Coruscant, 19,072 BBY Since his appointment to the head of the Committee of Expansion Region Affairs, Senator Oshk Diamint had learnt much about the newest region of the Galactic Republic, but more about what they didn’t know.
He kept several two-dimensional maps of his committee’s subject on the walls of his quarters, and a projector loaded with a full three-dimensional map in the middle of his living room. Often when he mind was worn down with issues, he would turn it on and wander in circles, around and through the newly discovered stars and systems, passing through the large gaps where noone had even properly charted anything yet. In two different corners of the map were written numbers instead, the estimate of how many stars were in that area.
On an easy access file in his personal computer bank sat all information on all species and societies charted in the region. It was far too small a file for such a great expanse of the cosmos. They knew much more about the moons and asteroids and natural resources than about the natives.
Oshk had been in the Senate for most of his adult life, and he was approaching 90 years of age; fairly old for his species. Yet this was by far the highest position he had held in his life, and he was prouder of it than he had ever been proud of anything.
He had been widowed for nearly five years, and he kept a holo of his late wife and three fully grown children by his bed. He didn’t see any of the children half as often as he wanted to, especially not this youngest, his daughter Yott. But she came to Coruscant shortly after he was appointed, with good reason, as she would soon be heading out to the Expansion Region herself. She worked for Tapos Securities, which centuries ago had sponsored countless probes sent out to map the outer galaxy, and now was the sole claimer to a number of planets that had since been opened for colonization.
They met in one of his favorite restaurants, Motto’s, which several months ago had taken to the air in the manner that had become newfangled in the most recent years, building a small version of itself which was what was apparently called a skyhook, and launched out from its original location and then circled around the Kishi District, which meant one had to arrive on the hour, but such was no problem for either father or daughter. 2200 found the two of them settling into their table in the corner and exchanging jokes about strapping themselves in, though the smoothness of the takeoff was remarkable.
“Been too long since I’ve been here,” said Yott.
“May I point out, dearling, that neither of us have ever been here at all,” her father said, waving his hands at the rising barrier that surrounded them. Below them the city was falling away, though inertial dampening had kicked in(Motto’s would never have been cheap enough to have a skyhook without them) and as a result it didn’t feel like they were moving at all. It was a little surreal, actually, and Oshk had known some of his colleagues to get queasy on skyhooks, though he personally didn’t see the difference between this and normal space travel. “You haven’t even been on a skyhook before now, have you?”
“No, they haven’t even reached the Sistooine system yet, I think.” The Sistooine system was where most of Tapos’ offices off Corellia were now located, and where Yott had lived for the past five years. “Too bad; this truly is an amazing view.” She was leaning over the edge as she spoke; bent much further and she would have made her father nervous. “Don’t hurry to call the waiter over.”
Oshk didn’t, but he didn’t have to; Motto’s had the best and most efficient service in the entire Senate district; in no time a splendid silver droid waiter with the most pleasing voice was asking if he could take their order. Yott hadn’t even looked at the menu, and as it had been a number of years since she had last been there, she absently remarked, “I’ll have whatever you’re having, papa.” He ordered them both the sweet duck, which he knew would take some time; he wanted to stay there as long as possible.
Eventually, as she had to, Yott finally got bored with the view, as novel and breathtaking as it was. Though before then, it did pique Oshk’s interest when he saw beings of sizes and species run out onto balconies and up onto higher platforms to get a closer look at the skyhook as it glided past. One being with wings even tried to fly after them, but couldn’t keep up. From his patchy garb Oshk suspected he wasn’t in this area regularly; he might have never before seen this incredible new apparatus.
“So,” he said, “how did your visit home go? Did anyone recognize you?”
“Papa, you haven’t been back to even anywhere in the Rim for nearly nine years, have you?” He couldn’t deny that, and was grateful when she plowed on. “I don’t think most of them even remember your name anymore, and I was able to go anonymously. I was more identified with my employer than with you; they’re making inroads on the local workforce, especially on Myt’s.”
“I sometimes wish your mother and I had taken you and your brothers there more often when you were young, to Bilbringi at least; we were there so often, and it was where you were born.”
“Bilbringi?” she shrugged. “I was there in an official capacity just last month. Which actually makes me wish they’d be a little more flexible in letting us plan our itineraries. Can you believe it, papa, first time in three years I’d been in my home sector and they wouldn’t let me go anywhere but Bilbringi. Even if I paid for it myself, and I offered to. No, they needed me back as soon as possible, they insisted.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked, dismayed.
