In the lead-up to the release (DECEMBER 20! You can Pre-order NOW by clicking the image above!), I’m going to tease you with some chapters!
Low Earth Orbit
“How long do you think they’ll keep dragging this farce out?”
“Mr. Blackmon, the longer they’re talking, the longer they’re not shooting,” remonstrated Mya Hartman, the Director of the United Earth Distribution Directorate.
“But Madame Director, it’s clear that neither side is willing to budge an inch!” The speaker was Hunter Blackmon, the Assistant Deputy Director of the UE’s version of a State Department, the Reconciliation Directorate. He had been tapped to oversee the ongoing discussions between the Solarian Union and the Terran Federation. Neither group was part of the UE. The Union was an independent, interplanetary confederation of nations, with a rocky history with the UE. The Terran Federation was not a nation but rather the manifestation of the dreams of a single woman: Kendra Cassidy.
Through an unlikely catenation of events, she and her wife, Aiyana, had become the wealthiest women on the planet. They’d inherited a massive, interlocking web of companies and projects which stretched across the globe and into space. For Aiyana, who everyone called Cass, that meant she was able to concentrate on turning her theories into reality, and create a working, practical, reliable quantum teleportation modules; or, as everyone called them, portals. Kendra took over what was called ‘Project Pegasus’, an attempt to build mankind’s first superluminal starship. She wasn’t shy about using her money to force changes, starting with the name. Pegasus was retired, and Enterprise was chosen instead. From there, she tapped into her love of 20thand early 21st-Century television and films to shape her own reality.
Surprising many, it had worked.
With the launch of the Enterprise, Kendra had simultaneously launched the Terran Federation, an organization dedicated to expanding the breadth and scope of human knowledge. She’d also taken a not-so-subtle jab at the Solarian Union, who had objected to the Enterprise and sworn to destroy it, and more-or-less told them to come at her.
They had. They dropped a kinetic energy weapon onto her home, near Los Alamos, wiping out over 20,000 people, a quarter of the city. They had launched a stealthy missile attack on the Federation’s orbiting habitat and space construction yard, Diana, killing another fourteen. They had then launched a more open attack a week later, with three frigates, two cruisers, and a battleship. The battle had hung in the balance, with the Federation forces seeming to get the upper hand, until the battleship weighed in and nearly wiped out the entire Federation shuttle squadron. The battleship was well on its way to demolishing the habitat when the Enterprise returned to stop the assault.
After those events, an uneasy quiet had fallen between the two antagonists. Weeks later, the Union had officially opened discussions through the UE to negotiate a more permanent, and equitable, solution. This was met with great suspicion by Kendra and her advisors, but they recognized the desirability of extending the peace. The talks had been going on ever since and were currently entering their sixth month.
“Do you blame the Federation?” said Hartman. Technically, she had no reason to be present at these talks; her Directorate had nothing to do with maintaining the peace or settling disputes. However, she was the de facto senior Director of the UE and could pretty well go where she wanted.
She had another reason as well. Several months before the attacks, she had entered into a secret agreement with Cass and Ken, in their roles as businesswomen, to provide her the means with which to launch a hopefully-devastating attack on the Union. The Solarian Union existed under the strictures of the nearly century-old Artemis Accords and Amendment. Through the Accords, the Union was entitled to as much of the Earth’s production of rare earth metals as they claimed necessary to support their growth and survival. Projections within the Directorate suggested that the continual drain of resources would lead to the collapse of the UE’s infrastructure within twenty years. This, in turn, would result in the death by starvation of a majority of the planet’s population, as most of the globe had been incorporated into an intricate production and transportation network. While there were still areas which produced a bounty of crops, others had been given up as overfarmed and unproductive, and only the import and shipment of foodstuffs all across the globe allowed the population to survive.
Negotiations hadn’t worked between the UE and the Union. The one UE attempt to wrest control of the orbitals from the Union had failed as well. It was war, though not simple or open. One of Mya’s assistants had suggested a number of radical plans and the enlistment of one of the Cassidy’s companies, Heavy Lift Corporation. There had been a number of mostly successful meetings, after which Cass had agreed to help with their plans. Kendra’s Terran Federation was never brought into the discussions, and as far as Hartman knew had no part in the ongoing preparations. However, Kendra was leading the Federation, and Cass was the chief Science officer aboard the Enterprise; continued conflict between the Union and Federation could be devastating to her plans.
So she was here, on a Low Earth Orbit habitat owned by one of the few other companies that boosted to orbit, trying to gauge the tenor of the continuing meetings.
As she said, as long as they were talking, they weren’t shooting.
“Master Chief Stone, I didn’t expect to see you,” she said as a suited figure approached. Blackmon stepped just out of earshot to allow them some privacy.
