The Cassidy Chronicles Vol.4
As Kendra recovers from her wounds, Artemis is planning their next strike.
But so are others.
Artemis has been too corrupt for too long; their own people are ready to take control.
It's just going to take a little encouragement...
The door to their quarters opened and Aiyana Cassidy entered, looking spent.
“Hi, hon,” said Kendra Cassidy from her office. As the Admiral of the Terran Federation, she spent her days either on the Enterprise, the flagship, or on the Njord. The past couple weeks, as she’d recovered from her injuries, she’d been mostly aboard Enterprise.
“Hi babe,” answered her wife, walking into the office and tugging her uniform coat open. Kendra looked up.
“Wow. Tough day?” Aiyana, who was known to everyone as Cass, nodded.
“Partial failure on one of the navigational shields.”
“That’s not good.”READ MORE
Cass shrugged and flopped into the seat across from her wife. “It’s not unexpected. Enterprise has been in active service for over a year now, we’ve been having minor systems failures on and off for weeks. Most of them we’ve headed off with our maintenance schedule, but she’s the first starship. There’s an awful lot we don’t know.”
“As long as you’ve got it under control. I assume there are reports about these things in my queue?”
“Probably,” agreed Cass. “I know that I send reports to Alley, after I brief her; I’m sure that she sends at least some sort of summary to you.”
“One of these days Alley is going to quiz me, isn’t she?” Alley, properly Jennifer Martinez, was the Enterprise’s Captain and thus Cass’s superior. Unlike both Kendra and Cass, Alley was a naval professional and brought that professionalism with her into the nascent Terran Federation. And that meant Admiral Kendra Cassidy was occasionally dragged along with her.
“Probably,” said Cass with a ghost of a smile.
“Then I’ll read them. One of these days. Say, Minna, could you download the details of those summaries to my implant?”
“I could, Admiral,” said the voice of the ship’s AI. “Unfortunately, Captain Martinez has ordered me not to.”
“Fortunately, Admiral, you’re still on medical leave, even though you insist on working. The HMO –“ Holographic Medical Officer, a recent innovation aboard the Njord. “- would have kittens if he was aware that you were ignoring his orders to rest.”
“But he’s not, because nobody’s telling him. And you’re getting better with the idiom, Minna.”
“Thank you, Admiral. And no, nobody is telling him yet.”
Kendra raised an eyebrow. “Yet?”
“I am not a doctor, Admiral, but I have an extensive knowledge of human anatomy through my access to the planetary networks. There are a multitude of sources which I can utilize to confirm, to my own satisfaction, that you are not doing anything which will put you at risk of further injury or setbacks. As long as that condition maintains, I shall make no reports to the HMO.”
“I’m henpecked by an AI!” Kendra exclaimed. Then she saw Cass’s smirk. “And you’re in on it!”
“Hey, I have a job to do! I can’t be in quarters all day, babysitting you, so I have to get help somewhere.”
“Fine, fine. I see how it is.”
Hoping to change the subject, Cass said, “What have you heard from Earthside today?”
The Enterprise, when she wasn’t on patrol, docked within the massive habitat Njord, located at the L5 Earth-Moon Lagrangian point, 400,000 kilometers from both the Earth and Moon. That meant details which most people took for granted, such as the day-to-day minutiae of living in the 22nd Century, required a special effort.
“Heard from Dianna today.” Dianna Chew was Kendra’s lawyer.
“They actually filed the appeal.” The previous year, a shadowy group of anonymous plaintiffs had accused her of being an Enhanced Human, the prohibited result of illegal genetic manipulation, a being who was not legally recognized as ‘human’ by most of the governments of the 21st Century. Worse, the documentation they had unearthed had actually proven their accusation. The question had arisen as to how had they uncovered it? As it turned out, the answer was simple: espionage, as exercised by Artemis and the Solarian Union in a desperate attempt to derail the Terran Federation. But Artemis couldn’t appear in court, so they’d found a mouthpiece willing to take their money and a disgruntled former associate of Kendra’s to front the suit.
