Verge of History: Republic of Xanadu
by Jim Carnicelli
Ryan looked around the cabin. He wanted to make sure nobody watched as he adjusted his pants against the tight safety harness. The initial burn as their aging Stratolaunch SL210 dropped from the launch jet around 10km up had of course thrown everyone back in their seats. But now that they were well above the atmosphere Ryan could feel the thigh straps of his harness pinching in an equally unpleasant way. You wouldn’t think that would happen in the zero G environment of a rendezvous orbit.
This was the first time Ryan Yokoyama had ever been to outer space. It was also threatening to become the first time he vomited in outer space.
The video that had started as they taxied for takeoff was still playing on the seat in front of him. There were no windows for passengers in the shuttle. So the main part of the video was a live feed cycling through several cameras showing Earth receding and the void against shiny portions of the hull outside that Ryan couldn’t really identify. But the top of the display featured a canned video talking about the history of the Xanadu orbital hotel. How many thousands of people had watched this same vid before him?
Very little was happening outside. And the deafening sounds of the long flight up and the short rocket launch were gone now. The canned video seemed finally worth paying attention to. Like most of the other 14 passengers Ryan knew the basic history of Xanadu. It had opened up in 2030 with its first hab module. Constraints on the early Stratolaunch shuttles and the rushed deployment of that first hab module meant they could only host 8 passengers at a time for a few days each. And each passenger had to cough up 250 thousand bucks for the opportunity to get there.
It sounds like the ultimate scam. Right? The marketing strategy was brilliant though. They opened up to the inaugural passenger flight on the 50th anniversary of the 1980 Xanadu film. They also helped bankroll a reboot of the film featuring an over the top exaggerated version of the Xanadu hotel. Everyone knew the real place wasn’t going to be as big and luxurious as the film suggested. But it generated so much excitement. Truly brilliant at the time.
But that was then. This was nearly sixteen years later. Xanadu gets credit for being the first viable orbital hotel for a regular stream of guests. A ticket would now cost about nine grand. About the same as a visit to one of a dozen other discount orbitals. Newer ones that were stealing much of Xanadu’s limelight at this point.
Nine thousand bucks was not chump change for Ryan. He had dreamed of going into outer space since he was a child. But this was still not an affordable dream worth indulging just yet. Only a gracious invitation and a free ticket by the founder and CEO of Spaceluxe made it possible for him to be aboard this flight today. Greg Atkins had been one of Ryan’s best childhood friends. They grew apart and really didn’t keep in touch after Greg’s family moved to a different state before their senior year of high school. Greg had achieved fortune along the way. And then international fame thanks to Xanadu, the biggest gamble of his life. Meanwhile Ryan was still designing circuit boards for commercial washing machines at 56. He had no idea why Greg even remembered him. Let alone why he had paid for this little vacation.
Whatever the reason, Ryan was happy. After nearly two years since his wife’s tragic death he was starting to feel something like normal again. This was the first real vacation he had taken in a while. Thankfully his children had gotten solid educations and were off to a good start in their own adult lives too. The main video feed showed how far the shuttle was above the faded ground below for a moment. So far away. And three weeks away from returning to that distant life. Ryan sighed and quietly chuckled. “Yeah. I needed this,” he thought to himself.
He looked forward to getting settled in and finally getting some time to talk more with some of his fellow passengers. And the others already at Xanadu. There usually were 45 guests aboard at a time. 15 would arrive each week and 15 would take that shuttle back to Earth. And there were up to 10 crew members to serve them. No doubt the people who had been there two weeks already would have interesting stories to share. Ryan was usually a bit of a hermit. But a crowded orbital was not going to be the place to be hermity. Ryan was ready to switch gears for a while. They’d be docking very soon.
“Greg! You’re here. I had no idea.” Ryan was one of the last to enter the hatch from the shuttle. Here just inside the airlock he reached out to shake his old friend’s hand.
Greg pulled him away from the bar he was holding onto and into a hug. “Hey old friend,” he replied. “I wanted it to be a surprise. I thought for sure you’d have guessed.”
“Heck no. It really is a surprise. A good one. It’s great to see you. The one and only.”
“Oh. Stop it. Don’t do that to me. You’re my friend. Come on in and settle in. I’ve got a few things to attend to. And then I want to share a drink and catch up. Go on in. Eh?”
Ryan chuckled. “You bet. And hey. Thank you so much for this. I’ve wanted to come here for a long time. I’m just glad you’re here too. So I can thank you. And I’m repeating myself. Okay. Go do whatever. I’ll look forward to that drink.” Ryan chuckled again and awkwardly moved himself along the hand-holds and into the large capsular entry space. His fellow passengers were already being guided along a rope to the other end of the capsule by crew. Many other guests were already floating near the outer walls of the capsule enjoying their stays and watching the newcomers. Some were saying their goodbyes as they waited for the exchange of baggage and supplies through the airlock before boarding.
Ryan already knew that Xanadu had five more inflated capsules all the same size as this one. They were attached like spokes to a small central hub that enabled access to the other capsules. Being an engineer he was intrigued to see the ingenious way they had packed each capsule into a tight cylinder for its own rocket launch. And then slowly expanded it to its full 10 meter long and 6 meter diameter size. From the outside the capsules looked like they were shrouded in ugly comforters shamelessly emblazoned with the Xanadu branding. He wondered how they had ever gotten permission to attach a nuclear thermal battery pack to the long boom extending down from the hub. Ryan knew these were typically forbidden on satellites because of the risk to people on Earth when they finally decayed out of orbit. But this meant Xanadu had a decent secondary power supply that was good for maybe another decade. And didn’t need such a large array of solar panels as most of the newer stations had. It’s true that those other stations had gotten creative in arranging them to look more appealing. But they still tended to obscure the views of guests for various reasons.
Not that Xanadu offered stellar views. The only windows could be found at either end of each capsule. At one end you could see the hub and other attached capsules outside through the six small windows ringing the airlock hatch there. At the other unattached end there was a larger hexagonal porthole surrounded by the same six smaller windows in a metal frame. This bubble of windows gave one a little taste of what it might feel like being outside the hab. Ryan took his turn for a few seconds with his head poked into the turret to look around as the others settled into their fabric-walled quarters in this capsule. He decided he’d be back later when there were fewer people. He was sure he’d be happy just staring out this window for a long time.
Ryan settled into his place against the floor. He sat cross-legged, pulling down on the fabric strap loop attached to it between his legs. All around the open play space capsule were others similarly settled in against the curved walls. He looked straight up and smiled at the people sitting upside-down from his perspective on the other side of the tube.
Everyone had been called in a few minutes ago for an announcement from the CEO of Spaceluxe. The normally large open space was now crowded and felt smaller. A blower somewhere was working hard to circulate fresh air into the capsule as it got warmer from the many people assembled.
A few more people came out of the hub and took handholds near the open hatch. Finally Greg emerged. He paused a moment to get a comfortable grip on the padded metal handholds around the hatch. He smiled broadly and waved to the crowd. All conversation stopped. Only the air blower kept up its fussing.
“Hey everyone. My name is Greg Atkins. I want to welcome all of you to Xanadu. I know some of you have already been here for up to three weeks now. I’m sure you’re at least a little eager to get out on your way home. So I appreciate your patience. I asked the shuttle crew to hold off for a few more minutes so I could address everyone. Today’s a very special day for me. And I’d like to think it’s also a very special day for all of us.
“This isn’t the first time I’ve visited my own hotel. Of course. But today marks the first day I call Xanadu home. From now on this is where I live. But it’s more than that. Because today is also the first day we declare our independence. Today marks the birth of a new nation. Today marks the inauguration of the Republic of Xanadu.” Greg smiled and paused long enough to savor the silently palpable surprise around the room.
“The Republic of Xanadu isn’t just a new nation though. It’s also the very first solar nation to be founded outside of Earth. Let that sink in for a moment. Every other nation that has ever existed before today has been down on the planet below us. No more. This is just the beginning. I’ve got big plans for the future. And so do others who think like we do.
“And we’ve got our work cut out for us. There are many people who have said they’d love the opportunity to join us up here. But for now Xanadu is still a working hotel. So only a few of us can practically live up here full time. I’d like to introduce you to Soraya Morales-Hackenson, general legal counsel of Spaceluxe.” Greg waved an outstretched hand in Soraya’s direction. “And to Mahal Sarvida, Spaceluxe’s CIO. They’ll continue in their roles from up here. My wife Rose has also moved in. So has Mahal’s husband Sumeet. These are the first citizens of Xanadu. There will be more very soon.
“We are happy to have you all as the very first guests of the Republic of Xanadu. If you’re worried then don’t sweat it. Nothing is changing for your itineraries. All are welcome to come and go as you do now. Tourism is obviously our primary industry for now. I want you all to celebrate and enjoy yourselves. We’ll be throwing a special party in a few hours. I apologize to those of you leaving because you’re going to miss out. But I’m glad you could stay at least for this unique announcement.
“Now I know some of you are going to have questions. And just so you know. The whole world is watching. Our friends in the media are no doubt full of questions for us too. I’m sorry we won’t be answering them right now. Please give us a little time today to get things in order. And then we’ll be out for tonight’s party. And we’ll be doing several Q&A sessions over the next few days too. In the meantime please go back to settling in and enjoying yourselves.
“It’s a great time to be alive. I’m glad you could be here with me at the start of something amazing. We’ll be back shortly folks.”
Greg waved to the crowd. After a moment the silence was broken by sudden applause. People did whatever they could to clap. Some had to let go of the straps and ropes they held on to. And they started floating around to fill the space as Greg and his new fellow nationals left.
A staffer floated up to Ryan and spoke in his ear over the growing din. “Mister Atkins would like to invite you to join him in the staff quarters.”
“What? Now? Okay.”
“Do you know where to go? Would you like an escort?”
“No. That’s fine. I think I know where it is. Thanks for the message.”
Ryan pushed off toward the rope running down the center of the capsule. He grabbed it and slowly wended his way to the hatch leading into the hub. The hub wasn’t very large. The few people moving among the six hatchways leading to the various capsules were already crowding it. One staffer had stationed himself in front of a closed hatch labeled “Staff only”. He was encouraging people to not loiter in the hub to keep things flowing. He saw Ryan approaching and said, “Ryan?” Ryan nodded and the staffer opened the hatch for him.
