Scene shift time again!
One of the things which I always appreciated was the ability of Cristina to step into the Director’s role at OutLook. After we removed Talbott from the job I needed someone I could trust, absolutely, in the position.
Even though she didn’t have any official supervisory experience, I’d seen her in action. She had not only run her team flawlessly but she’d integrated with Chief Stone as smoothly as I could have wanted, especially considering the Alpha nature of both of their personalities.
There were bumps, of course. There were going to be, simply because some people at OutLook were going to be loyal to Talbott and resistant to change. Those who could be convinced, were. And those who couldn’t be convinced were removed, usually with a generous farewell bonus. No point in pissing them off any more than they already were, right?
This chapter, then, is Cristina at her best, dealing with a thorny personnel problem. As always, if you want to get the book, click on one of the pictures!
OutLook HQ, New Orleans, Border States
Cristina Montana looked up from the usual stack of work on her desk to the sound of an argument outside her office. She could hear her new assistant’s voice, determined but nervous, but what was that other voice? It was too low for her to hear clearly.
“If you don’t have an appointment, you can’t see the Director!” Steven was saying. “And you can’t threaten me!”
Cris closed her eyes, imagining the scene. Steven (never Steve) was an intense guy, short, strongly-muscled, but not quite ready for the field. His potential was there, and he’d passed all the entrance tests, but he needed to learn a bit more before she’d feel comfortable with him in the field.
She still couldn’t hear the other voice; it had said something, obviously, based on Steven’s reaction.
“No, I will not just page her! If you know her as well as you say you do, you know she’s too busy for casual visitors!”
That got her attention. By definition, anyone inside the Complex was authorized, and anyone authorized could have five minutes of her time whenever they needed it. It was one of the changes she’d made when she took over and had kept it going. So who could it be?
“Listen to me, my fine young man. I haven’t even begun to threaten ye. This is just a friendly warning.”
Cris was out of her chair and calling out before she had time to think; she knew that voice!
“Steven! Let her in!” She reached the door and threw it open.
“Ah, Cris,” said Master Chief Stone. “I was just having a nice chat with your young man out here.” She loomed casually over Steven, even though they were both standing, which obviously made him extremely nervous. Stone’s smile, too, wasn’t exactly designed to put anyone at ease. Then again, Cris knew some stories about that smile, and she thought his reaction was just about right.
“Director, I’m sorry, this woman just wouldn’t listen when I told her that you weren’t available and she wouldn’t leave –“
Cris cut Steven off.
“Did you ask her for her ID?”
“I did!” He reached down, picked up a holocard, and handed it to her. “It’s not one of ours.”
Cris tossed a quick look at Stone, who shrugged. “I misplaced it somewhere, so I’ve been using that.”
That was her Via ad Sidera ID, the umbrella corporation Kendra had set up to encompass all of her off-Earth projects. Cris looked the question to Stone.
“I’ve been spending time on Njord and Diana with the girls,” she explained. “That gets me everywhere I need to be.”
Cris turned to Steven. “Did you check her name in the database?”
“No, Director,” he said sheepishly. “But it’s not an OutLook ID, why would she be in there?”
“Do that now, please,” she said. She waited while he accessed the system and watched the color drain from his face.
“Here you go, Ms. Stone, I’m sorry for the inconvenience,” he said as he handed the card back.
“No worries,” she answered. “But next time you might want to do that little check. The next person might not be as sweet and even-tempered as I am.”
“I – yes, ma’am, thank you ma’am,” stuttered Steve, still standing, as the two friends passed him.
“When did you stop hiring agents who think?” said Stone as soon as they were seated, and the door closed.
“He’s not that bad,” retorted Cris. “Just a little bit naïve.”
“He didn’t bloody follow procedures, procedures I remember you writing!” Stone took a deep breath, calming herself. “Sorry. I shouldn’t get so worked up. I just hate waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
“This whole negotiation thing?”
“Is that what we’re calling it still? Yeah, the negotiations.” Stone shook her head. “I was up there not long ago. Those wankers have no intention of coming to any sort of terms, nothing short of wiping us out of space.”
“That’s what all my intel sources say,” agreed Cris. “And what I’ve passed along.”
“Then why don’t we do something about it?” asked Stone intently.
“Cris, while we’re down here, what do you think Artemis is doing?” Stone didn’t give her a chance to answer. “They’re figuring out how to take us out, rebuilding their fleet, and trying to steal anything they can get their hands on. Meanwhile, we’re in full prevention mode.”
“What would you have Kendra do?” asked Cris.
“Take the fight to them!” exclaimed Stone. “I was a SEAL, Cris. Waiting for the other guy to make the next move isn’t my style.”
“No,” agreed Cris. “Not since I’ve known you.”
“Then we should be doing something!”
Cris cocked her head to one side. “This isn’t like you. Where’s this coming from?”
“What? This is totally me,” insisted Stone.
“No,” Cris said, shaking her head. “It isn’t. Come on, Mikki. Talk to me.” Cris saw Stone start to protest, then visibly change her mind.
Cris didn’t press but let her think. Finally, Stone sighed.
“It’s the girls,” she eventually said.
That was unexpected. “Okay, you’re going to have to explain.”
“I never had children of my own,” said Stone. “There’s a thousand reasons: I was in the SEALs, I never had the time, I never found the right person. Whatever. The point is, I didn’t get to it. Then came the girls, and even though they’re not mine, they are. You understand?”
Cris nodded. She hadn’t spent as much time with the children as Stone had, but enough to see the bond they had with Stone. She was their unofficial ‘aunt’ and spent more time with them than anyone except their parents. For their part, Lisa and little Mikki adored her and were constantly asking for more time with her, which she was more than happy to provide.
“When I think how close we came to losing them to those bastards, Cris, my blood boils. Twice! First the miserable tossers demolished their home, along with a quarter of a city, and the only reason the girls weren’t there is because we’d already left to head back to the station. Then, a week later, they attacked the station and nearly killed us all there! And now we wait for them to try again? I don’t bloody think so!”
“Chief, don’t take this the wrong way, but is this maybe a little bit personal for you? Do you think it would be a good idea to step back a bit?”
“Too effing right it’s personal! Cris, these girls, and their mothers, they’re my family now, because they chose to make me part of theirs. And if you, or anyone, thinks I can step back when my family is threatened, you’re more of a plonker than I thought you could be.”
“I don’t know what a plonker is – oh,” she interrupted herself as her implant provided the definition. “No, Chief, I’m not a plonker. I just want you to step back enough to think rationally. What, exactly, do you want to do? Given what you know about our resources, what do you think we can do?”
“Give me access to our intel on Artemis. Everything we have. I might not have been in planning when I was in the service, but I’m not some gormless git.”
“And you’ll do what?”
“I don’t bloody well know yet, do I? But it’ll be a damn sight better than sitting here like a bunch of cheese eating surrender monkeys, waiting for the next KEW to fall on us.”
“Cheese eating surrender monkeys? Pretty sure I don’t need to know. Okay. Everything we’ve got on Artemis, the Union, their navies, you can have access. I’ve already upgraded your codes. One condition, though.”
“One. You don’t go off half-cocked. If you figure anything out, you come to me, and we decide if it’s feasible.”
“Well, I suppose. You’ve just got to take away my chance to play the heroic martyr, don’t you?”
“Isn’t that what friends are for? Now, I really do have a bunch to do. Would you send Steven in here on your way out? If you can do it without making him piss himself, that is.”
“I’ll do my best,” agreed Stone. “But you know how it is with some people.”
AUDIO FILE for Chapter 12, The Measure of Humanity