Title: Vignette: Planetary Chess
Jason Kim had never wanted children. An only child himself, he’d been perfectly content in his solitude, the companionship of his parents the only break in the quiet that he needed. He’d never had many friends, better at cultivating casual acquaintances than deeper relationships. The military had been a perfect fit for him: a firm hierarchy of command, everyone knowing their role and their duty and proceeding in accordance with it. Jason had made the military his career, and at the time had thought to prolong it indefinitely.
He hadn’t counted on his capture, a shocking development resulting from a relatively small interplanetary conflict that escalated into actions more brutal than he’d ever imagined. In the slave pens where he and his fellow Federation soldiers were taken, there was no order of rank to protect those with different strengths. There were only the physically supreme slaves ruling over the weak, and the implacable fists of their overseers barely keeping the anarchy at bay.
Jason existed as a prisoner of war for a little over a standard year. He’d gone from a decorated military officer known for his cool demeanor and tactical expertise to little better than an animal, scrounging for whatever power he could wrest from his wretched peers. It was barely a comfort that he’d never killed or raped anyone weaker than him in that place. His life certainly would have been easier if he had, it would have helped him stake his claim to have followers, but he hadn’t been able to do it.
That restraint, shallow thing that it was, hadn’t kept him from brutally defending himself against anyone who came after him. He’d maintained his status as a loner despite the attacks of his enemies and the entreaties of other slaves who’d wanted to ally with him. He had turned away supplicants and beaten his assailants, sometimes killing them. By the time the war was over and they were rescued, Jason barely recognized himself anymore.
Therapy and some time in the ReGen tanks had evened out his temperament again, but Jason had never forgotten his own sense of helplessness and shame, couldn’t forget it. He’d been directly responsible for killing five people and indirectly responsible for who knew how many more deaths, by not extending his protection to those who asked for it. His counselor had talked him through the path of his grief and guilt, gradually bringing Jason around to the fact that he wasn’t to blame, but some truths weren’t meant to be a relief. There was no assuagement of honor to be had in lacking objective blame.
Going back to the military had ended up an impossibility. Instead Jason found work as a commercial ship captain, calm and mundane, regimented and easy to understand. He’d made some friends, taken a lover and lost him again, and then…he’d met Ferran. And his calm and mundane life had dissolved into smoke, never to be found again.
Jason had never wanted children, but he felt he understood them better now. House Grenn had many cubs and they latched onto his presence, perhaps because of his stillness, perhaps because they knew he genuinely liked them thanks to their latent empathy. They became his family, Grennson especially, and letting his foster son go away to the Federation Academy had been surprisingly wrenching.
“It is time for him to go apart,” Ferran had told him reassuringly. “All young Perel do something of this nature. It is to our benefit. It certainly was to mine,” and here he’d grinned, and his quills had fluttered appealingly. “It is how we met, of course.”
Jason had laughed ruefully. “I know.” He kissed his husband on the lips, touched the skin at the base of Ferran’s neck where he was most sensitive and let their building ardor distract him from the fact that, while Jason did know what was happening was for the best, it didn’t make him feel any better about it.
He’d adapted to the loss, of course, and then…then Grennson came home for a visit. And he brought friends. Very human, excessively challenging friends.
Darrel at least was easy, and thank god for that. He had a handle on the language that made him incredibly popular among younger Perel, and he and Grennson were inseparable, so his integration came more quickly. Darrel loved Perelan, it showed in everything he did, and it loved him right back.
Ten was…well, Jason had known what they were in for with Ten, the kid was Grennson’s quadmate and Jason had been getting reports about them all year from Admiral Liang, so of course he knew about Ten. That Ten was somewhere between “spoiled brat” and “genuine force of nature” hadn’t been as plain until he’d finally met hir. Honestly, who experimented with acid in a closed environment like a small passenger ship? Worse yet, who hacked into Jason’s controls and made the computer lie to its pilot about what was going on? Ze’d been lucky the damage hadn’t been worse. Ten was a handful, and Jason had been more than happy to pass direct guardianship of hir off to the twins. They had similar personalities; if anyone could handle Ten it was them.
And finally there was Cody. Sweet, smart, kind Cody who’d been born with a birth defect that couldn’t be fixed. Who’d come to Perelan expecting to join in the fun and instead been relegated to a vacation spent largely indoors because the planet was just too harsh for him. Who’d ended up finding Jason, thankfully, and Jason felt a little bad about that because it shouldn’t have been Cody’s responsibility to find him. Jason was his temporary guardian, he should have interceded earlier, and he hadn’t. It had ended all right, but…
He could soothe himself with the knowledge that even curtailed, he was hardly Cody’s only source of entertainment on Perelan. Even setting Ten apart, there was plenty for Cody to do, including, right at this moment, telling his parents all about he’d been up to for the past week. The call had come through while Jason had been going over the main strategies of the Battle of Ideyria with Cody, and he’d made himself scarce while Cody took the call over Jason’s own holoscreen. He was far enough away to hear the tenor of voices but no details. Ferran was in session with his mother, so Jason settled into a chair and read a book on his tab.
He made it through two chapters before Cody called him back into the study.
“Garrett wants to talk to you,” Cody said. “Do you mind if I…”
“By all means, go keep Ten from burning down the den,” Jason said, and Cody grinned wide.
“I’ll do my best!” He took off and Jason settled himself in front of the screen.
