by Ito Ichiru (糸一縷)
Holographic cameras whirred as Isaac stepped out of the VIP lounge and offered his hand to Corin. Corin shook it, with a firm confidence and an easy grin that Isaac did his best to match, conscious as always of the camera’s gaze. Through it, the millions of Callistoan voters would be watching, judging.
They wouldn’t see the same things he saw when he looked at Corin. They would see the sharply-pressed suit that still gave off an air of the casual, the tie in Freedom Party green – a deep emerald shade that made his eyes look green themselves, though they were actually grey. The politician’s smile, the fashionable haircut he managed to pull off despite being several years too old for it. They wouldn’t pick up on the tiredness in his eyes, but Isaac could see that Corin was just as worn out by the election campaign as he himself was.
And what they would see when they looked at him, Isaac had no idea. Dark hair, dark eyes, face a little too narrow to really be handsome, charcoal grey suit and well-shined shoes; those were the obvious facts, but from there it was a matter of interpretation. He could rarely guess until the appearance was over and he could get a chance to read the news coverage.
‘Mr. White,’ Corin said, by way of greeting. ‘Thank you for your invitation. So kind of you to offer me a lift.’
‘Not at all,’ Isaac said. ‘It’s a long flight to Valhalla. I could use the company.’
Corin’s smile grew wider. ‘As could I. I’m sure it’ll be far more interesting than reading what this lot has to say about me,’ he said, gesturing at the journalists, who gave a rumble of laughter. If Isaac had tried a similar joke, they’d be decrying him as rude all over the news long before he ever touched down in Callisto’s capital city. What he’d give for half of Corin’s natural charisma.
‘My jet’s waiting in the airlock,’ he told Corin, gesturing towards the doors that stood open, awaiting their arrival. He fell into step beside Corin, aware of the media presence at their backs, aware that everything down to how close or far apart they walked would be analysed and factored in to the constant predictions of alliances, rivalries, who would vote for whom. The reporters started talking to the cameras as they moved away; he could hear one particularly sharp-voiced woman who worked for The Jupiter quite clearly:
‘That was Isaac White, leader of the Allied Liberals, and Corin Alkaev of the Freedom Party, now heading into Mr White’s private transport for the four-hour flight to Valhalla. Voters will be wondering what, if anything, this means for-‘
Isaac didn’t begin to relax until they were inside the airlock and the outer doors were closed, cutting off the media chatter and signalling to the various aides who were loitering around outside the craft that it was time to get on board. Corin hung back, looking up at the plane. ‘Nice jet,’ he said. ‘Does she have a name?’
Isaac had never even thought about naming it before. ‘No,’ he said. ‘It’s always just been the jet.’
‘Bad luck to travel in something with no name,’ Corin told him, and rested his hand against the belly of the plane before heading for the stairs to the main entrance. It wasn’t even a plane, technically speaking; Callisto didn’t have enough of an atmosphere for planes to work. It looked like a shorter, fatter version of an Earth plane without wings or engines, and worked by means of the same gravity manipulators that gave the cities gravity approaching Earth-normal. But with their old definitions no longer around the old Earth words had shifted meaning, attached on to new things.
‘You can name her if you’d like,’ Isaac told Corin as he followed him up the stairs.
Corin shook his head, half-turning to speak to Isaac over his shoulder without breaking step. ‘Has to be official,’ he said. ‘Complete with a waste of some excellent champagne. We’ll just keep our fingers crossed,’ he added, with a slight smile.
They reached the plane, and the crew set about closing the hull door as soon as they were inside. One of his chief aides was waiting for him in the entrance room; a small hallway, all decorated in whites and creams with hints of Lib party colours dotted around the place in purple cushions on the sofas along the walls, a pot of purple hyacinths on a shelf.
‘Parisa,’ Isaac addressed the aide, ‘Mr Alkaev and I are going to be having some very important discussions in my private room. Please make sure we aren’t interrupted for any reason – if anything happens that demands immediate attention, call me on the private comms.’
‘Of course,’ Parisa said, nodding. ‘Will either of you want anything to eat or drink? It is almost lunchtime.’ Isaac occasionally forgot to eat, something of which Parisa was well aware. She’d been around him for a while.
‘We’ll order something if we get hungry,’ Isaac assured her, then gestured Corin towards the narrow corridor that led to his private room, tucked away at the very rear of the plane. ‘This way.’
Corin followed him down the corridor, single file because there wasn’t room for them to walk side by side. It seemed to take an incredibly long time to leave the hubbub of politics and media and aides behind, and to reach the door to Isaac’s private room. They were silent.
Isaac’s hand fumbled for a moment with the doorknob before it opened, and they were into the room beyond; the walls curved with the hull of the plane, panelled with pale wood and soft white leather that was echoed in most of the furniture, and though it was the first time Corin had been in here he didn’t waste time looking at the surroundings. No sooner was the door closed than Isaac was pressed up against it, Corin’s mouth on his and hard against his lips and his large, strong hands sliding under Isaac’s jacket, over his shoulders, and everything else was driven from Isaac’s mind by the sheer weight of Corin’s body pressed against him. Fuck. It’d been too long, way too long, since they’d last had the chance to do this. He clutched at Corin’s elbows, at his arms, pulling him closer and kissing back with all the ferocity and frustration he had.
Corin’s fingers were dragging at Isaac’s jacket, trying to prise him out of it without breaking the kiss or allowing a millimetre gap between their bodies, and it was only that thought that made Isaac regretfully pull away. ‘Creases,’ he reminded Corin breathlessly.
Corin’s soft blue eyes were dark and lustblown; just the sight of them made Isaac swallow a groan and fight back the urge to pounce on Corin and drag him onto whatever piece of furniture was nearest. ‘Right,’ Corin said, sounding like he was having as much difficulty as Isaac was focussing on anything other than lips, skin, sex.
But neither of them could afford to walk out of here looking like they’d just been fucking. Even if there was nothing provable, even a rumour could destroy any chance either of them had of election.
But Corin wasted no time in dragging Isaac’s jacket off his shoulders, and Isaac did the same. ‘Hook on the back of the door,’ he breathed, as Corin hesitated for a moment with the jacket in his hand, and then it was all fingers fumbling with buttons as Corin’s leg found its way between Isaac’s own and ground. Isaac bit back a whimper, praying his trousers made it out of this stain-free.
‘I never realised this election thing would be such a… cockblock,’ Corin said, eyes focussed on the buttons of Isaac’s shirt as he scrabbled to undo each one. Despite the desperate urgency driving Isaac to get naked and horizontal and to get there fast, Isaac couldn’t help but pause as he stripped off Corin’s tie, raising an eyebrow.
‘Cockblock?’ he queried, amused.
Corin glanced up at that, meeting his eyes sharply; they’d gone even darker, his skin even paler, and damn he was beautiful. ‘Yes,’ he said, and gave Isaac’s nipple a sharp twist in return for the teasing. Isaac gasped, eyes slipping closed, head jerking back to hit the door with a quiet thud, and even as Corin undid the last of the buttons Isaac was wondering if the sound had been heard, wondering if anyone would come to check it out. Of course not; the room was soundproofed. But secrecy and silence had been necessary for so long that it’d become a habit, a way of life, even now.
Between them, they managed to get their shirts off without losing any buttons and tossed them onto the hooks on the back of the door as carefully as possible, Isaac leaning his head forwards while Corin impatiently tried to get them to stop falling off. ‘Just drop the ties,’ Isaac said, shuddering as Corin slipped the silky fabric off his neck, hips bucking forward into Corin’s thigh. He closed his eyes, feeling the blood pounding through him, through his cock, as Corin pressed back, letting his own tiny gasps and whimpers out into the silence of the private room.
Isaac rested his hand on Corin’s chest, pulling back with every fragment of self control left in him. ‘Naked,’ he insisted, the thought of walking out into the glare of the media with stains on their trousers the only thing keeping him from just pulling Corin as close as they could get and rocking into him until they both finally, finally came.
Corin made a dissatisfied sound, but pulled back, raising his hands from Isaac’s hips to his shoulders, fingers skimming over skin as they went. Without pause he pressed his lips against Isaac’s, the kiss harder and more demanding and hotter than before, as if he could make that a substitute for the grinding of their cocks. The taste and heat of him nearly blanked Isaac’s mind completely; fortunately as well as needing to preserve their clothes, he also really, urgently needed to get both of them naked, right now. His hand slipped down Corin’s body, finding the fastening of his trousers and tugging on the buttons, his fingers barely seeming to work – especially not when Corin pushed his hips forward into the touch, the hard pressure of him nudging desperately at Isaac’s fingertips.
Then Corin’s hands were on Isaac’s own trousers, and he never knew which of them moved first, but they were staggering across the room, refusing to break contact, kissing as hard as they could until they knocked into the edge of the bed and fell upon it, breathing hard, kicking off their shoes and struggling out of trousers and underwear. Corin grabbed both pairs, tossed them haphazardly to lie over the rounded arm of the nearby sofa, and then they were both finally naked.
For a moment they paused. Isaac drank in the sight of his lover, eyes raking over his body, committing every portion of it to memory – as though every detail of it wasn’t already lovingly catalogued there – like water set aside in anticipation of future drought.
Corin moved forwards first, but only by a fraction of a second; their lips met, a little softer now they were both finally naked but no less impatient, less desperate, and Corin’s arms came up to hold Isaac tightly, hands splayed possessively on his shoulderblades. The kiss grew hotter, lips parting and shifting and pressing in harder, and Isaac realised that despite the elaborate plans he’d come up with for when he finally had Corin to himself again, neither of them had the patience to so much as stop to find the lube, let alone use it. He didn’t care. They had four hours, after all, and he intended to use them well.
For now, he slipped his hand in between their bodies, not bothering with a slow tease winding its way down his chest and over his stomach; he went straight for Corin’s cock, wrapping his fingers around it – god, he was hard, and the knowledge that it was for him went straight to Isaac’s groin – and squeezing.
Corin gasped, his whole body twitching, his head leaning back into the mattress and baring his throat. Then he was looking up at Isaac, lip curling in the exact way it did when a debate opponent made an excellent point and Corin knew he had an even better counter to it; his own hand closed on Isaac’s cock, fingertips running along the length of it in the exact way Corin knew he liked, and Isaac had to bite his lip to keep from swearing, head falling forwards against Corin’s shoulder.
‘Too long,’ Isaac said, his breath sharp, coming in time with Corin’s pumps, and Corin gave a murmur of agreement. His hand was rough and fast and perfect, and Isaac knew he wasn’t going to last long if Corin kept that up; he’d bet that was exactly what the other man was intending. Pressing a kiss to Corin’s shoulder, then a scrape of his teeth, Isaac shifted his wrist angle and carefully ran the very tip of his thumbnail up the underside of Corin’s cock, nowhere near hard enough to scratch; just enough to tease. Corin’s breath caught with a little choking sound, hand faltering, back arching.
‘Isaac,’ he moaned, and Isaac did it again. Corin’s eyes fluttered closed, keeping up a valiant effort at stroking Isaac, but not getting anywhere. Isaac thrilled with delight at the vision, even as his cock cried out for more stimulation and his hips shifted in search of it of their own volition. He knew Corin like this, Corin so sex-starved, so needy, so overstimulated that he lost himself, couldn’t think to move or speak, couldn’t remember his own name – and it made Isaac’s heart pound so hard he could hear it thrumming through his ears. He shifted on the bed, slinging one leg over Corin’s, wrapping his hand harder around Corin’s cock and moving hard and fast now, as he lowered his mouth to the nipples he knew Corin loved him to lick and suck even if he never admitted it…
Corin, usually loud enough that Isaac had to clap a hand over his mouth if there was any possibility of them being overheard, came in total silence, mouth gaping wide as though in a cry that couldn’t be heard as he covered Isaac’s hand with thick spurts of come. The sight was very nearly too much for Isaac’s already overtaxed patience; he ground down into the bed, eyes never moving from Corin’s face, even the thought of suspiciously soiled bedsheets never entering his mind. All that did keep him from letting go then and there was the thought that, after waiting so long, he didn’t want to go over the edge by his own actions; he wanted Corin, needed Corin.
