I think this was one of my best moves. After the success we had with the Guild, I thought, What the hell? Let’s try Titan! So off we went.
And by “we” I mean the Enterprise and everyone I could stuff aboard. They were the most veteran crew, after all, and so exactly the ones I wanted at my back if things went sideways.
Which they sort of did.
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“Sixty seconds to warp exit,” said Ensign Chastain.
“All hands to battle stations,” ordered Cass.
The Enterprise was en route to Titan, a surprise visit, and Cass had no intention of letting the Colony get in even a single shot.
“Laser ready. Shields ready for sublight deployment.”
“Very good, Mr. Kay. Small craft?”
“Alexander is powered up. Red Leader reports elements of Red Squadron ready to launch on exit from superluminal.”
This was the first time all three of the Garcia triplets had been aboard a single ship in months, and Justina, the commander of the small craft detached to Enterprise, sounded pleased to be bossing around her sister.
“Ten seconds. Dropping to warp two. Five seconds. Warp one. Two, one, sublight.”
“Set maneuvering speed. Where did we come out?”
“Maneuvering speed, aye.”
“Scanning,” said Kay. “We’re two point eight mega klicks from Saturn, coming in from below the ecliptic. Titan is on the near side, distance one point five mega klicks.”
“Ms. Chastain, lay in a course for Titan, five percent sublight,” Cass ordered.
“Captain, do you want me to contact the Colony?”
“No, XO, I will. Minerva.”
“Open a channel to Titan Colony approach.”
“Yes, Captain. Channel open.”
“Titan Colony approach control, this is Captain Jennifer Martinez of the TFS Enterprise. We are en route to the Colony and request clearance to enter orbit.”
The voice that replied was filled with confusion and surprise.
“We request clearance to enter orbit above Titan.”
“Who are you?”
Alley rolled her eyes.
“Captain Jennifer Martinez of the Terran Federation Starship Enterprise. Who is this? I want to know so I can be accurate when I talk to your supervisor.”
“Junior Assistant Technician James Warren. Uh, I can’t do that.”
Very patiently Alley said, “Then I need to talk with someone who can. We will be making our close approach in less than two minutes, and I’m sure that nobody in your government wants a starship just hanging around.”
“Can you wait?”
“You have ninety-two seconds before we arrive. Don’t make me wait long.”
The pause was mercifully brief.
“Titan Approach Control, this is Senior Technician Charles Stover. Identify yourself and state your intentions.”
“One more time. Captain Jennifer Martinez of the TFS Enterprise, we are en route to Titan Colony with a message for your chief executive and request clearance to enter orbit.”
“Captain, you’re not on our schedule.”
“I didn’t know you had a schedule; I apologize. But it doesn’t seem there is much orbital traffic. Surely you can work in a diplomatic mission.”
By now Alley had completely lost her tolerance.
“Mr. Stover, will you allow us entry to your orbital space or not?”
“I’m sorry, Captain, I don’t have the authority to change scheduled entries to the orbital traffic.”
“Fine. We’ll be in contact to arrange landing on Titan shortly; we will not be entering Titan orbit. Martinez out.”
Fuming, Alley turned to Cass. “Handle this. I’ll be briefing the Admiral and her envoy.”
“Very good, Captain. Ms. Chastain, change course. I want a Saturn orbit that keeps us stationary over Titan’s north pole at 200,000 klicks.”
“You’re sure they approved?”
“Flashdance, when have I ever steered you wrong?”
Shannon didn’t let Kendra see the look of profound doubt cross her face.
“It’s not you I worry about, Admiral, it’s the people who have been lobbing antimatter bombs at the inner system for months.”
“Which is why we’re being escorted by Red Squadron.”
Kendra, Cass, Anne Marie Lusardi, and Jill Marie were in Alexander, along with a half-dozen agents from OutLook. Cris had assured Kendra they all met her standards for ‘hurting people and breaking things’, but would still take Kendra’s orders. Everyone was wearing one of the new model skinsuits under their clothes or uniform and, as Kendra had mentioned, Red Squadron was flying escort. As much as possible, and with the active encouragement of both Cass and Alley, she was minimizing risks.
