Ghosts

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Chapter 7 – “Bigger dogs bark”.

’It started with a civil protest, miners, and ordinary people drawn together from across the local star systems all with a common complaint. They asked for support. They asked for the Governing powers to make a decision and to help them. With such passion there is frustration and today it’s led the people here, to the home of Parliament.’ Lynette de Cesare paused for effect.

‘The protest started around five this afternoon. A large representation of miners grouped together to raise their concerns in a public display of discontent. As the hour has gone on, further miners have arrived and in support the public have started turning up. It looks like we have close to a hundred people here so far, and although the people are mostly calm there is a lot of tension building and the Police are growing more concerned that the miners need a public statement from Henry Poole to prevent any aggressive actions beginning.’

‘Lynette, how are the scenes at the moment, it doesn’t look too peaceful from the footage we are seeing?’

‘Objects are being thrown on occasional moments. The Police are doing well to not respond. So far, no one is hurt and the angry shouts, plastic bottles being thrown are being ignored as the Police wait for further changes. I get the impression everything is hanging finely balanced on a knife edge. Either it escalates and the Police have to separate the protesters or it calms down and people go home as night approaches. The Police are keen to not give any reason for the former event to occur, opting to follow a waiting game as Parliament delay any statement. They too are hoping that more numbers fail to arrive.’

‘Do we have any news on Parliament’s reaction?’

‘No, nothing has been said, either privately or publicly. We await a response with baited breathe, as do the people here. It’s a long overdue statement from Henry Poole’s side. Valon, his rival seems intent on staying quiet and my sources have advised me that he will allow Poole to make a statement first before agreeing or responding to the situation. If it escalates without a Poole reaction then we can assume Valon will say something publicly.’

Behind Lynette de Cesare the shouts grew louder, more angry and the Police more heavy handed. Pushing and shoving of bodies in the crowd sent a man flying to the ground two feet from the Police. A Military Policeman reacted with a rush of blood.

With a rash swing of his baton, the weapon struck the victim. With a cry of pain the man on the ground curled up into a protective ball as the Policeman roared at him to get back. As the man stayed paralysed with fear on the ground the Officer swung his baton again connecting into the man’s arm, flung up to protect his face. The miners gathered nearby reacted to the act of aggression charging at the Policeman to protect the man on the ground. In return the Police Officers nearby swarmed around them, batons flailing, fear and over-reaction ensuing.

Lynette de Cesare turned as the noise level soared. She was caught by surprise by the scenes behind her. Her cameraman moved away from the reporter in order to capture the sight of a riot erupting.

‘The miners have rioted,’ Lynette said quickly.

‘The scenes behind me show the Police and the miners fighting, the Police are using batons to repel the rioters but the scenes are ugly and violent.’ Lynette waited for several seconds for a response from her colleague in the newsroom, when nothing came she continued her story.

The cameraman still showed the ugly scenes as the Police continued trying to regain control of the situation by any means necessary, despite breaking riot procedures by the use of force. Bodies sat or lay on the ground, blood dripping from bruised bodies. Those not involved looked on appalled, distancing themselves from the chaos. Husbands sheltered wives and shaking children from missiles as they tried to escape as the Police lashed out carelessly, regardless of the victim.

Witness to it, Lynette and her cameraman tried to get as much information as possible from a distance, Amir having distracted the Police away from their direction to ensure the newsfeed continued. The struggles were unrelenting and the news story stayed online for half an hour. Lynette took a break from her reporting as the camera continued recording and transmitting the story to the newsroom, presenters furthering the story from a distance, all unaware that Commander Zylinski was steaming along to the area with senior soldiers and orders to arrest those involved including those breaking Police rules.

Inside the shuttle hurtling with speed across the station Zylinski fumed. He’d ordered the commanding Officer to break off the Police actions to help the situation die down, to no avail. Lost within the manic reactions fear had bred brutality and the orders were hard to spread. The Commander had no option but to relieve Officers of their duties pending investigations and let new troops under his instruction placate the crowd.

Ten minutes later the shuttle arrived at the Parliament Central station exit and the soldiers dressed in full riot gear stormed towards the riot. Zylinski grabbed a baton from the swinging hand of one of his careless Officer’s arms preventing the object hitting a teenage girl struggling on the ground. The Officer glared without thinking at the fist holding him back before turning to swing a punch at Zylinski. A second Officer new on the scene, grabbed him before contact could be made.
Shock struck the man as he realised his mistake seeing the Commander in full for the first time. He was not allowed to further assault anyone, shoved away by his colleagues to be later charged with assault and neglecting his duty amongst other crimes.

Commander Zylinski sighed as he watched the scene at first hand. Lynette saw her chance, dashing off to get an interview with the Commander only to be pushed away by his soldiers.

