War council time.
I was pissed. The home that Cass and I had lived in for the past six years, raised our girls in, had been destroyed. But that’s not the part that really got under my skin. No, I was furious because a quarter of the population of the city I had adopted were wiped off the face of the planet because a lunatic wanted us dead and didn’t care who got in the way.
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“Admiral, the Wolfpack has returned to their bays,” reported Diana.
“Good. Tell Commander Kleve to meet us in my office. Commodore?”
“I want you there too. Five minutes.”
Kendra made her way from the command center, already on her ‘plant to Stone.
What’s going on, Kendra?
The Union just dropped a rock on our home.
Oh, those fuckers screwed up big-time.
Are the girls awake?
No, still asleep. Do you want them up?
Let them sleep. I’ll be back as soon as possible. Get in touch with Cris. I’ll want to talk to her, but she needs to get a head count. I know there are agents in and out of the house all the time.
On it, Kendra. I’m sorry about the house.
I’m gonna miss SARAH, Kendra admitted. The rest is just stuff. Out.
She was busily searching for information when her door chime sounded.
Both Kleve and Knott entered and stopped in front of her desk.
“Reporting as ordered, Admiral,” said Knott, after a nudge from Kleve.
“Oh, sit down already. We don’t have time to stand on ceremony right now.”
“Admiral, I have to disagree,” said Kleve, sitting. “During a crisis, like we’re in now, people who are used to a command structure will find they respond better when they, we, stay within it. Informality is fine in its place, but when you’re giving orders, you need the authority that comes with being the Admiral. That means you have to deal with the ceremony, too.”
“Point taken, Commander. Now. Kyran, anything else come in?”
“Not yet. They’re still trying to deal with the fires and damage groundside. Kendra, it’s a mess.”
Kendra nodded once. “What do we have out for CAP?”
“We have a total of twelve Wolves available aboard Diana; Bell was scheduled for CAP. I plan to supplement with Newton and Einstein, and concentrate them on the Lunar axis. That’s our most likely threat approach,” said Mia.
“Good thinking. How soon to get them out?”
“I want to give them a chance to go over their systems; we did just nearly do a full run to Earth and back at max. Say, an hour, then another fifteen minutes to get into position on patrol.”
“Approved. Kyran, anything new?”
“I’ve asked Diana to run the numbers again on the trajectory. Diana?”
“What did you find?”
“My prior analysis stands, Commodore. The probability that this was a hostile action by the Artemis Colony is in excess of ninety-two percent.”
Kendra’s eyes widened at that. “You said Artemis, not the Union. Why?”
“The Solarian Union is not monolithic, Admiral. There have been no indications that the Union as a whole is antagonistic to you, your family, or the Terran Federation.”
“But their message on the launch day…”
“Was broadcast from Artemis City. I requested that Harpo trace it as far as he could; the original message was sent from within their Government Complex. Unfortunately, he could not narrow the source any further. However, analysis of the word pattern suggests that the author was Vasilia Newling, the Primus.”
“The unelected head of the Four Families of Artemis. The de facto leader of their government, and therefore of the Union.”
“I’ve heard of her,” said Kyran. “Vicious, bloodthirsty, cold, ruthless, and that’s on her good days. There’s a report that she killed her brother by having him thrown onto the surface without a suit.”
“Nice woman. Remind me not to let my daughters date her.”
“Yes, Admiral,” said Diana. “Indications are that she is both asexual and aromantic, only interested in the pursuit of power.”
Kendra allowed a small smile at that. “Diana, you need to work on picking up on sarcasm.”
Kyran picked up the thread. “What you’re saying is this might not be an attack by the Union? Just Artemis?”
“That presents opportunities, if we play it right,” Mia observed.
“If the Primus is acting without consulting the other members of the Union, it could lead to a split, division in their ranks. We might be able to take down Artemis without anyone else getting involved, and that would be huge. Most of their military personnel, off Luna, are from the Miner’s Guild. If the Guild calls their citizens back, then at the very least the ones serving the Union will have to choose.”
“On the other hand,” said Kyran, “If the other members don’t know what Artemis, or the Primus, is doing, and we attack, then it’s more likely to provoke them into supporting a retaliatory strike.”