“You did get clearance for us to land, right?” she said quietly to Cass.
“As of departure, yes, the Alexander is cleared to land. We don’t have any other promises.”
“That’s all we need. Everyone, seal up!”
Flashdance piloted the Alexander down through the thickening clouds with her usual skill, homing in on the radio beacon for Xanadu. Today the winds were light; if not for the chill and the distinctly orange cast to the clouds, she would have sworn she was on Earth.
“Xanadu control, Alexander, grounding in thirty seconds.”
“Understood, Alexander. Do not exit your craft upon landing, wait until directed to do so.”
“Roger, Xanadu control. Will await instructions.”
She ensured the channel was closed, then relayed it to her passengers.
“That means we go first, Admiral,” said Keith Plymale. He was the senior agent and had been at OutLook, albeit as a very junior specialist, when Montana had been installed as Director. As such he didn’t hesitate to order Kendra around, exalted rank or not.
“You got it,” she said equably.
With a thump the Wolf landed and the engines started to wind down.
“Suit integrity checks, people,” Cass ordered. “Titan’s cold on the surface, and the atmosphere’s methane, and what’s that?”
The shuttle had lurched and now felt like it was descending.
“Flashdance!” shouted Kendra, but she could tell the Commander was already reacting. The engines’ pitch changed, and she could imagine the frantic efforts of the crew to reverse the shutdown procedures without breaking vital systems.
Then, shockingly, the engines started winding down again.
“What’s going on? Talk to me!” demanded Kendra.
“We just heard from Xanadu control; the landing pad is on the surface, but then there’s a lift to an underground hangar,” Flashdance said. “They apologized for not informing us and asked us to not damage the lift mechanism by lifting off.”
“Probably not a good way to win an ally,” said Cass.
“Hey! I don’t try to piss people off!” Kendra retorted.
The bickering distracted everyone from the remainder of the descent.
“We’ve stopped,” Menace announced unnecessarily. “Reading an Earth-normal atmosphere out there, temperature 25° Celsius, pressure 94 kilopascals, which is a little low. I wouldn’t suggest any marathons.”
“Keep the helmets in place,” suggested Plymale. “Just in case.”
Gotta love professional paranoia, Ken sent to Cass, who nodded in reply.
“Flashdance, do we still have comms with Red Leader?”
“Yes, Admiral. Q-Net is not compromised.”
“Good. No surprises from topside, then.”
Plymale checked the hatch, then opened it quickly, dropping out and taking a defensive crouch. Two more agents followed and flanked him. Cass followed, trailed by another agent who matched her calm step for step.
“Our turn,” Kendra said to Jill. “Ready?”
“Somehow I never expected to be on Titan,” said Jill. “But sure. We’ll say I’m ready.”
“That still doesn’t sound right,” she said. “I was barely used to Envoy, convinced you to call me Anne Marie, and now I’m Ambassador?”
“We all get to wear our official hats today,” Kendra answered and gestured at her white beret. “I just happen to have a cool one.”
And she stepped forward, out of the shuttle.
There was a single person, wearing what might be described as a uniform. For all Kendra knew it was casual dress. The four agents, who had formed a hemispherical perimeter, seemed somewhat disconcerted by the lackluster greeting, as did Cass, standing behind them. Behind her, the two semi-diplomats and the final agents exited the shuttle.
“Where is everyone?” Lusardi voiced the question on everyone’s mind.
“Hello,” said the person. A woman from the voice, guessed Kendra, though she didn’t like to assume.
“My name is Kassidy Davis, and I am the Assistant to the President, Kyra Smith. We weren’t expecting a delegation from the Federation; I apologize for the lack of honors. It was not an intentional slight.”
“Thank you,” said Cass. “I am Commander Aiyana Cassidy, First Officer of the Terran Federation Starship Enterprise. I am escorting Admiral Kendra Cassidy of the Terran Federation, Envoy Jillian Marie, and Ambassador-Designate Anne Marie Lusardi, of the Asteroid Miner’s Guild. We request an audience with your leadership.” She ignored the agents, as did Davis.
