Somewhere on a Core planet
It's a small screen, on somebody's personal desktop. An image of Gabriel Tam is frozen on it, a still from the recent press conference.
A hand touches a control and the image blurs into life. Thirty million people died on Miranda, Tam says, murdered in an experiment. And what did those in power do? They tried to hide it away. To keep the sec
The hand moves again. The image jumps back, Thirty million people died on Miranda, murdered in a and stills again.
Perhaps half an hour later, the screen is dark. On the other side of the room sits a woman with a guitar, moving her fingers, mouthing the words.
Thirty million on Miranda....
March 2, 2519
When Ira stops at the kiosk for coffee, it's still half an hour to the start of his shift at St. Lucy's. He always makes a point of arriving early, though; has done for over a year now.
The proprietor's got one of the countless random-music Cortex stations playing, as usual. The sound washes over him as he waits for his order, largely ignored -- fairly pleasant as aural wallpaper goes, some rustic-sounding folk music by the sound of it -- until the word Miranda catches his attention. He glances up, too startled to even reach for his coffee.
--colonists and unafraid
Thirty million on Miranda, far from safety, far from aid --
The man's finger moves, and the feed changes to a classical station playing Chinese opera.
Which would be unremarkable if it weren't for the brief wary look in the man's eyes, or the way he looks up at Ira. As though he's just been caught at something. Or as though he's not sure whether or not he's just been caught at something, and is trying to find out without giving himself away.
Ira looks at him for a moment, then grabs his drink and hurries out.
March 11, 2519
"Gavin," the teacher says sharply. For the third time, he realizes, and looks up from his desk to see her standing over him. The other students are snickering as she reaches down to yank the tiny earbud out of his ear. "All right, let's see what's so enthralling that you can't stop listening to it during class...."
She picks up his player and maxes the volume. Clearly audible through the room comes the sound of a guitar and a man's voice, an angry voice:
-- nothing of their plans
Breathed in poison from the air
Caught mid-motion, unaware
Lying down where'er it found them, on Miranda they were damned--
The music cuts off abruptly. There's no snickering now; the other students are staring from him to the teacher, eyes wide, mouths shut tight.
"I see," she says softly.
Gavin's hand clenches, and he gets ready for it -- lecture, suspension, report to law enforcement, whatever.
Until the teacher hands the player and earbud back to him. "Keep it out of class, if you don't mind," is her only comment as she walks back to her desk.
March 25, 2519
The come-sit has been going on for nearly two hours by the time Steve starts to play the opening notes of "Thirty Million On Miranda."
Before he's finished the first line, over half the circle's joined in.
--From the Border, from the Core
Just two years before the War
Trusting in the grand Alliance, on Miranda were betrayed....
The lyrics aren't so much sung as roared, here.
They're all colonists here, too. Came out with their families when the Alliance called for settlers. And they've all heard tell what happened to the ships that never made it this far.
March 28, 2519
Sprayed on a wall near the Capitol Building, in letters two feet tall:
JUSTICE FOR THE THIRTY MILLION
It's captured on half a hundred newsfeeds before the cleanup crew arrives to hastily paint it over.
By the following night, similar graffiti have appeared in cities on over twenty worlds.
On Boros, one of the graffiti artists -- a teenage boy -- is caught in the act and bound by law. A crowd of witnesses follows the two officers and their prisoner back to their vehicle. On foot, and in silence.
April 3, 2519
Nowhere worth remembering
The man in the corner of the grimy, ill-lit bar doesn't look up when the waitress tosses his change onto the table. Too little -- she kept at least three full credits for herself, an unoffered tip. He notices.
He doesn't care. What are credits?
He doesn't look up when the singer on the makeshift stage scoots her stool an inch closer to the antiquated microphone and changes from an old folk song about crushing taxes to the opening chords of something fast-strummed and angry. He's been trying to ignore her: her trembling political fervor, her flat and faintly nasal voice. Both make him... weary.
Weary's a good word for it.
And then the first line
Thirty million on Miranda
cuts through the smoke and the dim lights,
colonists and unafraid
cuts through the mutter of voices,
Thirty million on Miranda
and he realizes that it's not just the blood thundering in his ears (and on his hands and in his soul) that's making the crowd seem quieter.
far from safety, far from aid
Everyone's shutting up.