Fortunately the various polities occupying the North American continent in the 22nd Century had, in the intervening decades, struck the clauses regarding the inhumanity of Enhanced Humans from the books, a detail that the Artemis Ministry of Intelligence had missed when searching for the skeletons in Kendra’s closet. So the lawsuit had failed, fairly spectacularly. The failure become more spectacular when the one plaintiff who had been dragged from the shadows attempted to kill Kendra when the case was dismissed. Cass had taken care of him, but not before he’d gravely injured Kendra. She’d landed in medical for a week, healing, and landed him in intensive care. It also got him removed as the lead plaintiff in the case, which would cause a problem for Artemis.
The original judge, Senior Justice Bethany Hodge, had ruled early in the proceedings that, as the case was alleging injuries and financial damage and asking for extraordinary remedies, the Plaintiffs would have to prove the alleged damages as specifically applied to individual people. With the removal of ‘Junior’ Williamson, another puppet would have to be found before the appeal could proceed.
Evidently they’d found one.
“The greed of lawyers is limitless, I guess,” growled Kendra. Almost three weeks of waiting had done nothing to improve her mood.
“Or they’re getting pressure from Artemis.”
“Or they’re getting pressure from Artemis.” Kendra agreed with her wife, but that didn’t mean she liked it and she grimaced.
“All I ever wanted to do with Enterprise was explore.”
“I know,” Cass agreed.
“Just jump in a ship and sail off, chasing the stars. Never wanted to be running things, never wanted there to be things I needed to run, just you and me and the girls and a ship.”
“It’s a lot tougher to do than those old shows ever made it seem. And they didn’t talk about crazed oligarchs trying to kill you and your friends so their monopoly on the Inner System isn’t disrupted.”
“Mm-hmm.” This was an old sore spot, made worse by the end of Kendra’s trial, and Cass figured she’d try to pull it from the realm of griping and make it a little more constructive.
“Has Cris managed to dig up anything you can enter into the official records about the Artemis involvement?”
“No,” said Kendra. Cristina Montana, Director of OutLook and the unofficial Director of Central Intelligence for the Federation, had been asked to look into the lawsuit brought against Kendra. She’d managed to confirm what their AI network had uncovered regarding the involvement of MinInt, but not in a way which would be admissible in court. They even had a former Artemis Minister of War, Nicole Crozier, who would be willing to testify to what she knew. Unfortunately, doing so would probably put her squarely in the crosshairs of MinInt, as well as destroying a priceless source of information.
“Not yet. Seems there’s some chaos going on in Artemis City these days and all scheduled tours from out-planet have been regretfully, and purely temporarily, rescheduled.”
“Law of unexpected consequences?”
“Exactly. Well, Mikki did say she wanted to destabilize their government.”
Mikki Stone, retired SEAL, had adopted the role of unofficial troubleshooter for the Terran Federation when she wasn’t busy playing favorite auntie to the Cassidy’s girls. She’d worked with Montana in OutLook on a pair of missions to Luna, one to retrieve a political prisoner and one to evaluate the possibility of causing disruption in the autocratic Artemesian government. OutLook had utilized Lunar tours to get agents on-planet; now they’d need to find an alternative to acquire HumInt.
“She did. Speaking of Mikki…?” Cass looked around. Quiet.
“Oh, she took the girls onto the station. She said she wanted to spend some time on their hand-to-hand skills, but promised she’d have them back for dinner.”
“That’s good. They’ll be tired.”
“Those two? After an hour with Aunt Mikki?” scoffed Kendra. “They’ll be revved up!”
“Mmm, I see your point. Oh, did you hear from Kiri today?” Kiri Stewart was Captain of the other starship currently in service, the TFS Endeavour. A more advanced and larger starship, it had been damaged during a recent encounter with an unmanned bomber launched from Titan. It was currently undergoing repairs in the berth next to Enterprise.
“She sent over her report this morning on yesterday’s progress. She’s actually managed to shave another week off Hecate’s repair estimate.”
“How?” Cass had inherited the XO position when Kiri was promoted; she was always looking for tips and hints to improve her performance.
“Her entire crew’s pitching in to help, and I think she may have gone and secured some, what did Alley call it? Backchannel support.”
“She went and tapped into the workforce at HLC.” Heavy Lift Corporation was another one of the companies which were being absorbed by the Federation and the umbrella company that supported it, Via ad Sidera (The Road to the Stars). All of these were part of the D.D. Harriman Trust, which was controlled by Cass and Kendra.
