Boy, this was a surprise to Nicole!
When I heard about this, though, it was one of the things which convinced me, months later, that she was the right person to bring in to support the Lunar Revolution. She knew what she needed to do and managed to keep the Primus from derailing it while still keeping herself breathing air instead of vacuum.
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Ministry of War, Artemis City
The rippling murmur coming from the floor finally penetrated Nicole’s consciousness and she looked up from the reports she was determinedly plowing through with a scowl.
That scowl vanished when she saw the figure in the door to her office.
“Primus?” She couldn’t keep the question from her voice.
“Minister Crozier. May I take a few moments of your time?”
“Of course, Primus!” Nicole jumped up, belatedly attempting to offer the proper respect, only to be waved back into her seat.
“Relax, Minister.” The Primus smiled, a shockingly unnatural act which only served to put Crozier’s nerves on edge. “I know I’m intruding on your day.”
She settled into another chair. “I haven’t been down here before. You’d think that I’d have found time, but there’s always something.”
“I’m honored with your visit, Primus. But I must ask the purpose.”
The smile grew wider.
“Always direct and to the point. I must say, Minister, that you have been a surprisingly pleasant change from the other officials I have to deal with. You have never been afraid to speak your mind.” The smile remained, but the eyes chilled. “Of course, you’ve always produced results, which earns you some leeway.”
Nicole didn’t know what to say to that, so chose silence as her safest option.
“How long until our starships are ready, Minister?”
“Two lunars to finish work on Averroes, and I expect another two lunars of shakedown and flight testing before he’s certified.”
“To finish construction, yes. Four total.”
The eyes chilled more.
“Minister, I don’t need to tell you of the threat we exist under every day. I don’t need to tell you that these ships are our best chance at regaining our rightful place in the System. Four lunars might be a luxury that you don’t have.”
Nicole heard the threat clearly, but she knew she had to try.
“Primus, by your command, we have thrown all of our most skilled technicians, engineers, mechanics, anyone who has experience in construction at this project. Minister Dent succeeded in retrieving Dr. Carnahan from Earth, freeing her to pursue her work under your benevolent gaze. But for all that, and even with the incentives and encouragement we have provided, two lunars is the minimum to finish the work.”
“Then I will expect an operational dreadnought in two lunars.”
Crozier surprised herself by shaking her head. “That’s not how it works, Primus.”
When Newling’s eyes flashed to anger, Crozier held up a placating hand. “Primus, it would be like wearing a new surface suit without pressure testing it first, if we were to put the Averroes into combat after the last bolt is fastened. If nothing else, the warp drive is new technology, and the drive that Dr. Carnahan has created is different from her previous design. We need time to test before he’s deployed.”
“Will the weapons work? Weren’t they tested?”
“Yes, the weapons have all been tested. That happened before the reengineering, though, and there may be unexpected issues from the warp drive.”
“You don’t need the warp drive to achieve orbit, do you, Minister?”
“No, Primus. The sublight engines will do that.”
“And to move, in-System? Will the sublight engines do that?”
“Yes, Primus, that too.”
“Then that gives you weapons and propulsion. Seems to me you have everything you need to successfully attack their habitat.”
“How soon after recommissioning can you launch an attack upon that dammed station?”
When in doubt, stall. ”If the commissioning of the Averroes goes as planned, we can begin mission prep immediately, combining that with what would look like regular work-ups for a new ship. I’d like to have the maximum force available for the assault, given what happened last year.”
“The point of the Averroes is to meet the Federation on an equal basis, so why do you need more ships?”
“On a one-to-one basis, yes. Minister Whitmore’s design was an improvement over the Copernicus-class battleships, and after the first encounter with the starship we made some upgrades and improvements, based on our intelligence. I’m confident in their ability to stand toe-to-toe, as well as the bravery of our crews.”
Nicole paused to see that the Primus was nodding in approval, which eased her tension a bit. The next part was the challenge.
“But that was one starship. Now they have two, and we only have one Scimitar. Primus, I will spend my people’s lives to achieve our goals, but I will not waste them. If we cannot wait until the El-Baz and Al-Battani are recommissioned, then we need to support the Averroes with everything we can muster.”
To her relief, the Primus looked thoughtful at this, rather than indignant.
“What is the status of the other ships, Minister? El-Baz and the other one?”
”Al-Battani. They’re awaiting space in the yards.”
“Could they be used to support Averroes?”
Nicole allowed a moment of pleased surprise to show before replying. “They might be able. I know that they have been undergoing some modifications already, to accelerate the warp drive installation. I’d have to ask my Deputy to get a firm answer. But that’s an interesting possibility.”
Nicole poked at her terminal, sending a quick message to Jake.
“He’ll let me know soon. If I’m being honest, Primus, my main concern would be putting the Scimitars at risk. If they’re not warp-capable, they’re not going to have the same punch as the Averroes, and I suspect they’ll be as ineffective against their starships as the Brahe was, even though they’d have a three-to-two advantage in numbers. I don’t want to be negative, Primus. I fully support your defense of the independence of the Union. But losing the Scimitars would be a crushing blow to that goal.”
The heat was rising in the Primus’s eyes again and Nicole knew that she was on shaky ground, so tried to deflect.
“Primus, I haven’t heard from your contacts on Titan recently. Have you?”
“Not lately,” Newling said.
“The last I heard, they were being very optimistic about producing more of their missiles soon, perhaps in the next few lunars. Have you heard that?”
“They told me that as well.”
“Then perhaps it makes most sense to wait for them and coordinate an attack.”
Newling allowed frustration to show, but didn’t erupt.
“Minister, I’ll be honest. Depending on the Titanites is simply galling. The only reason they’re independent is a political accident; they never should have been allowed to form their own nation, even if they’re part of the Union. That was a mistake my ancestors made which I plan to rectify.”
“Waiting on others is challenging,” sympathized Nicole, trying to ignore the bombshell Newling had just unleashed. “I will pursue the options with Deputy Taylor, and let you know if we can attack sooner with a realistic chance of success.”
“I suppose that’s all I can ask.” Newling stood. “Thank you for your time.” With that she strode from the office; through the open hatch, Nicole could see her armsmen taking up formation around her and move as a unit towards the exit. Once she was sure they were gone, she ducked out and down to Jake’s office.
“Hey, Nicole, what’s this about, um, wait, what’s wrong?”
“You’re not going to believe this,” she said.
And he didn’t.