The Assembly of Peers, 05/06/2398
His steps were deliberate as he moved to the center of the Assembly Hall. His back was straight, his gaze steady. The massive chamber was arranged in tiers of seven concentric circles where the Peers of the Commonwealth were seated. He was supremely aware of their eyes upon him. Beyond those assembled in the chamber, billions more would watch the simulcast. He was now not only Quentin Asverald, the Principal of Feroxis IV, he was the Speaker of the Assembly, the highest representative of the Martian Commonwealth.
This was his moment, and he had left nothing to chance. Every slight movement of his entrance had been carefully choreographed by a team of political consultants and implemented by engineers. To carry himself with impeccable poise and posture was simply the first of his duties.
Sitting in the innermost ring was a privilege. Such positions were reserved for the most powerful people in the Commonwealth, the chairs of the various organs of the Assembly. Most maintained an air of impassivity, but Asverald noticed a wry smile on the child-face of Orla Isjanar. The chair of the Security Council had been one of his greatest supporters throughout his campaign for Speaker, and they exchanged a small nod in tacit acknowledgement of their shared victory. He knew that in a small back room somewhere his team must be sharing a panicked gasp at the unplanned movement.
As Asverald stepped onto the elevated platform in the center of the chamber, he lifted his hand towards the cameras. This was the culmination of his triumph, and he had to repress an urge to gloat. The small motors in his cybernetic prosthesis made for a perfect gesture, neither too formal, nor too boastful. After allowing for a moment of silence, he spread his hands to begin his address.
“My dear Principals. My dear Peers of the Commonwealth.”
His voice was a natural baritone, finely calibrated via his vocal implants.
“I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for the support you have shown my platform, for the respect and commitment you have demonstrated towards the principles of the Commonwealth, and for the trust you have invested in me. It is my honour to facilitate the business of this Assembly for the coming year.”
A smattering of applause followed this statement, enough to satisfy the requirements of courtesy, but not so much as to disturb the air of settled decency in the chamber. The business of the Assembly was always clad in a veneer of timeless decorum.
“As we are all aware, these are challenging times for the Commonwealth, as well as for each of our sovereign states. Once again, the threat of totalitarian rule has risen throughout the galaxy.
“It has been less than three years since the Solar Fleet rose up against the Lunar Directorate in the name of ‘Freedom’ and ‘Justice’. Like many of you, I hoped we might foster a new era of cooperation with the Terrans, but it seems the Union of Sol was never truly committed to the concept of peaceful coexistence. Instead they promote another form of tyranny: under a banner of ‘equality’ they give way to the rule of the majoritarian mob!”
He allowed a small pause for the words to sink in. His cybernetic eyes gauged the reaction of the crowd. One small face in particular stood out: a dark haired youth in a formal red suit and tie. Esra Desynis, chair of the Markets and Trade Council. Asverald’s main rival during the election had promoted a policy of passive disengagement, betting that Sol and Luna would destroy each other. Desynis’ face betrayed no emotions.
“Worse still,” Asverald continued. “They are hypocrites by nature. If they truly trusted in the ‘will of the people’, why would they need the threat of military force to back up their claims of galactic freedom? If they believed in the allure of ‘universal values’, why would they need to coerce colonies into accepting them?”
He was enjoying this. The gap between the idealism of the Terrans and their practical necessities was low-hanging fruit, but it was time to move on. His tone became darker, more serious still.
“But not only did the Union of Sol fail in achieving its ideals, it even failed to rid the galaxy of its greatest threat. I am speaking of course of the Lunar Directorate.”
His hands formed fists. The subdermal implants caused his facial muscles to tighten. This was the red meat of the speech, and he was well aware of its affect on his audience.
“The Lunar Directorate stands as the greatest tyranny in human history. 252 years ago, by Martian blood, the Commonwealth was founded to combat Lunar overreach. Through sacrifice we gained our independence. And afterwards, we offered peace and cooperated in good faith.
“Martian contributions built the Dyson Sphere as much as Lunar technology. No less than them did we turn explorers of the cosmos. We traded with them. We shared economic and political benefits. But it was never enough. And in our time they have shown their true hand. The only law they accept is Lunar law. The only justice they recognize is that fashioned in Lunar courts. The only history they accept is that written by Lunar authorities.”
He released a controlled breath, as if to collect his thoughts. A pre-programmed gesture, all part of the play.
“And why?” A small pause, his tone dripping with sarcasm. “Because they know best, that’s why. Because the Directorate has all the answers. Or maybe their AI has divined those answers for them. They treat humanity like physics: nothing more than a complicated problem with a single, elegant solution.”
The supplementary optical implants above his eyes moved together as he furrowed his brows.
“An elegant solution, if you just strike out everything that doesn’t fit.”
Spreading his arms, he turned, embracing each section of the assembly equally, his timing coordinated down to the microsecond.
“In that, the Union and the Directorate are just the same. They lay claim to some universal and eternal truth, some overriding paradigm that can never be questioned or challenged. In short: ideological totalitarianism!
“This is what our ancestors, and indeed some of you in this very room, have fought against. Once again we must stand against the zealots and tyrants of this universe. What I promised in my campaign, I affirm today: I will work tirelessly to keep the Commonwealth secure and to protect the rights of sovereign states under our banner.”
To this point, he had been on solid ground, attacking the enemies of the Commonwealth. From now on the speech became a balancing act. All the careful planning had led to this. The corset of scripted lines and choreographed gestures would prove its value; without them, he might have hesitated or balked. Instead, his cybernetic eyes located the empty seat reserved for Gwayn Erebus. But the Peer and board member of the Mars Prosper League was not present. Perhaps in anticipation.
“The coming conflict will once more demand sacrifice. This Assembly will hold each of us accountable to our duties under the Charter, and indeed, punish those among us who seek to hide behind the ‘neutrality’ of the MPL.”
A faint ripple passed through the audience. That the interests of the Commonwealth could diverge from those of the MPL was unfathomable to some. It was an affront, but a calculated one. Asverald had already secured the support he needed inside the chamber.
He raised his arms slightly, angling his chin upwards, speaking directly into the chamber and simulcast drones.
“To the Peers of the Assembly, to the people of the Commonwealth, I make this solemn promise: we stand against those extremists who seek to impose their political agenda upon the universe. The Commonwealth protects the rights and self-determination guaranteed to its members under the Charter of Mars!”