“Oh, you want to interfere?” she shook her head. “Is that right, for you to do that?”
“Come now, dearling, what’s the good of being the daughter of a Senator if you can’t take advantage of it every now and then, hmmm?”
“I don’t want to,” she said stubbornly. “I’m not going to be like Toshki, comming you every other week because some big client didn’t want to buy from him.”
“I don’t allow that anymore, Yott,” he told her. His older son was a bit of a disappointment that way, but at least he was now making enough he didn’t need his father to make sales for him anymore. “And I know you’d never do that. I’m just saying, if someone’s treating you unreasonably like that, you shouldn’t be ashamed to get help.”
“Well, I’d still rather not,” she said, and he could tell that was the end of it. “Besides, if I did things like that, they might not have given me this opportunity. I wouldn’t have deserved it either. You need to be self-dependent to work in the Expansion Region. You need to be a quick learner, and a self-starter, and good under pressure.”
“You earned your new assignment, didn’t you?” he agreed. He had known that, that it had been extremely competitive between the company’s employees to get to do this, and that she had worked her butt off, and gotten it without his help, and he knew she had to be proud of that. And he was proud of her; he hoped she knew that. “I hope your colleagues know that.”
“Those of them that know me know that,” she said, which wasn’t very reassuring; in a company as mammoth as Tapos Securities, most of the employees were strangers to each other. “In any case I had very kind words from a few of them. One woman said she’d miss me.”
“Then she’s not alone,” he said softly. The thing that really made him sad, though he didn’t want to bother her too much with this, was that she was going to be gone at least twenty years, and while it wasn’t impossible she might come back inward during that time, nothing was guaranteed. And when she’d hinted she might be away still longer, maybe even another decade or more, well, it was hard for him to sit there and talk calmly with her when he was aware that he might never see her again.
It was on her mind too; gently she reached across the table and placed her braceleted hand on his. “I wish you could see it, papa. Not just as a big map in your quarters, but for real. Me and a couple of the guys I’m going with have stood in a virtual recreation of some of the places we’re going to, and there are places the such of like I’ve never seen. We’re going to learn so much from the Expansion Region. We’re going to be a different civilization in another century than we are right now, and when things change so slowly now; it hasn’t been like it was when your grandfather was alive, but I may have children after all, for the galaxy I would give them! The Republic I would give them!”
Yott seemed very young then to her father, as he watched her eyes light up and sparkle in a way they rarely had since she’d entered her chosen profession. He felt both a rush of gladness and a rush of grief, for he wondered if she could be happy living within the old, settled part of the Republic again.
Next to their table sat a young couple, and as he first glanced down the skyhook to see if their food might come, though he didn’t really expect it yet, Oshk’s eyes happened to fall on them. Their garb was a distinct sort which allowed him to easily identify them as from Telfelda, a small, isolated planet on the very edge of the Rim. The size and thickness of the chain around his neck and the amount of jewels her extensive hair was done up with bespoke their considerable wealth, yet their faces were awed as they looked around. Sometimes it seemed everywhere he looked, even here on Coruscant, the galaxy was indeed growing and transforming.
“Have you met any of the people from the region yet?” he asked her.
“Not yet,” she said readily, “but not too many of them are venturing off their worlds yet. For a few of them this is the first they’ve even learned there are people on other planets, though of a lot of them had contact with each other. Can you imagine what this must be like for them, what we’ve brought them? Everything has changed for them, in a way we can’t even comprehend.”
“Perhaps our ancestors could have,” he commented. “Back when the Republic first came to them.”
“Oh, could they even imagine?” she laughed. “One of their descendants in your position. Overseeing the welcome of new species into the Republic, they way they themselves were once welcomed?”
Here, however, Oshk found himself saying only, “Remarkable indeed,” for he wasn’t allowed to discuss, even with his family, that not all of the new races the Republic had come into contact with were jumping to join. In fact, a few of them had made clear they didn’t want the Republic anywhere near any worlds they could lay claim to, and there were disputes over planets that were uninhabited, over whom they might belong to. Nothing that was likely to affect Yott immediately, though sooner or later it probably would, and in any case if the Republic was to fulfill the dream of its Founders, then these people had to be dealt with, though Oshk didn’t yet know how.
