PREVIOUS Chapter: https://steemit.com/steemit/@tsudohnimh/amethyst-a-science-fiction-epic
CHAPTER TWO : AN ADMIRAL AND A SURPRISE
Continuing Amethyst, we learn of the perils facing humanity as it faces off against monsters of its own making.
Red Doll will be posted up later today as well. Australian Eastern Standard Time that is.
The office door swung back open to reveal the Lieutenant. “We are ready now, this way please.”
April took a breath and walked on, settling into her role and glossing over any doubts or lingering sores about why she was here. At the end of the day she had a job to do and like a true professional she was going to do it.
Admiral Trevor Bradford stood behind a deep Mahogany desk waiting for them to arrive. He was dressed formally in a traditional dark uniform thick with ribbons on his chest and gold bands on his sleeve. He wore several gold badges above his ranks of medal ribbons showing his branches of service, foremost being the four pointed star of the Space Fleet.
“Good to see you two.” He reached over and shook their hands before gesturing to two leather chairs in front of the desk. “Please sit yourselves down.”
“Thanks.” April smiled back. “Nice chair.”
“Real leather, not synthetic.” He said. “Better not put that in your report, the animal rights folks would probably try and storm this place!”
“Off the record.” She replied with a grin.
“Thank you Lieutenant.” Bradford nodded to Janssen before sitting down. “That will be all.”
The young Finnish man departed leaving the three alone staring across the desk. It held a basic computer terminal to the right and an assortment of photographs and holo images on the left, including one of a long prowed ship.
“My family.” Bradford noted April’s gaze. “My son is First Officer on a cruiser, very proud of him.”
“I’m sure you must be.” She returned genuinely.
“And that ship was my last command before somebody put me in charge of a desk.” He chuckled slightly. “Not half so much fun.”
Bradford was grey haired though his eyebrows were still black and quite bushy. His hair was curly and still rather thick topping a clean shaven and slightly rounded face set with a large nose. He looked more like a farmer than a naval officer, though his medals told a different story. Most were for long service or good conduct, but a respectable number were decorations for bravery and valour which was no small achievement considering the lack of any major wars over the last century.
“Can I offer you a drink?” he asked. “Water? Tea? In fact I can find a little rum around here somewhere…”
“No alcohol thanks.” April said quickly. “Not unless there’s a bathroom within jumping distance.”
“Long story.” Pete winked.
“Water is just fine.” She changed the subject.
“I’ll have some tea.” Pete took the offer. “Why not, when in Rome.”
Bradford opened a cabinet in the side of his desk and took out a jug of mineral water, filling a glass for April before tacking out a kettle and teapot for himself and Pete. The kettle boiled instantly allowing him to fill the pot with hot water.
“I prefer the old fashioned way, real tea leaves in a pot.” He said as he gave the mix a bit of a swish around in the pot. “Never cared for the instant stuff. Flick a switch and its done, where’s the skill in that?”
“Exactly.” Pete agreed, having no real idea either way.
“Hard to get them out here, tea leaves.” Bradford said. “But as a Royal Navy Admiral I do have certain perks associated with the rank.”
“Good to be king.” Pete grinned as Bradford poured two cups. “Black is fine.”
He put the pot and kettle away and settled back in his chair.
“Well, now we all have civilised drinks shall we begin?”
Pete took a quick sip, then took his palm camera out of his pocket. “One second admiral, just make sure we’re recording… okay, anytime.”
“Admiral Bradford,” April began, her voice both soothing and precise in its delivery. “Can you tell us what position you hold here?”
“My role is Commander of all EU Naval Assets in the Mars region, which basically means every ship, station and Marine unit in the Martian orbital plane.”
“Must be a lot of forces?” April said.
“Second only to the Earth orbital plane.” Bradford answered. “In fact we actually have more stations out here, but less ships and troops.”
“Why are there more stations than Earth?”
“Most of them are refuelling points for ships heading out into the outer solar system, or to top up on the way back home.” The Admiral answered simply. “Maybe a dozen are military bases, with two being classed as full space ports.”