Ryan was glad for the relative quiet as the hatch closed behind him.
The crew quarters were decidedly more cramped than those for guests. There were many bags and containers lashed together crowding the entryway and attached to the walls. Ryan worked his way through the tight corridor through the center of the tangle. Toward the sounds of conversation at the other end of this capsule. A couple of the regular staff greeted him from their open fabric cubicle doors.
At the end of the corridor was a circular fabric wall sectioning off maybe the last third of the capsule into a conference room. Ryan stopped himself partway through the small circular doorway cut through the middle. A long steel table was suspended in the middle of the largely empty conference room by cables anchored above and below the table to the cylindrical outer wall. A couple of laptops, some water bottles, and other objects were magnetically attached to the steel table top. Greg and his VPs sat on one side of the table. “Sat” isn’t exactly the word for it though. On each side of the table were three parallel padded bars that stretched from one end to the other like picnic table benches. Each person at the table had their bellies up against the top bar. Their thighs were bent forward and fitted between the first two bars. And their knees were bent around the middle bar so the fronts of their ankles caught the lowest bar. Straightening their knees braced each person in place as securely as sitting on a bench would under gravity.
All three turned to Ryan. Greg said, “Oh hey Ryan. Come on in. Please. Sit and relax.”
Ryan chuckled nervously. “Yes sir Mister President.”
“What? Oh God. You know. Just ‘Greg’ is fine. Let’s not get formal.”
Soraya waved Ryan toward the table. “Come on over. It’s nice to meet you Ryan. Greg was just telling us a little about you.”
Mahal greeted Ryan as well. But she quickly turned back to the open laptop she had been furiously typing on as he entered. “I’m sorry people. Help desk is having a minor meltdown now. I’m almost done getting it sorted.”
“No worries there. Do your thing.” Greg turned to Ryan. “All settled in now? What do you think so far?”
Ryan floated over to the opposite side of the table from the three. It could apparently accommodate six people. Maybe eight if they sat cheek to cheek. Ryan awkwardly poked his legs through and tried to figure out how to settle in like the others had so naturally done. It was nice to have his hands completely freed up. He shook hands with Soraya and Mahal now that they were in reach. “It’s a pleasure meeting you guys too. And yeah. I got myself settled in.”
Greg had always been a caricature of himself. His signature mutton chops and flopped crew cut had helped reinvigorate a revival of his age-of-exploration look. Young men around the world wanted to be like Ryan. At 55 he still looked dashing as ever with his boxy Scotsman head and wide chin cleft. And even in zero gravity here his six-foot-three frame towered over his shorter companions.
Soraya struck Ryan as a proud latin matriarch. Her lawyerly stern poker face studied his as though scanning for his critical weakness. Her upturned pony tail wagged from behind her head as she turned. It was the only mark of whimsy on this solemnly dignified statue.
Mahal was obviously the young one in the room. Ryan imagined she was in her early thirties. He found her dark Indian features alluring despite her intense focus on the laptop magnetically stuck to the table before her. She keyed and trackpadded furiously and her bright eyes chased whatever was on the screen. Her mouth silently read off things whenever she paused in her typing. A single “damnit” was the only audible thing to escape her lips as she did.
Ryan continued. “I’ve seen this place so many times over the years. So it’s surprising how different it looks and feels being here. Oh. Hey. I tried out your VR app a few years back. I bet that helped drum up some more business.”
Mahal paused in her work and chuckled. “The first release was a nightmare. I hope you tried it out after we patched it.”
“Oh! Yeah. I didn’t have any problems with it. It was great.”
“Good. Thanks.” She smiled warmly and returned to her laptop. “Almost done guys.”
Ryan turned to Greg. “So. I take it it’s not a coincidence I’m here now. This is big news. So what’s up? I mean why’d you invite me here for it?”
Greg looked at his companions and back at Ryan with surprise. “Geez. Isn’t it obvious?”
“Man. I’m here because of you buddy!”
“Yeah. Yeah. You were the one who turned me on to space stuff when we were kids.”
Ryan recalled a few discussions where he regaled Greg with whatever he was currently reading about in this or that pop science magazine or sci fi novel. He smiled and nodded to himself.
Greg said, “Yeah man. I mean I didn’t start out my career doing space stuff. Of course. But once I had the capital saved up I was like a racehorse waiting for the starting gun.”
“Really? Wow. Well. I’m glad I inspired you. I had no idea. You’re the inspiring one.”
“Hey. It’s gotta start somewhere. Right?”
“Okay. So Spaceluxe. But what about this Xanadu republic thing? Me?”
“I get my inspirations from many muses Ryan. But you were definitely an early one. Always talking about these crazy social experiments with people starting little countries. Remember Sealand buddy?”
Ryan laughed and slowly nodded. The Principality of Sealand was a micronation founded on an abandoned air defense platform built during WWII twelve kilometers off the coast of Suffolk England to intercept incoming bombers. Sealand was never taken seriously as a sovereign nation.
“You said you thought that this wasn’t going to amount to a hill of beans until we got out in space.” Greg spread his arms wide with care to avoid hitting his VPs. “Well. Here we are. I think it’s time. Don’t you?”
“Yeah. And here you are doing it. I think this is great. And thank you for inviting me here to witness the start of it too.”
Mahal closed her laptop’s lid and sighed the relief of being done with a frustrating task. She smiled at Ryan. “Sumeet warned me that I wasn’t really going to get away from all the headaches just by leaving the planet.” She rolled her eyes. “So true.”
Greg looked back toward Ryan. “I’m glad you accepted my offer. Truth is that’s not the only reason I invited you up here though.” He leaned in a little more. “I’m toying with an idea buddy. How would you like to join us? I mean. Go home and get stuff in order and all. But maybe move up here to live full time in Xanadu with us.” He saw Ryan’s dumbstruck look and leaned back. “I know. I know. You just got here. I mean take some time to enjoy your stay and all. I think you’re going to like it here.
“I know you lost your wife a couple years ago. I’m so sorry about that too Ryan. But your kids moved out. You’re on your own.”
“I still have a job Greg.”
“Yeah. I know. I don’t know how you feel about it. But you can quit and come work for us.”
“I’m an electrical engineer. I design control systems for home appliances. I imagine I could do much more interesting work for Spaceluxe than I’m doing now. But I’m not sure I’d do so well working from a laptop like that up here.”
“No no. I get you. But I’m not thinking about your engineering work. I bet we could use that somehow too. But I mean more as an advisor. A cabinet position in my administration. The republic not the hotel.”
“Oh!” Ryan chuckled and shook his head in surprise and amusement. “I mean …” He couldn’t think of what else to say. “Man. I want to know what you mean. What you want me to do. And I need some time. Do I have to decide right now? ‘Cause I’m not ready to.”
“No no! That’s cool. Don’t worry about it. I know you’re loaded with questions. And the truth is I still don’t know exactly what this advisory position would involve. I’ve just learned that success hingest more on the people you work with than on what their titles are. I hired Soraya and Mahal here after going through a lot of disappointments. They are the best at what they do. Bar none. I knew I had to have them up here for this project too. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have at my side.
“And you’re like that too. I know it’s been a long time since we hung out. But I still feel like I know you better than I know most people. And something tells me you’ll be the perfect addition to my team. Look. Some of it is that I need someone outside my company. You’re that perfect combination of outsider and guy I know and trust.
“So don’t answer now. I know you need some time. If you have some immediate questions go ahead and ask. But we also have our first public interview about this coming up in 10 minutes. So make it quick.”
Ryan threw up his hands. His mouth was agape. “I don’t know where to begin. My head is spinning guys. Go ahead and get ready for your interview. I need to do some thinking. I’ll put together a list of questions or something. Can we talk more today or something?”
“Perfect. I think we’re going to be slammed all day. We’ll see you at the party tonight though. And we’ll talk some more tomorrow I’m sure.
“Soraya. Can you email Ryan the prelims we talked about?” He turned back to Ryan. “Nondisclosure and some other legal stuff. Just take a look and tell me it’s all kosher.”
“Okay. Sounds good.” Ryan untangled his legs from the padded bars under the table. He shook everyone’s hand again and smiled. “Thanks for thinking of me guys. I don’t know what to say. I’m excited though. We’ll talk more soon. I’ll read whatever you send in the lounge. I saw some terminals there.”
“Ask Michael for a pad. He’s the guy outside the door.”
“Gotcha. That sounds better.” With that Ryan made his way toward the hatch back into the hub.
Ryan managed to find some quiet within the fabric walls of his tiny room. He was logging into his personal email on the borrowed tablet to catch up and start reading the legal documents Soraya said she’d send. They hadn’t arrived yet though. So he decided to catch the rest of the live broadcast of Greg’s interview with Brenda Clark, one of the BBC’s most popular talk show hosts. She was on Earth of course. But the video feeds were spliced together perfectly to create the illusion that the two were in the same room. Greg appeared to still be at his conference table. But the backdrop and table were digitally replaced with the synthetic environment both seemed to occupy. This normally worked very well for interviews like this. But Greg’s fluid motions here in zero G were at odds with Brenda’s gravity-bound movements. He was even playing with a water bottle that floated between his hands in mid air.
Ryan had apparently missed the first five minutes of the stream. He decided not to rewind to the beginning though. Brenda continued. “So now where do you see this going next? Will you be setting up embassies in other countries soon?”
Greg chuckled. “I think you’re getting a little ahead of us Brenda. We’re just getting started. We’ve been quietly negotiating with various governments for months now. We want to establish normalized relations. And we’re extending the invitation to ambassadors and heads of state to come visit Xanadu at their convenience.”
“Have any of them accepted your invitation? Which governments have you reached out to? Is the United Kingdom on your list yet?”
Greg laughed. “All in good time. Please be patient. We’re not a large nation yet. Baby steps Brenda. And for now I think it’s best that we respect the privacy of our negotiating partners.”
“Okay then. Keeping your secrets I see. Well. Maybe you can tell us a little more about why you’re doing this. Why a country in space? Your announcement isn’t even two hours old and already some are starting to speculate that this is merely a publicity stunt. With so much competition for the orbital hotel business now. What do you say to them?”
