Things were coming to a head on Luna and I didn't have a clue!
This wasn't usual.
But Mac, the Chief, and Alyssa were under strict orders not to be in communication with us, and we didn't have anyone on the inside of the Artemisian government (at least none that we knew of), so we were operating in the dark.
Which was uncomfortable.
When you're used to Knowing Everything, not knowing everything is a bit of a shock.
But we coped.
Artemis City, Council of Ministers; Tycho Under
“How did we lose Titan?” bellowed the Primus, continuing a tirade which had been going strong for ten minutes and looked fair to continue another hour. Truthfully, the Primus had been like this for the past day, ever since the terse message of withdrawal had been received by the Union.
Nobody dared answer. No member of the Foreign Ministry was present, for one. Dent, still tasked with running both MinInt and MinSec, and burdened as he was with other personal issues, didn’t even look up from his briefing papers. Eventually it was left to Minister Pitt, from Treasury, to try to defuse the situation.
“Vasilia. Vasilia! Quiet down and listen to me!”
“What?” snarled Newling. “What can you possibly say?”
“This is a good thing, Vasilia.”
“How can that be?” The disbelief dripped from her tone.
“Will you please put your ego aside for one minute and think like a leader? My word, if your parents had been like this I would have killed them myself, and if they’d known you’d be this spoiled and whiny they would have put you out an airlock when you were born.” Pitt was contemptuous.
“You go too far, old woman!”
“Then go ahead and kill me, but you will first listen to what I say. For all the times I cared for you, for all the times I backed you, you will give me that courtesy!” The command in her voice was unmistakable and irresistible.
“Very well. Speak.”
“Titan was a drain on the Treasury, and has been for decades. Their so-called ‘technological prowess’ was dedicated to serving their own ends, improving their living conditions, not towards the good of the Union or Artemis. The cloud mining that they promised is still decades away, if ever, and I have read white papers which state unequivocally Jupiter is a better choice. And the one thing they have been providing, the antimatter bombs: what good have they done? Yes, one of the Federation ships was damaged and put out of commission.” She paused for emphasis, then continued, more forcefully.
“For barely more than a lunar, and accidentally, after they had eliminated every other bomb! Except, of course, the one that destroyed our base. How many billions went up in that little accident? Primus, we are better off without them!”
Newling didn’t say anything, which would usually be a bad sign. However, it also wasn’t an order for her death, so Pitt continued.
“I’m no expert, but doesn’t taking on the Guild and Titan present tactical problems to the Federation? Minister Taylor?”
Taylor jerked to attention. He didn’t think himself safe, but he’d been running under the constant threat of death for lunars now. Sooner or later even that sort of tension simply became something else to be endured and ignored.
“Yes, Minister Pitt?”
“How does Titan and the Guild going over to the Federation impact the tactical situation?”
“It changes it completely,” Taylor replied.
“Yes, we still have our commitment to the Martian Colonies, but they’re one planet, and one which frankly isn’t much of a difference-maker. We know the Federation is loathe to target civilians, so their attention will remain focused right here. Now they’re going to have to play defense over a much larger area.”
Heads nodded around the table.
“They know we consider any of their population or facilities fair targets, so they can’t leave any undefended. They’ll have to actively defend Titan and the Guild, which is a huge volume of space, even with warp drives. It does make for a much more complex equation for them.”
“You see, Primus? Yes, this may look like a victory for the Federation, but actually it’s a crisis they haven’t yet recognized.”
“That’s an interesting perspective,” Newling said.
“From a security standpoint as well,” Dent said, taking interest in the proceedings for the first time.
Dent seemed to stand taller.
“Primus. MinInt has always been an outwardly-directed service, targeted at external threats to Artemis and the Union. This is why we had no inkling of the discontent which led to the Guild’s traitorous actions; MinInt wasn’t tasked to watch them. Since the departure of Pitt and the beginning of my oversight of MinSec, I have come to learn MinSec was not so tasked either.”
“But they’re internal security,” objected the Minister of Justice, Danna Pitt. “How could they not be tasked?”
“They’re internal security,” agreed Dent. “But they were purely sanctioned for Artemis internal security, and security breaches. Underminister Phalkon, would you care to explain further? This is your area of specialty.”
Phalkon, a tall, intense woman with long black hair hanging straight down her back, stood and approached.
“Thank you. Ministers. What Minister Dent has said is precisely accurate. MinSec has been denied the ability to extend our scope of authority throughout the Union, where it should properly have been all this time. There is a reason we have none of these problems on Artemis; we are allowed, no, encouraged, to take every measure necessary to preserve the integrity of our nation.”
“Why has MinSec been denied? By whose orders? Not mine,” insisted the Primus.
“No, Primus. You have been most supportive in the execution of our mission,” Phalkon said. “It was a direction from the Solarian Union.”
“Primus, allow me to explain.” Dent slipped himself into the conversation again. “Under the Great Charter, in the course of normal business, any decision which will impact all Solarian Union members must similarly be approved by all Union members. The suggestion to permit the Artemis Ministry of Security to extend their scope to the other Union members has been brought up at least a dozen times, to my personal knowledge, and has been voted down every single time. Usually it was the lone vote of the Guild which prevented the adoption of the proposal, but the last attempt was blocked by both the Guild and Titan.”
