The Road to the Stars - Chapter Nineteen

One thing about the Primus which I will give her: she was always decisive.

There was never any reason to complain about a delay in the process. You told her the information, she decided. Boom.

Of course, that's not always a good thing.

You can make really terrible decisions quickly.

You can make great decisions quickly, too, but more often than not they'll be terrible.

This one?

Well, as Adam would say: spoilers.


Chapter Nineteen


“I assume you have a plan prepared, Minister.”

Five days had passed since Nicole’s abrupt promotion, five days of the most fraught on-the-job training she’d ever experienced. Surprisingly, Minister Dent had been genuinely helpful, betraying a far greater understanding of the workings of the Ministry of War than he’d been willing to admit. As a result, she was beginning to think that she might just be able to keep her new position, and her ability to breathe, for a while longer.

“Yes, Primus,” she answered. “It is an evolution of Minister Whitmore’s plan, developed with input from the Ministry of Intelligence.” She bobbed her head at Dent.

“Go on, Minister.”

“While the remote deployed missiles worked, to a degree, it is the opinion of my strategists that we will not be able to employ the same tactic twice. Therefore, we will use the cruisers Armstrong and Conrad again as the core of our force. I intend to supplement them with three frigates, the ANS Collins, Gordon, and Scott. The frigates will be tasked with running interference for the cruisers and engaging with the habitat’s organic shuttle force. The cruisers will use their missiles to support the frigates.” She looked down, as if examining her notes, then back at the Primus. “I also want the SUNS Brahe.”

A gasp went around the room. The Brahe was one of ten Copernicus-class battleships in the Union Navy, and was not technically available to be assigned to a purely Artemesian engagement. However, what had become clear to Nicole as she and Dent developed this plan was that the habitat was far more dangerous than Whitmore had believed.

“Minister, that is an interesting request. Support it.”

“Primus, the habitat possesses at least twelve shuttles. They call them Wolf-class, and they demonstrated why in our last attempt. Their weaponry, and speed, suggest that they will be a challenge for the frigates to take down, even with support.”

“Then use more frigates.”

“There are only six frigates in the entire Navy, Primus, and two of them, the Evans and Roosa, are undergoing scheduled maintenance and refitting. I can add the Worden, but that only adds five more missiles to the basket. Adding the Brahe adds forty missiles, Primus, along with far more powerful lasers. It also would allow our Marines to be carried in a single unit, instead of divided between two ships.”

“You still intend to board the habitat?”

“I read the minutes of the meetings where the prior plan was discussed, and Minister Newling’s arguments were cogent and still valid. If we can capture it, we will place ourselves in a position of unparalleled power in the system.”

“Then you know my stipulations, Minister.”

“Destroy it if it cannot be captured. Yes, Primus, that will be part of the mission briefing, and another reason to include the Brahe. The habitat is measured in cubic kilometers; KEWs will not be sufficient to ensure its destruction. The missiles aboard the Brahe, though, can do the job.”

“That is a sensible step, Minister. Minister Dent, what support have you provided Minister Crozier?”

“I have been consulting with her, Primus, and ensuring that she has the most current information my Ministry can provide.”

“Enlighten me, Minister. What information have you provided?”

“Our agents on Earth were able to provide the class name of the shuttles aboard the habitat.”

“Interesting, but not particularly useful. Is all your information of the same stripe?”

“Not at all, Primus. Observations from our satellites have allowed us to determine that the habitat has been severely damaged, and repairs are proceeding slowly.”

“That’s more useful, I will admit. What observations were these?”

“The habitat is continuing to lose volatiles, air, water, and the like, on an irregular basis. If it was continuous, then it would indicate a single source of damage which had not yet been repaired. The intermittent and variable nature of the losses suggests their repairs patch one damaged area, and another one, perhaps weakened by the activity, succumbs. There is also some instability in the positioning; the orbit itself is constant, but the habitat, well, wobbles, as a drunken man might while attempting to walk.”

“Interesting. Is there any other supporting evidence? Has your operative reported on his progress, for example?”

“Ah. No, our operative hasn’t reported. However, that could be due to the habitat losing communication ability, as his communiques were carried with the station’s regular traffic. We have also detected surges in the reactor output. This, too, is suggestive of damage which is more widespread than we initially believed.”

“Very good, Minister,” said Newling. “I was hoping you weren’t attempting to lead your newest colleague astray.”

“I would never do such a –”

“Save your protests, Dent, and don’t think me stupid. I knew that Gruber was your hand-picked man at Defense; why do you think I didn’t hesitate to eliminate him?”

The normally eloquent Minister had absolutely nothing to say to this, recognized the danger in making any response, and stood mute.

“Very well. Minister Crozier, your plan is tentatively approved. I will want to see the dossier before I approach the SUN to release the Brahe, of course.”

“Of course, Primus. I’ll have it to you within the hour.”

“Good. How long before you’ll be ready to launch the assault?”

“Three days, Primus.”

“Three days from approval, or…?”

“Three days from now, Primus. The only possible change is the disposition of the Marines, and their training is a mix of groundside and virtual, not shipboard.”

Very good, Minister. You may have a knack for your position. Now, Mr. President.” Tom Whitmore, who was usually little more than a silent presence at these meetings, stood.

“We will need to have public statements prepared, expressing our regret at taking such a dramatic action, pointing out the provocations and our attempts to minimize the incidents, and so on. Talk to MinSec and Minister Dent; I’m sure they can provide you with many plausible truths.”

“Yes, Primus.”

“Minister Dent. No, not you, Colin. Arthur.”

“Yes, Primus?”

“Work with Mr. Whitmore in crafting his speech. You should know all the right buttons to push to make our version of events seem plausible to our fellow Union members, as well as the various relevant Earth nations.”

“Of course, Primus.”

“Minister Pitt.”

“Primus?”

“Treasury should be prepared to reach out to the bitches’ successor at HLC, offering to overlook the company’s part in this unfortunate affair in return for concessions in lift cost. You know what do to.”

“Yes, Primus.”

“Minister Newling.”

“Primus.”

“Cousin, your Ministry should be prepared to move as quickly as possible to extract all the technology possible from the habitat. We may be forced to allow neutral observers aboard to verify the accuracy of our statements. If so, you’ll need to coordinate with MinSec to ensure they find what we intend them to.”

“Yes, Primus.”

“Oh, and Mother is planning a dinner tomorrow night; she is expecting you and your current partner. Nineteen.”

“Yes, Primus.”

She stood, looking around. “What are you waiting for?”

The room emptied quickly.



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