September 16th, 2021

_Fall of Empire_ part 27

Axel looked at the man’s stubborn expression and sighed. “We really aren’t that sort of threat.”

“Yes. I heard you. You want to keep the Portal under your control.”

“Umm, it’s more a matter of not trusting your people to respect the status of the Free Portalists. I strongly suspect that given a year or two to see them in action, you will stop acting like slave owners and more like employers.”

He bristled indignantly. “Unchipped Portalmakers are dangerous!”

“There’s no more zivvy. In a single generation, there will be no chipped servants, no Execs, no Cyborgs, and no chipped wives.” Axel suppressed amusement at the man’s horrified expression. “We’d best get used to the idea of, you know, being nice to everyone.”

Orion has a population of nine billion. True Men, less than a third of them, Halfbreeds over a third, Natives right at a third.

And since the female half of the True, and fair number of the men are chipped, and damn few Halfbreeds aren’t chipped . . . they’ve got a serious problem.

“We’re still Mentalists. And we have the weapons. We will still rule.”

“Actually your Cyborgs have most of the weapons. And if you deliberately set out to shift to an employer/employee relationship we can probably make a peaceful transition to a zivvyless society. And we’re starting with Free Portalists.”

Now the man was sputtering.

I don’t think I’m cut out for diplomacy. Or . . . maybe I’ve stopped caring and started just slapping people with a dose of reality. Igor, back in your box. Lord Axel needs to handle this.

He took a deep breath. Released it. “Sorry, bit of a worry of mine, and we don’t have a native population. Fact is, we need to look for a way to stay on top if there is never going to be any more zivvy. If we loosen up on the chipped servants now while we still can control them, their children will grow up seeing their continued acceptance of us as the elite and just assume that’s how the world works.

“But to hold civilization together, we need portals, and we need to be strong enough that other worlds and groups of Worlds will not attack us. And that is why I want to help Orion. We can be a sixteen-world branch with active trading inside, cautious trading outside, and weather this crisis to become a strong part of a recovering, rebuilding, Alliance.”

That got a skeptical glower. “I will discuss this with my staff.” Lord Gennadiy gave him a stiff nod and stood.

Dismissed. Axel stood, inclined his head and walked out of the Lord’s office, and kept going.

He’d nabbed two suites on the top floor of the Alpha Leonis, the largest downtown hotel, which was barely adequate for his entourage. The four new kids for a Quad, plus Henrik to get them set up and make sure they could find the right Worlds. Pauli, who was keeping his mouth shut and acting like a snobby Exec in his fancy suit and business-like hair cut that displayed the small exec chip, and Thirteen who thought playing chauffeur-bodyguard for Igor was the funniest thing ever.

So, The Free Portalist Company has leased four Portalclones to The Neighborhood Trading Company, and as the CEO and majority stockholder of NTC I’m here, as a totally civilian representative of the company, to lease a new type of portal maker to Orion . . . and if their facilities are damaged, I can arrange to sell them the non-organic parts, too.

Two nice cars, boring and ordinary according to everyone else, who were all legitimately civilian owned, even if the companies that owned them belonged to their own aliases, three quad sets, one of which he’d already handed over to the Regulans so they could get a second Portal facility working.

Lord Shura Krupin, formerly the manager of Portal Number Three, had gotten the quads and most of the rest of the employees at the facility away before the invaders reached it. “And now I’m in charge of getting at least one, and preferably two portals, up and running. Reliably. My three quads are working miracles with cobbled together equipment .”

Axel’d shaken his head at Shura’s avaricious glance at the new kids. “They’re for Orion. But all you have to do is find Portalclones and get them Mentalist training. Let them observe the experienced Quads, then substitute in, and you’ll have all the people you need.”

“Probably sooner than I’ll have the equipment in good working order.”

“Make a list of what you need. When I get back I’ll see if I can unearth the templates for making them. The Research Portal’s been rebuilt a dozen times, so we’re well supplied with specs.”

“That would be amazing.”

“We’re cutting edge tech. It’s our only advantage.”

Not that Shura had believed him.

Back at the hotel, Axel paced.

“I hope Lord Gennadiy will at least send a messenger to his Governor or Council or whoever has power there, right now, on Orion.”

Pauli set his computer down on the table. “Otherwise you’ll j-just go anyway, won’t you?”

Axel sighed. “I’m trying to do this honestly. But if Orion has cut itself off from the other four vassals, we may need to contact them directly, and . . . pretend to be their liege? Set up trade?”

Pauli grinned. “If anyone c-could pull this off, it’s you.”

Axel sighed. “I hope. I could use a decade of peace and quiet at home while the rest of the Alliance sorts things out. Actually it’s going to take a couple of generations on most of the Worlds, because of the native population. But if those wretched Lords will just . . . adapt.”

Pauli grinned. “They can’t all b-be as s-sensible as you.”

Axel snorted. “I wonder if they’ve done anything about their blacklist on the Presentations?” He sat at the desk and opened his own computer.

Pauli got up and watched over his shoulder. “H-how did you g-get into that s-system? Oh, through the R-registration Bureau? Huh.”

“Yeah, and this filter checks that there really is such a person . . . theoretically to catch typos from nervous fathers. But . . . there’s this list . . . honestly, If I were a troublemaker, I’d dig through all the archives and trace names and find out how many lives they destroyed.”

Pauli snickered. “And publish the current list?”

He wandered back to his own computer and Axel sabotaged the list. Then went on to more useful research. Chickens. We need chickens. I ought to pick up at couple dozen on the way back and take them out to Equis Stables.

Pauli was grinning.

“Dare I ask?”

“Oh . . . Ah, L-lady Ariadna and Katyusha asked me to fake up a husband for her, so I made him here, poor old fellow died just two months  after the wedding, his young bride went off with her aunt to mourn in seclusion. And have a baby.”

Oh Pauli, a rehearsed speech with only one stutter? I wonder what you actually did?

Surely you didn’t marry her to Toli! If her father hears that name . . . although I have no idea if he ever knew his Cyborg’s name . . . And I’ll bet you neglected to put in a death certificate . . . and I just showed you how to get into the Registry’s Presentation section . . . 

Axel grinned. I raised that boy right. Hope I don’t have to rescue him.

“And n-now I think I’ll ch-check out this Aslan University y-you think s-so highly of.”

“I loved it—mainly because it got me away from the family.”

Pauli nodded. “It would be w-weird, though, pretending to b-be a lord.”

“It might require some acting, but you wouldn’t be pretending. And it would have the advantage of taking you completely out of your usual environment, so no one would be assuming you were one of the servant boys and treating you accordingly.”

“Hmm . . . They w-would m-make f-fun of m-my s-stutter.”

“That’s going to be true of SMC as well. Mind you, they’re a very good college, but they don’t have, for instance, a Medical School, or a School of Law. They are pretty solid on the science and their lower level engineering classes, but for engineering degree you’d need to do the last two years on some other world.”

He nodded. “But I could hang around with the people who know me, when I’m not in class.”

“True.” Axel shrugged. “And you could stay truer to yourself. It’s hard to change, even when you want to.”