Smoke Filled Room
Hour 1325, Day 104, Year 2119
Fortieth anniversary of the passage of the first legislation restricting the rights of Genetically Modified Humans. These Lynas Laws defined GMH as incorporating non-human DNA, legally demoting them to less than human.
“This morning I was on the Senate floor, a wet Paris spring outside the windows, listening to debates on the war and reading a live transcript of a strategic planning session on Kuiper Station, and now here I am having lunch in Omaha with you. The marvels of the modern age can still surprise me sometimes, Avani.”
Sudarshan nodded politely, but she did not drop her guard, despite the casual surroundings. The noodle shop was far too small to be expected to offer indoor dining, but an April snowstorm had covered the sidewalk tables in a layer of wet, cold snow. The owner had squeezed a tiny table and two chairs in a corner between the counter and the front window to accommodate the Prime Minister, leader of the Sol Coalition Senate, for a luncheon meeting. Most of the business seemed to be in deliveries made out the back entrance, so their meal was undisturbed except for the polite service of cups of delicate tea and steaming bowls of fragrant noodles.
“I find it especially striking when I come home. To think, my grandfather used to bring me here when he came back from Washington. That was just after the Repulsion, and he was overseeing the reverse engineering of the Culler ships that landed on American soil. Oh,” the older woman reminisced with a smile, “the base here in Omaha was such a small place then – barely equipped to deal with the soldiers and scientists that all flooded in, doing everything they could for the war effort – to ensure the survival of humanity.” The Senator smiled and took a bite of her noodles, “Mm, delicious as always. You can’t get Vietnamese anywhere that is better than this. Not since the Red War.”
Sudarshan, despite her tension over being summoned by the Prime Minister more than seven thousand miles from the Sol Coalition Congressional Hall, relaxed somewhat as she also began to eat. The highest member of the Senate, the Prime Minister, was an unassuming American woman. Her hair was thick and white; unlike most women her age she had forgone pigment treatments. It contrasted nicely with deeply tanned skin and bright blue eyes. The woman was quite fit, which was appropriate given her campaign persona of a hard worker and no-nonsense legislator. Sudarshan had only met her a few times before, and never in a personal meeting, but she found the relaxed, friendly manner of senior Senator to be at odds with the whispered rumors that she was a tenacious political shark.
The Prime Minister set down her spoon and took a sip of tea before continuing, “He would not recognize the city now, my grandfather. Tripled in size and home of the Sol Coalition’s largest research facility on Earth. I imagine he would be quite proud of some of our accomplishments.”
“Due, in no small part, to your efforts, Prime Minister,” Sudarshan ventured tentatively.
“Oh, no, I cannot take responsibility for that. North America pooled its resources to establish this base, the location is entirely a logistical issue. Besides that, to claim, even privately, that my efforts as a servant to our government are in any way personal would be rather disgusting, don’t you think?”The Prime Minister smiled as coolly and charmingly as on any of her campaign ads
Sudarshan hesitated, sure that there was a verbal trap ahead of her, but not able to see it. . “We are all only working towards the greater good,” she responded slowly. The senior politician’s smile remained, but her gaze hardened into something that sent a shiver down Sudarshan’s spine.
“Sam,” the Prime Minister called out. The owner popped out of the kitchen, a damp towel in hand. “Give me a few moments, please, would you?” He nodded and immediately disappeared into the back. The sounds of water being shut off and muffled conversations abruptly stopped as a door slammed shut. Sudarshan was suddenly very aware that the only person who would witness the remainder of the lunch was the Prime Minister’s personal security guard.
“The greater good,” she said the words slowly, as though testing their flavor like a Vietnamese noodle. The shiver froze around her spine, and Sudarshan felt a tightness in her chest. “It is interesting that you would use such a phrase, Avani. Exactly what greater good were you working toward this morning when you voted against the Emancipation and Suffrage bill?”
“The party has always held conservative views toward the GMH population,” Sudarshan quickly responded. “I was only-”
“And who, exactly, told you that a publicly promoted conservative view translated into a vote against the E&S? Or did you deduce that little nugget on your own?”