If any trepidation escaped, she didn’t notice it. She was still lost in her idealistic hopes. From what Oshk understood, she really wasn’t likely to meet too much with the natives day to day, though they would be introduced. But he couldn’t help but think that if she was who represented the Republic to them, after the sometimes arrogant and sometimes not even very smart ambassadors they’d probably be meeting with so far, it could only improve their image. Even as a Senator’s daughter, she was doomed to be associated at least a little with that level no matter what she did.
Their food was served, and she ate slowly. He watched her close her eyes as she chewed, savoring it. “One of the worst parts of this is going to be the food,” she commented. “The company’s going to be feeding us. They cut costs however they can. Of course, they’re spending so much money on this particular thing you can hardly blame them, and I wouldn’t even mind if I would just be able to eat something else sometimes, but there won’t be anything else available.”
“If it endangers your health...” Oshk started uneasily.
“Oh, I don’t think it’ll go that far,” she shrugged, but she didn’t sound entirely sure. She looked back over the side of the skyhook, trying to determine just where they were. “Where’s the pond?” she asked. She was talking about Stratos Pond, which had been her favorite place in the district as a kid; she’d spent hours diving in it, beating her brothers in races until they refused to race with her.
It broke his heart to have to tell her. “They’ve dried most of the ponds, dearling. They were interfering with the new electrical system too much.”
“What?” Her head bobbed about with disbelief. Then it jutted with anger, as she growled, “That Birr and Tornik!” She had apparently heard something about their getting to contract to rewire practically all of Coruscant. “Why did Coruscant ever let them pulverize their systems?”
“Dearling, they were breaking down all the time. And this is not a planet that can manage at all when the power breaks down. The way it’s set up now, people can’t even get water without power. Something had to be done.”
“They should’ve gotten someone else to do it!” She was getting worked up about this, far more than he would have imagined. “Birr and Tornik are lying hacks! Did you know they’re trying to lay claim to nearly 500 stars systems, none of which they have any rights to; the courts will laugh them off, no doubt about it. Oh...” They were now passing over the stretch of green where the pond had once been. “It’s changed so much,” she sighed. “I barely recognize it. Will it be gone completely by the time I come back here?”
“I don’t know, dearling,” her father sighed as they started to float away from that once-loved place. “I don’t know.”
“And how are we going to keep the other companies off, hmmm? Especially if they arrive with the police?”
“What police? This is the Expansion Region we’re talking about!”
As the debate raged on, Hoorir Domine, the president of Domine Supplies, listened to the board argue with a sinking heart. The truth was, he was getting a feeling that if the company was to avoid becoming hopelessly crippled, it would have to do something illegal. After all, the laws were not written for the benefit of smaller, young Coruscant-based companies, in fact, quite the opposite.
He wished now he’d never taken them into colonization sponsorship. But it had seemed the most logical thing to do at the time, the place where all the money was. Fifty years ago Domine Supplies, a very young but already prosperous company then, had funded the system mapping for fourteen high-water planets, with the understanding that when the time came, they would have a claim for colonizing them. It was a pitifully small amount of worlds; most of the Corellian and Alsakan-based companies involved in the Expansion Region had some sort of claim on over a hundred planets. But the other forces in the region weren’t willing to let them have even that small collection; half their planets had another claimant. They’d lost two of those already in the courts to a company that had better lawyers than they did, and their analysts told them they weren’t likely to hold onto a third. They apparently had a chance with a fourth and fifth, but for the money they’d put into this, they needed Holt.
The planets on the border of the Rim and the Expansion Region but further from the Slice were the worst; practically all of them were disputed in the courts, and Border Alpha, informally known as Holt, which was in the aptly named Border System, had five rival claimants. The case had been sitting on the court dockets for nine years, and no one expected it to be heard anytime soon.
Caras Fel, the man who was urging them to ignore the stay placed on colonization and send their people there, had all but hurled a holo-imager into the center of the table, one of those new tiny ones that could be carried around in one’s pocket, and was automatically activated by the movement. An image of Holt stretched across the table, the magnificent blue of its vast oceans casting a glow on everyone seated around it.
