October 12th, 4233
United Terran Concord
Nancy Rodriguez, Chairwoman of the Progressive Democratic Party and representative for Renaissance Sector, ran a hand through her hair. She’d been summoned out of a comfortable bed and away from equally comfortable company to meet with Adeipho and his innermost cabinet. Something’s gone wrong, Rodriquez thought, running her hand through her hair again, a nervous habit that she’d never managed to rid herself of. Oh, in public or amidst her colleagues, her poker face was legendary. But when she was alone, she found herself fretting just like she was now.
Bad news always comes into the middle of the night. Good news waits until morning. Whatever Adeipho wanted to tell her, it was going to be trouble. Damn. Just when they’d started to get a handle on things-
The elevator dinged pleasantly as it came to a halt and Nancy stepped out, clearing the various security checkpoints as she navigated her way through Adeipho’s private areas of Parliament House. An aide saw her coming and commed ahead, another rushing to open the door to Adeipho’s for her. Nancy nodded pleasantly – if a little distractedly – to both.
President Adeipho Erasmus was waiting for her, seated behind his desk. He had other guests; Rudy Jenson, the Minister of Defence and Andrea Sidiqqui, the Minister of the Interior. The Vice President was notably absent – Sandra Dayle was off smiling photogenically in front of one group of cameras or another, which was all one could really ask of her. The Foreign Office wasn’t represented and High Admiral Johannen and the Secretary of State were also missing. Definitely not an ‘official’ meeting, then, Rodriquez mused as she took a seat between Jenson and Sidiqqui.
The Minister of Defence was here so Erasmus could get a ‘military’ opinion on whatever news had just come in – Johannen or one of her adjutants would clearly be better at it, but Erasmus hated the High Admiral. He’d been looking for a replacement and once or twice Nancy had had to slap his fingers for it – Johannen was popular, had been ever since she’d inherited the job from her predessecor and turned the League War around. Sidiqqui would provide the necessary comments on how the public would react to the news and Nancy herself was here for its political ramifications.
This time, she was able to suppress the urge to brush her fingers through her hair again. She wasn’t against the idea of spinning a story the right way – God knew she’d done it often enough herself – but whatever this news was, it was big. The staff hadn’t said anything to her, but she knew how to read them – those that knew something all looked like they’d all been chewing a gristly bit of meat and were unable to swallow it. Those that hadn’t known anything more than rumours had been moving like rats before an earthquake, knowing something was about to happen and trying to get out of the way, but unable to figure out how to do so.
So, big news. And Erasmus’s first inclination was spin control, not informing the rest of his cabinet. Rodriquez didn’t say anything – it wasn’t her place – but she made a mental note of it. Crossing her legs, she raised one eyebrow and waited for Adeipho to say something.
He grunted in greeting and slid a datapad across his desk. Nancy leaned forward and picked up the ‘pad, reading through it. It was an after-action report of the battle for Hyperion Hive. Local defence hadn’t pulled off the crushing victory they’d been hoping for, but it seemed they hadn’t exactly lost, either. Well, a few tweaks and it would sound a lot more hopeful than it was, so why…
Nancy’s head snapped up and she stared over at Erasmus, almost expecting to be caught falling for some practical joke. But the president’s expression was sober. “Human?!” Rodriquez blurted before she could compose herself.
“It appears that way, yes.”
Nancy blinked several times, staring down at the report Erasmus had handed her as if she expected its contents to somehow change through sheer force of will. “How is that possible?”
The president frowned. He was unused to having to answer questions, but Nancy Rodriquez was the person that had gotten him elected in the first place and if she wanted to, she could have him impeached inside of a month. Well. That was probably an exaggeration. More like a week. The PDP Chairwoman was a dangerous political opponent; she wasn’t from one of the Old Families, but in the sixty years she’d been involved in Concord politics, she‘d amassed a power base capable of challenging them. Although Erasmus was, technically, the leader of thousands of stars systems, he was also very aware of which side his bread was buttered on. People who pissed off Nancy Rodriquez tended to have very short political careers – even (or especially) embattled presidents.
