Location: Capitol City, New Washington, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“Esteemed members of this most revered Council of Representatives, the time to act is now!” The Prime Minister smacked his hand like a gavel on top of the podium.
The sound echoed across the gigantic splendor of the Hall of Representatives. The Hall, as it was commonly called, incorporated the neoclassical style of the original Washington D.C. while infusing modernist elements. White marble columns dozens of meters tall ringed the central chamber and provided the foundation for a dome. Polyplast screens on the inside of the dome gave the appearance that it was open and allowed the representatives to stare into the clear blue sky of Capitol City.
Normally that feature was on, but the importance of the speech led the Prime Minister’s team to disable it for the duration of the speech. They didn’t need some Spyder Assault shuttle on patrol ruining the gravitas of the moment.
“This isn’t about you,” Ezekiel pointed at a pre-selected representative in the crowd, “and this isn’t about me.” He smacked his chest with passion. “This is about our children and our children’s children. We cannot leave them behind in the race for knowledge. That is why I stand here before you today.” The Prime Minister made sure to straighten to his full one hundred and ninety-nine-centimeter height. “Because it is up to us to ensure the continued prosperity of our Commonwealth. Our union is built on a foundation of principles: basic rights for the human race as it continues to expand throughout the galaxy, a common defense against those who would seek to do us harm, and free trade among our member system to ensure economic success. And I would put forward to all members of this august body that a strong, centralized, and standardized education system is not only necessary but prudent to ensure our Commonwealth’s basic principles are safeguarded.”
Applause rose up from the assembly and Ezekiel took the time to take a step back and smile for the cameras. The cameras panning the audience wouldn’t focus in on the section of seating designated for the Eagle Party, where no one was clapping or looking particularly happy. They would focus the high definition footage on the Progressive and New Labor parties whose alliance held a slim majority in the government.
<Optics is everything.> Ezekiel kept his award-winning smile plastered on his face until the applause finally dissipated.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it is my duty as your Prime Minister to see this measure through. It is with conviction that I put before you this act to create, fund, and administer a unified Commonwealth education program. This program will uphold the highest standards of excellence so our children can exit our schools and step right into productive positions in our galactic society.”
<Thunderous applause…good camera shots…and that’s a wrap.> The Prime Minister took a full step back and to the side of the podium. The holographic text that only he could see winked out of existence, and he descended the dais to greet and shake hands with the growing crowd of representatives.
The Council of Representatives, the United Commonwealth of Colonies governing body, was designed around simplicity. Each planet with Commonwealth membership received a single representative seat, and one vote in all matters under the purview of the council. Currently, there were one hundred and sixty-six colonized systems under the Commonwealth banner in explored space. Within those one hundred and sixty-six systems there were five hundred and four colonized planets. In addition, there were another several dozen systems and nearly fifty planets currently being considered for Commonwealth membership, but the process took upwards of five years to be completed.
To be elected a Prime Minister needed two hundred and fifty-three votes, and it needed to hold that majority through their term. Losing that majority, even on a single vote, could lead to a vote of no confidence in the PM’s leadership. Currently, Ezekiel’s Progressive-New Labor alliance held two hundred and fifty-nine votes, and that was much too close for comfort for the agenda he was proposing.
Systems typically allied themselves together to exert more leverage in the voting process, so although there was equal representation on a planet by planet basis, some systems held more sway than others. As the PM descended the dais, he focused in on some of those more influential voting blocks.
“Fantastic speech, Mr. Prime Minister. Very inspiring.”
“Our children really are the most important issue of this administration. You have my full support.”
“We stand behind you one hundred percent, Sir.”
The single system ass kissers always got to him first. He was pretty sure elbows were thrown and noses were bloodied in the race to get to him first, but he had to be cordial to them all. <I need every vote I can get.>
“Representative Summers, thank you for being here today.” Ezekiel finally broke through the more insignificant politicians and got to one of the big fish.
The representative from the planet, Baja, the largest of the four planets in the Alta California system, raised an eyebrow and the PM’s arrival.
