chapter 185: Boardroom Group meets after Darcy is rescued and Mike is missing

== 2064: Boardroom Group Headquarters in Tunnel 1,288, Aristillus, Lunar Nearside

Javier looked around the dim construction area. The puddle of illumination from the a few overhead work lights showed three ADF guards with rifles slung, a dozen vehicles, and a handful of modular construction offices in the middle of an otherwise empty, dark tunnel.

Someone dropped a wrench from one of the catwalks overhead and the sound of it hitting the floor echoed down the long shaft then disappeared.

Javier turned towards the blackness. He knew that there were blast-proof construction locks connecting this tunnel with other unfinished construction tunnels two kilometers back, but he couldn’t see anything. This small pool of light was the entire universe; the rest of city felt light years away.

Back in the bustle of the tunnels – eating sushi in a restaurant, watching an MMA bout in a crowded stadium, drinking coffee, pushing past crowds at a taco stand, walking in a park – it was easy to think of Aristillus as an entire world – as THE entire world.

But what was Aristillus, really?

Looking down the length of a desolate construction tunnel, peering into the blackness in either direction – that made it clear. Clear that everything they’d built – all their homes, their farms, their freedoms, their LIVES – was just a small ball of light and warmth, a few hundred kilometers of tunnels, in the middle of unlimited cold and dark.

It was fragile. More fragile than he cared to think about.

There was a disdainful sniff next to him and Javier turned to see Albert Lai. Albert was looking pointedly around at the trailers, the construction equipment, the piles of gravel. He didn’t look amused by their rough-and-tumble new quarters. Javier tried to shake off his own dark mood, put on a smile he didn’t feel and clapped Albert on the back. “Look on the bright side, Albert – now you don’t have to put up with the old furniture in Northern Logistics!”

Albert looked at Javier, his lips pinched. “Shall we go inside and get this meeting started?”

Not even a LITTLE amused.

Albert turned and headed for the portable offices and Javier followed him up the three stairs. Inside the room was bright – an antidote to the gloom outside. Javier scanned the table and did a double take. Darcy was sitting Mike’s seat at the table – and Mike’s assistant Wam sat next to her. Of course – she was out of the hospital. “Darcy! You looking wonderful!”

Darcy smiled shyly. “Thanks, Javier. Sorry it took me a little while to …” She trailed off.

“Don’t apologize.” He paused, pondering how much to say about her recovery after the ordeal of the escape. No, there were too many other people in the room. That was for another time – if at all. He smiled and repeated. “You looking wonderful.” He took a seat and looked for the gavel, then realized that she already had it. After all she’d been through, and she was ready not just to attend a meeting, but to lead one?

Darcy tapped the gavel lightly. “We’ve got a quorum, so we might as well do this officially.” There was still chatter, so she hit the gavel more loudly. Eyes turned to her and there was silence. “Let’s get this started. Matthew, you’ve got an update on tracking down Mike and the others that the snatch team grabbed?”

General Dewitt stood, his uniform the same as the men outside: jeans, gray shirt, a handful of patches. Was there some CNC patch company in Aristillus? Javier shook his head. Irrelevant. “Short version is that we’re at a dead end. The longer version is that we’ve got video of the snatch teams from hundreds of different cameras and we can dial the time-line back and see where they came from, but when we dial it forward we see them disappearing into a service tunnel that has no video.” He gestured at the wallscreen behind him and it obediently played the video.

Javier leaned forward. “You said this is from hundreds of cameras. Is that a Boardroom Group surveillance system?”

Dewitt said “I’ll hand that question to Kurt Balcom. Kurt?”

Kurt nodded. “The UI to dial time forward and back UI is something I hacked up, but the raw data is all from ViewSpace. Actually, I was working with them on this, and they’re going to release a similar feature soon.” He was clearly pleased that his idea was good enough that someone else had decided to commercialize it.

Mark frowned. “So, wait. This video came from Viewspace. That’s a private firm, right? Is there any chance that snatch team could be watching the same sort of video?”

Kurt nodded. “We have to assume so. Viewspace is a public-”

Now it was Karina Roth’s turn to frown. “Wait a second. Am I hearing that there’s a market in video surveillance inside Aristillus? If we can track the PK team, can they be tracking us, at this very moment? Do they know that we’re in this tunnel?”

Dewitt shook his head. “Even if the snatch teams have access the video, it can’t be used to track us to this location. You recall that when we abandoned the Northern Logistics site, we all suited up and went out on the surface, then came back in through another airlock -”

“That doesn’t help us if there is video -”

Dewitt held up a finger. “Hang on. There’s certainly video of us going into the airlock, but there are no cameras in the TBM re-racking yard outside, and no cameras in the in-progress tunnels. We also sent dozens of enclosed cargo skids in through locks which ARE covered by cameras. Even if they think to buy the footage there’s no way the snatch teams can know where we are.”

