LEGEND OF THE GALACTIC HEROES (existed before I had even been born)
Genre: Science fiction with political overtones
Summary: Boy wants to be a spy when he grows up.
Note: for the August 2005 31_days prompt "I claim proud kinship with your race and blood"
Grenz was an anomaly. Less than a week by military frigate from Neu Sansoucci, it was astronomically in the heart of the Galactic Empire; however the difficulty of rendering it inhabitable had left it undeveloped for most of Imperial history. It wasn’t until 378 Imperial and the invention of atomic-level heat exchangers that Grenz was even classified as a possession of the Empire. It's said that Emperor Otto VII’s penultimate act was signing the order to transform it from a molten lump of glass into a human-inhabitable planet, and that his last was act was proclaiming a weeklong holiday in celebration. (Otto VII, always fond of weeklong parties, died of liver failure the next day.)
As if to make up for their newness, Grenz’s High Nobles consumed more exotic delicacies, patronized more art, produced more bastard offspring, and in short were responsible for more popular discontent in a single century than the nobility of surrounding planets had been able to manage in five. Even worse, a peculiar fold in the fabric of local space placed Grenz in a singularly unique position – it received current Alliance EM broadcasts. For this reason, Grenz was the only planet in the Imperial sphere to forbid transistor radios. The ruling family, having made this proclamation in a stirring show of patriotic self-interest, felt free to ignore it themselves.
For the rest of the citizens of Grenz, intra-planet communication became prohibitively expensive. Home-made or smuggled transistor radios flourished despite the heavy punishments they incurred, and enforcement became increasingly impractical. In February 400 the ruling family was forced to make concessions: the ban was revoked, replaced with a set of regulations describing the exact frequencies at which communication was permitted. A state-run factory dedicated to the “production” (actually purchase and selective crippling) of transmitters and receivers was established. It was headed by the brother of the chief magistrate, who made enormous profits by charging triple prices for ordinary radios with half the functionality.
At the same time there were harsh penalties for those caught with anything else.
For possession: 10 year sentence, seizure of property
For manufacture: 20 year sentence, seizure of property
For smuggling: death, seizure of property
Needless to say the ruling family was quite satisfied with this state of affairs, as were Grenz's (exponentially wealthier) customs officials.
It was while all of this was going on that Rahoul Brangarde, mechanic’s son, used to sit with his arms around his knees under a sheet in the attic, watching bad movies in English and trying not to sneeze. Three years ago, he’d found what he thought must be the last of the smuggled video sets, tucked under the false bottom of an antique chest along with a spool of lace that came apart in his hands and some money. (Not much – changing currency rates had reduced it to barely enough to buy a wooden replica battle cruiser and some candy.)
Rahoul had been seven then, and old enough to know what his discovery meant. Here was something he wasn’t supposed to have! If he told his sister, she would tell his mother, who would insist it be destroyed before the neighbors found out. Therefore he told no one. (Rahoul was good at keeping secrets. For instance no one ever found out about the battle cruiser, either.)
Rahoul learned English from game shows and children’s programming. Eventually it occurred to him that if he was following Alliance programming only because it was something he wasn’t supposed to do, then he ought to watch the things he wasn’t supposed to watch. That meant, he supposed, the political broadcasts. Luckily for Rahoul the Alliance was at this time looking to escalate their eternal war with the Empire, which meant that he had plenty of political broadcasts to chose from.
Sitting in his corner of the attic, trying not to sneeze, he’d use his fingers to trace over the broad smiles of the men onscreen. He always watched with one sheet on the floor to avoid the dust and one over his head to avoid letting out the light; and the images would flicker against the sheets in the dark. He kept the volume at its lowest setting. Sometimes the politicians’ words were lost to static, but they tended to repeat themselves so Rahoul didn’t really mind.
If it was something the High Nobles didn’t want him to know, he wanted to know it. This was Rahoul’s reasoning, and the reason he eventually came to despise his homeland. In his ignorance he’d hated only the High Nobles of Grenz; now he hated High Nobles in general. At sixteen he joined the Imperial Officer’s Corps with the slogans “freedom of choice,” “government by the people,” and “shackled to the yoke of despotism” at the front of his mind.
His greatest desire was to work as a spy and saboteur for the Alliance. But how does one become a spy? He didn't know. Joining the military seemed like a good place to start. Rahoul kept a series of notebooks and filled them with everything he thought might be a military secret. He devised an elaborate decryption system and encoded everything by hand, a laborious process. It was a habit he maintained through four years of study (officer's school) and three of service, during which he was promoted five times. The number of notebooks increased with each promotion; and with each promotion more of what he’d previously written seemed worthless, trivial, common, low-level, something he wouldn’t want to waste the Alliance’s time with.
He reached the height of his promotions at Captain. Beyond that he would be expected to deploy troops in large numbers, and Rahoul had no head for strategy. He had a passion for detail that always obscured the over-arching plan.
June 7, 490. Weaving though corridors on this way back from a private party; head down and stumble into his room (his room, Captain's room, no roommate thank God for that. Here was one privilege of rank he was not going to protest). Some tea to clear his head. While the pot was brewing, Rahoul stood flipping idly through his notebooks. And realized with a shock that he wouldn't be sharing them with the Alliance.
This wasn’t the insecurity that sometimes ambushed him in the shower or at mess, when he'd know the information he was gathering was useless. It wasn’t the creeping guilt he felt when he thought of his platoon, or fleet, and what would happen to them after his defection. It wasn’t the impatience he felt at having served for so many years without the opportunity to defect. It was the realization that his priorities had changed, and that he no longer wanted to.
The evening’s entertainment caught up with him, and he sat heavily on the edge of his bunk. The notebook fell through his fingers to the floor. My God, he thought. How long have I been this way?
A long time, was the answer that eventually came to him. For the last year you have become more and more a Captain, until it stopped being your role and started being your job. You fit with the Empire.
But this was awful! What about his principles, lovingly hoarded over a decade of childhood secrecy? He still believed in them, he thought – government by the people, popular elections, social mobility. The Empire still didn’t have them. Shouldn't this bother him? He’d blame Herr Reinhardt and his reforms, except that they didn't address the fundamentals. Reinhardt appointed better people to government, but entry into the government still was by appoinment, and not by popular vote. Rahoul shouldn't have been satisfied with anything less, but he was, and he wanted to know why.
Because I’m drunk was the easy answer. Because I’ve been here too long was the harder answer and the one he settled on the next morning when he woke up grateful for the pharmacy’s anti-hangover pills. But neither satisfied him.
When Raoul was 27, and the first in his squadron to grind Alliance soil beneath his boot -- he hastily moved aside, leaving a space for the rest of his men to disembark behind him –- when he was 27, and on Heinessen, and he looked across the city park to the crowd eying them warily, tiredly from the street, nothing but women and children and old people, then he understood the answer. It was so simple he wondered why he hadn’t realized earlier.
Those broadcasts were never meant for me.