“Well.” Greg smiled and nodded. “Don’t worry about Spaceluxe. Or the Xanadu hotel. We rarely have a single empty guest room. We’re usually booked solid over six months out. And when the rare passenger has to cancel there’s almost always someone on the standby list to go up earlier. The orbital business is booming. There’s plenty of business for our colleagues. This just means more great options for vacationers. We’re doing fine.
“No. This isn’t about money Brenda. This is about fulfilling another lifelong dream. As a kid I used to watch movies and TV shows about swashbuckling space adventurers. Many of them featured colonies set up on the different worlds people visited. Call me crazy. But I dreamed one day I might be able to break new ground on some wild new planet.”
“Is that what Xanadu is?”
“Well. I know I like to dream big. And sometimes I talk big. But of course this isn’t exactly a new planet. And we’re not so far from Earth that you need warp drive to come visit us.
“We’ve got a long way to go before humans are living throughout our solar system. And longer still before we go out to the stars.”
“Do you plan to go that far someday?”
“Heh. I don’t think I’ll get anywhere near that far. I know I look like a spring chicken. But don’t make me admit my age.”
Brenda laughed. “I won’t ask if you won’t.”
“Fair enough. But yeah. It’s a start. You know. Can you believe it’s been — what — seventy-something years now since humans first landed on the moon? Sure some people are now basically living in space for up to a few years at a time. But isn’t it time we start taking this more seriously? Isn’t it time we start thinking of ourselves as a space faring people? This is new territory Brenda. It’s time we start staking our claims and moving in for good.”
“So does this mean you plan to stake claims elsewhere? On the moon perhaps? Or Mars maybe.”
“Me? Not just yet. We’re starting small. The important concept here is that property isn’t always on the ground. Some people live most of their lives aboard boats. There are more than a few artificial islands too. Some of their owners have made serious claims to being independent nations. Just like we’re doing up here.
“See. Here’s the thing. It’s not what you stand on that matters. It’s what you do with what you stand on that matters.”
“I had another question. But you’ve got me very curious with that last one. Can you explain?”
“We’re doing something out here Brenda. We’ve got a successful hotel business. And now Xanadu is essentially serving as Spaceluxe’s headquarters. Three of its principals are living and working here permanently from now on. We also have some other plans to expand our offerings right here.”
“The Internet is buzzing with rumors that you are planning to add more modules to Xanadu so you can have more guests visiting.”
“Yeah that. Well. I guess I’ll let the cat out of the bag officially here then. Yes. We’re going to be expanding Xanadu. Some observant fans have noticed that the central hub has one more expansion hatch at its ‘top’. We’ll be attaching a second hub to it via a connecting tunnel. That’ll allow us to add at least six more habs. The current generation of Falcon Titans can lift even larger hab sections than we already have. So without going into the nerdy details. Yes. I can confirm that we’re expanding. Great things are coming.”
“Wow. You heard it here first folks. Any other cats you’d like to let out of your bag of secrets Greg?”
“One cat at a time Brenda.”
“Fair enough then. And I suppose they’re difficult to juggle in space anyway.”
Greg chuckled and nodded.
Brenda switched gears. “Now Greg. I’m sure by now you’ve heard the allegations from one of your former employees of sexual harassment from her supervisor. We’ve all seen the official response from your public relations department. But we’ve all just been dying to hear from you directly. Have you spoken directly with the alleged victim to issue an apology? Will you be …”
Ryan paused the stream and sighed. He realized that Ms. Clark would be spending the remaining twenty minutes hammering Greg on salacious bilge. This inconsequential story had been the unending buzz surrounding Xanadu for the past several weeks in the popular media. Here Clark had the golden opportunity to be the first to hear directly from the founder of Spaceluxe. The founder of a new country. To hear his motives. His plans. The very things Ryan was interested in hearing. And surely everyone else watching was too.
Or maybe not. This was exactly this sort of muck that Brenda Clark loved to rake. And what her fans really tuned in for. Ryan again considered canceling his subscription to the BBC’s premium streaming service. He closed the browser tab and returned to his email inbox. Cleaning out the accumulated junk mail seemed a better use of his time than watching his friend get smeared.
And is that what Ryan would face as a party to Greg’s newest fantasy? Would he be hounded with the latest controversies drummed up by the media to keep things spicy? Would they care what he had to say about anything? Would Greg? What did Greg even want Ryan to consult on? If only Brenda had asked Greg that. “Exactly what role will your newest cabinet member Ryan Yokoyama fill? And can you guarantee him a corner office in a round station with no corners?” Only the hard-hitting questions.
Now that the departing group had left the station felt significantly more spacious. It also helped that many guests were also resting up after the morning’s excitement. In part in preparing for the party that Greg had announced they would be having at 20:00 XTC. Most launches for Xanadu originated out of Stratolaunch’s private airstrip in Florida’s Palm Beach County’s inland farm country. So today “Xanadu Time Coordinated” was rolled out as Xanadu’s defiant rebranding of the Eastern time zone. And the use of the 24-hour clock was less confusing on a station whose physical day/night cycle was about 90 minutes.
It was still 16:24 XTC. But Ryan had no intention of taking a nap. The others who like Ryan were still excitedly enjoying their first day aboard were mostly absent from the guest quarters here in this particular capsule. Ryan overheard some of the other passengers talking quietly in their fabric cubicle rooms. And he could hear at least one couple trying to be quiet about having sex nearby.
Ryan took the opportunity to monopolize the window at the far end of this capsule. There were various padded metal bars around it for use as handholds. After a minute of settling in Ryan realized it was really only necessary to rest one hand on one of them to keep himself steady. He looked down on his home planet passing into nighttime below. Ever the engineering geek he mused at their magnificent velocity. Here he was free-falling down toward Earth just as fast as a hammer would drop on his foot back home. Yet he was flying out on a tangent away from Earth so fast that it perfectly countered his downward fall. Ryan was a satellite in orbit. Thankfully Xanadu just happened to be in the same orbit as Ryan. He practiced the tricky operation of docking and undocking with Xanadu at 17,000 miles per hour with his fingertips.
A little later Ryan was running laps around the cylinder of the play-space capsule. He ran in a spiral out from the hub end to the far end and then in another spiral back toward the hub. He couldn’t help but laugh as he stumbled and tried his best to avoid running into the children who were running in the same crossing spirals and squealing with delight. He reached out a hand to one who was stranded floating just above the “floor” and set her running again. The outer walls that were also the floor felt a little like the bouncy castles of Ryan’s youth. He wondered what it would be like if this space were filled with thousands of colorful little balls to run through. Could he practically propel himself just by snatching them from the air and throwing them like rocket exhaust? He bapped at the few beach balls floating about to send them sailing.
Ryan hadn’t felt so much like a kid in years. This was not something he expected from this trip. He grabbed one of the fabric loops attached to the floor and “sat” down. The children spiraled their way around him. He looked around and suddenly felt lighter in every way. He wondered why he hadn’t tried this years ago. And then realized this was still quite unaffordable.
Except now it wasn’t. Here was his friend offering to let him live up here permanently. Or did Greg mean he only needed a short-term consultant during this transition? It must cost a fortune to keep someone on staff up here. Ryan was surprised he hadn’t asked such a basic question. Oh well. Details. Later. But what if he really was invited to live up here permanently? Was that even wise? He’d certainly need to get used to a rigorous exercise program just to keep up his basic health. And to be prepared to return home at some point. And he’d have to deal with living in a relatively small space. It felt large at this moment. But he knew that it wouldn’t seem large for very long. At least there would be a steady stream of new people to talk to.
And some apparently very friendly people living right alongside him. He was sure he’d break through Soraya’s shell and find her a warm and interesting lady. Mahal certainly seemed so already. He was looking forward to getting to know a fellow engineer. He was sure she wasn’t just another C-level suit with only a vague understanding of technology. She seemed like a bright engineer who had earned her way to the top level of Spaceluxe. He looked forward to learning more about her history.
He looked forward to learning more about everything here.
The cork went flying with a loud pop. The champagne bottle was a fun prop for use in celebrations. It didn’t contain any actual liquids because of the awful mess that would make in space. The crowd cheered and laughed as small silvery pouches with built in straws were tossed about for all the adults to toast with and enjoy. There were purple pouches for the kids with a juice blend so they didn’t feel left out.
Greg had been sharing some amusing anecdotes as the staff started passing out pouches. Everyone was in a jovial mood. Ryan was even starting to feel a bit exhausted from a few hours of conversations with adults and a few of the children. He enjoyed talking to people just fine. But he felt a bit out of practice. And he had to admit that he was even feeling a bit tired from all the exercise earlier. He wasn’t feeling as much like a kid now but he certainly was craving a nap.
And there was Mahal. She had come in with her husband Sumeet. Ryan introduced himself and struck up a conversation with the pair. But talk quickly turned to technical topics. Sumeet politely excused himself so the two of them could geek out. And soon Ryan and Mahal were laughing almost nonstop about anything and everything.
Ryan couldn’t shake a thought that kept intruding on his consciousness: Mahal was drop-dead gorgeous. She could easily be a Bollywood movie star. That she had such a brilliant mind made her the perfect combination for his tastes. Too bad she was married. And maybe that was for the best too. Ryan became aware that he was starting to look his age. Mahal was probably actually in her thirties while Ryan just liked to pretend that he still was. He knew his half-Japanese heritage gave him a certain Asian youthfulness that most white Americans couldn’t enjoy. And he did his best to stay trim with a carefully engineered diet and a light jog every couple days or so. But he knew Mahal could see the lines creeping onto his face with age. The small spots here and there. The teeny streaks of gray blending in with the crowd of his short black hair. Probably for the best. But wow. So beautiful.
Greg dropped by and introduced his wife Alicia. The conversation turned more to the business and history of Spaceluxe and Xanadu. Alicia had a surprising lot to contribute. She seemed to know more about the subject of space tourism than Greg did. Maybe she should be the CEO. Ryan felt electrified being party to so many bright and inspiring minds. This certainly wouldn’t be a boring place to live. If he decided to.
A few days passed.
“Mister Yokoyama?” The near whisper of the male voice outside the fabric door half woke Ryan. A light rapping against the door frame roused him further. “Mister Yokoyama?”
