let you get a head start while I talk to the people about the other important thing they ought to know…”
“As we now know, the so-called Free Jovian Movement killed people on that station. Not just soldiers- I will never allow myself to forget that they killed civilians there, too -this was not a military action. This was calculated, brutal terrorism, and the FJM are terrorists. They are a farce down to their name. We are not a people who love war- I sincerely believe that everyone here today desires a peaceful, happy life. We do fight wars, yes, and what the FJM does is not war- it is a violent rampage that can only be called discriminate in that its base violence is levied at us.
Since I have come to head this Association, I have spoken with our neighbors- even those we have called enemies –and I have talked with them about renewing relations in the spirit of peace. I think that there is room for all of us at the table in a bright, prosperous future for the people of the Jovians. I do not think that there is room at that table for a wild beats, however- no, there is not room for those whose hatred is so corrupting that they kill civilians. If they will not change their ways, they will bring about their own destruction.”
Chairwoman Hu’s comments come on the tail of a ‘charm offensive’ since the ousting of former Chairman Michael Soros and the upper management of Houses Soros and Zijin in a nearly bloodless coup that has been dubbed the ‘Kurultai Revolution: since the transfer of leadership to House Hu- possibly permanently -and the exile of ousted executives to the American colony of Lincoln on Mars, the Association has sent diplomatic messages to New Europa, the Zioists, and even longtime rivals such as Ansoft and the Titan republics, seeking to ‘refresh diplomatic relations’. In one such message to the newly ascended management of the Callistan Cartel, she stressed that her government would honor the recent peace and expressed a desire for ‘more than simply leaving one another alone- I believe there is much that our people could do together without the elements that led former-Chairman Soros to see the recent Callistan conflict as justified enough to lead other Houses into it- mine included.’