Garrett’s sharp face smiled at him. “Captain Kim.”
“Doctor Helms,” Jason replied, seeing the minute crinkle at the corner of Garrett’s eyes that assured him his friend still enjoyed being reminded of his name change. “Cody’s healthy,” he continued, assuming that was what Garrett wanted to discuss. “We’re still careful about going outside, but he’s been plenty busy and seems to enjoy it.”
“I know,” Garrett said. The smile fell off his face. “Actually, I want to talk to you about something other than Cody.”
That didn’t bode well. Jason straightened his back. “What is it?”
“What I’m about to tell you is strictly confidential.”
“Good.” Garrett took a deep, fortifying breath. “Rosalee is gone.”
Rosalee… Oh wait, not a person, a planet. A planet in the Fringe, its pinkish color the result of highly corrosive minerals deposits that were nevertheless extremely valuable in the right industries. Rosalee had a small mining community on one of its poles, the only place that could readily support human life, but beyond that there wasn’t much there. “A pirate attack?”
“Supposedly. But I have evidence that the Federation not only knew that this attack was going to happen, it knew six weeks out and did nothing about it.” Garrett’s mouth twisted bitterly. “Even given that it’s an obvious shell game between the Central System politicians and the representatives from the outer planets, there still should have been some sort of alarm raised. If only for the sake of appearances.”
“If this evidence is private, there’s no reason for them to suspect they’d need to fool anyone,” Jason pointed out.
“That’s just it, it’s not going to stay private. It was never intended to. This is the next step in the culture clash that’s sweeping the Federation, the open acknowledgement that some planets just aren’t worth making an effort for. Some people will be shocked but far too many are just going to go along with it. It’s the mentality of the Central System, Jason. I can’t tell you how many people I work with have simply succumbed to the idea of a caste society, with them at the top.”
Jason frowned. “What can I do?”
“I want you to broach the possibility of Perelan as a sanctuary planet to the Matriarchs.”
Oh…heavens. “That will be a very hard sell,” Jason said carefully. “The Council of Matriarchs is making progressive moves, but there’s progress and then there’s total upheaval.”
“It doesn’t have to be for a lot of people,” Garrett argued. “There were fewer than three thousand settlers on Rosalee. Hell, Pandora has less than a thousand.”
“There have never been more than a dozen humans on Perel at any one time, thousands are still an exponential increase. The Matriarchs won’t go for it, Garrett.”
“You have to convince them to.” Garrett leaned forward, his blue eyes disconcertingly bright. “It’s imperative to the survival of their planet. The Central System is rigidly exclusionary, and while it’s possible the powers that be would just ignore Perelan in their quest to ‘simplify’ the Federation, there’s also every chance they’d swing by and rain destruction down on it from space, to put an end to ‘alien fraternization’ once and for all. You know how bigoted some of these people can be.”
Yes, Jason knew. He and Ferran had been the targets of slights, insults and a few outright attacks in their time as ambassadors. “How would turning Perelan into a sanctuary prevent it from being attacked?” he asked. “If anything, that would seem to invite intervention by the Federation.”
“Not necessarily. It all depends on perception. If the timing is right, Perelan could be viewed as the resolution to the Senate’s problems, not a problem in and of itself. They want to deal with refugees? Let them! And, more importantly, it gives us an excuse to mass ships around the planet that could be used in its defense.”
Jason wondered for a moment what it would be like to play chess against Garrett as he weighed the options. “What kind of timescale are we looking at here?”
“No sooner than one year, no longer than five.”
That was fast. Not, perhaps, completely undoable, but fast. He’d have to speak to Giselle Howards, his foster mother. He’d have to speak to Grenn. Hell, he really had to speak to Ferran, to see if there was some way to accommodate a flood of refugees that wouldn’t also throw the society of Perelan into complete disarray.
“You’re convinced this is going to happen.”
Garrett sighed. “I’m doing everything I can to ensure that it doesn’t, but at this point I’m going to be lucky to break even and prevent outright war. Jonah is preparing to head back to Pandora as we speak, to start getting things mobilized there. We’re calling it precautions against ‘marauders.’ Do you mind if he stops by Perelan on his way? He wanted to visit with Cody before…” Garrett’s voice trailed off, and Jason felt a sharp pang of sympathy for the man. He was going to be separated from his husband for who knew how long, with the prospect of war and death looming over both of them. It had to hurt.
“Of course. He just has to comm me when he’s getting close, I’ll arrange everything.”
“It’s the least I can do, Garrett.”
Garrett nodded briskly. “Well then. I’d better let you get back to your day. Give Cody a hug for me.”
“I will.” They disconnected, and immediately Ferran’s emotions flooded into Jason’s mind. Naturally he’d felt Jason’s confusion; they had a deep empathic link, one that Ferran was far better at controlling. Now that Jason was off the comm, Ferran reached out. Jason felt his /curious-questioning-love. The last was like a warm caress to the side of Jason’s cheek, and he sighed with relief as he slumped a little in his chair.
/Urgency-difficulty, he sent back, then /love, because he did, at moments like these he loved Ferran so much, loved the connection they had and the illogical way it made Jason feel so much better.
/Home. Ferran was leaving the meeting and coming home. They could talk, they could plan together, and he would help Jason work out what needed to be done.
/Gratitude-love, he sent back, then headed for the library.
Surely there had to be an abandoned House den in Beranzen somewhere.