Ryan cleared his throat. “Yeah. What’s up?”
“Sorry to disturb your sleep sir. Mister Atkins asked me to invite you to a meeting.”
“Really? Right now? He say what it’s about?”
“I’m sorry. No. He just said it was somewhat urgent. Shall I tell him you’ll be there in a few minutes?”
“Oh. Um. Yeah. Yeah. Ah. Let me go to the bathroom first. I’ll be there in … ten minutes? Fifteen max. Thanks for letting me know.”
“You’re welcome. I’ll let him know. Take your time sir.”
With that the voice stopped. Not long after he heard the hatch opening and then re-sealing. With exceptions for very busy times all the hatches for the capsules stayed closed for safety. There had never been a serious depressurization of any of the hab capsules on Xanadu in its sixteen years. At least as far as Ryan knew. But one could never be too sure. Better to lose one hab than to lose all of them in a catastrophic failure.
And it served as a convenient way of announcing arrivals and departures.
Ryan made his way to one of the two men’s toilet enclosures. As usual it took more time to get himself hooked in to the contraption and out of it than to actually defecate. This was one part of living here that he was not looking forward to. Even after four days on Xanadu he was still not feeling like a champion toileteer. He finished cleaning himself up and then detached the sanitary adapters to deposit into the appropriate bin. He wondered how the staff managed to clean them for reuse. But he appreciated that they had a few different shapes and sizes for men. And he was a little curious to see how the women’s toilets looked and worked.
“Hey guys. What’s up?” Ryan pushed off lightly from the circular rim of the conference room toward the wire-suspended conference table. Greg, Soraya, and Mahal were already there and talking. All three had laptops out on the table in front of them.
Greg said, “Ah. Good morning Ryan. I’m glad you made it. We were just reviewing the order.”
“Order? What —”
“Oh. Sorry. Right.” Greg peeled his laptop by the corner from its light magnetic seal with the table. He turned it around and let it thud magnetically down facing Ryan.
Ryan was snaking his legs into the padded leg bars next to Mahal. Who turned away from her laptop long enough to nod and wish him a good morning. Soraya was doing some arm exercises by pulling herself up and down with her fingers gripping the table’s edge. Ryan stifled a smirk because she looked a bit like a gopher poking out of its hole every few seconds.
Before Ryan could even start reading the email message Greg started in. “Would you believe they are coming here to take us into custody?”
“What? Who is?”
“The feds. Would you believe they took four days to decide whether to send the FBI or the Space Force out to get us? They would have sent the FBI but only the space cadets have assets to mount a mission.”
Soraya had stopped her exercising and settled in. She said, “This was bound to be a complex jurisdictional issue. And technically they only said — if you read the email — that they are coming to escort the three of us back to Earth to sort this out.”
“Sort what out? What did we do?”
Soraya continued. “They say our claim to territorial sovereignty is invalid.”
Greg cut in. “You know. This is why Kurt didn’t beat us to this. He came this close to declaring independence a few months back. I talked with him after that. He said they scared him out of it.”
Mahal looked up from her computer. “Pretty obvious why now. Hey?”
Greg peeled his laptop back up to turn it back around again. “This is nuts. I’m just going to tell them to fuck off.” He waved a hand flippantly. “Gently of course.”
Mahal said sharply, “No. Don’t do that. Be patient man.”
Soraya added. “Yeah. Be patient. We need to issue a response. They’ll be here very soon. I’ll take the lead on crafting our letter. But we need to nail down our strategy. We’ve been going around in circles for forty minutes now.”
Greg grabbed a fistful of his hair. “They’re already on their way.”
Mahal said, “Yep.”
“They’re not going to negotiate.”
Soraya said, “I think that’s exactly what we must do.”
Mahal said, “So you said that several times now. What do you mean? If they’re coming here they’re armed. Right? They’re just going to come right in and arrest us.”
“Not necessarily,” Soraya replied.
Greg added, “Yeah. Not necessarily. They don’t want to create an incident. They sure as hell don’t want to risk damaging Xanadu and putting our guests at risk. I damned sure didn’t ever intend to turn them into human shields. But I also am not ready to give up just like that.”
Chin in the air, Soraya calmly said, “So what are you saying? You want to fight somehow?”
“Well why not? I mean not really. We obviously haven’t got any weapons.”
Mahal said, “Maybe we don’t have to fight directly. What if we just deny them entry?”
Greg replied, “Nah. That won’t work. The airlock hatch can be operated manually from outside. They’ll just open up and come in.
“But come to think of it. What if we made it so they couldn’t dock? We could probably use the gyros to rotate the station so the airlock faces away while they try to dock. Or attitude control thrusters in a pinch.” Greg looked at Mahal.
“Don’t look at me man. I do computers.”
Greg looked at Ryan.
“What? I’m an electrical engineer. Maybe you should bring in your station engineer. Chih-Ming right?”
“Yeah. True.” Greg tapped away at his keyboard for a few seconds. “Sent him an IM.”
Mahal said, “You know,” and paused with her mouth in her hand. “We probably could actually stop them from docking too. There’s a lock on the outer hatch. Right?”
“No. And now I regret that we didn’t add one. I should have foreseen this.”
Ryan said. “What are you using for docking? I think I read somewhere you use the NASA Docking System. Soft capture mechanism. Right?”
Greg said, “Yeah. Well technically it’s the Bigelow version of it. BDBS-2 I think. Why?”
“Could you rig the pistons to push them back away when they attempt to dock? Not engage the latches and stuff?”
Greg pondered this for a moment. “Man. That’s an interesting idea. I mean I doubt it. But let me run that by the on-call engineers.” He started typing again. “Creative idea Ryan. Thanks.”
“No problem. I feel kinda useless here. I hope it helps.”
While Greg worked on that Soraya chimed in. “We wanted to talk about that too. You’re not mentioned in the communique. They’re not coming to arrest you.”
“Ah. They don’t know about me yet. And I guess I haven’t technically said yes yet. Right?”
Greg chuckled. “Now’s your chance to bail buddy. You don’t need to be here.” He looked up from his computer for a moment. “Seriously. Go enjoy the rest of your stay. This probably isn’t going to go well. Don’t get yourself arrested.”
Soraya nodded. “I recommend that you don’t let them know you’re a party to this.”
Ryan sighed. “I appreciate your concern. I don’t know what to say. Other than I’m just a little pissed. Can I read that email?”
Soraya brought it up and peeled her laptop off the table to hand to Ryan. He let it slap magnetically down on the table in front of him.
Soraya addressed the others as Ryan started reading. “Greg. You mentioned Xanadu’s guests earlier. Aren’t we talking about putting them at risk? Is that ethical? And won’t that look bad for us if we appear to be using them as ‘human shields’ as you said?”
Greg shook his head with a frown. “No. I know what you’re saying. But no. Even if they weren’t aboard I don’t think they’d come looking for a war. They aren’t going to — I don’t know — strap some explosives to the hull and blow a hole in it. This is all very precarious. And besides. We aren’t looking for a fight. Not a physical one at least. This is about ideas. They’re not going to hurt us. And they sure as hell aren’t going to risk hurting or even killing the fifty five people aboard. No. They’ll do whatever they can to talk us into surrendering voluntarily. Our guests aren’t in danger. This is a war of words. It’s one we can win. The truth is on our side.”
Soraya nodded. “Okay then.”
Ryan finished reading and said, “This is crazy. Can they really do this? I mean. Can’t you maybe just say no? Like this is sovereign territory. Buzz off. We won’t admit you here. Or something?”
Greg got up and stretched. He floated and flexed his arms to and fro while holding onto the table’s edge. “Here’s what’s going to happen. We’re going to weld the hatch shut. We don’t have time to research anything fancy. They’re not likely to have tools to break in. And they’re not going to take that kind of risk. So either they’re going to give up and leave or —”
Soraya said, “I don’t think they’ll —”
“Or they’ll stay there as long as they can. They can probably hold out for a couple days before they have to return. Maybe that’s long enough.” Greg looked at Ryan. “You. Don’t talk to anyone about this okay? Does anyone know about our offer to you and all?”
Ryan shook his head. “Not yet.”
“Good. Whatever happens I want you to stay in the background. Just observe. Okay? I might ask you for help. But I won’t get you in the soup the three of us are in.
“And on that note. Soraya. Maybe delete your NDA email to Ryan. And maybe you do the same Ryan. Maybe nobody will notice if things go south.”
Ryan sighed. “Okay. It’s probably nothing though. And I’m here to help. Just ask, Greg. You know how much this means to me.”
“Yeah. I know. You and me both. I remember all your stories. That couple with the seastead home? The one the Thai military deep sixed? And the Rose Island Republic? Dynamited by the Italian government. Right?”
“Yeah. And now you guys. I can’t believe now I’m on the rig staring down the gunboats.”
“Yeah. And we’ll win this. Maybe we’ve got a fighting chance like they couldn’t have had.” Greg clicked his tongue and shook his head in the silence. “Okay. So there’s another possibility here.” He looked at each of the others. “They may want to negotiate.”
Mahal said, “What do you mean? What’s to negotiate?”
“Hear me out. We had the world’s attention a few days ago. Right? Let’s get their attention again. Let’s announce what’s going on. Put public pressure on them. Maybe they’ll beg off to save face. If they don’t bail right away we’ll invite an unarmed negotiator aboard. And we’ll record everything. Use it to our advantage. We’ve got the negotiating dream team right here.” He waved toward Soraya who smirked and chuckled softly. “You and me. We’ve negotiated bigger things than this. We can win this argument. Right?”
Soraya put her hands up and shrugged. “Why not? We can try. And I don’t suppose we have much to lose by trying.”
“Yep. We’ve studied for this. You didn’t find anything they could solidly use to shut us down. Right?”
“That’s the theory. I wouldn’t have joined you in this otherwise.”
“All right. Let’s talk through it again for the thousandth time then. That okay?”
“Yeah. Let’s do it. Let me call a couple of my consultants. Get them on the line. I hope they’re awake.”
Ryan looked at the time on his watch. It was only 07:43 XTC. Most of North America was asleep or just getting started with their day.
“Good.” Greg slapped and rubbed his hands together. “Let’s do this.”