‘I am Commander Zylinski, Commander of the Military Police on this station. This area is now under martial law. Anyone still here within five minutes will be under arrest at any cost. All Officers stand down. Anyone seen behaving outside of the law will be arrested including policing Officers, and we are in our rights to shoot them. Leave now. Do not return,’ Zylinski spoke gruffly, clearly through the tannoy system. Anyone within a mile would hear it. Anyone watching the news would too.

‘Georgi Balev. What are you up to?’ The voice caught the man by surprise. He turned around, his body guards already flanking all sides of him and snarling.

‘Valon, what a genuine pleasure to see you, the man who would be king,’ Georgi Balev’s reply was matched by a serious face. Valon didn’t break stride as one of the bodyguards stretched out a burly arm to stop his flow.

‘I know you well enough to ignore that comment.’

‘Ah, is it not true that you would be king, or at least you would be the head of the Government if you could, would you not?’

‘Pleasantries aside, I know you’re planning something. I will find out what it is. You can try to bully all and sundry into getting your way but I will not capitulate to your demands. The tax will go through. It’s what the independent traders, miners, pilots and pretty much everyone wants. Surprising for a tax, but the people want to be protected in a harsh environment.’

‘The people or your people? Protect us then. Do it! Get fighters out there. But you can find the money elsewhere. Even if the tax goes through, I won’t pay for you to protect others unaffiliated to CEOL. I am paying for CEOL fighters instead. Oh, yes, that’s what I’m up to.’

‘The law will be the law. Anyone breaking it will be punished.’

‘Luckily, you are just the man who would be king.’

‘For now, I have a file on you as long as my arm, Balev. I know a lot more about you than most people. And when I win the election, then you better watch out.’

‘I don’t like threats.’

‘That is surprising for someone who spends most of his time giving them. Balev, you’re so corrupt you make the current ruling party look like saints.’

’Then let those saints preserve me! And if you lose, they will. I am a busy man, come back when you actually know what I’m up to. Good day.’

‘Lynette de Cesare, reports are surfacing that the Tri-Mining Agreement approved by the likes of CEOL, the Government, and the Independent Mining Commission will not be renewed or at best will renew without the agreement of several large firms, CEOL being the largest and most keen corporation to opt out.’

‘It is true. Only in the last hour have we had it confirmed by Parliament that the negotiations have failed. At best, the agreement was seen as a compromise by big corporation to not attempt to force smaller companies to risk everything to survive. Ultimately, CEOL seem to acknowledge that they no longer agree to this and that they will not support the Government’s plans to allow freedom to all companies, opting for a strong belief in survival of the fittest.’

‘What has the consensus response been to this strategy from CEOL?’

‘It has been perceived as yet another failure by the current Government in an industry that has seen no end of recent torment with pirate attacks on the rise. Surprisingly, CEOL are for once not aiding Henry Poole’s leadership, something that CEOL regularly are found to do, especially considering CEOL’s founder Georgi Balev’s frosty relationship with Benedict Valon, the budding Prime Minister. The ongoing talks were cut abrupt after seven months of discussion with Balev’s CEOL refusing to sign any agreement that limits his profit margins via pricing caps on mineable commodities. Balev instead stated that he foresees prices to rise due to hazardless external conditions, shipping fees and most importantly the as mentioned piracy.’

‘Lynette, some may say that this is as wise as it is selfish, a move required to appease shareholders?’

‘There are those that had argued previously that Balev is not protecting his own assets enough and therefore the rise in prices charged by CEOL is unproportional to the costs CEOL has incurred on a universal basis due to piracy. The statistics recently revealed by an external survey indicate that the arguments have a factual basis, however Balev disputes those arguments and seems uninterested in discussing his reasons for the price increases.’

‘Lynette, do the rising prices not affect CEOL’s dominant position in the market? Surely, when suppliers charge more you would then look elsewhere to keep your own profit margins up?’

‘That is true and most people would understand the purchasers looking at other suppliers, however the big five all have raised their prices and most contracts for supply are for a minimum of one year with clauses that allow the prices to rise during the year. This limits the options of those contracted. They may all refuse to renew the supply contract but at the rate that the small, independent mining companies are being hit by pirates or financial struggles the options are becoming weaker and weaker. CEOL know this.’

Lynette de Cesare let the sentence sink in before speaking again. ‘One other factor linked to the concern about changing providers is the guarantee of supply. CEOL and their closest rivals can guarantee a supply to all their contracts, having a huge excess of supply due to their ever-expanding growth of mining bases, research and scientific centres and of course their own protection for their ships which ensures they have less loss per transit in comparison to minor players in the market. All in all, CEOL can raise prices as much as they want, as demand will always be there. They are simply playing a long-term waiting game, expecting independent mining bases to fail to supply, be destroyed, or simply run out of resources. They are also the go-to company for those companies looking to leave the volatile industry as they play a very aggressive acquisition game.’

