Space Opera Part 16 – The Military Industrial Complex

We were sitting in the conference room with Chairman Vermillion. The subject of PA stun capability came up.

JJ looked at Nolan with her eyes wide. “You think they can turn our implanted PA devices into remote execution devices?”

“Even stun capability is bad enough,” Cyrus said. “Think about it.”

Nolan’s eyes closed as he was thinking, his brow furrowed. Vermillion and I exchanged a glance.

“What is it, Nolan,” I asked.

Nolan’s eyes opened, and he looked down at the table. “I think I know what Simone’s threat is.”

“What?” I glanced at Vermillion again.

“If they’ve got the software completed to add stun capability to individual PA devices, they can act on them directly, provided the subject is in a civilized terrestrial location with wireless network access.”

“Dammit,” Vermillion said, “he’s saying that anybody on Earth is subject to attack through these damn imbedded devices.”

“Earth or any other planet at level five or below, Chairman,” Nolan said.

“You developed a way to wipe PA devices and the PA sub-net software on the Zephyrus,” I said. “Anything you can do to stop the Overlords from using this stun capability?”

Nolan sat silently for a moment.

“Well?” JJ asked.

Nolan shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe. Wiping memory is easy. I’d have to access the operating system, turn off some capability, and then figure out a way to broadcast an update.”

“And I suspect the Overlords could then over-write your over-write,” Deacon said.

“Maybe,” Nolan said. “I need to concentrate on this.”

“We’re not even sure it’s the real threat,” Tim said.

“True, Tim,” Nolan said, “and thanks for bringing that up. How can we find out?”

“I still have some connections on Earth who would know,” Vermillion said. “I’ll contact them.”

“Can you do that without tipping off the Overlords to our location?” Izzy asked.

“Yes,” Vermillion said. “Nolan, perhaps you should load your PA wipe program onto the PA sub-nets of this ship and the Tristar.”

“And make the changes to everyone’s PA devices as well, so they can be wiped,” I added.

“I’d be glad to,” Nolan said. “I’ll do that first, and then see if I can come up with some code that will disable the electrical pulse capability.”

“Why was that on there anyway?” Tim asked.

“Actually it was a good idea, originally,” JJ said. “It was added to allow doctors to hit their patients with defibrillation during a heart stoppage.”

“Doctors can still do that, can’t they?” Tim asked.

“Yes, but it has to be set up in advance,” JJ said, “and it’s tightly controlled in the medical community. It can only be done for people who have specific diagnosis of a heart condition which would require the treatment. It’s a physical change that requires surgery, too. Wires need to be run from the arm unit to the heart.”

“That’s a good reason to not disable the capability completely,” Izzy said. “My grandfather was saved by that procedure.”

“I remember reading about the defibrillation capability,” Nolan said. “I’ll research it. I’m pretty sure there’s a protocol that checks for permission to run the program.”

“Ten to one the Overlords are using that protocol,” I said. “Remember when we first heard about this. It came from a proposal to the Central Authority, remember? There was nothing said about a massive retrofit to the PA devices themselves. All I ever heard about was some testing.”

“We’ve beat this one to death,” Vermillion said. “Nolan, you know what to do. How long will it take to complete?”

Nolan thought for a moment. “How many people are on this ship?”

“One hundred and sixty thousand,” Andrea said.

“And on the Tristar?”

“Sixty-four,” Cyrus said.

“Two days,” Nolan said.

Vermillion smiled. “Okay, please get on that as soon as this meeting is over.”

“Of course, Chairman.”

“Let’s get onto the next topic,” Vermillion said. “Fuel. We’ve taken a lot onto the New Jersey. Enough to supply us for many years, unless we have to fight with the new weapons.”

“Same issue with the Tristar,” Cyrus said.

“It’s actually worse on the Tristar,” Andrea said. “We’ve got a lot of open space on the New Jersey. If we get into a series of battles, we may be down to one year instead of many years. The Tristar doesn’t have the space to handle storage.”

“Neither does the Zephyrus,” I chimed in.

“We need to develop sources, either on willing planets or via the black market in the Free Zone,” Vermillion said.

“The Free Zone should be the last resort,” Nolan said. “Just getting there and back takes time and lots of fuel.”

Vermillion nodded in agreement. “Yes, that is a big problem. Add to that the fact that this ship would be illegal in the Free Zone.”

“We’re not classified as a prototype?” I asked.

“We tried,” Vermillion said. “The Central Authority refused, on Simone’s suggestion.”

I shook my head. “What a shock.”

“You think this planet might be a possible source,” Nolan said.

Vermillion leaned back in his chair again, eyeing the others. “This is another thing that can’t leave this room. There’s a rogue leader on this planet, and he’s willing to play ball.”