“Like this one?”
“Like this one.”
“How many people is that exactly?” She wondered.
“I’m afraid I can’t say specifically, but most are civilians working on contract or businesses running their own operations. Things like shipping companies, surveyors, shop keepers and restaurateurs. There’s over a hundred million Europeans out here, about a million on this station alone.”
“Add to that other nationalities and you must keep busy out here?”
“You could say that. For every station we have you’ll find an American one, a Chinese one, an Indian or Oceanic one. Russia has been expanding its operations out here lately, so have the Latin League and the North African Alignment. I’d say in the last twenty years Mars orbit has grown faster than Earth.”
April had been asking the easy questions first, the straight forward obvious ones designed to settle in the Admiral and make him comfortable, more likely to give honest answers. She was a friendly face and projected a respectful manner which tricked the interviewee into thinking they were in control of the conversation. It was a good technique, whether it was moral or not was little more than a technicality. This was her job.
“For the clarity of the viewers I should say you are British, but part of the United European Command, correct?” She began to build up to the main topic of discussion.
“Indeed. Each of the European nations runs its own fleets, builds its own ships but to a common design. We each have our own ships so it is very rare to find a vessel with a mix of nationalities aboard, only for special missions usually. However our training, doctrines and command protocols are as identical as our ships, so in battle a Royal Navy ship performs identically to any other vessel in Europe. Well, accounting for crew quality of course.”
“Britain has always been a maritime power and that has carried over into space. Each nation has to contribute an equal percentage of its GDP to defence but can choose where to make its contribution. Britain devotes most of its resources to the Navy so tends to operate more ships than our European partners. By contrast France and Germany invest more heavily in their armies meaning most of the United European Army is either French or German, while the Navy is almost half British.”
“Does this give Britain greater influence over Solar policy because it has a larger presence on the space lanes?”
“Not really.” Bradford replied. “Our policy is dictated purely by the EU Council, elected officials from across the continent. Any actions have to go through the Council, and then have to be signed off by the President.”
“Similar to the US system?” April observed.
“Relatively, yes.” Bradford agreed. “It’s a fairly common principle, most of the Big Six use a similar system of government.”
“How much influence does the military have on the EU government?”
“Very little, no more than any other group of citizens.”
“I ask because in other states, China especially, we’ve seen an increase of military figures trying to dictate policy to the leadership.”
“In China, yes.” Bradford nodded. “But you could say the same thing about the US too, several high ranking officers have been quoted as demanding a toughening of US policy towards foreign powers.”
April held back a smile, this was exactly the subject she had been steering towards.
“What do you think about that Admiral?”
“About the military making statements of policy? Well we all have our own opinions, but we also have a chain of command to respect. As an officer I would not speak out on a subject over which I have no authority.”
“Do you think the senior US and Chinese officers that have done so are in the wrong?”
“That… that is a matter for their own commanders to decide.”
“Have you noticed any changes out here reflecting the situation on Earth?”
“By ‘situation’ do you mean the sabre rattling both the US and Chinese are engaged in right now?” Bradford raised a thick eyebrow.
“If that is how you would define it Admiral.” She continued neutrally.
“I would.” Bradford affirmed. “Ever since President Brook was elected things have grown increasingly worse.”
“Do you disagree President Brook is merely reacting to Chinese provocation?”
“There’s reacting, then there’s over reacting.” Bradford clarified. “I followed the US Elections last year when Brook hammered his opponents. His whole platform was based on Pro-US and anti everyone else rhetoric. Especially China.”
“His election victory was one of the biggest landslides in history.” April informed.
“It was, and given the amount of coverage he received is it a surprise?” The Admiral countered. “He was never off the holos, we barely saw his opponents.”
“There wasn’t any bias in reporting events.” April quickly added, always aware that anything that sounded like an allegation could get them into a lot of trouble. “The rules for broadcasts were all the same.”
“Yes, the airtime was up for bids.” Bradford nodded. “Whoever had the most funding could bid highest and buy the most broadcast slots.”