The man in the corner doesn't look up. Doesn't lift his eyes from his tepid, bitter tea. Doesn't move a muscle.
Trusting in the new Alliance, the singer grits out, and strikes a chord hard, on Miranda were betrayed!
The man in the corner doesn't look up.
April 10, 2519
The streets are noisy, crowded, and frequently drunk, so a commotion's hardly a thing to shout about. Usually.
"Over there. Look familiar to you?"
Fanty squints past a streetwalker with light-up breast implants. "Can't say it does, truth to tell. What, did we rip him off?"
"Never met him before in our lives."
"That would be why I don't recognize him."
Mingo jerks his chin toward the man struggling at the center of the brawl. "He was singing."
"Street musicians," observes Fanty, "have a way of doing that."
"Well," says Fanty, swinging around on his heel to face the fight. "That does change things, innit?"
April 11, 2519
Jefferson, Three Hills
" -- riot was quelled on Beaumonde by Alliance troops -- "
Teddy Frye is squinting at his ledger. In the background the hub is squalling the day's news, delayed-broadcasted from the Core; he's got one eye bent that way and the other on the figures in front of him. Spectacles might be of some help, though he hates to admit it.
" -- said Huan Trousdale, provincial governor, who has promised to introduce and pass legislation banning protests on Alliance-owned property -- "
He snorts at that, and snaps the ledger shut, tossing his stylus down on his rickety desk (cobbled-together ancient sheet metal with plenty of dents, held together with spit, a prayer, and a sawhorse or two), and turning on his chair to face the tiny screen, reaching for a beer.
" -- Faraday Jones, coach of the team fielded by Cabisius University -- "
If they've gotten to sports it means there's nothing huge going on with the Tam campaign. Teddy leans forward and changes over to the news coming out of Vidalia, on the other side of Three Hills. He makes a face when he sees that it's just coverage of that day's session of the regional House of Commons (House of Gasbags is more like it, he's always thought), and busies himself opening his bottle of beer, not listening as one of the MHs introduces some local musician to close out the day's session. They do that now and again, Teddy knows; maybe it'll be something worth watching.
It's a young woman with two long braids, clean-favored and imperially slim. With her, in the background, is a small man with a hurdy-gurdy. Without any other accompaniment, she begins to sing.
Thirty million on Miranda, colonists and unafraid
Thirty million on Miranda, far from safety, far from aid
Once upon a time Teddy Frye had considered uprooting the family, going to a place where there was real need for someone in his line of work. The place was called Miranda. In the end the Frye family did not relocate; they stayed on Three Hills because of an economic upswing.
As he listens now, his face hardens, and his eyes gleam. Because the MHs, those gasbags --
And when he leaves his shop for the night, he stops by the port to talk to Armistead Fredericks, an old friend of his, about what in the gorram hell is going on in Vidalia that those stuffed-shirt sons of bitches would sit by and listen to something that...
He doesn't have a word for it.
But he likes it.
Likes it real well.
April 14, 2519
It's been eight months since her big brother died in the Saranac event -- the day everything in the Core, as their littlest sister Isolt likes to say, went batshit. Mariel Charrington, sister to Isolt and Stoker, makes it a point to walk past the diner where Stoke was killed over his pie and coffee on the fourteenth of every month.
They'd grown apart in recent years, and Mariel still feels vaguely guilty whenever she thinks about it, though her therapist told her it wasn't her fault that Stoke turned into some gung-ho workaholic recluse, and that she'd done everything she could to maintain a relationship, and it was one of those things she'd have to work on letting go.
This part of Osiris is in the government district, where all the officials and their underlings have their offices. It got rebuilt pretty quickly, but where the diner was is now a vacant lot.
It's a chilly morning. Mariel stands in front of the vacant lot with her hands in the pockets of her coat (sensible black, with sensible, rigid lines; everything in its place) and knows she'll have to go to work soon, but maybe, maybe this time she'll hear Stoker, or feel him, or something -- something that tells her that it's okay, that this crazy instability will pass, that one morning she'll wake up and not dread getting out of bed and everything will be right again.
She's listening so hard, wanting it so much, that when she hears the guitar and the voice on the street corner tears spring to her eyes.