“Buenos dias, Mr. Prime Minister. It is my duty to be at all of these events. How else can we effectively govern?”
<At least it’s an opening.> Ezekiel pressed on.
Normally, Baja and Alta California sided with the Eagle Party due to their precarious position bordering several Blockie systems. But today, the PM felt he had a chance. The education system in the system, especially Baja, was one of the worst in the Commonwealth. They had high unemployment and growing discontent with voters age eighteen to thirty. The PM’s plan for education reform was aimed directly at systems with these issues, and turning Summers to the Progressive side for this vote would give Ezekiel some breathing room.
The Prime Minister was about to get into it and earn the representative’s vote when a strong hand clasped down on his shoulder.
“Sir.” The single word was grumbled reluctantly.
Ezekiel knew that voice, and turned to regard its owner with surprises and a little irritation.
“High Admiral Gilmore, what can I do for you today?” The PM looked behind the stout leader of the Commonwealth military, the representative for the military capitol world Asgard, loyal Eagle Party member and saw Connie Price with a no-nonsense look on her face.
“Mr. Prime Minister, I need a word with you in private.” The only Admiral with six golden stripes down his CMUs inclined his head toward one of the doors exiting the Hall.
Ezekiel looked to Connie who gave him a curt nod.
“Very well, Representative Summers.” He turned, but the Baja representative had already walked off.
<Damn!> He felt like an idiot standing there, so he marched across the room with a determined look on his face.
His security detail closed around him before he reached the exit and cleared the hallway by the time he made it through the door with the high admiral and his chief of staff in tow. Thy walked a short way down the hall to a marked shield room. The PM didn’t think the admiral would want to talk anywhere else. You didn’t get to be the leader of the galaxy’s largest military force with loose lips.
Once door shut behind them, and their PAD’s squawked sadly as they lost connectivity, the PM turned on the admiral.
“Xander, this is highly irregular.” The PM didn’t both to control his emotions. “Butting in like that during a political gathering…”
“I could say the same thing about your attempt to broaden Commonwealth powers beyond security, trade, and taxation, Ezekiel,” the admiral fired back. “But that’s not why I pulled you away.”
There was a hissing sound as the door reopened and the room’s three occupants went silent.
“I hope I’m not disturbing you.”
All three members of government relaxed as another admiral with five golden stripes walked in.
“Thank you for coming so quickly, Sonya.” The high admiral shook the chief of naval intelligence’s hand and guested for everyone to have a seat.
Ezekiel claimed the one at the head fo the table while Sonya began to activate the room’s holo-projectors.
“We have three matters of importance to discuss with you, Mr. Prime Minister.” The intel chief began with a nod from her superior. “First is an update on what is happening in York Sector.”
The PM looked over his shoulder to Connie who quickly angled her PAD for him to read.
“Yes, those new colonization efforts out on the Rim. Is something wrong?”
Sonya didn’t have to say anything. She just played the recorded sensor data from the Lancelot and Galahad as they retook System 1552.
“Jesus.” The PM wasn’t a military expert, but he knew enough about sensor data to see the big points. “They fired on us, why?”
“We believe they’ve reached some type of accord with the Star Kingdom of Windsor, Sir.”
The PM saw something pass between Berg and Gilmore, but his mind was too busy wrapping his head around what this meant for his domestic agenda.
<Fuck!> As a political rule he didn’t like to curse, but this situation warranted it.
“Trying to cut our supply lines is an act of war, Sir.” The high admiral stated bluntly when the PM failed to respond.
“And that’s not all.” The intelligence officer queued up another holo-recording. “Four days ago, there was a skirmish in contested space near the Syracuse system. As ordered, elements of the eight and sixth fleet conducting border enforcement operations consolidated and began to recon in force due to the Blockie’s sixth fleet’s presence in the area. Since then it has been a game of cat and mouse.”
<How the hell can you be playing cat and mouse with a fleet of two hundred plus warships.> The PM didn’t understand that part, but he didn’t dwell on it.
“We believe the skirmish resulted when two advanced echelons transitioned into the same system here.” The system in question was less than three light years from Syracuse. For all the PM knew, they could be fighting a battle for that crucial systems right now.