“Could it be re-introduced?”
“Certainly, Primus,” said Dent. “And with the Union currently comprised only of ourselves and the Martians, we should be able to push it through without any difficulties, along with any other such measures we need to meet the current emergency. The Martians are generally most amenable to suggestions.”
“That has potential,” the Primus said greedily. “Definitely has potential.”
“I concur, Primus. Perhaps Underminister Phalkon can act as an advisor to you for the requirements of MinSec?”
Phalkon’s face showed a flash of astonishment; it was almost unheard-of within MinSec for a superior to allow an underling an opportunity, let alone encourage them. Almost as quickly as it appeared, though, she concealed it.
“I would be honored.”
“The next scheduled Union Assembly is in three days, Underminister. Will you have enough time? Should I reassign any of your duties, temporarily, of course?”
“Thank you, Minister Dent. That would be most helpful.”
“Consider it handled.”
“Come, Underminister,” the Primus practically purred. “We have much to plan.”
“By your command, Primus.” The two women left the chambers leaving stunned silence in their wake.
“I didn’t think I would survive,” admitted a shaky Pitt after most had exited. “Those cowards at the Foreign Ministry!”
Dent nodded in sympathy. “I imagine there’s quite a good deal of consternation over there, with their current Minister gone missing.”
“Are they missing? Or captured?”
“We have had very little information from Titan, or the Federation,” said Dent. “Titan sent their note of withdrawal, and the Federation sent a brief confirmation of the same, but we have not had any other communiques from either.”
“I don’t even know what happened to the Kepler,” Taylor added. “They’re not even technically my crew, my ship, but I do feel responsible for whatever might have happened to them.”
“If they ran into one of those starships, it certainly wasn’t anything good,” Pitt opined. “Gentlemen, if you’ll pardon me. I have had quite enough excitement for a single day.”
Polite farewells followed Pitt as she, too, departed, leaving Dent and Taylor the only remaining Ministers.
“Minister Dent, I wanted to talk to you about integrating our services more closely. Do you have time?”
“More closely? That sounds intriguing. Certainly.”
“Would my office be convenient?”
“Of course. Half an hour?”
“I’ll see you then.”
“I still can’t get clearance for us to leave, I mean I can put it into the system, but there’s a master override coming from Artemis City which is blocking any departures, and I know Harpo and I could get in and disable it, the problem is it’s so tied into all the other coding it would shoot off alarms everywhere, and we want this to be pretty subtle and I just don’t know what to do.”
“Well, yeah, that’s pretty much what I said.”
For ten days all departures from Luna had been grounded, ever since Kendra’s latest System-wide broadcast. When Mac, in her role of Miss Rich Bitch, had wheedled and whined her way up the hierarchy at the spaceport, the response had been disappointing.
“We regret the inconvenience,” was the typical line, sometimes with a side of “It’s out of our hands” or, once, “Perhaps we could work out a trade.” Mac had eventually sussed out what she meant; her delayed blushing and sputtering was hugely amusing, but unhelpful.
The one positive development was they had learned that the de la Paz could depart at any time; she simply couldn’t take on any passengers, cargo, additional crew, food, or, well, anything other than consumables: water and fuel. They wouldn’t be trapped here, at least.
It didn’t make Mac, Jordan, or the Chief any happier.
“Strewth, I didn’t want to take this option, but I don’t think we have a choice,” Stone said.
“Oh, ash and yew,” moaned Alyssa. “You can’t be serious.”
“I am serious, lass. Mac, what’s on the ground?”
Mac’s fingers flew as she pulled the information out of the Tycho Under spaceport’s database.
“Okay, there’s nothing military, which is a good thing actually because we don’t want to have to mess with any of those boys, there’s a couple freighters but we’re talking megatons and we just don’t have the bodies to get one of those to lift, there’s a few surface-to-orbit buggies, they have pictures, ooh, that one is pretty, look, infra-pink, but they’re not really practical for what we need, they don’t have the range or the acceleration, now that one has potential, Chief, come take a look.”
Stone had let Mac’s stream of words flow over her until her rank brought her back. “What is it? Where is it? I don’t see anything.”
“Right, isn’t it amazing, it’s just so completely black, the light just totally slides right off of it, it’s not even radiating in infrared, and here, I found the ownership information, it’s a testbed ship, or it was, it looks like it was a project under Colonel Whitmore when she was Minister of War, looks like they were testing stealth technology, but they were going in a totally different direction, I wonder why they gave it up, and how it ended up here, but look at it, it ought to be perfect.”
“How long did you say it had been here?”
“Well, it’s been eighteen months since the Colonel made herself disappear, but let me dig, oh, wow, this ship has been here for almost four years.”
“Four years? Mac, dig into it more. I like the idea of stealth, but it’s got to be able to fly. See if there’s anything you can find, especially in the old files. Try to contact Davie back on Njord, see what she remembers about it. And for bog’s sake, don’t stop looking. We can’t put all our money on a pair of fours.”
“Oh, yeah, sure, of course, but one question, Chief?”
“What’s that, Mac?”
“When did we start playing poker?”
“Just search, Mac.”