Aleksa's been used to losing for so long that she's almost forgotten that there are ways in which winning is just as hard.
Jupiter has decided to hold regular conferences. She wants everyone who's likely to play any kind of a role in Jupiter's long-term plans for the galaxy to attend. That means all the Bolotnikovs over the age of eighteen, a werewolf, a half-bee, a robot, and Tsing.
Jupiter wants to invite Tsing's crew as well. When she makes an effort to suggest this, however, Tsing obliquely but emphatically declines on their behalf. “While they have a number of other duties to perform, they can, of course, attend if you order their presence.”
“Well,” says Jupiter, “I'd just like to know what they think about --”
“The Aegis,” says Tsing, blandly, “are not encouraged to have opinions.”
“Rule 1578,” murmurs Aleksa, and Jupiter shoots her a confused glance.
“If my presence will be insufficient, Your Majesty --”
Aleksa says, “Do you want to have a presence?”
Tsing's aura of blandness somehow manages to intensify. “There is a possibility that my input may prove useful to Her Majesty.”
Jupiter opens her mouth again to speak; Aleksa gets in first. “Sure, then that's fine.” She waves Tsing off grandly with one hand. “Go on, aren't you supposed to be flying a ship or something?"
“If Her Majesty will excuse me,” Tsing answers politely – which, Aleksa supposes, is one way to put Her Majesty's mother in her place.
“Um … sure?” Jupiter says, but her brow is furrowed. She waits until Tsing's around the corner to round on Aleksa. “Mom, I know you just wanna help, but --”
“Her crew are military,” says Aleksa. “They follow orders. The more they know about what those orders mean, the less safe for them, the less safe for us.”
Jupiter looks mutinous. “Hey – you agreed with me that Bob should have a say before he joined up. And Tsing wants to be there!”
Aleksa shrugs. She's about to say that they're not slaves, they volunteered for the military life – but in fact, after her conversation with Tsing the other day, she's not entirely sure that that's true. “Bob advises you,” she counters instead. “A person makes decisions, they also get blame for them. Same with Tsing. A commander shields the people under her. The other Aegis don't make decisions – Tsing does. If you don't think that's right, OK, you can order the Aegis to have free will, see how well that works out.”
Jupiter huffs. “Sure, you can make it sound stupid, but the fact is that if people are going to do something dangerous they should have a choice about it!”
“Dying for something you don't know anything about, that's how being in a military works. You don't like it, you don't use a military.”
“I can't do this without the Aegis!”
“Yeah? Sure, maybe. I'm not telling you what to do.” Aleksa switches over to Russian. “I'm not saying free will is a bad cause, either. But you've got to think about the implications and the consequences. If you're afraid of wolves, don't go to the woods.”
Jupiter rolls her eyes. “Sure easy for you to say, Mom.”
“Of course,” says Aleksa. “I'm not the space princess. God be praised for that.”
She uses Lyudmila's standard Yiddish phrase, about the only Yiddish she knows, and it has the intended effect; Jupiter wrinkles her nose and makes a face at her. “Since when did you thank God for anything?”
Aleksa rolls her eyes heavenward and says, piously, “Ever since you were granted a shitty space miracle.”
“If you'd maybe not be so judgy about literally everything,” Jupiter mutters, “that really would be a shitty space miracle.”
“Sure it would. And who wants a shitty miracle?”
Jupiter lets out a snort of laughter in spite of herself. “OK, fine. We don't really have enough space for all the Aegis this first time anyway, but that doesn't mean they're not ever coming, I just gotta think about it a little more.”
“Sure,” Aleksa agrees. “That's your job. My job is space math.” She starts gathering up her paperwork. There's a lot of space math for her to do in the next three days, if she's going to be ready for this meeting. “Prepare to be wowed.”
