Planets Rights hardly sounds like the death knell of an Empire. The concept of planetary service being equal to Imperial service alone has been described as not worth the fracturing of the most stable, wide reaching government humans have ever created. Perhaps so, perhaps not, but the attendant changes that were to follow in order to stabilize the new centralized power of the First Planets and consequently the economies of those planets were most certainly worth defeating.
But that is hindsight, looking back at data retrieved in bits and pieces during the years since those chaotic days. It is also hindsight to assume that everyone could see the danger that was coming. It is important to remember that direct action of the PR factions was only briefly glimpsed beyond the First Planets on scattered worlds throughout the Empire. Sometimes it was only in analysis of events leading to a crisis that had crippled a previously stable planet could the efforts of the second, more fanatic generation of Planets Rights be ascertained.
The Coming Twilight-Understanding The Fall of the First Empire
Miss Cordelia Chase leaned back in the hansom cap and rubbed her temples. She'd been looking for two days and hadn't seen so much a glimpse of Beth Summers or her sister. She hadn't been shopping once since she'd been here in Oldenberg. She hadn't even danced a single set though there were half a dozen invitations on her desk at the hotel. She glanced at the newspaper the previous occupant had left in the cab but didn't bother to pick it up. The drivel about various crises had taken more and more space until the society pages had shrunk to the ridiculous level of half a page. She didn't know how their editors could entice anyone to buy the news rags without anything important in them.
Cordelia looked up as she stepped out of the cab. Her suite was dark, but the one next to it had the curtains drawn with the lights on in just one room of the suite. She sighed as she entered the hotel. A few minutes later she entered her room and knocked at the communicating door with the other suite. There was no answer. She frowned and then knocked using the silly special knock. The door was opened and Quentin Travers bowed very slightly as she entered the room.
"Any luck, Miss Chase?" he asked with concern in his voice.
"No," Cordelia replied with a frown.
"A pity," Travers sighed. "Perhaps I should send you back to your father to be safe."
"No!" Cordelia replied anxiously. "I can help. I've got to help."
"We don't even know where to look," Travers said distantly.
"I've been thinking about that," she said hurriedly. "There's a couple of things that may help us find them before they get hurt."
"What could they be?" Travers asked with just a touch of hope. "Your father, I mean, we are all at the end of our tether."
"Well, it's like this," Cordelia explained as she unconsciously twisted the ring he father had given her on her sixteenth birthday, or rather soon afterwards had had delivered to her at school because he was so busy.
"Yes?" the man said leaning forward.
"Beth's mother does a charity event like a ball or a recital about once a month," Cordelia explained. "I mean, I know that's a normal thing but what's strange about it is she does two events every year for the same charity."
"And?" Travers asked in a confused tone.
"The charity is for a bunch of nuns who run a hospital in Sussex," Cordelia replied. "Everybody does those, I know, but she also makes it to a lot of their other functions in Albion and on the Peninsula."
"The charity circuit is quite active," the Mercian diplomat pointed out. "People meet, relations are maintained, and messages can be passed without all the clutter of official calls."
"So why is a good Church of England woman like Countess Summers lending her name for a bunch of Catholic nuns every season?" Cordelia asked just as pointedly.
"I think they're called an order," Travers said dryly.
"Whatever," Cordelia said throwing up her hands.
"Perhaps it's to keep good relations with the Bishopric of Morlaix," the man answered.
"All they do is talk and pray," the young woman said dismissively. "It's not like they can do anything. Morlaix has what, like twelve policemen for an army?"
Travers sat down and looked thoughtful. Cordelia prayed he would let her stay and help her father. Travers nodded to himself and stood up.
"Miss Chase, you may be on to something," Travers said looking into her eyes. "You must tell no one of this conversation."
"What about Beth and Willow and Dawn when we find them?" the girl asked.
"Not even them," Travers said firmly. "They are being manipulated, Miss Chase, by dangerous people who would just as soon kill them rather than have their plans interfered with. We must be cautious."
Cordelia sighed and looked down. Her friends and the nice woman who had been her hostess for school breaks for four years were on the line. She would never admit it, but Beth and Willow were her only friends and she missed them. She nodded.
"Oh, and Miss Chase, you do your father proud," Travers said with a tired smile.
"Thank you, sir," Cordelia said as she smiled widely.
After he had gone Cordelia wiped her eyes and went back to her room. She rang for her maid, then opened the curtains and looked out into the night and the streets below. She looked out to where she could just make out a bobbing light on a boat in the harbor.