And embattled was the right word for the Erasmus administration – the Conservative Alliance and the centrist Foundationist party had been relentlessly hammering the PDP over the consequences of their decades of plundering the naval budget, gleefully drawing comparisons to the start of the League War, when a previous PDP administration had – being charitable – ‘misinterpreted’ the threat the Empties actually posed, finding themselves fighting a war with a woefully understrength, underfunded and unprepared Navy. No matter how hard his administration tried to spin events – as if anyone could have predicted the appearance of an alien armada, for God’s sake! – the conservatives and foundationists had their knives out. In order to keep the jackals at bay, the PDP had to stand united – which was easier said than done.
So although she had no official position within his cabinet, it would hardly be surprising for the leader of the president’s party to meet with him to discuss political stratagems.
“BXA analysts have put forward several theories, but there’s no corroboration for any of them,” Adeipho continued, doing his best not to grind his teeth. He was aware of his characterization as an ‘empty suit’. In fact, unkind observers had commented that when Rodriquez and Erasmus met, the PDP Assemblywoman ensured that there would be two fine suits in the room, but only one actual person. He was the President of the United Terran Concord, damn it! The largest, longest-lasting civilization in history. Sure, he was prepared to admit that Rodriquez had helped, but he knew he could have done it on his own.
But yet, here the president of the United Terran Concord was, giving a briefing like one of his own aides. And Rodriquez didn’t even seem to notice. If the other members of his cabinet had, they wisely kept their mouths shut.
“Um,” the Assemblywoman mulled over her thoughts as she skimmed through the attached information. “This is good news, though. Castlewick and that asshole Kroener have been dragging us through the coals over the alien threat. Now that they know that we’re not facing drooling bug-eyed monsters or whatever, this should cut the wind from their sails nicely.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that, Nancy. Check the appended file.”
Rodriguez arched an eyebrow at Erasmus, but she did as he suggested. Her eyes widened as she read over the text. She was not a woman given to displays of profanity, but this moment seemed rather appropriate. “Fuck.”
“Exactly. Pioneering and every other system harbouring refugees have gone berserk,” Erasmus sighed.
Jenson looked up from his own dossier. “We’ve already received multiple couriers from the Outer Reaches demanding additional forces be deployed for their security,” the Minister of Defence added. “After the situation in Pioneering, these demands are only going to get worse and we don’t have the fleet depth to adequately secure each system.”
Erasmus raised an eyebrow, gesturing for Jenson to continue.
Jenson shook his head. “As far as we know, Pioneering was the result of a single reaver. Mustering the Navy out to every potential hotspot is going to thin our forces to the point that our numerical advantage means nothing; we’ve seen at Priorii and Hyperion Hive that the Lefu are willing to drive a hammer through our lines and without massive quantitative superiority, we can’t stop them. Dispersing our forces is going to deprive vital strategic systems of their protection, even once the Reserve is fully mobilized.”
“‘Vital strategic systems’,” Andrea Sidiqqui interjected acidly. “Military bases.”
“The larger ones, yes,” Jenson replied. “As well as industrial nodes – shipyards, mining centers, corporate systems. The assets we need to most effectively fight a war.
“You’re talking about leaving hundreds of millions of Concordat citizenry with no defence against the Lefu in favour of protecting Naval bases,” Sidiqqui almost spat the word. She had been one of the biggest proponents of diverting what she saw as a runaway military budget into the Concord’s social programs.
By contrast, Jenson had links to the Foundationist party; Erasmus had given him the nomination as a head-nod towards the centrists and conservatives in the hopes of dialing down their obstructionism, but neither the President nor the rest of his cabinet fully trusted the man. Jenson pointed to the report in Andrea’s lap. “At the Battle of Hyperion Hive our forces outnumbered the Lefu by almost 50% and caught them in a pincer movement. We were still unable to achieve a decisive victory and only held the system because – and this is the important part – the Lefu withdrew on their own.”
“Exactly!” Sidiqqui pronounced. “And aside from this incident at Pioneering, which you pointed out is only a single raider, they’ve stalled in their attacks. We should adopt a defensive strategy of our own rather than responding with further aggression. Now that we know these Lefu are rational beings – humans – there’s no reason to suspect that we can’t reach some sort of settlement!”
