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Governor: Chapter Three

       Last updated: Monday, November 16, 2020 19:07 EST



    The stairs were narrow, and Murphy steadied his wife by the elbow as Simron's heels and a few cocktails made the descent more precarious than usual. The stairs delivered them to a garage with a long line of waiting limos, and a young man in the same uniform as the party servers opened a door to a vehicle with a custom hood ornament and enough chrome highlights to make it stand out even from the rest of the luxury.

    “Dad doesn't do 'unostentatious' very well, does he?” Simron said, shaking her head with a crooked smile as she slipped into the back seat and kicked off her shoes. “He would have us in a Ducati 11, wouldn't he?”

    Terrence closed her door and went around the back with the valet, and their muffled conversation lingered on the other side of the limo.

    A window between the passenger and driver compartments lowered and the driver turned around and tipped his cap.

    “Pleasure, ma’am,” he said. “Where can I take you?”

    “Missing someone,” Simron replied, and squinted at her arm rest, searching for controls.

    “I’ll get it."

    The driver hit a button. The window opposite Simron lowered and she leaned toward it just as Murphy grasped the valet’s upper arm and shook his hand.

    “You take care,” the rear admiral said to him, then opened his own door and sat down.

    “Home now,” Simron said to the driver, then shook her head at her husband as the screen went up between the compartments.

    “Now you’re chatty?” she asked. “I have to twist your arm to say more than five words to Dad’s chief finance officer and the new head of Stellara Lines—and I can’t believe what she was wearing—but then you get buddy-buddy with the help?”

    Murphy had a faraway look in his eyes as he glanced out the window.

    The limo rose up over the car line on counter-grav emitters in the wheel wells.

    “Terrence,” Simron snapped, “care to explain?”

    “What? Oh he was aboard the Carson,” Murphy said. “He wanted to. . . reminisce for a moment.”

    “You never served aboard any Carson,” Simron narrowed her eyes slightly.

    “It was one the ships we lost at Steelman,” Murphy said. “We rescued some of her crew after the battle. . . He remembered me on the bay floor when we opened his pod. Said I was one of his litter bearers when he was taken to med bay.”

    “You remember him?”

    “It was a long day, Simmy,” Murphy said gently.

    “I suppose his status got him hired on for the night,” Simron flicked her hand twice and an emitter in a bracelet projected a screen showing her face. She adjusted the thin layer of the make-up liner with deft motions from her pinky nail. “He seemed all right.”

    The limo passed out of the garage and lifted up to crisscrossing levels of air traffic strung through the skyscrapers of Olympia. The Republic's capital was notorious for its crowded airspace, and Murphy tensed as the limo slipped into a gap in the air cars and sped up as it rose through faster and faster bands.

    The human in the driver’s seat was almost an affectation, he reminded himself. A networked AI handled their actual route.

    “His arms are prosthetic below the elbow,” Murphy said. “You didn’t notice that the fingers on his left hand looked a bit arthritic? Low quality replacements.”

    “This night wasn’t supposed to be a Republic Service Veterans’ lodge meeting,” Simron sighed, and changed the projection to several media feeds. Pics of the two of them arriving at the party and news articles scrolled up. “All positive coverage. . .you’re quite the war hero from these headlines.”

    “You father ‘adjusting’ the algorithms again?” Murphy asked.

    “You’re a newly minted rear admiral. New command. Medals from the Battle of Steelman’s Star. Don’t complain if we make your star shine a bit brighter. Helps the family. And aren’t you a hero?”

    “No,” Murphy looked away. “We were losing a fight and I managed to turn it around. Any officer would’ve done the same.”

    “But it was you that did it and there’s nothing wrong with telling people that. Besides, wouldn’t that valet back there think you were a hero?”

    “I’m just glad he made it out alive,” Murphy said.

    Simron pinched the bridge of her nose.

    “Let’s see if I’ve trained you right,” she said. “Who was the tech officer with the obnoxious cologne?”

    “Lionel Fanx, Goodridge Shipping Conglomerate,” Murphy said. “He was with his assistant and not his wife for the evening.”

    “That wasn’t his. . . he does like blonds. Anyway, he was going on and on about the Beta Cygni Sector and how your post is in New Dublin. What was he getting at?”

    The limo’s speed leveled out as they slipped past penthouses. There was no traffic above them.

    Murphy frowned. Travel in this high a band came with a premium toll. A waste of money in his opinion.

    “Don’t even start about the cost,” Simron raised a finger. “I know you. Back to the guy that smelled like flour and vanilla.”

    “The bulk of the Republican Navy is fighting in the Beta Cygni Sector. On the verge of a breakthrough—if you listen to the news—the same breakthrough that’s been promised for ten years, since we lost at Mangalore. New Dublin is almost two hundred light-years from Earth . . . in pretty nearly the opposite direction from Beta Cygni,” Murphy said.

    “And?” Simron made a circular, warp-it-up motion with her hand, urging him forward.

    “It was his way of implying I’m either not ready for a frontline deployment. . . or afraid of one,” Murphy huffed.

    “Wait. . . you just let him get away with that?”

