The Road to the Stars - Chapter Twenty

I might have mentioned this once or twice along the way, but I hate waiting.

Always have.

The only thing which makes it tolerable, ever, is having something else to do.

Fortunately, for very loose values of the word, when we were waiting for Artemis to attack us again, I had plenty to do.

We had to rebuild and rearm Diana (not Njord - that habitat wasn't built yet). I had lots of help, though, and everyone knew their lives were on the line as much as mine.

Funny how shared danger brings people together.


Chapter Twenty


“It’s been a week. I don’t like this.”

“Admiral, every day that they delay –” started Mia, who was interrupted by Kendra.

“Is another day for us to prepare, I know. Doesn’t change the fact that I hate waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

“Kendra, we’ve done everything we can.” Cris, present in holographic form, picked up the argument. “We found our leak; your maskirovka is in place; the preparations for removing the satellites are in place; and every day that they delay is another day closer to the Enterprise returning. I’d say you and your team have done everything you can.”

“Cris, I hate waiting!”

“I know you hate waiting, Kendra, but this is one time you’re going to have to. If we’re lucky, the Union will wait until it’s too late to try anything.”

“Luck runs out.”

“And that’s where preparation comes in. Kendra, what’s really bugging you?”

She looked around her office to the people gathered there: Mac, Kyran, Mia, O’Quinn, Pipher.

“Look, this won’t make sense to anyone but you, and maybe Mac, but…When you were on a mission, did you ever get the feeling that there was something going on? Something that you really, really needed to know about but had no way of finding out? Something that would change the direction you took?”

“Of course,” answered Cris. “Dammit, Kendra, do you really need me to remind you? You never have all the information! There’s always something else that’s going to bite you in the ass! All you can do is plan for what you know to the best of your abilities.”

“Play the cards I’m dealt?”

“You tell me, Kendra. How many years were you in the field?”

“More than I want to remember.”

“More or less than you’ve been out?”

“Oh, more.”

“Then…?”

Sigh. “It’s just –”

“You hate waiting. You never were patient, from what I heard about your missions.”

“Hey! No tales out of school!”

“Then get back on track, Admiral.”

“Aye-aye, Director.” She looked at what had started to become her staff. “One more time, then. Mac. Any success, either getting into Knepper’s files, or pulling information from Artemis?”

“We got everything we were going to get from Knepper’s stuff, he had a worm which burned everything when we broke it, at least everything that we didn’t get already, which wasn’t much, but it was enough to get us looking in the right direction, and Artemis is a separate problem, since they’re not connected to the Net or the Q-Net, not directly, their systems are all independent, I mean someone on Luna can tap into the Net and get what they want, but it’s not a constantly open channel, which makes it harder for Harpo and I to track back on their pathways, since we don’t know who is going to be connecting at any given time, but we’re working on plans and we’ll let you know once we get something put together.”

“Mac, make sure you liaise with me,” said Montana. “Kendra and I discussed HumInt a few days ago, but SigInt should get looped in.”

“Sure thing, Cris!”

“Mia. Flight status.”

“Nominal. Maintaining the current CAP is tough, but we’re doing staggered four-hour shifts.”

“Explain?”

“Each Wolf crew is on CAP for four hours, then off-duty for four, then technically on plus-five for four more. Their quarters are by the bays, so most of the time they’re on plus-five they’re effectively off-duty; they check in at the beginning, ensure their bird is up to standard, then leave it with the techs to maintain the condition.”

“And the staggered part?”

“The three Wolves on forward CAP don’t all come off at once. The replacement takes position, the Wolf going off-duty returns to base, and when they dock the next replacement launches.”

“Got it. And what are their Rules of Engagement?”

“ROE Charlie. Incoming ships receive one warning at 60k kliks, a warning shot at 55k, then the Wolves shoot to disable at 50k.”

“How do they do a warning shot?”

“They dial down their emitters to about 5 percent and target a non-critical area. It won’t do much more than scratch the paint, but any crew will know they’ve been tagged.”

“How do they know where to shoot? As pissed as I am, I don’t really want to blow up any ships we don’t mean to have go boom.”

“Everything we have in our database is uploaded into the Wolves’ onboard systems. The targeting computer will guide the EM to the right areas, based on the mission.”

“I want you to consider moving up to ROE Bravo.”

“No verbal warning?”

“No. Diana has been continually broadcasting our exclusion warning on all the frequencies we know the SUN and Artemis Navy use, as well as commercial freqs. At this point, if they don’t know that they can’t get within 50k kilometers, they deserve to get their bell rung.”

“I’ll inform the crews.”

“Good. Kyran. How are we looking?”

“All systems are as repaired as far as we can without it being visible. Diana has dialed back the wobble and the reactor fluctuations, but she’s still kicking out volatiles occasionally.”

“How many missiles did we end up deploying in her tractors?”

“Three groups of twenty. We have ten in reserve, which Diana can swing out of the bay using her docking tractors, and there are eighteen more ready for shipment from Earth. Two Wolf flights, if we want to bring them up.”

“Recommendation?” She looked to both Kyran and Mia.

“My crews are fairly well tasked, but I know that there are three at HLC we could utilize.”

“That’s the how. Do we want them?”

“I’d say more is better, Admiral,” said Kyran. “Six of the ones on Earth are already mounted in their launchers; all we’d have to do is tack them onto the surface and they’re good to go.”

“Make it so. Pipher? How are the scans going?”

“We have good locks on all of their ships. Armstrong and Conrad have been hanging about at Artemis City. The only problem is we’re not familiar with the usual operating patterns for the rest of their fleet, so if there’s anything unusual occurring we won’t necessarily be able to pick it out. Any ship that lifts, though, is tracked, either to its destination or until it leaves our range.”

“Diana?”

“As Deputy Pipher said, we have not yet determined operational patterns for their fleet. I continue to gather data.”

“O’Quinn? Anything from Earthside?”

“No, Admiral. The Los Alamos Incident seems to have dropped out of the news cycle. It’s being ascribed to a natural event, unfortunate and tragic but unpredictable. I’ve backchanneled with some of my former colleagues, and they are fully on board with the public position.”

“And the salvage op?”

“Still moving forward as planned. After Cass replaced the CEO, the entire endeavor seems to have picked up speed. There are only a few ships remaining to recover, then the conversions can start.”

“You have a handle on the various pipelines we need to coordinate? Weapons, drives, quarters, mechanicals?”

“I think so. Mac has been very helpful with that.”

“Yeah, I was able to get in and see where the bottlenecks might be, it was pretty easy once I knew all of the bits involved, I didn’t think there’d be that many, but there are, and so after that it was just a matter of writing a predictive algorithm and running scenarios, not a big deal, so as long as we don’t have major issues with the supplier we won’t have any problem making the deadlines and maybe even beating them.”

Mia barked a laugh. “No issues with a supplier? Good luck!”

Mac looked confused, so Mia took mercy on her. “I’ll explain it later. Murphy always has his way.”

“You know, Kendra used to talk about Murphy, but I never found out who he is, he certainly seems to get around doesn’t he?”

“Aaaaand I think we’re done here. Thanks, everyone. Check in if anything changes.”


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