“So what did this George person promise you to get you to leave your cushy life in the empire and come deliver a message to Coalition barbarians?” His voice held an edge of contempt and his square, German jawline twitched under tastefully cultivated stubble as he watched my reaction with dark, Italian eyes.
I cleared my throat. “Well, General, he promised me he wouldn’t take my ship and fine me into bankruptcy. Life’s not all rainbows and lollipops just ’cause a person lives in the empire, ya know.”
His gaze returned slowly, decisively to the letter in his hand. “Of course not. For your average citizen it’s dismal. But for people of prestige, who stand on the backs of citizens, it’s a different story, and I don’t believe they would give something this important to an average Joe. You’re lying.“
Maybe you’re not as important as you think. Should I say that? I was in nothing but thin, white hospital garments standing in a prison cell, surrounded by people that hated me enough to kill me. Best not to start out attacking the very ego of the guy who held the key to my freedom. “Come on, look at me. Do I really look like prestige to you?”
I knew I had a rather haggard appearance. I’d never kept up with my looks much, my hair was straggly, my teeth were a bit yellow due to the smoking, and I had a couple of scars on my left cheek that I could have removed if I had bothered to spend money on cosmetics. Add to that the fact that I had been sitting in this cell three days waiting for Severs’ arrival, and before that traveling over a week to get to the outpost in the first place, and my beard was starting to grow in and look pretty scruffy.
Severs turned his piercing eyes to scrutinize me again, with a look that seemed to see right through me, straight to my very soul. “Looks can be deceiving.”
God, this guy was stubborn. “Look, Amilan, can I call you Amilan?”
I hesitated. “Ok. Um. Look, don’t you think the empire wouldn’t send someone important straight into the teeth of the enemy? I mean, politicians are all cowards, right? Wouldn’t it make sense that they would use a normal guy?”
“That’s just a hypothetical.” The words came in the form of a hiss, from a man standing behind the general, the one who had never introduced himself, whom I had first met upon awaking in this cell.
Severs held up a hand, silencing the other man. “This is not your conversation, Pete, shut up.”
He grumbled and took a step back.
“Yeah, it’s just a hypothetical,” I said, crossing my arms in irritation, “I gave you the non-hypothetical truth and you reject it as ridiculous, so now we’re down to hypotheticals.”
“There is a way for you to prove yourself,” Severs said, with a tone that implied that I wasn’t going to like it.
“What is it?” I asked suspiciously.
“You can help me.”
“Blow up the control hub of the Earth defense system.”
A moment of silence passed as I waited for him to tell me he was joking. When it was clear he wasn’t going to, I blurted, “Are you absolutely insane?”
He shook his head. “Taking out that hub would significantly reduce the number of casualties when we invade.”
“When you… invade…” I started to laugh. I couldn’t help it. This guy had delusions of grandeur. He’d never even make it as far as Earth.
His eyes narrowed, effectively silencing my laughter. “You think this is funny? I have four hundred million manned space craft at my disposal, and twice that in drones. We are taking down the empire.”
My heart stopped. For all the billions of humans on all the settled worlds, The empire itself had less than two hundred million ships and crews to man them. And these were spread out between the inhabited planets. A concentrated wave of four hundred million ships would annihilate the opposition. The empire might have had a little higher drone to manned ship ratio, but I doubted if it would save them. At least if what Severs was telling me was true. I had no idea there were even four hundred million people in the Oort cloud, let alone ships.
I had never had a particular interest in the Coalition before, they had always seemed like a fringe group of extremists and dreamers. I hadn’t put much stock in their ability to pull off their goals. But now that overthrowing the empire appeared attainable, I found myself intrigued. Also I wasn’t usually the sort of person that embraced danger without a good payout, but when it came to the empire, if I had a chance of being on the winning side, I could make an exception. I had to admit, I would enjoy burning Earth’s defense system if it actually meant the downfall of Terrance Malcom.
“If you don’t accept,” Severs continued, “We’ll kill you and rig your ship to detonate-“
“Stop right there,” I interrupted. “If what you say is true I’ll do it. There’s little love lost between me and the empire. But I’m going to need to see these ships.”
Severs nodded. “That’s reasonable. I’ll give you a tour. It’ll be a virtual tour, of course. The fleet is not physically here. It would take us several days to get to it at half-light-speed, and due to the obstacles in the cloud itself we can’t travel at that speed. It would take a couple months to pick our way there.”
“A virtual tour should be enough to tell me what I need to know. And if everything checks out, then, well…” I shot a brief smile at Pete who didn’t seem entirely satisfied with the way things were preceding. “…you can count me in.”
My entry for “Lollipops” in Rachael Ritchey’s #blogbattle
Copyright 2016 Grace Petrelli