It's not entirely true that they couldn't have fit all the Aegis at the meeting, if Jupiter had really made a sticking point out of it. The space palace is almost finished – three weeks for sure now, the contractors are saying, they just have to finish putting in the toilets – and in theory they could have made use of the large council table that Nino has installed there for just exactly this sort of meeting. It's not really very practical to hold an important meeting in a palace that has no working toilet, but Aleksa is fairly sure that's not the only reason Jupiter's decided to cram them all back in the Bolotnikov home for this first meeting instead. The reminder of who Jupiter is and where she comes from is important. Jupiter doesn't want anyone to forget it – or maybe she just doesn't want to forget it herself.
Aleksa appreciates the symbolism. Still, it has to be said: even with as small a group as they are, the table could stand to be a little larger.
Caine wanted to stand behind Jupiter to free up space, but Jupiter insisted that he sit next to her and participate in the conversation. Apparently they've patched up their fight, because now he's glaring at anyone who has the temerity to look at their interwoven arms. Nino is half-squashed next to Bob, and hits Aleksa's arm with her elbow every time she moves. Tsing, on Aleksa's other side, would probably be doing the same thing if she weren't sitting so still. This is irritating, because it means that Aleka's now almost certainly going to be the one accidentally hitting her instead unless she pays constant attention to where Tsing is in relation to her arm. On the other side, Stinger the space bee is sandwiched stoically in between Vassily and Irina, while Lyudmila has somehow managed to use the advantage of her age to carve out a six-inch bubble of personal space at the end of the table. Vladie, who wasn't formally invited, has pulled out the extra stool from the kitchen and seems intent on making sure he has both a metaphorical and literal seat at the table.
Aleksa's life has been getting stranger by the minute these past few months, but somehow the strangest thing yet is to see this array of aliens gathered around her kitchen table, evenly interspersed with faces she knows as well as she knows her own.
“Okay,” Jupiter says, when everyone's jostled themselves into something approximating a comfortable position. “So – you guys know why we're here. Now that we've dealt with the Titus issue --”
“Temporarily,” says Caine.
“Most likely temporarily,” agrees Bob. “It will take him some time to rebuild his assets enough to leverage any significant --”
“Now that we don't have to worry about the Titus issue for at least a little while,” Jupiter says firmly, “we should start drawing out some game plans on the whole …. RegeneX thing. Like. I mean. OK. I guess I should start by saying that we're all on the same page that full-planet liquidation is not OK, right? Anybody not on that page? Because if so, this is the time to walk out.”
Aleksa skips over the Bolotnikovs, and focuses in on the alien faces: Caine, Bob, Apini, Tsing. Caine, as far as she can tell, is doing the same. As for the rest – well, she doesn't even know for sure what she thinks she's going to see. It's not like she's any kind of expert in understanding what aliens are thinking.
Whatever they're thinking, none of them walk out. She hadn't really expected that any of them would. One way or another, they all work for Jupiter. Whether that means any of them really believe in Jupiter's self-proclaimed cause is another question entirely.
At least Jupiter looks satisfied. She gives a decisive nod. “OK, good. So, obviously, I'm not making any more RegeneX. We've already shut down production in all Seraphi's factories, plus the ones I got from Titus. But I also inherited a whole lot of RegeneX that already exists, and given that … it's gross …. but super valuable …. but gross … I'd kind of like to talk about what to do … with all that.”
Jupiter looks expectantly out at her council of war. There's a brief moment of silence.
Lyudmila raises her hand. “Excuse me – you say Regenex, means --” She hesitates, searching for the right word, and finally settles on, “Immortal face cream?”
“I don't know if it's actually a face cream,” Nina says. “I think you drink it. Something like that. Or shoot it like a Botox? Also, you can talk in Russian if you want, Lyudmila,” she adds, though she keeps speaking English herself. It's how they all tend to speak to those who are alien. “Everyone understands.”
Lyudmila sticks stubbornly to English. “No matter. Just making sure I'm understanding. Immortal juice made from people. Yes. Well, you are right, Jupiter,” she says, firmly, “this is very much an evil thing. I think you destroy all of it you have. Such a thing should not be.”
Apparently all it needed was for one person to propose an idea in order for the floodgates to open. Now, suddenly, everybody has an opinion.