“Thinking outside the box there. Nice. Well, the sooner Endeavour is back online, the sooner we can go back to Lemnos and retrieve the miners.”
“I totally forgot about them!”
Cass explained it away. “You’ve been busy.”
Kendra checked the date. “It’s been three weeks since we dropped them off. I don’t remember the details, but how long can they last without resupply?” The same weekend that Endeavour encountered the bomber, Enterprise was in the Tau Ceti system, landing the first extra-solar mining colony. There were forty human miners and a host of robots, living underground and building a plant to process Platinum Group and other precious metals. It wasn’t intended as a permanent colony, at least not on the surface, due to the high gravity and hot, thin atmosphere.
“Another six weeks, though they could manage eight in a pinch,” said Cass immediately. Obviously, she had been thinking about it.
“We should have enough time to get back with supplies and more miners.”
“Precisely. Alley and I have been discussing it, along with contingency plans.” Cass leaned back against the chair and said, “I’ve had enough shop talk for one night, especially before dinner.”
“Fair enough,” said Kendra. “The girls will be back any time now. Minna?”
“Where are our hellions?”
“They are still occupying Chief Stone’s full attention aboard Njord, despite her best attempts to end their session,” said the AI.
“Herding cats,” laughed Kendra.
“That reminds me,” said Cass. “Apparently LJ’s cat, Luci, is going to have kittens, and Alley asked me if we were going to want one.” Enterprise had been designed for long-term deployments. To Kendra, that meant space for families aboard. When Lt. LJ Burg had moved aboard, she’d brought her cats, Theo and Luciferous Dimples, and they had become the first four-legged family on the ship.
“The way Alley was talking, I think she hopes we take more than one.”
“The girls would love them.”
Artemis City, Artemis Council of Ministers
“My patience has run out, Minister Pitt.”
“Primus, our search is still ongoing.”
The Primus, Vasilia Newling, was not notable for her patience and good humor. Neither was Kim Yvette Pitt, the Minister of Security. That hadn’t been much of an issue since Pitt had climbed to the top of her Ministry over the bodies of her rivals, often literally. Newling had found it quite refreshing, actually, to have a subordinate in Pitt who understood what it took to maintain control over the population of Artemis without worrying about coddling the masses. As a result, Pitt’s Ministry had been virtually exempt from any of the periodic purges that swept out from Newling.
“You have said Crozier could not have left Artemis City.”
“That is correct, Primus.”
“And you are certain of this?”
“So you have you completed the search of the City?”
“No, Primus, we have not as yet completed it.”
“Why not? Artemis City is not that large, Minister.”
“Primus, by comparison to groundhog cities, no. But it still encompasses over ninety cubic kilometers, and I have limited numbers of operatives to do the search.”
“Then how can you state with certainty, absolute certainty, she is not in the City?”
“Primus, she did not leave the City, not through any tube, not aboard a ship, not through an airlock. Therefore she must be in the City.”
“And yet you failed to extract information of her whereabouts from her family.”
Jake Taylor, the current Acting Minister of War, winced. His superior and friend, Nicole Crozier, had gone missing a half-Lunar ago, during a botched attempt to apprehend fugitives from one of the Artemis Political Rehabilitation Center. She had been taking a rare weekend off, visiting her parents, and her mother had talked her into taking a shift at the restaurant ‘for old times’ sake’.
While she was working there a squad from MinSec had entered and attempted the apprehension. When Nicole, full of righteous fury, had marched up to them and demanded an explanation in her role not as the manager’s daughter but as the Minister of War, she’d been accused of being in league with the fugitives. After that, all Hell broke loose, and both Nicole and the fugitives had disappeared.
Suspicion had fallen on him, as Nicole’s Deputy. Naturally, and as expected, he denied any connection between the fugitives and Nicole, which was absolutely the truth as he knew it. He also denied knowing the location of Nicole, which was far less true. She had contacted him while on the run, asking him which of the Navy ships was most loyal to her. She hadn’t said anything else, but he hadn’t survived eight years in the Ministry without a certain amount of street smarts, and he caught up to her just as she was ready to board the frigate ANS Roosa. She’d convinced him to remain behind and protect the men and women of the Ministry, people who would be the first to lose their lives if the ongoing, low-intensity conflict with the Terran Federation were to flare up.
