September 8th, 2021

_Fall of Empire_ part 21

Chapter Twenty-one

What do you do with a broken Alliance?

May 16, 3740

“Ten days, and we’re lucky that no other Worlds have tried to scoop up our local group.”

Axel nodded. It didn’t hurt! “Orion worries me. I don’t like taking on the responsibility, but to stay safe ourselves, we’re going to need to make them look unassailable.”

Murphy sighed. “We should pop in and check, spread the news to the other four Vassal worlds.”

The Governor nodded. “We’ve talked about it, of course. And however tempting it is to step up and become the Tier Three World, and make all the other’s our vassals, paying us taxes . . . we flat don’t have the resources—in people or money—to even start down that road.”

Grigory nodded. “But we don’t really need to control them, we just need to get them a working portal. To make them look strong and prosperous.”

Axel winced. I won’t hand any of the Free Portalists over to them. They’ll just see badly needed possessions. “Perhaps we should keep control of the portal, and portalists, over there, in exchange for bolstering their security by having a portal based there. Perhaps a . . . trading combine among the dozen worlds . . . what are we looking at? Six Worlds with large populations, both Native and True? Us? And we’ve got two Resource World contacts and the Farmers of Faith World? Orion has six recreation worlds? Including Paradise 18 that we’ve been propping up?”

“Sixteen Worlds total.” The governor nodded. “A trading association sounds about right . . . If Trotsky doesn’t see it as a rebellion.”

They all nodded.

Because we’re not quite ready to abandon the Alliance . . . yet.

And Grigory grinned at the Governor. “I think we should put Lord Axel in charge of making this work.”

“Excellent plan.”

Axel pinched his nose. “Right. This is going to be . . . interesting.”

***

“I’ll try to keep this mess as far away from Research as possible, but we’ll need a bunch more Free Portalists.” Alex turned to Dr. Borodin.

“I’m making sure every Portalclone on Siberia Max is getting Mentalist Training from the age of sixteen. Mind you, we only do about ten a year, more or less, but we can probably get at least one more Quad trained up inside of a week. A few of the boys have close to a years training, now, so I’ll see how many I can pull in here to work with the experienced Quads.”

“Excellent. Ivan?” Axel looked down the table at Ivan Agapov, the scheduler for the Research Portal. “I’m leaving Murphy in charge while I’m gone.”

Ivan nodded. “Good. He jumped right in and did a good job—using the other Portals to switch ambulances around between cities on Regulus was his idea—and he, well, he just dealt with it all.”

“Yeah, and speaking of Murphy, he had some issues with a pair of Inquisitors on Home. Dr. Kratsov? Can you write up a monitoring program for Cyborg sales sites? If the Inquisition tries to sell any Cyborgs located on Siberia Max, we really ought to snap them up.”

Heads nodded all around the table.

“Haven’t seen a bad one in the bunch.” Dr. Mikhailov smiled, “We really ought to have some dedicated to Exploration, instead of always borrowing’s Grigory’s people.”

Dr. Krupin snorted. “And when you get back from Orion, could you please get rid of that idiot Bugrov? I mean, poor Ilya always felt so underutilized, but at least he did his job quickly and efficiently. Bugrov’s reviewing the last twenty years of his classifications. The man ought to be a librarian or something, must have everything exactly right . . .”

Dr. Kant sniffed. “Nothing wrong with being careful with the details, but he’s rather annoying. And while you’re on Orion, can you check with Stellar University? There’s some good work being done there, and I was going to propose we throw some money at them.”

“Really? I know we’re well funded, but . . .” Dr. Chugunov sounded suddenly interested.

“No, Harold, for the last time, we are not going to fund a fully autonomous cybernetic dog.” Kratsov snickered. “I suspect Matthias is casting his wistful gaze on the emergency fund, which is more robust than is necessary. Axel, please have a nice peaceful trip and don’t hurt yourself further.”

The meeting didn’t exactly break up, inasmuch as he’d deliberately pounced at noon and caught them in the cafeteria, but their attention did return to eating, and the (much more numerous) lab techs, assistants, interns, and poorly named but absolutely vital “Nannies” who’d all gone silent and listened in, started talking again.

As he walked out, Ilia Balabanov hustled out and caught up with him. A quiet studious fellow, not really young anymore.

“Axel? What the hell am I supposed to do? Lord David’s my superior, but all he’s interested in is the archives. And I know everyone’s busy, but not a single survey trip in almost two months? And no sign he wants to do any, anytime soon.”

Axel thought that over. The Bureau of Exploration, in charge of classifying found Worlds for Invasion, Colonization, Resource, Recreation, Science, or Avoid.