“It seems a waste --”
“But it's worth millions,” wails Vladie.
“Earth millions are small change when compared with the intergalactic value of Jupiter's stores of RegeneX,” says Nino, then adds, hastily, with a glance at Aleksa, “I'm not advocating to sell it! Just to make sure we're holding an accurate discussion.”
“It's a terrible thing, of course, how it's made is horrible,” says Vassily, “but destroying it won't bring any of those people back. And whatever you're planning, Jupiter, the more resources you have, the easier it will be.”
Stinger Apini says, rather to Aleksa's surprise, “I'd be happy to smash up the lot of it.”
“If you'll excuse me, Your Highness,” says Tsing. She's managed to catch a lull in the shouting, and everybody turns to look at her as she goes on, “You might wish to consider reserving some of the store for your own use.”
Jupiter blinks, her forehead drawing down. “Captain Tsing, that's not --”
Tsing holds out a hand. “Hear me out. What you're discussing – what we're discussing – is, in the long term, the end of RegeneX production as an industry. Correct?”
“Yeah,” Jupiter says, warily, “I thought I'd already made that pretty clear, yeah.”
“This not the work of a single human lifetime. Your enemies have been profiting from the current economic laws for millenia. They have enough RegeneX stockpiled that even if no more were ever to be produced, starting today, they will be able to live for centuries more at minimum. Against such odds, any accomplishments achieved by an individual over the course of a few decades can be easily overturned.”
“Well, that's --” Jupiter swallows. She's barely past twenty. No one of that age is in the habit of thinking in terms of decades. “I mean, obviously I hope that once we get going, all of this isn't going to have to rely on just me – and, I mean, if I have kids, and their kids, then --” She trails off, with a shrug.
Tsing waits a careful few moment, giving Jupiter the space to end her sentence, before she speaks again. “Children may decide not to follow the wishes of their parents. Seraphi Abrasax herself turned against RegeneX at the end of her life, it's said, and if she had not been reborn in you --”
Aleksa leans under her chair to grab the files she's stowed there, pulls them up, and lets them drop to the table with a satisfying thud. Every head turns toward her. “Actually, she says, loudly, “this is a point we're wishing to discuss.”
“What?” says Jupiter.
“The plans of Seraphi Abrasax. Did you think she didn't have any?”
So it's maybe a little bit of a drama move to pull. Still, she has to admit: it's gratifying, to have such an attentive audience. Nino is grinning at her across the table. “First,” Aleksa says, “we go back a little. Tsing, you're correct – destroying the business of RegeneX forever is not an easy thing to do. We're all aware of this. Destroying any kind of business is not easy. How can you do it? Couple of options. First -- you make it illegal. How? Set that aside for right now. It's difficult. More difficult with space laws, but we're talking options. So, say you make it illegal –"
"Economic collapse," puts in Nino. "Lots of people suffering because of this."
Aleksa makes a dismissive hand gesture. "The resource planets, like Earth, will they suffer because of the collapse of an industry they don't know about to begin with? Probably not so much. Do we care about the suffering of people who use skin cream made of people? I don't know that we care so much about that. "
"Now who's being space unethical!" says Nino. "Sound more like Lenin, why don't you!"
"Better Lenin than Stalin. Still, even so, if you think about this practically, you get a black market. People pay even higher prices than before, and no regulation -- atrocities maybe on a smaller scale, but still atrocities and maybe worse ones. So, this is not ideal.” Aleksa takes a breath, and plows on before anyone else can interrupt. “So. How else do you destroy a business?”
She looks pointedly at Vassily, proud small business owner, who provides the answer on cue: “You have a better business.”
