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Without any further ado:
Artemis City, Council of Ministers Chamber
“How long do you think they’ll keep dragging this farce out?”
None of the Council of Ministers answered. While ignoring a question posed by the Primus was always risky, answering this particular question could be fatal.
“The only person who could answer that fully, Primus, is Minister Dent, and he’s still engaged in the negotiations,” Daria Pitt, the Minister of the Treasury, finally replied. She was an older woman who had survived literally decades of treachery in the Artemis Colony government. She had also helped raise Vasilia Newling, the Primus and unofficial head of both the Artemis Colony and Solarian Union, and so felt less vulnerable than any other Minister at the meeting.
Newling glared, but didn’t take any action, so Pitt continued. “We have been receiving his daily updates, Primus, as well as his weekly virtual appearances at the Council. I’m certain that if Arthur had any information he would have shared it.” She shot a look at the Minister’s cousin, Colin Dent, the Minister of Intelligence.
“Our operatives have given no indications that would contract what either Minister Pitt has said, or the reports that the Foreign Minister have provided, Primus.” Dent was another Council veteran, and while he lacked the family history with the Primus that Pitt had, as Minister of Intelligence he knew where the bodies were buried for nearly every person in the Council.
“Every day that they delay is another day that they increase their strength!” fumed Newling.
“It’s also another day that we rebuild our strength,” countered Nicole Crozier, the Minister of War. She was the only Minister not a member of the Four Families that ruled Artemis, and was the most potentially vulnerable to the whims of the Primus. After all, that was what had put her in her position six months earlier. Nicole had been a relatively minor official at the Ministry during the initial campaign against the Federation. The Minister at the time, Davie Whitmore, had been given a stark choice: succeed or die on Luna’s surface. When the attack failed, she had informed her deputy that she was leaving to ‘take a walk’ and instructing him to report to the Council in her place. Her body had never been recovered. Her deputy brought Nicole with him to the meeting, where the Primus had first promoted him to Minister, then had him executed for failing to answer her questions quickly enough. The job had then fallen on Nicole, being the only other member of the Ministry present at the meeting.
Nobody had expected her to last a week.
When the second and larger attack had also failed, and failed spectacularly, the smart betting again was that Crozier would follow her predecessors onto the surface without a suit. The Primus, however, had blamed the Underminister of the Navy, sending him for the final walk instead of Crozier. Since then she had managed to consolidate her control of the Ministry, aided by her friend and now Deputy Minister, Jake Taylor. She had managed to create a healthier, more collaborative, less cutthroat atmosphere within the Ministry; reduced the cliques and provincialism; and encouraged innovative ideas. She’d also brought other Ministries openly into hers for consultation, such as Intelligence and Technology, and in doing so solidified alliances with those Ministers.
“The first of the new Scimitar-class dreadnoughts will be ready for trials within the week, with two more under construction and more than half completed,” she said now. “We have also been working closely with other Ministries to either acquire their drive and warp technologies or replicate them.” She nodded to Pitt and Kreitzer Newling, Minister of Technology, in acknowledgement.
“Any success yet?” said the Primus.
“Not yet,” admitted Crozier. “Their advances are nothing short of astounding; none of our physicists have been able to get to the core of their theories yet. Not for lack of trying, though,” she added hastily, seeing the storm rolling across the Primus’s face. Crozier knew that the scientists who had been working on the problem had truly been dedicated to the pursuit of the solution. She also knew that the Primus was generally unforgiving of lack of success, and her wrath was frequently fatal.
Minister Newling spoke up then. “The information is freely available, Primus, but our educational facilities simply aren’t the equal of those on Earth. That’s not the fault of the Ministry of Education; simply a matter of priorities and history.”
The Minister of Education, William Whitmore, spoke quickly. “It’s a vicious circle, Primus. Instructors can only educate students to the level that they themselves understand. However, due to the ongoing concerns with the UE, our instructors themselves have lacked instruction. Theoretical leaps are possible, of course; there are geniuses in every generation. But genius is unpredictable.” He shrugged. “There may be a dozen transcendental intellects in every generation, but there’s no control over where they appear or where their interests or skills lie.”
“I hear much ass-covering but little progress, except for the dreadnoughts,” the Primus growled.
“No excuses, Primus,” said Whitmore. “But to grow our educational base we need access to resources on Earth.”
“Then there is little more my Ministry can do to assist at this time.”
“Dent. Newling said that the information is available. If we can’t make the breakthroughs ourselves, can we get groundlings who understand them?”
Dent looked at the Primus with a mix of trepidation and thoughtfulness. “Possibly, Primus, but it will be challenging. There are perhaps a half-dozen scientists and engineers who understand their warp technology well enough to replicate it. Two are employed by the Federation: Roberts, the physicist who designed the drive, and Anderson, who assisted and is now Chief Engineer on the starship. We have identified and approached three others; two rejected our advances utterly to the point that our operatives were physically escorted away; the other one is restricted to a full-body life support station in a major hospital and is unavailable.”
“You said six; that’s five.”
“We are still attempting to locate her,” said Dent. “When we do, she may be more amenable to our cause.”
“Spare no effort, Dent.”
“In the meantime, is there anything you can do?” The Primus threw this question out generally.
“We are constructing our own version of their starship,” said Crozier. “Minister Whitmore’s teams are reconstructing their weaponry and armor as best they can, based on the readings and recordings our ships transmitted during the battle. It will take some time, Primus, as this is an extremely large ship, larger even than the Scimitar-class, and we’ve had to make it larger still.”
“While we can’t replicate their systems,” said Whitmore. “We can approximate many of them. A laser is a laser, after all; the key is power. Unfortunately, our fusion and antimatter plants are simply not as efficient, or as powerful, as the ones the Federation manufactures. We can overcome that by having more plants, and making them larger, but that requires more space. So the hull has to be larger. The same problem applies to the lasers. We can collimate a number of smaller ones to approach the power they generate, but we don’t have the ability to build a single laser within two orders of magnitude of what they managed.”
“If we can acquire the necessary technology or personnel, how long would you need to complete the build?”
“Two years,” stated Whitmore firmly. “This is a complex system, far more so than the ships we have been building. If we were to use only the technology currently available, we could have a version ready in another six months, but it would merely be a larger, clumsier, less-powerful copy of theirs.”
“Very well. Dent, anything you need, you get. We need that scientist. And get me the Foreign Minister’s Deputy. I have an idea which the Mars Colony needs.” One of the staffers nodded, and Newling continued. “We’re done here.”