After a few impossibly long moments – agonisingly long even though he never wanted them to end – Corin’s eyes opened again, and he was gasping for breath, staring up at Isaac, his eyes completely glazed with satiated lust. Isaac didn’t need to speak or ask; in a moment Corin had pushed him onto his back, shimmied down the bed, and without teasing or delicacy or finesse, took Isaac’s cock as far into his mouth as it would go.
Isaac cried out, automatically pressing one forearm into his mouth to muffle his cries, fisting his other hand in the bedsheets to keep himself from grabbing Corin by the hair and thrusting into that hot, wet, perfect mouth. He was too far gone already to last long, and it took only a few moments of suction, the sweep of a tongue over his cock, before he was biting his forearm hard to keep from crying out and coming, coming, and it felt like he’d never come quite as hard or long as this in his life.
But then – he realised, as he came known from the high, wincing as the cold air hit his damp flesh, it always felt like that, when it’d been so long since they’d had the chance to do this.
After the few long moments it took both of them to get their breath back, Corin made his way back up the bed, collapsing on his back, arms wrapped round the pillow behind his head. He looked contented, totally relaxed, and though Isaac still felt boneless and very much as though he could happily lie there for a good while and not move, the need for secrecy was raising its head again. ‘Tissues,’ he muttered, pushing himself upright; there was, as he’d remembered, a box of tissues lying almost unused on the table that occupied one corner of the room.
As he stumbled towards the table, its surface lit up with information: four images showing current news feeds on mute underneath the latest headlines, and a blinking box requesting fingerprint and voice verification if he wanted to log in to his personal files. Isaac ignored it all, grabbing at the box, pulling a tissue out and wiping away what evidence remained on his hands and skin.
‘I think there’s already some on the bedsheets,’ Corin apologised. Isaac turned to look at him; he was lying on his side, surveying the sheets. ‘Should wipe off.’
‘How much?’ Isaac asked, walking over to the bed and holding out the box to Corin could wipe himself clean. There was indeed some come on the sheets, though not too much. He took a tissue from the box after Corin and wiped it off as best he could, hoping the small damp patch left was inconspicuous enough not to be noticed by the time these sheets were next cleaned.
When they and the bed were as clean as they were going to get, Isaac tossed the tissues on the bedside table – he could throw them in the disintegrator later when his legs felt more like moving – and lay down on his front, the top of his head nearly brushing the creamy leather headboard. Corin ran his fingers through the slightly damp curls at the nape of his neck, then set about tugging the top sheet out from under him. It was a little too cool in the room to be completely uncovered.
‘Let’s never leave it that long again,’ Corin said, as he succeeded in getting the sheet loose.
Isaac felt the light fabric settle over his skin, gentle as a breath as Corin spread it over the both of them. ‘We probably won’t have much of a choice.’
‘There’s only a week left until the election,’ Corin pointed out, leaning back against the headboard.
‘And after that one of us will probably be in government,’ Isaac pointed out. ‘Barring someone getting a majority, which isn’t going to happen, then out of all the possible coalitions the media keeps throwing around-‘
‘I know, I know,’ Corin said. ‘There’s only one that doesn’t involve either of us.’ And although neither of them needed to mention it, not one of the political commentators thought a coalition involving both their parties was possible. Though their politics weren’t completely opposed, they were just too different to come to a successful compromise. Isaac didn’t know what the prevailing opinions in Corin’s party were, but most of his own favoured a coalition with Eliza Jaspal’s party, the STP – though a worryingly large minority were looking towards Karesinda Summers and her Callistoan Independence Party.
But the time to think about that was after the election, not now when they should be thinking about each other. ‘Governing Callisto as an independent colony is going to be a lot more work than when most of the laws were made by Earth,’ he said. ‘There won’t be much time for dalliances with the loyal opposition.’
‘We’ll make time,’ Corin argued, as intractable as ever.
Isaac wasn’t so certain. ‘I suppose,’ he said. ‘But… neither of us may be able to make all that much of it.’ In the old days, there’d always been time for the two of them to be alone. Sometimes it could be sparse and hard to find, but it was always there if they wanted it. Time to talk, to eat meals together, to stay up till three in the morning mocking the bad special effects on old holofilms – would they ever get to do those things again, or would the pressures of office limit them to quickies snatched in the men’s toilets of the halls of power?
Corin was silent for a moment, tipping his head back against the headboard to stare up at the gently curving ceiling. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘at least it means there’s one plus side to a red-yellow coalition.’
Isaac shuddered. ‘There aren’t any plus sides to that coalition,’ he said.
Corin nodded with a solemnity that was only half faked. ‘We’ll just have to make sure one of us gets into power,’ he said. ‘For the good of Callisto.’
‘We’re all here for the good of Callisto,’ Isaac said. ‘The problem is none of us can agree on what the good of Callisto actually is. That’s why politics was invented in the first place.’
‘And it’s probably the worst system ever devised for doing so,’ Corin said. ‘Unfortunately, it’s what we’re stuck with. Politics,’ he said, holding up a hand as though proposing a toast, then miming drinking from a cup.
Isaac shifted onto his side, snuggling down into the mattress, his cheek flat on the pillow, facing Corin. ‘Do you ever wish…’
‘What?’ Corin prompted.
‘No. It’s stupid. Neither of us would want it,’ he said. ‘I was going to ask if you wished we’ve never gained independence form Earth. But I meant… do you wish things could be like they were then again? None of this media frenzy and debates and politics, just… a few hundred of us elected to be local councillors and governors and getting together to champion the independence protests because we wanted to?’
‘And all of us working together whatever our politics were for a common cause?’ Corin finished. ‘Didn’t they quote you on that in that documentary…?’
‘They interviewed me for that documentary,’ Isaac said. ‘For three hours, and they barely used a minute of it.’
‘It wasn’t all like that,’ Corin said. ‘All… happy families and working together for the common good. Or have you forgotten the arguments?’
‘Course not,’ Isaac said. ‘Most of them were with you.’ Why, why couldn’t they just see eye-to-eye on enough things politically to make things work? ‘But none of them meant anything. None of us had the power to implement what we wanted, not while we were under Earth control. They were just… academic. Now it’s for real, and we’re all enemies,’ he said, shifting more onto his back so he could look up properly at Corin. ‘Even us.’
Corin looked away. ‘I don’t like it either,’ he said, plucking at the bedsheets, making taut white tents and letting them collapse slowly. ‘And I do wish it were… more like before, just with independence. We should’ve retired,’ he said, with the ghost of a smile.
‘And left Callisto in the hands of who, exactly?’ Isaac asked. ‘Karesinda? Ethan?’
‘I’d rather Ethan than Eliza,’ Corin said with a shrug. ‘She’s like you. Tax, tax, tax, and pour it all into her pet projects.’
Isaac felt a stab of something almost like betrayal, a familiar feeling. It always, even though he told himself it was nothing personal, felt like Corin’s rejection of his politics was an attack on him. ‘Corin,’ he said, warningly.
‘Sorry,’ he said, giving, at least, a genuine look of contrition. ‘No politics in bed.’ It was an old rule.
‘Save it for the big debate,’ he told Corin, and did his best to forget it. ‘And Ethan’s not much better than Karesinda. He might not be as up-front about it as she is, but his politics aren’t the most… open-minded.’
‘We agree on other policies,’ Corin said, with an almost guilty shrug. ‘Small government, low tax, free markets, neutrality to Earth…’
‘And when he decides it’s time to return to the good old-fashioned values of that large percentage of the founding colonists who came here to escape the “declining moral standards” on Earth?’ Isaac asked.
Corin met his eyes, very deliberately, though Isaac could see a regret and a sadness in them he’d never have allowed to show if he’d asked something like that in a live debate. ‘We compromise,’ he said, voice heavy.
Isaac wanted to demand how he could even think to compromise on human rights – on any human rights, not just the ones that directly affected them – but he swallowed it down. He knew Corin hated the thought. Knew Corin was only willing to do it because the world wasn’t simple or easy and there wasn’t always a straightforward right choice, and it wasn’t that he didn’t care about the same things as Isaac, it was just that he had different priorities and had to keep the people in his party happy. It didn’t make the thought of it any less bitter.
So he didn’t say anything about it. ‘We shouldn’t be wasting time talking politics,’ he said, voice sounding only a little thick. ‘I’m sure there’s better things we could be doing with our mouths.’
‘Yeah,’ Corin said, with the palest of smiles. He leant down to kiss Isaac, and Isaac closed his eyes and let him, blanking everything from his mind but the soft, fluttering lips pressed to his own lips, each over-gentle touch like a tiny apology for the imperfection of the world.
Actinogram Hill was a slum. Not that anyone called it that, the media and wealthier people preferring easy euphemisms and the people who lived there having too much pride. But it was, quite undeniably, a slum.
Isaac walked through the narrow streets, his security detail hanging back as far as he could persuade them. He’d had to do a lot of persuasion to get his campaign staff to even let him come here. They said it wasn’t safe: he’d had to point out, quite forcefully, that there were a lot of people living in this slum, that they had as much of a right to vote as any other Callistoan, and that since they were the people a lot of his policies were in place to help, he wasn’t going to stick to the nice upper-class campaign visits.
Ten minutes ago he’d been on his jet with Corin, saying their reluctant goodbyes in an atmosphere of luxury and wealth. Actinogram Hill couldn’t be more different. Crowded, noisy, full of the smells of food and people and the soft scent of rot underneath it all, the place was haphazard and full of life. When this city was built in the Valhalla crater, a huge, clear dome with Jupiter burning in the sky above, this place had been intended as an industrial sector, full of big factories and warehouses. When the other cities had been built, and industry had moved to them to avoid the rising prices of the capital, this place had been left abandoned – and the growing numbers of homeless and poverty-stricken had moved in and been forgotten.
Well, Isaac didn’t intend to forget about any of them. He had come here often, when he’d been only a governor and almost anonymous, and come to love it for its vibrancy and resourcefulness even as he’d been horrified at the deprivation and the poverty.
But now he was a major politician and surrounded by security staff, and people were staring at him, nudging each other and whispering and gathering around the edge of the narrow path that was left of the main road to stare. Isaac smiled and waved, trying to look like a man who wanted to help, and angled over to the side of the road to shake hands.
‘Isaac White,’ he introduced himself to the nearest woman, holding out a hand to shake. She was a small, dark woman, carrying a loaf of rough bread under her arm, wrapped up in a patterned shawl. She looked at his hand with a small frown, but shook it. ‘Mary,’ she said. ‘You’re the guy who says he wants to help us, then?’
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘If I can.’
Mary let go of his hand, looked at the streets around them. They were thronged with people; they always were. Most of them lived on these streets, their homes just collections of property, makeshift beds and tents and cooking stoves. There wasn’t room for everyone in the buildings. ‘Politics isn’t going to get my kids bread to eat,’ she said, with a sigh, then gave him a nod and walked off into the crowd.
