While Lilly is off looking for a source of vespene, Imogen takes some time to look after herself. Although the Doctor Right Honorable Stevenson, II, claims to have some medical knowledge, Imogen is pretty sure it is all theoretical. And since Saffron does not have an auto-suture machine like Saint Maria does, he is next to worthless in that regard. Still, she allows him to hand her supplies as she reapplies burn salve to her arm and then redresses the bandages on all her little shotgun wounds. Given how beat down his spirits were in prison, it should do him some good to feel useful again.
When Imogen is finished, he offers her some pills from her own medical kit. “Take two of these and call me in the morning,” he tells her. “That’s what doctors say, I’m pretty sure.”
“Do you have any skills?” Imogen baldly asks him, feeling a bit less generous now. Coddling him seems to have made him full of himself. “Is there a reason the Dominion locked you up?”
“Why, I must be the most dangerous man in the Dominion, I think,” he replies. “I fancy myself something of an adventurer, really.” Imogen’s eyebrows find higher and higher places on her forehead as she listens to the man. She really hopes his political ideas are worth all the trouble taken on his behalf. “Why, I was there when Tarsonis was invaded! I barely made it out alive.”
“So did you see something useful on Tarsonis?” Imogen presses.
“Well, I had a lot of important family connections within the Confederacy,” Stevenson says. Seeing the look Imogen gives him, he quickly adds, “The Confederacy had a lot of problems; I don’t deny that. Uh, but an Empire? Please. That’s so passé. Now, maybe a ruling council of people with good ideas… Put them in charge, and that might do a little better.”
“What did the Confederacy have?” Imogen asks. Her Umojan education did not include the topic.
“Uh, well, a ruling clique of noble—well, sort of noble—families and criminals. But if my family had been in charge, it would have been different.”
“But you’re not proposing a Stevenson empire?”
“Ugh, no! Just the stress alone would kill me. People would be trying to assassinate me left and right. I don’t want that.” He shudders. “Miserable! Oh, but maybe a triumvirate, a council of three, would be suitable.” Saffron’s environmental systems are all offline right now, so everyone is outside. Many linger around the fire where Lilly cooked the scantid. Stevenson looks over at Professor Von Heel Hauken and then glances around until he spots Lady Belvedere. “Well, there you have it! Our council of three, perhaps right here.” He waves them over.
“What credentials do you all have?” Imogen inquires.
“Ah, well, I hold the title of Doctor Right Honorable Stevenson, II.”
“An inherited title,” Imogen points out, “and therefore no different from an emperor.”
“What about you, Lady Belvedere?” Imogen demands, hoping Matt Horner is pinning the sector’s future on something firmer. “What is Stanley-on-Shroud, anyway?”
“It was the second largest city on Tarsonis,” Belvedere replies with some heat. Then she grows quieter. “Was. I suppose it is gone now. I was not on-planet at the time. And I’m not really from a prominent family. This ‘title’ was given to me by the Dominion as part of a propaganda smear campaign. I was propped up as a supposed Confederate sympathizer. It’s ridiculous!”
“So what were you in for?”
“I was in for saying that the Dominion was no better than the Confederacy and, in fact, many times worse! The Confederacy was bad, but it was bad in a pathetic way. Like, they’re not getting anything done; they’re not responding to their people. But they were also not really going out of their way to make your life miserable—like the Dominion is.”
“So what would you replace it with?” Imogen probes.
“I don’t know. You can’t just have every planet being independent because then no planet has a reason to defend any of the others when, say, zerg invade. And that just opens you up to the Kel-Morian Combine moving in. Do you want a corporatocracy? I don’t.” Belvedere sighs. “I don’t have a super-well developed political opinion on how we replace the Dominion,” she admits. “Because I don’t even see how we’re going to do that right now. Like, how do we take out Mengsk?”
“What if someone had a plan for that already?” Imogen puts forward. “And it was just a matter of, what do we do after?”
“I’d want to see that plan. Or else I’ll just start thinking about how to get away from all this,” Belvedere replies. When the young Umojan scoffs at her, she narrows her eyes. “I spent a lot of time arguing against the Dominion. They locked me up in a secret prison, and even out now I’m still almost dead. I’m ready to get out of here,” she says fatalistically. “Maybe we should just try the UED out, give it a shot. Who knows! How much worse can it be?”