"Where are you?" she whispered worriedly.
"Well?" Meers said peevishly as he stopped his pacing in the suite a floor up from Cordelia's.
"All in good time, Mr. Meers," Travers said evenly. "Mr. Tyrrell, what do you say about Miss Chase?"
"Clueless," Tyrrell said brusquely. "She believes everything she's been told by you and her father."
"Satisfactory," Travers nodded.
"What about the Summers brat and Prince Louis stepping onto the throne over the body of his brother?" Meers snapped. "Are we still on schedule?"
"No," Travers said baldly.
"No?" Meers asked tightly.
"We can be back on schedule," Travers explained as he sat down. "But there's going to be a bit more backlash than I'd like."
"Oh well," Warren said with a shrug. "As long as we're getting back on schedule."
Tyrrell looked at the off-worlder. He hadn't needed his talent to catch the pleased undertone in Meers' voice.
"It will require some specie," the older man said. "These men will not work for anything but gold, at least a hundred ounces in coin."
"What am I buying?" Meers asked carefully.
"The scum of Europa," the older man said with a deep frown. "About twenty men of the worst kind."
"Why?" Warren asked suspiciously.
"To go through the Bishopric of Morlaix wearing Aquitaine's colors and take Miss Summers from where she has been hiding with a maximum amount of violence," Travers said distantly. "Or rather where she'll be found after Miss Chase turns her over to us."
"I've heard of Morlaix," Meers said thoughtfully. "Isn't it a planetary treasure of some sort?"
"Many people come to Morlaix from all over the Empire," Travers said as he stood. "Ecumenical conferences are held there, informal talks there between the powers on Europa often lead to treaties, and then there's the works the Bishops have commissioned over the last few centuries. It is a treasure."
"And to make this happen, we've got to send a bunch of cutthroats through this religious place?" the younger man asked with a look of grave concern.
Travers poured himself a stiff drink. He looked at a picture in the room, the white towers and walls entwined with bits of color reminding him of his days spent walking in the gardens of Morlaix when he'd been there on his first independent mission for Mercia.
I should say no, Travers thought to himself. Say no and let this end here. Give up the power.
"That's what we'd have to do," the older man said without turning around. "The Summers crisis is still holding the attention of the planet but the window to get anyone but the foolish to act is closing. However, given the tensions from that crisis a strike on the Bishopric would start the war that would allow Louis to take power in Aquitaine and be the most powerful member of the Coalition."
"If it's what we have to do..." Warren said softly. He stood up and didn't meet Travers look. Meers stopped at the door.
"I'll get your gold," he said without looking back.
Meers strolled back to his room. Andrew looked up as he entered. Meers smiled as he flopped into a chair leaned back.
"Pour a tall one of the good stuff," he said. "I'm on the fast track. It's going better than I could have dreamed."
After Meers had left Travers looked at Tyrrell. The hard eyed man shook his head.
"I can't read him or the little twerp," he snarled. "That fancy earring of theirs makes them too scrambled to hear."
"Damn," Travers muttered. "So we still don't know what they're after."
"No, but I can tell you he wasn't heartbroken about breaking up the Bishopric," Tyrrell said with a frown.
"How about you?" Travers asked quietly.
"Churches give me a headache," Tyrrell shrugged.
"What about convents?" Travers asked flatly.
The Mercian diplomat felt his stomach roil at Tyrrell's smile.
Willow looked at the sleepy and not entirely happy group in front of her. In the books the detective always lays out the facts of the mystery in an elegant drawing room, she thought. The blonde best friend of the detective isn't trying to catch a view of three pretty boys in their nightclothes. Nobody shows up wearing fluffy slippers and pajamas with little blue flowers on them and claims they were a gift and then sulks...
"Can we get on with this?" Liam yawned crossly.
Willow looked down at her hasty notes and felt a panic setting in. She looked up and saw Tara. The dark blonde girl looked tired but she smiled at her. Willow straightened up and took a deep breath.
"The people who are doing this are after Europa's biggest source of income, in both the raw and processed form," Willow said with a confidence that surprised her.
"Craft items?" Anya asked in a bright voice.
"I don't think so," Giles said dryly.
"But the encyclopedia says the gross planetary product is made up mostly of craft items," Anya replied. "I had a lot of time to read since I wasn't getting any-"
"That's part of the problem," Willow said quickly. "We've all been looking at this from what we know."
"Please explain that," William said tiredly.