"No one knows just why it happened, just one-tenth of one percent
Turned to savage, mindless wolves, and not the passive sheep you meant
Tried to change the hearts of Man
You created Caliban -- "
No one knows just why it happened. That's what drew Mariel in. What got her to believe that maybe this is it, maybe this is the omen, maybe this is her message, her way out of whatever existential hell this is.
And then, of course, the singer continued the verse.
The thing is -- Stoke had obviously done something he'd believed in, done what he thought was right, and even if he'd gone all secretive in the last few years Stoker had always known the right thing to do. He was Mariel's big brother, and he always did the right thing, and now he's dead.
And here's this busker singing something about what Isolt would call a major procedural fuckup, and blaming the government.
The political debate that ensues with the busker escalates into a screaming match, and Mariel is two hours late for work. The police let her off with a warning, and a strong suggestion to leave the unrest-quelling to them.
The busker is bound by law.
And Mariel walks back to work, head down, waiting for a miracle that she knows isn't going to come.
April 15, 2519
On a space station, there are twenty-four-hour periods, but nothing you could call day or night; ships arrive and leave more or less continuously, and the assorted shops and stalls and hucksters lose money if they're not open just as continuously. Including the Post Freight & Holding office.
Amnon's cleaning out his desk drawer (it's that time of year again) and grumbling under his breath; the office assistant (a skinny boy in his twenties who's been courting Amnon's youngest daughter, to Amnon's great disgruntlement) is late today. No day and no night, but it's late nonetheless, and he wants his dinner and sleep --
There's a commotion across the promenade, and he looks up sharply. Shouting and running, and -- music? Music that he realizes dimly he's been hearing for about half a minute now:
From the Border, from the Core
Just two years before the War...
No. Oh, no. More of those damn naarische kids playing that damn troublemaking song again, they know the stationmaster's banned it, why are they --?
Amnon bends over his desk drawer again, grimly rooting out a stubborn candy wrapper from the back, ignoring the music, ignoring the shouting. He'll be able to say truthfully, later, that he didn't see any of what happened.
He knows better than to protest what's going on around him. It'll only make things worse.
April 17, 2519
Sallie will probably never tell Jordan and McKay the real reason she invites them up for dinner every week after it gets dark and the house feels even emptier than it is in the daytime. McKay likes to joke it is so she can have two victims to try her latest recipes on, and this answer suffices.
"Can I turn this on, Sal?" Jordan asks, using a nickname that always manages to wheedle out of Sallie whatever Jordan wants. She's the owner around here; she's allowed to play favorites.
A short nod, and Jordan begins playing with the dials on the radio perched on the box of her ancient upright piano.
--ion on Miranda --
He switches away quickly, and only turns back after McKay throws a napkin at him.
Try again, you politicians, scientists of high degree
Twisting folk from what they are to what you think they ought to be
Some will change and some will die
Hide them all beneath a lie
But someone came down to Miranda, brought the truth for all to see --
Jordan and McKay just stare at each other.
Sallie stares at the picture of Mal and Inara from their wedding, and says very little for the rest of the night.
April 19, 2519
Vidalia, Three Hills
Ellen Hua doesn't go into town that often. Not these days. It's a long walk, for one, and there's only so many times one can borrow the Hambrys' mule. But the farm can't make everything, and Dave Hambry is sick with the flu and can't make a supply run this week. So Ellen told them she'd do it -- pick up what both families needed, because fair's fair and anyway you help each other out.
Spite of all the people, she doesn't say, and she's never been sure how much Judy Hambry guesses. Spite of the fact that Beth ain't with me, and won't ever be again, and she loved going into town and window-shopping and playing chess with all comers at the drugstore and --
Well. It comes down to this: sometimes you just have to go into town.
It's not as though Beth has been around for the past four years. But she was out there, with her aunt on Sihnon and then at the Academy, and sometimes there'd be a letter -- not that often of late, true; they must have been keeping her busy -- and Ellen always knew her daughter would be home someday. Even if the Core suited her better; even if she was happier out there, where she could go to a real school, a special school, get the kind of learning she needed. Even if Three Hills wasn't soil Beth could grow in, Ellen knew someday she would come home. Would have come home.
Until the Saranac event, and the letter that came on the Academy's fancy paper with its fancy crest, in fancy words that started It is with profound sorrow and regret that we inform you and ended our deepest sympathies and in between told her that her brilliant daughter was dead.
