“So you are the one who didn’t kill me.“ The words hung between the two men for a few long seconds. Both were looking at each other and both seemed oblivious to the noisy surroundings of the bar.
Andrew felt uneasy. He had prepared a few words for this situation but none of them seemed appropriate now. “It was… an awkward situation,” was all he could muster. Damn, he was not made for this. But then again, what do you say to a person you were supposed to eliminate on behalf on your superiors?
The man nodded silently and began (again) turning his tumbler filled with Mathuka.
“It was… awkward,” Andrew repeated. “In fact, I had my doubts about the legitimacy of that order.” This was absurd. It almost sounded like an excuse. He wished he was somewhere else, counting moons.
“A soldier with a conscience. And the willingness to sacrifice his career for it? It’s a rare thing I guess, especially with the apparent lack of background info they gave you.” The man opposite to him was in his fourties (most likely). He had short brown hair and a neatly trimmed beard that he kept short as well. Something of him reminded Andrew of the military and something… something he couldn’t place at all. Finally Andrew relaxed a bit. He decided to tell the tale in more detail and he suspected that this man was looking for some answers, too.
“It’s a rare thing for a Logistics Officer to be asked to go out in a combat ship and kill someone. Brass said the target… well, you in fact, was a suspected Empire spy on the run with something and they ordered me to ‘neutralize the threat’ you posed to Federation security. It’s always Federation security, you know. You can silence any objection with it and it always seems to fit in.”
The man chuckled while still looking into his tumbler. He seemed to think hard about something. Finally he looked up and met Andrew’s gaze. “So the Empire, huh?” He leaned back. “They were right, though. I was on the run. But I didn’t work for the Empire. I worked for the Federation.”
For reasons unknown, Andrew had suspected there was a catch and that they hadn’t told him everything. And why would they? Most likely they hadn’t even told Hobbs everything but just ordered him to carry it out. But the Federation killing one of their own? Boy, that was bound to get interesting. Was it only just two years ago?
“You know, it’s one thing to disobey an order and be shown the door for it. But you really have to piss off your employer for making him want to kill you. We both know the Fed and we both know that they are not all Mister Niceguy. You said you were on the run, so I suspect you knew they would come after you for something.” He raised an eyebrow. “Care to elaborate?”
“We both had the same reasons I guess: Conscience. And maybe a bit of remaining idealism that working for a galactic government has something to do with moral and ethics.” There was that knowing chuckle again. Andrew had heard it in many briefing rooms when their bosses were gone.
“What exactly were you doing? What did you work on?”
The man took a sip of Mathuka and began rotating the tumbler again. “Well, you decided not to kill me, so I suppose you ought to know. I was working for the Federation Investigative Research Group, or just FINREG. And yes, it’s a euphemism. FINREG specializes in ‘acquiring’ prototype technology all across known space. It really doesn’t matter where and what, everything that could promote the superiority of Mankind is on FINREG’s shortlist. And by Mankind we speak of the Federation of course.”
Andrew audibly drew in his breath. Now it was his turn to take a sip of his Lavian ’92 Brandy. FINREG? He had never heard of that group but given the vastness of the Federation’s bureaucracy and the obvious clandestine nature of that special department it didn’t surprise him. On the other hand, most governments indulged in industrial espionage, even the Sosolingati Constitution Party and the Erawate Life Services. It was a common thing, especially in the technologically dependent Federation and its countless minor placeholders. Sorry, shareholders.
“You are telling me you worked for a top secret espionage branch of the Feds, no doubt with certain… recruitment standards, got along with them some time and then decided to give them a pass, because… reasons?”
The man seemed genuinely amused: “You could say so, yes. They’d put it differently of course, but yes. Short but accurate, although ‘reasons’ would require a wall of words in itself. However, we were always told that everything we did was to further Man’s position among the stars and all the dangers that were waiting out there. It’s true, the Federation tends to speak of Mankind or Man when in essence it speaks of itself and its claim to rule the Bubble… and beyond. Ruling all of known space.”
Considering this for quite a bit, Andrew drew his own conclusions about the Federation’s will to dominate this part of space. The Federation’s moves had become much more aggressive over the last years. And the media? There were claims that some of the news and reports were in fact fabricated spin by the Federation itself. The citizens were easy prey, because of the fractured nature of the government. Where each world in part was allowed to rule itself there was always room for more bickering and schemes. Playing factions against each other was as common as it was easy.
“If all the ideals and the PR felt right and just, I would gladly subscribe to that. But we both know peace is only an illusion when it’s imposed by a government bent on hegemonic domination. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Ruling inhabited space.”
The man looked up. “I said ‘ruling known space’, not ‘inhabited’ space. The former is far greater than the latter. But with all our technology we often forget that the most fundamental tools for any observation still are the human eye and human imagination. Humans have watched the sky with their bare eyes for more than seven thousand years now, far longer than any enhanced imaging system. And imagination has been around far longer than science. That was also on FINREG’s agenda: Imaginative alternatives to hard science. Hell, the Fed maintained two whole, well-funded project teams on that, so it must have meant something to them.” He hesitated. “I was on one of them. And when we found something, I knew I had to run with all the conscience that was left. And I knew I had to prep my run or I would never make it past a light year.”
“What are you trying to tell me?”
The man eyed him cautiously. “Have you been following the late developments around certain alien space probes and the Synuefe region?”
“Yeah? The Canonn among others are conducting some rather thorough searches for leads on an apparently spacefaring alien race. There’s also more talk and rumours about planetside exploration and the Fed getting involved through one of their crony corporations. They all seem to have narrowed it down to the Pleiades.”
“Ah,” the man said. “The Pleiades, yes. Messier 45, Collinder 42, Melotte 22. For ages also known as the Sailing Ones, the Rain Sisters, the Seven Sisters, Al-Thurayya, the Sebettu and the Atlantiades. Forever the target of Human imagination. And belief.” He let that hang for some seconds.
“Pray tell me, Mister Gaspurr, do you know of the Nebra Sky Disc? Or the Tablets of Destiny?”
Andrew nearly choked on his brandy.