"You, Liam and Buffy know the politics of Europa, Giles knows the history, and Tara knows the Empire," Willow answered. "We've gone over it and kind of come up with an answer, but that didn't fit."
"I know it's not an arms dealer, Will," Buffy said with her own yawn.
"The target is the people of Europa," Willow said with pride, even if her point was out of sequence with her notes. "The ones who want to join the Empire, I mean."
"Even if there's a crisis the Empire would be sure recruits could get off Europa," Riley pointed out.
"I think what we're seeing is just the first stage," Willow said smugly. "How long until that Imperial intervention happens?"
"A couple weeks," Riley said thoughtfully. "There's not enough in system forces to do much of anything. Europa's too stable to keep a large force in system."
"The local administration would need to send to Jocelyn for help, and then they'd have to load an emergency task force onto what ever ships were available," Tara explained. "It w-w-would take about fifty hours from the time they got the message, even with pre-positioned supply pallets because of Europa's, umm, s-special requirements."
Willow heard more than Tara was saying in her voice. The redhead looked at Tara and wondered how often she'd followed her clerk as Kami tried to organize a response to some crisis. What have those pretty blue eyes seen? she wondered again. She fought down the urge to take Tara aside and give her hug to prove everything was all right.
"The first priority once they got here would be evacuating Imperial citizens, which would delay things even if they had orders to intervene," Riley added.
"Because they'd need proof of off planet interference in local affairs to act on the planetary crisis," William said rubbing his eyes. "So they might not get much beyond evacuating Imperials."
"The students and tourists," Tara said looking at Riley.
"And mercenaries," Riley added. "Like the ones Willow and Alex saw ashore if they come off contract. So expect two weeks of war before the first Imperial Marines even land."
"By then the war would be going and most of the big armaments would be gone, along with the high tech medical supplies," Willow said without looking at her notes.
"War consumes everything so fast," Giles said distantly.
"With the dampening field around Europa the only ships that make it in are D-4 winged cutters or smaller," Willow continued.
"Which would make logistics a disaster," Riley frowned.
"Something else would be running out," Willow said as she pressed on. "Soldiers, at least trained ones. Hundreds of teenagers like the ones we saw fighting on the dock would join and probably get killed. So thousands of Europa's native sons and daughters would hear terrible news and worry about their families-"
"Which makes them send more stuff home, prolongs the war, and maybe even come home themselves," Riley said nodding.
"They wouldn't reenlist, or settle down on another planet," Tara said with a worried frown.
"If Sussex was in a war I'd enlist," Alexander said softly. "I'd have to."
"Here's where it gets a bit speculative," Willow said hesitantly. "And worse."
"Oh?" Tara said softly.
"Planets Rights," Willow said evenly.
"What's Planets Rights?" Buffy asked.
"It's a, umm, p-political...thing," Tara started to explain. The words came harder as everyone's attention turned to her.
"It's complicated," Willow said holding up her considerable amount of notes. "I found out about it when I was doing research for when I join up."
"I can cut to the chase," Riley said with a bit of heat. "I'm sorry, but the careful words you have to use in General Services or in some journal's article really don't say how dangerous these crackpots are."
"Well, your words seem to be more direct especially for..." Giles looked at his watch. "Oh dear. Do you mind if we use Mr. Riley's observations, ladies? I'm afraid fair and balanced will take too long."
"No, sir," Tara said in a relieved tone as she smiled in relief at the tall former Marine.
"I guess," Willow said frowning at her carefully constructed notes. She didn't mind letting someone else speak in front of a group, even a group in robes and slippers, but rather her mood came from Riley's wink back at Tara's smile.
"There's two parts to this," Riley explained. "The first part is the one most people know about. Imperial service would also mean serving in functions the Empire fulfills in space and on colonies on your own planet, right down to General Services."
"They want to change the rules?" Buffy asked with a stifled yawn.
"Exactly," Riley answered gently.
"Why?" Alex asked.
"That's where it gets ugly," Riley said warming to his subject. "The part that doesn't get pushed by the P.R. bunch is that the service is retroactive."
"So all of a sudden there's a whole lot of new citizens on heavily populated planets," Willow pointed out and smiled as Tara nodded in agreement.
"Which means something else is in the works," William said now very much awake.
"Power," Giles said quietly.
"Bingo," Riley said with more anger showing. "When this takes place the other proposal for 'fairness' kicks in according to the PR. The Imperial Senate goes from one Senator to a planet to one Senator for several million citizens."
"They stack the Senate," Liam said nodding.