“Director,” replied the woman politely. She was tall and athletic, with the air of someone who would be far more comfortable in a uniform. Her hair was still cropped almost militarily short, and her Australian accent, the legacy of following her father around the globe as a child, had only gotten stronger in her semi-retirement. “I haven’t seen you in a while.”
“No; more than a year, isn’t it?”
“About that. Where’s Lynch? I would’ve expected him here, if only to gum up the works.”
Roosevelt Lynch was the Director of the UE Protective Services, what passed for their military forces. He’d been present for the first discussion between Hartman and the Cassidys, but had been removed by Stone when a disagreement had gotten physical. He’d ended up in the hospital, and while he was still aware of the ongoing plans he was no longer actively involved in the planning.
“There was a flare-up of tensions in the Middle East which required his personal attention,” said Hartman. “What about you, Master Chief? I didn’t think this was your specialty.”
“Not at all, but someone has to take care of our representative.” She gestured back at the negotiation table. “Wayne’s a good lawyer, but not much of a fighter. Kendra doesn’t trust these bastards not to try something, and I agree with her. Besides, with the ladies in-system all the time these days, they don’t need me so often to watch over the girls.” Stone was one of several honorary ‘aunts’ to the Cassidys’ daughters and spent a fair amount of time trying to keep them out of trouble.
“So you’re here to help protect Mr. Morgan?”
“And do a little backchannel investigations,” added Stone. “I may have been a SEAL, but I can do a bit of intel if I have to. The blokes they’ve sent down are more than willing to talk to someone who can sling their lingo.”
“Not much so far. Director, are you sure you want to know any of this?” Stone was one of a half-dozen people who were within the Cassidys’ inner circle, trusted utterly and regarded as what Kendra referred to as ‘ohana’. Stone knew that Hartman was trusted, but she was still an outsider.
“A valid point, Master Chief. Perhaps not.”
“Then I’ll take my leave, Director. G’day.” Stone walked back into the crowd surrounding the table, mingling and observing unobtrusively.
“Hmm? Oh, yes. Hunter, review their positions for me?”
“Yes, Director. The Union is insisting that the attacks were all the result of overeager officers and liberal interpretations of orders, and refuse to make more than a token apology. The Federation, contrariwise, is insisting that the attacks were planned and executed at the orders of the Council of Ministers. They say the Union is directly responsible morally, ethically, and financially for the deaths of not only their personnel but all the people who died in the Los Alamos Incident, and are insisting on steep reparations. They are also seeking a written apology and a binding pledge of non-aggression, as well as payments for the interruption in their exploration schedule and damage to their installations and equipment.”
“Has there been any movement at all?”
“Well, the Union dropped their insistence that the habitat be removed, in accordance with their newly-passed territorial claims; they have agreed to modify their position that the existing structure is grandfathered in. In return, the Federation dropped their insistence that the Union withdraw all territorial claims beyond the gravitational influence of Luna.”
“That seems to be an odd boundary.”
“I don’t know the details, but it was dropped. Currently the Federation wants to include the successor habitat in the grandfather clause and maintain a fifty-thousand kilometer exclusion zone. I think that the Union will give in on the habitat, if the Federation will accept half that, but we’ll see.”
“So not much progress, is what you’re saying.”
“Not at all.”
“Who’s negotiating for the Union?”
“They’re taking it seriously; their Foreign Affairs Minister, Arthur Dent, has been present for most of the sessions.”
“And the Federation? Anyone besides Morgan?”
“No, Madame Director. He’s been their only representative, with the exception of a few people like the one you were talking with. I’ve gathered that they’re mostly from a company called OutLook that does some protective work, so I assume that’s what they’re doing here.”
You don’t know the half of it, thought Hartman. She knew that OutLook was another part of the Cassidys’ sprawling empire, and was responsible for far more than just protective services. They did espionage, industrial, counterintelligence, and the traditional clandestine HumInt, as well as assassination and other extralegal specialties. The company was based in an area which was beyond the control of any government, allowing them to operate without any pesky oversight.
“Tell me, were any of them a short, skinny brunette who has an elfin grin and talks constantly?”
“She’s been here a few times, yes. Do you know her?”
“I’ve seen her,” evaded Hartman. She knew exactly who Mac, Amanda McAllister, was and had a pretty good idea why she would be on the habitat. Mac was a former colleague of Kendra’s from OutLook, but she didn’t get involved in any of the physical ends of the business. Mac was a stone cold expert at cybersecurity and cyberespionage; the system that she couldn’t hack into hadn’t yet been built. If she had been on the habitat, she’d been there to get into the systems, plant taps, and generally make the security on the conference as useful as hiding behind a sheet of plate glass.
“Anything else I need to know, Hunter?”
“No, Madame Director. Not that I can think of.”
“Then I’ll take my leave.”