Bodil spun the dial on her binoculars.
The reticule zoomed in, too much. Nose hairs don’t tell you anything. She dialled it back a bit.
The first thing she noticed was the age. When you’ve spent your whole life in a wrinkle free, firm breasted, taught buttocked society, the looser skin, larger pores and loss of muscle tone of anyone over thirty can come as a bit of a shock. Bodil had only ever seen pictures before. In a library. In the restricted section. Faced with the reality for the first time Bodil’s first and unbidden thought was, I wonder if he smells bad.
She had to admit though that Admiral Backstrom didn’t look as bad as some of the images she had seen. She guessed him to be definitely pre-saggy. Probably about forty something. And he certainly didn’t look like any preconception she had of Joe Spivey. Not what she would call handsome though. The admiral had the heavy brow and deep-set eyes that made him look less than trustworthy. Now that, she thought with a wry smile, was a trait that could definitely have been inherited down the Spivey line. She lowered the glasses as another thought came.
Still taking in the general scene as it was developing fifty metres away she put voice to the thought.
“Does Alicia love him?”
Also watching the proceedings but concentrating more on what Poppy was doing Ellie answered her.
“You know. I never heard her say that she either did or didn’t.”
“That’s sad.” Marriage was a fading concept among Earth’s post sirtuin society. People married for all sorts of reasons, mainly legal. Marrying someone just for the random emotional response to an electro chemical reaction in the brain was generally seen as being pretty odd. But Bodil was a bit of a romantic at heart and the concept of love still managed to give her the warm fuzzies.
Ellie’s response was noncommittal.
“That’s politics professor.”
Now the president was up on his feet on the presidential platform. His echoing words bounced around the enormous square but were made understandable by the strategic positioning around the arena of hundreds of small speakers.
Bodil automatically filtered most of it out and turned to Ellie.
“Is that why they are here? Because of Joe Spivey?”
Ellie dragged her eyes away from where Poppy was dipping her finger into the chalice, then sticking it in her mouth.
“No. Spivey is the excuse. It’s all about political manoeuvring, with some legal wrangling thrown in.” Ellie took a drink from her beer, wiped her mouth on the back of her hand and continued.
“Our war and disease ravaged little planet is apparently in an area of space that is subject to a thousand year treaty between the Machiavellian, slave-holding, expansionist ‘Empire’ and the militaristic, might-makes-right and equally expansionist corporatocracy that is the ‘Federation’. That treaty is coming to an end very soon and having a citizen of one of the disputed planets in your faction gives you some kind of a legal edge in whatever court system decides these things out there in space.”
Bodil’s imagination turned Ellie’s words into vivid scenes from a movie space opera. Empire, Federation, treaties. Her mind conjured up impossible battle-fleets in space with Earth being the spoils of victory. Then reality crashed in as the scene suggested by Ellie’s connection of the Empire to slaves loomed centre stage.
Ellie went back to playing with her beer glass.
“These people. These…” Ellie used both arms outspread to take in the whole vista of the mountain top complex. “Aliens. They have slaves?!”
Ellie looked up into the astounded face of the woman sitting opposite her.
Bodil stared back. Not for the first time she wanted to reach across and snatch those sunglasses away and actually see the person behind them, hiding behind them. But, Gregor. A cold chill grew from the inside and surfaced on Bodil’s skin as goose-bumps. She swallowed so that she could speak.
Ellie nodded just once.
“And her parents. And probably dozens more on that ship. Imperial society is built on a form of indentured servitude.”
“But, Poppy seemed happy. And you said her father is like you, your opposite number. I’m assuming you mean as in, Head of Security.”
“That’s right. Kratsix is Admiral Backstrom’s security chief, personal bodyguard and second in command. Deafixha, Kratsix’s mate and Ebaxjapopa’s mother is his financial advisor and court liaison officer. And yes, Poppy is very happy. Why wouldn’t she be?”
“By the Mo… She’s a slave!”
“But not the kind of slave you’re thinking of Professor. Poppy and her parents remain indentured only until the terms of the parents’ indenture are fulfilled. In the meantime they have status, which is very important in Imperial society, and they have business interests. They also have a very comfortable lifestyle and Poppy is getting an education the like of which her parents would be unlikely to be able to afford for years to come. And all of this is paid for by the one they are indentured to.”
Bodil’s eyes narrowed.
“That’s just bullshit Ellie.”
“Oh absolutely Professor. But a choice had to be made and our leaders chose the Empire over the Federation.”
“And do you think they were right?”
Ellie drained her glass and immediately signalled for another.
“Given the other option, yes I do.”