Roberta Hillthorpe kicked off the red stilettos, leaned back as far as her chair allowed, and surrendered to the weight of the world. Two worlds, actually.

She planted her feet on the smooth glass desktop, cleared of all clutter save for the holographic display. Fondling a tumbler, she considered her liquid advocate, Jack Daniels. “Do you know?” Jack confided in the swirling cubes. The frozen crystals shuddered against the glass in chilled contemplation. “Billions of people have no idea their lives are in her hands. No idea the power she wields.”

The weasel who invited himself into her office knew, as he waited for a “Good morning, Walter,” which was not forthcoming. He had assumed office as the Chairperson of the United Global Alliance and commissioned Roberta as Strategic Counsel Leader in response to the nuclear “incidents” that exacerbated the ongoing ruination humans had masterfully enacted over the past century. Earth’s cancer had metastasized—its condition terminal. As the planet choked on its last breaths, Roberta intently worked out her plan.

Holding the office of the second most powerful person in the UGA, she had dedicated the better part of her time as SCL to finding humanity a new home. A real estate agent for the entire planet, she mused. They didn’t have the years needed to migrate to Mars—if that were even possible. A decade of conversations with Walter Vescovi always ended the same, with him telling her to do what she thought best.

Walter, beginning to sweat from the heat of Roberta’s thinly veiled wrath, stepped out of her squinted glare and poured himself a glass of water.

“Are we sure we’ve exhausted all diplomatic options?”

“We, Walter?” Roberta dropped her feet to the tile floor with a thud and huffed deliberately. “The one time you insisted on being involved, and you blew our chances for that.”

“We asked for refuge, migration of over four billion people from Earth to their world. It seemed a fair question.”

“And I had an answer that would have kept the option on the table. Why you had to tell their Prime Minister’s office about how our industrialization ruined the environment…” She exhaled forcefully through her nostrils. “And it horrified them when you explained the nuclear incidents. As anyone should have expected it would.”

“They had the right to know.”

Roberta hoisted her weary elbows on the desktop and leaned forward. “And they shut us down. Now this is all we have.”

“But occupation by force? And for goodness sakes, Roberta, sending nuclear warheads over there… They have nothing like that. One reason their planet is still pristine.”

“Look, when we took office, we pushed Mars as our only hope. Even now that it’s a bust—never going to work for even a fraction of our people—we’re still selling it to the masses. Finding Idyllium was our chance, it’s our future. And it’s the only one we’ve got.”

“I understand that… all too well. We have ten years, twelve at best, before we cannot breathe our atmosphere. Even if we could get a quarter of the population to Mars as we hoped, it’ll be too late.”

Letting Walter stew for a bit, Roberta mused over how forty years ago the James Webb telescope searched the cosmos for a habitable planet. They found none mankind could reach, if any even existed. Astronomers realized something else, something astonishing. What they had classified as echoes of earth were radiation signals from a parallel world. Their discovery resurrected a hope Roberta had considered dead and buried. “When we found Idyllium, we got our second chance. I intend to take it… not to save a quarter of our people, but all four and a half billion under our care.”

“But to undermine their economic, social, and political systems? To take out their defenses and then invade an entire planet? Do we have the right?”

“We have the right to live, Mister Chairperson.” Hillthorpe stood and rested the knuckles of her balled fists on the desktop. Towering over the unimposing man, she spoke to his reflection on the desk’s glossy surface. “We’re not the bad guys here. They refused to help, sentencing us to death. Now their own Deputy PM is working with us to remove the Prime Minister and allow our infiltration and future migration.”

“Well…” Walter Vescovi slouched his shoulders. Roberta recognized the posture. “Just don’t detonate any nukes over there. If that is to be our new home, let’s try not to ruin it like we did this one.”

“As I’ve told you, that is a last resort.”

The chairperson sipped liberally from his water glass, banishing the anxiety from his squeaky voice. “Will the first team be ready?”

“The advance team. We’ve had agents over there for years. And yes, why do you think I’m spending so much time in this dreary hellhole of a compound? I’m personally overseeing their final preparations.”

“And you’re sure about the two civilians joining the mission?”

Roberta cackled. “Sharon is hardly a civilian. She’s been on several assignments, some with Marc. And she’s the best environmental scientist we’ve got.”

“And the journalist?”

When Walter asked questions, Roberta figured it freed his conscience to put his signature on whatever executive orders she drafted.

Technically her boss, Roberta allowed Walter’s questions to trickle onto her forehead. An unrelenting drip-drip-drip. She endured the torture, knowing it granted his hand permission to scribble a signature on whatever executive orders she needed to draft.

“Communications specialist. We have plenty of qualified marines, for sure, but Marc asked for her specifically. Besides, Kat’s a friend and I trust her. She’ll be ready.”

“Why would Captain Sanders request her over military personnel?”

“She’s the best. He said he couldn’t risk losing communication with us from Idyllium on such an important mission.”

“Right. Good. Our future is riding on this, and time is running out. We can’t afford to fail.”

“Walter, you know me well enough by now. I always have a contingency plan.”

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