The Cassidy Chronicles Vol.3
The first battles against Artemis ended with both sides bloodied.
Six months have passed, six months of meaningless negotiations but no hostilities. What is Artemis up to now?
To a degree, it doesn't matter. Cass and Ken can't stop building, improving, tinkering:
- A new, larger, more capable habitat, a true city in space.
- An improved starship
- A true space fighter, not just a shuttle with popguns
And they're expanding their reach onto Luna itself, trying to discover and disrupt from the inside.
But a secret is about to emerge, a secret so dark and devastating even Kendra doesn't know she's been carrying it her entire life.
One which could smash their plans without a shot being fired.
Tropes: Band of Brothers/Sisters, Body Modifications, Conspiracy, Dystopian Governments, Enemy to Ally, Found Family, Interstellar Travel, Sentient AI, Space Battles, Space Pilot, Space Smugglers
Word Count: 112000
Setting: Earth, Luna, Earth Orbit, Interstellar Space
Languages Available: English
Low Earth Orbit
“How long do you think they’ll keep dragging this farce out?”
“Mr. Blackmon, the longer they’re talking, the longer they’re not shooting,” remonstrated Mya Hartman, the Director of the United Earth Distribution Directorate.
“But Madame Director, it’s clear that neither side is willing to budge an inch!” The speaker was Hunter Blackmon, the Assistant Deputy Director of the UE’s version of a State Department, the Reconciliation Directorate. He had been tapped to oversee the ongoing discussions between the Solarian Union and the Terran Federation. Neither group was part of the UE. The Union was an independent, interplanetary confederation of nations, with a rocky history with the UE. The Terran Federation was not a nation but rather the manifestation of the dreams of a single woman: Kendra Cassidy.READ MORE
Through an unlikely catenation of events, she and her wife, Aiyana, had become the wealthiest women on the planet. They’d inherited a massive, interlocking web of companies and projects which stretched across the globe and into space. For Aiyana, who everyone called Cass, that meant she was able to concentrate on turning her theories into reality, and create a working, practical, reliable quantum teleportation modules; or, as everyone called them, portals. Kendra took over what was called ‘Project Pegasus’, an attempt to build mankind’s first superluminal starship. She wasn’t shy about using her money to force changes, starting with the name. Pegasus was retired, and Enterprise was chosen instead. From there, she tapped into her love of 20th and early 21st-Century television and films to shape her own reality.
Surprising many, it had worked.
With the launch of the Enterprise, Kendra had simultaneously launched the Terran Federation, an organization dedicated to expanding the breadth and scope of human knowledge. She’d also taken a not-so-subtle jab at the Solarian Union, who had objected to the Enterprise and sworn to destroy it, and more-or-less told them to come at her.
They had. They dropped a kinetic energy weapon onto her home, near Los Alamos, wiping out over 20,000 people, a quarter of the city. They had launched a stealthy missile attack on the Federation’s orbiting habitat and space construction yard, Diana, killing another fourteen. They had then launched a more open attack a week later, with three frigates, two cruisers, and a battleship. The battle had hung in the balance, with the Federation forces seeming to get the upper hand, until the battleship weighed in and nearly wiped out the entire Federation shuttle squadron. The battleship was well on its way to demolishing the habitat when the Enterprise returned to stop the assault.
After those events, an uneasy quiet had fallen between the two antagonists. Weeks later, the Union had officially opened discussions through the UE to negotiate a more permanent, and equitable, solution. This was met with great suspicion by Kendra and her advisors, but they recognized the desirability of extending the peace. The talks had been going on ever since and were currently entering their sixth month.
“Do you blame the Federation?” said Hartman. Technically, she had no reason to be present at these talks; her Directorate had nothing to do with maintaining the peace or settling disputes. However, she was the de facto senior Director of the UE and could pretty well go where she wanted.
She had another reason as well. Several months before the attacks, she had entered into a secret agreement with Cass and Ken, in their roles as businesswomen, to provide her the means with which to launch a hopefully-devastating attack on the Union. The Solarian Union existed under the strictures of the nearly century-old Artemis Accords and Amendment. Through the Accords, the Union was entitled to as much of the Earth’s production of rare earth metals as they claimed necessary to support their growth and survival. Projections within the Directorate suggested that the continual drain of resources would lead to the collapse of the UE’s infrastructure within twenty years. This, in turn, would result in the death by starvation of a majority of the planet’s population, as most of the globe had been incorporated into an intricate production and transportation network. While there were still areas which produced a bounty of crops, others had been given up as overfarmed and unproductive, and only the import and shipment of foodstuffs all across the globe allowed the population to survive.