“You’ve made contact?” I asked.

“Yes. We have to be very discrete, for his protection.”

“He’s insisting on that, I’ll bet,” Cyrus said.

Vermillion sighed. “No, he’s only worried about us, and doesn’t want to take the time to be cautious. This is a very important person to me, and he’s wanted by the Overlords. That’s why he came to Amberis thirty years ago. He’s hiding.”

Nolan got a strange expression on his face. “Who is it?”

“Your intuition is amazing, Nolan,” Vermillion said. “It’s your Uncle Tac.”

Nolan started to tremble, tears coming from his eyes. “I saw his body.”

“Faked, as was his death,” Vermillion said. “I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you sooner. I know he practically raised you.”

“That’s why you rescued me. Never could figure that out. Who is he to you?”

“My best friend,” Vermillion said. “I thought you might know since you picked this location. Why did you pick this location, anyway?”

“I was looking for a place with no natural wormholes within a year’s travel. Remember what we were thinking when we found the Tristar heading to the same place we were going? We suspected that the Overlords and the Clan were working together to capture us. I looked for a planet above level five that had a decent survey. This was perfect from a location standpoint. We have a clear view of Aurora Calista. The only downside was that it’s a level seven… and in reality, it’s closer to a level six. They have the beginning of radio and a very robust telegraph system.”

Vermillion chuckled. “They have the beginnings of an internal combustion engine industry. Your Uncle is in fossil fuels.”

Nolan chuckled. “Of course he is. Probably the richest man on the damn planet, knowing him. Do I get to see him?”

“Yes, but get the PA work done first, all right?”

Nolan smiled. “Of course. What name is he using?”

“He’s still called Tac, but with a numerical surname. He’s Tac 3374. And again, sorry you had to find out this way, Nolan. I would’ve told you eventually no matter what.”

Nolan got up and walked over to Vermillion, extending his hand. They shook. “I’ve got nothing but respect for you, Chairman. I thought the only reason you saved me was to use my technical knowledge. You saved me because of your friend. That speaks very highly of your character.”

Vermillion smiled. “Thank you for the kind words.”

Nolan nodded and sat back down.

“We will work the fuel problem on this planet, using Tac’s existing petroleum drilling and refining business as a cover.”

“Sounds like a perfect situation,” I said, my mind still reeling from the revelations about Nolan.

“The other task we’ll be working is the cross-upgrades for the Tristar and the Zephyrus,” Vermillion said. “They will both be brought up to the same level as the New Jersey.”

“I figured,” Cyrus said. “Good.”

“What are the plans after that?” I asked.

“I’m still worried about the Clan,” Vermillion said. “We need to know if their presence is widespread or only on Valla Cappos. I’d like you and your crew to go back to the plans we had for you before the attacks.”

“I should be going on that mission,” Nolan said.

“I agree,” I said. “Nolan here can be a pain in the neck, but as a science officer he has no equal.”

Nolan chuckled. “I’m not sure if I should be flattered or angry.”

“Flattered,” I said. “You aren’t really that much of a pain. I just like to mess with you from time to time.”

Nolan smiled. “Then I’ll take no offense. This might be a dangerous mission. Is the Zephyrus going alone?”

“That hasn’t been decided yet,” Vermillion said. “The Tristar might be involved.”

“We’re missing a lot of crew members, Mr. Chairman,” Deacon said. “Most of our crew was off the ship when the pacific base got attacked. We don’t need a full complement, but another twenty men would be very helpful.”

“Some of your crew probably made it onto the New Jersey,” Vermillion said. “We know at least one did.”

Cyrus chuckled. “True. How did he get on board?”

“Best we can figure, he was picked up out of one of the escape pods that was floating on the ocean above the base. That’s how I was picked up.”

Andrea was looking at her PA. “FA Wilson, KG Copeckne, IF Saddler, WC Pratt. They all indicated they were crew members of the Zephyrus.”

“I know them,” Deacon said. “Please tell me more than that survived.”

“There are a number of wounded personnel we still have in sick bay. We know who they are, but I don’t have access to that list on my PA yet. I’ll compile the list and let you know.”

“Excellent, thank you,” Deacon said. “I’ll have my fingers crossed.”

“What are the long-term plans?” I asked.

“We don’t know yet,” Vermillion said. “For the first six months, we’ll be in reactive mode. It really depends on what Simone does.”

“Why six months?” Cyrus asked.

“We’ve got five very well-hidden bases spread around the Central Authority Zone. Our plan is that each of them will have three New Jersey class ships being built by our robotics, along with a fair number of Tristar and Zephyrus sister ships.”