Ryan settled in and mostly listened as Greg and Soraya talked through the murky world of space law. It seemed that after all these years there still were few meaningful international or even national standards that would apply here. They were covering new ground. Soraya’s contacts added some nuanced jargon that Ryan had considerable trouble following.
Soraya eventually sent a formal response via email. This struck Ryan as slightly absurd. He assumed there would eventually be video or at least radio contact to coordinate the arrival. In any case the ship would be arriving in about half an hour. Ryan began to feel the weight of that thought settling in. Things were getting real.
Ryan had gotten so used to the lack of gravity that it felt a little strange when Xanadu started slowly rotating. Everyone had been warned to expect it. And there was no danger. But Ryan was amused to let go of the conference table and float next to it just prior to one rotation. The table slowly moved away from him. The hab’s wall behind him came slowly closer. Almost nobody else would have noticed more than a slight tug in one direction.
The others were intently watching a video feed from their laptop screens. The feed came from a camera that was part of the docking ring. Normally it helped guide ships approaching the ring. Now the approaching ship slipped off the left edge of the screen as Chih-Ming articulated control moment gyros to rotate Xanadu to face away and prevent a successful docking.
Greg pumped his fist. He and Mahal roared with laughter. They were having fun playing pirate. Ryan chuckled at the elegant triumph of basic engineering.
It’s not like this was a high speed chase. The shuttle outside had spent the past hour maneuvering to try to line up with the docking ring as it dodged. This was never something to be done quickly in the best of conditions. But it was becoming apparent that the pilot of that shuttle was getting more aggressive. And getting closer. Ryan realized that there was a growing risk that they would get close enough to Xanadu to damage its docking ring. Or do even more damage. Now there really was a genuine risk to the guests aboard.
Greg said, “Okay Chih-Ming. That’s enough. I don’t want to get you in trouble too. Go ahead and respond to their hails. Guide them in to dock. Just tell them I’m not going to let them board though. Don’t take responsibility. You’re just following orders. Okay?”
“Yes sir. But I have to admit that I’ve never had so much fun before.”
Greg laughed. “I bet. Okay. Get to it.”
Ryan took Mahal’s hand as she reached out to pull him back to the table. He watched as the shuttle’s bow docking ring came back into the frame. They all listened in to the radio chatter. Two professionals communicated for the next five minutes as though it was any other ho-hum day. Greg bit at a fingernail.
The shuttle didn’t have a window in its docking hatch. But Xanadu’s hatch did. Greg was right there with his eyes peering out of the tiny window slit as the shuttle’s hatch opened. He only paused for a moment before continuing his radio harangue.
“You’re the idiots who insisted on docking without permission. You’re not invited. You’re not welcome. And you could have killed everyone here with that crazy stunt you just pulled.”
The radio responded after a moment. “Under the Rescue Agreement of 1967 you are legally obligated to allow us to board and provide all possible assistance. We’ve notified the Secretary General of the United —”
“What? Horse shit. You’re not in distress.” Greg regarded the man who floated forward into the airlock to face him. He angrily pointed out the tiny window. “You wouldn’t be here now if you were in any real danger. It’s these people you are threatening to put in danger.
“Who are you anyway? What’s your name sir?” Greg held a tiny camera drone up to the tiny window next to his eyes. “You’re on a live video feed now. The whole world is watching. Who are you?”
“I’m Captain Angelo Starkey of the US Space Force. You are hereby ordered to stand down. You’ve already violated a lot of laws by your dangerous actions.”
“More horse shit. Go home. We’re staying.”
“Your ground operation has already been halted. We will be sending relief ships to ferry your civilian passengers home in the coming days.”
Greg turned away and quietly voiced, “Shit,” to Soraya floating nearby.
Captain Starkey continued. “But there will be no further resupply flights until you surrender yourself, Soraya Morales-Hackenson, and Mahal Sarvida into our custody to complete our investigation of your seditious activities.”
“Seditious my ass! Which you can kiss by the way. Kiss my ass and shove off.”
Greg hand-over-handed away from the hatch window to laugh and watch with his newly minted fellow nationals. The rest of this particular capsule was empty. The hatch at the other end was of course closed and sealed. Just in case. They all listened as several hands were beating against the wheel to try to open the latches keeping the hatch closed. The three shiny weld beads did a perfect job of keeping the axle from rotating. The hatch was not going to open until Greg ordered the welds ground off. And there was no way that crew was going to be stupid enough to damage the hatch to get in. If they did they would make it effectively impossible for anyone else to dock. If only to rescue Xanadu’s guests.
The four of them waited in silence as the minutes ticked by. Soft thudding gave way to loud metallic clanging. And still the welds held. Everyone held onto fabric straps just out of view of the tiny window in the airlock hatch. Greg chuckled softly and nodded to himself.
An hour had passed. It became clear they wouldn’t have to desperately and suddenly grab the latch release wheel. The welds were holding just fine. The four had retreated to the inner sanctum of Xanadu’s conference room. Mahal had set up a couple of remotely controlled cameras near the hatch to listen and watch in case anything important happened. And Greg had ordered the hatch at the other end of that capsule locked from the hub side. At least those hatches had locks.
It was becoming apparent Captain Starkey and his goons were not leaving anytime soon.
A staffer brought lunch for everyone. Greg made small talk to cheer her up. No matter what was actually happening he was a natural at making sure she wasn’t the slightest bit afraid.
He wasn’t just talking to her though. Every now and then Greg would enable the holocams in the conference room to broadcast. People all over the planet could watch from just about any angle as he gave one of his brief “and another thing” statements. He knew that this was creating exactly the buzz he hoped it would down below. People all over Earth were watching as panels of experts assembled and talked at length to fill time between each of these sudden interruptions from Greg.
Ryan watched one such broadcast from one of his preferred news sources. He appreciated that the holocams blanked out whatever was on their computer screens to give them at least a tiny amount of privacy. And he knew that even when they were not broadcasting the cams were recording every last snort and crumb that escaped his mouth as he stuffed it with a lovingly microwaved bean and cheese burrito. Surely that would be important for posterity.
Greg continued. “See how it is, friends? We extend our hand in peace and friendship. And they bite it. They have no right. This is ours. We built it. We live here. And we invite all of you to visit. They have no right to take that away from you. Nor from us. You have every right to come visit us.
“And if you’re wondering, don’t worry. Everyone else has gotten their lunch already. We’re the last ones to take food. We’ve got plenty of it. We’re making sure everyone is safe and happy up here. I know some of you have expressed some concerns. Everything’s securely buttoned up safely.
“Okay. We’re going to keep having our lunch while the keystone cops keep doing whatever foolish things they’re up to. Cheers.” He held up his own burrito in a toast and then took a bite as Mahal ended the feed. The news roundtable chuckled in fake surprise and continued their discussion. Ryan muted it.
Greg finished a couple bites. “We gotta let them in.”
Mahal spoke through her hand-covered but full mouth. “Yeah. I think so. They aren’t leaving.”
Soraya nodded and hummed agreement. She fiddled with the slowly spinning burrito pouch she had not yet opened.
Greg continued as though arguing to someone who disagreed. “They aren’t going away. And they just might do something stupid. I think we have an opportunity though.”
Ryan said, “What do you mean?”
“If we agree to let them in we have some leverage.”
Soraya added, “We can negotiate the terms.”
Greg continued. “Yep. Let’s get them to agree to just sending one person here to talk. We’ll have a civil negotiation on our own terms. No guns. No violence. Just us and them talking. We’ll do it in front of a live audience.”
It took about a half hour of video conference discussion to negotiate a face to face conversation aboard Xanadu. It turned out that Captain Starkey had brought two FBI representatives along. Will Kiptanui represented the FBI Crisis Negotiation Unit. And Marie Barga was a lawyer from the FBI’s new Space Law unit. Greg expressed deep outrage at the suggestion that they were keeping Xanadu’s guests hostage. “They are free to come and go as they please. You guys are the ones holding them hostage here by threatening to delay their flights!” But ultimately he agreed to allow both agents aboard. It seemed silly to Ryan that he made both swear they would come completely unarmed. And even made Captain Starkey swear he and whatever number of space marines he had brought along would not attempt any action during the whole process. Strange to see how much Greg still valued personal honor. Ryan hoped his faith was well placed.
Ryan had stayed behind in the conference room as the other three went to the airlock. He watched on one of the open laptop screens. The staffer who had welded the hatch’s central axle to the hatch was just finishing grinding the beads off. Greg thanked him with an appreciative smile as he left. Ryan had half expected to see the hatch’s hand wheel spinning to release the seal as soon as the last bead flicked away. But they waited patiently as Greg personally opened the hatch to let the two in. He nodded his somber but professional courtesy to Captain Starkey before closing the hatch again. Starkey knew that he could easily reopen the hatch now. His own honor and the lock on the hatch on the hub side of this capsule would be the only things discouraging him from doing so.
The five of them slowly made their way through the eerily silent staff hab toward the conference room where Ryan awaited. He heard Greg’s airily friendly banter and laughter as he talked to the two agents he escorted.
Ryan noticed that none of the three Xanaduans acknowledged or attempted to introduce him. He had agreed to stay in the background. To that end he had found a springy cargo net along the capsule wall not far from the port window that the conference table overlooked. He had hooked his elbows within the net to keep from floating away from that spot. Although this should be a completely relaxing position Ryan was finding himself antsy after only a few minutes of having nothing to plant his feet against. Or at least fidget against with his legs like the padded bars of the conference table. Oh well. He would need to stay still for a while.
Ryan concluded that Will Kiptanui and Marie Barga really weren’t undercover space marines. They struggled like he had when he first arrived to navigate the space. And to get situated at the conference table. Mahal talked them through how to snake their legs among the leg bars. They were eventually seated together on one side. And Greg and Soraya sat at the other side. Mahal chose to float in front of her place at the table at first. The three of them had their shiny metal laptops closed in front of them. And the FBI agents had their antiquated government-issue iPads velcroed to their hips. Whoever outfitted them had been smart enough to make sure their tablets had magnetic strips affixed so they could place them on the table too. But not smart enough to make it so they could have any privacy from all eyes at the table.
Everyone had already met on the way in. But still the two parties formally introduced themselves and got down to business.