Negotiations hadn’t worked between the UE and the Union. The one UE attempt to wrest control of the orbitals from the Union had failed as well. It was war, though not simple or open. One of Mya’s assistants had suggested a number of radical plans and the enlistment of one of the Cassidy’s companies, Heavy Lift Corporation. There had been a number of mostly successful meetings, after which Cass had agreed to help with their plans. Kendra’s Terran Federation was never brought into the discussions, and as far as Hartman knew had no part in the ongoing preparations. However, Kendra was leading the Federation, and Cass was the chief Science officer aboard the Enterprise; continued conflict between the Union and Federation could be devastating to her plans.
So she was here, on a Low Earth Orbit habitat owned by one of the few other companies that boosted to orbit, trying to gauge the tenor of the continuing meetings.
As she said, as long as they were talking, they weren’t shooting.
“Master Chief Stone, I didn’t expect to see you,” she said as a suited figure approached. Blackmon stepped just out of earshot to allow them some privacy.
“Director,” replied the woman politely. She was tall and athletic, with the air of someone who would be far more comfortable in a uniform. Her hair was still cropped almost militarily short, and her Australian accent, the legacy of following her father around the globe as a child, had only gotten stronger in her semi-retirement. “I haven’t seen you in a while.”
“No; more than a year, isn’t it?”
“About that. Where’s Lynch? I would’ve expected him here, if only to gum up the works.”
Roosevelt Lynch was the Director of the UE Protective Services, what passed for their military forces. He’d been present for the first discussion between Hartman and the Cassidys, but had been removed by Stone when a disagreement had gotten physical. He’d ended up in the hospital, and while he was still aware of the ongoing plans he was no longer actively involved in the planning.
“There was a flare-up of tensions in the Middle East which required his personal attention,” said Hartman. “What about you, Master Chief? I didn’t think this was your specialty.”
“Not at all, but someone has to take care of our representative.” She gestured back at the negotiation table. “Wayne’s a good lawyer, but not much of a fighter. Kendra doesn’t trust these bastards not to try something, and I agree with her. Besides, with the ladies in-system all the time these days, they don’t need me so often to watch over the girls.” Stone was one of several honorary ‘aunts’ to the Cassidys’ daughters and spent a fair amount of time trying to keep them out of trouble.
“So you’re here to help protect Mr. Morgan?”
“And do a little backchannel investigations,” added Stone. “I may have been a SEAL, but I can do a bit of intel if I have to. The blokes they’ve sent down are more than willing to talk to someone who can sling their lingo.”
“Not much so far. Director, are you sure you want to know any of this?” Stone was one of a half-dozen people who were within the Cassidys’ inner circle, trusted utterly and regarded as what Kendra referred to as ‘ohana’. Stone knew that Hartman was trusted, but she was still an outsider.
“A valid point, Master Chief. Perhaps not.”
“Then I’ll take my leave, Director. G’day.” Stone walked back into the crowd surrounding the table, mingling and observing unobtrusively.
“Hmm? Oh, yes. Hunter, review their positions for me?”
“Yes, Director. The Union is insisting that the attacks were all the result of overeager officers and liberal interpretations of orders, and refuse to make more than a token apology. The Federation, contrariwise, is insisting that the attacks were planned and executed at the orders of the Council of Ministers. They say the Union is directly responsible morally, ethically, and financially for the deaths of not only their personnel but all the people who died in the Los Alamos Incident, and are insisting on steep reparations. They are also seeking a written apology and a binding pledge of non-aggression, as well as payments for the interruption in their exploration schedule and damage to their installations and equipment.”
“Has there been any movement at all?”
“Well, the Union dropped their insistence that the habitat be removed, in accordance with their newly-passed territorial claims; they have agreed to modify their position that the existing structure is grandfathered in. In return, the Federation dropped their insistence that the Union withdraw all territorial claims beyond the gravitational influence of Luna.”
“That seems to be an odd boundary.”
“I don’t know the details, but it was dropped. Currently the Federation wants to include the successor habitat in the grandfather clause and maintain a fifty-thousand kilometer exclusion zone. I think that the Union will give in on the habitat, if the Federation will accept half that, but we’ll see.”
“So not much progress, is what you’re saying.”
“Not at all.”
“Who’s negotiating for the Union?”
“They’re taking it seriously; their Foreign Affairs Minister, Arthur Dent, has been present for most of the sessions.”
“And the Federation? Anyone besides Morgan?”
