I don’t read much recent fiction, so it’s not surprising that I’m unfamiliar with T.J. Corcoran’s work. He is, however, apparently familiar with mine, and a couple of weeks ago he reached out to me to ask if I’d be willing to host an excerpt from his new book (with a link to his Kickstarter at the end). The subject matter (an anarchist society & a celebration of the “live and let live” philosophy) certainly fits here, so I said yes; judging by the blurbs he sent along he’s a controversial figure even in libertarian circles, but he isn’t the first controversial guest columnist I’ve hosted and he certainly won’t be the last.
2064, Morlock Engineering office, Aristillus, Lunar Nearside
Mike groaned. “Wam, I do not need another fucking problem right now. The Veleka tunnel issue still isn’t resolved, we’re behind schedule on rubble clearance because that last fucking load of bulldozers are somewhere in a orbit instead of down here where I need them, the damned Boardroom group -”
Mike realized that Wam’s eyes were wide and he stumbled to a halt. “I shouldn’t be venting at you. OK, what’s going on?”
“Problems with the Bao Johnson deal. One of the security contracts we own now is Leon’s Poker House. A few hours ago some Mormons smashed up the place and threatened the working girls.”
“Leon’s, right next to all the new Mormon arrivals?”
Wam sigh. “Yeah.”
“Let me guess. We didn’t pick which gigs we took – Bao hand picked them and gave us his dogs?”
Wam winced, embarrassed. “Yes.”
Wam was silent.
Mike sighed. “Not your fault, Wam. What do you need from me?”
“We signed the version four security contract, so we’re responsible for adjudicating who smashed up the casino and threatened the hookers, then collecting damages.”
“That’s easy enough – the Mormons, right?”
“Yeah, we’ve got video. But we’re not actually set up as a security firm. We don’t have an investigator or a negotiator. There’s no process, Mike.”
Mike rubbed his eyes, then pinched the bridge of his nose. “You’re too polite to say it, are you?”
Wam held back a smile. “Say what?”
“Too polite to say that this idea of using the First to pick up a security gig was idiotic. That I got us in over our heads.”
Wam’s smile started to show. “I wouldn’t say idiotic…”
Mike waited for the other shoe to drop.
“…but I might be persuaded to say ‘not very well thought out’.”
Mike nodded. “Fair enough.”
“…or I might use the phrase ‘spreading yourself too thin’.”
“OK, I get it-”
“…or perhaps ‘a distraction when you should be’-”
Mike raised his hands and feigned warding off blows. “Stop kicking a man when he’s down. What do I have to do?”
“Watch this video, then go talk to Mark.”
On the screen the virtual camera first focused on the marchers coming down the street, banners high. The point of view kept retreating as the marchers advanced. Confused Chinese immigrants stepped out of the way. The sound slowly ramped up and the chants became louder.
Wam froze the video. “Here, on the left is Mark Soldner, LDS branch president -”
Mike sighed. “I know Mark.” He rubbed his eyes. “Oh, do I know Mark. Go on.”
“The facial recognition software has names for most of the others in the crowd, and the majority of them are all living in apartments owned by Soldner Apartments or in homes sold by Soldner Homes.”
Wam fast forwarded through twenty minutes of chanting and picketing. “And here the first rock gets thrown.” Then the crowd streaming inside and overturning poker tables. Wam paused the video. “I’ll give the Mormons one thing, they’re polite even as they’re busting the place up. Did you catch how they said ‘please’ when they asked the gamblers to step back from the tables?”
“OK, so now what?”
“You’ve got to negotiate with Mark directly.”
“It’s never simple, is it?” Mike sighed. “Can you arrange a sitdown with Mark?”
“Already set up. Three o’clock today, his place. Address is in your phone.”
2064, Soldner Apartments office, Aristillus, Lunar Nearside
Mike stepped into Mark Soldner’s office. Mark looked up from a stack of paperwork, saw Mike and smiled. “Give me just one second?”
Mike nodded and looked around. The place was nice – nicer than his own office, at least. Carpeting underfoot, a large walnut desk, three flags on the wall behind.
Mark signed the last sheet, and then stood up and extended a hand. “Sorry about that, Mike. Thanks for coming in.”
“I’ll get to the point – ”
“The casino issue.”