Isaac wanted to call after her, to say that politics was the only way things could ever change, the only way her kids might have a better chance of growing up to live in a proper house with no worries about where the next meal was coming from – but she was gone. And he couldn’t blame her for her cynicism. So he turned to the next person, with a smile, and a handshake, and went on down the street.
There was a middle-aged woman sitting on the ground, cross-legged, a battered but functional stove in front of her with a pot of soup simmering away on top of it. She stirred it slowly, occasionally pausing to shout something that was lost in the noise of the crowds, but which was clearly mercantile. When he reached her, he held out his hand to her as to everyone else, bending slightly to get down low enough. ‘Isaac White,’ he introduced himself.
The woman raised her head to look at him, considering. Isaac was quite aware that the people around him were watching, falling quiet to listen. Whoever she was, he guessed, she was probably looked up to, important – or maybe just with enough of a reputation for scathing comments that people were hoping for something good.
She looked up at him as though weighting him up; he waited for her to speak. When she did, it wasn’t what he’d expected her to say. ‘Soup?’ she asked, eventually. That put him in a delicate situation. Refusal would be rude, but he didn’t have anything on him he could offer in trade. He would happily have given her something, but everything he had was something that was either useless or too valuable. If he offered something useless, the onlookers would judge him for not understanding their situation; if he offered something too valuable, they’d judge him for offering charity and offending their pride.
Then he had a thought. ‘I’ll refill your water buckets for a bowl,’ he offered, nodding to two dented tin pails by her side, one empty and the other a quarter-full.
There was a wave of laughter through the crowd. The woman nodded, considering. ‘Refill the buckets, and give me your tie,’ she haggled.
The tie was silk, imported from Earth and much too valuable for him to have offered in trade, but since she’d asked for it, that made it okay. ‘Done,’ he said, pulling off the tie and handing it to her, then picking up the buckets and heading for the nearest pump. His security staff looked at each other, uncertain, but followed behind. The onlookers were more positive. They cheered and laughed, and a small crowd of them followed behind, wanting to watch.
The water still ran to this part of the city, and in many places the plumbing was still whole and functional. Near the corner of this street, pipes ran up the outside of one of the warehouses, and here as in other places one of them had been turned into a public pump, an old tap jerry-rigged into the pipe. There was a small queue, but that was a good thing, because it gave him a chance to talk while he waited, and, curious, people were more willing to listen. He told them about how some of the other parties supported cutting the water off and driving them out, told them what he was planning, spoke of new building projects, even new cities, which would keep the spirit of this place alive but provide everyone with housing, proper sanitation and water and electricity supplies, access to jobs and training and education. And people listened.
He made it back to the soup seller without spilling the water, though it was heavy, then sat down beside her as she gestured him to and filled up a bowl of soup for him. It was hot and salty, potatoes and something else he couldn’t quite identify but which was certainly tasty. ‘Now,’ she said – she had tied his tie around her head to keep her hair out of her eyes – ‘we barter for my vote, yes?’
She was smiling; he laughed, as did a handful of people in the assembled crowd. ‘What do you want for it?’ he asked her, then looked up at the crowd. ‘What do you all want for it?’
The soup seller nodded across the street, and he turned to look where she was indicating. In one of the side streets, some old piece of industrial machinery had been dragged out into the road: it was covered with children, climbing and playing on it like any children would play on any playground. ‘They need somewhere proper to play,’ she said, handing another bowl of soup to an onlooker who was offering a hairbrush in return. ‘They need an education. Kids that age should be learning right now, but there’s no public schools here and most of the parents can’t afford barter for teachers.’
Isaac nodded as he took another spoonful of the soup. ‘I know,’ he said, speaking a little loudly, so the gathered crowd could hear. ‘I want to build you new schools. I want to make sure the teachers you’ve already got, the local people, get trained, get paid, get-‘
He was interrupted, one of the security guards stepping forward. ‘Sir-‘ she said.
He shook his head, irritated at being interrupted. ‘Not now.’
But she was persistent. ‘Sir, it’s urgent. It’s your campaign staff, they say…’ She broke off, hesitant. ‘They say we’re to accompany you back to headquarters, sir.’
‘Why?’ Isaac asked, then shook his head. ‘It doesn’t matter why. I’m staying.’ There were a few scattered cheers from the crowd, who were still watching with interest.
‘They say… look at the news, sir.’
‘The news? Which channel?’
The security guard shrugged. ‘All of them.’
He was about to dismiss it, go back to talking to the voters around him. News could always wait. But the soup seller seemed interested. ‘Someone lend me a paper,’ she called.
Isaac had one, but the crowd had burst into a flurry of motion and chatter, and he knew it’d be better to let them get one for themselves. Something was passed between people, and in a few moments the soup seller was opening up a thin plastic membrane, smaller and more battered than Isaac’s own but perfectly functional. The soup seller held it so she and Isaac could both see and pinched one corner to turn it on.
Gasps ran through the crowd, but Isaac didn’t notice them; the world had narrowed vertiginously to just him and the paper and what it was displaying. The main headlines from every single major newspaper were displayed, and all of them said the same things, all of them showed the same images.
Him and Corin. Him and Corin in jet, in the private jet, as they had been only minutes ago; half a dozen different clips playing in silence, on repeat, with pixilation and censor bars doing nothing to hide the truth of what they were doing.
For what felt like an eternity, he could only stare. Then the soup seller was patting his shoulder in an oddly motherly way. ‘You’d better go,’ she said, taking the soup bowl from his unresisting hand and setting it on the floor. ‘You’ll still get my vote next week. But an awful lot of people won’t see it the same.’
ILLEGAL RECORDING OUTS POLITICIANS
Footage which appears to show Corin Alkaev and Isaac White engaging in intimate activity was leaked to the media only minutes ago.
Nearly four hours of film, which appear to have been taken on board Mr White’s private aircraft earlier today, also record the party leaders discussing their political views and the difficulties of a relationship which, it appears, has lasted for a number of years.
The film was almost certainly taken illegally and without either man’s knowledge or consent. The identity of those responsible for this grave breach of privacy has not yet come to light, although the Valhalla Independent was the first to break the story. They claim that the footage was sent to them anonymously.
The film also appears to have been released in full onto the planetary internet, although the source of this leak is unknown.
While many Callistoans are accepting of same-sex relationships, a sizeable proportion is opposed. This number has been in steady decline since the founding of the colony, when a full ninety percent was in opposition, due in large part to the mass emigration of socially conservative individuals from an increasingly liberal Earth.
The Jupiter has not yet been able to reach either man or their spokespeople for comment, though we will update you as soon as more information becomes available.
PARTY LEADERS IN GAY SEX SCANDAL
Two of the party leaders seeking election to the highest office on Callisto have been hiding a secret gay sex tryst from the public for years, it was revealed today.
The two men involved were Corin Alkaev, the Freedom party leader, and Isaac White, leader of the Allied Liberals.
Their shame-fuelled secrecy came to an end today when a brave anonymous source released hours of film to the Callistoan press.
The film was taken earlier today on board White’s private plane, and released minutes after it landed in Valhalla. It shows the two men in a wide variety of progressively lewder sex acts.
The only thing more shocking than their sordid activities was their pillow talk in between – in which, among other things, they discuss their wish that Callisto had “never gained independence from Earth”.
With four hours of film to watch, it’s highly likely that even more outrageous comments are waiting to be uncovered. At least the people of Callisto have one thing to be thankful for – that this footage came out before the election instead of after.
Isaac’s security detail whisked him away faster than he’d thought possible. The staring throngs of people, the noise and the buildings and the chaos, they all fell away like a blur and left him completely alone in the windowless backseat of his hovercar.
One of the guards had tried to join him, but he’d shaken his head and he must have said something, because the man had decided to leave him alone. Alone with his own thoughts, where the reality of the situation could finally begin to sink in.
He knew he should be looking at the broadcasts and papers, getting a feeling for just how bad this was, but that one glimpse had been more than enough. Instead, he found himself reaching into his jacket pocket, pulling out his slender comm and unfolding it, clipping the earpiece around his ear. As he did so he realised his hands were shaking. He glanced to where the partition that separated him from the driver was, making sure the intercom wasn’t on and he couldn’t be overheard, then half-whispered his command into the comm. ‘Call Corin.’
It was answered immediately, as if Corin had been expecting the call. ‘Isaac?’ he asked, and from the tight, pinched tone of his voice Isaac knew that Corin was aware of what’d happened. ‘You’ve heard,’ Corin said, and it wasn’t a question.
‘Only just,’ Isaac said. ‘Corin-‘
‘It’ll be okay,’ came Corin’s voice, no longer tense, but instead pitched to reassure. For half a second Isaac almost shouted at him: he didn’t want reassuring. What the fuck good would reassurance do now? ‘We’ll sort it out. Figure out how to spin it. You’ll be okay, most of your supporters are fine with it. My people are talking to yours right now, and if anyone knows how to spin-‘
‘The media is filled with film of us fucking and you think all I’m worried about is politics?’
Corin was silent for a moment, and when he spoke again it wasn’t to Isaac. ‘Not right now. This is important. Isaac, listen, it’s not – yes, I’m speaking to Isaac. No, I’m not going to badger him to make a joint appearance. You can get on to his campaign staff and sort that out between you. This is personal. Got it?’ There was a sigh. ‘Isaac. Sorry This lot’s thinking about nothing but political implications, they’ve got me thinking the same way.’
Isaac closed his eyes, leaning his head back against the headrest. Leather, like the headboard, back in the plane. He could almost believe he was back there, innocent of what was about to happen. If he could live those four hours, over and over, and never know what was going to happen next… ‘How could this happen?’ he asked. ‘That plane’s supposed to be bug-proof. Any tech taken on board that we don’t know about sets off the sensors in the control rooms. Anything. Even microchips and newspapers.’
‘The how doesn’t matter,’ Corin said. ‘What matters is it’s happened. I guess at least we don’t have to try and keep it a secret any more.’
‘We won’t have to keep it a secret because we’ll be out of a job,’ Isaac told him. ‘If this loses the election for either of us, you really think our parties will keep us on as leaders?’
‘If that happens, we’ll retire together and go and open a bed and breakfast in Asgard,’ Corin told him. Isaac gave a strangled sort of laugh. ‘But it’s not over yet. There’s still plenty of people supporting both of us, and plenty who’re sympathetic. All we need to do is turn that into votes.’
‘While our opponents start slinging accusations and insults at us every chance they get,’ Isaac said.
‘I thought you were supposed to be the wide-eyed idealist in this relationship. Stop being so pessimistic,’ Corin chided him, and Isaac found himself smiling, just a little. No matter what happened, he realised, he’d have Corin. Their political careers could go to hell, they could be hounded out of public life altogether and have to move every six months when the gossip got too much, the whole of Callisto and every other human settlement besides could see the funny expression he pulled when he came, but he’d still have Corin.
‘Isaac,’ came Corin’s voice, ‘you’re heading to your party HQ, right?’
Isaac realised he hadn’t actually asked where he was being taken. But where else would they be going? ‘Think so. Why?’
‘Because I just changed news channels and there’s a bigger crowd of journalists waiting for you than turned up when we declared independence,’ Corin said. ‘Tell me you’ve got good security?’
‘There’s five of them in the car behind me,’ Isaac told him. ‘Assuming they did follow me. But there’s security staff at headquarters, anyway.’
‘Good,’ Corin said. ‘Because I think your car just arrived.’