“And John Brook had the most funding.”
“Too right he did, every mega corps in the country was backing him and working against his opponents. I’m no politician, but I know what sort of advantage that gave him. All those smears against his opponents that came out of nowhere didn’t help either.”
“All of which were fully disproved.”
“Oh yes, they were all false. Course we didn’t hear that until after the election.” Bradford grimaced slightly. “I’m not pretending my government is perfect, but from my point of view the last US election was not fair.”
This was exactly the sort of thing April was after. Senator John Brook had largely come out of nowhere to challenge the standing President and the opposition leader to a show down. It seemed foolish, Brook was the leader of a fairly new party called the Freedom Party, a fairly small assortment of people dedicated to restoring some pride to their nation. They firmly believed that both Republican and Democrat parties had grown soft and were no longer capable of giving the United States the direction it deserved.
Recent events had given them a voice, allowing the previously unheard of party to start building a reputation. Brook had spoken out against foreign governments encroaching on US territory in the Solar System, especially the Asteroid belt, and his predictions seemed to be coming true. The biggest culprit was China which disregarded the defined borders between its own and US territory sparking several incidents between civilian ships.
In the early days of deep space exploration most nations had claimed vast swathes of territory almost arbitrarily with no international treaty or system to formalise borders. At first this was largely ignored as no nation had the technology to regularly travel beyond Martian orbit and exploit their disputed possessions anyway. But times changed, and as science bounded forward creating ever more efficient engines and finally artificial gravity the entirety of the solar system was suddenly opened for everyone to exploit, and foremost among these were the Mega corporations.
Swiftly mining ships were dispatched to begin operations and physically take possession of particular sectors. While Europe had focused on the region around Jupiter both the US and China had staked their claims in the Asteroid belt, with claimed areas frequently overlapping.
Initially there was enough space for both. All powers had claims in the Asteroid belt though the lion’s share was held by the US and China, and for decades there was enough for everyone. The major corporations set up mines, refinery stations and convoys of transport ships running frequent services to hub stations on the Martian orbital plane. The operations proceeded peacefully as the corporations slowly consolidated and expanded, right up until they reached the disputed zones.
Things then started to get nasty with corporations from both the US and China mining asteroids clamed by each other. While the international courts tried to settle the disputes industrial sabotage began to make itself known, in one instant thirty American miners died when their tunnel seal cracked and expelled the entire contents of the mine into cold vacuum.
These conflicts were well reported on Earth, often times the media taking a story and filling in the blanks with wild speculation and lurid details. It was perhaps no coincidence that most media outlets in the US and China also happened to be owned by the same corporations that were experiencing losses through industrial espionage.
Each of the corporations had supported political parties, in America usually Republican or Democrat. In return for their support and funding they had grown to expect a certain level of support, some would say obedience, from the US government. When the corporations began to demand action to protect their assets, when they demanded sanctions and even military intervention the government in its wisdom clearly said no. The US President would wait for the results of the International Court and act on them. Every day the courts deliberated cost the corporations billions of dollars, and diminished their patience.
Finally they decided to act. When the next election came around each and every Mega Corp in the US withdrew its support from the big two parties and backed John Brook’s Freedom Party, a move which stunned the US government. Brook’s rhetoric about a stronger America matched their aims perfectly, his criticism of the weakness of the current President and the fact the Chinese were laughing in the face of every American struck a chord with many people. The Mega Corps were happy to help publicise his picture of a downtrodden US through their domination of the media and repeat time after time that the old parties had failed repeatedly and America needed a change, a new party to restore its pride and strength. America needed John Brook.
In less than five years he had jumped up from a minor Senator to President, and the Freedom party owned almost three quarters of the Senate giving him virtual carte blank when it came to setting US policy. Something he did not hesitate to embrace. On the surface it was a good thing, America had a purpose and a direction, it had definition and a swelling of national pride. The only problem was that the new pride was built on anger towards all those that had apparently harmed America in the past. That made the other governments of the world a little jumpy.
“Can you tell us how the President’s new Foreign policy has affected things out here?” April moved on, setting up her next line of questions.