“Please. If you will come with me?”
“Certainly,” said Cass.
Kendra opened her implant link.
Lock it up tight, Flashdance. Keep the engines powered up and keep a lock on our implants. If this goes south, we might need an extract.
Aye, Admiral. We’ll be ready. From what I see on my scans I should be able to pilot to just about any potential LZ.
The walk was only a few minutes to a series of buildings which screamed ‘government property’ from their bland officiousness. Davis led them inside and up to a room which overlooked the courtyard formed by the buildings.
Flashdance, how are you feeling about this?
I’ve got a clear flight path, Admiral. Two minutes is all we’ll need for retrieval.
“If you’ll wait here, Admiral, a member of our government will meet with you shortly. If you require refreshments, please ask.”
“Thank you,” said Cass as Davis exited. Plymale immediately walked to the door and tested it.
“Unlocked,” he said without opening it.
“That’s encouraging,” said Kendra.
We’re certainly under observation. Opinions? she sent. It had been decided that both Lusardi and Marie needed implants given the sensitive nature of the mission.
“Well, I think,” started Marie, then stopped when she saw Kendra’s frantic tapping at her helmet.
Sorry. It’s a standard tactic to impose a sense of obligation and inferiority on visitors. I’ve used it before. The trick is sticking to it long enough.
I once kept an unwelcome Representative waiting for nearly a full day, commed Anne Marie. He was advocating a position that I was actually in
favor of, but he and I were regular opponents. I didn’t want to give him any
What happened? asked Cass.
He was in my office when I got in, and I finally ‘remembered’ him just when I went to leave for the night. I brought him in for five minutes to ‘persuade’ me to back his position, and by the end of that time not only had he apologized for taking up space in my cubic all day but he’d agreed to back my next candidate for Negotiator. Oh, and he owed me another favor.
Impressive, Kendra commented, and the conversation was off and running. The watchers could make of the silence what they would.
A half hour later, another woman, escorted by Davis, entered. Kendra stood, followed by the rest of her party.
“I apologize for the wait. As you know, your visit caught us by surprise.”
“Not at all,” Kendra replied, taking the lead. “I understand how easily schedules can become masters instead of servants.”
The woman smiled at this.
“I am Kyra Smith, President of the Titan Colony.”
“Kendra Cassidy. Admiral of the Terran Federation. My wife, Commander Aiyana Cassidy, first officer aboard the TFS Enterprise.” Cass bowed her head slightly to Smith, unsure of the exact protocol.
Smith sat at an open seat, Davis remaining standing behind her. “A pleasure. We have heard much of you both, I must say not all of it flattering.”
“I doubt that any of our acquaintances within Artemis have had anything good to say about us, so I’ll take a mixed bag,” said Kendra.
“And your companions?”
“Madame President, Jillian Marie of the Terran Federation, and Anne Marie Lusardi, Ambassador-Designate from the Asteroid Miner’s Guild.”
Smith looked puzzled. “I heard your announcement; I think the entire System did. Certainly the Guild won’t need an Ambassador to the Terran Federation if they’re to become part of the Federation?”
“No, Madame President. She’s here as our Ambassador to Titan.”
“Ambassador to Titan?” She was incredulous. “You propose opening diplomatic relations? You realize that we are part of the Solarian Union? The same Union who lost a thousand officers and crew when your habitat destroyed our cruisers?”
“I could argue that your cruisers fired the first shot, but yes. Madame President, I’m not subtle. I’m not one to dance around a difficult subject. We both know the Solarian Union is controlled by Artemis, and Artemis dances to the whims of Vasilia Newling, the Primus. Those cruisers fired 160 missiles at our habitat, Madame President. If any of them had gotten through thousands of people, including the families of Federation members, would have perished. Do I regret the deaths of your people? Of course I do! But they would not have died had the Primus not twisted the Union to her own purposes!”