“No, Madame Director. He’s been their only representative, with the exception of a few people like the one you were talking with. I’ve gathered that they’re mostly from a company called OutLook that does some protective work, so I assume that’s what they’re doing here.”
You don’t know the half of it, thought Hartman. She knew that OutLook was another part of the Cassidys’ sprawling empire, and was responsible for far more than just protective services. They did espionage, industrial, counterintelligence, and the traditional clandestine HumInt, as well as assassination and other extralegal specialties. The company was based in an area which was beyond the control of any government, allowing them to operate without any pesky oversight.
“Tell me, were any of them a short, skinny brunette who has an elfin grin and talks constantly?”
“She’s been here a few times, yes. Do you know her?”
“I’ve seen her,” evaded Hartman. She knew exactly who Mac, Amanda McAllister, was and had a pretty good idea why she would be on the habitat. Mac was a former colleague of Kendra’s from OutLook, but she didn’t get involved in any of the physical ends of the business. Mac was a stone cold expert at cybersecurity and cyberespionage; the system that she couldn’t hack into hadn’t yet been built. If she had been on the habitat, she’d been there to get into the systems, plant taps, and generally make the security on the conference as useful as hiding behind a sheet of plate glass.
“Anything else I need to know, Hunter?”
“No, Madame Director. Not that I can think of.”
“Then I’ll take my leave.”
“How long do you think they’ll keep dragging this farce out?”
“For the fifteenth time, I don’t know!”
“Dammit, Cass, you’re the brains of this operation; how do you not know everything?”
“Because you, my dear Admiral, wanted me to spend my ‘free time’ designing a gas mine and trying to create a plan for Terraforming Niflheim.”
Kendra airily waved a hand in dismissal. “Details. The merest trivialities.”
“Besides, Mac has that place wired to a fare-thee-well; I don’t think they can open a hatch without Harpo knowing it.” The speaker finally looked up from her terminal. She was a tall woman with striking auburn hair, ice-blue eyes, and a serious mien which could instantly turn radiant when she smiled. Aiyana Cassidy, PhD in Optical Engineer, CEO (on leave, maybe permanently) of Heavy Lift Corporation, parent to two daughters, and the Lieutenant Commander commanding the Science Division on the world’s first starship, the TFS Enterprise, smiled now at her wife.
“You know, when you do that I totally lose track of what I was doing,” complained Kendra mockingly. She was several centimeters shorter than her wife, kept her blonde hair in a pixie cut, and had emerald-green eyes. She’d also led a more adventurous life than Cass after their shared childhood in the Northern Imperium. She’d left home after high school to make a name for herself in the sensies, in the California Confederacy. After several years she had been recruited by OutLook as a courier, then an assassin. She had gone into semi-retirement from both professions when she and Cass had reunited. After their marriage, she had planned to settle down, but the opportunity presented by the incomplete starship had been irresistible. She had single-handedly begun the creation of the Terran Federation, and found herself taking on the role of Admiral. To nobody’s surprise but her own, she was good at it, having a talent for gaining the loyalty and devotion of those under her. “It’s like a dose of amnesia.”
“Flattery will get you everywhere, dear,” laughed Cass, standing and stretching. They were at home, at least as nearly as they had a home since the Union, or more properly the Artemis Colony, dropped a KEW on Los Alamos. Their target had been the home that Cass and Ken kept, on the outskirts of the city. It had been totally obliterated by fifty tons of iron from orbit, along with part of their security force and guests staying their home overnight. And a quarter of the city’s population. Artemis played rough.
They had already planned to move onto the station that had been built at the L5 Lagrange point and so were spending far less time on Earth. Then came the attack on the habitat. After the dust settled, Kendra had moved her family onto the Enterprise. Cass already had quarters aboard, as part of the crew; Kendra decided that, as the Enterprise was just the first of what she hoped to be many starships, it would be right and proper for her to have Admiral’s quarters aboard. They combined the two and brought their daughters, Mikki and Lisa, with them while construction of the new L5 habitat continued. Once it was complete, they, along with an increasing number of Federation members, would have quarters aboard there as well.
“Then I ought to do it more often,” replied Kendra, moving into her wife’s arms. She moved her head fractionally for a kiss.
“Mom!” called Mikki, their older daughter. “Lisa’s being a pain!”
“Am not! Mikki’s not sharing!”
Kendra and Cass separated reluctantly.
“They’re asking for you,” said Kendra, gesturing.
“I’ve almost finished!” said Cass. “Can’t you cover for me?”
“Okay, okay. It’s times like this that I really miss the Chief.”
