(the beginning of a story I never finished, or rather, haven’t finished yet…)
[based on this meme ]
There had been rumblings of trouble from the outer system as long as anyone could remember. Sure, those bombings on Ceres the year before had sparked an increased military presence in the Saturnian refineries and ‘police actions’ against the Jovian moons. But it wasn’t until they blew up the oil ship from Titan that it became a war.
I was 26 that year and still as young and headstrong as I could be. I was a freelance stringer for MinuteWeb News, working mostly the Earth Affairs pages. Kravitz was the one who’d covered the Ceres bombings. The closest I ever got to the story was being told that my report on the Midway Talks, my biggest story to date, was going to be bumped off the top of the news feed to make room for it. I hated getting bumped but I wasn’t jealous of Kravitz. She was a good reporter and good at her job. It was Hu, the content editor at MinuteWeb, that I was furious at.
I was still kind of holding a grudge a year later, when he lensed me from New York. It didn’t help my temper any that when he lensed me I was caught up in the middle of the interminable and delicate process of getting past Chinese customs at Manila.
“Hey there, buddy!” I grit my teeth as his smiling face filled my datalenses. Hu only called people ‘buddy’ when he was about to screw them with their pants on. Hu smiling? Also a bad sign. I had the feeling that I was about to have my story pulled, and with it my diplomatic permissions and credit line. Again. This wasn’t the first time we’d gone around on this.
“Hey, what’s with the long face, Mohinder? I brought you a present.”
“Beware of editors, bearing gifts.”
“You’re too young to be that cynical. Wait, what am I saying? You’re too young to be anything but that cynical.”
“What do you have for me, George?”
“Got you a shiny new assignment. Oh, and what an assignment! The kind of assignment that any three of my stringers would kill for. Its got everything. An important story with excitement, travel, glamor, substance, a guaranteed spot at the top of the feed and a per diem that will raise your tax bracket. Whattya say?”
“I say I’ve already got an assignment. That’s where I am right now. On assignment. Right?”
“No you’re not. You barely got off the plane. Your status bar says you’re not even through customs yet. Legally you’re not even in Chinese jurisdiction.”
I took a moment to wonder how overprotective mothers, gossipy neighbors and micromanaging employers stuck their nose into your business before the WorldFeed. If ‘Privacy is Treason’ like the old jingle went, then I was just about in the mood to commit some treachery on my datalenses. With a hammer.
“Of course I’m not! You know how Chinese customs are. Especially in hot spots like Manila. And I was on assignment from the moment I pitched this idea to you in New York.”
I was greeted by a suspicious silence. The only thing more dangerous than George Hu when he was smiling was those rare moments when he was silent.
“Oh no! No you didn’t, you son of a bitch! I damn well better have an assignment. This assignment. You did NOT pull it! I signed a contract, you piece of shit!”
“Fuck your language, George! I worked hard for this story. I have bled for this story. This is important news! India is on the verge of joining the League of the South. The people deserve to… no, they need to know this!”
“The people may need to know it, but they sure don’t want it. Let me drop a little truth on you, newbsauce. Nobody gives a shit about the Southern League. Nobody wants to read about poor people politics. Mo’.”
“Exactly! That kind of thinking is exactly what makes this story so important. While we’ve been out exploiting space, we’ve been ignoring the growing problems of the exploited corners of our own world. And now, finally, when a great nation, when my people…”
“Your people? What the hell, Mohinder? You’re from Hoboken. You grew up like six blocks from my parents’ old house. You’re no more Indian than I am Chinese, or Vietnamese or Cambodian or Jewish or whatever my ancestors were.”
“Your consciousness of yourself as a part of world history is an inspiration to us all, George.”
“Fuck my part in world history. My consciousness of what generates hits to the site on the other hand is razor sharp. Eyeballs on screens, Mo’. That’s what pays the server fees. Eyeballs on screens.”
“No. I’m not doing it. I’m not giving up on this assignment to go off on whatever sensationalist tripe you’re offering me.”
“You don’t even know what the assignment is. How can you be turning it down when you don’t even know what it is?”
“Fine. Whatever. What’s the assignment, George?”
I wasn’t, actually, but I switched it over to encrypted with a quick flick of the eyelid.
“Yes. Of course I am. Always.”
“’Always’ he says. Always my eye! Seriously, you’re encrypted?”
“Yes. Seriously. Will you stop it with the high drama and just tell me already?”
“Alright. Fine. Are you ready for this? It’s war! War in the outer system!”
“This is not news, George. It’s been war out there since before the bombings on Ceres last year. People have been fighting and dying and nobody’s been caring for years.”
“No, you’re not hearing me, pal of mine. Not just violence or even a police action. War! With all the bells on. The destruction of the tanker Glenn McCarthy inbound from Titan has bestirred the Council of Earth Governments, which most of us had mercifully forgotten existed, to declare a formal war over it!”
“Declared. War. What?” I was having trouble catching up to what George was saying. “But nobody’s actually bothered to formally declare a war since…”
“Since the Mars rebellion a generation ago. Since our parents went off to put the boot to Johnny Martian.”
“My grandparents, actually.”
“Crawl back in the womb, you fetus!” George was sensitive about his age.
“Alright. So it is news. Fine. But why are you talking to me about this? Kravitz is the lead System Affairs correspondent. This should be her baby.”
“She’s with her baby. Kravitz is on maternity leave, remember?”
“Still out sick.”
“Italiano? He’s got war correspondent experience.”
“Banned from spaceflight since that thing with the…”
“Right. Right. I remember. What about Kirschner?”
“Really? Kirschner? Really?”
I sighed. That had been a long shot.
“And what with you being free at the moment, Mo’, I figured that…”
“I knew it! I knew you’d pulled my permissions! That’s why it’s taking so much longer to get through customs than usual! You sneaky, underhanded, low-life, cocksucking…”
“Hey! Watch your motherfucking language, Pandit!”
And that was how I ended up going to Saturn.