The Minister of Defence did not, to his credit, roll his eyes. Rodriquez hid an amused smirk. Those two were the best of enemies. Andrea was a competent politician and like Nancy herself, she was a bit of an ideologue. Unlike Nancy, she hadn’t learned yet to temper her outbursts of moral outrage and had the tendency to lead with her heart on her sleeve and, sadly, her foot in her mouth. The League War was only three decades old and many citizens, particularly amongst the outer worlds, remembered it quite keenly.
It had been some of Sidiqqui’s remarks that had forced Erasmus to nominate Jenson as a sop to the myrmidons of the opposition and voting public. The defence minister’s appointment was a thorny subject between the President and Sidiqqui and a fact that Andrea deeply resented, feeding the enmity between herself and Jenson. As a result, the infighting between the Interior and Defence Departments had risen to new heights ever since Jenson had accepted the position.
Nancy also knew that plenty of purely human foes had proven to be irrational in Earth’s history, but like Andrea, she was not convinced that any culture that had developed such advanced technology could be intractable. The Resurgency didn’t really count, since they had been a bunch of crazed neo-Luddites anyways. That did not make her as reflexively anti-military as Castlewick and his bobbleheads tried to portray her. Simply more than a thug in a suit, whose solution to the unknown was to bash it with a rock.
Unfortunately for Nancy, she had too many people like Sidiqqui that she needed to babysit. The Lefu had been human before Hyperion Hive and that hadn’t stopped them from killing millions of their kith and kin. The more anti-military talking heads in the PDP were going to run with this new fact – which was precisely what the party didn’t need right now. “I agree that there’s a seed of hope in this revelation, but it’s important that we don’t forget that human or not, the Lefu have been killing Terrans by the million. The other parties certainly haven’t. Right now, I believe our best bet – politically speaking – would be to shore up the threatened planets in Hyperion Sector. The Fleet can use this calm before the storm,” and anyone who thinks it’s something else is kidding themselves, “to bolster their defences in Hyperion Sector. Hopefully to the point that the Lefu will think twice about pushing into them – which will give us an opening to try and open lines of communication,” Rodriquez finished. Both Jenson and Sidiqqui nodded. Give each little bird a treat.
“I’ll grant you that the situation appears to be stabilizing, but it’s imperative that we take the initiative back from the Lefu.” Jenson ticked off points on his fingers. “It would give our military personnel and civilians living in the Outer Reaches a morale boost, it would allow us to secure territories currently under Lefu control, it would tell them that we are not prepared to accept their aggression and it would put us in a dominant position for any negotiations that take place.”
Erasmus was nodding. “Agreed.”
Nancy leaned forward into the conversation. “There are other concerns. When we bring these Lefu to the table, it will consolidate our political base, as even with the oft-lamented cutbacks to the military, we were still able to respond to a surprise attack by an unknown opponent. By not whipping out Special Directive Seventeen like some of Kroener’s lackeys, we keep the moral high ground.” She paused for a moment, thinking. “Prolonging the war would be a disaster in every way, and to that end, well… the opposition won’t very well be able to tie our tax increases up in committee this time if we say they’re to fund the war effort.” The stately woman smiled with all the warmth of a shark. “Afterwards, well… the United States’ income tax was originally only to fund the first world war, wasn’t it?”
Sidiqqui caught on the quickest and nodded in agreement. As Minister of the Interior, she was the overseer for many smaller ministries and committees and any additional revenue that would be funneled into her beloved pork-barrel legislation would pass through her office, making her even more influential amongst her peers. The others caught on soon after; Jenson frowned a little realizing that his office would inevitably get the shaft – but he was not looking at too many terms after this one, anyways. Nancy supposed that even after the war, they could throw him a bone just to keep him happy. Maybe one of the experimental projects that had been budgeted into oblivion could be brought back.
“However,” Nancy said, lacing her fingers together. “There are some concerns that I think we need to address.”
Erasmus raised an eyebrow at her, flipping through his notebook, not finding anything particularly problematic. “Such as?”
“No one should question the competence or the dedication of the officers on the scene in Hyperion Hive, nor the circumstances in which they find themselves,” Rodriguez answered. “But, some of my constituents and fellow Parliament members have raised concerns about the temperaments of those same officers. Admiral Foraker is a decent sort, but he’s not faring too well in public perception since one of the Lefu cruisers slipped through his defences and he’s something of a hard-liner. Likewise Admiral Hunt. She has a distinguished war record, but there are several questionable incidents in her history, such as the Daedalus Raid. I think we should be asking ourselves if these are the kinds of flag officers we want at the forefront.”