‘CEOL are accepting the dangers, relenting to them, some might say, and leaving the weak to fend for themselves knowing that basic principle of Darwin’s survival of the fittest only leaves them stronger than ever.’

‘Lynette, thank you for the update.’

The news feed switched over to a different story and one of those watching in a private office aboard the Copperhead mining facility turned the sound off. Drake Black ambled to the door and shut it over.

‘CEOL are getting too big for their boots, Junior.’

‘Tell me something new; it doesn’t impact on us though,’ Junior Willenhall replied.

‘No, sure, but still impacts the region. Mostly, leaves us with more CEOL to attack. Balev deserves that fate far too much. Love us or hate us, we are only gunning for the scum of the universe.’

‘Oh, you mean Balev?’

‘Not just him, my cynical Junior. So what’s next? Is our production going good?’

‘The next batch of product is ready to be shipped out. The meds are ok to go, and any claimed stock too is ready to be sent where it’s needed.’

‘And Project Haven?’ questioned Drake Black.

‘Drake, it’s better than ever. It makes Copperhead version four look weak in comparison. Makes me so proud I could cry,’ Junior Willenhall laughed as he spoke, slapping his hand down on the metallic desk in front of him, made out of part of a small fighter ship’s wingspan, rivets still in place. ‘Seriously though, it makes me real proud of the lab team. Bob and Samantha have done amazing to get it that good.’

‘Did you have any problems?’ asked Drake scratching at his face irritably.

‘Only the time it takes to manufacture. Once we narrow that window down then we can mass-produce it if we want. To a degree of course, but we will have a batch ready in six months as it is. We have the original “Fighting Seven” ready to go and the next batch is due up soon. A larger number of products per batch too assuming we find no abnormalities. I expect we will.’

‘You’re cynical, still?’

‘No, realistic still, Drake, Bob and Samantha’s great will can only do so much with the vast leap in technology they’ve already made. A great leap of faith is expected and last time it came at a price and a lot of failed produce.’

‘The bosses don’t think so. I’ve heard that it’s strong. Very strong, able to be cut to perfection, shaped like the flattest diamond you ever seen. Sharp edges, precision cut,’ speculated Drake.

‘All true. Still, nobody here knows as far as I am aware and I’d as always prefer your utmost discretion. We cannot give the other production locations up or we’re busted.’ Junior demanded politely.

‘Hey, as long as they don’t know where we are and we don’t know where they are I’m good. Need to know basis, I understand. Junior, there is something that’s been bothering me. We’ve both heard about the attack at Faith. Why haven’t the Dead stumbled upon our base?’

‘I can’t honestly say.’

‘Do you know?’

‘What you mean is; would I tell you? Yes, I suppose I would if I knew and could tell you. Do you really want an answer or is this just hypothetical?’

‘I would say I don’t wanna know but fear has a persuasive element to it.’

‘True. The answer is I know but I can’t say. The truth is they won’t ever stumble upon us. Stumble is not the word needed.’

‘More like moved in to stay, at our expense?’

‘Ha-ha! You could say that. We won’t invite them in and personally, I won’t fear them. They couldn’t take down the Copperhead fleet if they tried.’

‘You were going to say if their lives depended on it, weren’t you, Junior?’

‘I was, but that’s a redundant piece of terminology. They are happy to die trying; it’s their end-goal, chaos and death, theirs or others.’

‘So, you honestly don’t fear them?’

‘Ship for ship, one on one, not one bit, they hunt like a pack of wolves and if they singled me out, yes, I would be deceased. Their whole fleet versus ours? Not likely. We may have less numbers mind you but we pack a bigger punch and have a stronger chin. We’re prize-fighters. On our home turf, it would be tactical. That’s the only way they can defeat us. Take out our docking bays and we’re screwed. No fighters, no defence.’

‘Do they have the tactical nous to think like that?’

‘Those folks that I report to say that the Dead can. To the majority, they are like dogs off a leash, tongue hanging out, running round tails between their legs, sniffing anything that stinks. However, they were once-upon-a-time trained heavily before the war, and they were less gutter-dogs and more war-hounds. Are they still trained? I fear so. Once an army, always an army, even if they are given too much lee-way to be called disciplined.’

‘So we need better doors to our docks?’

‘Damn straight we do!’

‘Glad I’m not in your shoes, Junior.’

‘I’m glad I’m not a pilot in yours!’

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