So he lied, denying all knowledge of her whereabouts.
That kept him alive, at least long enough to get an appearance before the Primus, where he played his one card. He told the Primus to ask Minister Pitt where, exactly, Nicole was? He then spun a vast conspiracy theory out of whole cloth. Removing Nicole, he said, was the linchpin, the kick-off of a coup aimed at replacing Newling with Pitt.
To his pleased shock, it worked. Newling was suspicious and paranoid enough to believe the possibility, aided and abetted by Pitt’s prior vicious behavior in reaching her position. Taylor kept pounding away at the idea that Pitt needed to produce Nicole, as well as the fugitives, in order to disprove the coup idea, knowing full well that Pitt would never be able to find Nicole. His only worry was Nicole would surface before Pitt had been eliminated as a threat to his continued existence, but he had no control over that.
Nicole’s family, though, were truly innocent in this. They knew nothing about Nicole’s disappearance, and so all the ‘extreme interrogation’ methods Pitt had at her disposal would produce precisely nothing. That wouldn’t stop the attempts and he hated to think about the pain they were going through. There wasn’t anything he could do, though. Not yet.
“No, Primus,” Pitt was confirming. “They have not admitted to anything yet. We have had to stop our questioning several times to allow them a chance to recover, but our efforts continue.”
“And the other fugitives, the four who you hadn’t found? Have you succeeded in identifying or locating them?”
“They were identified, Primus, as Cassandra Carnahan, James Moore, Autumn Newling, and –”
“Autumn?” The Primus looked more than interested as she interrupted. “Are you talking about my cousin?”
“Yes, Primus. She was placed in the care of MinSec nearly a year ago.”
“Primus, she was sowing discontent within her Ministry.” MinSec’s unstated objective, suppression of any potential rebellion, granted them a wide latitude. ‘Sowing discontent’ was certainly sufficient to permit them nearly any action.
“She was a very junior member of a necessary, but not very prestigious, Ministry,” said the Primus with an edge in her voice. “How was she sowing discontent?”
“I would have to consult the records, Primus.”
Pitt was definitely on the defensive now, so Taylor figured he’d add some oxygen to the blaze.
“Eliminating a member of the Newling family? That’s a bold move, even for you, Minister Pitt,” he said mock-admiringly.
The Primus seemed to ignore his comment. “And she has not been found either?”
“Primus, as I have said, we continue to search.”
“And as I have said, Minister, my patience has run out. I didn’t believe the questions that Minister Taylor raised, not at first, but your continued obstinacy in producing any sort of result forces me to conclude that he may well have stumbled onto something.” She nodded to a pair of her armsmen, who stepped forward and grabbed the Minister.
“Minister Pitt, I am removing you from your position. In deference to your family I will show you mercy, unlike what you provided my cousin. I will not be collecting the ultimate penalty from you at this time.” The Primus had a reputation for removing threats to her authority, both real and perceived, in the most final manner possible. Perhaps it was that looming threat which kept Pitt from protesting as she was bound and gagged.
An older man stood up in response to her summons: Colin Dent, Minister of Intelligence.
“I realize this is unexpected, but I need you to take on the role of Minister of Security for the time being, as well as your current post. Root out the rot. Discover the truth, expose the lies. Restore the Ministry. Can you do that?”
“I can, Primus.” Dent had spent decades in government service and had survived many different Primuses; this one was more vicious than most, but she could be managed if one knew how. “I presume I have a free hand?”
“Whatever it takes, Minister Dent. Taylor.”
“Two items. First, until such time as the fate of Minister Crozier is determined, it is my desire that you remain in your post as Acting Minister. I need my Navy to be ready to answer my call when it comes time to increase the tempo of our actions against the Federation, and I believe you are best suited to maintain that readiness. Specifically, I have some thoughts regarding the deployment of the Averroes which I would like to discuss with you.”
“My time is yours, Primus.”
“Also, I cannot entrust the former Minister to her own detention centers. Does the Navy have some way of restraining her and keeping her out of contact?”