Jenson nodded, looking at Erasmus. “I’m inclined to agree. While making waves over their commitment will only hurt us, their actions are something else entirely. Alicia fell back – perhaps rightfully, but she nevertheless ceded the outer system and the hundreds of thousands of civilians there to the Lefu. Had they not withdrawn…” he shrugged. “And it was on Foraker’s watch that this cruiser was able to slip through his patrols and cause thousands of more deaths in Pioneering. We know how effective Lefu deception-mode ECM appears to be, but that’s not going to resonate with John Q. Public. They’re only going to see ‘coulda woulda shoulda’.”
“What do you propose, then?” Erasmus grumbled, casting a quick look at his chief of staff, who quickly called up a list of officer candidates and handed it to the president. Adeipho liked the man; he was always prompt and had a preternatural ability to predict what he needed. “I see High Admiral Johannen is already dispatching Hoss out with the Avenger.”
“Hoss is a good man, but I’m uncomfortable with him. His record shows him to be a bit of a loose cannon and I don’t think we can afford that. Moreover, I’m not certain we should look at replacing Hunt or Foraker just yet. It could send the wrong message to the troops. We can give them a little time to try and pile up some wins and if one of them pulls ahead of the other, we’ll know who to back.”
“But that still leaves us with the original problem,” Erasmus mused. “Nancy – who was that you sent out there? Diane Peace?” He called up some information on the datapad on his desk, picking up a stylus and tapping it on the screen.
“Diana Pierce, sir.”
“Right, right. Hmm. She looks like she’s been doing fine. Military haven’t cut her out of the loop, she’s been poking around nicely, doesn’t seem to be staying off to the side.” The president looked up. “I think we can kill two birds with one stone here.”
David Kroener sniffed his brandy. “It always makes me nervous when Erasmus and his little clique shack up in his office.”
“You must be nervous a lot,” Henry Castlewick replied, eyeing the fine cigar in his hand. It was one of those old, terribly unhealthy varieties, manufactured right here on Earth. The modern cigars kept all the flavour of a stogey, but with none of the deleterious side affects. They even had medicinal smokes for sore throats. Castlewick himself was a firm believer that if it didn’t hurt, it didn’t count and relished his air-polluting anachronisms. He’d first been introduced to them in the service and had never dropped the habit.
The lounge’s ventilation system detected his lit cigar and adjusted the air flow around him so that unless one was to lean right into his face, not even the barest whiff of smoke would bother the other patrons. To Henry’s right, Amanda made a face. He’d tried to corrupt his young protégé, but the one time she’d given in and tried a fine Lynchian brand, she’d nearly coughed her lungs out and was disinclined to repeat the experience. Her loss, Castlewick thought, smiling around the butt in his teeth. Technically, it was a small breach in etiquette to bring her along, but this was a valuable part of her political training, to see ‘back-room deals’ for herself and Castlewick trusted her discretion.
“These days, can you blame me?” Kroener replied. He was revolted by Castlewick’s smoking habit, which he knew was one of the reasons that the Foundationist did it. “As soon as the PDP got the news, they were as happy as pigs in mud.” He snorted. “Like this vindicates them. It doesn’t matter what the Lefu are – they’ve killed millions of people without even a second thought.”
“The Nakir in Pioneering looked like it did,” Huang pointed out.
Kroener shot the young woman a sharp glance. “True,” he admitted. “And damned if anyone knows why. It doesn’t change the fact that it fired on civilian ships and destroyed an unarmed mining colony. Whatever crisis of conscience that captain had, it didn’t last for very long. Added to their repeated strikes on non-combatant targets and I’m not prepared to grant them any more leniency than the Alliance did for those bomb-throwing lunatics back the twenty-first century or those madmen from the Resurgency. At least the Empties fought with some honour, like people.”
