I love weddings.
It's the best part of my job.
Danni nearly managed to slip the hook. Nearly. I talked her out of it, though.
Good thing too. We needed the morale boost.
And then Alley and LJ decided to crash the party! What fun!
Which meant instead of getting just a little drunk out, it got really drunk out!
Before you ask: yes, Allie and LJ ended up getting proper wedding rings.
And yes, they kept the ones we borrowed during the ceremony.
And that's a wrap for the book!
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Tycho Under; Artemis City; Habitat Njord
“Loonies!” she shouted, and there was silence.
Autumn looked over the packed square. There weren’t many large gathering places in Tycho Under, but this was the largest of all. It was a space reserved for the erection of emergency housing and medical stations in a ‘lifeboat’ scenario. Nearly five hundred meters on a side, it was rated to hold over 100,000 people, giving everyone two square meters.
She figured there were double that, easily.
The Tycho Under government had proven most amenable to quietly ceding power to Newling’s revolution, once it had been assured there were to be no repercussions for the rampant smuggling in the city.
“Look around you!” she said now from the stage, hastily erected at the far end of the space. People looked from one to the other then back at her.
“We are standing on the edge of a precipice. I know that. From here, we have two choices. We can fall. Or we can fly. Some of you may say, ‘We’re not ready.’ I say if not now, when? We’re not ready? No! They’re not ready! Those bloated, corrupt, murdering thugs in Artemis City! They don’t think we will ever be ready, that we will ever stand up to them.”
The crowd was murmuring now.
“They. Are. Wrong. You have been waiting for this your entire lives. I have waited, too, waited as I wasted my time playing their games, believing their lies. Well, I’m done waiting!”
Yells of encouragement rose.
“Today, we declare the revolution! Today we declare to the cosmos we deserve our place in it! Today we fly!”
The crowd roared its approval. Autumn basked in it for a few moments, then turned them over to her lieutenants to turn a mob into an army.
“Send the messages,” she said to Caitlin, Sharon, and Nour. “We’re going to need some friends.”
“Minister Taylor, Minister Dent.”
“Captain Newling. Is everything in order?”
“As we discussed, Minister. My crew and I are honored to have you both present for this glorious mission.”
The Averroes was in orbit over Artemis City. Newling had come down to the surface in one of his ship’s pinnaces to personally escort his guests. Nobody mentioned the large amount of small boat traffic which had been filling the skies for the past hours.
“Captain, I’m sorry, is there an office, somewhere with privacy, which we can use for a few minutes? I should confirm the other arrangements.”
“Certainly, Minister. Just this way.” Newling led them to a small space near the outer airlock.
“This is one of our auxiliary communications centers. Will it do?”
“We need to lift in fifteen minutes to keep to schedule, Minister.”
“I won’t be late,” Taylor said. “Thank you.”
The hatch slid shut.
“Colin? Last chance to back out.”
The older man seemed to have aged ten years in the past two months and he answered heavily.
“No, Jake, thank you. I’ve done what I can here. There’s nothing more for me now.”
“Then let’s make this performance a good one.”
Taylor keyed on the terminal, cast it to the monitor, then connected with the Council of Ministers. In seconds he was looking at the Primus and the rest of the Council.
“Primus,” he said.
“Minister Taylor, Minister Dent. Where are you? Why aren’t you here?”
“We’re at the naval spaceport, Primus, preparing to lift to orbit.”
“Primus, for a campaign of this importance, my place is at the forefront of our forces. It is my intent to board the Averroes and command from there. I will be able to coordinate our attack, respond better to any unexpected developments, if I am with our people instead of my office, or even in the Council.”
Newling looked dubious, but she passed on to Dent.
“And you? Why would the Minister of Intelligence need to be aboard a naval ship?”
Dent brought all the gravitas to his voice he could manage. “Primus, my colleague is young, and inexperienced in understanding intentions. I presume to accompany him to provide him with the real-time analysis as the battle evolves. After all, this is truly the crucial juncture of the entire war. It behooves me to provide our Minister of War with the tools he needs to achieve our goals. If he is going forward, putting his life at risk, why, who am I to hang back?”
“Ministers, this is highly irregular.”
“My assistant, Deputy Minister Atkinson, is there to relay information and answer any question you may ask,” Taylor said.
Atkinson had been subverted by MinSec eight lunars earlier, shortly before Nicole’s ‘disappearance’, and had done his best to worm his way into Taylor’s trust. His efforts might have succeeded if not for the removal of Pitt from her spot in MinSec and Dent’s temporary accession to the position. Since then, though, he’d been carefully fed disinformation or irrelevancies which served only to highlight the rot in the Ministry. He wouldn’t be missed.
“And I see Underminister Phalkon is there,” Dent said. “She is certainly more than capable of providing any interpretation of events you may desire.”