“And the girls miss her too.” Master Chief Stone had become one of the girls honorary ‘aunts’, partly because Mikki was her namesake and thought of the Chief as ‘her’ aunt. She spent a fair amount of time with them when Cass and Ken were away or busy, keeping the girls out of trouble and doing her best to introduce them to self-defense. Of course, the Chief’s idea of self-defense was mostly how to land the first blow, being a retired SEAL, but they had to start somewhere. Now, with both in-system and the Enterprise essentially reduced to acting as a deterrent, the Chief had been able to go and do other things.
“Any word from her?” asked Kendra on the way out the room.
“Yes. All quiet. She ran into Mya, said that the Director started asking some questions which Mikki deflected.”
“Hold that thought.” It didn’t take long for Kendra to referee and she was back. “Lisa wasn’t sharing the one thing we don’t have duplicates of, which also happened to be the one thing she was actually using.”
“Naturally. What was it?”
“Huh? Oh, the spectrometer.”
“Can’t really fit another one in quarters,” agreed Cass. “What were we talking about?”
“Mac and Harpo.”
“Are you sure?” teased Cass. “I seem to recall you losing track.”
“Because of you. I remember that clearly.” She reached down, kissed Cass quickly but with emphasis, and then sat in a nearby chair. “Harpo,” she said again. The ship’s AI, an Alpha-class named Minerva, connected them to Earthside.
“Admiral,” answered a rich, if slightly raspy, tenor. Harpo was another Alpha-class AI, properly named Harpocrates after the Greek god of secrets, who was responsible for the constant monitoring and protection of the Harriman Trust’s assets. He was very, very good at his job; he had found a natural human ally in Mac, and between them they had expanded their reach into active penetration of other systems.
“What’s today’s take?”
“I have uploaded a summary to your implant, Admiral. No substantive change.”
Kendra sighed. “Anything at all?”
“Nothing that I have identified as critical; I have shared it with Diana for her analysis when she has spare processing cycles.”
“Admiral.” Diana was their third Alpha-class AI and controlled the namesake habitat. The new habitat, nearly finished in LEO, would become her full-time home once the construction was finished; until then, her core was in the old habitat, but she could access systems in the new one. AI’s were sensitive to having work done on their ‘bodies’ while they were connected. Diana had once likened it to having body modifications done without anesthetic: possible, but unpleasant. Inasmuch as an AI could be said to prefer anything, she preferred to wait. She also directed all of the Federation’s space operations, from the habitats to the Enterprise and Endeavour – under construction within her old body – and the reconstituted Wolf Squadrons. She was, to say the least, busy.
“Anything to report?”
“No, Admiral. Nothing from the negotiations. We continue to get sporadic reports from Director Montana’s HumInt resources on Luna, but there hasn’t been anything confirmable.”
“And Njord?” The new habitat was named, by Diana, after the Norse god of the sea and seafaring, which she thought translated appropriately into the 22nd Century.
“A few more weeks, Admiral. The CeeSea armor is being applied, and all the shields are in place. Commodore Knott borrowed both Ms. Stewart and Commander Sanzari from Enterprise to supervise and advise on the installation of the defensive lasers. The next generation missiles and counter-missiles that were developed by RocketDyne have passed trials and are being manufactured at their facility in Phoenix.”
“’Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,’ eh?”
“Something like that, Admiral. I didn’t enjoy being sliced apart by the weapons on the Brahe and don’t intend to repeat the experience. Ms. Stewart, in particular, has been most helpful.”
“She devised a method whereby the half-dozen internally generated lasers could be channeled to various aimable firing ports on the surface, allowing for more precise targeting of any potential assailant. She believes that she can incorporate the same system in the Endeavour without much difficulty.”
“That is good news! Did Val or Engineer Anderson ever come up with a better solution for your mobility?” Both the original and the replacement orbital habitats were immense; Diana was a cylinder a kilometer wide by a kilometer and a half tall. Njord was even larger, a massive mushroom shape, with a length from base to apex of eight kilometers, two kilometers across the stem, spreading to five kilometers at the ‘cap’. When completed, she would be more heavily armed than the combined navies of the four nations that comprised the Solarian Union. Where her current body was built unarmed, and only mounted the most rudimentary add-on missile capability, the Njord was not going to suffer from armament envy. The new habitat’s six lasers were each rated at six petajoules, triple what the Enterprise used to demolish the Brahe. There were also dozens of smaller point-defense lasers, capable of knocking out any known missile carried by Union ships. In addition, she mounted a dozen missile tubes, connected to a pair of central magazines: one for the offensive Lightning missiles, one for the Defender counter-missiles. Her magazines would hold two hundred of the former, four hundred of the latter.