It didn’t take long for Will’s admiration of what Spaceluxe had accomplished over the years to give way to concern for the safety of Xanadu’s guests. His rhetoric switched to one of concern for them as hostages.
After a while Greg responded. “You came a long way to say that. I hope you enjoyed the flight up and are enjoying your own stay here so far. But let me reassure you. Just as you’re a guest aboard our hotel so are they. Just as you’re free to leave anytime you wish so are they. Please do us all a favor and stop referring to them as ‘hostages’. They’re no such thing.”
Will said, “We’re both very relieved to hear that. May we speak to them directly? Make sure they’re all okay and in good spirits.”
“Jesus. Haven’t you already? It’s not like we’ve disabled any of their lines of communication. You probably have all their contact info already. Just call them. Email them. Whatever works. No one is stopping you from reaching out.
“I have to ask you though. Have any of our guests contacted you with concerns for their safety? Has a single one said they are afraid? That they’re being held at gunpoint or something? Anyone?”
Will chuckled. “I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to talk about any communications we might have had with your guests. We certainly do appreciate your ongoing cooperation with us regarding them. Our primary concern is with their safety of course. And yours as well.”
“Absolutely. And if it makes you feel any better you can take any guests back to Earth who want to leave early. Just let us know who says they want to so we can coordinate.”
“That’ll be fine Greg. Thank you. We’ll extend that offer later. After we finish our discussion here.”
“So how many of our 45 guests and 8 staffers can you accommodate as you leave today?”
Will thought for a moment. “I’m not sure exactly when we’ll be leaving. But we could probably take —”
Marie interrupted him. “We can’t say exactly how many. We wouldn’t want to intrude on Captain Starkey’s operations. So let’s save that discussion for later. Let’s see where we stand by the end of this meeting. Shall we?”
Ryan realized this was a clever attempt on Greg’s part to ascertain how many space marines might be aboard the docked shuttle. Process of elimination. Oh well. Worth a try.
Will nodded at her. “Good thinking Marie. Well. I’m satisfied for the moment. Let me turn it over to you.”
Marie returned the nod. She turned to Greg and leaned in a little. “As you know I’m a lawyer with the FBI’s Space Law department. We only just got funding this past year. Heck. I’m still moving into my own office.”
Ryan realized that Marie looked very young. He wondered if she was still in her twenties.
“This is all very new for all of us. Right? Ms. Morales —”
“Please. Call me Soraya.” She grinned for the briefest of moments.
“Oh. Sure. Soraya. I have no doubt you’ve studied what laws exist. I studied your CV. You’re a very smart woman.” Soraya didn’t move a muscle. “You know this isn’t legal. I’m sorry to put it so bluntly. But there it is. I’m sure you understand what’s at stake here. That you can help me convince Greg that this is a mistake. And that it’s not too late to make things right here.”
Soraya slowly leaned forward without breaking eye contact. “You’re right. I have studied the laws involved. They are few and far between. Young lady. I know you’ve got a job to do here. But you’re out of your element.” She looked at Greg who silently chuckled back. His look shouted “atta-girl”. “Perhaps we all are. I’m sure you plan to cite some precedents that you think relate to this. But I know with certainty that we’ve embarked on this in good faith. The Republic of Xanadu is here. Greg isn’t acting alone in this. I’m right here with him.”
“And I admire that, Soraya. But there are aspects of this that I think you probably haven’t fully thought through. No disrespect to be sure. There’s just too much to consider. Like your power system. As you know a good portion of your steady power supply comes from your ASRTG.” She looked at her tablet apparently to get the acronym right.
Soraya glanced at Greg. He said, “Radio thermal generator. Atomic battery.”
Mahal corrected him. “Radioisotope.”
“Ah. Yeah. Radioisotope thermal generator. Whatever. We originally used it as our primary source of power when we started. Now it’s mostly supplemental power and an emergency backup. It gives us about a half a kilowatt of juice. We’ve been completely safe in our use of it. So what of it?”
Marie said, “You know you don’t own it. Right?” As Soraya was searching on her laptop Marie continued. “You lease it from AMETEK Sunpower. You couldn’t buy it outright because of the large amount of Plutonium required. Nearly five kilograms according to your lease agreement. Your supplier in turn is leasing that Plutonium from the Department of Energy.”
Greg was biting his thumbnail. He nodded. “Yeah yeah. Right. We couldn’t buy it outright. I remember now.” He sighed.
“I have your signature on a carefully detailed agreement signed by you and Sunpower. It’s lengthy. I know. But one of the stipulations of that agreement is that you would abide by any safety guidance given by the DOE. We’ve consulted with their lawyers. As you might guess they concur with our judgement that your declaration of an independent state represents both a safety hazard and a proliferations risk.”
Greg threw up his hands. “Oh Jesus. Give us a break lady. You know that’s bullshit. It’s not like we’re going to give our power cell to Iran or something!”
Soraya put a hand gently on Greg’s arm. “I found the agreement. I need to read it in greater depth than I already have. But this is an easy problem to resolve. Let’s negotiate a treaty specifically to honor our understanding with the DOE. We can provide all the assurances needed that we will never sell or give away our atomic battery. And if that’s not enough then we can negotiate an early deorbit and disposal of it. I see that’s spelled out in some detail in this agreement. I assume we can find a better solution but that is an option. Right?”
Marie leaned back again. “That certainly is a possibility to consider. But in the meantime you are already in abeyance of your obligations under the agreement. And in doing so you’re putting people up here and on the ground in jeopardy.”
Greg shook his head again. “More bullshit. You’re beating us over the head with technicalities. You know we’re not increasing the danger to anyone. And Soraya just spelled out two perfectly good remedies. We’ll talk more about this later. But for now I’m done with this part. Let’s move on.” He closed his eyes for just a moment. More calmly he said, “What’s next on your list of grievances. We’ve thought long and hard about all this. I’m sure we can fix any remaining issues. And move on to negotiating a normalized relations treaty with the US.”
“I’d like nothing better than to be an ambassador here to negotiate setting up embassies and all those good things Greg. But I need to remind you that we’re actually here to negotiate your surrender.”
Greg shook his head. “Not going to happen. But carry on.”
The discussion turned to the much dryer topic of space debris. A half dozen major international organizations track stuff in space. In principle each object is the responsibility of whichever country it originated from. All of Xanadu’s major components were orbited from US-based rocket launches. So Marie argued that under the 1967 Outer Space Treaty the US was obligated to take responsibility for anything that goes wrong with Xanadu. Including any debris that might come from parts falling off the station or created from any collisions with other objects in orbit.
Soraya argued that this was new legal territory because the Space Treaty largely assumed that the same nations would always exist as they were at the time. She pointed out that the Soviet Union no longer existed. And yet the Russian Federation had adopted the obligations of the Space Treaty from the former Soviet Union. She argued that this was a solid precedent.
Ryan knew he was witnessing something truly historic. And all of this was being transmitted to the entire world below. How many people were tuning in to watch the first battle to save a newborn nation right now?
Ryan was fairly sure he would be yawning much less if he had had the foresight to grab an iPad so he could look up some of the technical and legal jargon flying around. And he gradually became more aware that he would need to use a bathroom soon. He dared not leave just yet though.
After about an hour and a half of this negotiation Ryan noticed that the participants were getting fatigued. He was amazed at their stamina and overall professionalism. Ryan got the sense that maybe they really were on the cusp of a breakthrough. That the negotiators’ concerns could be allayed. And that this really was going to end peacefully.
Will took advantage of a moment’s lull to say, “Well. I don’t know about you guys but I could use a little break. We’ve covered a lot of ground. I think we’re getting somewhere too. I’m fairly satisfied that your … guests are safe and sound for now. Marie. I hope you’ll agree that there’s nothing here that we can’t work out.”
Marie said, “And besides I really need to pee. What say we go back to our shuttle and plan to reconvene in two hours?”
Greg said, “You’re welcome to use our staff bathroom in this capsule. We can have dinner sent in and give you the conference room to yourselves if you’d like a little time alone.”
Marie laughed. “I had enough trouble learning how the toilet on the shuttle works. I don’t think I want to spend another forty minutes figuring out a new one. Besides. We need to talk with Captain Starkey. He deserves a status update. We can reassure him that things are going well here. I’m sure he’ll feel a lot better knowing that.”
Ryan breathed a sigh of relief knowing that Marie’s bladder was going to rescue his own. As the others were untangling their legs from the conference table and making slow moves to leave, Ryan moved first to use the men’s toilet. He knew it would only take about five minutes if he rushed.
By the time Ryan finished he was able to make his way to the hub where Mahal was last in line there. Everyone was hand-over-handing along the central rope toward the airlock at the other end of the capsule the shuttle was docked at. Around a dozen people were hanging on to straps on the side walls of the capsule to witness the procession. They were oddly silent as they watched. More were drifting in after Ryan came through the hatchway.
Greg at the front of the rope line was playing the ebullient host as always. Waving and greeting the staffers and Xanadu guests he no doubt wished were safely somewhere else right now. And thanking the negotiators for taking the opportunity to approach all this in the right spirit. He personally wheeled open the latch on the airlock hatch and opened it so they could return to their shuttle.
Just as Greg started opening the hatch it flung open so hard that it hit his shoulder and sent him flying with a grunt. Black-clad Space Force soldiers poured in through the hatch. They appeared to have compressed air thrusters in their suits to assist them as they zeroed in to tackle Greg, Mahal, and Soraya.
Ryan was about midway along the rope line toward the hatch. He realized there was a good chance he could dislodge Greg if he lunged headlong toward the captor Greg was struggling with. Surely other guests watching would see his example and launch into the fray as well. Ryan panicked for a moment as he prepared. He tightened his grip and planned his trajectory. It would be hard to aim just right.
Greg looked at Ryan and guessed what he was planning. He shook his head for just a moment and stared at Ryan. He slackened his body and let his hands be bound with plastic cuffs behind his back. He finally looked away and said, “Relax kid. I'm done,” to the soldier now binding his ankles with a zip tie. Mahal and Soraya were already bound similarly.
Thus was the Republic of Xanadu ended in about 60 seconds.
The aftermath was anticlimactic. The black-clad Space Force soldiers floated the three bound brigands through the hatch and closed it behind them.