“We’ve been in contact with Syracuse system defense and everything is still online, and they are on high alert.” The high admiral read the PM’s mind before motioning for Berg to continue.
“Two or our cruisers scouting the way for the main consolidated fleet encountered a Blockie battlecruiser and three destroyers here. The senior captain of the cruiser pair ordered the Blockie task force to exit the system. The Blockie captain told our ships to exit the system. They danced back and forth, with non-political language until they started shooting at each other.”
“Did we win?” The PM knew it was a stupid question the second it came out of his mouth.
“We hit their battlecruiser pretty good and destroy one of their destroyers, Sir, but we lost one of our cruisers and the second was severely damaged.”
The PM sat back heavily in his chair. <If Gilmore knows this then the Opposition knows, so we can’t keep it quiet as just another skirmish with the Blockies. Damnit!> The PM was starting to regret his decision to consolidate his forces, which might have provoked this incident.
“Sir, the Blockies started this with their fleet deployment.” Gilmore stared the PM right in the eyes. “We’ve just responded to protect the sovereignty of our Mid-World systems.”
“They’re pushing us across the board, Mr. Prime Minister.” Admiral Berg jumped in. “Making pacts and aggressive moves in York Sector, and now this just outside Syracuse. We need to start seriously considering that they might hit Syracuse directly.”
“But I thought that would have been suicide for their fleet?”
“They wouldn’t be able to hold the system, Sir. But unless we start to move Third Fleet into the area they could go in, smash our infrastructure, and get out with minimal losses. The Syracuse Defense Force is good, but they can’t take on a Blockie fleet.”
<This is not happening.> On the eve of a major reform the PM now had war to consider.
“Is that what your analysts are telling you? Does Syracuse look like their target?”
“It would do the most damage to us.” Berg nodded.
<You don’t even know the half of it.> Ezekiel knew that Syracuse’s two planet’s representatives held a lot of sway over another dozen in the council. Having the system battered would affect the entire economy of the sector. Not to mention losing the launcher in Syracuse itself would lead to logistical nightmares for years to come.
“What part of Third Fleet can we move into Syracuse without leaving the rest of the sector vulnerable?”
Gilmore and Berg nodded simultaneously at the PM’s decision. That helped him feel a little better.
“Syracuse Defense Force has twenty battleships in their ranks and a couple of squadrons of destroyers. To present a serious deterrent to the Blockies I would suggest moving half of Third Fleet to Syracuse. That, along with the system’s defenses should give the Blockies more than they can handle. We can have the consolidated ships of our sixth and eight fleets continue to search for sixth fleet’s location with orders to fall back and not engage if they make contact. They can also act as a quick reaction force if the Blockies divert to a secondary target. The rest of Third Fleet will remain at their anchorage and respond to other systems threats per their standing orders.”
Ezekiel looked over his shoulder at Connie and waited for her input. After thirty seconds of serious typing away she nodded slowly.
<Ok, this can work.> The PM took some deep breaths.
Gilmore had his PAD out drafting orders immediately.
“Sir, I would also advise sending a small force of reinforcements to York Sector.” Berg advised.
“Do we have the ships, Admiral?” The PM was already getting a headache from all of this.
All he wanted to do when he got up this morning was pass his Education Bill. Now, he was dealing with military logistics.
“We have a pair of new cruisers finishing up their qualification cruises at the Reykjavík yards in a few weeks. They were going to go to the Thirty-Second Fleet, but we can break them off the York Sector until things quiet down there. I know Admiral Nelson will appreciate it.”
“Ok, get them out there and get a better assessment on what’s going on. We might need to get involved with this Star Kingdom of whats-ya-ma-call-it if they’re getting in bed with the Blockies.”
High Admiral Gilmore grumbled and opened up a new set of orders. Changes like this couldn’t come from Sonya Berg. Corporate tycoons, politicians, and even regular service members would ensure the conspiracy mills got turning the second the queen of galactic intelligence start pushing out deployment orders.
The situation was already tenuous enough without throwing that stick of dynamite into the fire.