Today has been especially difficult for me – I crashed my bicycle and got a hell of a road rash this morning on my way to work. So I’ve been medicating with whiskey. That’s helped a bit. What’ll help more is to share the next chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. Because that’s how I roll here. 😉 Don’t forget, the book is available in ebook and trade paperback from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes. Purchasing a copy would definitely help me feel even better, so have at it! 😉
Chapter Thirty – Four
The Birth of a Movement
“Jesus Christ,” Malcolm breathed. “I had no idea…”
“Of course you didn’t,” Isaac snapped. Back to his regular, considerate self again, it seemed. “It’s not a story I tell to just anyone.” He scowled at Malcolm, but after a second mollified his expression. “But it is important you two know, so you will understand why I do what I do.”
He took another long draw from his glass, and Jo found herself mimicking him. It was good scotch, but even were it not, she would not have cared. Not after hearing Isaac’s story.
“What did you do?” Jo asked after swallowing. And how did you not die yourself, she did not ask. She never married, and had no children, but she could hardly imagine the pain of his loss.
I would just curl up and die.
Isaac shrugged. “I recovered, such as it was. Spent weeks in the hospital and months learning how to walk again. The board appointed an interim CEO while I was recovering, and they kept me apprised of what was going on with my business, but as you can imagine I did not care a whit. I don’t think I have to tell you how much pain I was in; I was burned over sixty percent of my body, but even worse, I kept seeing the expressions on their faces when Henderson listed my sins against him. The disgust, the loathing, from Helen and Avi both. That was my last image of them before they died, and it haunted me.”
He emptied his glass again, but when Becky reached over to refill it he waved her off. “There are several paths a man can take when his soul is laid bare for him to see, in all its ugly truth. He can repent, change his ways. He can double down on his path, convincing himself that he is not as bad as it appears. He can go mad, or end it all.” Isaac chuckled ruefully. “He can grow enraged and blame the world and everyone around him for his state. Or he can do what I did, and run away. It was the cowardly way, but it was all I could think to do. I left, went to the earth and roamed from one den of iniquity to the next. For years I lost myself, or tried to, in drink and women and drugs – whatever I could think of to dull my mind, to not think about what I had done, what I was, what I had lost.
“But slowly, I came out of the pit of self-pity that I had dug and began to notice the world around me. I saw – really saw, for the first time – how many people were being held back from what they could be, what they could have. Wicked men, men like me, wielded power that kept them from advancing. And why were they able to do it?” He jabbed a finger up into the air to emphasize his point. “Because we, all of us, allowed it. We invested excessive power in bureaucrats and a government far from us, and entrusted them to oversee things for the good. But we forgot that they are just people, and people look out for their own interests first.”
“As well they should,” Becky murmured.
“Of course,” Isaac replied. “But when a person with power is insulated from the consequences of his decisions, as most in government are, and particularly when he is spending not his own money, but someone else’s…” He shook his head. “Then his perspective gets warped and he begins to think his self interest really is the interest of everyone. Then he grows power-hungry and corrupt, and unethical men like me are able to buy him to do their will.” He leaned forward, fixing Jo with a steely stare. “But if we limit his power, put bonds on the economic influence government is allowed to wield, we can maybe stop the cycle of corruption and despotism, bring back honesty in business and competition. If we unfetter normal people so they are able to pursue their dreams without being crushed from above, we can all be better off.”
It all clicked into place, like a puzzle going together. “You created Citizens For Liberty,” Jo said.
Isaac bowed slightly in his chair. “Took you long enough to figure that out, girl.”
“But…” Malcolm stopped and shook his head, clearly perplexed. “I don’t understand. You don’t have a hand in any of the decisions. You’re around the periphery. Hell, I’ve spoken with you five times in a year and a half. Counting today. If you’re the founder…”
“…why aren’t I in charge?” Isaac finished for him.
Malcolm nodded, and Isaac rolled his eyes.
“The point, boy, is to dilute power. Spread it back to the people so Smith’s invisible hand can actually work. Doesn’t do much good for an organization devoted to liberty to itself have a despot, does it?”
Malcolm did not answer, but from his expression he remained confused. Jo could relate completely. Why not have the man whose vision created the organization lead it?
Isaac looked between the two of them and sighed. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. You starfarers are even more inclined toward hierarchy than us, what is it you call us, planetbound?” His eyes twinkled and he chuckled briefly. “Perfectly understandable, of course. A ship needs a Captain. But, and here’s the point,” he leaned forward again, “people do not.”
Isaac sat back in his chair, expectantly. Jo really wished she had a good response ready, but she had nothing. Glancing aside, Malcolm was similarly silent. Isaac sighed again.
