I think this chapter may help explain why certain people have seemed a bit out of character so far. This was always meant to happen. There will be more very soon.
Convergence 5: Revival
Deidre Skye sighed at the stack of reports on her desk. Not their size or the work they entailed—she had gotten used to such in the five years since Planetfall—but their content weighed heavily on her mind. She had read them already, but reading was a passive act compared to her task now. She had to make a decision; she had put it off too long as it was.
In an amazing advance pioneered by her controversial environmental policies and minority attitude towards the planet they had landed on, two years ago she had managed to capture some of the indigenous lifeforms and turn them to her will. Engaging with that alien collective consciousness was exhausting and unnerving, but she herself had communed with the mindworms. Grateful (she supposed) for their salvation from the brutal survivalist nature of the worms' life, they had flourished into a boil and begun to patrol the area around her capital city, Gaia's Landing. It was there five years ago that Deidre had planted the pine tree she had brought from earth. The city, thanks to her work with the land, was surrounded by rich farms and a perimeter of purposefully-cultivated fungus, through which the worms could move with ease. The only road leading in and out of the city was well-guarded, but the perimeter was meant to discourage native life more than human forces.
However, few regarded this planet with respect, instead choosing to eradicate the native life. The sad consequence of this was that Deidre was regarded by the Council (which consisted of Pravin Lal, its founder, Sister Miriam (who had her own following) and Chairman Yang) as somewhat batty, and Deidre's own people suffered for it. Their terraforming and ecological tech was in high demand, but no one was interested in working with the planet, meaning that only she could use their best tech. But it also damaged them politically. CEO Morgan, who had styled himself the head of a group, had been eliminated by his 'country's' neighbors for proposing too many dangerous business schemes.
Miriam had never forgotten her disrespect of Deidre from their former lives. Because the highest-ranking officers on each emergency ship had become de facto leaders, both had ended up with a faction. Although the worst dissenters of each faction had quietly slipped off into the night and joined another group, most people had stayed with her because she was fair and peaceful. Unconcerned with unjustly seizing what belonged to others, she had nevertheless carved out a decent existence for her people. Insulated from Yang and Miriam by Lal's territory, by Lal's peacemaking and his sense of justice, Deidre watched the two of them converge on Morgan's territory with a sense of fear, and cowardly relief. Their factions, strange as it seemed, got along well. She didn't like to think about what would happen if Lal wasn't there to act as a buffer and harmonizer.
But thoughts of global politics turned her mind back to the 'global' tag and the decision that the paperwork demanded. Evidence of another continent, separated from her region (the southwest part of the continent) by a mere strait. She knew that Miriam and Yang had taken to the sea already, exploring the idea of settling new lands, but hadn't found any yet. Although she had different notions than the others about how to use the sea itself, the proximity of the land was exciting as well.
Most of the time during the last five years, Deidre had learned that leadership was a thing of very small increments. Capturing and communicating with the mindworms had been her only impactful direct action, as most of the politics was done in tiny steps and most of the faction policies were smoothed over by Lal's workmanship, even more careful than her own. But she had built fantastic civic institutions and even monuments in her cities—she saw no reason that living with nature prevented living in some manmade beauty—and today she would institute a policy that would alter the direction of her government forever. She breathed deeply, meditatitively, for several minutes before taking up her pen and writing:
I brought a pine tree here from Earth to remind us of our loss, of our task to recapture what was on Earth and, in many cases, do better so that we could avoid the tragedy that forced us to relinquish our homeland. For five years it has been carefully cultivated in Gaia's Landing, where all may go to look upon it.
But this planet, beautiful and precious in its Earthlike nature (for we are too fragile to survive on many worlds) is not Earth. We should explore its differences and celebrate them, while living differently than we did on Earth. All of you know of our success in dealing with the native life. Our colonies will all have protective barriers of worms to prevent hostile attacks by the end of the year. Expansion in our own territory is going nicely as well. But that is not all.
Long before our ancestors had space, they had the sea. And we, too, have the sea, though it is largely unexplored. Thus I am pleased to announce our new initiative, for which we are accepting volunteers—within five years I intend to explore the sea near , to settle on the sea as we have on land, and to have explored and possibly settled the land on the other side of the sea, which scouts have confirmed exists. The possibilities can be actualized—but only with your help. We are accepting help from anyone who has oceanic expertise or good ideas and a strong work ethic. I'll announce more specifics about colonization and naval units once the technology is in place. I know that we can achieve whatever we set out to.
She curled her lip. It was always harder to end than begin such missives, but the announcements, which were posted in every city, helped people feel as though they knew her, even though in reality almost no one did. She debated revising it but decided that it would sound forced, artificial, if she did. She signed it, sealed it and proclaimed it ready.