“Ten and a half thousand kilometers diameter, and over four fifths of it water,” he reminded them. “We have no other planet, there is no other planet known about in the entire Expansion Region, that has that much water on it. And are we to just sit back, and let the other four companies, which, may I remind you, include both Birr and Torik and Trink Hydrogen, who ought to have been disqualified from this when they were caught bribing judges, but got off with a slap on the wrist, and are sure to do it again, now are we going to let them take everything, just because they can? No, we must do this. The worst they’ll do is fine us for it, and by the time they get around to that we’ll probably have made more than enough money to cover it. We cover that planet with enough people, it won’t be possible for them to remove us; the Republic is letting the private sector handle the Expansion Region specifically because they don’t have the resources to, people!”
“Caras,” said Rion Latts, one of the other board members, “the way you speak...correct me if I’m wrong but you sound like you think the Expansion Region is essentially going to be lawless.”
“It’s the frontier,” said Caras. “Don’t be so shocked.”
“But what about the safety of our people?” Hoorir felt the need to ask. “I don’t want to be reckless with that.”
“We’ll send security with them, of course,” said Caras. “There are companies now that are specifically training personnel to protect clients settling the Expansion Region. I hope nobody is naïve enough to be shocked when I observe that even on those planets where the only other presence is the natives this has often proven very necessary, though thankfully that is one thing we need not concern ourselves with anymore, at least now that we’ve lost Charra.”
“Are these companies willing to be an accessory to an illegal colonization?” asked prim Kryna Chantalle. Hoorir suspected she would vote against this no matter what, though he was still grateful she’d asked the question.
Across from her, it was Limos who answered. “I believe some of them are doing so already. However, you cannot ask them to commit themselves to being legally liable; there must be for them some plausible deniability. We would not outright tell them there is a stay involved, and we must make the conversation careful enough so that we neither lie to them not give them any reason not to assume from that conversation standing alone that we are acting within our rights. They would then neglect to check.”
“That,” said poor young Kristen Domine, a relation of the family new to Coruscant, “is the most shameful thing I have ever heard.”
“The most?” demanded Caras, leaping to his feet again. “Ever? So you’re telling us it’s worse than big Corellian companies with more money and less right blatantly walking into our hard-earned claims and taking away what’s rightfully ours? Worse than those in the Senate who are supposed to protect the rights of their people letting them do so, and then, when we fight back, saying that we are the ones in violation of the law? Worse than what we all know Birr and Torik really did to get that deal to rewire Coruscant?”
“We don’t know that,” Hoorir cut him off sharply. “We cannot assume such a rumor is true without any real evidence.” But he was sure most of those in the boardroom believed that rumor anyway.
“True or not,” sighed Rion, “we going to get into relative moralism? Because this is starting to sound like it.”
“This is relative moralism,” added Kryna.
“And the alternative?” Caras continued to argue. “You all know where the high route may lead us.”
“Bankruptcy,” said Limos grimly.
“Can we be certain of that?” asked an anxious Kristen.
“Can we be certain of anything?” shrugged Limos. “But if we lose all these court cases, and these planets, the charts start looking very bad.”
These words settled a feeling a dark necessity throughout the boardroom, and Hoorir knew then exactly what would happen. Sensing his cue, Caras said, “I motion for a small force to be send to Holt, officially for scouting purposes.”
Hoorir felt a brief flash of intense relief, that at least they would keep up the appearance of not violating the stay; scouting parties weren’t outright forbidden, after all. But it wasn’t a deception that could be kept up very long, even if they insisted on it later in court, where it might or might not escape as not disproven.
He momentarily hoped no one would second it, but Limos did. And when it came time to vote, he raised his hand, as did everyone except Rion and Kryna. He caught Kristen’s eyes as she hesitantly raised hers; she was a girl who was learning very fast.
“Motion passes,” he said, and tried to ignore the chill up his spine, the sudden fear he’d doomed his company. “We will equip them for an indefinite stay, as we should not be yet able to determine how long they will need to stay there.” How easy it was, in the end, where he already knew how to craft this order while technically remaining within the law. Theirs was hardly the first “scouting party” sent out like this, and he was not so naïve as to believe his was the first who planned to stay longer than they claimed. Uneasily he wondered what would happen if one of the other four couples did what they were doing. If one of them already had a group en route.
They went through the rest of the meeting’s business as best they could, but Hoorir didn’t think he was the only mind who was feeling a little shaken by the decision they had just made. He had to force himself to pay attention and a couple of times more than one of the other board members looked like they weren’t.