    “Fanx was never in uniform. What do I care about someone that got a deferment and skipped out of his mandatory service?”

    “Because,” Simron’s finger shot up and the news feeds vanished, “Fanx is from the Five Hundred and the heir to one of the more influential families in that group. His opinion matters, Terry. You can’t brush people like that off just because they didn’t go the same route you did, and you know who else hasn’t been in the military?”

    “Don’t start,” Murphy said.

    “Vyom, our darling firstborn son." Her face darkened with anger.

    “I’m well aware of who he is,” Murphy sank slightly into his seat.

    “The Republic is very clear that military service isn’t needed from those with key positions in our economy,” she said. “And Vyom is a rising star in Father’s company. He’s already the head of the new destroyer concept team and—”

    “I never said Vyom wasn’t qualified for his position,” Murphy said. “He’s done very well for himself.”

    “But you were against his deferment. Don’t deny it.”

    “Family tradition,” Murphy said. “My grandfather and my father—”

    “We’ve got Callum to follow in your footsteps,” Simron said. “Vyom can take after his other grandfather. And I’m glad you’re keeping such a close eye on Callum during your deployment. A deployment to a much quieter part of the war.”

    “Speaking of,” Murphy slipped a matte black case from a pocket in his trousers.



    “I told you to leave that at home,” Simron said.

    “You think a flag officer can just un-plug from command? Even your father was still checking his updates during the party. Those lens implants are expensive, but he has a bad habit of drifting off when he’s accessing information."

    A small holo screen appeared over the case, the projection blurred from Simron’s vantage point.

    “You keep going on and on about how O’Hanraghty has everything under control,” Simron said. “Maybe you should’ve hired someone from the short list that father put together.”

    “No disrespect to Kanada, but there’s no one else like O’Hanraghty in the Republican Navy.”

    “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” Simron raised an eyebrow.

    “A good executive officer solves problems before they ever reach the commander’s attention,” Murphy said. “But some will always be beyond his control.”

    The case buzzed in his hand.

    “Just like— Here,” he handed the case to her and she glanced at the screen, then rolled her eyes.

    “Ugh,” she said. “I’m not surprised. You get to deal with it. And you had better straighten this out while you’re in New Dublin. His last name and the Peter Principle can only get him so far.”

    The limo landed gently at their building and Simron’s door opened smoothly. She blew Murphy a kiss and went inside.

    The screen between Murphy and the driver lowered.


    “Seems I’ve been invited to an after party,” Murphy said. “Take me to the Spring Mountain Gaming complex. Private entrance.”

    “Right away,” the limo door snapped shut.



    Callum Murphy felt the world spinning as he lay on a cool tile floor. He knew he was perfectly still, but the flush of alcohol in his system made all of his perceptions a bit suspect. Drool seeped down one corner of his mouth and his feet kicked at the floor.

    “He’s. . . cheatin’! That dealer. . . had a card in ‘is. . . fingers. Somethin',” his stomach heaved and he swallowed before its contents could go any further than the base of his esophagus.

    A pair of shiny black shoes stepped in front of him.

    “Did jou. . . rest him? Fer cheatin?” Callum tried to wag a finger and poked himself in the cheek.

    “Yes, I’ll authorize the dose,” a voice said. “Go with a double.”

    “Oh. . . hi, Dad,” Callum raised his head up then dropped it back down when the lights proved too bright. “Big. . . day ‘morrow.”

    “Sir,” a new voice said, “that much Teetotaler will—”

    “You heard me.”

    Callum felt a bite of cold metal against his throat and heard a hiss.

    “What’re you — What?” Callum’s brown eyes shot open as his heart rate soared. He sat up, panting as his vision went red, and his ears throbbed with pressure. A sheen of cold sweat slicked his face and he wiped his palms across his eyes several times. He tried protesting but only managed a high-pitched whine between gulps of air.

    “Heartrate’s at one seventy and holding,” the new voice said.

    “So he can have more?” Terrance Murphy asked.

    “Not recommended.”

    “Oh God.” Callum crinkled his nose as he smelled his own alcohol-permeated clothing. “This won’t ever come out. You know that, right?” He pinched the front of his soaked shirt and plucked it away from his body.

    Murphy squatted down and looked him in the eyes.

    “Son, I'm disappointed.”

    “What? What did I . . . ?" Callum closed his eyes for a moment. "The Teetotaler will get the booze out of your system. Won’t fix your memory, though," he said, opening them again.

    “Then allow me to refresh it," Murphy said. "You created quite the scene on the gambling floor. I’ve got a bill here for a ruined roulette wheel and new felt on two different blackjack tables.”

    Callum brushed a hand across his lap.

    “Funny, normally you get a hit of the drunk-no-more and your bladder. . .”

    “The roulette wheel,” his father deadpanned.

    “Oh yeah. . ."

    “You also proposed to several waitresses and a security guard, saying you were going to war tomorrow and wanted to—”

    “Okay, that I remember.” Callum put a hand to a temple. “Vyom will get all that honor, too. Can I get some water? Maybe something with electrolytes?”

