This is the 6th free sample of Oranje, I’ll be posting up to the end of Chapter Ten for free. You can buy it here, or if you’re interested in getting a review copy of the book, you can contact me via email or on twitter (links to both on my website).

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Above Violeta, the sky was beginning to darken, tinged purple as the sun began to sink away. She stretched and yawned and tried to focus on the screen with her tired eyes. She was reading through another report from a committee, just one of hundreds she had trudged through since meeting the families. Her hand gripped a cup of coffee that was quickly approaching lukewarm. A buzz on the intercom brought a welcome relief.

“James is here to see you,” said Tess.

“Please send him in.”

She made an attempt at tidying her desk before waving him forward as he came through the doors.

“I hope you are dealing with that.” She pointed at one of the windows. Bright red graffiti covered most of it.

“We’ve caught the people responsible already—just a few silly kids,” he said.

“That’s the third time this month. I want to know how they are doing that without being noticed. It’s not like there is a shortage of cameras or sensors around here.”

“They were spotted eventually,” he said before changing course mid-statement as he noticed the expression on her face. “I will speak to Lieutenant Liu”—Violeta’s head of security—“about it—see if there can’t be some adjustments made to the security arrangements.”

“Good,” she said. “Send a message to the families as well; tell them I’m disappointed at their spelling.”

The graffiti read DOUN WITH THE GORVERNOR.

“They’ll deny their involvement.”

“Sure, and some kids managed to graffiti my windows without any help,” she said. “Try pulling the other one; it has bells on.”

He stood staring at the graffiti, hands tapping behind his back.

“I’m not sure it is that badly spelt. That U almost looks like a W,” he said.

She turned to look. “That is not a W in any way, shape, or form. The only way it could be a W is if we collectively decided that W was now U and vice versa.” Violeta fixed her gaze on him. “Send them the message.”

“If you insist,” he said. “They’ve begun moving against you in the planetary legislature.”

“Well, there’s a surprise,” she said. “Let me guess, they’re trying to derail the bill with pointless amendments.”

“Along with a little bit of filibustering,” replied James.

“Well, they can try all they want, but they’re not stopping the Contract bill.”

“Are you going to be around for much longer?”

“I’m just waiting for the call with the other governors, and then I am going to have a well-earned rest.” She stretched her arms. “I’ve had my fill of reports for one day.”

“What do you think they will say?”

She shrugged her shoulders. “I’m not sure, but there is only one way to find out. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

He bowed before he turned and left, the doors closing behind him. Looking at the time on the screen, she refilled her coffee and sat in her chair as the hour approached nine o’clock. Out of a drawer in the desk, she pulled out a thin transparent plastic strip that she positioned on her forehead. When the call from the other governors came, she was ready and answered it at once. She waited to confirm that the call was secure before she closed her eyes for just a moment, and then she opened them again.

Her office had disappeared, replaced by a different but equally luxurious room. A huge oval wooden table sat in the middle, and around it were twelve chairs filled by the governors of each planet in the Republic. She was sitting at one end, but she knew her body was still in the office, eyes closed. It was an excellent simulation, allowing her freedom of movement and voice without affecting her actual body. The many differently coloured faces of the eleven other governors were watching her. Their outfits were a variety of styles and colours, the different planets having their own societal expectations and fashion trends.

“I hope you’ve not been waiting too long,” she said.

“Not at all. Looks like we are on time for once,” said Governor Sall of Alboran. “That makes a nice change for us.”

“A very pleasant one,” she said as she clasped her hands on the table in front of her. “I’d like to keep this as short as possible. We all have a lot to do, and any discussion can be continued via messages once we are done, if you’re all okay with that.”

The others nodded in agreement.

“That is acceptable,” said Governor Villanueva of Jinan.

“Then let’s get started,” said Violeta with a smile. “You all know by now how my meeting with the president went, but I’m sure some of you will have questions you want answered.”

“Is she serious about repealing the Governor Act?” asked Sall.

“Completely. And I expect that to happen within twenty-four hours.”

“The president must know what our reaction to this will be,” he said. “She is just going to push us further away and make our opposition to the war more entrenched.”

“I know that, and so does she. The simple fact is she doesn’t care anymore.” Violeta leaned forward. “We’re an irrelevance to her, and she is tired of us getting in her way. There was a brief attempt to get me on her side before she dropped that bombshell. This has been planned for a while.”

“How can she be certain this will pass a vote?” asked Villanueva. “The Members of Parliament must realise what this will do.”

“Most of them support a war. Voting to remove another obstacle on the path to that will not give them any concern.” Violeta’s gaze moved around the table. “This is happening, and we can’t stop this. It’s time to think about what our strategy will be from now on.”