“You know what? Talk to Murphy and see if every time a quad comes on, they could check around and see which worlds are attacking other worlds, who is being attacked, who’s isolated themselves, or been isolated . . . Just a quick look, but they take regular breaks. So you ought to be able to build up a pretty good sample over a few weeks. I’m especially worried about Worlds in major expansion modes.”

“I don’t know if Bugrov would let me . . . but then he doesn’t seem to care what I do.”

“So, just do it. Surprise and impress everyone with your analysis of an issue of major importance.”

Ilia perked up and bounced off.

And what the heck do I do, if there is any sign of coordinated efforts to conquer the rest of the Alliance from one of the three parts, or from a major branch?

I guess I’ll shelve that speculation for lack of data, get my mind back on the local sixteen worlds, plus any others we’ve explored but not done anything with. Probably over a hundred of those, maybe five with a native population, so we just shut up about them to keep them from being invaded. The others . . . nothing special, could be useful for colonization.

He headed back for the Bay, and found both Grigory and Murphy there.

“I have a plan, which will start with me going to Embassy and asking about the Plague. If it deteriorates with time, Orion may be able to return to Berlin, and we can talk about which Facilities they’ll lease to us. I expect an argument about the ownership of the Free Portalmakers. Less, if they know they can get their other facility working and train their own portalclones. But for now, I’m going to be hard nosed about their ownership.”

“Wow!”

Axel looked, still turning carefully, to find Leon behind him, and Henrik following.

“Err, it’s just, I keep forgetting about . . . ownership.”

Henrik nodded. “But Axel stole us, fair and square.”

“Umm, the legality might be questionable. And definitely appalling . . .” Axel looked back at Murphy. “Do you think you’ll need them for the next couple of days? Dr. Borodin is going to bring in some kids that have been getting mentalist lessons so we can teach them the portal techniques, so I’ll have a Quad for Orion, when they agree to everything. But surely I can take them to Embassy for a look at those permanent ‘gates’ as they call them.”

Henrik grinned. “Yes. I want to see how they do that.”

“I can be packed in five minutes!” Leon bounced in excitement.

“No rush, they’re in the western part of North America, so it’s early morning there. And . . . I’m going to have to explain to my wife that I’m . . . being a lot more energetic that my doctor would approve of.”

Grigory grinned. “No one expected you to behave.”

When Grigory’s chauffeur delivered him home, Pauli was waiting with the ATV. “Dina called and said to p-pack for a couple of d-days and bring the ATV.”

“God help me if I ever need to keep a secret from that woman.”

Pauli grinned and grabbed his arm and marched him up the steps and inside.

Dina had his bag packed and just hugged him. “No fighting! No falling down! And no worrying about me, because I’m going to close myself in the stable.”

“Uh . . . why?”

She leaned on him and sighed. “It’s my fault this baby was due seven months after the wedding, but life will be much easier if he or she doesn’t arrive until November. I’ve been losing the time a few hours every morning when you head for work. But I need to do a lot more, and if you’re going to be gone a couple of days, that’s an opportunity I’m not going to miss. And when you go to Orion, I’ll do it again.”

He opened his mouth to say he didn’t care, then shut it. It’s what she wants. For her reputation, for a baby that would be called a bastard, for me to not get comments about being tricked into marriage, and was I sure it was my baby . . .

She just nodded. “All that.”

“I never thought about getting out from the inside of that bag, and what do your parents think?”

“That I’m very clever, and that I’d better bring that walking stick over to their house so it didn’t get stolen.”

“Oh.”

“So you go do everything that needs to be done, and get back here by November.”

“Long before that, my Lady. But I will not be shocked when I don’t find you here waiting for me.” He failed to stop from smiling. “But your parents had better know where you are!”

A snicker from behind was Dina’s dad. Mitty whistled and gave Axel’s right side a good looking over. “What did the other guy look like?”

“Probably like a Japanese tank driver. And since he was on the far side of the Portal, he’s probably home safe and sound.”

Mitty tsked, shaking his head. “The news channels have been playing clips of the ‘Battle of Regulus’ that somehow leaked out of there with the ambulances and speculating on how injured Igor was, almost single handedly stopping two invasions.”

Axel sighed. “The Teams did all the work. I held a few shields. Honestly, those wretched movies have a lot to answer for.”

Pauli picked up a six-pack of “Oh, please, not, not . . .”

Dina sniffed. “Just in case you can’t find any place that serves soup!”

She picked up his case and they bracketed him, and he tried for dignified as he walked down the steps to the ATV.

Forty-four appeared to be having trouble keeping a straight face.

Mitty wasn’t even trying.