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Cardinal Sins: Prologue
Posted By: Arthur Wellesley<arthur_wellesly@hotmail.com>
Date: 6 January 2006, 3:24 am

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       "Legally, what's their position?" Steven Wright asked, blowing the cigar smoke he had been holding in as he spoke. It wafted gently upwards to be dispersed by the single bladed fan that spun arbitrarily above.

       "They haven't broken the law, certainly," Anthony Romano answered resentfully as he downed his third whiskey. "At least as far as we know. Martin put it to a vote, and the Council and the plebiscite approved it. As long as they stay within the boundaries set on them by Martial Law, they are untouchable."

       "Then they will remain untouchable," Calisto Perez put in. "They learned their mistake from '96, and Martin is much smarter and more dangerous than Carter, I think. Besides, their most recent victory is much more certain than before, and the control Martial Law gives over the media to the party in power makes it unlikely any wrongdoings would ever reach the public ear."

       Shifting uncomfortably in the silence that followed this dire prediction, Amy Bishop struggled to find something to say. How many times her husband had had this very same discussion with a changing assortment of allies and supporters, she had lost count. Always her presence was requested, and always she consented, for what reason she couldn't really say. It was clear, despite his vague reassurances that he simply couldn't bear these dry sessions alone, that she was little more than a political piece in Steven's tireless game. Nevertheless, she stuck resolutely by his side and played wife, tolerated with a polite patience by his guests. She supposed it was because she believed her husband to be on the side of right, though she knew in her heart that she lived on a more human level, beneath such haughty ideals. It was more that she had gotten herself into this position, and had no right refuse Steven of what was only reasonably expected of her.

       She had married him, after all.

       "It seems odd, insane even, that the public would so overwhelmingly support the imposition of Martial Law mere months after the CIF entered office, especially given what happened during its previous enactment," she said at last, and all three men's eyes lifted to hold her own as she spoke. "Is it possible some corruption may be unearthed in its approval, given they are no strangers to exploitation?"

       Anthony Romano gave this careful consideration that he must have thought conveyed appreciation, though was construed by Amy to be condescending. "If Martial Law was imposed by any abuse of power, it is unlikely it will be uncovered at least until it is lifted, and quite possibly not until they leave office."

       "I doubt Martin would have gone to such lengths anyway," Perez opined, speaking to no one directly. "People were scared after the bombings, and the CIF banked on that, and that alone. Lawlessness in that regard would be unnecessary and careless."

       "We must look to what comes then," her husband spoke up, evidently in agreement with his largest financial supporter. "In any falter Martin makes, it must be made known immediately, before they can taint it in their own portrayal."

       With that, her input was dismissed, and the conversation veered from a course Amy thought to be legitimate. The Colonial Independence Front had faced a corruption scandal during their last successful election in 2496 as the Inner Colony rebellion reached its climax. Surely it was possible their enactment of Martial Law had not been entirely legal, approved by a plebiscite far more corruptible than a federal election. And in a situation where the United Party's range of power was severely limited, it seemed the most plausible course of action. These talks, insufferable in nature and interminable in length, seemed the only course of action the United Party was willing to pursue. Where she perceived a major injustice, these men saw only a political defeat.

       Which brought the prospect of separation once more to the well-worn doorstep of the colony of Vesta, an issue which had plagued the planet since its inception. Settled in the late 2300s as the dust settled from the first Inner Colonies war, Vesta was initially populated almost exclusively by veterans and by those displaced by the conflict. The collective mentality these conditions produced was fiercely insular and independent, its people unwilling to deal with outsiders and strongly desirous of putting the memory of the terrible war behind them; a war, it was seen, as being brought about by the failure of the United Nations. And so the Vesta Party was born.

       Initially conceived to administer the massive effort of settling millions of people on a newly terraformed planet, the glibly named party became the political face of the will of the people: complete separation from the United Nations. Its agenda was pushed nearly unchecked for decades, resulting in greater independence than any other colony and immunity from several universal laws, until the lesser known United Party gained in popularity. There were those who saw benefit in remaining within the jurisdiction of the United Nations, and as the goodwill the Vesta Party earned from their handling of colonization wore off, the United Party became powerful enough to contend with their opposition. When they won their first election in 2437, the political weight of the two parties more or less balanced out, and while the United Party was unable to undo the distance put between the colony and the UN, the stalemate rendered the Vesta Party ineffectual as well. For a time, the issue of separation cooled.