Smith was slow to respond, obviously considering her words carefully.
“I am bound by treaty to defend the interests of the Solarian Union and its members,” she finally began. “As are both Mars and Artemis. It seems Artemis has decided to interpret this to mean ‘the interests of Artemis are to be defended by the Solarian Union.’ How I interpret it will determine, in large part, any actions we may take here.”
“Madame President,” said Lusardi. “The leadership of the Guild grappled with the same question, with even greater urgency. As you know, the Guild provided nearly half the personnel for the Union armed forces. When Newling sent the Union into battle on her behalf, it was our families who paid the price. And despite this blood price, it was not an easy decision for us to withdraw. We did so because, in part, I argued the best way for us to defend the interests of the Union was to no longer provide support and succor for Artemis.”
“That is an interesting position, Ambassador. Can you elaborate?”
“The Union was established to provide mutual support in the face of an increasingly-indifferent Earth. It was never intended to be a military power, merely a way to coordinate resistance should aggressive actions be taken against the members.”
“That’s what I understood.”
“What else was it supposed to do?”
“I’m not sure,” admitted Smith. “I was a scientist before I was pulled into politics.”
“When I was appointed Envoy to the Federation, I took time to research some of the original documents, the correspondences, the emails, between the various delegates who wrote the Union Charter. Mars was seen to have the potential to be the population and agricultural hub, once the terraforming was completed; the Guild was to provide the metals, the raw materials; Titan, with your scientific expertise, to provide the technological advances; and Artemis would serve as the bridge between Earth and the Union.”
“I didn’t know this either,” said Kendra at Smith’s growing wonder. “Anne Marie taught me.”
“There’s more. The ultimate goal of the Union was to be a stepping-stone to humanity’s exploration of space. Tell me, Madame President, does that sound like today’s Union?”
“Not as such,” Smith admitted.
“Not at all,” countered Lusardi. “Under the corrupt, yes, corrupt! The corrupt leadership of Artemis, with the tacit agreement of Mars and Titan, has brought the Union to the position of strangling the Earth, strangling any potential threat to the position of Artemis as the power in the System. Now, consider the Federation.”
Lusardi waved her hand toward Cass and Ken. “These women created an organization whose sole purpose was to explore space, poured a fortune into it, and for what? To have Artemis use the might of their navy, and the Union navy, to attack them. Artemis targeted their home with a fifty-ton kinetic energy weapon that killed over twenty thousand people! Artemis launched an attack on their habitat not once but twice, and used the Brahe to do so, a ship which was also destroyed with all hands.”
“And then you have the antimatter bombs,” Kendra added softly.
To her credit, Smith didn’t try to feign surprise.
“That was agreed to by the prior administration,” she said. “I would prefer; that is, I will live up to the terms of the agreement despite any personal feelings I might have.”
Kendra ignored the statement.
“None of them have impacted our habitat. The habitat which has families aboard, I’ll remind you. But we’ve paid for this success in lives and damage. My pilots have sacrificed themselves to destroy your little bundles of death. If I can accomplish nothing else, stopping them will make this entire voyage worthwhile.”
“Is that all you seek? Do we finally get to the point?”
“We did get here the roundabout way. No, there is more. Madame President, I want Titan to do what the Guild has done: leave behind the decaying husk of the Union to join us, join an organization which cleaves more nearly to the ideals of the Union.”
“You certainly don’t ask for much!”
Kendra tossed her head to the side.
“The worst that happens is you laugh at us and tell us no. If I don’t ask, though, you can’t say yes.”
“For the sake of argument, what can the Terran Federation offer Titan that the Union cannot?”
“Honesty. Openness. A fair shake. The opportunity to create the government you’ll live with. And all the century-old pop culture you want.” Kendra’s face lit up at the last.
“No bribes of technology? No promises of revenge? A share in the wealth?”
“No. We’ll either be the right fit because of what we believe, or we won’t. If we aren’t, I don’t want you; if we are, you won’t need to be bribed.”
“She’s an unusual negotiator,” Smith said across to Lusardi.