“Primus, I am terribly sorry, but we must cut this short. Captain Newling has a tight schedule to maintain.”
As Taylor hoped, the mention of her distant cousin, and more importantly the family name, sufficed to allow the Primus to give her permission, if grudging.
“Very well. Good luck, Minister Taylor. I look forward to celebrating our victory.”
“Thank you, Primus.” Taylor broke the connection.
“You think she bought it?”
“Perhaps. She is cunning, but can be deceived. Phalkon is not fooled, though.”
“Will she cause us problems?” Taylor was leading the way to the pinnace.
“No. In a very few moments, Underminister Phalkon will receive a message which will prevent her from doing anything, at least until she can root out the source of the message. By that time we should be well away.”
“What sort of message can do that?”
Dent smiled grimly.
“It seems that dear Tal has been somewhat clumsy in her choice of associates. At least three of them have been suspected of subversion, and only her efforts in suppressing the evidence has prevented the Ministry of Justice prosecuting them for crimes against the state. Somehow the evidence is about to surface.”
“Quite.” They’d reached the airlock.
Hand on the control, Taylor said, “You going to miss this?”
“Surprisingly, no. The great game lost its charm for me when your predecessor was terminated by MinSec.”
“About that,” started Taylor, then stopped. “Ask me after.”
“As you will,” said Dent.
The ascent to Averroes was smooth and uneventful, which encouraged Taylor.
“If they were going to do anything now is the time to do it, when we’re most vulnerable,” he said by way of explanation. Only after docking in Averroes and the bay door closed did Taylor really relax.
“Jake, Minister, follow me. Quickly, please.” Newling was much more commanding on the deck of the Averroes. “Watch your step.”
“I thought this was a large ship?” said Dent, stepping around a crate.
“It is,” said Taylor. “Largest one we’ve built.”
“Then why does it feel like we’re in the undercity?”
“That would be the families of the crew and their possessions,” answered Newling over his shoulder.
“We couldn’t leave them behind, not knowing what happens to families of traitors,” Taylor said. “Joe, what about the special delivery?”
“Safe and sound.” Conversation stopped as they navigated the corridors and ladders up towards the bridge. There the crowding was finally diminished and the operation of the ship seemed normal.
“I’m going to have to coordinate things, at least at first,” said Taylor. “Where do you want me?”
“You can use this station,” said Newling. “It’s the bridge engineering station, but the officer who would man it was on the list you gave me. He won’t be needing it.”
“The MinSec operatives and informers,” Taylor said to Dent. “They were provided with alternate assignments for this mission.”
“You mean killed,” said Dent. “I’m no shrinking virgin, Taylor.”
“Not killed,” corrected Newling.
“These were our friends, colleagues. No, they’re locked away in a bulk storage space. They’ve been there since last night, and the base CO should be getting a delayed message in about an hour, informing him.”
Dent found an unoccupied seat and watched the bustle around him. In short order Newling was giving orders to get underway, while Taylor was in constant communication with the other ships of the fleet.
“Captain, I have a message for Minister Taylor,” said Ensign Bonagua, handing a piece of permaplast to him. Without a single look Newling passed it to Taylor.
“He can get his own messages, Leo,” Newling said.
“Yes!” Taylor’s exultant cheer stilled the bridge.
“Another leg of the plan. It’s coming together, Joe, it’s all coming together. We might just live through this!”
“That’s so reassuring.”
The alarms were sounding in CCIC, which Whitmore immediately silenced.
“What do you have?”
“Three ships just departed Lunar orbit, Colonel,” Munro said. “Diana’s identified them as the warp ships.”
“On the holo.”
The projection sprang to life, with Njord on one side and Luna on the opposite.
“Magnify Luna orbit.”
Luna swam to the center of the display, with icons indicating the three ships identified.
“Diana, connect me to Defiant and Defender.”
“This is Colonel Whitmore. We’ve got hostiles breaking Lunar orbit. Prepare for intercept coordinates.”
“Acknowledged,” said Resler from the Defiant.
“Understood,” echoed Orloff from Defender.
“Munro, you and Pipher keep tracking them. If they go into warp we’re going to need to respond quickly.”
“We will, Colonel,” Piper said.
For the next several minutes, nothing much seemed to happen. The icons crawled away from Luna, their courses diverging.
“I am detecting warp fields building in two of the three ships,” said Diana.
“Those are the primary targets,” Whitmore said. “Feed the information to our response ships.”
“The first one has jumped to warp. And the second one has jumped. Tracking. Both are proceeding at warp three.”
“Defiant, Defender. Targets have entered warp. Follow them wherever they go. This could just be another exercise, so Rules of Engagement Charlie are in effect: fire only if fired upon. Confirm.”
“ROE Charlie, confirmed,” said Resler, followed by Orloff.