Aleksa gives a sharp nod. “Exactly. A better business. Better work, better technology. This is what Seraphi Abrasax was working on, before she died. You think that out of the goodness of her heart, she decides to end her business without securing her economic interests first? Does that sound like an Abrasax to you? Of course it doesn't. She sees that there is a potential solution that involves maybe a little less murder, and, being a smart woman, she thinks she can corner the market. After that, OK, sure, end RegeneX. Flood the market with synthetic, drive it out for good. This was what she planned. Probably this is why her son kills her.” She gives a dramatic shrug, and then regrets it immediately when her elbow hits Tsing in the side. “Or maybe not. I don't know what a murderer with a shitty space palace and an Oedipus complex is thinking. Either way, when he inherits her assets, he makes a good start on hiding all evidence of what his mother is doing – and of course Seraphi Abrasax, too, so far as we can tell, she's doing this as much in secret as she can.”
“But you can't do everything in secret,” Nino jumps in, “and you can't erase all paper trails, especially if you are busy building shitty space palaces and murdering planets and fussing with your hair, or whatever else it is that a person like Balem Abrasax does with his time. And this is even more difficult if you are too suspicious to let anybody who is expert in bureaucracy know much about what is going on and help you with any of the work. So he cannot hide everything.” She taps the side of her nose, looking immensely smug. “Or at least he cannot hide it from talented individuals such as Mr. Advocate Bob and myself.” She puts a comfortable arm around Advocate Bob, who makes what can only be termed calves' eyes at Nino in response.
It's mildly sickening, but Aleksa does not have time at present to be disturbed by further evidence that a robot accountant has imprinted on her sister. “What Nino is getting around to saying,” she concludes, “is that we are certain Seraphi hired a factory to test production of synthetic RegeneX. We also think – though are not certain – that there is some chance we can locate enough of her research to bring it into the market.”
She looks again at Vassily, who is grinning in a way that makes him look twenty years younger. He's known about this, of course; he's the one who's been helping her go through Seraphi's financial files. “The business plan,” he says, gleefully, “almost writes itself.”
He sits back, and now everyone is waiting for Jupiter.
Jupiter opens her mouth. Jupiter shuts her mouth. Jupiter says, with admirable poise, “Thanks for the update, everyone. This is definitely important information, and, uh, an exciting new game plan to talk about for the future, but before we get too far off the agenda --”
“Did you send an agenda?” says Irina, startled. “Are we supposed to have an agenda? I never received an agenda.”
“-- the agenda which I didn't actually send but which exists in my head,” Jupiter amends, “but which I will definitely send before the next meeting – so, before we get too far off, what does this have to do with the actual, existing vats of RegeneX that I wanted to talk about?”
“To bring a synthetic RegeneX into the market,” Aleksa says, “we will need to do testing. For testing, we will need the original product.” She looks at her daughter. “But maybe you don't feel OK using it for this? Maybe you want to destroy it, like Lyudmila says. I can't tell you what is right.”
Jupiter sits back in her chair a little. She takes a deep breath. “Well,” she says, “I wish you could.”
Eventually, Jupiter calls for a vote. It doesn't much help. Lyudmila and Stinger remain in favor of destroying the RegeneX immediately. Nino, Irina and Vassily vote as a block to keep it for the purposes of potential synthetics research. (Vladie also votes for this, but it's tacitly understood by the rest of the family that his vote doesn't count.) Advocate Bob declares that he strongly recommends the plan proposed by the Bolotnikov accounting team from a business standpoint, but that he is not programmed with an expertise in ethical matters, and therefore refuses to advise on the topic. Caine, like Aleksa, abstains, and despite her earlier suggestions, so does Tsing.
Jupiter does not look happy with these results. “So if I vote for destroying it, it's a tie,” she says. (Aleksa sees Stinger's brow furrow at this conclusion. He has not yet spent enough time among the Bolotnikovs to understand about Vladie's vote.)
“If you vote for destroying it, we destroy it,” says Caine. Typically, it's the first thing he's said besides his one-word vote absention. Nobody contradicts him; even Vassily is nodding. They're Jupiter's assets. The decision has to be hers.