Too many died that day for a woman to hold the number in her head (though Beth could've, she has no doubt of that). Ellen still can't care about any of them but one.
She goes through the day numbly, with the sounds of the town a dull roar in her ears, and pays for the cloth and the wire screening and the white flour and the replacement parts for the Hambrys' generator, and none of it seems to mean very much at all.
Until she passes the drugstore, eyes averted from the chess table outside, and gradually a ripple of music from inside defines itself from the surrounding blur. She's heard it before -- the song's been everywhere, past couple weeks:
...Some will change and some will die
While you lot are standing by
But two things happened on Miranda that your plans did not foresee--
Ellen lowers her head and walks by, a little faster.
These people; réncí de Fózu, these people. They all saw the Miranda broadwave, same as she did -- saw that poor girl who'd gone to find out what became of the colony, heard what she said: We meant it for the best.
Why doesn't anyone care about that? They meant it for the best, those scientists and doctors who'd made up the Pax; they were trying to put a stop to war, and some of them died for it, and still no one will forgive them. As though any of them could've known any better. And who's going to save the 'verse, after all, if not the smart ones -- the scientists and them? Who else might be able to figure out how?
Why do people always have to blame someone? Sometimes there's no one to blame.
Sometimes things just happen.
And now with the top school for the smartest kids in the 'verse destroyed, in one of those things that just happen, with all those brilliant children lost -- thinks Ellen as she moves back towards the mule with her arms full of purchases and her ears full of meaningless noise -- now maybe there isn't gonna be anyone to try to save the 'verse next time around.
And maybe, she thinks bitterly, that's just as well. 'Cause it looks like most of the 'verse don't want to be saved.
April 23, 2519
THESE ARE THE PEOPLE, echoes Gabriel Tam's voice, over the frenetic instrumentals. THESE ARE THE PEOPLE THAT WERE TRUSTED BY WORLDS -- TO 'MAKE PEOPLE SAFER'.
It's a pirate station. A pirate station, and an unlicensed remix, and perhaps Lavinia's Public Feed Board has been lax until now, but they'll be gone within the hour, certainly. Maybe less.
THE PEOPLE HERE STOPPED FIGHTING.
The music slows briefly, quietens - an eerie electrified wail, tapdancing along the sternum and under the ribs, underscoring a woman's terrified voice.
AND THEN THEY STOPPED
They'll be gone within the hour, but right now, that doesn't matter, because it's the most listened-to feed on Lavinia, playing loud and strong from every runner on the highway, and every highrise along the horizon, from left to right of the sleek black skimmer's windscreen. It doesn't matter, because a quick scroll confirms that it's currently playing on sixty-three of the eighty-one Board-sanctioned feedwaves.
THOU SHALT NOT, comes the rallying cry, like a standard streaming over the quickening drums, BE A BYSTANDER.
Andronicus Crowley smiles like a snake, and revvs the engine, and the chorus comes thundering back.
Try again, you politicians...
April 23, 2519
It's still frigid in the city. The buildings ought to cut down on the wind a little but instead encourage the sneaking sort. The kind that find their way around layers, slice through scarves; Aziraphael has quite given up trying to keep his hair in its neat tie.
" - Thirty million on Miranda walked into their leaders' hands
Thirty million on Miranda, knowing nothing of their plans - "
Her words catch his attention far more than her ragged voice, snatched away by the wind like the white smoke of her breath. He pauses, and he's not the only one - a small crowd is forming, and on the edge of it is an old gentleman that looks oddly familiar. He catches Aziraphael's eye and nods politely.
The angel doesn't like his smile.
He's surprised when the man next to him picks up the song, more so when others join in; he's not caught the feeds for long enough that he's missed the way the tides are flowing. They don't stop singing even when men in dark suits push their way through the crowd, still her hands on the guitar.
"What d'you fink you're doing, mate?" Her voice is less pleasant when it's not raised in song. She's not a local, and the accent of the Dyton Colony makes Aziraphael fiercely nostalgic, for a moment.
"Nah," she says, as members of the crowd go to stand with her, as the men in black ask her to accompany them.
"I ain't movin'."
And as a voice in the crowd picks up the refrain again -
Try again, you politicians -
- as more of them join in, Aziraphael lowers his head to hide his smile.
History moves in cycles, repeats itself.
That's why they call them revolutions.