The first official meeting between the Federation and the people leading the Lunar Revolution! How exciting!
From what Mikki said, not so much.
Tedious and routine, after the initial excitement about identification, actually. And none of them were impressed with the place they were staying, though it did keep them concealed the entire time they were on Luna. Guess that’s a plus.
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CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE
Hotel Raffles, Artemis City; Artemis City Council of Ministers
“What a dump, why are we here again, I mean I know why we’re here but why are we here, why aren’t we somewhere better?” Mac looked around the ‘best’ room in the hotel with distaste.
“Because this is where we were directed to be,” answered Stone who, with Jordan, was going around the room and checking security.
You sure you don’t want to switch roles? begged Jordan over the ‘plant.
Not a prayer, sister.
Oak and ash!
“We’re clear,” Stone announced. “Mac, do your thing.”
Mac dropped into the chair at the terminal, cracked her knuckles once, and got to work. “This is going to be so weird, I usually have Harpo riding shotgun with me, he’s so good at this, but it makes sense because he’s an AI, right, so it’s second nature to him, plus here I’m not as connected to the network because I have to go in manually, not through the Q-Net, which means I can’t really use my implant, but maybe I can, I wonder if I can talk to Harpo, oh, yeah, I can, hey Harpo, can you access this network remotely through my implant, what, yeah I can stop talking why is it distracting oh.”
“Now why didn’t I ever think of that?” said Stone wonderingly.
The silence only lasted a minute before Mac said, “Thanks Harpo, I don’t know what I would do without you, actually I do, because it’s not like I didn’t used to do this but it’s so much easier with a oh he’s gone.”
“What did you two do?”
“Harpo used the Q-Net connection in my ‘plant to piggyback into the Artemis network, and did you know that the Artemis Ministry of Security is the provider behind all the network connections here, so anything that the people do here gets relayed to them so they can know what’s going on, I guess that makes sense if you’re a paranoid bunch which they are, I mean otherwise they wouldn’t need a Security Ministry huh, but in any case what that means is that if you know they’re there it’s like the biggest back door ever so Harpo just kinda walked into their systems and kicked everything open so now we basically own every computer on Artemis if we want it but now I know we haven’t been made and neither have the people that are supposed to meet us, the only problem is I can’t have Harpo always tapping in because the implant just doesn’t have enough bandwidth, so we’re still pretty much on our own.”
“That’s pukka,” said Stone. “I was a bit worried about coming back here after my last visit.”
“Well what Harpo is telling me is they did have your ID on file and your photo, they don’t any more he deleted them and sent a worm through their system to keep destroying them anytime they get entered, and their algorithms really sucked, they don’t have AI access at all so there’s a lot of brute force matching and their systems just aren’t up to it, so you’re all clear, and Alyssa’s safe too, she didn’t even register on any of their systems but we put a worm in there for her too, and another one for me, naturally.”
“What now?” asked Alyssa. “This is way out of my usual comfort zone. I’m used to being on the other side of the equation, y’know?”
“Now,” said Stone, settling herself on the least disreputable seat. “We wait.”
It wasn’t a terribly long wait, which was fortunate for Alyssa’s sanity. Stone had long since learned how to tune Mac out, as her continual chatter was merely her way of saying, ‘Systems check, all systems nominal.’ Alyssa didn’t have that knowledge yet, or perhaps lacked the skill, and tried to stay engaged as Mac bounced from topic to topic.
“Request for entry,” said the mechanical voice of the door. Mac started tapping at her terminal, working to call up a video feed of the door.
“Identify,” said Stone, looking over to Mac.
“Cover the door,” she stage whispered to Alyssa, who took up a position across the room and levelled a flechette gun.
“Bastille Day,” the same voice provided.
“Working on it, Chief, this system isn’t particularly fast, and I have to access it through a couple back doors, relay through two communications satellites, then back, I’m in, yeah, they match the ID’s they gave us, you can let them in.”
Stone palmed the lock and the door slid open with a grind. Four women stood outside, one obviously nervous but the other three merely alert.
“Get in,” Stone said, and the four pressed in, only to freeze as the door ground shut behind them and they faced Alyssa’s gun.
“What’s going on here?” said the first, facing Stone. She now had her own flechette out.
“Shut it. Hands against the wall. Mac. Check them.”
For once the diminutive former agent didn’t say anything as she briskly searched them all.
“Which one of you is Newling?”
“I am,” said the one who had protested.
“What is the connection between May 13 and Bastille Day?”
“Answer the question.”
“May 13 is the start of the Lunar Revolution in a book; Bastille Day is a code they use for security.”
Stone nodded, unseen by the conspirators. “Good enough. You can put your hands down.”
She and Alyssa tucked the guns away. “Sorry about that. We’re all a bit on edge and can’t take any chances.”
“I, yes, I understand.”
“Good. You’re Newling. Who else do we have here?”
Stone swept her eyes over the four: one vaguely Arabian, though her skin tone was pale and her eyes had a hint of an epicanthic fold that spoke of Asian ancestors; she looked to be assessing them quite professionally. The next, dark-skinned with long black hair, had the air of a military professional about her. The last, a brunette standing slightly behind the other three, was smiling but none of it reached her eyes. Diplomat, decided Stone.
“Nour, Sharon, and Caitlin will do for now,” said Newling, gesturing. Mac started entering their names into the terminal.
“Don’t put anything on the network!” she snapped. “MinSec owns the system and can see everything.”
“Not here,” said Stone. “Not anymore. You think we just fell off the turnip truck?”
“Forget it. We’re not rookies.”
“Fine. Who are you?”
“That’s Mac and Alyssa. You can call me Master Chief.”