Jupiter lets out a tremendous sigh, lets her head drop dramatically to the table, and then pushes herself upright again. “OK. We'll hang onto it. For now. Bob, can you work out some kind of legal thing to make it basically impossible for me or anyone else affiliated with me to use it or sell it for anything other than the purposes we've talked about? Cool, thanks. We'll talk about the synthetic RegeneX plan and whether we want to move forward with it at the next meeting, which … I will definitely have an agenda for! And maybe if we're lucky, an actual conference table – um, which, speaking of, Nino, do you want to give an update on the space palace?”
Nino is only too happy to give an update on the space palace. Aleksa, who has been the semi-willing recipient of regular updates on the space palace every day for the past several months, does not find this the most enjoyable portion of the meeting. Nino's detailed explanations of her frustrations with space contractors, the expense of space building materials, and the inconvenience of space plumbing requires a great deal of gesticulation. The amount of elbow-jostling rapidly grows unacceptable. Aleksa grimly plants her feet and grips the table to avoid sliding into Captain Tsing's personal space.
Given how hard Aleksa is working on maintaining the spare inch of space between them, perhaps it's inevitable that she finds her thoughts turning back to Tsing's earlier suggestions for Jupiter's use of the RegeneX. It seems Tsing has been putting some thought into Jupiter's plans for rebellion, or whatever you want to call it. Aleksa finds herself more than a little curious to know what Tsing thinks about the notion of synthetic RegeneX.
When Jupiter finally calls an end, Aleksa rises, planning to catch Tsing outside and see if she can satisfy her curiosity a little. However, before she can follow her to the door, Jupiter steps in front of her and puts a hand on her arm. “Hey. Mom,” she says. “You have a minute?”
“Always for you,” Aleksa answers, with a raised eyebrow, and follows her daughter upstairs to their room.
Jupiter closes the door carefully behind them, and then sits down on the bed. “So.” She sounds like someone who is straining to keep her temper, which is unusual for Jupiter; usually, if she's mad, she doesn't bother to strain. “You didn't think maybe you wanted to give me some advance warning before busting all that out, back there? Seriously, Mom, what were you thinking?”
Aleksa stares back at her. Now she's the one who feels blindsided. “… I'm thinking the point of a meeting is to meet?”
“No duh! I'm not saying you shouldn't have brought it up for everyone to talk about, but why wouldn't you tell me first? What did you expect me to do,” Jupiter demands, “figure out how I felt about all of that just there on the fly? How am I supposed to lead a meeting on something I don't have a clue about?”
There are half a dozen sharp retorts poised on the edge of Aleksa's tongue. She clamps her teeth together to hold them in, forcing herself to think the situation through.
For Jupiter to set up a whole meeting presumably for the purpose of sharing information, then assume everyone understands that if they want information to be shared, they should do it in a meeting before the meeting – well, it's certainly aggravating. Still, while Jupiter may be a novice at managing a large-scale enterprise such as this, she's not wrong about the necessity. If Jupiter is going to lead, she needs to know things first. Aleksa should have realized this, even if Jupiter did not remember to tell her. Hasn't she been the one lecturing Jupiter about leadership, and decision-making, and need-to-know information?
What had she been thinking? Prepare to be wowed, she'd said to Jupiter; was that what she had wanted? To wow her princess daughter?
She takes a breath. “You're right,” she says. “I'm sorry.”
Jupiter's head, bulldozer-braced for a fight, pulls backwards. “...What?”
“What, you're not listening? You want me to say it twice?”
“Well,” says Jupiter, “yeah, I kind of do. Just to make sure I heard right?”
The temptation to roll her eyes is strong, but Aleksa forces herself to resist. The whole point of this, after all, is that Jupiter has the right to ask such things. “You're right,” she repeats. “I'm sorry. Something this big, the boss needs to know it first.”
“The boss!” Jupiter lets the word hang in the air for a moment before wrinkling up her face like a pug dog. “You know, not that that wasn't satisfying to hear you say that, it definitely was, but also it feels kind of weird? Definitely feels weird.”
Aleksa let out a breath. “Very much,” she agrees, and sits down on the bed next to her daughter.
After a moment, Jupiter lets her head drop onto Aleksa's shoulder. “Well, anyway,” she says, “apology accepted.”