       Such an arrangement could not last, however. In 2481, a radical new movement, named the Colonial Independence Front, was formed, and its appearance threw the political landscape of the colony into disarray. Fed up with the lack of progress made in the past half-century, advocates of separation rapidly abandoned their support for the old Vesta Party in startling numbers in favor of the new, hard-line proponent for independence. As the Vesta Party faded into obscurity, the CIF won their first election as soon as 2495, under a man named Daniel Carter, while the Eridanus rebellion raged with intense ferocity. Unwilling to lend assistance to the UN in their effort, the CIF seemed the best choice to the majority, though their enactment of Martial Law at only the threat of rebellion on Vesta, coupled with rumors of corruption during the election, led to their defeat in 2499 and subsequent fall from favor.

       For another sixteen years the United Party ruled, and was able to repair some of the damaged caused with relations to the UN due to their inaction during the crisis. As rumors grew of renewed insurrection in the early years of the 2500s, the CIF regained some of the popularity they had lost with their disastrous first administration. For although many on Vesta desired separation, few wanted their independence forged in blood, for to do so would prevent its legal recognition and condemn it years of struggle against the UN. Most wanted only to live outside the governance of the United Nations and distance themselves with the violence they associated with it. To escape bloodshed was why they had come here, after all, and it seemed to many that the CIF was the only party capable of maintaining this desperately wanted peace.

       Thus, they were voted into office a second time in 2515, the popular leader of the United Party, Steven Wright, abandoned for the bold promises of immediate action made by Francis Perry of the CIF. Mere months after the election, a series of bombings wracked the capital city of Massilia, killing dozens and terrifying the public. It was revealed to be the work of violent separatists, and was immediately decried by advocates of independence who saw it as sullying and derailing their legitimate cause. The CIF once again suggested colony-wide Martial Law, and it was passed in a plebiscite with very little controversy. It seemed people were willing to do anything to preserve their way of life and prevent bloodshed, and had entrusted a party with corruption at its heels to see it done.

       And this is what the United Party has since been reduced to, Amy thought caustically. A group of old men, talking vaguely of the future over warm whiskey and cool wine. They exchange assurances of a repetition of the past without any will to bring it about. And in the end, in the guise of real power, they all still must be shut within their homes by ten o'clock tonight.

       "Amy?" her husband pressed, as though he had already spoken.

       "I'm sorry, yes?" she asked, starting from her reverie.

       Steven looked at her curiously, but did not comment on her inattentiveness. "Could you please get the door?" he asked.

       "Oh," she replied, lifting herself from her seat. "Of course." She left the lounge quickly, not looking back to what she assumed to be, in the silence that followed her retreat, a round of perplexed faces.

       She wondered who would be calling at this hour. Though it was not yet nine thirty, a mandatory curfew had been imposed for ten o'clock on all citizens, and in any case, they were not expecting any more visitors. Her wonder grew as the doorbell rang several more times on her approach, rude and impatient in their intervals.

       Hastily opening the door as the final ring sounded about the house, she was slightly shocked to see that upon her doorstep stood four policemen. They were not civil police, either, but militia, heavily armed officers who dealt with matters of marked danger and importance and whose presence had been largely increased since the imposition of Martial Law.

       "May I help you gentleman?" Amy asked coolly, standing in the doorway with her arm outstretched, thus blocking their entry.

       The entourage did not answer, but the largest of the group moved steadfastly towards the door, and Amy had little choice but to back away and allow them to pass.

       "May I see a warrant, please?" she asked angrily as she closed the door behind the last of them.

       The four of them stood arrayed around the foyer, taking in their surroundings with scant interest and regarding her with a condescending gaze. "Martial Law has been enacted, ma'am," said the largest, who must have been their leader. He spoke in a tone that laid bare his obvious contempt at being questioned by her. "Are you Mrs. Wright?"

       "No one in this household has a criminal record," Amy began, anger behind her words. "We have no associations with any illegal organization. You have no authority…"

       "We are here on very special authority," the man said dangerously, cutting short her objection. "I assure you our presence here is more than lawful. Now direct us to your husband, ma'am, or we will take the liberty of searching your house ourselves."