The car was windowless and soundproof; Isaac had no way of knowing if he was right. Isaac glanced anxiously at the door, imagining the crowds of paparazzi beating on it, shouting questions. ‘Corin-‘
‘Don’t get out of the car,’ he said. ‘The guards are fighting their way to you. Isaac…’ He hesitated for a moment, and when he spoke it was fierce, determined, the real version of the tone he put on when he needed to declare his absolute commitment to the latest policy. ‘Listen, even if this all goes wrong, even if this costs me everything – it was worth it,’ he said, and then the line went dead before Isaac even had a chance to respond.
Silently, Isaac reached up and took the phone out of his ear, running his thumb over it like it was Corin’s skin. He didn’t smile, but he felt light; even though he knew you couldn’t feel the motion of a hovercar, he could have sworn he was floating.
And then the door opened, and the moment was destroyed.
Someone was shining a bright light into the car, blinding him, though even as he swung an arm up and closed his eyes he had the impression of bodies cramming in close, blocking out the world. And the voices, dozens of them, shouting over each other so all he could make out was his name, over and over – ‘Mr. White! Mr White!’
He felt a hand grab his arm and pull him out of the car; he went with it, not really able to do anything else. How long could he have sat there before the mob crammed themselves into the car to get to him? ‘No comment,’ a strong voice yelled near his ear, and Isaac opened his eyes, blinking, to realise the one who’d pulled him out was one of his security guards, after all. Thank goodness.
‘Just stand still, sir,’ the guard shouted, another guard struggling through the crowd to get to Isaac’s other side. There was a sudden judder, knocking Isaac off balance and sending him stumbling a step forward to catch himself on a railing. A railing? There weren’t any railings like that at headquarters… and then Isaac realised what he was standing on. They were on a hovering platform, one of the ones used to clean high windows and that kind of thing, and so were all the paparazzi. And what had sent him flying was one of their platforms knocking into his.
‘Hold on!’ shouted the second guard, and the platform jerked forward an inch, nudging into one which appeared, from the brief disoriented glances Isaac got of the logo, to be owned by the Valhalla Independent. The other platforms barely moved; theirs shifted upwards, but the cluster of media with their cameras and microphones and questions just moved with them.
Still, slowly, jerkily, they managed to make progress. Isaac held on to the railing and tried not to look flustered; the last thing he needed was to appear harassed and harried and afraid. But it was difficult to keep your dignity when hemmed in on all sides by frantic journalists. Like predators, once they had a whiff of your blood they never let up.
So Isaac tried to ignore them, to act like the barrage of questions was nothing more hostile than the roaring of some great industrial machine. Even so, he found himself wanting to answer them, or at least to say something, to say yes, it had happened, and he and Corin were together, and they weren’t going to try to deny it. But the roar was so loud that even if he did speak, they probably wouldn’t hear.
They eventually made it, not to the door, but to a fourth-storey window. A collection of anxious aides were gathered there. The guards had to lift him bodily and pass him in through the window; he felt, at the last moment, a reporter’s hand grab at his wrist…
But then he was in, and the window was being slammed and the blinds drawn, and he was suddenly back to the dignified quiet of the corridors of power. He brushed down his suit, ears still ringing, suddenly embarrassed in front of all the aides who he was quite sure were only refraining from whispering because they were too polite. One of them handed him a glass of water. ‘Thank you,’ he said, then scanned the room to locate the most senior official there. ‘Make sure those guards get a bonus,’ he told her, partly because they damned well deserved one and partly to reassert his authority.
He turned back to the window for a moment, wondering if the guards were still out there, and shifted the blinds aside for one moment to see. The guards were gone, and the floating battalions of press were drifting away, and down on the ground… He hadn’t been able to see, in that long, slow journey, but there had been twice as many people on the ground. Shit. When Corin had said there were more than there had been when they declared independence, he really hadn’t been kidding.
One of the aides cleared her throat. ‘They’re waiting for you in the main meeting room,’ she said, and Isaac didn’t need to ask who. He nodded, thanked her, and headed off.
It was a little disorienting, having entered the building through a window rather than through the front door as he usually did, but he found his way soon enough, down to the large mahogany door that led into the meeting room. Isaac paused with his hand on the handle, thinking of all the times he’d been through this door before. The decision that had made him party leader, the endless discussions and calls and policy decisions, the campaign plans…
All of which could have gone to waste like that.
He opened the door, quite prepared for disappointment, anger, dismay. Few of his key campaign leaders and high-up party members were in the habit of hiding their feelings. When he entered, the room fell silent – and it was a crowded room; nearly everyone was here, and those that weren’t were remotely present, flickering holograms projected into the room.
‘There you are,’ said Maria, the short, dark woman in charge of his campaign. ‘We were getting worried.’ She gestured him towards the chair which had been saved for him at the head of the table, he took it, glancing around all the watching eyes and trying to read what he saw in them. There was anger. There was also curiosity, uncertainty – even sympathy, in some, which he supposed was good.
But it seemed no one was going to say anything. Maria went on. ‘Now, we have two priorities, the first being to find out who bugged your plane. We’ve already found and removed the bug and we’re running analysis. The second – or really, the first, since this is the most important – is to control and limit the damage caused.’ She paused slightly; there were a few quiet coughs. ‘As we all know, the media have already gone into a frenzy. The main headlines and articles speak for themselves.’ She tapped a pattern out onto the table, and up came the digital front pages of all the major newspapers, all – Isaac reddened – showing clips of the footage from his plane, only most of them censored.
The one on the far left, though… It was uncensored, but then it didn’t need to be. It hadn’t been able to resist running a clip of them in bed together, but it hadn’t picked one of the scandalous, salacious images most of the others had gone for. Instead it had a short five-second clip of him lying on his back, the covers drawn up over him, and Corin sitting up beside him, looking down at him with a warm smile and an adoring expression that made Isaac’s heart catch in his throat just for a moment, made whatever Maria was saying and the room full of staring people vanish, just for a moment, just for long enough.
‘Right,’ Isaac said, blinking and looking away, looking around the room and feeling just a little more confident. ‘First things first: who’s on our side?’
Isaac paced to the windows and twitched the heavy curtains open just enough to peer out. The press were still camped outside. They were trying to be discreet, in case he might decide to leave the house if he thought they’d gone away, but they were still very obvious, even if the security staff had managed to persuade them not to set foot on Isaac’s actual property.
Even if he’d wanted to go out, Isaac was under firm orders not to leave the house. No, not orders. He was a free citizen, after all; the people in charge of his campaign couldn’t order him to do anything. He was under the firm suggestion that he didn’t leave the house – and he was beginning to feel like, if it weren’t for the very real prospect of repeating yesterday’s fourth-floor-window debacle, he’d forget about them and go find some babies to kiss.
He let the curtains fall closed and paced back across his living room. It was too stuffy, too hot. Normally on a day like this he’d have the curtains back and the windows wide open to cool the room down, but with the media gathered outside that would just be an invitation to having his every move broadcast for the viewing public.
Broadcasts. His eyes fall upon the crumpled newspaper, the thin plastic sheet lying where he’d tossed it on the sofa cushions. He’d told himself to put it aside, to do something different and not keep torturing himself with the endless news stories, but what else could he do? Nothing else would hold his interest, not when the paper was lying there mockingly. With a sigh, he picked it up and pinched it to turn it on, trying to ignore the clips of him and Corin in the plane that were still being featured on the front pages. Instead he tapped the image of Corin’s face that appeared on one of the better newspapers, dragged it to cover the whole paper, and told it to resume from where he had left off.
‘-because I did not do anything wrong,’ Corin was saying, looking straight out at Isaac. Except he wasn’t looking at Isaac, of course, but into the lens of a holographic camera. Into the eyes of millions of voters. ‘If I have anything to apologise for, it’s for keeping this a secret – but after the reaction Isaac and myself have received from the media, I hope my fellow citizens can understand why we made that choice.’
Isaac. Not “Mr. White”. The statement Isaac had made – late yesterday evening, after fruitless hours spent arguing over the best way to deal with the situation – had been brief, scripted by his speechwriters, and had called Corin “Mr. Alkaev”. Isaac hadn’t cared at that point, too tired of arguing and sick of watching his sex life played on constant loop to want to do more than get that nightmare of a day over and go to bed. But even then he’d known this wasn’t the right way to handle things.
And here Corin was, doing it properly. ‘To those who have supported us, I give my thanks and gratitude. To those who have opposed us, I give my conviction that I will not let your opposition damage either my relationship or my political aspirations.’ He was building up properly, now, that familiar fire showing itself in his voice, his words. Always passionate, and Isaac knew him well enough to tell this was genuine, not merely put on for the sake of the voters, and smiled, softly. Corin might be determined, but that didn’t mean he could stop them.
Isaac should have been there. Corin kept talking about supporting us, but it was always my thanks, my conviction. It should have been our. He’d argued for that, tried to say that he should be there, should make it a joint statement, should stand united. But they had been convinced that the thing to do was lie low and wait for a day or so in the hopes this would blow over. Short-sighted cowards.
Isaac’s fingers tightened on the paper, creasing Corin’s face as he went on. ‘The Freedom Party was given its name because as a party, it is devoted to one thing above all. Freedom,’ he was saying. ‘Freedom for each person to live as they wish, to do as they wish, to speak as they wish – and of course, to love as they wish,’ he declared.
Isaac was fed up of listening; he tossed the paper onto the floor. ‘And the freedom to live in the slums and die of poverty as they wish?’ he snapped.
He regretted it, almost instantly, even if Corin wasn’t there to actually hear him. He closed his eyes for a moment, making himself take a calming breath, then picked up the paper, resting it across his knees. Corin was still speaking. ‘Sorry,’ he said, to his face on the paper. ‘I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at them. I should have been there.’
As if mentioning them had summoned them up, his comm began to buzz. It was set to take calls only from Corin or his own party, and Corin was too busy to call. Glaring at it, he paused the paper and snatched it up. ‘Yes?’
It was Maria. ‘We’ve had some news-‘ she began.
‘Forget about the news for the moment,’ he said. ‘What about the campaign?’
‘The big debate is tomorrow,’ Maria said, simply and calmly. ‘We’ll have you lie low until then, and after that-‘
‘Maria, this isn’t working,’ he snapped. ‘Corin has the right idea. Have you looked at the papers recently? His approval rating is sweeping up.’
On the other end of the comm., Maria sighed. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘and if we have you start making inspiring speeches about freedom now the voters will just view us as political copycats. Listen, this news – it’s about the bug.’
Curse the woman – she knew what information to dangle in front of him to get him to listen to her. ‘Alright, I’m listening,’ he said.
‘It has some kind of new plastic compound that makes it invisible to bug-detectors. Our technical guys say they haven’t seen anything like it. The thing did have DNA traces though – we tracked them back to one of the plane staff. He’s been taken by the police for questioning. We’ve done our own background checks though.’
‘He doesn’t have any links to media organisations, and we can’t find any suggestion that he was approached by one of them. But most of his family have recently become outspoken supporters of the Callistoan Independence Party.’
Isaac froze. ‘You think they…?’
‘I don’t think anything,’ Maria said. ‘We can’t go around accusing anyone until there is solid proof. But for what it’s worth… we’ve no other possible motive, and it doesn’t seem like coincidence.’
Isaac let out a breath. ‘Right,’ he said. ‘Thanks for letting me know.’
She hung up – a second before he thought to press her again on the subject of him getting back on the campaigning trail. Drat. Still, he had bigger things to think about – the thought that the bug might have come, not from the unscrupulous media, but from one of his opponents. Karesinda Summers.
Unable to stay still, Isaac got to his feet and walked over to the window, twitching the curtains open again. The press hadn’t moved.
