A Matter of Principle
Octavius brushed his quivering hand across the pad to the Governor’s residence, and the doors swept open. He walked straight to his drinks cabinet and struggled to pour a goblet of wine from his decanter. His hands steadied as he downed the syrupy liquid.
From behind, Flavius tapped him on the shoulder. “I don’t suppose you’ve got another glass lying around?”
In all the commotion on his trip back to his penthouse, Octavius had forgotten Flavius was there. “Of course. Forgive me, Flavius. It’s just, with everything we’ve seen tonight, I needed something to clear my head.”
The shrill clink of Westminster glass rang as Octavius tipped another goblet from his decanter and handed it to the Mayor.
Mayor Flavius swilled the liquid with a steady hand and sipped. “Don’t tell me. Bottled 410 AL. Am I right?”
“The wine. It’s a nice vintage.” Flavius swallowed with a resounding ahhh and cast a jealous glance at the Governor.
Octavius studied the decanter. He had absent-mindedly opened a 410 AL vintage as if it were a regular occurrence. This kind of liquor was a perk of being the most powerful man in Whitehall. The most powerful until tonight, that is.
“How can you talk of wine at a time like this, Flavius?” Octavius passed the decanter to the Mayor and shuffled across the lavish apartment to the window. Below, lights twinkled across the city as celebrations drifted upwards. The whole city was alive. So why did it feel as if those lights were a stranglehold around Octavius’s neck?
The Mayor sidled towards the window to join the Governor of Whitehall. “What ails you, Octavius? We’ve been gifted an amazing opportunity. And you seem to be treating it as a death sentence.”
Octavius’s shoulders slumped. “Didn’t you see what the Polity did tonight? What they intend to do?”
Flavius shrugged. “I saw some lasers blast a few drones out of the sky. The closest thing to fireworks we’ve had since the half-millennium.”
“Exactly. You were there. You saw the look on the face of that insufferable shrew. Captain Ward, or whatever her name was. With a flick of her fingers, she can rain down fire from the sky. That ship up there. It’s a weapon they can use to strike at any time, and we’re the ones with a target on our foreheads.”
“Target? What are you talking about, my friend?”
Octavius paced back to his cabinet and snatched another decanter. Something stronger than wine. “Why summon us to that summit tonight?”
Flavius stroked his chin, but he didn’t answer.
There were times when Octavius valued the Mayor’s stoic deliberations, but he could be far too calculating for his own good sometimes. Where Octavius used his gift for rhetoric, the Mayor used silence. In the past, it had made them an effective team. Octavius, as the superior in both position and oratorical ability, handled the public appearances. Flavius knew his place was to stand silently by the Governor’s side. Never before had Octavius doubted that that silence meant agreement and loyalty.
“Because,” Octavius continued, “they wanted to discover who to dispose of in order to take control of the Globe. Know your enemy. That’s what they’ve made us. The enemy. It’s just like what was written in the ancient texts. The writings of Elizabeth Hathaway. She knew it. And she was right.”
Flavius waved his hand in a calming, friendly gesture. “We all know the writings. Every child does. I’ve been reciting Hathaway’s warnings since my school days. But we’re not children, Octavius. And the Polity knows it.”
“Hathaway’s words are more than just a children’s story, Flavius. This is why we can never return to the Polity, she wrote. Why we must remain vigilant to resist their false promises, why we must not look back, but fix our eyes on what lies ahead. The peace of our people depends upon it.”
“Yes, yes. But that was generations ago.” Flavius shook his head. “It’s been over five hundred cycles since the Shakespeare brought our people to the Globe. Do you really think the Polity hasn’t changed in all that time?”
Octavius paced on the spot. “You remember why Hathaway captained that ship? Why our people became refugees across the stars? It was because the Polity landed on our ancestors’ home planet and forced us into their squabbles and wars. Our ancestors fled their world. That’s why they people built the Shakespeare and travelled for five generations until they found the Globe. And now the Polity have followed us here. Do you see any difference in that little display of theirs tonight? What do you think will happen to our peace, Flavius? To us?”
Octavius cast a look that communicated his fears better than any rhetoric.
Flavius just sipped his wine.
“Look at the two of us,” Octavius continued. “How many other Globers are as—peaceable—as us? We are at the top of Central Tower. Enjoying wine bottled in 410 AL. With the whole Globe beneath us and none above us. And we are at peace.”
It can erase us from existence at a whisper.
“But surely you don’t mean that the Polity would be a threat to our powe. . . I mean, our peace. Do you?”
“Can you not see it? The only thing above us on all the Globe is that ship with its lasers. It can erase us from existence at a whisper, and hovers unseen, out of reach. Do you really think they’ll let us keep our . . . how should I put it—keep hold of what we have—when they hold us at gunpoint?”
Flavius stroked his chin. “But Octavius, don’t you also see that the Polity could help us to maintain peace, as you put it, across the entire Globe? Not just in Whitehall.”
Octavius stopped pacing and regarded Flavius as though he’d grown a second head. “How much wine have you drunk?”
“Listen to me, my friend. You are Governor. And I am Mayor. And together, we are stronger than we would be alone. How much stronger could we be with the Polity at our side?”
The Governor’s eyes bulged. His cape billowed as he stormed through the room. “You’re a fool, Flavius! Trust the Polity? That’s a death sentence.”
“Is it foolish to dream of a peace that extends beyond our people?” Flavius cocked an eyebrow and puffed out his chest. “Or do you think so small, you cannot see beyond this Globe?”