“We’ll have sixteen of these monsters?” Cyrus asked.

“That’s what we’re hoping,” Vermillion said. “Realistically, I’ll be happy if we get more than three. If our operations are found by the Central Authority or the Overlords, they’ll be destroyed.”

“You said they were well hidden,” Izzy said.

“They are well hidden, but it takes a large supply chain to get the materials we need to complete these ships. We have enough for three ships already in place at three of the locations. They’re in construction now, and it’s moving along very quickly. We have the most sensitive of the material for the balance of the fifteen, since we knew we’d never be able to purchase those after the Corporation was brought down. The rest of the material has to be purchased, and it only takes one person opening their mouth to screw everything up.”

“You aren’t working the supply chain until the first three ships are finished, I hope,” JJ said.

“Yes, we’re getting all the ships we have materials for finished before we activate the supply chain,” Vermillion said. Three New Jersey class, and half a dozen each of the smaller ships. We’ll fabricate the reactors and the weapons systems as well. They’ll probably be moved to a hidden location as soon as they’re completed. We’ll bring them in when they’re needed for construction of the later ships.”

I sighed, leaning back in my chair, feeling the padding wrap around me. “We’re just hanging on by a thread.”

“That’s true,” Nolan said, “but after these three ships are retrofitted and we have a fuel source, we will be a terror to the Overlords. We’ll jump into their midst and destroy every ship within range before they know what is happening.”

“This is a good mixture of mind sets to have,” Andrea said. “The optimism of Nolan and the situational understanding of Captain Clarke. That type of combination has worked before.”

“Are we done?” Nolan asked. “I’d like to get started on the PA systems.”

“Yes, go ahead,” Vermillion said.

Nolan got up. “Cyrus, why don’t we take care of your ship first?”

“Sounds great,” Cyrus said, getting up and meeting him at the door.

“I’d better go with you guys,” Andrea said, “since you’re the two who haven’t been on this ship before. Deacon, why don’t you go check out the executive cafeteria? I’ll get the list of survivors updated and meet you there after I get these two back to the main bay.”

“Perfect,” Deacon said with a wide grin. He followed the others out the door.

JJ, Tim, Izzy, and I were left in the conference room with Chairman Vermillion.

“Tim and Izzy, why don’t you join Deacon in the cafeteria,” I said.

They both nodded, getting up. I watched them leave the room, the door closing behind them, then turned to Vermillion.

“You want to have more discussion,” Vermillion said.

“Do you mind? I’ve got some questions.”

“Go ahead,” Vermillion said, “and JJ, feel free to ask me questions as well. I won’t guarantee I can answer everything, but I’ll do my best.”

“Why are the Central Authority legislature, executive branch, and courts allowing the Overlords to attack us like this?” I asked.

Vermillion leaned back in his chair, collecting his thoughts. “This has been coming for decades.”

“That doesn’t really answer my question,” I said, wishing I hadn’t been so bold.

Vermillion smiled, not acting offended. “I need to fill in some details. Do you know Simone’s history?”

“She was in the Samson Corporation thirty years ago, wasn’t she?” JJ asked.

“Very good. She’s hidden that little tidbit of info pretty well. How did you know?”

“My father,” she said. “I remember him talking about her. While he was working for her, he had great respect. It crushed him when she lost her position.”

I shot her a glance. “That’s why you said you used to think highly of her.”

JJ nodded yes.

“Why did Simone get pushed out?” I asked.

Vermillion leaned forward, putting his elbows on the table, his hands coming together, fingers intertwined. “That’s a very complicated story. I’ll have to give you the condensed version, and there are some parts of it that I can’t reveal.”

“Tell us what you can,” I said.

“Simone was in line for the top job at the Corporation. She was very close to Chairman Russo.”

“Wasn’t he your predecessor?” JJ asked.

Vermillion nodded. “We were both in the running for that job, and Simone had the lead.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“She had an opinion similar to Nolan’s, and pushed it too hard.”

“Similar to which of Nolan’s opinions?” JJ asked.

“She thought our focus should be on strengthening the Republic, and then handing over control of the corporation’s products to them. She wanted us to become a government contractor of the historic type. You know, where we build what’s ordered, and ownership of the military products and the design rests with the military, controlled by governments, elected or not.”

I was silent for a moment. “I can’t say that I totally disagree.”

“That’s the way the world was before the Samson Corporation,” JJ said.

“Precisely,” Vermillion said. “The Military-Industrial Complex. Eisenhower warned us about that.”

I chuckled. “Yeah, he warned us about it, after he used it.”

“World War II is widely considered to have been a war the United States and their allies needed to win,” JJ said.