“Not all our powers are contained in that act,” said Sall. “Some are bound to the Republic Treaty. They might not be much, but we should take advantage of them all the same.”

“Those are going to disappear the moment war begins,” she said. “The Emergency Powers act will come into force, and those last few powers will be null and void, or at least all apart from one, our most powerful option as governors.”

“You mean seceding from the Republic,” said Sall.

“It is always open to us,” she said.

“Only if we’re mad,” said Villanueva. “The moment we do that, we have crossed a line; it will be the death of the Republic.”

“That is, if the President doesn’t remove that power from us as well,” added Sall.

“It is part of the treaty, and by law no other act can change that,” said Violeta. “Now, she could try and change the Treaty, but if she does, it requires the agreement of all of us, and we would never go for it. So I think she’s content to leave that option open to us because she thinks we’ll never take it.”

“I hope we do not,” said Governor Jamal of Marutas. “I’m not sure we will have much of a choice.”

“We are the Republic,” said Villanueva. “Without us, it does not exist. Perhaps you have forgotten that, Governor Amar.”

“Maybe it’s you who’s forgotten.” Violeta’s gaze hardened. “When was the last time we acted like that was true? Again and again, we’ve let them take powers away from us and said it’s the last straw. Now there’s almost nothing left, we have big decisions to make.”

“We can’t do that right here and now,” said Sall.

“That is true, but we don’t have that much time open to us. I’d ask that you all go away and think long and hard about what our next step is. Whatever happens, we can’t continue to do nothing.” Her gaze swept around the table. “If no one else wants to make a decision right now, I don’t think there is anything more we can discuss today. I hope you all have a good night, and I’ll speak to you again soon.”

With nods and bows the others left the call, their digital versions disappearing from the simulation one by one. She peeled the strip from her forehead and returned to her office just as there was a buzz from the intercom.

“Governor, are you busy?” asked Tess.

She pushed the answer button. “No, my meeting has finished. What do you need?”

“Minister Rana is here.”

A smile formed on her face.

“I thought he wouldn’t be here until tomorrow.” She had not meant to say that out loud. She straightened her clothes. “Send him in, please.”

She picked up the cup and managed to fill it with coffee and sit back down before the doors had fully opened. Sebastian strode down the carpet towards her, and she could see the smile on his face from a long way away. He was wearing bright orange-and-yellow clothes that clashed horribly and didn’t match the style on Arausio, as usual. He’d lost the tan he had built up on Arausio and was back to his usual, very pale white skin.

“Minister Rana, what a pleasure to see you.” She grinned as she stood up and bowed.

“Governor Amar, it is a pleasure to be here.” He bowed in return before engulfing her in a big hug and kissing her on the lips. “Hello, Vi.”

“It is great to see you, Sebastian.” She held him tight before they released each other. “What are you doing here so soon?”

“The moment the President told me about the change of plan, I booked myself onto the next transfer here. You’re not the only one who isn’t welcome around the inner circle at the moment.”

“Ah, I hope that isn’t my doing,” she said. “Drink?”

“Wine, please.” He sat down in the chair facing hers. “I think you’re just a convenient excuse. The president is disappointed I’ve not sided with her yet.”

She poured him a large glass of wine and handed it to him before doing the same for herself.

“After all these years, she still doesn’t understand you very well, does she?”

“I think she used to a few years ago, but now she’s surrounded herself with people who only echo her views. It’s harder and harder to make my arguments heard.”

“So you came out here to Arausio to relax instead.”

“Well, I’m not sure about that if what I’ve read about you trying to ban Contracts is true.”

She held up her free hand. “Guilty as charged. The families are taking it about as well as you’d expect.”

“I bet you’re enjoying that, aren’t you?”

“A little.” They burst into laughter for a while. “It’s so good to see you.”

“It is always a joy.” He was staring at her eyes. The last time they had seen each other, he had told her how much he loved the colour of them.

“It’s a shame we see each other so rarely nowadays.”

“The Parliament being moved to Yukon did not help,” he said with a sad smile. “Maybe in the future, we can be closer together.” He put his hand on the desk, and she covered it with her own.

“I hope we can.” She sipped her drink as they sat in silence for a few moments. “It’s getting late.” She pointed at the darkened skies overhead.

He stretched his arms upward. “I think I could sleep for a year right now.”

“You’d miss all the fun if you did that.” She smiled mischievously and laid a hand on his arm. “Shall we have some more drinks in my rooms?”

“I cannot think of a better way to spend the evening.” He linked his arm in hers, and they left her office by the back door, laughing and talking as they went.

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