“Small? Small! Your chosen field is microbots, and you have the nerve to call me small-minded! Tell me, as a scientist, of all the microbots you’ve invented, how many of them do you consider as equals? You are their master, Flavius. They are your servants. And you would make us microbots to the Polity! We should have been spending our time reengineering the engines that carried our people to the sky. In building satellites to protect the Globe. Not funding research for your useless trinkets!”
Flavius turned as red as his wine. “You’re mad. The blueprints for the Shakespeare’s engines are lost to history. Lost when the first Central Computer was flooded in the First Alignment. We might be able to hover a ship twenty metes above the surface–maybe 30. But sending a ship into space? Impossible. That kind of technology died with Elizabeth Hathaway.”
“Impossible? You of all people know that the engine of the Shakespeare still circles the Globe, too big to land. The technology it holds could put an end to the Polity so that they never cast their shadow upon us ever again.”
“And how do you expect to use it?” The Mayor threw his arms about. The wild motion startled Octavius, who was famous for his flamboyance as well as his clever rhetoric. Something about the quiet, mild Mayor encroaching on Octavius’s signature style rubbed Octavius the wrong way. “The Shakespeare is just as unreachable as the stars. Is it not better to bend a power like the Polity to suit your will, than to antagonize them against us?”
Octavius trudged to the other end of the long window, putting distance between them.
The normally attentive Flavius missed the cue and continued. “Leonardo will be accompanying the Captain on her tour of the cities. He’s no fool. I am certain he can persuade her of our value. Of the superiority of our principles. If they have made us their enemies, then should we not make them our friends?”
“You think they can be programmed like machines? Talk sensibly, or not at all.”
The Mayor scolded Octavius with a look. “I speak for the people. You saw how they cheered. Cheered when those drones exploded in a shower of fireworks tonight.”
Octavius shook the words away, but he’d heard the cries as loud as any. “The people do not see yet. But their eyes can be opened.”
Flavius laughed. “You believe you can sway the Globers. I believe I can sway the Polity. We make a fine pair.” Flavius reached to place his hand on Octavius’s shoulder, but the Governor shrugged him off.
Octavius would not look at the Mayor. He tossed a gobletful of hard liquor down his throat, and it burned him. But not as much as Flavius’s foolishness.
“The arrogance of scientists is believing they’re in control,” Octavius boomed. “But this is no experiment. This is life. Our lives. And the Polity would rob us of them. Well, not if I take theirs first.”
“Take their lives!” The Mayor’s eyes bulged. “What madness are you proposing?”
Octavius peered through the window, beyond the lights of the city and out to the black splodge where the Polity’s lander marred the landscape—a giant bacillus ready to spread its shadow across the entire surface of the world.
“I swear upon the Central Tower in which we stand,” Octavius whispered, “I shall kill Captain Ward and her Marines, wrench the Pacifica from the sky and throw it into the Southern Sea.” Octavius could see a dim reflection of himself in the window. Death filled his eyes.
A plot swirled around his head, providing him the clarity he sought better than any drink. He looked at his hands as though he could snatch the Pacifica from orbit himself. The Governor straightened up, becoming as tall as Central Tower. As if he dwarfed the whole Globe.
“This is a war for the people,” he said. “And I will not lose.”
Flavius chuckled. He dared chuckle at Whitehall’s Governor. “You need rest, my friend,” Flavius said. “You think the Polity seek to control us, but the opposite is true. A little rest will help you see the solution to this mess. With the right programming, the Polity will be as malleable to us as microbots.”
“Get out, Flavius.”
Octavius regarded him with venom. “Leave. Now.”
“If you align yourself with the Polity, you set yourself against me. Here, I draw the line. Whitehall will not stand for it.”
“I assure you, I have spent long enough reasoning this out. If we sacrifice our principles, we sacrifice ourselves. Peace at all costs. If that means I have to eviscerate the Polity from the heavens, then so be it.”
“Did you not hear me, Flavius? You would betray Whitehall. And I shall not tolerate a traitor in my midst. Get out! Now!”
Octavius rampaged across the room towards the Mayor and rammed him with both hands, pushing him back so he staggered at first.
Flavius capitulated, as he did in all things, and fled down the hall, to the elevator and to the tower’s lower floors.
Octavius watched the Mayor shrink and disappear as he formulated a plan. He would force that shrew, who would make herself queen of the Globe, to see the might of the people. Revolt in Whitehall would be enough to distract her from his true strike, his blow across the heavens. Yes, he could see it now. As if his eyes were opened for the first time.
Peace at all costs.
He sent a message to an aide to give no one access to his quarters at any time and left. If he was going to start a mutiny, then he couldn’t do it alone. And he knew just where to start.
If you enjoyed Frasier’s story, please make sure and share some kind comments below. We will be seeing more of Governor Octavius and Mayor Flavius in future installments of “Nights of Revelation.” These once staunch allies will wage a war of stunning proportions that will not end until one is dead and a city lies in flames. But next Friday week we’ll have another two-part story by Frasier Armitage and Shanel Wilson, “Eyes Up the River,” set in the river-delta city of Newlondon. In this fast-paced tale, the brave Solanio confronts his betrayer, appears before the corrupt Guild of Newlondon, and receives a cryptic message from a mysterious benefactor.
If you would like to prepare for “Eyes Up the River,” you can read “The Beast Below” by Frasier and Shanel and meet the brave Solanio, the faithful Bianca, and the nefarious Solanio in seaside Newlondon.