It wasn’t till the next day – when he declared in no uncertain terms that he was going out in public whether they liked it or not, and if they didn’t send a car to pick him up he was going to walk out there under his own power and give the assembled press completely honest and open personal interviews until said car arrived – that he finally got out of the house.
Not that they could have kept him in much longer if they’d wanted to; the big debate was tonight. For once, all the newspapers’ front pages would be completely free from the ubiquitous clips of his sex life, completely given over to a live stream of the debate.
Of course, they didn’t send the car until a short while before the debate, and all his appointments had been cancelled. The only one – or so they said – which could be picked up on such short notice was the opening of a new homeless shelter in one of the smaller “suburb” domes that had sprung up around the capital. The shelter had, of course, been given money to rush its opening forward a few weeks just so that he could be there for the opening shortly before the election.
Politics never used to make him cynical. In the back seat of his car, Isaac closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the headrest. But then it had gotten nasty. Then it’d become all about image and charisma and manipulating the voters into liking you and planting bugs in your opponents’ private planes to get dirt on them. Maybe Callisto had been better off under Earth control after all.
The hovercar came to a stop outside the new shelter. Isaac waited for a guard to come and open the door, as they’d agreed. They didn’t know how frenzied the press would be – and, true to form, as soon as the door opened there was shouting and questions and cameras. Isaac put on the best smile he could manage and waved, but didn’t stop walking and didn’t let them accost him. Fortunately someone had thought to put up barriers to give him a clear path to the door…
And he hadn’t walked more than a few steps down the path when he realised not all of the people gathered around were from the press. Under the familiar babble of constant questions he could hear something more like chanting, and when he glanced above the heads of the media people he could see placards. Placards with a range of messages all centred around one theme, placards saying things like NOT IN MY GOVERNMENT and NO SODOM-IKE! He hadn’t even been called Ike since he was six.
Isaac looked sharply away, breathed out, kept on walking to the door with the best smile he could manage and an outstretched hand for the man running the place. He was a young man with freckles and an earnest expression, who invited Isaac inside quickly. ‘Sorry about that,’ Isaac told him once they were away from the media and protesters – though he was still feeling a little shaken. That hadn’t been expected.
‘Not like you invited any of them,’ the man told him. ‘And we’re glad you came – we need the publicity. Would you like the tour?’
It looked like a good place, and Robert – the man in charge – seemed committed and dedicated and kind. Exactly the sort of man, Isaac couldn’t help but think, whom he should have fallen for. Someone who shared his politics, his convictions, someone who wasn’t a political opponent. Someone who, once they’d controlled the inevitable fallout of an outing, could have been the supportive, caring spouse standing behind him as he made speeches and trod the campaign trail.
But he was here for the shelter, not for considering the merits of its owner. Isaac made a mental note to make a private donation, when all this chaos was over, whatever the outcome of the election. It was small, but someone had taken the time to make the place comfortable and attractive, even if that just meant a few houseplants and a lot of bright yellow paint, and there were beds and showers and food and plenty of resources.
He would’ve liked to spend more time there, but the debate was starting in a little over an hour and he had to be there early, so with regret his chatter with Robert was cut short and they headed back out front for a short ceremony and a bit of ribbon-cutting. That part Isaac was dreading: the media might shut up while he snipped the ribbon, but he doubted the protesters would. Would they show that in the papers, footage of himself opening the shelter and struggling to be heard over the chants of protestors?
Still, he could hardly just sneak out the back. At least he had the debate to come, and he could say exactly what he liked without being mobbed by press or protestors or ordered to sit at home and be good by his campaign managers. Keeping his focus on that, he put his best smile on and tried not to fidget with the cuffs of his shirt as Robert opened the door for him and ushered him outside.
He’d been wrong, he realised instantly, to think that the press would be quiet and let him make his speech; as soon as the door opened they surged forth. He could see his car, but the barriers holding the path open had been kicked down or pushed aside, and the crowd of reporters and camera crew were pushing forwards – if the security staff hadn’t stepped forward Isaac would have been crushed. He stepped back, alarmed at the onslaught, and glanced over at Robert. There was no way he could open the shelter in this chaos. Selfish, idiotic journalists! He was on the point of gesturing towards the door and calling a retreat back inside when the initial roar quietened enough for him to be actually able to hear some of the words.
‘Mr White, what is your reaction-‘ ‘-do you know who carried out the attack on-‘ ‘-his outspoken attitude to blame for-‘ ‘you be visiting Mr Alkaev in hospital?’
Isaac’s heart froze in his chest; he turned, stepping out of the protective reach of his guards and rounding on the nearest reporter. ‘What happened?’ he snapped.
The reporter blinked at him, as if the thought of a politician asking him a question instead of the other way round was too bizarre to accept. ‘You don’t know?’
The man’s expression softened slightly. ‘He was attacked – stabbed, badly – on his way to the debate studio,’ he said. ‘About twenty minutes ago. If – if I could ask for a few words-‘
Twenty minutes? Isaac stepped closer, heart pounding so hard he could feel his cuffs shaking from the force of his pulse. ‘Where is he?’ he demanded. ‘Where did they take him?’
‘The Alexandra Holloway-‘
Isaac didn’t wait to hear the end of the sentence. He was off, plunging into the crowd of reporters, only vaguely aware of the reporter shouting something after him. Probably a question, he was surrounded by them now as he pushed people aside, elbowing where he had to, their words as meaningless as the hum of hovercars. He didn’t want questions; he wanted answers.
He wanted Corin.
Corin attacked. Corin in the hospital. He had to get to him. Shoving the last of the press aside, he grabbed for the door handle, opened it, and swung himself inside, slamming the door shut and throwing the inside of the car into complete soundproofed silence.
Isaac slumped into the seat for a moment, only now becoming aware of how hard he was shaking and the stinging of knuckles he didn’t remember bloodying, but he didn’t have time to relax. He leant forward and turned on the driver intercom. ‘Take me to the Alexandra Holloway. The hospital.’
He snapped the intercom off without waiting for an answer, then pressed himself back into the seat, gulping in air before pulling his comm out of his pocket and snapping it open, pressing Maria’s autodial. She was in charge of his schedule. She was the one who was supposed to call him if anything changed.
‘Why didn’t you tell me?’
There was silence on the other end of the line for a few long moments. ‘You were busy.’
‘Busy?’ Isaac demanded. ‘Busy touring a new homeless shelter? Shelters can wait, Maria, Corin-‘
‘You’re running for election,’ she interrupted. ‘I know you care about him, but your campaign comes first. Isaac…’ She fell silent for a moment; Isaac could hear a distant voice for a few seconds. When Maria spoke again, her tone was sharper. ‘Isaac, where are you going?’
‘The hospital. I would have thought that would be obvious.’
‘Isaac, the debate-‘
‘Fuck the debate,’ he snapped. ‘I lost my chances of being elected anyway when you screwed up how we handled this incident. Corin is more important. Do you understand that? I’m going to the hospital, and if you disagree, consider yourself fired.’
He hung up, snapping his comm closed and tossing it onto the seat beside him. It started ringing almost immediately, but he ignored it, closing his eyes tightly as though that could block out the sound.
After a few minutes, the intercom clicked on. ‘Excuse me, sir,’ the driver said, ‘but are you alright?’
‘I’m fine,’ Isaac lied. ‘Just keep driving.’ The intercom clicked off, and Isaac opened his eyes again, staring straight ahead at the back of the rear-facing seat, and tried to calm his whirling thoughts. When that failed, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his paper. He might hate the media, but right now it was the quickest way to get answers.
The dramatic events surrounding Corin Alkaev took another turn earlier this evening, when the Freedom Party leader was attacked and repeatedly stabbed.
Witnesses state that Mr Alkaev was just about to enter his hovercar on his way to the political debate when a man wielding a knife burst from the crowd and, despite the best efforts of the security staff, succeeded in seriously injuring Mr Alkaev.
While the security guards subdued the man and turned him over to the police, Mr Alkaev was taken to hospital. The extent of his injuries is as yet unknown.
Police have also refused to release any information relating to the identity of the attacker, his possible motives, or any way in which Mr Alkaev may have provoked the attack.
Notably, despite repeated claims that theirs is a long-term and committed relationship, Mr White chose not to cut short his visit to a homeless shelter in favour of being at Mr Alkaev’s side.
ASSASINATION ATTEMPT MARS FIRST CALLISTOAN ELECTION
Earth was amazed and shocked earlier this afternoon when one of Callisto’s party leaders was brutally attacked.
Corin Alkaev, the leader of Callisto’s Freedom Party, was on his way to a major debate when he was attacked by a young man armed by a knife. Witnesses say Mr Alkaev was stabbed multiple times before security officers were able to restrain the assailant.
The assassination attempt follows the recent release to the press of sexually explicit footage revealing that Mr Alkaev was in a long-term relationship with one of his political opponents, Isaac White. It is believed that the attack may be linked to this revelation, which has caused scandal on Callisto, mostly due to the socially regressive views of many Callistoans rather than to any potential conflict of interest.
These events cast an ugly shadow over Callisto’s first elections since achieving independence, with many Earthians saying this calls into question whether granting independence to the former colony was the right decision. Professor Babirye Saab, Head of Modern History at the University of Oxford, expressed her dismay at the events.
“The circumstances of Callisto’s formation and the influential Exodus Movement mean that Callistoans still cling to prejudices and beliefs that most Earthians believe are firmly consigned to history,” she said. “Only Earth’s guiding hand prevented those attitudes being written into law and used as tools of persecution. Now that guiding hand has been withdrawn, I fear that this savage attack will be the first of many.”
Mr Alkaev is being treated by surgeons at the Alexandra Holloway Memorial Hospital in Valhalla. No further information on his condition has yet been released.
Isaac tipped his head back against the wall of the hospital corridor and began to regret throwing his newspaper out of the window. At the very least he might have pulled up a book to read, made some sort of attempt to distract himself instead of staring at the dull metal walls and fake plants.
Maybe he shouldn’t have come. What good was he doing to anyone just sitting here? The debate would already be well underway. Corin was in the hands of the doctors now, and what use was sitting here waiting?
But he’d have been worse than useless in a debate. He had to be here, on the uncomfortable chairs, trying not to look at the double doors at the end of the corridor beyond which Corin was laid out on a table, all-too-pale flesh stained with blood under the impersonal hands of strangers trying to piece him back together.
Isaac closed his eyes, swallowing hard, feeling sick. He’d watched video of the attack from three angles, and it hadn’t gotten easier to see. The knife, only there if you knew it was, and then the sudden burst of red, the look on Corin’s face of complete shock…
The plastic seat creaked alarmingly next to him, and Isaac’s eyes flew open in alarm – the first thought in his mind being that someone had come to tell him Corin was dead. But it wasn’t some anonymous doctor with a face half-hidden by surgical masks; it was Eliza Jaspal.
Isaac let out a breath. ‘You startled me.’
Eliza didn’t apologise – it wasn’t her way – just nodded, to acknowledge it, and went on. ‘There’s no further news,’ she told him. ‘But they’re saying he should be okay.’
It was nothing Isaac hadn’t heard, and nothing he put much confidence in. ‘Why are you here?’ he asked, ‘Shouldn’t you be at the debate?’
Eliza shook her head. ‘You really think they’d keep it going with two of the party leaders missing?’ she asked. ‘Particularly the two everyone was planning to lay into? Your campaign staff are lucky they’ve not ended up here with heart attacks, by the way, the way they’ve been panicking over you. Are you okay?’ she added, quite perfunctorily.