Her desk was its own haven, a massive bulwark of wood. She could see the white pine she'd brought from earth from the window. The office wasn't any bigger or more lavish than the others, but it was more homey to her than her sleeping quarters. Her shoulders slumped. It was her thirtieth birthday.
Often she felt so removed from the Deirdre who had been a young girl on Earth and even the Deirdre who had been an ecologist on the Unity that those lifetimes were like movies she had seen. She truly missed John Garland's warm smile and easy leadership; she even missed Zakharov's friendliness and respectful regard. But she'd been a silly girl then, overawed by her position. She'd let people push her around, in ways much more subtle than Sister Miriam's. Naïvely thinking that she should agree because they had authority...
She wasn't a fool. Captain Garland had been the best leader she'd ever seen, and if he had survived the attack, she believed he could have kept humanity together. But she couldn't deal in counterfactuals. Garland was dead—honored each year in a special ceremony, yes, but dead—and she was in charge. So she did her best to emulate him. But that was why his eyes had always been so sad: everyone was friendly, but no one was a friend. At least within the Stepdaughters. Outside of them she had few acquaintances and few people she could trust. Being a leader truly was isolating.
But she could see into the future, at least when it came to her faction. Six months and she would be immersed in cultivating the Isles of the Deep, the nautical equivalent of mindworms, which would defend her first colony. In five years she would be exactly where she wanted to be—a naval power. That was the goal, although not something. she intended to advertise. Under the guise of colonization she would build a fleet that was capable of defending all her bases, even the landlocked ones (though there were only three of those). The problem with military force was that it was unjustified for her to develop a vast land army—in fact, because her psionic technology was so good, there was little threat from mindworms. But she could claim that sea colonization was fraught with the danger of attack, and by the time Miriam and Yang caught on and stared establishing naval colonies of their own, she would be the dominant power.
Unfortunately, the other leaders weren't fools; it was entirely possible that they would understood her attempts and move against her. But if she did not do this now, and decisively, they might devour her anyway at a later date, when they encroached on her territory through dominance of the sea. And if anything was to happen to Lal...
No, she shuddered, she did not want to think about that. There was enough land and enough resources for everyone, especially considering that there was unexplored land on the other side of the ocean. But still the worst of Hobbesian human nature seemed to overcome even the most moral of people. She still remembered the urgings of Yang over her commlink as he tried to convince her that Morgan was a threat to the rest of them. For all Nwabudike's faults, Deidre's heart seized in sympathy whenever she thought of his fate. It was true that Morgan had deceived them, lying about his assets and the prosperity of some of his bases. For that slight, even Lal had turned against him. But realistically Deidre knew, as a leader herself, how much information was valuable from safeguarded from the prying eyes of others' probe teams. The five of them had agreed when they had made contact—pretty much simultaneously thanks to the network of leaders knowing other leaders—to establish an informal U.N. with an overhead of a few commonsense policies; everything else was laissez-faire. Morgan had been opposed to further sharing of information, so when the edict of a planetary census had passed, he had circumvented it, thinking to hide the numbers of his people in the mines and the numbers in his account books in his personal coffers. And then a probe team, illegal in itself, had shattered his facade and his faction.
Deidre buried her head in her hands and breathed very slowly. The census results, if they were true, had also told her the stark truth: how small her faction really was. Even Lal's was bigger and more prosperous, given his many agreements with Miriam and Yang. Deidre trusted Lal's reconciliatory nature; she knew he aspired to one day be elected planetary governor and preside over the sessions with veto power. She would vote for him when that day came, but she had to develop some traction of her own, the way a plant dug deep roots in order to survive upheaval. As silly as that sounded, even in her head, she thought of her faction that way, as though it was the pine tree itself, fragile in a foreign land. She took her custodianship very seriously because she knew that any misstep would damage the very thing she tried to protect.
She raised her face from her hands. She wasn't in a laboratory anymore. She was the leader of an intelligent, charitable, and wise faction of amazing people. New immigrants from other factions joined all of the time—more than could possibly be spies. She owed her people the right to survive, won at any cost from the other factions. All she wanted was to be left in peace—but the continent had run out of frontiers and expansion could be expected after the land each of them owned (hers being the smallest) was consolidated.
The paperwork on her desk was sorted into two large piles. With her eyes holding fast on the correct pile, she designated the conciliatory papers, which would establish naval colonies protected only by defensively-minded troops and untested Isles of the Deep, for shredding and recycling. Let them do some use. Then she swiftly signed her way through the stack of documents authorizing a patrolling fleet of humans and worms with revolutionary combat tactics.
But maybe part of her was still a girl, she reflected wistfully, looking down at her sensible pumps and navy suit. She blew the ink dry on the last page, whispering, eyes locked on the pine tree outside her window, "Happy birthday to me."
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