There was a flash of recognition across the face of the one called Sharon, then a nod.
“What’s the plan, Master Chief?”
“You tell us the plan, Newling, and then we decide if we’re going to help you or just leave you to find your own end.”
“Well, we won’t turn you in to MinSec. But that’s it, yes.”
Stone could see that two of them, Nour and Sharon, were ready to leave, but the diplomat was nodding in agreement. She whispered something to Newling, who then gathered the other two with a look. There was a hurried, low-pitched conference.
“…need them. They…”
“…turn us in, at least.”
Soon the discussion ended and Newling faced Stone. “Agreed.”
“Good. What are you eating?”
“It’s supper time, at least according to my stomach, and I’m not talking revolution while hungry. We can buy you dinner, at least, assuming this hole has room service. Mac?”
“I can get us food, doesn’t matter if the hotel will bring it, I can order in from anywhere that will deliver, no problem, and then wipe the systems so they don’t ever have a record of it.”
“Problem solved. So tell Mac what you want to eat, and drink. Mac!”
“Beer. Good stuff. You know what I drink.” She shook her head. “Not going to try to do this dry, either. Food, drink, and then we start talking about how to plan your revolution.”
“You didn’t prepare a written report.”
“I have, Primus.”
“Then why don’t I have it?”
“I preferred to give the report to you in person.”
“Very well. I’m listening.”
Silence fell over the Council chamber. Written reports were safer. Written reports could be crafted, edited, tweaked, made to cast the best possible reflection on the person responsible for them. Oral reports had none of these protections, which is why they were rarely offered and only reluctantly given. Dent had extraordinary news; whether good or ill would be revealed.
“President Smith of Titan accepted our condolences, and explanation, for Ambassador Dryden’s death.”
He let the other shoe drop.
“She flatly refused to provide any antimatter to us or reveal their source. I attempted to negotiate an agreement, a trade in kind, for the antimatter, which she also rejected.”
“You failed. Goodbye, Minister Dent.”
“Primus, wait! There’s more!”
Newling held up a hand. “Go on.”
“I offered to share our warp technology with them. That should have been a sufficient lure, but it wasn’t. Smith informed me they had warp technology.”
“She told me they, Titan Colony, already possessed warp technology. She said the theory was available to anyone, they had built and tested drives but had not yet built a ship.”
“Why haven’t they built one? Did she tell you that?”
“No, Primus, she did not. She also said that she personally disagreed with the arrangement you made with the previous government to produce and deploy the antimatter bombs, but she would continue to honor it.”
“Anything else, Dent?”
“I attempted to use other methods at my disposal to discover their source for the antimatter they use, but was unsuccessful. I believe, no, I am certain that I was under surveillance my entire stay. Given my failure to meet with anyone who might have been sympathetic to our cause, to our requests, I suspect they were being kept from contacting me. If I had time to prepare a proper diplomatic mission, with a full complement of staff from my Ministry and MinInt, I may be yet able to unearth the information we seek.”
“You think so?”
Dent took the question as a positive. At least she wasn’t ordering his death.
“Yes, Primus, I do. The problem, Primus, was three-fold. I was not given sufficient time to prepare for the actual mission. Yes, I had enough time for the nominal duty of returning the Ambassador’s body, but espionage? It never entered into the equation.”
“The second problem?”
“My transportation was inadequate to convey to the Titan Colony the seriousness of our inquiries. I know that Minister Taylor is hard-pressed currently to meet the naval obligations, with the events of the past few months, but a frigate is simply too unassuming a vessel.”
“I lacked information, Primus. I had no idea what the terms of the agreement you made with the Colony were, and thus appeared ignorant and weak in front of their President. Complete intelligence is part of proper preparation, Primus, and I did not have it. Therefore, I failed.”
“This is somehow my fault?”
“Inasmuch as we all share some fault, Primus. Yes, it was my failure, and I accept it. But failure, in this case, has many parents.”
Dent stood erect. Nobody had talked that directly to the Primus in, well, not since Whitmore had been Minister of War.
“I am ready for your judgement, Primus.”
There was a prolonged silence in the chambers. Dent continued to stand stiffly, waiting, and nobody in the room said the slightest word.
Finally the Primus broke the silence.
“I can see how you may have been somewhat handicapped by events over which you had little control. Very well. Make the arrangements to return properly. You have my authority to requisition any ship you feel necessary to impress upon the Colony, and their President, the serious nature of your inquiry. Gather your staff, including any ancillary staff from other Ministries. It may be useful for experts from the Ministry of Technology to accompany you. Titan may well be bluffing.”
“Thank you, Primus,” Dent said most sincerely.
“I would like you back there in a lunar or less, but I want it done right. I will personally brief you on all arrangements with the Colony the day before your departure, not before; state secrets must take priority.”
“I understand, Primus.”
“Good. Everyone out. Not you, Colin.”
The Minister of Intelligence stopped at his name and waited for the chamber to empty before speaking.
“You will assist your cousin in making preparations.”
“Of course, Primus; I would do the same for any such mission.”
“I want to be kept informed of his progress. Remind him of the seriousness of this endeavor.”
“I will do so, Primus.”
“And when the preparations are complete, he is to be eliminated.”
“Did you not hear me? Or did you not understand?”
“Primus, I thought you were giving him another chance.”
Newling laughed harshly.
“That fool? His usefulness is at an end. Oh, I grant you his expertise in planning such a mission, which is why he has been given this brief reprieve. But it is only a reprieve, Minister. Before the lunar is passed, he will be removed. Do I make myself clear, or will you choose your Family over your Primus?”
“My loyalty is to you, Primus,” Dent replied with a half-bow.
“Good. Don’t fail me as well.”