Mark Soldner leaned forward “We need to talk about the availability of this data. No, scratch that. We need to stop this from getting into the wrong hands.”

Kurt looked up. “Hey, wait a minute. I know it’s a cliche, but information wants to -”

Mark shook his head. “Kurt, this isn’t hacker manifesto play time. Lives are on the line.” He turned to Dewitt. “Even if we’re safe here, we have to stop ViewSpace from selling any more footage. Who knows what precautions we’re failing to take? Better to cut it off.”

Javier looked at Darcy to see her response. She was listening intently, but didn’t seem ready to object.

Dewitt said “Shutting down ViewSpace is a legislative decision, not a military one, so -”

Mark pressed on. “It’s both. The fact is that some of these markets are TOO open and free, and that’s going to hurt us militarily. We all agree that we need less regulation and less government – that’s why we’re around this table – but it’s impossible to have a civilization where people can buy and sell anything to anyone. Especially in a wartime situation.”

Javier looked at Darcy again. If Mike was here, he knew, there’d be desk pounding and swearing. Javier smiled sadly at that. For all he’d lectured Mike, time and again, about reigning it in, now that it was gone he missed it. He’d do anything to have Mike here, safe and secure.

But Darcy wasn’t Mike. She wasn’t fist pounding or swearing – but she also wasn’t objecting at all. Was she still tired from her ordeal? Or perhaps she just didn’t understand the dynamic he and Mike had forged, where Mike played the angry cop and Javier the good?

Hmm. No matter what the reason, Darcy wasn’t stepping forward. And Kurt, for all his defense of free speech, was seen as a joke by most of the people around the table – a techie and a nerd, not a real business leader like the rest of them.

So. It was up to him.

Javier raised his chin. Mark saw it, finished his speech and turned to Javier.

“Mark, like you I disagree with Mike from time to time on how little government we can get away with. We’ve had many conversations where he has called me a ‘wishy-washy-libertarian’.” Javier smiled, inviting Mark to perceive him as a moderate. “But I want to make three points. First, we have already concluded that the video data is incapable of helping the PK forces if we take reasonable precautions.”

“Reasonable precautions? Those are some pretty big hoops we have to jump through. Why should we have to do that, in our own city?”

Javier ignored the question. “Second, of all the rights that Mike was passionate about, he was most ferocious about the right to trade, the right to speak, and the right to own guns. Now, this current issue does not address firearms, but it does speak to the other two. We can’t put controls in place to stop information from being shared or sold with out impacting both the right to communicate and the right to trade. Mike and I argue about this – and we WILL argue about it again, when he’s freed – but as long as Mike is being held by enemy forces, I’m not going to turn my back on his principles. I owe him that.” Javier looked at Darcy out of the corner of his eye. He was trying to use Mike’s name to rally the other CEOs – and to rally her. Was it working?

It was unclear. She still looked worn and tired.

Mark, at least, didn’t object to the point.

“And, finally, third: any regulation we might propose would be ineffective. We can not wave a wand and stop the data from being sold.”

“You’re giving the old libertarian argument that outlawing a market just drives it underground, but -”

Javier shook his head. “No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying that we don’t have the legal authority to do it. We’re not a government!” It needed to be said, but the role of firebrand was uncomfortable on his shoulders. He looked again to Darcy, but there was nothing in her eyes.

Mark leaned forward. “Javier, with all due respect, you assert that these rules can’t work, and you assert that the population doesn’t want laws, but these laws CAN work, and the population DOES want laws – good laws. People hate bad laws and bad leaders, but they cry out for just laws and good leadership. The Revolution is the perfect time to establish precedents for -”

Rob Wehrmann cleared his throat and bellowed “Jesus Fuck, you people are killing me with all this philosophy. Can we just vote, or something?”

Javier blinked. “This – this LEGISLATION is beyond the scope of the Boardroom Group. The populace hasn’t given us the power to vote on laws -”

Mark raised his hand “I second Rob’s motion.”

Darcy started to say something. Javier turned to her – and watched her fall silent. Wam, next to her, shook his head. “I’m sitting in for Mike, and -”

Karina objected. “Technically, Darcy is -”

Wam spoke over her “And Mike wouldn’t allow this.”

Rob Wehrmann cut him off “Why are we still talking? We’ve got a call for a vote and it’s been seconded. So let’s vote. I vote we shut it down.”

Mark nodded. “Shut them down.”

Karin Roth interrupted him. “Agreed – shut them down.”

Javier opened his mouth but Albert spoke first. “Too militarily risky. Shut them down.”

In just seconds it was done – 14 to 3.

General Dewitt nodded. “I’ll instruct troops to shut down ViewSpace under the orders of the Board.”

Javier shook his head. This never would have happened if Mike had been here. He turned and looked at Darcy. He’d been right – she really wasn’t OK.

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