It’s SATURDAY, which means it’s time for a new Chapter in The Road to the Stars, the upcoming Cassidy Chronicles novel (coming soon)!
If you’re just tuning in, check out the prologue, chapter one and chapter two. Don’t worry, we’ll wait.
Everyone caught up? GREAT! Then without further ado, here’s Chapter THREE:
Cass arrived home at her usual time.
“Why is the head of the UE Distribution Directorate visiting?” asked Kendra, after collecting her kiss.
“I don’t know! She commed me this afternoon, got her techs to spoof our systems so she wasn’t identified. I thought Mac set things up so that couldn’t happen?”
Kendra thought about that. “She did, but as good as she is, Mac’s only one person.” Amanda McAllister ran the IT side of OutLook. Like Montana, she was a former agent. Also like Montana, she had been pulled into the events swirling around Kendra and Cass. She was not primarily a field agent, specializing in attacking vulnerabilities in targeted computer networks, but she more than held up her end through those trying weeks. When it was all over, she was elevated to her position as Montana’s de facto number two.
“Let’s talk about that after dinner,” suggested Cass. “I’m sure the girls want to see us.”
“Point,” agreed Kendra, wrapping an arm around Cass’s waist. “Let’s go see what the terrors have done today.”
They made their way into the residential side of their home, separated from the various offices, bunks, and other function rooms that managing a multi-trillion credit trust necessitated. Their still-reluctant attorney, Archie Leach, occasionally voiced his opinion that they really should turn over management of the D.D. Harriman Trust to trained professionals. They argued right back and, so far, had prevailed. Still, it was an imposition that both resented. Riches did not bring freedom, they had discovered. Opportunities, yes, but plenty of responsibilities.
Kendra opened the door to the kids’ rooms.
“Mama!” yelped Mikki, jumping to her feet and wrapping her arms around Kendra’s legs.
“Hey there munchkin,” said Kendra, bending down and swooping the little girl up in her arms.
“Mom!” said Lisa, a heartbeat behind her sister, and launched herself at Cass. With the extra warning, Cass was able to catch her and lift her without the thump. Both girls had gotten Cass’s auburn hair, though it seemed that Lisa was going to get her height. Even though she was a year younger, she was several centimeters taller than her older sister. And both were almost scarily smart.
“Hi baby,” said Cass. “What did you do today?”
“I did my letters!” declared Lisa, wriggling. “Put me down, I want to show you!” On the floor again, she dashed across to a desk.
“And what did you do?” Kendra asked Mikki.
“I read my book.”
Mikki’s answer was lost in Lisa’s return.
“See? See? Look!” she demanded, waving a paper. Laughing, Cass took the offering and showed it to Kendra. The letters were wobbly but recognizable, a result of Lisa’s still-developing motor skills.
“A, B, C, E –” started Lisa.
“A, B, C, D, dummy,” said Mikki.
“I am not a dummy! Mom, Mikki called me a dummy!”
“Mikki,” said Cass, warningly.
“Sorry,” mumbled Mikki.
The chaos continued for a few minutes before Cass and Ken were able to get free. “Dinner in fifteen minutes,” said Kendra. “SARAH, remind them.”
“Yes, Kendra,” agreed the home’s Self-Aware Response Advanced Heuristics program as Duke, one of a half-dozen guards Sanzari had assigned to watch over the girls, walked in.
“Ladies,” he said, pausing. “Problem?”
“Hi Duke,” said Kendra. “No, just checking in with the girls. How have they been today?”
“Pretty good,” he answered. “Mikki gave Lyn a hard time about reading; Lyn helped her find a different book, Mikki settled right down.”
Kendra laughed. “That’s her M-O, all right. They should be getting ready for dinner.”
“We’ll have them there,” he assured her.
Dinner was almost always family time, at Kendra’s insistence. “We fought hard for our ohana,” she had said the first – and last – time she’d come home late. “I’ll be damned if I let work keep me away!” Since then, dinner had become a fixed point in their lives. Even the arrivals of Mikki and Lisa had only caused the most temporary of pauses, and both girls had been raised to expect time with their mothers every night. Today was no different.
It was only after dinner was cleared, the girls cleaned up and put to bed, that Kendra and Cass retired to the office they shared with Sanzari.
“Did you get the people you wanted?” asked Cass, once all three had settled in.
“Yes, thank you. Cris was able to provide me another two dozen agents for tomorrow and into Friday.” Despite her years with the Cassidys, Sanzari always maintained an edge of formality.
“Will that be enough?”
“It should,” was Sanzari’s thoughtful reply. “I’ll bring all of my people inside, run overlapping coverages so we can double up, and leave the OutLook people to maintain the perimeter. I’m also going to activate SARAH”s Case Theta once your guests arrive.” SARAH had a range of defensive programs; Case Theta essentially sealed the interior of the building. Electronic and physical shielding moved into place, as well as a lethal “No-Go” zone that would extend fifty meters from the walls.
“That won’t make the Director happy,” mused Kendra.
“I don’t particularly care how happy she is,” returned Cass angrily. “She’s not making me happy by imposing on us, so I see it as returning the favor.”
“Is there anything else?” interrupted Sanzari. “I think this is moving beyond my pay grade.”