Eliza’s eyes narrowed. ‘Are there any cameras here?’ she asked – a complete leap of subject, but then Isaac was used to that from her. He shook his head. ‘Are you sure? Because you haven’t had a very good track record with being accidentally recorded lately…’
Isaac bristled. ‘I’m sure,‘ he insisted.
‘Good,’ she said, and before Isaac could react, Eliza had leaned forwards and wrapped her arms around Isaac, enfolding him into a hug. ‘Because you’re obviously not fine at all,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know what you were thinking trying to convince me that you were. I do know you better than that.’
A little bemused, but not really caring, Isaac relaxed into the hug. And it was just what he needed, even if he had a mass of bright green hair in his face. Eliza sometimes made him think of a tree, when her hair was this colour: brown skin, even darker than Isaac’s own, and that mass of green on top. She’d probably just be amused if he told her. ‘It doesn’t feel like that any more,’ he said. ‘We’re not all banding together to fight for independence now, Eliza, we’re supposed to be opponents.’
Eliza snorted, pulling back a little. ‘That didn’t stop you and Corin,’ she pointed out. ‘Not in private. And it’s not going to stop either of us. Besides, we’re allies, you and I, even publicly.’
‘And yet you didn’t want to hug me if there were cameras watching,’ Isaac pointed out.
Eliza smoothed her hands down her skirt. ‘The media frenzy around you, they’d probably decide we were having a secret affair on the side,’ she pointed out. ‘I’ve no desire to enter my party headquarters through the fourth-floor window, thank you. Particularly since we only have three floors.’
Isaac laughed, only a quiet one, but it was still laughter. He immediately felt guilty, glancing towards the doorway that led to the theatre. How could he laugh when Corin could be dying?
‘He wouldn’t want you to feel bad,’ she told him. ‘He’d much rather you kept your spirits up.’
Which was easier said than done. Isaac crossed his arms across his chest, feeling cold as he looked towards those doors. ‘I can’t help but feel like this is my fault,’ he said.
‘If this was because he’s gay… then I’m the only reason he’s here,’ Isaac explained.
Eliza clicked her tongue, settling back in her chair. ‘Isaac, somewhere out there, there’s a parallel world where-‘
‘Not the parallel world theory again,’ Isaac groaned. ‘I knew letting you found a Science and Technology Party was a bad idea.’
‘-a parallel world where you and he never fell for each other,’ she said. ‘Actually, there are infinitely many parallel worlds, where infinitely many things happened after you never fell for each other, and in infinitely many of them Corin ended up getting stabbed anyway. So how can it be your fault?’
Isaac let his head fall back against the wall a little harder than was strictly necessary. ‘Because cause and effect doesn’t cease to operate in this world just because there’s a universe out there where someone stabbed Corin because he didn’t like the tie he was wearing. It doesn’t change the fact that in this one he was stabbed because of me.’
‘We don’t know that for sure,’ Eliza pointed out. ‘Everyone’s assuming it – and not saying it directly – but that doesn’t mean it’s so.’
‘Maybe. I don’t know,’ Isaac said. ‘Have you watched the video of the attack?’ She nodded. ‘It just didn’t feel right. The guy who did it, he was too good. Too quick, too easy.’
‘So you think there was a different motive?’
‘I don’t know,’ Isaac said. ‘There’s plenty of people who would stab him for it. Imagining… vast conspiracies and elaborate explanations or whatever seems pointless. But I don’t think it was completely opportunistic, or the work of a lone madman. Eliza… The bug on the plane. We think the CIP put it there.’
‘Karesinda?’ Eliza asked, genuinely surprised.
‘Or someone in the party.’
‘And now you think she might have… what, ordered an assassination attempt?’
‘Have you been reading her policies lately?’ Isaac asked. ‘Or her comments on this whole scandal? She doesn’t like gay people, Eliza. She’d happily make it illegal and stick us all in prison if we dared break the law. She was never close to Corin, either. I don’t know. It’s just a theory. I’ve no proof.’
‘There’s a difference between setting policy and ordering a murder,’ Eliza said, tugging on one earring, a nervous tic of hers that the papers liked to point out. ‘You can’t go and accuse her-‘
‘I know that. Not without proof.’ Which meant he needed some proof. Which was easier said than done, but… He’d been thinking, while he sat here; Eliza’s arrival, talking to her about it, had crystallised his thoughts, and now the only possible plan was crystallising in his mind too. ‘Can I ask you for a favour?’
‘You can always ask,’ she said, looking dubious.
‘You know everyone who’s big in technology, right?’ he asked. ‘We’ve got the bug that was planted on my jet. The bug that can somehow confuse very sophisticated detectors.’
‘You want me to find a specialist who can try to find hard proof of where it came from?’ Eliza guessed.
‘No.’ Isaac raised his head to look at her directly, solemnly. ‘I want you to find me someone who can figure out how it works and reproduce it. As soon as possible.’
Eliza realised immediately what he intended. ‘Isaac, you realise that is illegal?’
‘So’s stabbing Corin.’ He snapped the words out with a sharp edge he hadn’t intended, eyes flickering to the doors at the end of the corridor. ‘I’m not getting elected anyway, not now. What’ll they do to me? Fine me? I have money. At worst they’ll stick me in prison for a few months, I can do that too.’
Eliza’s expression was contemplative; she looked like she was trying to size him up, figure him out. Isaac simply waited. Finally – without any bothering to ask if he was sure: once Eliza had decided you were sure, she didn’t need anyone else’s confirmation – she said, ‘I’ll do it. On the condition you never allow this to be traced back to me, and if you do get into power, you must help me pass… six laws. No, make it seven,’ she amended, looking as though she was writing the laws in her head even as she spoke.
Isaac laughed. ‘Eliza, I’m not getting into power,’ he said, though he realised what she was doing. She was stating a condition she knew he would never have to follow through on, so the whole thing could remain a bargain, so it wasn’t a matter of him asking for charity and her giving it to him.
‘That’s the deal.’
‘Then I accept,’ he said. Eliza had already pulled a piece of actual paper – it looked like a crossword – out of her pocket, and a pen, and was scribbling something down on the back. ‘Wait ten minutes for me to arrange things, then have the bug sent to this address,’ she told him. ‘It shouldn’t be traceable back to me or my party. Oh, and if you could solve thirteen down for me, I’d appreciate it.’
He took the paper from her with a heartfelt smile. ‘Thanks,’ he said.
Eliza nodded, and got to her feet. ‘He will be fine, so stop worrying,’ she told him, as final, parting advice. ‘And do try to get some sleep.’
Eliza’s contacts worked fast. The next morning – having managed a few hours of sleep – he was in the reception of the Callistoan Independence Party headquarters, terrorising the receptionists.
‘I don’t have time to waste being passed incrementally higher up the chain of command,’ he told the reception manager. ‘I need to speak to Karesinda Summers, and I need to speak to her now.’
‘Miss Summers is-‘
‘And if I don’t get to speak to her,’ he went on, with forced politeness, ‘I shall have no other option but to call the media and alert them to my location, which I don’t imagine Miss Summers would enjoy at all. Particularly when they begin speculating on what I want to talk to her about and why she won’t see me on the morning of the election.’
The manager hesitated. Isaac knew his threat was a strong one. One media report had the potential to change the shape of an election. Being linked to Isaac and thus to the whole sex film scandal, being beset by speculation and gossip… Karesinda had a strong position at the moment. She wouldn’t want to damage it by rumour, particularly as people were about to start heading to the polls. Much easier to see Isaac in private, out of the public eye, let him say what he wanted and then send him away, no one else the wiser.
That was what he was counting on.
The receptionist left him, muttering something about going to speak to Karesinda, and Isaac sank onto one of the overstuffed couches that were scattered around the place, ignoring the odd looks he was given by incoming staff members. He shifted in place, his stomach itching.
Fortunately, he wasn’t left to wait for long before the reception manager returned, and bearing good news. ‘Miss Summers says she’s wiling to meet with you. If you could follow me?’ Isaac did, heart hammering as they walked through the corridors, half-expecting disaster at any moment – but it never came.
He was shown into a large meeting-room of some sort, in shades of CIP red, with a huge, oval table dominating the room. He was asked to wait. The thought that maybe this was some kind of trick flashed through his mind, but at that point he was too close to his goal to risk it all on being over suspicious. What could they do to him? Get security to throw him out? Leave him there till he got bored?
It wasn’t until the door had closed behind him and he was completely alone that he realised. If he was right, if it really had been the CIP who had planted the bug and ordered the assassination attempt on Corin… what was to stop them from doing the same to Isaac? He was alone, no media spotlight, he hadn’t even told his party he was leaving the hospital. Isaac White could simply vanish. Be found, perhaps, weeks after the election, long dead. They could make it look like suicide-
Eliza knew where he was. But she couldn’t reveal that without revealing her complicity. She’d try to avenge him, but the thought wasn’t particularly reassuring. He’d still be dead.
When the door opened behind him with a soft click he spun around, half-expecting to meet a stony-faced assassin with a gun. But it wasn’t; it was Karesinda, head held high, looking at him with a flat expression he couldn’t read. She was wearing heels, he noticed, which he’d never seen her do in private before. She was a tall woman, and wearing heels gave her a good few inches even on Isaac.
‘Mr White,’ she said, by way of greeting. ‘I hope you appreciate the inconvenience this visit has caused. I’ve had to completely rearrange my morning schedule.’
Isaac held out a hand to shake, feeling sweat chilling the back of his neck as he moved. This was it. Do or die time. Possibly literally. ‘My apologies,’ he said, ‘but it was a matter of great urgency.’
Karesinda smiled. ‘Of course. I imagine things have been quite… interesting for you, lately. Do sit down,’ she said, gesturing towards a chair as she did so herself. She didn’t take his hand.
‘You won’t even shake hands with me now, Karesinda?’ Isaac asked. ‘It’s not catching, you know, being gay.’
‘I simply see no reason to stand on formalities,’ Karesinda said. ‘I’m a very busy woman, Mr. White. In a very short time I hope to be busier still. I suggest you say what you came here to say and then leave.’
Her face was completely neutral, schooled to perfect blankness although her voice still held notes of… distaste? Isaac turned towards the chair she’d told him to sit in, then paused and decided not to take it, instead pacing up and down the floor, short, quick steps. He felt like his blood was fizzing. He only had one shot at this.
‘The bug,’ he began. ‘The bug that was found on my plane, that recorded me and Corin. We found fingerprints on it that matched a member of my plane’s staff. He later admitted to planting it there, but wouldn’t say why. So we looked into his background. His family had a number of very strong links to your party.’
‘Are you accusing me?’ For the first time she showed emotion; she seemed faintly amused. ‘Your evidence is circumstantial. It’ll never hold up.’
And now Isaac had to act for all he was worth. ‘I know,’ he said. ‘I can never make any of this public.’ He paused, shaking his head. Was this working? He’d never been that good an actor. ‘You win, okay? You knew I’d never be able to link this back to you, you wouldn’t have done it otherwise. You’ve won, Corin and I lost… let’s face it, there’s going to be a Yellow-Red coalition in power the day after tomorrow.’ Her mask wasn’t cracking. ‘I just want the truth. Don’t I deserve that much?’
‘Why should I tell you anything?’ Which was almost as good as a confession. If he could just get her to say it…
‘Because we were friends once, Karesinda. Or at least allies.’
‘Only while we fought for independence,’ she said, but though the tone of her voice didn’t change, Isaac thought he could see a little softening around her eyes.
He decided to sit. He might be full enough of adrenalin that he wanted to run and bounce around the room, but he wasn’t supposed to be. He was supposed to be tired, defeated, only here for a final answer. He sat down hard, elbows on the table, slumping slightly over the hard wood surface. ‘I just want to know,’ he said, looking up at her, putting all the desperation he could muster into his eyes.