After another sixty seconds of complete silence someone realized that all of this was still being broadcast live. She looked around and chanted, “Xa-na-du. Xa-na-du. Xa-na-du.” Quietly at first. And then more loudly as others joined her.
Someone else eventually piped a similar chant from some large crowd somewhere on Earth through the capsule’s PA speakers. This goaded the small crowd here to chant even more loudly.
When the hatch opened again the crowd softened for a moment. Then got louder again. Two soldiers came in to secure the entryway. Followed by Captain Starkey. He let the chants continue for another minute. Then he waved a hand toward the crowd to be quiet long enough for him to make an announcement. Eventually they did. By now Ryan had moved off the rope and melted into the crowd of people holding onto straps along the outer walls of the capsule.
The captain had nothing grand to say. He simply explained that they would leave a few people behind to continue the current cycle of operations. Everyone would be free to enjoy their stays and go home on schedule. Service would continue uninterrupted until further notice.
And after another hour the shuttle departed carrying all but two of the soldiers back toward Earth. Not a single guest had accepted the offer of a ride home with them. Ryan’s was one of several faces crowded into a port window watching the slow disembarkment.
The sensation did not die immediately. The mainstream news and social media were abuzz for another two weeks before the story started to fade from public consciousness. For a whole day the only story was a lopsided clamor of support for freeing Xanadu’s founders and admiration for what they were doing. But by the next news cycle a new frame had already been cobbled together. It painted the Xanadu incident as the result of a cadre of rich elites using a dangerous publicity stunt to drum up business at the expense of taxpayers and “practically hostages”. The valiant effort by social media supporters of the Republic of Xanadu got solid traction for a while but was largely drowned out. They displayed Xanadu flags and sung the praises of the heroism of Greg Atkins and the others arrested.
And gradually the story faded away.
Ryan knew it would never fade away for him. He felt nothing but bitterness. About something that could have been great being demolished right at its start. About how nobody around him seemed ready to really fight for something better than they were used to. And most of all at his own lack of courage. He even felt bitterness at Greg for giving up so easily. And for making Ryan hesitate long enough to miss his chance to maybe turn the tide.
Ryan tried to let go of the Republic of Xanadu. But he couldn’t. Eight months had passed since one of his best childhood friends had invited him into his exciting world with an invitation to become a pioneer. Eight months since his betrayal of his friend. He knew he needed to face Greg to apologize.
Ryan finally worked up the courage to email Greg via the prison’s messaging system. After a few brief exchanges the two arranged for a visitation. Thankfully Greg was in a minimum security prison camp in Pensacola. Barring a successful appeal he would be there for another four years and change.
And thankfully it seems that a background check on Ryan turned up nothing untoward. It seems that everything Greg did managed to protect Ryan from official scrutiny. They probably hadn’t even noticed that email Soraya had deleted. Smart lady. So he would be visiting his old friend again this Saturday at 10:00am sharp.
Ryan put on as brave a face as he could muster. It was going to be hard to hide his shame. But it was finally time to apologize for ruining Greg Atkins’s glorious revolution. He stood up from his folding chair as Greg was ushered in. Thankfully he was not in handcuffs or any other restraints.
And surprisingly he had a huge smile on his face and open arms. The two embraced warmly. Ryan hadn’t expected that.
They sat down and slipped into a relaxing discussion. It was the sort that they couldn’t have in the hazy bustle of that exciting near-week they were together aboard Xanadu. And now there was plenty of time to discuss dry chicken dinners and the simple pleasure of sweeping the porch every few days. Greg was obviously starved for this opportunity. And Ryan started to relax. Ever the marketing wizard, Greg managed to make his federal prison sound like an appealing adventure.
Eventually Greg got around to broaching the topic Ryan hadn’t managed to. “Listen. I know you’re feeling bad about what happened. I don’t exactly know why. But man. Don’t sweat it. I think I was a bit of an idiot for thinking this was going to fly. Pfft!” He threw his hands up and rolled his eyes. He shook his head and smiled wryly. “I just feel bad for dragging Soraya and Mahal into my mess. It’s too bad they can’t be in here with me. I miss them.”
Ryan squinted. “That’s weird. Why aren’t they? Are they concerned you guys will conspire on a prison break or something?”
Greg leaned in. “Buddy. Look around.” He pointed his thumb back over his shoulder. “What do you see?”
Ryan shook his head as he looked around. Then it hit him. “Oh! Right. Inmates are all men.” He chuckled sheepishly. “Dang. Okay.”
“You know. Whatever it is you think you did or didn’t do. It turned out pretty well. I’m just glad you didn’t join us. It would have really sucked if I had gotten you arrested too.”
Ryan sighed. “I just … I feel like I should have done something. You know? I almost did too.”
Greg smiled and nodded. “I know man. I saw.” He chuckled. “You almost did something really dumb. And it wouldn’t have changed anything. You know that. Right?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. But I appreciate you saying so. Yeah. It’s been bugging me.”
There was a pause for almost ten seconds. First pause in the conversation so far. Greg was first to break the silence. “Listen. On one level I’m not at all happy about all this. It sucks being in here. I should be out there doing great things. But you know what? This is also kinda perfect.”
Ryan waited for him to continue.
“No. I mean it. I think The Republic of Xanadu was the most important venture of my life. Even more important than Xanadu. The hotel I mean. And more than all the other fun projects that led up to it.”
Ryan sat back and folded his arms. He didn’t know where to begin. “What do you mean? You don’t mean you just needed a break from all those fun projects. Right?”
“Naw! Not at all. I mean I need a vacation now and then. But you gotta understand how much I love my work. It’s all vacation to me.” He chuckled. “You can’t work 80 hour weeks for years at a time if you don’t really dig what you do.
“But in all that I don’t think any of it was a hill of beans compared to The Republic. You know all those micronations you used to tell me about? I get how they all felt now.”
“Most of them didn’t last too long. So I guess you’re in good company.”
Greg sighed. “I mean. You’re right. But you’re missing the point Ryan. This is history in motion man. I’m just getting started. When I’m out of here I plan to go on a speaking tour for a while. Being in here is really clearing my mind. I have all the time in the world to think.”
“You’re not going back to Xanadu?”
“Nah. I don’t think the board would allow me back there even if I wanted to. But I’m done with that part of my life. I lost a fortune over this. But I’ve got enough saved to live comfortably. I’m ready to do something more important.”
Ryan said, “Well. That’s great. But what is it you want to tell audiences? And will anyone listen?”
“You really need to open your eyes. We stirred up something. We started a conversation. Don’t you realize what’s going on? I’m stuck in here without much access to information. But still I can see it clear as day.” Greg sighed. “Why do I have to explain this to you? You’re the one who turned me on to all this stuff. But okay. Here’s my pitch buddy.
“You know damn well that things are not going well here. In America. Throughout the West. All over the world. I mean we’re living well overall. We’re superficially wealthier than we’ve ever been before. You’ve got a great engineering job. Right? So you’re probably doing pretty well. But still it’s not enough.
“If you look more deeply at the numbers the global economy is technically in decline. Jesus. We’ve had more recessions in the past few decades than I can count. And the truth is we just never seem to fully recover. Our National Healthcare System has shortened average life expectancy and practically halted medical innovations. Rent and property sale price controls have created more homelessness in the past twenty years than we’ve ever seen. We’re on the cusp of hitting ten percent inflation per year again. It’s only been — what — eight years since the last time? I could go on and on. We’re teetering on the edge man.”
Ryan shrugged. “Yeah. We get by though.”
“Sure. We get by. But this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. We’re Americans. That used to mean something. Aren’t you still a libertarian or something?”
“I don’t know Greg. Maybe. I guess I don’t care much about politics anymore. I mean. Sometimes I want to just say ‘fuck it’ and run off to live with a bunch of gun-toting hippies in the desert to make junk art or something. But I guess I like air conditioning too much.”
Greg beamed and chuckled as he nodded. “I hear ya. But I honestly don’t think anarchy is what we need. I’m sick of the alternatives we’re offered. It’s either big brother or give up everything to be a hermit. That’s dumb.”
“So what do we need then? What’s your idea?”
“The problem isn’t that we have a government. That’s what those anarchists think. The problem is we gave our government too much power. But really that’s not it either. The real problem is that we expected our government to do too much. You know. We had the right idea at the start of our country. As little government as possible.” He chuckled. “Some people like to say they want a federal government small enough to drown in a bathtub.”
The two laughed.
“But seriously. The problem has always been with us. We keep voting away our rights. We keep voting in bastards who tax and regulate us to death. We keep begging people to ruin the system we created to free ourselves from tyranny.
Ryan leaned forward. He put his elbow on the table and his chin in his hand. “So what does this have to do with Xanadu?”
“America is sliding into decay. I don’t know if we’ll ever climb back out. There are other countries with more potential now. Go see Brazil sometime. If you follow international news you probably know their economy is booming lately. They’re busy dismantling many of their government institutions. They’ve even managed to transform their largest slums into thriving economic zones.”
Ryan sighed. “That sounds great. Maybe I should move there.”
“Maybe. Or some other place. There are quite a few promising cities out there now. But you know what they need more than anything?”
Ryan smirked. “Space hotels?”
“Voices. They need to hear from people like me. See. I’m learning that money doesn’t talk. Ideas talk. People don’t change what they do until they change what they believe. It’s not just me. They need as many prominent voices out there hammering this stuff hard. I’ve got a compelling story now.
“You see? Xanadu is the future. I mean. We’ll colonize space soon enough. We’re just getting started. But what are those colonies going to look like? Did you know the Chinese already put more people in space now than we do? They’re spending a fortune to do it. Some of it is private space tourism. But let’s face it. They’re hungry to win the race to colonize space their way. How do you feel about the Chinese Communist Party setting the standards here? Their Tiantang lunar colony scares me.”
“Do you really think they’re going to win at this?”
“Heh. No. Not really. Not so long as they keep doing this all top down as usual. They’re just burning their own people’s money. And for what? Prestige? The handful of private lunar colonies around that monstrosity have way more potential. Give them a few more years and you’ll see.
“Problem is we’re doing it too. One American administration after another wastes taxpayer dollars just to compete with the Chinese.”
Ryan nodded. “Complete waste.”
