March 7th 2014
Even song birds will peck our eyes out when their nest is threatened. Yadav didn’t have time to contemplate how she might be threatening anyone’s nest. The next moment the door flew inward, and the governor slipped through.
“May I introduce a cabinet member and my close advisor, Wei Martinez,” the governor said, gesturing to the man behind her.
Black, straight hair fell to Martinez’s shoulders, and a thin mustache perched over his lip like an oiled caterpillar. Upon entering, he made a point of smoothing and buttoning his suit jacket, which was well tailored. If he’d worn a tie, Yadav was sure he would have cinched it tight. Strapped to his belt was a holster carrying a kinetic sidearm.
Yadav eyeballed the gun, wary.
“I am Governor Tentopet Jones. And your ID codes say that you are …?” She and Martinez both crossed their arms expectantly.
Yadav felt a bit like a young child in the principal’s office under Jones’ scrutiny. But Martinez’s countenance gave her graveyard chills.
“I’m Ulla Yadav,” she said without hesitation, holding up her press tattoo. “Of New United.”
Jones nodded, satisfied.
“You landed illegally on our planet,” Martinez broke in. “No passes or permissions were given. Your ship was destroyed. When and how do you intend to vacate the system?”
“Is that important?” Yadav asked
His gaze narrowed. “Yes.”
Their medical scans hadn’t even picked up on the beacon in her intestines. What century were these people living in?
“Why don’t you just deport me?” she asked.
“We don’t have the resources to waste,” Jones said smoothly. “Who knows you’re here?”
Yadav carefully gauged the pitch and timber of Jones’ question. The answer was uncertain — maybe all of New United, maybe no one. It was impossible to tell if someone had picked up her trail yet or not, especially since she didn’t know how much time had passed since the crash. But that wasn’t important. Yadav had to tell them — especially this Martinez character — exactly what they needed to hear.
“I have a contact out of system,” she said. “He’s got his ears open. He knows to alert the company if he doesn’t hear from me every forty-eight hours.”
Martinez let out an aggravated, “Ha.” Whether it was because he didn’t believe her, or didn’t want to believe her, Yadav wasn’t sure.
“Why is my colleague dead?” she blurted.
Jones didn’t answer right away. She seemed to be searching for the right words. “We were unable to save him. I’m sorry. I don’t know how much you saw from the med shuttle, but we are not a well-to-do society. Our capabilities proved inadequate.”
“But at first glance they didn’t appear inadequate,” Yadav said. She needed to get a feel for the political dynamics in play. Exactly what kind of a leader was this Ten-toe-pet Jones? “The city at the bottom of the hill is in shambles, but you tried to build something imposing and modern up here. Have a nice little private compound, don’t you?”
Martinez looked as though he might lash out at any minute. Frustration wafted off of him like bad cologne. “What’s your point?”
“You don’t seem to have a lot to work with, but you sure did your best to make it look like you’ve got deep pockets.”
“It makes the public believe that prosperity is achievable,” Jones said. “If they knew the truth, that not even their government had wealth, they would despair.”
Yadav openly scoffed. Warlords and pseudo-emperors loved their high towers and gilded palaces. Such compounds were displays of power meant to keep people in their place. They highlighted the massive gap between the oppressed and the oppressors. Made the public feel weak, incapable.
It surprised Yadav that Jones would attempt to claim their compound as anything more than uprising insurance.
The governor sat down across from the reporter and leaned in. “Wei and I are cousins,” she said, gesturing to Martinez, who rolled his eyes. “Where we come from originally, no one has money. No one appears to have money. This society might look impoverished to you, but you’ve never seen our home station.
“Most of my childhood memories run together. One day was mostly like the next. But there was one that sticks out in my mind as a turning point — it’s the reason I chose to be a leader. The reason for these buildings.
“There was this fence — well, more of a wall. It was made of rusty metal slats, and blocked off a dilapidated, toxic apartment. The chemical smell was horrendous — the place had been used to cook SLAM. Some kid had found a half-empty can of spray paint and covered the thing in vulgarities. The wall sat like that, a sickening eyesore in the heart of our rundown space station for years. Until some people chipped in to buy a few gallons of paint off a traveling salesman. As a community, we whitewashed that wall. Made it shine.
“That wall made us believe things could get better. A silly, crappy faux wall that we made beautiful. The premise here is the same.”
Jones sat back. “I am a public servant, Ms. Yadav, trying to increase the morale of my strained people. If I have to do a little hand waving, a little deceiving, to make them believe in improvement, I do it without hesitation.”
Great, another politician with a sob story, toting civic duty like a Roman cross, Yadav thought. “What is your relationship with the pirates like?”
The governor was quiet for a split second. “Tenuous.”
“How are you protecting your people? Are you protecting your people?”
“Our cannon worked well enough, didn’t it?”
“But what else?”
“You’ve got no reason to take up the governor’s time,” Martinez protested. “She doesn’t have to prove anything to you. We’re here to interrogate you, not the other way around.”
Jones held up a placating hand.
“Instead of an interrogation, how about a formal interview?” asked Yadav. “In the streets, amongst the people.” Maybe she would get to inspect those lean-tos after all.
A subtle smile played over Jones lips, as though she’d been waiting for this chance. “If I show you our colony, will you do a story on it? Make us major news?”
“If there’s something newsworthy happening on this planet, I’ll write about it,” Yadav replied slyly.
“This isn’t a good idea,” Martinez said.
“Get me someone who can remove her restraints,” Jones decided, ignoring his concern. “I’m taking our new friend for a walk.”
Martinez bent close to Jones’ ear, laying a firm hand on her shoulder. Yadav noticed his knuckles strained against her jacket. “We’re going to regret this,” he said darkly. “You should have taken my initial recommendation.”
“Thank you for your concern,” Jones said unemotionally. “But under the circumstances, I’ll be keeping my own counsel.” She gave him a meaningful look.
“Fine,” he said, moving toward the door. “But a government’s number one concern must always be the protection of its people. Don’t let this newswoman make you think any different. Rosy PR means nothing if the people can’t produce.”
Yadav wanted to assure him that the last thing he had to worry about was her interfering with their public relations, but staying quiet when necessary was just as important as shooting off the right questions at the right time.
“Thank you,” Jones said again. “Please get me an escort, something to free her hands —”
“And a change of clothes?” Yadav suggested. A hospital robe was hardly appropriate street wear.
“And the spare suit from my office,” Jones added.
Martinez opened his mouth to protest again, but Jones barked, “Go.”
He nodded, suddenly gracious. Then he allowed his gaze to meet Yadav’s for a split second before he disappeared.
Yadav felt like she’d just disturbed an ants’ nest and was waiting for the first of a thousand stings.