As usual, it was up to Cass to talk me back off the ledge.
I’m glad I married her; she’s kept me from doing anything irretrievably stupid on more occasions than I can count.
Put it on your calendars now: November 24.
Because Adam is going to do a blockbuster sale and promotional blitz that day!
He’s going to be all over the web, including at least one (and maybe two) LIVE appearances, PLUS giveaways and contests and all sorts of other fun things.
MOST of this will be on Facebook (see the button below), but he’s also going to be on the Meet The Author Podcast at 7pm EST (4pm PST) on the 24th as well.
Don’t miss out!
CHAPTER TWENTY NINE
“Did I go too far?”
Cass tossed her hands in the air. “Now you ask?”
“You know me. Jump first, knit a parachute after.”
“I know. It’s one of the loveable things about you that drives me up a bulkhead.”
“You haven’t answered my question.”
Cass sat next to Kendra on their bed, wrapping an arm around her. “No. You didn’t go too far. I think you did exactly what you needed to do in order to end this conflict as quickly and painlessly as you can. The fact you’re putting yourself at risk and may push Newling into making another rash decision is almost irrelevant.”
“That’s part of the plan. We talked about this.”
“We talked about the announcements, not the offer to meet her face to face. Have you thought of how to do it? If she agrees, which I’m going to bet she won’t.”
“Actually, yeah. You know the old ISS?”
“Yes. Isn’t it a museum?”
“It is. We also own it.”
“Don’t grunt; it’s not ladylike. We own it. Way down in the Trust properties is a charitable organization which specializes in supporting historic monuments. The ISS, the battlefield at Gettysburg, Versailles, all sorts of properties that they snapped up over the years when governments were in distress and needed some quick cash.”
“So we own another space station. So?”
“It’s neutral ground. Nobody lives there; like you said, it’s a museum. It’s in Low Earth Orbit, so it’s equally distant from us both, and so neither side has an advantage.”
“But you said we own it.”
“I only know that because I was doing some poking around; there’s no direct connection to us, nothing that would set off any alarms. Let me finish.”
“Yes. If she accepts, and I think she will if only to take a shot at me, then –”
“Wait. Back up. Take a shot at you?”
“In a minute.”
“I’ll hold you to that.”
“If she accepts, then we each travel to the ISS in our own ships. I’m thinking that I go in a Wolf, and she goes in a Gemini frigate. We dock at opposite ends, meet, and then go home.”
“I like the Wolf; we know that a Wolf can take out one of their frigates.”
“And so do they. That’s the point. It’s as equal as it’s going to get, and frankly they’re both weak compared to other ships. It puts us at an equal disadvantage.”
“And you’re both still going to be in range of Njord if anything goes sideways.”
“What about other people? Are you going to have anyone with you in the ISS with her?”
Kendra shook her head vigorously.
“No. One on one. That keeps it even; neither of us can bring in some heavy who’s just there to rumble. That’s why I’m not worried about her taking a shot at me. I’ll stake my life on me over someone who hasn’t gone through the same training.”
“Ken, I think you’re forgetting a few little details.”
“Let’s see. Junior nearly killing you.”
“We were in court!”
“The thugs who managed to capture you in California.”
“I was set up!”
“You haven’t been an active agent in ten years.”
“It’s like riding a bicycle.”
“Yeah, it only hurts when you fall off. How about she rose to her position by killing everyone who stood in her way?”
“There’s no proof.”
Cass merely arched an eyebrow.
“Fine. So what do you suggest, then?”
“Commander. Admiral. I have created a custom skinsuit for you, which I would strongly suggest you wear during any encounter with Vasilia Newling.”
One drawer slid open.
“Did you know she could do that?” said Kendra as she walked to it.
“Shut up. Go on, Minna.”
“This skinsuit has been woven using CeeSea instead of the usual polymer threads. It should be resistant to twenty one thousand plus Newton-meters of force, as well as reflecting most forms of directed energy weapons. In addition, the helmet is formed of optical sapphire with integrated platinum dust to diffuse laser shots at your head.”
“Cool. So I’m bulletproof and laserproof?”
“Essentially, yes, Admiral.”
Kendra picked it up and admired it.
“Looks like a normal suit.”
“That’s what we hoped for,” said Cass. “If you’re determined to do this, then you’re going to go into it as protected as I can make you.”
“You take such good care of me.”
“Part of the job.”
“Do I need to try this on?”
“I have all your measurements, Admiral, but I understand the human need to ‘see for yourself.’”
“You have a pilot in mind?”
Kendra tossed her uniform top aside; unseen, Minna used a grav beam to catch it and pull it into a closet.
“She’s going to get a big head, you know.”
“Not a chance. That woman could be crown princess of Oz and she’d still be people.”
Uniform pants went flying, and were also caught.
“Oh, and I had a thought for the next step.”
Kendra paused before she started to undo the skinsuit she was already wearing. “Which next step?”
“In your plans to divide the Union, now that the Guild has come over to our side.”
“Oh. Those plans. Go on.” The seam on the suit undid itself at her thought and she pushed the material from her.
“Didn’t you fire her?”
“I did. I may have been hasty.”
Kendra started pulling the new skinsuit on. “Oh? Do tell.”
“I was annoyed at her because she wasn’t doing a good job with CusslerNautics, at least she didn’t seem to be. After I removed her, and put Dogfish in her place, I learned how tough the industry really was, which gave me a new perspective. She was actually doing an excellent job at squeezing every decicredit out of a dying business model and pouring it back into the company and her people.”
“So I think she should be the one to do the fine negotiating with Titan once you hammer them into submission. Very nice,” she finished, in response to Kendra’s twirl. The skinsuit, unsurprisingly, fitted her perfectly.