“I should say on the one hand its boosted trade, lot more money flowing through the Martian sector.” Bradford admitted. “That’s probably why you haven’t heard a whole lot of complaining so far, American money is welcome out here and Brook’s expansion of mining operations has surged the economy. People are getting rich and nobody will ever complain about that.”
“But you feel there’s a negative side?”
“I know it for a fact, all you need to do is look at the bodies piling up between the Mars Sector and the Belt sector. People are dying out here, a lot of people, and it’s getting worse.”
April’s research had told her most of this anyway, but she had to dig to find this data and it was not widely broadcast back home, at least not in the States. They had sent her out here for a story and she was going to damn well get one, and not some wishy washy anecdotes about it being ghostly out here, or the future of humanity and all that crap. She wanted something with shockwaves and after her handling by the company she wanted payback. Errol Corp had targeted her as a scapegoat for the fiasco with the Senator, they were the hand pushing her away, so they were going to be on the receiving end of her wrath.
“We hear a lot about how dangerous it is out here, and that there are many accidents.” April announced. “Is the increase in fatalities simply due to their being more people out here?”
“No they aren’t.” Bradford stated. “Not unless people are getting accidentally machine gunned, incinerated or dismembered by high calibre projectiles.”
“Can you tell us more Admiral?”
“It’s quite simple, there is a war going on out here, a war between the Corporations. Mainly Errol Corp and Heng Enterprises, Errol owns most of the US facilities in the disputed zones, Heng owns most of the Chinese ones.”
“And these two groups are actively fighting each other?”
“After a fashion.” Bradford nodded. “They have both hired mercenaries to do the dirty work.”
“According to official statements both companies use Private Security Companies to protect their assets, but have never authorised attacks.” The reporter stated. “They blame rogue factions and pirates.”
“Pirates.” Bradford repeated with a grunt. “Let me tell you Miss Conroy, there are no Pirates out here. Pirates need hidden bases and constant income, they are glorified thieves. There are no hidden bases out here, modern sensor technology is too powerful to hide something as big as a supply yard. Also a lot of the attacks are based on pure destruction and not theft, they don’t steal the cargo of the ships they attack. How many thieves go to that sort of trouble and then leave their spoils behind?”
“Has the EU found proof Errol Corp or Heng Enterprises are sponsoring attacks that result in multiple civilian deaths?”
The Admiral grimaced. “No, not yet. But we will. Many of these attacks take place in international space and some within EU territory. It’s just a matter of time before we catch these so called Pirates in the act.”
“What about the Security firms, the mercenaries as you call them, have you encountered any of them?”
“A few, but their ships are banned from EU space. In fact they are banned by all nations except the US and China.” Bradford informed. “Most governments didn’t like the precedent of arming civilians and it seems to have been born out by what we are seeing today. It has essentially given the Mega Corps their own private Navies, forces they are using against each other to maximise profits at the cost of lives.”
“Allegedly Admiral, there is after all no proof those groups legally contracted to any Corporation are launching offensives.”
“Allegedly.” Bradford nodded slowly. “But when you’ve been out here a while all that bull about pirates and rogue ships ends up looking like the lies they are.”
“Private Security firms are allowed under US law providing their weapons are highly limited, less than the equivalent Coast Guard cutter.”
“I’m sure that’s the law.” Bradford stated. “But it isn’t what’s happening out here.”
She took a quick glance over to Pete who was still recording, focused intensely on the camera and its images.
“Have you found Private armed ships have been breaking the law?”
“Frequently, that’s why they are banned from our space.” Admiral Bradford explained. “I don’t want civilian EU ships caught in the crossfire of some damn private war.”
“What happens when you encounter one of these ships?”
“If it is within international space we record its registry and transmit the data home where a formal complaint is made to whoever registered the vessel, which would be either China or the US. So far we haven’t heard a word back from either government.”
“Do you think these heavily armed ships are operating with the consent of their governments?”
“Yes I do.”
It was exactly what April wanted to hear.
