FAR FLUNG A short story about a seastead. Chronologically, this is the earliest story set in the Ground-Based Universe
A lot of children said it. A lot of children meant it; and Captain Adam Tenney, U.S. Navy, like most parents, didn’t believe it when push came to shove. And push was definitely coming to shove.
Under normal circumstance he would proudly agree that his daughter could take care of herself. Betha was an adult. She had advanced degrees in marine biology and electrical engineering, and she had played soccer and sailed as a kid, with only the regular panoply of bruises and trauma to the ego and a femur. His wife had panicked over Betha from time to time, but Tenney had always known she would come out of things all right.
It was well established that Betha could take care of herself.
It was different when Betha sat with only a few hundred other souls on an ocean-going platform that had declared itself independent from the United States and was now surrounded by pirates with two ships.
Adam Tenney, a heavily freckled man of brown hair and middle height, knew of his daughter’s situation because he was stationed at the Pentagon, and he was allowed to be part of the discussions with Betha, who was, she had informed them all earlier in the afternoon, the secretary of state for the moment because everyone else was really busy. Everyone else on the platform was in the militia. For the moment. Usually, they had regular jobs. When she wasn’t playing at being secretary of state, Betha worked on energy storage and the development of an air-breathing battery.
The U.S. response team, in which Tenney strangely was allowed to participate, was gathered in a small situation room in the Pentagon. They had a video teleconference set and an alcove hidden from the VTC where the military personnel worked while the State Department officials talked to New Oregon. Caroline—“please, call me Caro”—Donner, a foreign service officer at State, had brought a lawyer with her, one Donald Blankenship. Tenney supposed the situation was novel enough to call for legal counsel.
The two from State occupied the sweet spot for the camera. Caro Donner, although not young enough to make anyone stupid, was attractive and shapely with big eyes and lips. Her suit hugged her curves, and her legs would flash back and forth from under the table. Her attorney was a tall crow of a man, complete with the lantern jaw that lawyers always had in cartoons. They made an interesting tableau for the camera.
Betha’s facilities looked much more cramped. The Americans could see her head and the pink wall immediately behind her, but she was on an old converted and renovated oil-platform. There wasn’t a lot of room.
Betha looked tanned but tired. She looked so young, with her freckles reaching from cheekbone to cheekbone across her nose, and her light brown hair bleached by too much sun. Betha was pretty, and Tenney could press her ear against his heart when he hugged her. It had been too long since he’d done that. Tenney detected no fear in his daughter’s eyes. He never had been able to.
Julie Alan was the other Navy captain in the situation room, and Tenney could tell his own presence made her uncomfortable. If she had been commanding the action she would likely have asked him to leave, but it wasn’t her decision. If it had been Tenney’s, he would have chosen differently himself. The wrongness gnawed at him, but the weak human side of him, the side that was Betha’s father, was stupidly grateful.
The lawyer from the State Department told the FSO—the foreign service officer—from the State Department to ask Betha if there were children on board and whether they were in the military, too.
The children were in the interior, New Oregon’s secretary of state said, over the central supports, and were not in the military.
Tenney had mixed feelings about the FSO. She was of respectable years and rank, but she wasn’t even a deputy assistant secretary. Although New Oregon’s (and Betha’s) secession from the United States gave him heartache nightly and he thought it was crazy what she had done, and that everyone out there was behaving as stupidly childishly as his daughter, he still thought State should at least have sent a DAS for these negotiations, preferably someone higher. The lack of rank showed what State thought of New Oregon’s “sovereign” status.
New Oregon wanted recognition as a city-state, but its flag was not on any UN web sites or any other registry that the U.S. government found worth linking. Come to think of it, however, he supposed the New O’s or New Oregonians, as they seemed to call themselves, should feel lucky to get anyone from State at all. State dealt with foreigners, which Betha’s new people insisted they were; but which State seemed ambivalent about. As far as anyone knew, all but three New Oregonians were American-born, and, as Americans, they had gone shopping for the ultimate change in consumer taste, a new government.
New Oregon had a lot of freedoms: no laws against victimless crimes, no minimum wage, no zoning—although at a few acres, that would have been pointless—a flat tax. It was a libertarian paradise, all his daughter could ever have wanted in freedom from being told what to do and how to do it. Maybe he should have been less strict with her as a child.
All of which was neither here nor there when dealing with the situation at hand, namely, a bunch of Americans—former Americans—under siege by people who had already fired one warning shot. Satellite imaging had allowed them to identify what looked to be a frigate staring the seasteading platform down, and a match was being searched.
“Captain Tenney,” someone said, “we need the numbers out there.”
Tenney was there for research purposes, the main object of his research being his own daughter. They weren’t going to let him make decisions when his personal interests were so high. They didn’t let doctors operate on their family members either, and here there were more lives at stake than that of a single patient. But the rules of the modern military went beyond the normal rules against a conflict of interest. As a father, he wanted to be on the scene. As a naval commander, he knew it was completely unacceptable, but the psyops widgins thought it would be very clever to test out some new theories on this situation, new theories about the persuasive pull of family bonds. They were young, the psyops profs. When they had approached him that morning, he had told them no, he would not place everyone involved in the danger that would be created by his heavily clouded judgment. Hell, they could go test their theory on someone else’s daughter. When his commanding officer had told him that he would get to be present for limited purposes, and to remind his daughter of the call of home, he had protested. He had also wondered if any of these people had ever had children, if they had ever been adolescents themselves. It appeared not. Tenney hoped his presence would not have the opposite effect from what the clever people intended.
He began archiving through his messages from Betha, looking for mention of numbers. He found it. “Three hundred and seventy-six,” he told the Lieutenant. “When she wrote this, she said everyone was from the States.”
“I sure hope we don’t have to leave them out there on their own,” the Lieutenant said.
Tenney nodded. “This thing has been going on too long. It’s getting people upset.” He stayed out of line of sight of the VTC. “Relatives are contacting the Hill.”
That got him a look and a whispered, “You’ve got it, Captain,” from Lieutenant Cone, who was normally a reticent individual. To speak up in the situation room, even if only sotto voce to Tenney, meant he was feeling it all strongly himself.
State was the real cause of the problem.
“We’ve renounced our U.S. citizenship,” Betha was saying. “All of us have.”
“All the adults,” the FSO pointed out drily. She was feeling it, too, apparently. “We know that you all, as individuals, have left. That doesn’t mean that this country recognizes your platform as a state. But we do want to rescue you.”
“We’re good,” Betha said stiffly.
The naiveté the seasteaders displayed in putting a 28-year old into these negotiations was either appalling or showed what they thought of the functions of government.
“They are making demands of us,” Caro Donner said. “They are threatening to board your platform unless we release two men who we have tried and found guilty of acts of terrorism. They are serving prison terms that won’t end for decades.”
“We’re not asking you to do that,” Betha said.
“Your relatives are,” Caro said.
“Not mine,” Betha said, in a voice that meant they had better not be.
“And,” Caro continued, “your relatives want us to evacuate you.”
Tenney could see the blank look on his daughter’s face. He knew it all too well, and it frightened him. It usually presaged something awful. “Excuse me,” Betha said, in a way that showed just how young she was. It was not polite. “Are you telling me that your solution to us being surrounded by pirates is to arrest us?”