Ed's note: Read Sic Transit I first
The boardroom is spacious, warm, brightly lit, and virtually empty. The doors close behind me with an nigh-imperceptible tap. I wish it were ominous, something more suitable to the mood.
I step up to the long hardwood table set in the center, and a chair rises from the floor for me. The table is long, stretched out, one vast slab of wood; unnecessary in its opulence. Idle curiosity flashes before I shut it down; I wonder where they got the wood for this. The table could easily sit 40. Today, it sits twelve. Me at one end, eleven at the other.
I sit, tugging my skirt, folding my legs off to the right side. I straighten my back, compose myself, place my notes tablet on the table in front of me, and look up. I am composed. I am in control. I am-
‘Welcome, Councilwoman,’ the man at the far end of the table says. Edward Fiskin, president and CEO of Tran-Sec Transit. We’re meeting in his building, his board-room.
‘Gentlemen,’ I reply, nodding to the men around the table, ‘ladies.’
Four men sit at the table, not counting Fiskin, and six women.
I know them all well, some a bit too well for comfort.
Fiskin runs Tran-Sec.
Jules Norton, on my left, owns a controlling share in the largest spacebus production company in the ‘Verse, Bendy-Bus Inc.
Deene Deens, at the far right, used to be a councilwoman herself. She started the Transitway Commission, the first attempt at developing reliable, cheap, inter-sector transport. She left her post as councilwoman to take a Board position with O.C. Transportation. She was one year into a four-year term.
These men and women…these men and women are power. They’ve fought and clawed for it, they’ve been born into it.
They’ve stolen it.
Between Fiskin, Deens, and the rest of the men and women at the table, the people at this meeting represent a good 90% of the funding base for my election campaign.
Without their donations, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I owe them.
They own me.
Owe and own. The two words are more similar than they have any right to be. More idle thought, crushed. No room for that now. Calm, composure. Power.
‘Councilwoman!’ Fiskin starts, his chiseled jaw twitching into a smile. He’s the lead here, as he always seems to be. The man is built like a behemoth. 7’2”, blonde, and with a jaw that could shatter irony. And frequently does. He got to where he sits now through a trail littered with the fortunes of those who underestimated him, crushed under the heels of his Armuchi shoes like a Nyxian centipede.
I’m still disappointed he’s gay. Getting into bed with him would have been much easier if I’d been able to get into bed with him.
More idle thought. Distraction. Shake it off, Lehna, shake it off.
‘Welcome, Councilwoman, and a very many congratulations on your victory yesterday!’
‘Thank you, Mr. Fiskin, I’m eager to get to work, to start…serving my constituents,’ I tell the truth. I am eager to begin.
‘Please, Lehna, we are all friends here. Call me Ed.’ he beams at me. He has no right to be that attractive, and that unavailable, and he knows it. He uses it.
No. I’m better than this.
‘Thank you Ed,’ I say, opening my binder and taking out a pen. The binder itself will record everything that is said, transcribe it, analyze it, and provide me any number of various reports about the meeting. The pen though; taking notes myself, it gives me time to think. It’s a play, a strategy, one I’ve used before. I hope it helps today.
‘Shall we begin?’ Fiskin asks, still smiling.
I nod, and the meeting starts in earnest.
We speak for hours about transportation; about the promises the Transitionalists made; that I made; during the campaign. It starts slow, friendly. They congratulate me further, say how certain they were that I would win.
As if I didn’t know they’d paid just as much to my opponents’ campaigns.
Just as the meeting opened with Fiskin, Fiskin opens up the real discussion.
‘Lehna, please, do not mistake me. This is all well and good, all your talk of equal transportation for the masses. We love the idea! We would not have backed your campaign did we not.’ He’s jovial, exuberant, he…he radiates energy, a cheerful veneer of happiness and warmth. Beneath it all, though, beneath the warm smiles and sweeping gestures, beneath the thin, sweet veneer, I can see danger, taught as a bow-string.
‘Your talk, your promises, they were brilliant. They galvanized the system, helped lead your party to victory. But you need a plan. We have that plan for you. You motivated the system to vote, and you motivated us to band together, to come to you with a…proposal.’
‘I’ve read it.’ I say, tersely. I have read it. I read it on the flight over.
Had it been on paper I would have thrown it out of the ship in frustration.
‘I’m sure you must have questions, my dear…’ Deens. I despise her half-smile.
Questions. Oh, oh, I have questions. The first question is where to start.
‘Goss, Hades, Magnus. Your plan, it flat-out ignores Goss-Magnus travel for twelve years, focusing on Goss-Hades first. Why does Goss, a more than self-sufficient system, need transportation to Hades, which is as good as dead space, before Magnus, which is actually growing?’ My hand is waving, pointing with the pen. I have to calm down.
Fiskin takes the reins again.
‘Listen, Lehna, look, you came to us, asking for money for your campaign. And we gave it to you. We did not sit you down, talk to you about your campaign, how best to run it. No, we left that to the experts. We left that to you.’ He was shaking his head, smiling, and I could see the laughter in his eyes.
I wonder what I look like to him. Do I look like a centipede?
Do I look like something to be crushed under his boot?
‘When it comes to transportation, we, we are the experts. We trust you to leave it to us. I could bring in expert after expert to tell you why we must build a Goss-Hades line first, because we must. But what it comes down to, what it comes down to, Lehna, is that you just have to trust us.’
He doesn’t say it, but I know what he means. I must trust them, I must trust them because I don’t have a choice. Their funding created me, it could so easily destroy me as well.
The meeting continues like this. One hour, two. I raise an objection to a part of their plan, Fiskin, or one of the others, tells me to ignore it, that it’s no big deal, and I back down, because I have to.
At three hours, I’ve managed to get rapid medical transit on the table.
At four hours, they’ve taken it off the table; replaced it with larger lanes for industry, preferred lanes for the Hull series of ships. Jian Edwards, third on the left, owns a sizable portion of MISC stock.
Battle after battle, I lose. I thought I was a fighter, thought I was a good politician. I thought I would do something good for my system, for all the systems.
I’ve been disabused of that notion.
These men and women, they’ve thrown me around, laughed at my proposals. I feel naked now, in front of them, powerless as I stand and bow my thanks to them, taking my leave. They won the day. There can be no argument.
I’ve lost the battle.
I allow myself the walk to the ship to grieve, to get angry at myself. I blame myself, and rightly so. The loss is my fault. Part of me wants to break something, part wants to jump inside a bottle, and part wants to jump in someone’s bed.
I may yet do all three.
Daniel greets me as I return to the ship.
‘Ma’am’, he says, handing me up the short stairs into the back of the 200i. I nod. He can sense my mood, knows me better by now than to press.
In minutes, we’ve lifted off, I’ve poured myself a neat scotch and kicked off the heels. Stretching out for the first time in hours feels…liberating. Makes me feel like maybe I didn’t do so terribly.
I did do terribly, but the calm, the warmth of the scotch, the mild hum of the ship, they start the ideas flowing.
An inkling of a plan, a beginning of an idea hits me; starts to churn.
I need to relax, need to think. I page Daniel up front.
‘Daniel, has Brant Sollen left the house yet?’ With any luck…
‘No ma’am. I believe he is still asleep. Would you like me to have him ousted before we return?’
‘No, Daniel, that will be alright. I can use his…particular skills again.’
I cut the intercom and lean back, closing my eyes and downing the scotch.
I’ve had my drink. Soon, I’ll have someone in my bed.
Then it’s time to start breaking things.