Saturday, January 30, 2016

Stars of Heaven: Chapter 11

Chapter 11; The Blinking LED

“I suppose you have looked at the numbers I sent you,” the Governor said from behind his desk.  It was a red stone desk, carved from the stuff of Mars itself.
“Yes I have,” Wang Wei replied. “People are leaving your cold little planet it would seem.”
The Governor screwed his lips at that little remark but did not say what he was thinking.  He had not risen from his origins as the son of mine workers to rise to the bait of a pampered off-worlder so easily.
“Yes, they are leaving,”  he answered again in a deceptively mild tone.  “While there is a little noise in the data because of the usual flux of comings and goings, the trend it steadily downward.  The entire tent city occupied by migrants from the Belt is virtually empty.  It is mostly just very old people who are left.  Within the city itself, the religious of the city are gone.  First the Catholics begin to trickle out, but then the protestants, the Mormons, the muslims.  Each with very slow rates, so slow as to not cause any official notice until the quarterly reports came out.”
The Governor was disgusted with himself.  At one time, he had known the streets of Mars City like the back of his hand, but his administrative duties had kept him behind his polished stone desk.  After he read the report, he walked the city and what the numbers told him was readily apparent to his eyes: People had left. Ethnic restaurants were closed. Churches were empty except for the clergy serving the homeless.   
The rate of the change was the amazing thing.  If it had happened any more quickly, it would have set off an alarm; if it had happened any more slowly, there would have been quite a few more people from these groups left.  It was if someone new the monitoring mechanisms inside and out and had been controlling the flow to get as many of the Belters off Mars as possible in the shortest time possible and still avoid notice.
Having figured out that much, the Governor had investigated why there should be such an exodus of those from the Belt and those who dealt with them.  He knew that, regardless of how well a secret was kept from the authorities, there were always those who knew.  In spite of his having been a prisoner in his office for untold years, he still had connections to those who knew.  
“So,” Wang Wei asked, “Why are they leaving?”
“They are leaving because they’ve been told that if they stay here it is very likely they will die,” the Governor replied. “Some sort of unspecified terrorist act is given as the reason, and--this is the reason I invited you here today--it is said this has been brought on by your, shall we say, overly zealous, collection of taxes from the Belt.”
“Overly zealous?” Wang Wei replied.  “You would call simply enforcing the law to be ‘overly zealous’?”
“Wei,” the Governor let a little edge come into his voice, “Your little roaches rip people to pieces.”
“All fabricated lies,” Wang Wei responded.  “I am surprised you were taken in by those obviously edited videos.  And in any case, the funding stream that has been initiated from the Belt has been most welcome at the highest echelon of the Allied Federation.”
The Governor was now beyond his limits.
“I can’t stand the sight of you,” he said.
“It won’t be long before you won’t have to look at me,” Wang Wei said.  “I have received hints through back channels that I will be promoted and transferred back to Earth from whence I will administer the Outer Holdings through a designee.”
“Well,” the Governor, “that is good news.  Some other news.  You will be waiting for the official notice in jail.  I am putting you under arrest for acts contributing to unrest on Mars.”
The Governor pressed a buzzer on his desk and waited for his police to arrive.  They should have been there in half a minute at most, but no one arrived.  A look of concern was beginning to cross his face and then he saw a smile passing across Wang Wei’s.
“Your police are not coming,” Wang Wei said. “That is because they are now my police.  Nothing you have told me today has been a surprise.  There is nothing you know that I did not know first.  I have reported in back to the Allied Federation and they have put me in charge of Mars and have declared martial law.”
Wang Wei then pulled out his com and pressed the screen.  In just a few heartbeats, the police at last came through the door and took the Governor into custody.
When the room was empty except for Wang Wei he survey the contents.  Seeing the red stone desk, he decided he liked it. He pressed another button on his com.
“Come to the Governor’s office, get his desk, and have it boxed up for shipment to Earth,” he said.  
It would make an excellent souvenir of this forsaken place.

Padre Gustavo examined his cell once again. It didn’t take long. There was a toilet; it was a quite prominent feature of the cell.  Then there was a cot; it also was prominent.  The cell itself was so small, he noted, that he couldn’t see both the cot and the toilet at the same time.  At least he wouldn’t have far to go during the night, the thought.  There is mercy in that.  Then he smiled.
“You smile; good,” came the pleasant, Russian accented voice from the next cell. “We must keep  sense of humor.”   It was Dima, of course. He was smiling himself.
“Well,” Padre Gustavo said, “I am glad you have your humor as well.  What do you think will happen to us?”
Having asked the question, though, he noted that Dima wasn’t looking at him.  He was looking at the security camera that was focused on his cell.  It was a standard camera that had an red LED on the side.  The light was steady; then it blinked three times; it was steady again for a few seconds; then it blinked once more.
“Okay,” Dima said. “We have a few minutes.  Keep your eyes on the camera and when it blinks again stop talking even if it is in the middle of a sentence.”
After Padre Gustavo nodded understanding, Dima continued.
“What happens to us will depend upon where the asteroids hit,” Dima said.  “These cells are not deep enough to save us against a direct hit.”
“So it is asteroids?” Padre Gustavo asked. “They are coming?”
“Yes,” Dima answered. “That is what my source said.”
“And you believe him?”
“He has not given me false information yet.  He is the one who told me that Wang Wei would have us arrested and he was right.  Before that, he was the one who told us that any attempt to warn the population would cause martial law to be declared and to shut down traffic to and from Mars.  He’s never been wrong.”
“Do you know him well?”  Padre Gustavo asked.
“I know him as well as you know him,” Dima said.
Padre Gustavo was confused and was about to ask more, but then he saw the LED blink three times and he stopped talking.
Dima began talking about movies he had seen.  He liked the Sergei Bondarchuk version of War and Peace, but it was not as good as the book, of course.  And he continued from there, talking quite learnedly with regard to the literary devices used.  
Then the LED blinked again, and without missing a beat he switched gears.
“I tried to send Tasha and Kostya away, but she refused to leave,” Dima said.  “She did send Kostya away.  I thought she would disappear in tears before she was done.  She gave Kostya to our bodyguard, who also left.  I ordered him to meet with Jethro and this he will do.  What about Adriano?  Did he go?”
“Yes,” Padre Gustavo said.  “Even though he is a bishop now, he will follow my orders.  He knows his mission.  It is to his people and so he understands it even better than I do.”
“And he will meet with Jetho as well?”
“Yes,” Gustavo answered, “just as the source directed us to.  Which returns us to the question, who is the source?”
As those words came out of his mouth, the LED blinked again and Dima resumed talking about movies. He talked about the old science fiction movies which ranged, in his opinion, from being ridiculously bad to remarkably prescient.  He classified ET as being the former because it was so sentimental, but he still loved it for the same reason.  He thought 2001: A Space Odyssey was good although pretentious.  It was saved, however, by HAL.
The LED blinked again.
This time Padre Gustavo began speaking before Dima had a chance to.
“Dima,” he said.  “Quit playing games with me.  Who is the source?”
The LED blinked again, and Dima again resumed his discussion of science fiction.  Surprising to Gustavo, his knowledge of this area was encyclopedic.  He spoke of an old American TV series Knight Rider about a computerized car and an old movie series Iron Man with a computer named Jarvis.
“These were remarkably prescient in their view of  artificial intelligence.”
The LED blinked again.
“Answer my question,”  Gustavo demand.
The LED blinked again.
This time Dima didn’t began to talk about movies.  He just said one sentence.
“I already have.”

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