Nicole kinda screwed him over.
She didn't mean to. None of what happened that terrible and wonderful day back in '19 was intentional.
But he was screwed as surely as she'd planned it.
It was only quick thinking which kept him alive.
“Why shouldn’t I kill you?” purred the Primus.
“Because I have no idea what you’re talking about!” shouted Taylor. He’d been picked up by a MinSec squad an hour after seeing Nicole onto the Roosa and dragged into isolation for several hours before being brought before the Council of Ministers in a late-night session. He figured he didn’t have anything to lose; either he was going to live or die, and right now the smart credits seemed to be on die. Might as well go out on his own terms.
“That’s never stopped me before.”
“Then you’re a dammed fool!”
The Primus froze, then turned her basilisk stare directly on him. The rest of the Ministers seemed to shrink away.
“What did you say?”
“You’re a dammed fool, Primus!”
“And you’re for the recycler.” She nodded and the guards holding him started to pull him away.
“Where is Nicole?” he demanded, desperately.
“What?” She gestured and the guards stopped.
“Where. Is. Nicole?” he repeated. “You accuse me of being part of some plot, some scheme, based on what? The unsupported word of one of Minister Pitt’s MinSec goons? Oh, so her whole squad says that Nicole marched up and asked what they were doing; what’s the problem with that? She’s a goddamn Minister in the government! I ask you again, where is Nicole?”
The Primus turned to Minister Pitt, who stepped forward.
“The traitor –”
“She’s not a traitor!” shouted Taylor. “You saying so, you repeating it, doesn’t make it so! You have to have evidence! Where’s your evidence? Where’s Nicole?”
“—Nicole Crozier has yet to be located,” finished Pitt, as if he hadn’t spoken.
“Bullshit! You probably have her in one of your secret jails, Pitt! Are you staging a coup, and starting by taking out your most potent rival? Where is Nicole!?”
“Your accusation is absurd!”
The Primus had cooled and was now regarding Pitt with the same basilisk stare as she’d bestowed on Taylor. “That may be so, Minister Pitt, but Deputy Taylor does raise an interesting point.” Taylor noted the use of his title and hoped it was a positive sign.
“My squads are searching Artemis City now, Primus. We are positive that neither she nor her accomplice have left the City; no records of them have been found at any of the transport tubes. There are only so many places they can hide. We have apprehended her family,” Pitt added casually. “They may be more easily persuaded to reveal her location. Family is often a weak link.”
“That doesn’t answer anything, Minister,” Newling said.
“And what about the people your squad was supposed to arrest? Did they even exist? Or was that just a pretense to apprehend Nicole? Where is she?” Taylor figured to add some more threads to the tangled mess this was becoming.
Pitt looked distinctly uncomfortable. “The suspects were fugitives from a Political Rehabilitation Center. We had an incident overnight and several of our detainees were temporarily misplaced. The supervisors responsible have been appropriately censured, and as of now there are only four remaining to be apprehended.”
This clearly was news to the Primus, and the other Ministers, and Taylor was glad he’d managed to steer the discussion to this particular rabbit hole. Maybe he’d get out with his skin intact. Time to up the ante.
“Maybe you released them to sow chaos through the City? What a perfect excuse to take down a rising Minister, someone who wouldn’t bow to the almighty MinSec!”
“That’s outrageous! Primus, you know that I am…”
“Utterly ruthless and unafraid to eliminate others you see as obstacles? Yes, Minister, I do know that. Deputy Taylor, do you have any proof of this?”
“No, Primus. I am as in the dark as you; I simply know that Nicole is not a traitor to Artemis! Minister Pitt and her subordinates say she is. I suggest we ask her, and suddenly MinSec, which is supposed to be our last line of defense against internal sedition, is unable to find her? That strikes me as terribly convenient, Primus.”
“I find that I actually agree with you, Deputy Taylor. Very well. Minister Pitt.”
Pitt was sputtering, but controlled herself enough to reply. “Primus.”
“Produce Minister Crozier in twenty-four hours. If you cannot, then produce these four fugitives; give your claim some credence. If not, well, we’ll have to reevaluate your position.”
“Yes, Primus,” she managed to grind out.
“You are Acting Minister of War until Minister Crozier is recovered,” Newling said to Taylor. “You will also provide to me evidence that you are not involved in this plot.”
“Primus, I will comply.” And now I have to figure out how to cover for Nicole’s disappearance while keeping an eye out for MinSec goons. At least I’m not trying to learn how to breathe vacuum. That’s a start.