One of the nice things about starting the Terran Federation small was I got to know everyone, at least at first. And even when we were starting to get into the thousands of people, I still knew most of the movers and shakers.
But on the down side, it also meant that, more often than not, when something particularly hairy came up someone I knew and liked would probably be putting their life on the line for my dream.
This one? This little episode?
“We’ve got six shuttles, small craft, leaving the cruiser, dropping for the planet.”
Enterprise hung on the far side of Titan, invisible to the cruiser’s sensors. She could still ‘see’ the cruiser thanks to her more advanced sensor suite, which included gravitic detectors, but her line-of-sight systems were just as blind.
“I should be down there,” President Smith groused.
“We’ve been over this, Kyra,” Kendra said.
They were standing as unobtrusively as they could on the bridge, back to the science station.
“We think the Kepler is up to something, and we decided it was safer for you to remain aboard, you and your family both, until we figured out exactly what they’re planning to do. Now we have a better idea.”
“Can you get a sense of their type, Mr. Kay?” Alley asked.
“No, Ma’am. Not without using our line of sight scanners.” His voice trailed off.
“Ma’am. I just had a thought.”
“I noticed; you planning on sharing it?”
“We still have the planetary probes aboard. We could launch one and relay its information back to us.”
Alley started to answer but was cut off by Cass. “Next time, Elliott. By the time we get one in place without it being noticed, those shuttles are going to be on the ground.”
“Exactly what I was going to say,” Alley whispered to Cass.
“That’s a little worrying.”
The conversation between Kyra and Kendra continued.
“At least I’m in contact with my aide.”
“Kassidy? Yes. There are benefits to joining with us; access to our Q-Net technology is one of them.” Kendra paused. “Last chance, Kyra. We can still play this straight with them. Warn them off.”
Smith shook her head firmly.
“No. I’ve been unhappy with our association with Artemis for years. In truth, that’s what drove me into politics in the first place. I wanted to reform the Union from the inside.”
“Maybe I should have asked this yesterday, but what made you throw in with us?”
“Part was the strong-arm tactics they tried a few weeks ago. Their Foreign Minister tried to pressure me into giving them our source of antimatter.”
“Foreign Minister? Dent, Arthur Dent?”
“Yes. You know him?”
“We’ve gone a few rounds. I rather like him.”
“He’s not a bad sort, but there was simply no way we were giving access to our antimatter.” She paused for so long Kendra thought she’d stopped.
Finally she said, “You were absolutely correct, Kendra.”
“Thank you. What did I get right this time?”
“You said it a couple days ago. You were talking about the differences between your Federation and the Union, and you pointed out that the most fundamental ethic for you was equality of opportunity. And then yesterday, when you said that everyone would be a citizen of the Federation, not Titan or the Guild, that clinched it.”
Kendra’s response was cut off by Kay’s announcement.
“Three of their shuttles are breaking off their descent.”
“Explain,” demanded Alley.
“They’re going into a racetrack pattern a hundred, maybe a hundred five klicks above Xanadu and your landing pads.”
“Interdiction,” said Alley. “Prevent anyone from getting in or out. Madame President, how many ships do you have?”
“Two the Union knows about, two more which we haven’t quite finished.”
“And what do we know about their shuttles?” Again, Alley turned to Smith.
“I’m not any sort of naval expert,” she demurred. “But the head of our Defense Directorate should be able to answer.”
“No time,” argued Alley. “Not at the rate they’re approaching. They have to figure their shuttles are sufficient to knock out anything you have or they wouldn’t use them.”
“I’m getting a bad feeling about this,” Cass ventured. “It feels like a coup.”
“I agree. Madame President, get your people away from the landing zone.”
“They’ve requested honors,” she protested. “It would be suspicious for us to withhold them.”
“Forgive my bluntness, but fuck suspicion. These bastards are here to take you out. I’ll bet my pension on it.”
“Alley’s right,” said Kendra. “Our first job is to keep you safe. Our second job is to keep your, our, citizens safe.”
“Red Squadron,” stated Cass. “I’d put Shooting Star and her bunch of cutthroats against anything the Union can fly.”
“And we can take out the Kepler, if they don’t want to play ball,” said Alley. “Ms. Chastain, I want you to plot a course to intercept Kepler. Don’t execute yet, but when you do I want us there at maximum sublight.”
“Aye, Ma’am.” The ensign turned to her console.
“LJ, you, Junkyard, and Batgirl need to get Red Squadron prepped for a crash launch.”
“And the Alexander. Tell Flashdance it’s time to rock and roll.”
Alley turned to Cass.
“We’ve got one more problem.”
Cass nodded. “Ground forces.”
There was no such thing as a Terran Federation Army, or Marine Corps. It had never featured in Kendra’s planning, and most of her recruited officers came from either naval or air force backgrounds. The need for any sort of army simply hadn’t occurred to them, and it looked like it was going to bite them now.
“I need a list of all personnel with ground combat experience.”
“Right away, Commander. Downloading to your ‘plant, and to the Captain and Admiral.”
Cass closed her eyes to examine the roster. It was as slim as she’d feared.
“Oh, hell no,” said Alley.
Cass’s eyes flew open.
“No. Not a chance. I don’t care what sort of agent she was, she’s the fucking Admiral, for Goddess’ sake!”
“You’ve never seen her in action,” said Cass. “I don’t know anyone better, other than Chief Stone, and she’s a billion kilometers away.”
“What’s that about?” asked Kyra.
Kendra looked a little abashed.
“I used to be an agent, a courier for an extralegal services company. Part of the job was advanced self-defense.” She left out the time she spent as an assassin.
“We only have twenty two potentials including her, Captain. Including her may be the difference between success and failure.”
“Ladies,” said Kendra. “Let’s step into the conference room?”
She could tell this was going to get noisy, especially since Cass’s name was on the list as well, way down at the bottom. She didn’t think Alley had noticed that, and she was sure Alley hadn’t seen LJ’s name, just above Cass’s. This was a discussion best held out of sight.