    “Get up.” Murphy hooked his son by the armpits and hauled him to his feet. It took a little effort. Although Callum looked a lot like a masculine version of his mother, was within eight centimeters of Murphy's own height “The concierge gave me a courtesy call to deal with your situation before they called law enforcement. Do you understand what almost happened?”

    “A quick trip to the courthouse for an annulment?” Callum smiled.

    “No!” Murphy shouted.

    The door to the room shut as the other man left.

    “Callum . . . you were so drunk that you would’ve ended up in either a jail cell or a hospital before the night was over. That happens and you'd miss muster when our carrier group spaces out tomorrow. Do you understand what that would mean?”

    “I’d . . . catch the next transport to New Dublin?” Callum tried to smile and got a shooting pain through his temples.

    “You’re a lieutenant in the Republician Navy and the flag lieutenant of an admiral who's deploying tomorrow,” Murphy said, putting his hands on his hips.

    “No, I’m actually in the merchant marine . . . or should be." Callum said. "But I’m on orders for active duty, yeah. Missing muster prior to a deployment is . . . pretty bad. Court martial bad. But wouldn’t you—”

    “No, Callum. Not even I could get you out of a mess like that. The Republic’s been at war for the next best thing to sixty years, and failure to report for duty when you’ve got orders to do so is not tolerated. Doesn’t matter what your last name is.”

    Murphy took his son by the elbow and led him out of the room and into a hallway.

    “War? Let’s be real here, Dad." Callum stumbled a bit as he kept pace with his father. "We’re going to New Dublin. I wouldn’t even know where— Come to think of it, I still don’t think I can find it on a star chart. It’s a dead sector. Not even on any of the main trade lines. Just a bunch of colonists squatting on land and pumping out kids.”

    They exited onto an air car dock several dozen stories above street level. The giant projections of nearby casinos and night clubs danced in the night. Lines of airborne traffic meandered through the neon glow. Beyond them, the towering buildings of the Republic's capital rose into the night like Titans, glittering with the gems of lighted windows and bathed in floodlights, like treasure heaped in some god's jewelry case.

    “I guarantee they don’t have anything like this out in the sticks,” Callum said.

    “Son,” Murphy shook his head. “This is on me. This is my fault.”

    “Don’t follow.”

    “You have . . . you have no idea of what it means to put on the uniform. You’ve lived in the Heart Worlds your entire life. The war means nothing more to you than what’s in your news feed. That sound about right?”

    Callum’s arms flapped against his sides.

    “Sorry? Was I supposed to go join the ‘Public Marines' for summer break or something? I was in the reserve training corps in college like you asked, but I’m more interested in Fasset Drive construction and macroeconomics than shooting missiles. Merchant Marine’s a lot more attractive to me as a career than Survey Corps or the regular Navy. So I get the Navy hitch out of the way, then shift over to the Merchant Marine, like Gandpa wants. That a problem? After Vyom got a deferment I thought you didn’t—”

    Murphy’s jaw tightened so hard Callum thought his father’s teeth would crack.

    “I’m on your staff,” Callum said. “O’Hanraghty won’t let me screw up too much, right? Two years sitting on our thumbs in New Dublin and then it’s all over with,” he shrugged. “I’ll come back to captain a trader ship and you’ll be . . . a senator or something.”

    “What did you mean earlier,” Murphy tapped a screen on the car dock safety rail, “when you said Vyom was going to get ‘the honor’ before you?”

    “Did I? Must’ve been the meds playing with my—”

    Murphy gave him a glare that fathers had practiced long before humans adopted speech.

    “Vyom’s in Buenos Aries,” Callum snapped in response. “It’s a business trip . . . and just so happens to be where Ingrid’s from.”

    “Ingrid. They’ve been dating for barely six months,” Murphy frowned.

    “Which is a record for Vyom,” Callum said.

    “No. Vyom can’t. . .” Murphy ran a hand through his hair. “What exactly is he going to do? Propose?”

    “It’s just a suspicion,” Callum raised his hands. “He gets stupider than usual when he starts talking about Ingrid.”

    “Does your mother know?”

    “She practically set them up,” Callum said. “Ingrid’s the sole heir to another of the Five Hundred. Mom's probably got a list of focus-tested baby names picked out. I’ll just point out that she's done precisely zero to hook me up with an heiress.”

    “You remember Jenny Schleibaum? When you were fourteen?”

    “In my defense, snakes were still awesome back then. She didn’t see it that way.”


    A beaten up taxi pulled up to the dock.

    “You came in that thing?” Callum asked.

    “We’re leaving in this,” Murphy said. “Keeps the paparazzi from knowing that a certain young officer came very close to embarrassing himself.”

    The door creaked open and the cylindrical head of the robot driver spun around.

    “W-w-where to?” came from a microphone.

    “Is that smell from the seat or from me?” Callum’s nose wrinkled.

    “Get in,” Murphy pushed against Callum’s shoulder, “and don’t be surprised when your pay stub has a bunch of zeros in it for the next few months. Silence costs money.”

    “Eh. We’ll be in transit anyway. You hungry, Dad? Last chance for a decent nosh. What do they eat out in New Dublin? Grubs and rats?”

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