An opulent mansion sat quietly on an equally opulent street on a fair spring morning. It sat amongst the pines, and it’s immaculately manicured grounds, high on Aesir hill.

Suddenly, a blast rocked the street obliterating the mansion’s elegant columns and windows. The heat and shockwave from it clawed the air out of the lungs of a crowd that had gathered on the street.

The trees, vehicles, and even the other mansions, which populated the Aesir hillside, were all starting to catch fire from the flaming debris that had been flung here and there. The crowd ran about in what appeared to be mindless panic but these people didn’t live here. The mob in this picturesque hell had caused this destruction.

Many of them wore the simple denim jeans and rough knit shirt of factory workers from Norsan’s industrial districts. They were the lowest caste that made up most of the population of the Jorian Planetary Coalition and this was their revenge on the elites that had run their nation into the ground.

Leading their charge was a young Allaposian man named Yarile Uziuag. His pale red face and horned visage belied his loving and gentle nature and, while he wore the same simple trappings as his angry comrades, he could afford so much more than them. It was his family’s home that had just exploded, thanks in part to his meddling with the gas lines entering the house. He had made sure that all of the servants and grounds staff was long gone before the riot had even begun.

After all, they weren’t here to kill anybody.

This mission, as he called it, was about clearing the Aesir hills so that more homes could be built for the working class. Every member of the ruling aristocracy had many other homes strewn throughout the Coalition and most of them hardly ever left the city, except on vacations. For his family to have this mansion and never bother using it was wasteful in the extreme.

The working class, on the other hand, was forced to live in tiny apartments that were packed into the massive towers that dominated Norsan’s skyline. Four such towers could be built where the mansions of the Aesir hills stood. Each tower could house thirty thousand people in apartments twice as large as they currently had to use.

The environmentalists were up in arms about that idea, because the Aesir hills were one of the very few places left on Norsan that still had forested land. The fact that the tree huggers were all part of the Jorian aristocracy, and therefore had plenty of space, didn’t seem to occur to any of the activists.

Then again, Yarile knew what life was like in the low rent housing towers. Murder, rape, and drugs were rampant throughout the tower complexes and the police didn’t have the manpower to patrol every level of each tower all the time, Yarile had found that out the hard way.

He had met a factory girl, who had snuck into his favorite bar one night, and had wanted to walk her home. When they arrived at her apartment they were attacked by two men. They tackled her to the ground and had their way with her. When he tried to fight back they shot him twice, once in the shoulder and another in his chest. Then they had left him for dead and killed her to be sure there were no witnesses to their crime.

After he had healed he had run into one of his attackers on the street and found out what had happened to them. Both men had just lost their jobs at a steel mill and were about to be evicted. They were angry, fed up, and drunk and they wanted to take it out on someone. By the time Yarile had caught up to them one was homeless and the other had committed suicide.

Uziuag went to the government with his plan to transform the Aesir hills and provide more room for the growing population but the government didn’t appear to be interested. So he formed the Worker’s Brigade to clear the land by force. He hoped that, once the hills were a blackened ruin, they would be better motivated to reconstruct it the way he had planned.

“Yarile we should go,” Raltam had to shout to be heard through the ringing in Uziuag’s ears, “Nema just radioed and said the winds are starting to push the fire toward our vans and the cops have started gassing our people in the city.”

Uziuag nodded and, rounding up his people with a shouted command and a hand signal, he led them back down the street toward their vehicles at a run.

* * *

Krias Rigan looked sadly on the pink clouds of Veruseau gas drifting through the streets of Norsan. The tendrils of gas crawled through every intersection and alleyway, like some legion of putrefied worms, knocking out anyone that inhaled it.

Far off in the distance he could see the smoke and occasional flicker of flame that marked the destruction on Aesir hill.

He had never visited his family’s home there, electing instead to reside at his home in the Vanir tower as befitted the Vice President of the Coalition. The burning of the hill was simply another symptom of his dying country. As the Vice President, the task had been assigned to him to fix the problems of overpopulation and environmental collapse that plagued almost every planet in the Coalition. He was angry because he knew the task would be impossible to complete without drastic measures, which he knew would never be allowed to be implemented, and he hated the thought of using those measures anyway.

His father, President Clainis Rigan, wanted him to use a scalpel on a problem that had grown so large it required a broadsword. But he knew those measures would get them both thrown out of office before they had a chance to fully work.

As he studied his reflection, in the window, he could see the first streaks of gray hair had begun to appear in his short styled black hair. He was also developing crows feet around his eyes and a pretty severe permanent furrow in his brow. This job was aging him too quickly. He missed the days of being a playboy, even though he was happily married with children, and he missed the good looks that he was still far too young to have lost.