“All I ever wanted to do was marry Aiyana,” muttered Kendra, rubbing her hands over her face. “Okay. Diana, check me on this, and tell me if I’m going off base.”
“Assume that the Primus is behind this. We don’t know why, but I’ll bet – oh, shit.”
“What?” exclaimed Kyran.
“Two things. First, Cass has been poking them in the nose for years with the HLC boost fees. She’s upped the price per kilo by, oh, six hundred percent? Something like that, and it wasn’t cheap before. Then you add in the launch, when I said we were going to meet all challenges? And it’s not like we’ve exactly hidden ourselves; Cass’s position at HLC has been public knowledge, and she personally replied to the protests about the price increases. And I’ve been visible all my professional life, and even more so since we went public with Enterprise.” She shook her head. “We knew that we’d get crazies, which is why we always had guards, but we didn’t think we’d have an interplanetary crazy.”
“I believe your analysis to be accurate so far, Admiral,” said Diana.
“Then we have Artemis, or the Primus, it doesn’t really matter which, specifically targeting Cass and I, because I made that stupid speech. Not the Terran Federation, as such, but us.”
“Admiral, you can’t beat yourself up –” Kyran started to protest, but stopped when Kendra shook her head.
“I knew what I was doing. I said what I said because I was pissed at them for what they’ve been doing, what the results of that are going to be, and getting all of us dragged into it. Hell, I expected them to take a shot at Enterprise, or Diana. We’ve been preparing for that for weeks, months even! I never expected they’d take out an Earthside target.” She stopped, her face twisting in pain. “I’m going to be living with that for a long time.”
“The burden of command,” Mia said sympathetically.
Taking a deep breath, Kendra continued. “If I were the Primus, I’d be considering a strike on Diana. Probably sometime in next few hours, but almost certainly today. Diana?”
“Agreed, Admiral. The leadership would believe you and Cass to be out of the picture, and would therefore conclude that there would be confusion and chaos aboard the station, leading to an ineffective defense.”
“Right. And that’s obviously not the case, so let’s plan a little surprise for them. Mia, how many Wolves can you maintain on plus five?”
“We can hold six on plus five, Admiral,” said Mia. “At least for a few hours.”
“Admiral, I would suggest waiting before setting three Divisions on plus five,” said Diana.
“Psychologically, the lowest point for humans are the hours immediately preceding dawn, roughly three to five hundred. Added to the expected psychological impact of your deaths, and that would be the most likely time for any attack from Artemis.”
“I agree,” said Mia. “I’d like my crews to get as much rest as possible, if we’re expecting them to get into a furball.”
“Seems good. Kyran, are the missiles ready?”
“They can be launched at any time. It would take about ten seconds to fire them all off, to avoid any interference. Reload would take longer; we don’t really have a system for that worked out for this station.”
“I know you have plans to fix that on the new station. Missiles are good. Crew rest, then half the Wolves on plus five, no later than oh four hundred. Kyran, I want you and your staff to direct all of your sensor power towards Luna. I want you to know where every piece of junk is between here and there.”
“Admiral, that might not be prudent,” said Diana. “That assumes a single threat axis. We have no reason to believe that Artemis will restrict their attack in any way. Logically –”
“Logic only goes so far, Diana. Humans are fundamentally illogical and prone to follow their emotions.”
“I have noticed this. It makes my job more challenging, sometimes.”
“Get used to it. Not only are we illogical, we are inconsistent and unpredictable. That said, and given what we’ve seen of Artemis so far, I’m going to say they won’t go for subtle or tricky. Clever, maybe, but not tricky. To me that says they’re probably going to try to get as close as possible before they attack, give us as little time to react as they can while maximizing their chances of a hit.”
“Your suppositions are logical, Admiral, but that contradicts what you informed me was fact.”
“And proves it. In this, you’re going to have to trust me.”
“Yes, Admiral. I will concentrate my efforts along the Lunar axis.”
“Good. Mia, I want a plan to use the Wolves to knock out the satellites they have spying on us.”
“Already in the can, Admiral. We’ve been playing with that as a practice scenario.”