“I believe so, Primus. The Marine contingent can certainly improvise confinement for her until we work out something more permanent.”
“Good. Pitt is remanded to your custody, then.” The Primus left the Council chamber, as did most of the other Ministers. Taylor found himself left with Minister Dent, Pitt, and the armsmen restraining her.
“Minister Taylor,” Dent said urbanely.
“Minister Dent. I don’t envy you your task.”
Dent looked distastefully at Pitt. “No, I don’t suppose you do. Still, needs must.”
He turned to Taylor. “It’s a pity, though, that Ms. Pitt never responded to my offers of friendship, as Ms. Crozier did; if she had, perhaps she wouldn’t be in this situation.”
“If you find anything about Nicole…?”
“I will certainly let you know, Mr. Taylor. I know you two were friends as well as colleagues.”
“A personal request, then. Will you let her family go? I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m certain they had nothing to do with it.”
“As soon as I can ascertain that myself, of course. Good day, Minister.” And Dent departed.
“Come on,” Taylor said to the guards. “Let’s see where we can stash her.”
“How the hell are we supposed to do this?”
“Well, Ash, I’d say we’re going to have to do it the way I did when I was the only qualified IP on the Direwolves: long hours and lots of coffee.”
The look Lieutenant Ashlyn Bontrager, current XO of the Nymeria Squadron of Direwolves, and just-announced Commander (Designate) of the soon-to-be-formed Red Squadron shot her friend and commander, Senior Lieutenant Daniela Garcia, was exasperated.
“We’ve been doing coffee and long hours since we got the fourth division,” she complained.
“And we’re going to be doing it while you work Red Squadron up,” Daniela shot back, filling up her own cup. They were aboard Njord, in the squadron’s office, and one rule was the coffee was never allowed to run out or get stale. “More?”
“Half. Where do I even start?”
“Since you get to take your division with you, I’d start by naming your XO. That’ll give you someone to be your eyes and ears and back you up.”
“Any suggestions, Danni?”
“Oh, no, Ash, you’re not getting me to make your decisions for you. Remember, not only do I have to break in a new XO, but I’m going to get to break in twelve of the new pilots while you deal with six.”
“Fair enough, I guess,” admitted Ashlyn.
The Federation was committed to expanding their defensive capabilities, a task made more urgent by the temporary disabling of the TFS Endeavour. Between the twin pressures of creating a navy from scratch and defending the Federation from an already-established force, small boat doctrines were still evolving and doing so quickly. Where the original plan hadn’t called for any armed sublight vehicles at all, the onset of the Solarian Union threat had led to a rapid rethinking. As a result the Wolf-class Multipurpose Orbital Vehicle had been redesigned. These sturdy small craft, thirty meters long, powered by a fusion generator and capable of accelerating at 200g, had proved their worth in the first battle. Using their ridiculously short-ranged phased particle emitters, they had totally destroyed four Artemesian ships: two Apollo-class cruisers and two Gemini-class frigates. Unfortunately, their limitations were also demonstrated in the same battle, as the Copernicus-class battleship Brahe had wiped out ten of the original twelve Wolves in under a minute.
That forced a reevaluation by a heartbroken Kendra, who felt each death keenly. A new ship was designed with, as always, significant input from the Admiral, and the first pilot was the only Wolf crew who was fully cross-rated on both coxswain and engineer: Daniela. It took her weeks, but she eventually mastered the Direwolves’ unique control system. Where the Wolves had a coxswain to pilot and an engineer to run the mechanicals, the Direwolves were single-seat fighters. Even with her advantages she couldn’t manage to fly anywhere near the limits of the fighter’s abilities. In the end an Epsilon-class AI had been added to basically do the engineer’s role.
Which all led to the current expansion.
Last year there was a single Direwolf, then a half-dozen, then eighteen, and now they were going to double the total again in a single swoop. Ash been part of the second expansion and had gotten her initial promotion by flying rings around the rest of her cohort. That’s when the job got tough, because there was more to being an XO than just flying.
“I guess I have the easy part,” she said. “I mean, you’re going from twelve to twenty-four; I just have to train six.”
“Up to standard,” added Daniela. “Don’t forget that. Up to standard.”
“Up to standard, aye, Ma’am,” she said with a smile. “As if you’d ever let me forget.”