Amanda’s head came up and there was an angry flash in her eyes at Kroener’s unwitting remark; the anniversary of her mother’s death had been less than a week ago. Castlewick gently waved Huang away from saying something that she’d regret. David was the not the sort of man who gave much thought to the ‘little people’ and it was very likely that he didn’t know that he’d just put his foot in his mouth… ironically for being less of a bigot then he normally was.
“There’s no question that the PDP seems to be approaching this situation with a certain lack of gravitas,” Castlewick replied. “I snuck a peek at some of the instructions they’re sending to their woman on the spot.”
“Pierce,” Kroener took a sip of his brandy. “Decent little lib, I suppose. She’s cut from the same cloth as Jenson, but with an understanding with Rodriguez.” He chuckled. “Pierce is under, Rodriguez is standing.”
“Hmm. Yes,” Henrey replied neutrally. “Erasmus is giving her the authority and a heavy suggestion to put out peace feelers. Which is a mistake, in my opinion. It might be hard to guess at the psychology of an alien species, but fellow humans are something we have a long history of analyzing. If I were leading a force that had just kicked someone else’s ass up and down space and only broken from a major engagement because I wanted to and they started try to broker deals…”
“It’d be a sign of weakness,” Kroener replied. “I agree. Idealistic claptrap, but what else do you expect from libs?” Amanda’s lips twitched upwards slightly and she caught Henry’s eyes, but neither interrupted Kroener. “Jenson’s pushing for a counter-attack and the Admiralty’s backing him. I know Johannen is giving Hoss a boomer squadron and sending him out with the next batch to Hyperion Hive. She’s looking at, I think, Foxworthy to take over War Production, at least until the PDP stick their fingers in it.”
Castlewick nodded. It embarrassed him to say, but despite his other faults, David was more aware of the goings-on in the military then he was. “There was something else, something that I think the president’s trying to slip into the dispatch on the down-low.” It had Rodriguez’s fingerprints all over it, too. “It’s an executive order for Pierce to take charge of the situation – all of it, civilian and military – at Hyperion Hive if she judges the military command to be doing an inadequate job of ‘fulfilling the directives and ideals of the office of the president and the constitution of the United Terran Concord’. In effect this could make her an appointed-by-decree governor.”
Kroener froze with the glass halfway to his lips. “You’re joking.”
“That’s complete bullshit,” Kroener’s cheeks flushed. “We haven’t have appointments by decree since the fucking Resurgency!” Oddly, the idea that a strong president should be able to appoint planetary rulers from his office instead of the people of that world was one that the left held dear and the conservatives venomously rejected. Of course, the base of support for the conservative parties were the outer systems, who had long memories of the Inner Worlds’ attempts to ‘help’ them. Before the mega-corporations had started chewing up the Empty Worlds, their sights had been squarely settled on the Outer Reaches and Eastern Expanse, though their aims had been frustrated by the fact that all of those planets were undeniably Concordat territories and were harder to screw over than the ‘unclaimed’ planets of the Empties.
“If the outer worlds got wind of this, they’d be pissed as hell. Everything the PDP’s gained from co-opting our platforms would fritter away like a hummingbird once the rimspinners heard.” Kroener continued, a hungry look in his eyes. “Question Period’s coming up, isn’t it?”
“Forget about it, David.” Castlewick warned him.
“What? Why? Christ, you Foudationists have been regular bleeding hearts over the PDP’s high-handedness ever since they got the president’s office!”
“That’s true, but there’s a problem. I’m not supposed to know about these orders. And you aren’t, either.”
Frustration creased Kroener’s brow for a moment, but then he nodded in understanding. “You’ve got a source.”
“I do. And I’d like to keep them.”
The conservative licked his lips, obviously envious. Just as clearly he was torn between the desire to rub a little more PDP face in the mud and the desire to stay on the inside with Castlewick, just in case something far juicer came along. Pragmatism won out and he took a quick, calming shot of brandy. “All right. Jenson might – ha! – talk Erasmus out of it anyways and I suppose at the least it’s better to have confirmation from my sources at the hive before we go into Parliament, guns blazing.”
“I thought so. However as you pointed out, Question period is coming up…”
That hungry look was back. “And you were hoping if the CA had managed to pull up anything that you could surprise Rodriguez with.”
“It’s always best to be prepared. And to have a strategy for fighting one’s opponents. Even if they are only human.”