“That would mean organisations like Errol Corp were consistently breaking the law, and the US government was failing to prosecute them.”
“That would be correct.” He confirmed. “And further more it adds up to the evidence we’ve found surrounding attacks. EU ships have answered distress calls from several mines, refinery ships and transports these last few months and the damage patterns betray military grade weapons.”
“Which are illegal under the laws of every country?”
“And you say it’s getting worse?”
“We’ve noticed a definite escalation. At least three convoys have been wiped out entirely with at least a hundred fatalities, we’ve detected skirmishes between mercenary ships blasting away at each other, and last week we found the wreck of a Chinese gunboat.”
“So someone had the power to destroy a military patrol craft?” April questioned.
“Exactly, definitely not within the allowed capabilities of any civilian vessel.” He sighed. “Every day brings fresh casualties, more reports of death and destruction. I watch the news and I can tell you the vast majority of these events go unreported. Nobody on Earth knows the truth, thousands of people are dying out here every month, this is a full scale war waged between hundreds of ships and tens of thousands of people. An Illegal war.”
“Do you blame the US government for this?”
“No, but I blame them and the Chinese for not stopping a situation which is clearly out of control. They need to take responsibility for their citizens and assert control over these Corporations before more people die. If they don’t, this conflict will continue to escalate and millions of lives could be at risk.”
“Admiral Bradford, thank you.”
She made a cut gesture to Pete who turned off the small camera, closing it up and dropping it in his pocket.
“Good interview Admiral, I think it helps tell people what its like out here.”
“I hope so.” The old man expressed flatly. “So far the attacks have been limited to mines, Corporate transports and other mercenaries. Unfortunately the way things have been going lately both sides have been growing more bold, hitting closer to major shipping lines and bases. One of these days they’ll hit one of the hub stations, the big civilian transfer points for ships heading in and out of the different sectors. If that happens, no when it happens, a lot of innocent people will die.”
“I’ve been investigating corruption for a good long time now, I’d guessed some of this, but the scale terrifies me.” April said quietly. “I knew these big Corporations could get away with a lot by bribing the right people, but I never imagined they were killing each other like this.”
“It’s a powder keg.” Bradford agreed. “I’ve given orders to seize any Mercenary ship that strays into our territory just like everyone else. I also know both US and Chinese navies have orders to destroy any mercenary from a foreign power found in their space. No warning, no communication, just shoot to kill.”
“And as only China and the US have mercenaries…” Pete began.
“You have Americans and Chinese killing each other.” April finished.
“That’s been happening for years, it’s only now people are noticing.” Spoke the Admiral. “Ever since President Brook came to power and implemented this new policy, the Corporations have been running wild.”
“So have the Chinese ones.” Pete added. “If anything they are even worse.”
“From what I know they have even more power over their government.” April remarked. “Especially Heng, that witch is supposed to run China single handed.”
“Just like Cyrus Errol is supposed to have President Brook in his back pocket.” Her friend shrugged. “The two biggest business people in the world squaring off with each other.”
“They’re not squaring off, they’re actually fighting. They are at war.” Bradford said. “And if they do have the sort of influence you say they do you can bet they are pushing hard for their respective governments to get involved.”
Pete shook his head. “Brook has been wanting to face down China all his life, make them back off and score a victory over them.”
“China won’t back down over this, not if they’re forced on the issue.” The Admiral stated.
“Heng won’t allow it.” April nodded. “And neither will Errol.”
“So you see how this can escalate?” Bradford pointed out solemnly. “If they can persuade their governments to get involved, to use the actual military to try and legitimise their territorial claims… well, you could end up with a full scale war.”
“China against America.” April shivered. “It would be a bloodbath.”
“I suggest you try to make people understand that.” Bradford suggested. “The more people know about this, the more likely it is nothing will happen.”
“Well, we wanted a big story.” Pete offered a weak smile. “Here it is. We get to prevent the first war in space.”
As the weight of responsibility settled in April didn’t look too thrilled.
“You know, maybe I should have gone for that job at ‘Make Over Weekly’ after all.”