"Why do they want to do that?" Alex asked thoughtfully.
"The Senate votes the budget and the laws," Tara explained. "Th-things haven't changed much in centuries because any law needs a majority and an Imperial veto needs a, umm, two thirds vote to overturn."
"And getting two thirds of anybody to agree on something is like herding cats," Buffy shook her head. "At least when each shire, or planet in this case, has just one vote."
Liam and William just nodded in agreement.
"But if there's a new influx of Senators all with the same agenda they would rewrite the very legal framework of the Empire," Giles said thoughtfully. "Hundreds of worlds would no longer even have a Senator to themselves."
"Why do all this if the Empire is working?" Alex asked.
"If you ask them it's all about being fair," Riley snorted. "This is mostly First Planet stuff and for the last few decades there have been a lot of failed enlistments off the First Planets. They say the training is too hard and they deserve the right to choose where they serve."
"The First Planets are running big deficits too," Tara said quietly.
"Even with mega-corporations?" Riley asked. "Those companies are huge."
"But not, umm, off their planets," Tara said in what she hoped was a calm tone. "The Empire won't charter big Empire spanning commercial interests..."
"Because eventually they'd be competition for interstellar power," Giles finished. "Tell me, are most jobs on the First Planets provided either by the state or the local mega-corporation?"
"Yes, sir," Tara replied.
"There is the kernel of the issue," Giles said with a quiet sureness. "The new Senate would vote and then protect the law by overriding the veto so the taxes of the Empire go to the First Planets out of, of course, fairness and the same excuse would be given for taking off the controls of interstellar commerce. No doubt with large Imperial contracts."
"When only a few corporations are ready for it," Liam said with a grim smile. "My God, that's a beautiful swindle."
"And one of the most dangerous developments historically for any empire or republic," Giles said soberly. "Unfortunately neither we nor anyone else can prove any of this. Or why they'd be interested in Europa."
"Europa is one of the largest population centers providing Imperial recruits for all services in the entire Empire," Tara said urgently. "I know each of your countries is small, but together you hold a resource the Empire can't do without. And, umm, it's not j-just the recruits. Things are remembered here."
"Including the rivalries that led to a century or more of war on Earth," William said very quietly. The room grew quiet. Willow looked at her notes.
"So in conclusion, oh, sorry," she said with a hint of a blush. "While Planets Rights are not even an issue right now on Europa, if there's a war that ends up involving all the powers on planet-"
"Isn't your service on Europa just as important as Imperial Service?" Tara said softly as realization hit her suddenly. "Why did they take so much time getting a bunch of mercenaries and tourists out while your people were dying? That's what the PR people will be asking behind the scenes. They could tailor the message for those already serving since they know this is coming."
"It'd be a hell of an expensive operation to get the Imperial citizens out too," Riley pointed out. "AMP suits don't work here, no mass drivers, not even tac computers. It would be old-fashioned light infantry work. It would tie up thousands of Marines alone. Probably kill hundreds, even with good medic work."
"Along with thousands of soldiers from any faction fighting in the area," William scowled. "I can imagine some hothead taking his frustration out on the off-worlders. And I can guess how the Marines would react."
"And that hothead would be spurred on by the newspaper of his faction," Buffy scowled. "I've got a hunch the most 'patriotic' papers would be the most popular. And since radios only work here at sea and along the shore it's making a lot of sense why newspapers are important enough to lose money on. Propaganda to get the war started and keep it going. I wonder what would happen to the Times?"
"Not a big market for truth in war," Giles said sadly. "Along with the death of truth we can add the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians to the conflagration. Each of those deaths would make the war that much harder to stop. That would cut down on the desire to serve the Empire and make Europa a place that would draw off rather than build up Imperial Forces."
"Which fuels the Planets Rights efforts," Willow said with pride in her analysis and horror in it's meaning struggling in her heart.
Tara looked over at Dawn. She was pulling her knees up and looking at the group with frightened eyes. Tara regretted there was no one to spare to watch over the girl and keep her from the ugliness they were discussing.
"A lot of people would get hurt, so we stop it before it starts," Tara said with much more confidence than she felt.
"I'll help!" Anya said as she sat up straight.
"I'm sure," Liam said with a wolfish smile.
"We'll need everybody," Alex said with a touch of heat.
"I think some of us are going to be more useful than others," Liam said crossing his arms.