“Nope,” Daniela agreed. “And someday, when I’m out of the cockpit and doing the Admiralty thing, and you’re CAG, you’re going to thank me.”
“Well, I expect that I’ll take a swing at it first.”
“You expect me to command the attack group?”
“Like I said, I’m going to do it first. Now, who do you think should be your XO? If it helps, I’ll tell you who mine is.”
“Okay, so maybe that was a little obvious.” Zero, Itzeel Arriaga, was the commander of the squadron’s third division and the natural successor to Ashlyn.
“You think? Seriously though, I have maybe three possibles out of the division I’m starting with: Locksmith, Wingbat, and Frak Me.”
“I can see Locksmith and Wingbat, but Frak Me?”
“Nic’s really worked his ass off getting all of the details down. I don’t have anyone who’s better on the official stuff, the procedures, the checklists. Yeah, he’s had to learn radio discipline, but his handle’s helped.”
Ensign Nic Furtado had earned his nickname through an inadvertent radio call; when Ashlyn had ordered him to redo part of the exercise, a particularly tedious task, he’d replied first with the proper, ‘Aye, Ma’am’.” Then followed through with the ‘Frak me’ that had become his moniker.
“Okay, I can see that. An XO needs to know their shit better than the people under them.”
“Which is a strike against Wingbat. But Danni, she’s better than me once you get her out into the black. If you tell her that, I’ll deny it, of course.”
“Of course. The problem is she hardly ever does things in the right order.”
“Which is the other problem.” It was a tradition in the squadron that the CO got to choose the handles for the new pilots, at least insofar as the still-young squadron had traditions. Daniela had noted Ensign Awilda Prignano’s skills in the fighters from the beginning, her ability to put her ship through the most ridiculous maneuvers without seeming thought, and had decided on the handle ‘Batwing’. Unfortunately, that was before Prignano had executed her mission orders exactly backward, resulting in the handle being swapped to the slightly less complementary ‘Wingbat’.
“And Locksmith? She’s neither as good a stick as Wingbat or as on top of the procedures as Frak Me.”
“That’s true. But she’s not bad, and if she doesn’t always dot the I’s and cross the T’s she’s at least on the right page.”
“So? What else is there that would make her a good XO?”
“Everyone in the squadron loves her. I mean, you know that Rubberneck wouldn’t save his own grandmother without orders, and Chewbacca would rather rip your arms off than speak to you. That doesn’t apply to Locksmith. Somehow she’s gotten everyone on her side. If she had an ounce of deviousness in her she’d never have to pull a duty shift that didn’t involve flying. As it is, I don’t think she’s bought a beer for herself in two months. That sort of loyalty can’t be taught.”
Ensign Lexie Marsh had gotten her handle the old-fashioned way: she’d earned it. After returning from a flight early in her training, while still at the Academy that the Federation ran with HLC to turn recruits into pilots quickly, her canopy had refused to open. She didn’t know that it was a programmed ‘glitch’, designed to test the new pilots’ ability to think clearly in a stressful, but non-emergency, situation. Other candidates had mixed reactions: some panicked, pounding the optical sapphire with fists; some radioed for help; one had gone so far as to arm the ejection mechanism before the trainers had stepped in. Marsh had simply examined her situation, pulled out the small emergency tool kit, and calmly picked the restraining bolts that had held the canopy in place.
“I think I can guess your choice.”
“Locksmith’s the only logical one,” agreed Ashlyn.
“Then go tell her. And tell her that she’s going to get another stripe to back up her authority.” All of Ashlyn’s pilots were Ensign Junior Grade, the lowest officer rank in Starfleet, even though they were always called ‘Ensign’.
“Aye, Ma’am.” Ashlyn stood to leave, then said, “Do you know yet where we’re going to be assigned?”
“Flashdance told me that Red Squadron will be assigned to Endeavour, Nymeria to Njord.” Senior Lieutenant Shannon ‘Flashdance’ Fowler was the senior Wolf pilot and the de facto commander of all the mobile forces in Starfleet. She was also Daniela’s best friend and a frequent source of information.
“Yeah, well, until they get that big bird unbent, you’re going to be pulling patrols, same as us.”