“Nobody disputes that,” Vermillion said, “but the bad actors were pushed along by the military-industrial complexes in their countries. You remember the names. Junkers, Messerschmitt, Mitsubishi, and a host of others. They developed weapons and tested them in pre-World War II conflicts like the Spanish Civil War. The technology they handed to the governments of the Axis powers allowed them to make the political decisions they did.”

“The United States had military production as well,” I said.

“True,” Vermillion said, “and they were almost as aggressive in the 19th Century as the Axis Powers were in the mid 20th Century. After the second world war, when most of the conflict was between Russia, the United States, and China, the military-industrial complex was a problem. What we called National Interest back then included keeping up a robust weapons manufacturing complex. That lead to an arms race of epic proportions. Our weapons became more and more deadly, but at the same time humans had the illusion that they were also more and more controllable. The disasters on Earth in the 2030s, where there were nuclear exchanges in Eastern Europe, the South China Sea, and the Middle East, had a huge impact on Alexander Carlson. He lost his faith in governments, even elected governments, after those incidents.”

“So he dropped the military from the military-industrial complex,” I said. “That’s just as bad if not worse.”

“About half the population of first through fifth-level worlds agree with you,” Vermillion said. “I’m on the fence, but I lean towards Carlson’s opinion, and I have facts to back it up. The Samson Corporation brought an end to the centuries-old war between the Clan and the Central Authority, and has kept a fairly stable lid on warfare ever since.”

We all sat silently for a few moments. JJ’s brow furrowed as she worked things out, throwing a glance at me. I nodded, so she looked at Vermillion.

“To get to the bottom line, Simone was pushed out of the Samson Corporation because she wanted to give the remote-destruct capability to the government, and make our technology available as well?”

Vermillion chuckled. “Not exactly. She wanted to remove the remote-destruct capability from Samson Drives, using a massive recall for ships that had that feature in place, as well as putting an end to it’s continued development and deployment. She had no intention of giving up the proprietary status of the Samson Drive design. It was to remain the sole property of the Samson Corporation.”

“This doesn’t sound like all that complicated of a story,” I said.

“Oh, it is, trust me,” Vermillion said.

JJ glanced at me, then at the Chairman. “How so?”

“There were a number of opinions which conflicted.”

“Such as?” I asked.

“The governing bodies of the Central Authority couldn’t get agreement, for one thing. Some welcomed the end of control by the Samson Corporation, thinking that it would help the society to become more free and open, with true representative government. Others were afraid that the Clan would go back to their old aggressive self without destruction of their drives held over their heads. Another group, which was growing in power at the time, was worried about disputed territories, where individual planets might make war on each other.”

“Disputed territories?” JJ asked.

I shot her a glance. “I understand that one.”

“You can take it then,” Vermillion said.

“Okay, correct me if I’ve got it wrong. When the boundaries were drawn up for the three zones of the Universe, it was not done based purely on the content of the territory. There were Clan worlds in the Free Zone and the Central Authority Zone, and there were Central Authority worlds in the Clan Zone and the Free Zone. These areas are still rocked by violence today, but since the Samson Corporation had their foot on everybody’s heads with the remote-destruct capability, the conflicts remained very low level – mostly terrestrial. If the remote-destruct is no longer a restricting factor, we could have border fights with starships getting involved, forced embargos, and bad actors taking advantage for a number of reasons.”

“Well put,” Vermillion said. “I was against Simone’s plans for that reason, and also because I don’t trust the Clan. My faction won out. It ended Simone’s career prospects at the Samson Corporation, so she left, forming a political group which later became the Overlords.”

“Okay, that explains Simone’s background better than I understood it before,” I said, “but what about the Central Authority? Where are they on this? Have they been dissolved?”

“No,” Vermillion said, “but remember that the Overlords back like-minded political parties all over the Central Authority Zone. They’ve been winning elections. They’ve now got enough members behind them in the legislature to impact policy. That’s how their intelligence arm became a sanctioned agency of the Central Authority.”

“They’re like a parasite to the Central Authority, then,” JJ said. “And they’re going for total control.”

I chuckled. “That’s one way to look at it, but I’ll bet there’s a lot of citizens who don’t look at it that way.”

“Well, I’ve got another meeting,” Vermillion said. “Did I answer your questions?”

I nodded. “Yes, that explains why Simone isn’t getting stopped. Her actions are backed by the Central Authority. Our government considers us the enemy now.”

Vermillion nodded. “Talk to you later.”

JJ and I watched the Chairman leave.

“Let’s go back to the Zephyrus,” she whispered. “We need to talk where we can’t be heard.”

I nodded in agreement, and we left the conference room together.

To be continued…

 

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