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The Road to the Stars - Chapter Thirteen

And enter Nicole Crozier.

I have to give the late and otherwise unlamented Primus, now many years in her well-deserved reclamation pit, credit. Let me explain.

If she hadn't been stupidly impulsive and focused on governing through terror, she wouldn't have started tossing people on the surface. If she hadn't done that, she wouldn't have told Davie Whitmore to take a walk without a suit, forcing a replacement. And then the replacement wouldn't have ended up eventually being Nicole.

So thank you, Vasilia Newling.

Chapter Thirteen

“Who are you?” The Primus’s voice was cold. The more seasoned members of the council concealed their reactions, but the man standing at the Minister of War’s usual place, and the young woman behind him, visibly flinched.

“My name is Jens Gruber. I was the prime assistant to Minister Whitmore. This is Nicole Crozier, one of my assistants.”

“Where is the Minister? This debacle is her fault.”

“Minister Whitmore has, ah, you see…”

“Explain. Quickly.”

Gruber gulped, then spat out, “After the missile assault, she said that you told her to take a walk without a spacesuit if the attack failed, so she told me to come here in her place and tell you that she was going for a stroll.”

The Primus, surprisingly, smiled. “I didn’t think she had it in her. Maybe I underestimated her.” The smile disappearing, she sat forward. “Minister Gruber, how did the attack fail?”

Gruber, stunned by his sudden promotion, merely stuttered a bit. Crozier screwed up her nerve and spoke in his place.

“My analysis shows that –”

“You’re not Gruber, why are you speaking?”

“I thought it more important to answer than to wait on ceremony,” Crozier replied. She didn’t know exactly who the woman sitting at the focus of everyone’s attention was, but it seemed that answering would be wiser than not.

The Primus considered this. “You make a good point. You’re the Minister now. Guards, remove him. See if he can find Whitmore.”

Shocked by the sudden turn in his fortunes, Gruber simply hung limply between the armsmen as they dragged him out and to the nearest airlock.

Turning to Crozier, Newling said, “Now, Minister. Explain.”

“Yes, ma’am. The missiles were intercepted by the shuttles that have been observed transiting between Terra and the habitat. Evidence points to them having a previously unsuspected offensive capability, which we are still attempting to analyze. One missile was destroyed by the expedient of ramming.”

“And why didn’t the boarding assault occur?”

“I wasn’t privy to the decision, ma’am, but my reading of the mission plans suggests that Minister Whitmore decided to cancel the assault due to the failure of the missile attack.”

For a moment, Crozier thought that she’d be the next ex-Minister, but the Primus’s face cleared. “I can’t blame you for that, I suppose. Very well, Minister. You may continue.”

“Yes, ma’am. There isn’t much more to tell, ma’am. Minister Whitmore hinted that the station’s counter-missiles would be interfered with somehow, and we have evidence that that occurred. There were a series of explosions originating on the surface of the habitat, chemical-sourced, not kinetic, which indicates they were not the result of impacts.”

“Minister Dent, I believe you can enlighten us?”

“Yes, Primus. We had placed an agent on the station, and he was able to effect certain changes to their missiles. All such work is uncertain, so we didn’t include it in the official planning, but it would appear that it was successful.”

“See to it that your agent is suitably rewarded.”

“Yes, Primus.”

“What of the ships? What happened to them?” said Newling, turning back to Crozier.

“They returned to Artemis City without being intercepted, Primus.” Crozier had picked up on the proper form of address.

“Inform them that it was a training exercise, designed to evaluate their preparedness, and that they passed. Make up some details of things they missed so they don’t get too cocky.”

“Yes, Primus.”

“I want another plan in place to capture that station. Whitmore was right, it is far too valuable to waste. If you can capture it, do so. But I will not give you another chance. When the next mission is finished, we either possess the station, or we have destroyed it.”

“Yes, Primus.”

“Minister Pitt.”

The Treasury Minister hadn’t expected to receive any attention today, so took a moment to respond. “Primus?”

“What do you expect the economic impacts of our actions against this Terran Federation to be? Make two assumptions: first, that we succeeded in killing at least one of those women. Second, the survivor is going to be…irritated.”

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