"Alexander's right," Willow said firmly. "We can tell the authorities what's happening, but it's just a theory, well, not really, more like a hypothesis, and some of the observations aren't reproduced-"
"Which will make it hard for them to react quickly to the information," Giles interjected.
"Exactly," Willow said. "So until we have an army or two we're kind of it."
"How important is Dawn in all of this?" Buffy asked sitting next to her sister and putting an arm around her.
"I think she's still a catalyst," Willow said with a worried look on her face as she watched Dawn huddle close to her sister.
"We need to get her someplace safe," Giles said evenly.
"I think I know a place," Buffy said with a small smile.
Drusilla Armstrong had never been happier. She was finally a novice of the Order of the Sisters of Charity. Since she had been accepted the barely heard whispers no one else seemed to hear had gone. She'd felt the peace of the place fill her soul. She was almost sure she had imagined it all until tonight. She'd felt a voice more than heard it, but only for a handful of seconds. It felt wrong and it upset her so much she lost her place in the prayer. Then it was gone. Drusilla stopped trying to force out the noise in her mind and let herself become one with her prayer once again.
Tyrrell eased back in the seat of the cab as he smiled at the small doorway in the wall at Fourteen Parkestrasse. He could feel the presence of a fairly powerful but untrained mind nearby in the Convent of the Sisters of Charity in Oldenberg. He nodded to Travers.
"Wrong address," the nobleman called out as he tapped the roof.
"We'll be able to get in," Tyrrell said quietly with a feral grin. "What about Operation Pelican? The... specialists are going to be needed elsewhere."
"Four jokers will be all that's needed to trump the four kings," Travers said with a shrug that was lost in the swaying of the cab.
"And the stacked deck afterwards?" Tyrrell asked.
"You ask a lot of questions for a man with your talent," Travers said blandly.
"Some people are so Byzantine it's hard to know where the lie ends and the truth begins," Tyrrell said dryly.
"If you find out, do let me know," Travers said with a wintry smile.
Buffy knew there was going to be no sleep tonight. Dawn was in bed with her, curled up and frightened like she had been the first night mother had to leave the estate after their father's funeral.
"It's not your fault," Buffy whispered in the darkness.
"How did you know?" Dawn whispered back.
"It's a special big sister thing," Buffy smirked.
"Is that what makes you annoying?" Dawn asked sweetly.
"Brat," Buffy said just as sweetly.
"Shrew," Dawn responded.
"Oh, get some sleep," Buffy commanded.
Dawn closed her eyes but she didn't relax. Buffy put an arm around her.
"It's okay," Buffy told her sister. "I'm here. I'll always be here."
I have a function, Anya thought as she laid on her bed and began her relaxation sequence for peak morning efficiency. A human function.
Tara had taken her aside and asked her, like a human should ask another human, for her help. Anya had made her first human decision. Yes. It was such a small word for a large moment. She was to watch for danger and be ready to go on a moment's notice. Her skills in first aid and observation would be needed. Not desired, needed. There were feelings that came with saying yes and being needed. She needed more data about them and resolved to ask Tara when she awoke in four hours and twenty-four minutes.
Anya stared into the darkness. She could hear Dawn and Buffy whispering nearby.
Siblings seem like a lot of trouble, she thought just before she fell asleep.
"But how did giant frogs fit into the dream imagery of the theory?" Giles asked with a confused look.
"It made sense at the time," Willow insisted sleepily.
"And the damselfly?" Giles asked.
"Ahh, jewels," Willow said quickly. "Their wings are quite pretty under a microscope. That leads to space and the Empire because of the old poem:
A tapestry jewelled hangs over the night;
And because Tara was there, Willow thought as she recalled the part of the dream she hadn't shared. I really thought of the stars because of a pair of sapphire eyes that came down from those stars and smiled at me.
"I think you should refrain from further dreaming this... morning," Giles said looking at his watch. "At least about most things."
Willow looked at the librarian for a moment and tried to figure out just what he'd meant, and what the small smile he'd given her was for.
The morning broke gray and cool. The Star of Copenhagen was taking on the pilot for Oldenberg harbor as William and Riley stepped out onto the deck. Riley looked at the pier where they would be docking through his high tech optical binoculars.
"Well, official coach or quiet entry?" William asked as he tried to stifle a yawn.
"How well do you swim?" Riley asked softly.
Riley handed the expensive instrument to his employer as William felt the morning grow a bit more chilly. The mercenary never let him touch this hard to replace device. As William looked through the binoculars two royal coaches with an armed escort of dragoons in working field uniforms sprang up crisp and clear.