Cass managed a smile. “No, Candice. Goodnight.” Sanzari stood and left before Cass spoke again.
“I wonder if has to do with HLC.”
“Well, I’ve heard about some tension between the UE and the Solarian Union. Almost all of our lift capacity is bought by the Union, except what we use ourselves for the Diana Project and Enterprise. I’ve talked to other orbital carriers, and they’re even worse off: almost every kilo is bought by the Union. The UE can’t be happy about that.”
Kendra thought about that. When they inherited the Trust, there were certain items of particular interest to them both. Cass had taken over HLC and changed the R&D focus to teleportation and the execution of her theories, while still building improved hulls to expand their fleet. Kendra had been enamored with the partially-completed warp ship, which she immediately rechristened Enterprise. Combining their two passion projects had resulted in the Diana Project, an ambitious gambit to build a self-sustaining habitat at the Earth-Moon Lagrange Point called L5, which trailed the moon by roughly five orbital days.
The Lagrange Points were metastable areas of balanced influence between the Earth and the moon, where a satellite could remain in orbit with minimal expenditure of fuel. Less fuel meant more cubic for people, labs, food production, waste processing, energy capture, all the things which would make a permanent habitat possible. From there, they envisaged manned deep space exploration, not just pottering around the limits of the Solar System.
The Solarian Union objected, with little effect. Not only did HLC control the majority of the planetary lifting capacity, but they were also the major manufacturer of the hulls that did the lifting. Additionally, since the Trust wasn’t a government, or any sort of governmental agency, the Amendment didn’t bind them. Certainly, they paid handsomely for the necessary materials, but they were also in a position to do so. In the three years since the first pieces had boosted out to L5, Dianahad grown from a few pressurized modules to a sprawling structure that spanned nearly half a kilometer. Plans were also progressing to install grav plates throughout Diana to provide about three-quarters Earth normal gravity to the permanent and transient residents. To date, they had managed to cover about a third of the existing structure, and all the additions were being constructed with grav plates already integrated.
“No,” she finally agreed. “They’re not. But what can they do? They can’t shut us down; HLC provides, what, eighty percent of their lift?”
“Closer to eighty-five,” said Cass. “And no, I don’t think they can shut us down. Could they have gotten to Hartman, force her to apply pressure to us? If the UE caves, they could make some serious problems for us.”
Kendra shook her head. “The Sonoran Republic isn’t part of the UE. None of the former U.S. is, except the PRM.” She consulted her ‘plant. “There’s something called the Confederation of Nations that they’re all part of, but it’s more a mutual defense pact against outside aggression, rather than anything I’d call a government.”
Kendra shook her head again. “Beats me. You’re the genius in the family, remember? I’m just the former sensie star.”
That elicited a laugh from Cass. “And assassin, and courier. What was it that Cris called you once? The ultimate agent’s agent?”
“Okay, okay,” conceded Kendra. “So maybe I have a few skills, here and there. What we need –”
“Agent McAllister is at the front door,” interrupted SARAH.
“- is Mac!” finished Cass. “Why am I not surprised she’s here?”
Kendra finished messaging Lizzie, who was covering the front, and said, “Lizzie will bring her back.”
It was only moments before there was a knock, and a pair of slim brunettes stood in the doorway. The one in the lead had long hair, done into a sensible ponytail, and was uniformed. The other had short hair and gave off the impression of being constantly in motion, though she was standing still.
“Cass! Kendra!” exclaimed Mac. “Oh, man, it’s amazing to see you both, I just wish I could get here more, but any excuse to come visit, isn’t it weird that Hartman wants to see you so bad she’ll travel here, I have a bunch of searches running, I can check on them from here, and do you mind that I came or should I go back to the office, I can do that if this wasn’t a good idea.” This was all said breathlessly as she gave each woman an energetic hug and then stood, waiting.
“You never change,” observed Kendra. “Of course we don’t mind you came, the only thing that surprised me was you coming tonight. What did you do, tap Cristina’s lines?”
“No, not tap, not as such, but they’re just sitting there, you know, and if I’m supposed to keep up on everything happening I have to have all the information, and it’s hardly even eavesdropping, I mean I just have programs to skim for important words, and of course my name, otherwise how will I maintain my image of a miracle worker, and you aren’t going to tell Cris, are you, she’ll be sooo angry with me, she won’t talk to me for a week!”
Cass laughed. “No, we won’t tell Cris. If she didn’t figure it out on her own, it’s not our place to tell her.”
“Oh, thank you, that’s great, and I’m supposed to tell you that Chief Stone will be here in the morning, she’s doing an all-night training evolution, I’m glad I was through my training before she came on board, I thought it was tough before but I’ve heard that it’s even worse now, though did you know we haven’t lost an agent in almost three years, but she said to tell you that she would shower before she Jumped, she said you’d appreciate that, and she’s looking forward to hanging out with the kids.”
“Okay, we’ll tell the girls in the morning. Your usual room is available, but you have to promise me you’ll get some sleep.”
“Oh, I don’t need much sleep, never have, I just like to –” Mac abruptly cut off when she looked up and saw Kendra. “Yes, ma’am,” she finished instead.
“Good. We’ll plan to meet at eight.” Mac left, and Cass and Ken continued their planning into the night.