“What other option?”
“Well, The Federation people called it a marvellous opportunity for our little world to become a major player in the competitive field of agro-pharmaceutical production. What that turns out to mean is that, for as far as the eye can see, what isn’t field is factory. They also promised ‘good deals’ for those in government to make the ‘right choices’.”
Ellie’s beer arrived and so did another whiskey for Bodil. The two whiskies became one and the conversation continued.
“Well, surely that’s better than condoning slavery.”
The president’s speechifying came to an end and, with rising applause from the crowds, Alicia Troy rose from her chair and began to descend the steps towards where her soon to be husband waited on his side of the little podium. Ellie watched while still talking conversationally. Bodil listened while adjusting the settings on her binoculars for a better view.
“Of course it is.”
“So what do you want to be then Professor Hill? A farmer or a factory worker?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well you can’t be an archaeologist. All your archaeology will either be under some field or under a chemical plant so they won’t let you dig because that will affect the profit margin. There’s no money to be made from digging up broken pots”
The two women watched Alicia step up onto the little stage. As she did so the dignitaries seated behind the admiral rose to their feet.
“That sounds like propaganda from your Empire friends.”
Poppy stepped forward with her chalice to stand between the couple so that all three now stood facing the podium.
“Not my Empire, Professor. Not my friends, well, except for Poppy and her family. And Backstrom is actually quite a nice guy when he’s not being all admirally. But anyway, it’s not anyone’s propaganda. It is the Federation’s own words as stated in their proposal.”
Admiral Backstrom and Alicia joined hands across the podium and the admiral began what sounded like, and probably was, a well-rehearsed and long winded proposal of his own. The crowd fell silent and listened respectfully. Ellie and Bodil didn’t.
“In their proposal the Federation offers that all inhabitants, and that includes children over seven by the way, will be offered full time employment in one of the many interesting fields of agriculture or pharmaceuticals. If they don’t fancy that then they get to work in the essential service industries required by these enterprises. Full employment for all, by law” Ellie paused. “Then they go on to mention the actual terms of the employment contracts. Believe me Professor, the indentured servitude of the Empire beats what the Federation corporate bosses offered us hands down.”
Backstrom droned on. Alicia started to look bored. Poppy definitely looked bored. The dignitaries stood stoically trying not to look bored.
“So what were the Federation offering in return?”
“Nothing! That was it. In their view they were offering us a good deal, a golden opportunity!”
“So what was the deal with the Empire?”
Admiral Backstrom finally came to the end of offering his worldly blah blah blah to Alicia if only she would lower herself to be his life partner, his soulmate his blah blah blah.
Everyone on the little stage perked up for a moment but then Alicia started her response and there was a collective slumping of shoulders. However, a few rehearsed lines into the speech, Ellie and Bodil, and probably the assembled crowds and all the buzzing cameras noticed Poppy start to fidget.
Ellie allowed herself the smallest of fistpumps.
“Yes! That’s my girl.”
“Sorry what? The Empire? With the Empire it’s all politics and manoeuvring for the throne. It’s a bit of a game really, but deadly serious.” Ellie watched poppy’s strange gyrations with a growing smile on her lips. “Now then, our little admiral out there does his admiraling for a certain Senator Patreus. This Senator Patreus really really REALLY wants to be the next Emperor. If he can offer something to the voting families to get them on his side he will have a significant advantage over the other wannabe Emperors and Empresses. Soooooo…”
Bodil took up the line.
“So he offers them eternal life.”
“Yup. Well, their descendants anyway.”
On the platform poppy continued to fidget. Backstrom ignored it, maybe he’d have a quiet word with Kratsix later. Alicia, though, watched the little cat girl closely for a few moments while expertly managing to not miss a beat in her speech. The she looked up and straight towards where Ellie and Bodil were watching. From the look on Alicia’s face, Bodil was quite glad that they were separated by fifty metres and years of Alicia’s finishing school restraint.
“And what do we get in return?”
There was mirth in Ellie’s voice as she replied.
“Oh, security. That’s for now. In future, when our people get over the culture shock, we’ll be drip fed technological advances. We’ll also get access to the galaxy itself, to travel in, to trade in. Even explore and do alien archaeology in if anyone would want to do that.”
Bodil sounded sceptical.
“But in the meantime we have an alien base up sitting here in the alps. Watching us, interfering with us.”
“No Professor. They leave us alone. This base is ours, for us to protect ourselves. The Empire will have a base of course. They’re building it now in orbit around Mars. Eventually it will become the trade hub between ourselves and the whole Empire.”
Bodil was silent.
Alicia at last came to the end of her acceptance speech. All that remained now was for both of the betrothed to drink from the silver chalice so dutifully carried by Ellie’s friend Poppy.
Over the months Ellie and Poppy had visited with each other during the tedious meetings between Empire, Federation and earth. While Alicia, the President and more politicians that you could count argued and negotiated back and forth, Ellie had been teaching Poppy a little trick. Together they had perfected it and schemed when best to carry the trick out. When would be the most, the absolute most perfect time to pull it off.
Just as Poppy reached up to offer the chalice to the two adults on either side of her. With every eye and camera and microphone trained on her. Her moment came and, just as Ellie had taught her, Poppy farted.