“Comfortable. Doesn’t feel any different from the regular model. So I go in and get them to agree in principle to joining, then Jill takes over and does all the hard work? I can live with that.”
“I’ll let her know.”
“Do you want me to approach her? You were the one who fired her, after all. She might have some nasty things to say to you.”
Cass looked sheepishly at Kendra. “No need. I kinda hired her back as a consultant last year; we’ve already had that conversation.”
“Good thinking, then. Minerva.”
“How challenging is it to make this style suit, instead of the regular suits?”
“It is a slightly more complex build.”
“Would it slow down production?”
“I think this should be the standard issue suit going forward, at least for our pilots and anyone else going into the black. Station personnel can stick with the older design.”
“Very good, Admiral. I will begin replacing them at once.”
“Not just you, Minna. Hecate, Castor, and Diana can all tap their resources as well. Team effort.”
“Says the lone wolf,” added Cass.
“I’m getting better at it!”
“You are. And you’re mine, in any case.”
“So I can’t be a lone wolf, can I?”
“I suppose not, no. What’s next?”
“Mostly waiting. I hate waiting.”
“Speaking of waiting, I nearly forgot; Hecate reported that the first fabricator comes online tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow? How did she manage that? Wait. Hecate!”
A hologram of a young teenager with bubblegum pink hair done up in pigtails appeared.
“Hey, Kendra, hi Cass, I’ve never been in your quarters, they look really cool, thanks for calling me in otherwise I wouldn’t be here, because of course I wouldn’t think of violating your privacy, that would be wrong, besides the last time I tried Minna caught me and turned me in to Diana and I had an even worse lecture than the time I was telling Double Dip about the new starships, but I didn’t actually make it in so it’s all cool, so hi!”
Cass’s jaw dropped open.
Kendra was a little less gobsmacked and said, “Hecate, have you been spending time with Director McAllister?”
“Oh, yeah, she’s great, she’s been spending so much time with me, there was a bunch of garbage code cluttering up my processes, at least that’s what she said, and so she and Harpo went in and took it out, and since then I’ve just been so much better, I think that my throughput speed has increased by at least an order of magnitude!”
“And I’ll bet she talked with you as she did it, right?”
“Yeah, every minute, she wanted to make sure I wasn’t scared, I mean it would be like letting someone do brain surgery on you while you’re still awake, so it was really kind of her to do it, why do you ask?”
Kendra closed her eyes, inhaled. “That’s great, Hecate. Cass was just telling me that the first fabricator goes online tomorrow? How did you manage it?”
“Actually it was pretty easy, the past few months there hasn’t been any real need for my repair services, just the routine maintenance stuff and the crews have been taking care of that, Glen and LJ and Jadz thought it would be good for them to keep familiarization up, so I reprioritized construction over repair and that freed up all those bots, now that the fabber is done I’m going to turn to the Defiant and Defender, if nothing goes wrong they’ll be done in a month, not three, then the second fabber should be done by September, and I also offered Dogfish my help with the Missouri but he said they’re doing okay with the systems they already have so that will actually help finish the starships, or maybe I’ll use those bots on the other fabber, but then once that fabber is done what am I going to do?”
“The plan was for one fabber to start construction on the parts for the Yavin gas mine,” said Cass, drawn into the conversation despite herself.
“Right, I almost forgot, there’s just so much going on!”
“That’s good, Hecate,” said Kendra. “We don’t want to keep you any longer. We’ll talk to you again soon.”
“Okay, thanks, I have lots to do, and I really should be working on it, but I am since this avatar doesn’t take hardly any of my processing at all, and –”
The hologram abruptly disappeared.
“I assume you did that, Minna?”
“Yes, Admiral. Diana and I are working with her on her social skills, but her base personality, combined with Director McAllister’s influence, is proving most resistant.”
“Don’t blunt it too much, just dial it back a few notches. Still, it’s excellent news about the starships.”
“And the gas mine! Ken, I was thinking that maybe we should redirect the platform to the Jovian in the Eridani system.”
“Because of Freyja and Freyr?”
“Exactly. If we’re going to be colonizing there, it makes more sense. Wolf is nice, it’s close, but it’s more practical in Eridani. It isn’t even six light years from Tau Ceti, and we’re going to have the miners and the Niflheim colonies there. Having a ‘local’ refueling station makes more sense.”
“I don’t think that Kiri named the Jovian. Minerva?”
“No, Admiral. Captain Stewart did not log any name for 40 Eridani A e, nor has she discussed naming it.”
“Well, I have an idea, but I should ask her first. Explorer’s privilege and all that. Put me through to her.”
There was a brief pause.
“Admiral Cassidy?” Kiri sounded distracted.
“Did you have a name in mind for the Jovian in the Eridani system? Eridani A e?”
“Would you mind if I named it?”
“Not at all, Admiral. Go right ahead.”
“Thank you. Love to Lorelei.”
“How did you…? Of course, Admiral. Goodnight.”
Cass was looking wonderingly at Kendra. “You going to explain that?”
“Simple. She sounded like I sound when someone interrupts our time together. Minerva, official log. 40 Eridani A e is renamed Fulla.”
“Logged, Admiral. An excellent choice.”
“Norse goddess of the harvest. Seemed appropriate.” Kendra started peeling her way out of the new skinsuit.
“It does. I’ll have to get out there and do a probe of the atmosphere, make sure the design still works, but it shouldn’t be much of a, what, why are you looking at me funny?”
“Like that. That’s what Kiri sounded like.”
“I think I understand; do you want to test your hypothesis?”
“You’re the scientist in the family, but I’ll give it a whirl.”