The Frontier: Chapter 11
Nisha and her crew had stayed on Narano for five days, traveling to different cities, interviewing various people, absorbing the local culture. After spending the fifth day exploring a domed city called Anshan, Nisha, Jones, and Siberio sat in a hotel room scrolling through their footage and inserting tags for later editing.
“Let’s just cut this whole section. We won’t need it,” Jones said to Siberio, who operated a makeshift editing station that they had set up inside the room.
Nisha knew little of the process, so she lay on a bed, watched, studied, occasionally asking questions or inserting her opinion. Then she received a message on her pad from Dalia.
“Be ready in 20 min. Last nite on the planet partytime.”
Nisha messaged back.
“Busy editing. Catch up later.”
In only a few seconds, Dalia responded.
“No bitch. Work is done. Its time to play. See u in 20.”
Nisha chuckled to herself.
“Looks like my friends are about to come kidnap me. How long do you plan to keep tagging?”
“We’re almost done. I just wanted an idea of what we had. We’ll have plenty of time when we get back on the ship to go through this,” Jones said.
“Would you two like to come with us and celebrate the last night on Narano?” Nisha asked.
“I guess we might as well enjoy ourselves a little before we leave,” Jones said.
“Why not?” Siberio said.
“Great. It’ll be fun,” Nisha said.
“Okay, let’s stop here,” Jones said to Siberio.
As Siberio shut down the workstation, Nisha walked to the kitchen area and poured herself a glass of water.
“So how did you become such good friends with Regan and Dalia? You three seem an unlikely pairing?” Jones asked as Nisha hopped back on the bed.
“We grew up in the same orphanage system. We’ve known each other since we were children. They’re my family.”
“Ah. I see. I had assumed Regan had inherited her wealth.”
“No, she built her company from nothing but a business plan and money from investors.”
“I guess drug dealing is a good investment.”
“That’s true, but she actually revolutionized the whole industry.”
“It used to be there were only a few big distributors that had taken over. But their products were inconsistent and rarely the best quality. So, all of these boutique shops started popping up. But these little shops were having trouble offsetting the costs of opening up and maintaining their own production facilities. They had to charge too high a price to turn a profit. So what Regan did was set up a company that handled the production and the research and development side of things. She hired away all of the best people and put them together on one team. Each shop could then contract her out to fill their needs and develop exclusive strains for them and basically cater to everything they couldn’t do as efficiently by themselves. Now almost every boutique shop in the city uses her company. And the market share of boutiques has risen sharply versus the big distributors since her company started.”
“That is impressive, to have achieved such success from nothing.”
“It wasn’t from nothing. She was raised by publicly financed orphanages and schools. She’s a poster child for the success of the Equalist State.”
Nisha smiled proudly. She and Jones had been debating their differences in political ideology in a friendly yet competitive battle ever since they arrived on Narano.
“What about Dalia?” Jones retorted.
“What about her?”
“What does she do for a living?”
Jones smiled before saying, “It still boggles my mind that you know how corrupt the President is—he’s the reason you lost your job—and you know how corrupt OMNN is—yet you still side with the equalists. Is there nothing that could persuade you? Is there no evidence or revelation that could change your mind?”
“Evidence is precisely what would change my mind. But you see, the President and OMNN aren’t actually practicing equalism. They abuse their powers. Just because they are corrupt doesn’t mean the ideas they purport to believe in are incorrect. They are hypocrites, not equalists.”
“But they are who represent you. They are who you vote for.”
“Unfortunately, but that’s why I stood up to the President. I haven’t changed what I believe. I oppose the President not because I think his ideology failed. I oppose him because he failed my ideology. His corruption is the problem.”
“But his corruption is a symptom, not the cause of the problem. The problem is a sprawling, centralized monster of a government strangling the galaxy. Corruption stained the presidency long before Crawford. If you let a government grow too large, you can’t control it. It must be reined in. It must be cut down to size again. You think it’s the President that you oppose, but it’s the ideology that is really to blame.”
“I don’t know. That’s too easy. Government is just too evil for us to control? We created government. We can do whatever we want with it. It’s just a tool, like anything else. It can be used for productivity or destruction. But—it’s capable of so much good if put in the right hands.”
“But it will never be in the right hands because humans are flawed and imperfect. We are creatures interested only in ourselves. We should only be responsible for own fates. Why should anyone else interfere with how we live our own lives?”
Nisha smiled. “I’m sorry, but that just sounds so childish to me. It’s like, ‘Oh, I want to do whatever I want, whenever I want. Anyone who tells me different is an evil meanie.’ We share this world, and the choices we make affect other people. Humans achieved everything by overcoming their imperfections, not by being scared to try. If we can travel hundreds of light years across the galaxy in a few weeks, we’re capable of taking the vast resources and wealth we have amassed and at least take care of the least fortunate among us. There’s nothing stopping us from both doing well, and doing good.
“Doing good?” Jones laughed. “There’s nothing in the Universe more frightening than other people’s good intentions.”
They grinned at each other.
“And with that, I’m gonna go grab a smoke,” Nisha said as Jones started helping Siberio pack up their equipment.
Nisha walked outside to an outdoor corridor linking hotel rooms looking out on the bottom of the plain, beige dome covering the city. Malissa Sung, their security officer, sat on a stool with her shaved head leaning back on the outside of their hotel room.
“Hi,” Nisha said to her, but Malissa, staring off at the dome wall, didn’t respond. Nisha lit a cigarette. Despite getting along with most of the crew as they spent more time together, Nisha felt as if Malissa hated her. She wasn’t sure why, though, because they hadn’t had a single conversation between them the entire trip.
Leaning on a railing along the outside of the corridor, Nisha puffed on her cigarette, pondering back on the preceding political discussion. Then Dalia, Regan, Dom, and Eryn walked up dressed in shiny clothes.
“So where we going?” Nisha asked, passing Regan her cigarette.
“There’s no time for questions,” Dalia said, grabbing the cigarette as they passed it and taking it for herself. “Get dressed. You can’t go out like that.”
Twenty minutes later, all of them except Malissa, who was charged with guarding their rooms and equipment, loaded into a van cab heading downtown. They ate dinner and then hopped around between nightclubs and bars. Rounds of shots and cocktails whirled around. Nisha chain-smoked cigarettes. She noticed Dom and Eryn heavily flirting with one another. Then they disappeared. In the depths of some underground warehouse, Nisha, Regan, Dalia, Jones, and Siberio circled a table. The overcrowded bar roared. They took more shots. Dalia started kissing Siberio. He glanced around awkwardly at first, but then he went with it, kissing her back. Jones and Regan chatted, discussing topics that Nisha found uninteresting. Nisha looked out across the dark bar at the horde of people twisting and oozing around. She rolled a cigarette. They galloped down tunnels of rock, deeper and deeper into the ground. Pulsating waves of colors swept across a ceiling of stalactites. Finally, they reached the bottom, a giant cavern by an underground lake with hundreds of people dancing together. Driving rhythms of bass and high levels of alcohol propelled the crowd into a frenzy. Nisha ran into the center of the crowd, rocking her fists into the air, swinging her hips with the music. She danced for hours. They rode an escalator back out, and Nisha grew dizzy. Darkness fell. A moment later Jones woke her to check out of the hotel and leave the planet.