“Good hunting,” Whitmore answered.
The Defender was first out the bay, pushing her sublight engines hard as she hurried to clear the exclusion zone. In seconds she’d done so, and then she disappeared into warp. Defiant was less than a minute behind, and she, too, sped away.
Kyran entered CCIC and was brought up to date. For the next hour the third ship continued to creep away at low sublight speeds.
“Colonel, something’s happening,” Munro reported.
“I’ve got returns on a pretty sizeable fleet lifting from Luna.”
“How many, Ian?”
“They’re still in the ground clutter, but I’ve got three Gemini and two Apollos in the clear now.”
Whitmore thought furiously. She could recall the Defiant, or Defender, if they were still in range.
“Diana, do you have either starship on your sensors?”
“No, Colonel. Defiant last reported a constant heading –”
“Doesn’t matter. Can we contact them?”
“Not reliably, Colonel.”
“Oak and ash. Fine, we do this the old-fashioned way. Ian, firm up those numbers.”
“That’s what I do, Colonel.”
“Courtney, I want every capacitor aboard charged.”
“Three Apollos, five Geminis,” Munro said.
“This is not good. Someone over there is not just a gambler, but they were thinking for once.”
Kyran said, “What do you mean?”
“They can see our starships, they can count. They waited until Enterprise and Endeavour were well gone. They’ve caught us by our predictability.”
“I don’t see it. We hop all over the System.”
“Exactly. We hop. In and out of warp in minutes. But if they’re going out-System, they enter warp and don’t come out again, not around here, and that’s what they waited on. Spurgeon.”
“Scramble every bird we have left, then close the bay doors.”
“You heard me. I want the Richard, Roosa, Wolves, and Direwolves on station a half light-second away for intercept.”
“That’s a little rough on our pilots,” Kyran said quietly. “If we close the bay, they’re not going to have anywhere to run to.”
“If they need to run, we have bigger problems.”
“I have a hard count, Colonel,” Munro said.
“What is it?”
“Three Apollos and seven Geminis.”
Whitmore looked at Kyran. “Check me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that the bulk of the Artemis fleet?”
They nodded. “Yup. Plus the three warp ships. They’ve got some little stuff, but nothing armed.”
“Like I said. Someone’s a smart gambler.”
The next few minutes were frantically busy. Almost seventy ships were guided from Njord’s bay into the black then given their positions and assignments. As the last ship, the Richard, passed through the doors Whitmore repeated her order. The two massive doors began to close.
“Courtney, spin up the shields.”
“No, half power, and concentrate them forward, towards the most likely axis of threat.”
“O’Toole, we’ve got too many birds in the black to use the lasers. Get firing solutions for the missiles which takes them above the plane, then down onto the oncoming ships. I want three full volleys programmed.”
“Munro, status on the fleet?”
“They’re forming ahead of the warp ship,” he said. “Looks like they’re going to use them to blunt our fire and try to get in close.”
Suddenly the warp ship broke away from the surrounding fleet, veering down against the ecliptic and pulling 10 g, an incredible feat for a ship its size.
“Colonel, we are receiving a transmission from the Artemesian ship, ANS Averroes. That is the warp ship,” clarified Diana.
“A transmission? What kind? A demand to surrender? And what are they doing?”
“No, Colonel,” Diana answered. “It appears to be a rebroadcast of a transmission from within Artemis. Shall I play it?”
“Go ahead. Audio?”
“Put it up.”
A woman was standing on a platform, talking, exhorting, a crowd.
“Working. It is somewhat distorted.”
“…been waiting for this your entire lives. I have waited, too, waited as I wasted my time playing their games, believing their lies. Well, I’m done waiting!” There was a break, and yelling. “Today, we declare the revolution! Today we declare to the cosmos we deserve our place in it! Today we fly!”
Diana played the recording again, this time from the beginning.
“Oberon, Titania, and the Fae,” whispered Whitmore. “She actually did it.”
“What? Who?” Kyran asked.
“Autumn Newling. We’ve been working on a plan, hell, it wasn’t a plan, it was a pipe dream, to coordinate with her to cause trouble for Artemis.”
“I think this counts.”
“Colonel, the Averroes has changed course, past its own fleet. It’s on a collision course.”
“Send a wing of Direwolves to intercept,” she said distractedly.
“Colonel, another message from the Averroes,” said Diana. “This is a live transmission.”
“Oh? Put it through.”
“…receiving, this is the ANS Averroes. We are carrying the Ministers of War and Intelligence, and request asylum. This is Captain Joseph Newling of the ANS Averroes, do you read me? Dammit, answer me, you’re supposed to be some kind of superheroes!”
“Captain Newling, this is Colonel Davie Whitmore, Starfleet. Repeat your intentions.”
“Whitmore? Davie Whitmore? You’re dead!”