She sighed. ‘In some ways I feel sorry for you,’ she said. ‘Not that I’d do anything differently, of course, but you do have my sympathy. Yes, we planted the device. Is that what you wanted to hear?’
Yes. Yes, that was exactly what he’d wanted to hear. But he couldn’t let the excitement show. ‘Why?’ he asked, almost pleading. ‘Did you know?’
‘About you and him?’ She made a face. ‘No. That bug was on your plane for some time before that day. We had a lot of very boring footage of you doing paperwork. Some interesting pieces of phone conversations. When you invited Mr Alkaev on board, we were hoping for some behind-the-scenes dealings. What we got…’ Her lips curved into a small, satisfied smile. ‘What a gift that was. Of course, we released it immediately, and the rest you know.’
Isaac closed his eyes. ‘Just for politics?’ he asked. ‘Just to discredit us?’
‘Politics is a dirty business, Mr White,’ she said, leaning back in her chair. For a moment, her pointed face looked tired. ‘You always were too much of an idealist.’
And that was his perfect springboard into the second thing he needed to know. He stared down at his hands on the table, not daring to look up in case she saw what he was really feeling. ‘So much of a dirty business you’d order an assassination attempt?’
From across the table, a short, sharp breath. ‘Assassination?’
‘You don’t need to play innocent, Karesinda,’ he said. ‘None of this can ever come out, remember? I watched that footage. Over and over again. That man was too… practiced. Too good. Too professional. What was the deal? He took a stab at Corin, you got him out of prison very quietly once you were in power and gave him a lot of money to keep quiet?’
‘We didn’t try to kill him.’
He did look up, then, to see her very still and very quiet on the other side of the table. ‘You expect me to believe that was just the random attack of a madman?’
‘No. I just expect you to believe it wasn’t us.’ He realised what she was saying a split second before she said it, though he couldn’t have guessed who she’d name. ‘It was Ethan Jensen. I didn’t agree with what he was doing. I’m sorry.’
‘Ethan?’ Isaac asked, gaping at her. He didn’t need to act now; this shock was all real. ‘But – but he and Corin were allies! They were halfway to forming a coalition-‘
‘Before the scandal happened,’ Karesinda said. ‘That changed things. Corin was coming out of it too well, giving himself too good a spin. Spending too much time talking up all the policy points where he and Ethan didn’t agree.’
‘Like giving people the freedom to be who they want to be without getting stabbed,’ Isaac said darkly.
Karesinda inclined her head. ‘He didn’t like that. And he didn’t like the possibility of Corin getting significantly more votes than him. He always wanted to be the leading power in a coalition, or at the very least, equals, and Corin was simply too appealing to the voters. Callisto loves the exciting, the individualists, the people who won’t do as they’re supposed to.’
‘So he had Corin stabbed.’
‘With Corin out of the way, all the good spin and positive messages he was giving would vanish,’ Karesinda said. ‘People would be concerned, and sorry, and he’d get a good few sympathy votes – but people wouldn’t want to vote for someone who was at death’s door. Or dead, of course, that was Ethan’s real plan. If Corin had died the party would’ve been thrown into complete disorder and their support would have collapsed completely. Still, he’s going out there saying all the right things – as I should be very shortly, incidentally – turning people back to his side. Like you said, a Red-Yellow coalition seems inevitable.’
Isaac closed his eyes. Put out like that, it seemed to almost make sense. A sound decision, a sensible way to go about winning the votes of the Callistoan people. Except that it meant trying to stab Corin to death.
‘He’s going to be okay,’ Isaac said into the silence. ‘The doctors said he should be.’ If he woke up, that was.
‘I know. It was in the papers,’ Karesinda said.
‘I can’t believe Ethan…‘
And then Karesinda snapped back, all flat, emotionless expression. ‘If that’s all you wanted to ask,’ she said. ‘I do have a press conference to get to.’
Isaac wondered how long the conference would be. The news might well break in the middle of it, in which case… She was going to be so mad. But she’d done it first. They really weren’t friends, not any more; the past was gone. This was a new Callisto, and as much as he might mourn the past… this was politics, and at least all he was doing was getting the truth.
‘Of course,’ he said, getting to his feet. ‘Thank you.’
The reception manager met him at the door, and showed him out of the building. His car was waiting around the back, just where he’d left it, and he sank into the soft leather of the interior gratefully. Ethan. Corin. Why had he ever gotten into this job in the first place? He’d thought politics was all about making a difference, changing the world for the better, and for a while it had been. The day they’d won Callisto’s independence had been one of the happiest of his life. He remembered Karesinda laughing, Ethan spraying them all with champagne…
The intercom buzzed on. ‘Sir, did you want to leave? Back to the hospital, perhaps?’
Isaac didn’t answer for a long moment, lifting his shirt up and peeling the bug away from his skin. The bug Eliza’s contacts had made him, a very simplified version of the CIP’s own technology. Only able to pick up audio, with no way to stream the recording remotely from the device, but he didn’t need any of that.
And now he had the truth in his hands. He didn’t exactly trust any newspaper, but based on how they’d all broken the story of the sex scandal, there was one which had managed it almost considerately. He had that clip of Corin looking down at him and smiling saved to his personal video archive.
‘No,’ he told the driver. ‘The Jupiter has its head offices in this city, right? Take me there.’
EXCLUSIVE: JENSEN ORDERED ASSASSINATION, SAYS SUMMERS
The recent political turmoil took another shocking turn this morning, when an audio recording of a meeting between Karesinda Summers and Isaac White was given exclusively to The Jupiter.
In the recording, Ms Summers first confesses to planting a bug on board Mr White’s private plane, and then names fellow politician Ethan Jennings as the man behind the recent attack on Corin Alkaev.
The audio footage – which, in the public interest, we are releasing onto the planetary internet – was brought to The Jupiter‘s head offices by Mr White himself. Although the exact events are not clear, it seems that Mr White arranged the meeting with the express purpose of confronting Ms Summers with his suspicions and making them public.
After initial formalities, Mr White told Ms Summers that he had circumstantial evidence linking the bug planted on his private plane, from which the recording of himself and Mr Alkaev originated, to her party.
“Yes, we planted the device,” confirmed Ms Summers, who appeared completely unaware that she was herself being recorded. She further claimed that the bug had been present on the plane for some time before the recording of Mr White’s sexual encounters was taken, and described that event as “a gift”.
But the most dramatic revelation was still to come, as Mr White turned to the subject of the recent attack on his partner, Mr Alkaev. Claiming that the stabbing was “too professional”, Mr White asked whether that, too, had been ordered by the CIP.
Ms Summers denied having done so – but admitted that Ethan Jensen, leader of the New Callisto Party, had been involved in arranging the attack. Mr Jensen and Mr Alkaev had until recently been one of the strong possibilities to form a coalition.
Ms Summers explained that the recent outing of Mr Alkaev was the catalyst for the alleged assassination attempt. “Corin was coming out of it too well,” she said. “[Mr Jennings] didn’t like the possibility of Corin getting significantly more votes than him.”
The identities of both speakers were confirmed by voiceprint analysis, and when contacted shortly before this story broke, staff at the CIP verified the fact that the meeting took place.
What this means for the individuals involved, and for today’s election, is so far unclear, though the police have told us that they are taking the situation extremely seriously. If the evidence is sufficient, we assume that Mr Jensen will be charged and prosecuted – regardless of his performance in the election, though it seems likely that many supporters of the NCP will now be looking at other parties.
Ms Summers will likely face charges for concealing information related to the attack from the police, and for invading Mr White and Mr Alkaev’s privacy by planting the bug. Mr White, meanwhile, may also face charges under the same rule – though it seems perhaps counterintuitive that he would face as harsh a penalty.
Reports suggest that Mr White has returned to the bedside of Mr Alkaev; neither Ms Summers nor Mr Jensen could be reached for comment.
There had seemed nothing more to do after that than go back to the hospital and wait for Corin to wake up. The election had begun, the votes were being cast; making visits and last-minute campaigning seemed… pointless. In the face of everything that’d happened, what good would any of it do?
He checked the media reports a few times, but couldn’t bring himself to pay much attention. He wasn’t in touch with his party, and the hospital security kept everyone out. They didn’t stop the reporters from boarding a hover platform and appearing at their window, though. Isaac had simply shut the blinds and ignored them until the security towed them away – then turned on his newspaper to find a dozen clips of himself, looking pale and tired, closing the blind.
He’d stopped checking it after that.
Corin had a private room, at least – probably as much to keep him as far from the eyes of the prying public as possible, although Isaac was hardly naive enough to think his party’s coffers had nothing to do with it. The bed was too large for him; he seemed to shrink in the middle of it, slowly swallowed up by the white sheets. It didn’t help that Corin was almost as pale as the cotton. How much blood had he lost? Wasn’t there enough in the hospital’s stocks to top it back up again?
Corin was fine, or so the doctors and nurses assured him. Didn’t even need life support, just a few tiny sensors stuck to his skin over his chest, forehead, and on the pulse point in his neck. It was simply a matter of waiting for him to wake up and then making sure he had enough bedrest to heal fully. And when the medical staff were elsewhere, he had the monitor, a tiny screen just larger than his hand which showed all the information gathered from the various sensors . He could watch Corin’s heart beat, his lungs breathe, see all the information he could want on blood pressure and oxygen saturation levels – though it didn’t make much sense to him – but mostly he watched the gently pulsing colours of his brain activity. That didn’t mean very much either, but if nothing else it proved Corin was in there somewhere.
That was the hardest part, the waiting. He couldn’t persuade or trick Corin into waking up, as he’d tricked Karesinda into confession. He just had to wait.
The room was warm and quiet, soundproofed from the distant hospital noises, and with the blind drawn to keep out any sight of the natural progression of Callisto’s day, it felt almost as though time had stopped, as though they were caught in a single moment in which nothing changed and Corin never awoke.
By the time Isaac managed to identify that odd sensation as a byproduct of weariness, he was already half-dozing in the armchair beside Corin’s bed, and as he catalogued the amount of sleep he’d gotten in the past few days and wondering if there might be somewhere nearby he could sleep, or even if he could lie down comfortable on the edge of Corin’s bed, he was already dropping off.
The first thing he was aware of was darkness, and quiet voices, and then a hand in his hair.
Isaac shifted, opening his eyes onto an unfamiliar pattern of shadows which resolved itself into walls and floor and ceiling; he was lying bent over in the armchair, his head resting on Corin’s mattress, which meant the hand moving slowly through his hair was-
Isaac sat up, blinking sleep from his eyes, and although the dim light made him look even more ghostly, Corin was smiling at him.
‘Hey,’ Corin said, his voice sounding frailer then usual – and then, more strongly, ‘You’re a reckless idiot, you know that?’
Isaac doubted anyone had ever grinned more widely in response to an insult than he did then. ‘Hey yourself,’ he said, wanting to reach out and hold him but finding himself almost afraid to, as if Corin might dissolve back to ghosthood at a touch. What were you supposed to do when your boyfriend woke up after being stabbed? ‘You’ve been watching the news then?’
Corin nodded. In one hand, he was holding a paper, on which a group of serious people in suits were sitting around talking – the source, Isaac realised, of the voices he’d heard upon waking. ‘They just closed the polls. No one wants to talk about that, though, I’ve hardly heard anyone mention voting. It’s all been about you strolling into Summers’ HQ and violating several privacy laws as if you didn’t have a care in the world.’