       For a moment, only, she stood still in raging protest, though came quickly to the conclusion that refusal would do more harm than good. These men were bent on seeing her husband, and while admitting them their demand was likely bad news for Steven, she had no choice in the matter. Reluctantly, and with worry gripping her heart, she led them to the lounge.

       As they made their way to the bar, the crackling of the police radio carried by the leader made Steven turn to look around. Although Amy did not hear the message, she heard the man say quietly, "We got 'im."

       "What's going on here?" Steven asked as he rose from his seat at the sight of the four policemen. His companions remained still, surprised looks plastered on their faces. "Amy?"

       "Steven Wright?" the man asked questioningly, though he must have known his target already.

       Steven's jaw set firmly, seeing he would be unable to speak with his wife. "That's right."

       "Sir, you are under arrest as per Provisional Martial Law, article two."

       His eyes widened at this declaration. "For what?" he managed with difficulty.

       "For crimes against the state," the man intoned, reaching for his handcuffs.

       "Well, that's ridiculous!" Anthony Romano spoke up, his lawyer's instincts set to defend his friend from such allegations. "There is no basis for that accusation. You have no right to be here!"

       "We have every right to be here, Mr.…?"

       "Romano," he said, taken aback by this interest. "Anthony Romano."

       The officer's eyebrows raised with renewed interest. He looked down at Calisto, who had remained seated. "And you, sir?"

       "Calisto Perez," he answered dully, stunned by the presence of these armed men.

       The man nodded, and said, "Alright, I'm going to have to ask you three gentlemen to follow me, please."

       At this, Anthony looked as though struck. Calisto sighed long and hard, as though this was simply an inconvenience that distracted him from his business. Steven continued to look nonplussed, struggling to comprehend this sudden turn of events, and to determine if there was any way around them. Eventually, the leader simply ordered his subordinates to apprehend the three men and escort them outside. It was an unbelievable scene; Amy could do little but follow helplessly as her husband was arrested on terms that called for indefinite imprisonment.

       When they reached the foyer, the leader demanded they turn and face the wall, and his three men brought out their handcuffs.

       "You will not give us the dignity of walking out unrestrained?" Steven asked with barely contained rage.

       "I apologize, sir," the man said insincerely, "but it is procedure."

       Calisto and Anthony consented to the request without trouble, and were immediately handcuffed by the other officers, but Steven remained resolutely still. After only a moment's hesitation, the third cop seized him roughly by the arm and threw him against the wall, pinning the back of his neck with his forearm against the wall as he reached for his restraints.

       At seeing this ill treatment, something stirred within Amy; without thinking, she rushed towards the man and grasped his arm, trying to wrench it loose from her husband. For her effort, the officer pulled his arm suddenly back, striking her full in the face and sending her reeling back onto the floor.

       Free now from his oppressor's grip, and seeing his battered wife upon the floor, Steven pushed the policeman with all his strength, succeeding in unbalancing the man and receiving a surprised curse. His victory was not long-lived, however, for in seeing this, the leader, with startling speed, pulled out his truncheon and struck Steven on the knee with a sickening thud.

       To say that he fell was not enough; he crumpled, his knee shattered, and fell upon the floor with a cry of anguish. Amy began to approach him and help, but quickly retreated when the offended officer walked over to her moaning husband and hauled him to his feet, forcing him to balance on his remaining leg. So restrained, the four men walked out, half-leading, half-dragging their quarries.

       As he left, the leader gave Amy a curt nod and a small smile. "Thank you for your cooperation, ma'am."

       She did not answer, merely stared at him with loathing over a hand that held her bloodied nose.

       Amy walked to the doorway, and watched as the three men were carried away to a police van parked at the end of the walkway. Calisto and Anthony were able to ascend the back with some dignity, despite their condition, but Steven was thrown into the vehicle with utter disregard. She winced as she imagined his pain.

       She remained standing there, the warm July breeze gently caressing her skin, staring down the long street far after the van had passed from sight. It had happened so quickly, she was not even certain it had happened at all; only the pain of her battered face lay in testament to the truth. More than the corruption, more than the invasion of privacy and feeling of insecurity, more even than her husband's arrest and mistreatment, the helplessness she felt and the humiliation she suffered stirred the fury in her heart. Feelings of such potency must find an outlet, for kept within they would explode.

       I will have my revenge, she vowed silently, and closed the door on the night.