“Maybe this will help you understand,” Isaac said. “For a while, I was indeed the leader. As the CFL spread from Bangkok, where I first had my revelation, to other cities, I was ecstatic, and happy to direct its efforts. You have to understand that I truly thought I was alone when I realized what a poison the philosophy of collectivism is. But as more and more people joined us, or began expressing similar values, it was like mana from heaven for my soul.” He smiled faintly. “At first, CFL was open about its goal, and I proudly proclaimed the cause of liberty to all that would hear it. How foolish I was. The forces of collectivism and despotism – they are the same, of course – have no tolerance for dissent, and especially for philosophies that differ from their own. We were pilloried in the press and I was dismissed as a madman who had cracked under the pressure of losing my family the way I did.”
Maybe he did. Jo suppressed the thought ruthlessly, but was not successful in preventing it from registering on her face, as Isaac looked askance at her for a moment and then burst out laughing.
“You’re wondering if they were right?” He laughed again, and shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe I have gone off the deep end into extremism. To that, I will quote a mid-twentieth century politician – a politician, if you can believe it! – who said ‘Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice’.” He lifted an eyebrow at Jo. “Hmm? What say you to that?”
Jo shrugged. “I’d say I’m waiting for you to get to the point. What does this have to do with our situation now?”
Isaac’s mouth shut with the clack of teeth striking each other, and his smile vanished. He stared at her for a long moment, then nodded. “You’re right, of course.” Looking back at Malcolm, he said, “Suffice it to say that before long I became the public face of CFL and then shortly thereafter we were driven underground. I’ll spare the gory details; you likely read about them in your history books in school…” He drifted off, then cursed under his breath. “No you probably saw them on the televid, or read about them after you got back from one of your cussed trips to the stars.” Under his breath, but still loud enough that Jo could hear him, he muttered, “I keep forgetting they’re both older than me, damn them.”
That took Jo aback, and she found herself sinking back into her chair as though pushed there, her surprise was so great. She thought back over her life, and her travels. Like most starfarers, she was born aboard a starliner, and raised there. Her entire existence until her age of ascendency had been a series of year-long shifts, with years of cryosleep in between shifts, and then months of upkeep at the destination worlds where she was able to see and experience something of planetbound life before she set out again. She had gone through one major overhaul that took her from ages 8 to 12, but aside from that most of her childhood years had been spent aboard ship. When she turned 16 and was able to choose her life, she chose to remain. Not all starfarer children did, and that caused their parents no end of heartache as they struggled with an impossible decision: what was more important to them, the life they loved or the children they loved? Most picked their children, but some managed to find a happy medium, doing short runs from Earth to Centauri or somesuch, where they would only miss a few years here or there. Families whose children left were the main reason McAllister had to recruit new hires at all.
For Jo, there had never been a question. She loved navigating the stars, running the ships, seeing new worlds. But she had never considered the other side of it. What did the planetbound think of her people, the starfarers, and the lives they led? By Earth standards, Jo had been alive for several centuries, and yet she had not reached her sixtieth waking year; not even middle aged! She had never before considered that some might be resentful of a starfarer’s apparent longevity.
She opened her mouth to protest that she had not lived nearly as much as Isaac assumed she had, but he beat her to it, raising a silencing hand before he spoke.
“I know, I know. Time dilation. You don’t have to tell me.” Isaac snorted and made a gesture that screamed, “Hey, what can you do?” Then he went on. “Point is, about fifty years ago, CFL went underground and I had to scramble to get my investments out of public view before they were all confiscated.”
Jo did some quick math in her head, then double-checked it to make sure she was correct. If what Isaac said was true, and she had no reason to believe it was not, that meant he was at least a hundred-twenty, if not a hundred-thirty years old. Not excessively old by any stretch of the imagination; people had been known to live to a hundred-fifty these days. But he definitely had a baby face, strange as that seemed when she thought about it.
“For a few years after that,” Isaac continued, pulling Jo’s attention back to his story, “people in CFL looked at me like I was a God. My every word was a command, and no one was willing to do a damn thing unless I gave the go ahead. I realized that I had created my own little kingdom and it was in danger of becoming just another petty despotism, just like the government CFL was created to temper. So I stepped down. Disappeared. I left Bangkok and didn’t tell anyone where I was going, except for a trusted few. I’ve moved around, living off my investments, starting a new company or two here and there. And every so often I check in on a CFL compound to see how things are going.”
Isaac scowled. “Unfortunately, some of the leaders were entirely too bright, and figured out who I am.” He glared at Becky, who smiled beatifically. Isaac rolled his eyes. “But I suppose that’s not entirely bad. It let me step in now, where it matters.” He stood up then, pushing his chair back with the soft sound of the chair legs scraping against hardwood. “I’ve seen, and caused, a lot of injustice in my life, but I have never before seen anything as despicable as what’s going on with those alien eggs.” His eyes grew hard as he leaned forward and smacked the tabletop with his palms. “CFL is my baby, and I’ll be damned if I’ll let some snot-nosed punk like Pedro pull it out of this just because he has his panties in a bunch.”He drew a deep breath, then gave Jo a look that was all business, full of command. “So. How can we help you?
* * * * *
I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. I’ll be back on Saturday for the next chapter. Of course if you don’t want to bother waiting a couple months to read the rest book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.