Isaac gave a sheepish smile, reaching for Corin’s free hand on the bedsheets, the one that’d been in his hair when he awoke, and lacing his fingers with Corin’s. Just that touch felt incredible. ‘Is that how the papers are describing it?’
‘Varies. Some are making you out to be a nonconformist hero, some are trying to figure out how they can condemn it as worse than murder without also condemning Karesinda,’ Corin explained. ‘No one seems to have a clue-‘
He broke off and started coughing, but waved Isaac away when he tried to reach for Corin’s shoulder. ‘I’m okay. The nurse said it was nothing to worry about.’
Isaac let out a breath and sank back into his armchair. ‘Do you know how scared I was when you were stabbed?’ he asked. ‘No one even told me. I didn’t find out till the press mobbed me.’
Corin gave him a smile. ‘Next time I get stabbed, I’ll make sure to call you from the ambulance,’ he promised, squeezing Isaac’s fingers a little tighter.
‘You are not getting stabbed again,’ Isaac said, horror colouring his voice. He’d never been superstitious, but if ever he’d been tempted to start… ‘Don’t even joke about it.’
‘Okay. I won’t.’ Corin’s expression softened, almost apologetic; Isaac realised he didn’t know whether Corin was promising he wouldn’t get stabbed or wouldn’t joke about it. But Corin was twisting his hand around so he was holding Isaac’s hand properly, palm to palm, and Isaac decided either was okay by him. For a moment there was silence; Isaac didn’t know what to say. Overwrought declarations of exactly how frightened he’d been didn’t seem very them.
Fortunately Corin saved him from that dilemma by changing the subject. ‘Ethan resigned, did you hear?’
‘What?’ Isaac hadn’t expected that.
‘Yeah. Of course, the media leapt on it like it was a signed confession. So the NCP is in chaos – they haven’t chosen a new leader yet, tons of their big supporters are turning against them. And not saying who they’re turning to, either.’
‘I guess Karesinda isn’t that popular right now either?’ Isaac asked.
Corin shook his head. ‘I can’t believe she’d do that. Forget her, I can’t believe Ethan…’
Isaac understood the look of pain that passed over Corin’s face, and wished he could do more than hold his hand. Isaac had never been that close to Ethan, but Corin had. Then again, Corin had been friends with everyone. But only last week the two of them had been planning possible coalitions, if the votes fell right for it. Isac could picture them in Corin’s offices, drinking toasts to their future and Callisto’s. And then Ethan had tried to have him killed. ‘I guess this means a coalition between your parties is right out, then.’
‘Pleased?’ In the dim light Isaac couldn’t quite read his expression.
He didn’t even need to think about the answer; his reaction was sharp and immediate. ‘No. Never. You could have died.’
Corin closed his eyes, looking for a moment as though he’d gone back to sleep, then gave Isaac’s wrist a gentle tug. ‘Come on. Get in.’
‘In the bed?’ Isaac was already toeing his shoes off even as he asked.
‘We’re rich and famous, they’ll let us get away with it.’ It was something akin to bliss to lie down on top of the blankets, feeling the cool cotton of the pillow beneath his cheek as he lay down, loosely twined with Corin’s limbs, close enough to hear his breath. For a moment, they were silent. Then, ‘Tell me you didn’t just go spying on Karesinda just to avenge me?’ Corin asked.
‘I don’t think I did,’ Isaac said. Not just to avenge him, anyway. Isaac had needed to know for himself, but mostly it had felt like there wasn’t anything else he could do.
Corin nodded. ‘Good,’ he said. ‘Though it was still very romantic. According to half the papers, anyway.’
Isaac laughed from sheer surprise. ‘The same ones that were publishing pornographic pictures of our sex life?’
‘The very same,’ Corin said. ‘And if one of us gets into power, incidentally, we’re setting up laws to prevent abuse of freedom of the press. Freedom’s one thing, flaunting extremely private images all over the place is quite another.’
‘I thought you were all about absolute freedom to do anything,’ Isaac teased.
‘Only until it infringes on someone else’s freedom. Then the government has to step in.’
‘So you’re not changing your mind?’ Corin shook his head; Isaac hadn’t been expecting anything else. In the quiet, the two of them were drawn to the flickering images of the newspaper, where the experts seemed to be filling in the time before the first votes were revealed by discussing Isaac’s escapades. ‘Who do you think’s going to win?’ Isaac asked.
‘The NCP has no chance after what happened with Ethan. Karesinda’s probably doomed too.’
‘And both of us have our scandal,’ Isaac said – though Corin had been handling that well, and with the power of the sympathy vote… It was quite likely Corin would win. One party having an overall majority was a possibility no one had so much as considered, not with the way their vote system worked, but then no one had considered any of this would happen. He ignored the possibility, trying not to feel guilty that he wasn’t exactly happy about the prospect. ‘That leaves Eliza.’
‘That’s what’ll happen,’ Corin agreed, grinning. ‘Eliza gets swept along by her stalwart supporters and a bunch of defectors and protest votes and gets ninety percent of the seats.’
Isaac laughed, but of all the prospects, it was one he wouldn’t mind seeing. ‘Better than a red-yellow coalition,’ he said.
Corin nodded, then was distracted by something on the paper. ‘The first votes are about to start coming in,’ he said, and suddenly their speculation felt rather more serious. They both quieted, watching the experts remind the public how the excessively complex vote system worked and anticipating the first results.
But the room was dim and quiet, and Isaac still had the weight of sleep dragging at the corners of his eyes, and somehow he didn’t quite manage to stay awake long enough to hear them.
He awoke for the second time to a more complete darkness, his arms wrapped tightly around Corin. Someone had been in, because the paper had been turned off and the bedsheets had been pulled up over him. Isaac blushed slightly to think they’d been seen cuddling – but then, the whole of Callisto had seen worse.
The election. Isaac sat bolt upright; they’d missed the results! It had to be early, very early. The votes should’ve been counted hours ago, and he’d slept through them.
His sudden movement had woken Corin, he realised, as he heard the man give a yawn. ‘Sorry,’ he whispered, hand reaching of its own accord to smooth down Corin’s messy hair. ‘Go back to sleep.’
But Corin was blinking up at him. ‘Who won?’ he asked.
‘You fell asleep too?’
‘I saw the first few votes come in,’ he said, pushing himself upright. ‘Where’s the paper?’
They were both half whispering, though no one could have heard them, but the darkness and the hour made it feel like a time for whispering. ‘Here,’ Isaac said, seeing it on the bedside table. He reached for it, running his hand in front of the sensor that controlled the light as he did so.
‘Damn, Isaac,’ Corin swore. ‘Warn me before you do that.’
‘Sorry,’ Isaac said, picking up the newspaper. It occurred to him that this thin sheet of plastic now held the answer not only to his own future, but to the future of Callisto, the nature of the independence he’d fought for. Whoever got into power now would set the bedrock for a new Callisto – whether that was a good or a bad foundation was completely up in the air.
He glanced to Corin, who was sitting up and looked just as apprehensive as he was. ‘You ready for this?’ he asked.
‘No,’ Corin admitted. ‘Just turn it on.’
Isaac did so, hardly daring to look, and the paper filled with softly glowing images of front pages, each one bearing its own headline, excited blurb, helpful charts. It took quite a few moments for the information to coalesce into anything meaningful, and then quite a few moments further for either of them to get their heads around what it meant.
‘Wow,’ Corin breathed from next to him. ‘I wasn’t expecting that.’
‘But…’ Isaac asked. ‘How?’
‘They say Callisto loves a rebel,’ Corin said. ‘Though apparently it loves a stab victim slightly more.’
‘But still, look at those votes,’ Isaac protested. ‘This is a joke, right?’
Corin shook his head. ‘Pure reality,’ he said, reaching out, fingers flicking over the newspapers, bringing up a handy little interactive chart gadget from one of the bigger papers. ‘Let’s see…’
The gadget let him try out all the different values of coalitions, seeing which parties could band together to get the necessary majority. First he tried the other three parties, Eliza’s and Karesinda’s and what had been Ethan’s. Even all three combined fell short.
‘Let me try…’ Isaac reached out, pulled the bar for Eliza’s party on to his own to combine them together. They came closer, but still short.
‘If you added one of the other two…’
Isaac shook his head. ‘I wouldn’t align myself with either of them. Not now.’
‘Me neither,’ Corin said. ‘And since I don’t exactly fit well with the STP…’
Isaac realised what he was suggesting, and stared at him in disbelief. Pure reality? No; he had to be dreaming. ‘You and me?’
‘It works in bed, why not in politics?’
‘Because we can’t agree on politics,’ Isaac pointed out. ‘I want to give the poor proper help and support; you want to leave them in Actinogram-‘
‘We both want to allow people freedom. No restrictive morality imposed on everyone. We’re both open to working closely with Earth. We both want to see more development, even if we don’t agree who should fund it…’
‘It’ll never work,’ Isaac said.
Corin hesitated for a moment, then pressed the paper into Isaac’s hand. ‘There isn’t another option,’ he said. ‘Look at those seat counts. Is there another possibility? Do you want to align yourself with Karesinda after what happened?’
Isaac looked down at the gadget in his hands, and, for the sake of it, swung his party’s column of votes onto Corin’s. It crossed the important figure with room to spare. ‘No,’ he said. ‘It’s just…’
‘Callisto has spoken,’ Corin said, oddly solemnly, resting his hand on top of Isaac’s where it held the paper.
‘Callisto doesn’t know what it’s saying,’ Isaac said. ‘How are our parties ever going to agree on anything?’
‘And it gets trickier – Eliza made me promise if I was in power I’d get some bills passed for her – she knew this would happen! Of all the sneaky, conniving-‘
Unexpectedly, Corin cut him off, leaning in for a kiss. ‘Don’t you want to rule the world with me?’ he asked as he pulled back, half-joking, half-serious. ‘Besides which, I thought you were supposed to be the idealist in this relationship.’
He was, usually. But he and Corin simply couldn’t agree politically. It was the major problem in their relationship, and even Isaac’s idealism had given up in the face of years spent trying to persuade Corin to his point of view without hope. To have Corin start talking about compromise and coalition seemed impossible, a dream. ‘Are you serious? Can you imagine the arguments? We’ll end up sleeping in separate rooms for weeks at a time because one of us spoilt the other’s bill. It’ll be a nightmare.’
Corin swept Isaac’s hair back behind his ear. Isaac considered pointing out that Corin’s own was ridiculously ruffled, but decided against it. ‘We’ll manage,’ he insisted. ‘We knew life wasn’t going to be easy when we took this job.’
Isaac closed his eyes, breathing in the suddenly dry air; he leant forward and rested his head on Corin’s shoulder. ‘There isn’t another option, is there?’
‘We’re going to rule Callisto together.’
Isaac was silent for a moment. ‘That is kind of cool.’
Corin laughed. ‘That is extremely cool,’ he informed him, running his fingers along Isaac’s jaw slowly, teasingly, before leaning in and pressing his lips against Isaac’s.
‘Corin,’ Isaac admonished, pulling back as soon as his mind started working again, ‘you just got stabbed, do you really think sex is a good idea? In a hospital bed?’
‘Then just kiss me,’ Corin told him, pressing delicate brushes of his lips to Isaac’s cheek. ‘You’re joint-ruling Callisto. Power is sexy.’
Isaac couldn’t help but laugh into his mouth, and went along with the kissing, pulling Corin down into the pillows and making sure to concentrate on not damaging him accidentally. Until another thought crossed his mind: ‘How are we going to get the parties to buy this? Even if there’s no other option-‘
‘Just. Kiss. Me.’