One of Cris's skills was putting people at ease and extracting information from them they didn't know they had.
She was always good at it.
She never wanted to admit it. It didn't go with her image of "hurting people and breaking things." But it was there.
And when she had to, she always had that other skill to fall back on.
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO
“You very nearly screwed up a good op,” said Montana accusingly as she walked into the small room. In it, two women were sitting at a table, a bottle between them and mostly-empty glasses in front of them.
“Who the hell are you, and why should I care?” responded Crozier.
“Ah. Nicole, you might want to rein it in a little,” said Whitmore calmly. “Director Montana, meet Nicole Crozier, until recently the Minister of War for the Artemis Colony and, de facto, Solarian Union. Nicole, Director Cristina Montana, head of OutLook and the de facto Chief of Intelligence for the Terran Federation.” She grinned lopsidedly. “Lots of de factos in there. I think you both are wearing extra hats.”
“Hi, Davie,” said Montana more evenly. “What’s so urgent that you had to get me on a Wolf? I was going to be up here tomorrow.”
“Nicole’s been filling me in on what’s happened on Artemis since my departure,” she said, tipping a little more of the liquid from the bottle into her glass. It was a warm brown and she swirled it appreciatively before taking a healthy sip.
“I never appreciated what a good whisky was until you brought me here,” she said. “Would you like one, Director? I’m sure I have another glass.”
“I didn’t come here for drinks, Minister,” Montana said with a touch of frost.
“I really think you’ll want one.” But then Whitmore shrugged and said, “Nicole? Tell the Director what you told me.”
“Artemis will have a warp-capable ship within a lunar, and two more within a year, at most.”
Montana sat in the open chair with a thud. “Davie, I’ll take that drink.”
Whitmore pushed over her glass and went to find one for herself.
“How sure are you?” asked Montana.
Crozier gave a bitter laugh. “Sure? I was the goddam Minister of War! I was looking at the ship being refitted, the Averroes, not a lunar ago!”
“And that’s not the best part,” said Davie, returning.
“These are dreadnoughts, a new class, designed expressly to take on your starships and win.”
“No, no, not that,” interrupted Whitmore. “The warp drive came from where?”
Montana answered before Crozier could. “Dr. Alexis Carnahan,” she said. “We learned that she’d gone to Luna a while ago; we were there, actually, to secure her daughter’s return to Earth. That was the op you nearly bungled for us.”
“Hey, I was just helping out my mom!” A thought struck Crozier. “Is she okay? Did she get hurt? Oh, God, what have I done?” She laid her head on the table.
Montana saw that Crozier was truly unaware of anything else that had swirled around her, as much a victim in this as Cassandra, and thawed slightly. “I don’t know. I’ll find out, though.”
“MinSec can be vicious,” said Whitmore. “Especially in these sorts of circumstances.” She mouthed the word, “Disappear”, over Crozier’s head, and Montana nodded her understanding.
“As for other tidbits,” continued Whitmore, giving Crozier time to gather herself. “Nicole mentioned the three dreadnoughts. They’re pretty heavily armed, and big, but from what she was telling me they’re going to be slow. Something about an older design warp drive. Not really my field, you understand.”
“Nor mine,” agreed Montana. “But Carnahan was fired from our starship project about six years ago; the woman who replaced her made some improvements to the design and added some tweaks to the theory. From what Kendra’s told me about Carnahan, she’s not one to look to others for inspiration if you get my meaning.”
Whitmore nodded. “I know the type.”
“Let’s see. The whole mess that your Admiral is going through right now on Earth?”
“All the legal mumbo-jumbo? Yeah, what about it?”
“That was spurred on by MinInt.”
“So it is crap! We thought we knew that, but we weren’t sure.”
“No,” said Whitmore. “From what Nicole said – and mind you, this is only what the Minister told her. I know that old bastard. He’s a cold-hearted prick who wouldn’t save his own grandmother if there was an advantage in letting her pass. Anyways, he said that the information was genuine, but it was buried. Never would have surfaced, most likely, if they hadn’t been digging for muck on her.”
Montana considered this. “I don’t think that will make much difference, except to get her more pissed off at Artemis than she already is. If that’s possible.”
Whitmore snorted. “I think your Admiral has great depth of feeling, Director.”
“There is that,” agreed Montana.
“And one more thing. We were just getting into it when you dropped in. Nicole?”
Crozier raised her head, eyes red-rimmed and watery, but voice firm.
“What were you telling me about Titan?”
Crozier wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, took a gulp of her drink, shivered, and then spoke.
“Titan has been building antimatter bombs for the past six months, stockpiling them and launching delivery platforms in-system.”
Montana nodded. “We intercepted one several weeks back.”
“Right, I received a report on that. That was just one of I don’t know how many. I talked with their ambassador a couple days ago, and he was telling me, quite proudly, about what his little colony had managed. Very eloquent. Seems the Primus made a deal with them: they produce the bombs, she elevates Titan’s standing in the Union over both Mars and the Guild, gives them preferential shipping and supplies, everything. At least, that’s what she promised them; whether she follows through is a good question. I have my doubts, based on what she said to me a few days ago.”
“Where are they getting the antimatter?” asked Montana, staying focused on the immediate threat. “That’s what we can’t figure out. They don’t have the technology to produce it in anywhere near the quantity for the one ship we’ve intercepted, and now you say there are more?”
“He was a little cagier about that,” Crozier admitted. “I couldn’t get him to say exactly how. I do know it has something to do with, um. Dimensional instability and the Colombo Gap?” Her voice ended with a questioning tone.
“Diana? What’s a Colombo Gap?” asked Montana.
“The Colombo Gap is a narrow gap in the inner C ring of Saturn. It contains the Colombo Ringlet, which is an elliptical formation which is orbitally tied to Titan. I do not have any data on dimensional instability.”
“Well, that’s a start, at least. Anything else you’d like to…”
“Station alert, all personnel to duty posts. Station alert, all personnel to duty posts.” Diana’s calmly urgent voice filled the cabin.
“Diana, what’s going on?”
“The Endeavour has been damaged, cause unknown,” answered the AI.
“Davie, take care of her,” Montana said as she rose, drink forgotten. “I’ll catch up with you later.” And she was out the door.