Season Content Notes (incomplete): violence, anti-nonhuman bigotry, consensual violence
T minus 1 year 364 days
Tracey watched as Kasmir Teufel hurried from—it wouldn’t quite do to say that he fled—the office. Filling Kasmir’s place in the government hierarchy would be difficult, but Tracey hadn’t even tried to convince him to stay.
Let the scared ones go, Wu had said, forcing them to work with you will only lead to problems.
So Kasmir would get a generous retirement bonus and a chance to escape.
After a few minutes, Tracey’s temporary secretary (a security guard vetted by Wu, Deborah, and Glen) escorted in Narges Khoroushi, the head bureaucrat for Arcane Persons and Artifacts.1
She walked stiffly, her starburst earrings chiming with each step. She wore a simple white cap covering her head that contrasted with her dark brown skin and curled black hair. Her pants were dark with intricate floral embroidery climbing halfway to the knees. A robed upper garment that fell to mid-thigh and mimicked the embroidery around the cuffs. Together, her outfit gave an impression somewhere between an active or relaxed lifestyler. An impression Tracey knew was false. She’d done her research and there was nothing ‘relaxed’ about Narges.
She stopped a few steps from Tracey’s desk. “Fredrickson.”
Keep the evil ones close to you,2 had been the second part of Wu’s divination. ‘Evil’ was a flexible concept.3 But Wu said that in this case, it meant those who would cause or force division. Which Tracey thought fit Khoroushi to a T.
“Thanks for coming. Please, sit, have a snack.”
On cue, her ‘secretary’ returned with a tray of finger foods.
Narges glared at Tracey. “There is no need for courtesy between us. Say your piece and have done with it.”
“I want you to step down from APA.”
She sniffed. “And if I don’t?”
“Then I can’t put you on the team that is going to be restructuring the World Peace Force.” Tracey leaned back in her chair and sighed. “You heard about Winehurst?”
Narges jerked her head.
“He was… typical of our so-called ‘peacekeepers.’ We need a military, with an emphasis on marines and space forces.” Narges opened her mouth but Tracey rolled over her. “We don’t need a bunch of bullies and jackboots who use chemical weapons on protesters and demonstrations.”
Khoroushi pursed her lips. “You watched my speeches.”4
“We were enemies.” Tracey smiled. “I try to know my enemies.”
“We are enemies. And if I’d been more willing to support… harsh measures against your street mobs you might not be sitting in that chair right now.” The stiffness was gone now. She leaned in, anger glinting in her eyes. “And you know damn well that not all your engineered protests were peaceful.”
“You and I both know your boss’ personal cowardice5 is the reason my butt is in this chair.”
Khoroushi glared but didn’t try to deny it.
“The protests,” Tracey waved out to windows, “helped me build grassroots support to take power without instant chaos or rebellion erupting. All the arrests, and beatings, and chemical attacks did was prove to my supporters that I was right. The World Government was a corrupt oligarchy in service of the elites.6 And don’t tell me they were democratically elected. When a full third of the world’s population couldn’t vote there was nothing democratic about it.”7
“No. People.10 My people. And one way or another, I am removing you from power over them. But I’d rather make peace with you than toss you out a window.” She smiled again. “If nothing else the repairs will get expensive after a while.”11
“Ha!” Narges looked at her for the first time with interest. “So you’ll let me fix the problems with the peacekeepers if I buy into your revolution.”
“Not buy in. Just stop fighting me.”
She said nothing for a full two minutes. Tracey waited. Then Narges sat down across from her. “Tell me how this brainstorm of yours will work. And why you think we need a military at all.”
Tracey took 10 minutes to eat a quick lunch and check in with Wu, overseeing the set up of her permanent on-site security. Aside from that brief break, the rest of the day was much the same. Meeting with bureaucrats powerful enough to need an individual touch and cajoling them or coercing them into working with her. Or kicking them out of her government.
Three hours after the dinner hour, Wu messaged to confirm that zi was satisfied with the on-site security and would be getting Tracey’s household moved in that night.
Tracey relaxed and poured herself a celebratory drink. She was halfway through that drink when Colonel Cheung Bo12 reported to her office. They wore, as always when on duty, their tailored uniform with small trapezoid pins at the shirt cuffs.
Cheung Bo had never liked Winehurst, wasn’t surprised to learn the man was a traitor. Winehurst’s death was, as far as Cheung Bo was concerned, the only good thing to have come out of this ‘peaceful transfer of power.’13
But it did make them a little… apprehensive about receiving orders to report directly to the new dictator.
Of all the things they might have expected, being greeted with a cheerful “Colonel Cheung Bo, welcome. Would you like a drink?” never occurred to them.
“Sir.” The colonel saluted and took the indicated seat. “Yes, thank you.” In the military, it is generally considered unwise to refuse a drink from a superior officer. Cheung Bo figured the same applied here, only more so.
Tracey poured a second glass and waited while they sipped appreciatively. “I’m curious, Colonel. Did you realize my people tried to recruit you?”
The colonel had good control of their face — their surprise only showed in a slight widening of their eyes. “I have always been loyal to my government.”14
“That’s not an answer,” Tracey observed but continued without waiting for one. “You haven’t resigned your commission. Will you give me the same loyalty you gave my… predecessors?”
“I have yet to establish my legitimacy in the eyes of most people. Assuming I ever can. Still, the best chance of overthrowing me would be in the next few months, before I have time to establish my control. And using the many people I can’t afford to remove.”
“Give me your opinion, Colonel. What will happen if I am overthrown?”
Cheung Bo took a deep breath and set their glass down. They hadn’t expected to be able to avoid taking a stand. “Chaos. You have not established legitimacy, but your… predecessors have lost it, ma’am. Your followers would need to be crushed to keep endless rebellions from happening. There would be no guarantee that whoever picked up the pieces to form a new government would be able to hold it.”
Tracey smiled soberly. “I’m glad we’re on the same page.” She reached into a draw of her desk and pulled out a very thick, very old-fashioned paperfile. “This is your file Colonel. You have more disciplinary write-ups than any other officer of your rank, and those same disciplinary issues are the reason you have never become a general officer, despite your long and otherwise exemplary service.”
“I have become reconciled to it, sir.” The comment had an edge, a warning for Tracey not to think of bribing Cheung Bo with the rank they had been denied so long.
“These,” Tracey pulled out a much slimmer file, “are my plans for expanding our space forces and centering further military development around it. You started in the space forces,15 didn’t you Colonel?”
The colonel nodded, their face tightened. They understood now that the bribe was nothing so simple as rank.16
“He who holds the orbitals…” Tracey trailed off.
“… holds the world.”17 Colonel Cheung Bo finished the old space aphorism that their former superiors had refused to heed.
“I need an officer I can trust. Not because they are loyal to me. Not because they supported my coup. Not because I’ve bribed them.
“But because they want the same thing I do: to keep people safe.”
She picked up the thick folder and held it out to the colonel. “I think a soldier with a dozen write-ups for arguing against punitive actions18 might be that officer.”
Cheung Bo stared at the folder, then at the man holding it. They felt the sand shifting under their feet. Their commitment to hold themself aloof from this usurper and just do their job eroding. “What would you expect of me?”
“Remove the Winehursts, prevent chaos, prepare for anything.”
Cheung Bo reached out and accepted the folder, not entirely believing they were doing so.
“Hold the orbitals for me, Cheung Bo.” A hard light gleamed in Tracey’s eyes, the charming politician stripped away to reveal the fervor that toppled a government. “Hold the orbitals for us all.”
“I will, sir.”
They meant it.19