“Krias, would you like to rejoin the conversation?” Clainis Rigan’s voice snapped his attention back to the meeting at hand.

“Sorry, father,” he said turning back to walk over to the ring of chairs and sofas the President called his Bull Ring. This was where Clainis held all of his “informal” meetings that typically wound up making policy.

“The Aesir hills have been evacuated and no one has been injured, everybody is fine,” Clainis said in a reassuring tone, misinterpreting his son’s concern for the overall problem to be only for one symptom of it, “Now Minister Wallace would like an appraisal of the FIOR Reclamation tests.”

“They’re a joke,” Krias scowled dropping into one of the elegant Raithin skinned chairs, “Even if the company could produce a full unit every month for the rest of the year it would still take decades for the ships to clean up enough planets to make any difference in the current situation. Projections for the one unit that is operational appear to place the completion time at around seven years to clean up one planet.”

The men and women in the room groaned at that.

The Coalition had plenty of planets for the population. The problem was that, early in the country’s history, many of those planets had been heavily industrialized and accidents and poor pollution control destroyed the ecosystems of most of them. When one planet’s biosphere collapsed, the companies and their workers had packed up and moved to another. Some were still marginally habitable but the rest were a death sentence to anyone that strayed there unprotected. The FIOR reclamation ships were meant to go in and clean the air, soil, and water so that they could begin rebuilding the biosphere. However, the ships were not efficient enough or available in large enough numbers to make much of a difference.

“There is no way we could purchase reclamation ships from the Consortium?” Wallace asked.

“Not under our current economic situation,” Garin Brile, the secretary of the treasury, said, “Each unit, ships and materials, costs upwards of five trillion C-Tags per unit, now that’s their currency. Translate that to Takuts and your closer to twenty trillion and those costs don’t include training and personnel, let alone paying wages for the amount of time it takes for a full cleaning.”

“Is there any way to rent them?” Krias suggested, without any hope.

“The reclamation units are privately owned,” Brile explained, “We would have to negotiate directly with the corporations in question and they could charge any fee they wish. The Consortium government wouldn’t be able to legally interfere. Besides that many of their units are already heavily involved in a clean up project out in the Ensetari Union. Once again we couldn’t get enough units to make much of a difference.”

“Planetary purchases?” Clainis suggested, “Perhaps their Star Force has no need of all those garrison systems they have along our border?”

“We tried that and if it didn’t work fifteen years ago, I don’t see how it will work now,” Brile scoffed, “Our relations were just as good then as they are now and they still refused. Their Star Force doesn’t have to sell us a damn thing, even if President Navuto demands it. Their Force is sovereign and that Admiral Goirug is stubborn as hell.”

“What about the Tricans?” Clainis asked.

“The Tricans are too arrogant,” Krias cut in, “They wouldn’t give us any systems particularly after the mess we’ve made with what they have allowed us to have already. Even if we asked them to aid in clean up operations they would probably quarantine the systems and we’d never get them back. Just like Earth.”

“We had best think of something quickly people,” Clainis said, “Already there are whisperings that several system governors are thinking of seceding and joining the Union or the Consortium. That cannot be allowed to happen. The loss in tax revenue would make our situation unsalvageable and I do not want to be the known as the President that brought down our Coalition.”

A thought clicked in Krias’ mind.

“Why don’t we invite the Union to join the Coalition?” Krias asked, “They have a lot of integrated, unsettled, planets and they’re economy is worse off than ours. They would benefit from the deal.”

“Are you crazy?” Wallace spluttered, “The Enstari Border Union is a band of gangsters, thugs, and thieves. They openly harbor criminals from just about every nation in this galaxy and they refuse all extradition. It would destabilize the very fabric of our society.”

Krias groaned a curse under his breath. The best option they had they couldn’t afford and none of the politicians wanted to try anything else. Everything was either impossible or too distasteful for the bureaucrats to swallow but, from this turmoil, a plan began to form in Krias’ mind. It too would be distasteful to everybody, especially him, but it appeared to be the only option left. He just had to find a way that would make them accept it willingly even if they didn’t realize that was what was happening.

“Father,” he said, “I have a plan that should work but I must confer with my experts first and formalize the details to be sure.”

“Very well,” Clainis said, “We will adjourn for two days while you prepare your plan.”

Krias nodded and the meeting broke up, the tension disappearing as the politicians discussed where they would like to take their lunches at.

Next Chapter: Chapter 1