“Yep. Complete waste. But anyway. The point is that both countries are going to exhaust themselves in their rush to see who has the biggest, baddest central government. We need to do whatever we can to encourage people to reject that path. To embrace the most important thing. The most precious resource in the whole world.”
“Well. Yes. But more importantly the individual. You Ryan. Me. My wife. Your kids. Each and every single human. There’s no freedom for any of us until we convince people to take responsibility for themselves. To live the best lives they can. First and foremost for themselves. Then for their families and friends. And outward from there. But never sacrificing themselves to anyone else in the process. It’s time to stop sacrificing ourselves. And sacrificing other people for our own greedy interests too. Just … leaving people alone. Letting them do their things. Encouraging them to just live the best lives they can with what they have. That’s what we need more than anything.
“And it’s really not about space hotels and new nations. The Republic of Xanadu is just a symbol of something much bigger. I got a rare chance to push an agenda of liberty. And it was all worth it. Every bit of it. Even this part. And I’m just getting started.”
Greg leaned back and sighed. “You’re sitting there pretty quiet. You look like you think I’m crazy-talking here. And maybe I am.”
“No! No. I just. I don’t know what to say.”
After another pause Greg smiled and said, “Man. I wish we had more time to continue this conversation. But maybe it’s for the best that we’ve run out of time.” He pointed over Ryan’s shoulder. Ryan turned to see the clock showed a couple of minutes to 11:30. “I gotta go do some chores before lunchtime.” He stood up.
Ryan stood up too. He moved to accept Greg’s offer of a hug. Ryan said, “It’s great to see you. I’m glad to see you’re in good spirits. You know. You never seem to lose your edge. If you’re not on one crazy adventure you’re on another. Let’s keep in touch.”
“Yeah. Let’s keep in touch. Please do email me when you get back home. Tell me your thoughts. And help keep me from going bonkers with boredom.”
“I’ll do that. And you just keep being your awesome self.”
The two looked each other in the eyes for another moment. The sound of a security door clacking open drew their attention. Greg smiled, nodded, and walked away. He said, “See you on the flip side old friend.”
Ryan spent the next month mulling over what Greg had said. He really appreciated that Greg wasn’t angry at him. Greg really didn’t seem to blame him for not trying to rescue him from his arrest.
But then he had made that impassioned and scattered speech about America in decline. About moving to Brazil. He wanted to go on a speaking tour when he got out. Ryan still wasn’t exactly sure what he was going to speak about. And why anyone would listen to a guy that everyone seemed to believe had put innocent lives in danger for his big ego trip. Who wanted to listen to that guy tell us all that we need to be more selfish?
Ryan did. He wanted to hear more. Greg was right. Ryan still had his small “L” libertarian sentiments. Like a lot of Americans he was sick of big brother encroaching on everyone’s rights. And ruining not only America’s economy but effectively the world’s. But he largely had given up his hopes for real political change long ago. Partly out of political cynicism. You don’t get elected by promising to take entitlements away from voters. And partly out of family considerations. Being a parent in a big American city required him to play nice in a society largely unfriendly to his secret political leanings. At least until his kids had grown up and moved on in their lives.
Ryan had been unfairly coy with Greg. His longstanding cynicism had taken the reins. Surely his friend wasn’t going to shake up the world by going on a one-person crusade. But the truth is that Ryan admired Greg’s audacity in trying to start an independent nation in space. The media may have branded him a megalomaniac and a neocolonial racist for it. But a large undercurrent still existed of popular support for the Republic of Xanadu experiment. Somewhere along the line some anonymous person on the Internet had crafted a clever “RoX” logo. Ryan was starting to see it embedded in videos and web pages everywhere he turned.
So maybe Greg was onto something. Maybe Ryan wasn’t so alone in admiring Greg. Maybe Internet memes like “hands off my RoX” showed that there still was a popular hunger for fresh ideas. What had Greg said? “Money doesn’t talk. Ideas do.” As the weeks rolled by his meaning was starting to sink in. Money may have created a platform for Greg to make a statement with Xanadu. But that was no match for a political process hell-bent on preserving its dominion. And ultimately expanding it. And clearly that wasn’t enough to get people out in the streets demanding justice for Greg, Mahal, and Soraya.
Someone needed to stand up for the idea of Xanadu. After a couple months Ryan was finally starting to understand what Greg was getting at. The Republic of Xanadu wasn’t fundamentally about secession and a political revolution. It was ultimately about restoring individual rights.
Greg had written a manifesto with more than a little help from Soraya. Few people had bothered to read it. But Ryan eventually did. It was meant to be a precursor of a forthcoming constitution for The Republic. Something like America’s Declaration of Independence. Ryan was learning that Soraya Morales-Hackenson had been a quiet student of history and secret admirer of the now popularly rejected fathers of the American revolution. This manifesto was her at her loudest and proudest. This was her throwing her life and fortune into her own small revolution. Even if Greg had been the public face of The Republic. But every last word of that manifesto was an awe-inspiring moral defense of human rights to life, liberty, and property. Soraya was the Thomas Jefferson to Greg’s George Washington.
Soraya was finally released from her own ten month federal sentence around this same time. Amazingly she had never appealed her conviction and sentencing. She hadn’t even considered pleading out in return for a reduced sentence. Almost nobody cared or noticed what became of her once the joint trial was over and passé.
But Ryan did. On the day Soraya was released from FCI Tallahassee Ryan was there to shake her hand. Other than her husband and children nobody else showed up. As she descended the grand staircase in front of the entrance she looked like she owned the place. She looked as severely austere as ever. But she smirked in surprise as she stopped long enough to greet Ryan. She might have given him more time if not for being mobbed by her three teenaged children and then her husband. She paused long enough to give Ryan her phone number before climbing into the family van and driving off.
Ryan gave Soraya a week to settle in before calling her. But when he did she was happy to invite him to visit their Islamorada home in the Florida keys. He was surprised at the beauty of their small Spanish palace overlooking the ocean. And the strong salty breeze could not be more fitting for such a perfect summer day on the back porch overlooking the roiling ocean. They spent the entire day talking about her history and her revolutionary ideas.
By the time the summer sun set behind them Ryan knew what he had to do.
By October Ryan had gotten an invitation to be a guest on Brenda Clark’s primetime BBC show. He had managed to pull this off by entering into a private negotiation with Clark’s casting staff to give her an exclusive opportunity to have Ryan come out of the shadows as a fourth conspirator in the Republic of Xanadu fiasco. The BBC had been solidly critical of everything about Xanadu from long before The Republic. And only ramped that up throughout the couple weeks The Republic existed.
Clark’s staff did everything they could to give Ryan the sense that the show would be very sympathetic to Ryan’s case. But he knew Clark was slavering for another chance to skewer the entire Republic of Xanadu venture and his friends. He let them believe he would try to play the victim on the show. But he knew as soon as he opened his mouth Clark would be all over him. She would try to make him look like an idiot and Greg look like a selfish brigand at worst and a bad friend at least.
But Ryan had spent months preparing for this moment. Greg was right. Freedom wasn’t going to speak for itself. It needed strong advocates to make the best case possible for individual rights. Ryan had taken an indefinite sabbatical from his work two months ago so he could prepare for his debut on the public scene. He didn’t know what would happen after this show. But he knew he had to get this right. He had the element of surprise. And afterward he knew he would have the best chance of capitalizing on whatever buzz he might generate with his bombshell. He had read quite a few novels and essays from the past few centuries on the key topics. He had watched and read countless discussions and debates about the subject. He had crammed his head full of facts and statistics to buttress whatever arguments he might have to deploy to defend his ideas and his friends. And he had several great video conferences with Soraya and visitations with Greg to hone his presentation.
Ryan Yokoyama was as ready for this moment as he had ever been for anything in his life. His spirit was restored. His life had new meaning. And he was ready to take on the whole world in defense of liberty and his friends and fellow Xanaduan revolutionaries.
After five minutes of warm-up conversation off camera with Brenda Clark the director prompted the start of this lead story segment to begin in 5 … 4 … 3 … 2 …
The two sat quietly as the show’s intro music played for a few seconds and the house lights shifted to signal the start of the episode.
Brenda began. “We’ve been teasing our audience for the past week. And now it’s time to introduce our very special guest Mister Ryan Yokoyama of Alameda California. He’s an electrical engineer by day and apparently a secret revolutionary by night. Don’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of Mr. Yokoyama before. He’s agreed to come out of the shadows for the very first time on our show to reveal his hidden role in the ill-fated Republic of Xanadu scheme.
“Did you think that story was over and complete? Think again dear viewers. We’ve learned through our sources that the US Justice Department did quietly investigate all the guests who were aboard Xanadu during that fateful week. But they apparently turned up nothing untoward about Mr. Yokoyama at all. Or indeed about anyone else aboard. What other surprises still await us we can’t say. But for now I’d like to introduce you to Ryan Yokoyama so he can tell us in his own words what really happened. Mr. Yokoyama?”
“Please. Call me Ryan.” He smiled broadly and nodded at the camera as well.
“Sure. And please do call me Brenda. So. Let’s start at the beginning. Shall we? But on second thought let’s skip the beginning and go right to the heart of it. You told us that Greg Atkins personally invited you to visit him on Xanadu. Is that correct?”
“Yes. That’s correct.”
“And that he even paid for your ticket.”
Brenda looked at the camera. “We confirmed this with Spaceluxe. It’s one of the few things they were even willing to comment on in all the times we’ve called regarding the matter. And now I’m sure you’re all as intrigued as I am. So tell us Ryan. Why did Mr. Atkins invite you to Xanadu at just this moment in history? What did he really want from you? And what was he really planning? We’re all ears Ryan.”
Ryan chuckled briefly. He cocked his head to the side and nodded. “Well … Brenda.” He smiled even more broadly, took a deep breath, and began his story.
It takes about an hour and a half of solid reading to get through this novella. But it took years to write. This is actually the second version of an 8,300-word short story I wrote back in 2013. I originally meant for it to be a short precursor to another larger story series I was starting to write. I plan to do a rewrite of that story soon too.
The original theme was fairly simple: history repeats itself. In this case the history of small groups of people in the 20th and early 21st century trying to start new micronations and having them crushed by larger nations not interested in that sort of change. But in this iteration I expanded it into more like two separate stories. First is the tragic short story of Greg ...