Imogen sighs internally. A dilettante and a coward. Things are not looking good for Horner’s advisory council. “What about you, Von Heel Hauken?” she asks.
“What would I replace the Dominion with?” he says absently.
“A thought experiment,” Imogen offers.
“Ah! Capital idea! I can see why you’re in charge.” He thinks for a moment. “Well, the problem is, we are still facing many, many threats, you see. From the zerg, perhaps foremost. From other terrans—from Earth. We don’t know what the status of the protoss is. First and foremost, we need to put ourselves together to defend ourselves. I would propose being driven by rationality. Of course, we don’t wish to be without empathy, but some sort of—well, style it like a scientific directorate! There, a director is in charge who has serious technical credentials and is chosen by a consensus of their peers. Their power is certainly not absolute. The various sub-directorates would run each individual division of the government, whatever they are. Their leaders would be chosen by objective, rational measures. Now, I admit that we haven’t established these measures—”
“And that most people aren’t rational,” Imogen observes.
“Well, that’s just part of the problem! We need more people to be rational, and if they can’t be, then those of us who are need to help them. Otherwise they are going to make some reckless, wild decisions and probably get everyone killed, at best.” Imogen at first wonders whether this is a veiled critique of the current rescue operation, but as the discussion goes on, she sees increasing trust from the trio. It is clear to them that this rescue was done with purpose, even if it happened without a plan.
Eventually, Von Heel Hauken flips the question around. “I understand you must be from Umoja with that accent, if I hear it correctly. What would you do if you could replace the Dominion? Would you just put Umoja in charge?”
“No. Umoja has no desire to be in charge of the sector. We’ve got our protectorate, and it works fine with our council. I don’t see why we couldn’t have an affiliate league of—”
“A confederated set of systems, would you say?” Von Heel Hauken asks pointedly.
It is a cute rebuttal, but an empty one. The nomenclature does not matter to Imogen. She believes in subsidiarity, decisions being made at the lowest effective level possible. Umoja is a protectorate; it is a small group of planets in one section of the sector. “Umoja has its own functioning government, but it could ally with other such small units as itself,” she says. “For the purpose of defense of the whole sector against the UED, yes, you would need to have some sort of council with representatives from each of these little sections. But as for the basic functioning of planets, why should Korhal’s needs affect what happens on Umoja?”
“So you propose some sort of mutual defense pact? Well, that might work, but you have to have a good system in place to make sure that people actually do come to each other’s defense.” Von Heel Hauken offers his own thought experiment, of two groups vying for mining rights on an uninhabited planet. If one of those groups comes under attack by zerg, the other might feel disinclined to help. If one group falls to the zerg, then that is less competition for the resources under dispute.
Imogen sees his point, of course. This is what trade pacts and economic ties are for. She still does not believe that sector-wide governance is the solution. “Totalitarianism never works,” she insists, and Von Heel Hauken heartily agrees.
“So you propose to dis-unite the Dominion into a series of smaller independent groups—of comparable size to the Umojan Protectorate or the Kel-Morian Combine, perhaps—but with mutual defense pacts to ensure survival of terrans in the sector.”
Von Heel Hauken nods sagely. “That could work. That would certainly be an easier sell on a lot of these fringe worlds. As opposed to just replacing the Dominion with Dominion 2.0.”
“Dominion 2.0 is just Confederacy 3.0,” Imogen observes. “We need to have councils. There could be some sort of minister who is the prime, but we can’t have just one person who has any sort of absolute power.”
“Well, this has all been a very interesting thought experiment. I gather you must have some way of removing Mengsk then,” he observes.
“I don’t, not me personally. But I know people who are working on it. People who wanted you all out of prison.”
Von Heel Hauken looks to Belvedere and then to Stevenson. “Well, I guess we’d best not disappoint them, then.”
“So if you all need something to distract you from the sounds of dropships going by overhead or—was that an explosion I just heard? Anyway, you can think about politics for a while. And what the perfect future for the Koprulu Sector is.”