“I assure you, Captain, the rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated.”
“My cousin will shit a meteor when she hears of this,” said Newling with obvious good humor.
“I have Jake Taylor, Minister of War, and Colin Dent, Minister of Intelligence, aboard, and –”
“Dent? Put him on.”
“I want to talk to Dent.”
She could hear some conversation, then another voice came on.
“This is Dent.”
“By Titania’s tits, it is you! Colin, what’s going on?”
“You always were quick.”
“My Gods, you’re supposed to be –”
“Dead. Yes, I’m getting that a lot. Never count anyone dead until you see the body, remember? Colin, what’s going on?”
“It’s a revolution, Davie, and we thought it safer to be off Artemis when it happens. I misdoubt their ability to tell friend from foe, especially when their friends are wearing Ministerial uniforms.”
“What about the fleet?”
“Ah, well, according to my young friend here, they should be getting some new orders any moment now.”
As if prompted, Munro said, “Colonel, the Artemis fleet is decelerating, hard. Some of them are, no, most of them, they’re changing course, heading back to Luna.”
“You said most,” Whitmore said, striding over to his terminal.
“Yes, Ma’am. One cruiser and one frigate, they’re decelerating, but they’re not altering course.”
“Colin? Any thoughts?”
There was more indistinct conversation.
“Minister Taylor, I suppose he’s not Minister any longer. Mr. Taylor said he placed as many discontented officers and crews on one Apollo and one Gemini as he could, the Bean and the Young. He was hoping they might seize control and join us once the announcement of the revolution was broadcast.”
“It seems the issue might still be in doubt, and they’re too close to Luna for me to support them.”
“I understand. Oh, yes.” His pitch changed and Whitmore could swear she heard humor and exasperation in it. “Mr. Taylor informed me, not too many minutes ago, the former Minister of War, perhaps I should say the other former Minister? In any case. Nicole Crozier. He said she’s aboard. Is that true?”
“Quite true,” confirmed Whitmore.
“Splendid. I grew rather fond of her when we were colleagues. Please pass Nicole my warmest greetings, and inform her we have a special delivery for her.”
“Can you elaborate?”
“Her family, Davie. They were picked up by MinSec but, fortunately, survived. We, or precisely Jake, didn’t think they’d survive a second go, so he’s brought them with us. However, that does bring us rather neatly around to the point of this transmission. May we have asylum?”
Whitmore looked to Kyran.
“Well?” she mouthed.
“A moment, Colin. Audio off.”
“Audio off,” Diana confirmed.
“Well?” said Whitmore.
“Can we trust them?”
“I don’t know Taylor well; he was in the Ministry when I was there, but I didn’t have much reason to interact. Dent, I’ve known for years. He’s a spook, and he was never averse to trying to better his position, but he was never openly dishonest. What he said to you would be the truth; you just had to make sure you heard what he actually said.”
Kyran nodded. “I’ve known people like that. So when he asks for asylum…?”
“He’s asking for asylum.”
“Then, Colonel, as the ranking civilian member of the Federation, I recommend granting asylum.”
“Very good,” said Whitmore. “Colin?”
“We’ll send a course for your Captain to follow. You will heave to 50,000 kilometers distant, belly facing the habitat, and prepare for boarding and verification.”
“Perfectly reasonable,” Dent said. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Colin, a personal question.”
“How’s Arthur? I always thought he was the more romantic in your family, more inclined to a gesture like this.”
Colin’s voice turned bitter. “He’s dead. Like you were supposed to be: at the orders of the Primus. And I was the one who was forced to do it.”
“And that is when I knew I could no longer simply carry on carrying on.”
“I’m sorry for his death, Colin.”
“Thank you, Davie.” He cleared his voice. “Captain Newling is listening, Davie, and would like those coordinates.”
She waved a hand to Courtney. “Transmitting now.”
“Thank you, Colin. For being brave enough to walk away.”
She could hear the pained smile. “If only I’d had the courage to do so earlier. Ah. Captain Newling has them. Be seeing you, Davie. Out? I think that’s how one does this.”
The frequency closed and Kyran let out a low whistle.
“Yeah.” Whitmore shook off her emotions.
“O’Toole, I want one laser on that ship as soon as it’s clear of our birds. Spurgeon, recall Alexander. I’m going to want as much of a platoon of Marines as we can stuff aboard to do the inspection.”
“What about the other ships, Colonel?”
“As long as they stay on course for Luna, forget ‘em.”
“Recall the Wolves. Leave the Direwolves on station until the situation with the, what were they? Bean and Young? Until they’re resolved. We might have to escort them back to Njord.”
“You’ve got it, Colonel.”
“I’m going to need coffee. Lots of strong coffee. Something tells me things are about to get interesting, and interesting means that someone is gonna be losing sleep.”