When the group broke up, his first thought was Kristen. Only her third meeting, and she had gone through this. He saw how she rose slowly, as if she was unsteady on her feet, and even with the people he had to push past and exchange quick good days with he caught up with before she was halfway to the door. “I believe the two of us are going to the same district tonight. Shall we share a cab?”
“Yes, absolutely,” she said, sounding grateful enough. She didn’t even ask why he was going to the CoCo District when he lived all the way in East Minor. The reason for that, too, she would probably eventually find out about, but there was more than one reason he wanted to prevent that for as long as he could.
In another lucky stroke, they managed to flag down a cab flown by a Thursite. This reptilian species, newly joined to the Republic, rarely knew much Standard, and couldn’t even hear it without ear implants, which would allow them to speak freely.
“Are you disappointed by the behavior of the company today?” he asked her when they were underway, out of earshot of everyone besides the driver.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I never really thought about things like this before. But then again...” she drifted off, and for a moment he didn’t push it.
She then spoke again anyway. “It’s this planet itself. I thought it was such an amazing place...and it is, it really is. But it can be such a scary place too sometimes.”
“Just keep to the upper levels and you’ll be a lot safer,” he told her.
“So I’ve been told,” she sighed. “But there’s so much ugliness up here too.”
“And then, wow,” she continued, and he looked to see what she was gazing at. He didn’t blame her for being awed by it; they were passing the new Netalusa Tower, a structure impressive enough with its long, sleek walls that flashed lights in between windows, but the tower was also surrounded by a circle of nine little pods, which purely by some clever gravitation trick(Hoorir couldn’t remember the details) circled round and round the tower, contracting in and expanding out in a regular rhythm that could be discerned if one watched them do it long enough. Hoorir wondered if anyone could actually stay in those pods too long without getting motion sick(maybe some species might be insusceptible enough?), but they were something to watch.
“They’re made of a special metal, unique to an Expansion Region world,” he told Kristen. “I think that’s how they do that.”
“We’re going to find so much there,” she said. “People and things and such. But...”
“No history lack ugliness,” he told her. “Do you think everyone who first founded our Republic over five millennia ago all were perfect noble people who wanted nothing but good things for every single person they ever met? That they never had any interest in their own gains and ambitions? Remember there were a good number of people involved.”
“I know they weren’t,” said Kristen. “I’ve read about the war, and the battles. Though I wonder if I would’ve liked to be one of those people.”
He would have liked to have asked her more about that, but they were now reaching where she was staying in the Coco District. Her building was another new one, though as far as he knew there wasn’t anything special about its material or structure or even technical amenities. In fact, the one time he had been in her apartment he’d thought it surprisingly small and uncomfortable, but so far he knew she hadn’t spent much time there anyway. Tonight, he knew, she would probably only stay there long enough to shower and change before going out on the town, or at least going over to meet with her new friends, the young beings that were staying in the apartments adjoining hers who liked the same things and did the same things as she did. He understood there was a sense of community in the place; there was even a large open-air space in the middle for them all to gather in, and that regular meetings were held there.
In fact, as they closed in, he spotted a pair of young women on one of the terraces, who waved, and one of them appeared to call out. “Dzaen and Iti,” she identified them to him. “They just moved here from Chazwa. It’s better for them here; lesbians still aren’t entirely welcome on Chazwa, which after three thousand years is an outrage, but what can you do? I wonder what they’re up to tonight.” When they reached the complex’s dock(they had a dock too, though most newer building complexes had them); she didn’t even wait for the cab to settle in before she had already leapt out, leaving Hoorir with the entire tab, of course, barely stopping long enough to wave and call goodbye.
Hoorir continued on as he always did these days, down further to the cheaper apartments, the residencies of those who cleaned and serviced the facilities in CoCo Town. He hoped Aggtlya would actually be there; she sometimes wasn’t because she’d been forced to work extra hours, or had gone to help one of her neighbors who had a problem, or twice so far had even been evicted.
But no, he reassured himself, with any luck she should be there, and while Kristen flitted about and explored up above, Hoorir would enjoy a much quieter evening with a mistress who he believed had no real idea who he was, and certainly acted like it, which was the more important part of their relationship for him. His company’s profile had risen so rapidly in the past few years that proud as he was of it he’d often had trouble coping; a few hours out of that was now something he needed to keep himself sane. He wondered if all company presidents felt that way these days. The galaxy growing was an exciting thing, but sometimes he wondered if it was entirely a good one.