Mike nodded. “Exactly. We’re insuring them, and the damage you folks caused -”
“Mike, let me cut to the chase. You and I agree that initiating violence isn’t the right way to settle disputes, right?”
Mike blinked. Was Mark going to apologize and pay up that easily? “Right. So -”
Mark held up a finger. “This wasn’t our first protest – did you know that? We’ve been out there every Saturday for three months. But even after knowing how we feel – about our homes, about our community, they stayed in business.”
Mike’s face clouded and his hope that this was going to be easy disappeared. “That’s irrelevant, Mark.”
“No, it’s very relevant.”
“The point is that you destroyed someone else’s property.”
Mark shook his head. “We did a little damage, but it was symbolic. The important thing, though, is that we did it only after the casino started things.”
Mike narrowed his eyes. “Started things?”
“High Deseret was a decent neighborhood before the casino moved in -”
“Mark, this is a tangent. The casino said said you initiated the trouble, and as far as I can tell the video backs them up. Unless you’re going to suggest that the casino started the violence -”
“Absolutely I am. They ran a casino in an area where they weren’t wanted. That disrupted an entire neighborhood. It’s not physical damage, but the violence to the integrity of a community -”
Mark saw Mike rolling his eyes, and stopped. “Mike, I give up. I thought I could talk sense with you, make you understand where our families are coming from, but I see I can’t.”
“That’s right, you can’t.” He balled one fist. “So let’s get to the point: you owe damages. And you’re going to pay them.”
Mark’s eyes narrowed. “Mike, you don’t want me to pay up. What you really want is for your revolution to succeed.”
Mike stared at him. “What?”
“You’re disgusted with the false authority and socialism that’s been rising on Earth for the past few decades, and you want to start a new society. A new country. I’m in agreement with that. We’re allies here, Mike – with just a few tactical disagreements. And like all good allies, we can work out those disagreements.”
“What are you saying?”
“The war is here. We must hang together, gentlemen…else, we shall most assuredly hang separately. Do you know that quote?”
“Don’t be cute. What’s your point?”
“My point is that if you and I are in alliance, we can fight a Revolution, and maybe win it. But if we’re fighting each other over petty stuff like poker and prostitutes…then you and I are not in alliance.” Mark paused and looked Mike straight in the eye. “Let’s be brutally honest here. You need me more than I need you, Mike.”
Mark stood and stuck out his hand.
Mike looked at the proffered hand. “The cost of you helping out the Revolution is that I let you drive Leon’s Poker House out of business?”
Mark kept his hand out. “They don’t have to go out of business. They just have to move somewhere else.”
Mike stared at Mark’s extended hand. The revolution was probably doomed even with Mark’s help. But it was almost certainly doomed without it.
Mike hated himself for it, but he started to raise his own hand.
But if he compromised and sold out a small business, then what was he standing for? Freedom…as long as someone richer, someone more powerful didn’t want the infringe on it?
And what was he compromising? Not his own freedom. No. Someone else’s. Is that who he was? Someone who sold out the small fry and gave special privileges to political allies?
He felt his hand falter.
If he didn’t take this deal, he’d probably lose Mark from the Boardroom Group – and he might even have him defect entirely. The threat to negotiate a separate peace was unlikely – but not impossible.
And if Mark signed a separate peace, the revolution would fail, and he, Javier, Darcy – everyone – would end up dead or imprisoned.
He had to make this deal.
But what precedent did it set? If Mark had free rein to smash up any bar he didn’t like in his quest to build what he saw as a decent society, where did it end? Zoning? Minimum wages? Undesirable, but people could live with that. But would it end there? First one compromise, then another. How long until drug prohibition? How long until no-knock raids, email surveillance, confessions under torture, asset forfeiture?
Mike let his hand drop to his side.
“Mike, I’m not asking for much, just -”
“You’re asking for everything.”
Mike pulled out his phone and dialed. Wam answered on the second ring. “Wam, I need men outside Leon’s casino. No, not guards – I want a full fire team. Armed and armored. And cut a check to Leon for the damages; we’ll eat this one.”
He hung up.
Mark looked taken aback. “Mike, let me ask you to reconsider – the Revolution needs us.”
“Yeah, Mark, it does. But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to sell out someone else’s freedom.”
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