Sudarshan bristled. She had been prepared to be chastised for something, but she wasn’t about to put up with personal insults, not even from the Prime Minister. “I know what the party supports, ma’am, perhaps even better than you, given your tone. The future of Genetically Modified Humans is not one of Emancipation and Suffrage, and least not yet, and if you do not understand the gravity of this matter, of what it means to us all, to the war, then-”
“You twit.” The Prime Minister’s expression did not change. She still smiled and held her cup of tea with an easy gesture, but her voice dripped with anger. “You want to play at shaping the future, at determining the fate of a species? I should take you over my knee for that kind of ignorance. You want to use your former position in Congress, your knowledge of Project Hellhound to justify your actions. If you think that one operation is enough to support such a conclusion, that the party wishes to see GMH individuals held as property indefinitely, you are far more stupid than even my most pessimistic assessments.”
“I have the support of-” Sudarshan began hotly, but she was cut off.
“You have the support I allow you to have,” the older woman said sharply.
“If we want to win the battle in Near Sol space, we need-”
Again she was overridden, “Battle, you think this is about a battle?” She set down her cup with a definitive clink. “I am shaping the future of our species, and you want to throw away our best defense, your career, the power of our party in the Senate, the security of our solar system – for one war? Do not be so shortsighted,” she spat. One bluntly manicured nail pressed into the cheap table as she made her point. Blue eyes glittered like ice. “You have seen a fraction of the intelligence, the scouting reports, the research assumptions. Cullers,” she dismissed the species that had come close to destroying the Earth with a hard breath, “what are they but cannon fodder – a prelude to something more? Humanity is on a galactic stage now, one battle, one war, is nothing in contrast. Our plans must be designed to carry us forward, to ensure survival, physically, culturally – morally – beyond species that have not yet even crawled out of the oceans on planets that spin hundreds of light years away. I am smoothing the way for humanity to endure, to thrive, to expand and seize our future – to command our future, and you whine about one battle?”
The Prime Minister sat back in her chair, lips pursed and breath coming hard through her nose. Sudarshan did not move. Every rumor, every whisper she had heard ran screaming through her brain. They were all a shadow in comparison to the woman before her. There was no denying that the Prime Minister was the power behind her party – and her party was the power behind the Sol Coalition Congress. It ate at Sudarshan to humble herself, to admit to wrongs she still didn’t believe she had committed, but the Prime Minister was capable of decimating her career without even getting out of her chair.
“Ma’am,” she began, but one creased palm made her swallow her words.
“I. Am not. Finished.” She closed her eyes for a moment and then opened them slowly. “Gillian has requested a new chair person for the Oversight Committee. Tomorrow, the Chair will tender his resignation from Congress and you will recommend Representative Soledad Venegas as a replacement. When the session closes next week, you will go visit your family home in Renukoot. When session resumes, you will change your views on the GMH issue. You will admit that you have reconsidered and you were wrong. When the Emancipation and Suffrage bill is reintroduced, you will support it.”
“The voting equilibrium will be disturbed, there will be members of the party that will be unhappy,” Sudarshan warned. She chafed at having her vote determined for her, chafed at the prospect of admitting publicly that she had made a mistake – when she truly felt she was acting in the best interests of humanity. “Members of the opposition will try to take advantage of any discord in the upcoming elections.”
The Prime Minister frowned, “At least you recognize that much. Perhaps you are not a complete loss.” The insult was stated with the same tone that would have been used to asses overripe fruit. Blue eyes relaxed, and she sat back, considering Sudarshan with a calculating gleam that made her skin crawl. “Reparations will be made, do not concern yourself. In the meantime, you are going to become a moderate candidate, Avani. I am going to save your career, but do not ever think to assume such grand plans without consulting me first.”
“I can take care of my own career,” she said tightly.
The Prime Minister arched one dark eyebrow. “It was never yours to take care of.” Quietly, she listed the names and amounts of every contributor to the first campaign that had gotten Sudarshan into a state office position. “Did you really think your supporters saw your social media outpouring and handed over their credits?” Sudarshan could feel the blood draining from her face as the realization sank in that her life had been so carefully manipulated without her knowledge. “You succeeded because there was something in you that could be useful to us, to me. There still is, if you can follow orders. You want the war with the Cullers to end? It will happen, but there are those of us who know better how, and when, and in what way it might benefit the greater good.”
“Ma’am,” the woman’s security detail held out a phone, the screen indicating it was on hold, “An urgent call from the Secretary of Defense, ma’am.”
“We’re done,” she dismissed Sudarshan and took the phone with the same hand. With a knot of humility, anger, and fear in her stomach, Sudarshan rose and stepped toward the door. Behind her, the Prime Minister answered in her practiced, cool voice, “Helen Maker, here.”