Njord would also be nearly self-sufficient, with power generated by a mix of antimatter and Helium-3 fusion plants, enormous hydroponics bays, a full fleet construction yard, manufactories, chemical refineries, and multiple environmental processing systems. All of this to support a projected crew count that, including families, was projected to exceed a hundred thousand when fully occupied. Resupply could be accomplished by simply capturing an occasional comet or meteor; at least, that was the theory.
The one difficulty was regarding the size. Building in LEO allowed for much more rapid construction. There were numerous means to get supplies and crews up to LEO, being only several hundred kilometers above the surface. There were far fewer means to transport the same supplies and crews to L5, four hundred thousand kilometers away. That did leave the Federation with a difficulty; namely, how do you move several million metric tons of habitat to Lunar orbit?
You could use Wolves. Each Wolf-class Multifunction Orbital Vehicle was equipped with a tractor/repulsor beam, and was capable of generating 200 g acceleration. Unfortunately, that was at maximum power, and if they were trying to push Njord… Diana had calculated it would take all the Wolves nearly a week to push the habitat to its new home, and that was assuming minimal breaks, no accidents, and no malfunctions. There was also the matter of decelerating the habitat into the proper orbit and all the joys of orbital mechanics to calculate.
Enterprise had power to spare, but no conveniently-mounted tractor or pressor beams.
Dr. Valari Roberts, the designer of the warp drive used in the Enterprise, and Dellin Anderson, Chief Engineer aboard the starship, had been recruited to try to solve the problem.
“Essentially,” answered Diana. “They have installed a sublight engine at the centerline in Njord’s keel and plan to use that to accelerate it into position.”
“I’m not a rocket scientist, but won’t just one engine be an issue? Turnaround? Deceleration?”
“Once Njord is accelerated and has broken orbit, they plan to use Wolves for course corrections and to rotate the habitat for deceleration.”
“I suppose that’s better than using all the squadrons,” mused Kendra.”
“I’m glad I won’t be aboard yet,” said Diana. “Managing the maneuver will be tricky enough by remote.”
“Harpo, is there anything to the Union’s threat to not allow Njord into the L5 space?”
“They’re not happy about it, Admiral, but the consensus among their negotiators is that there isn’t anything they can do about it. One junior underminister suggested that, if they were prepared to allow Diana to remain, what was the issue with a replacement station? She was roundly criticized for that.”
Kendra was scanning the summary on her ‘plant. Most of the direct members of the Federation had received implants: tiny combination computer, Q-Net transmitter and receiver, and nanobot factory, embedded in their jawbone. Their connection to the Q-Net, a proprietary version of the worldwide computer network which operated on the same principles as Cass’s transporter, allowed for instantaneous data retrieval and communications. The nanobots worked tirelessly within their bodies, repairing all biological damage, whether caused naturally or accidentally, and making certain modifications to their genetic and bodily structures. Cass had been the first to have a ‘plant, long before the Federation even was a dream, due to her connection to a college friend; they had strongly supported his efforts in increasing the capabilities for years.
“Mya and what’s-his-name, Blackmon, were talking about that.”
“Yes. Blackmon had picked up on chatter that the Union might be willing to allow the habitat’s placement in exchange for a reduction in the exclusion zone.”
“Do you have anything to confirm that?”
“Scanning. Yes. Minister Dent has stated that they will accept that position, should negotiations get to that point.”
“Okay, hold on.” Kendra mentally opened another channel. “Get me Morgan. Yes, I know what time it is. I’ll wait.” She rolled her eyes. Cass looked up, stuck her tongue out at her, and returned to her work.
“Wayne? Kendra. Good, thank you, you? That’s nice. Listen, Wayne, anything new today? Uh-huh. Uh-huh. No. No. We could do that. Look, this is unusual, but tomorrow morning, I want you to offer reducing the exclusion zone in return for allowing Njord to be moved into Diana’s place. Start wherever you want, but don’t let them get any closer than a twenty-five thousand kilometer zone. I know it’s radical. When have I steered you wrong? Yes, keep pushing it. It’s going to take time, but as soon as they agree, write it up and get it signed, even if we don’t have anything else. I want that nailed down. No, nothing else. Good night.” She disconnected.
“That should get things moving,” she said.
“Are you sure that’s wise?” asked Cass. “It does sort of tip our hand.”
“Yes, and no. Wayne doesn’t know anything more than what I just told him, so he can’t reveal anything. And you know that rule of OpSec as well as I.”
“What he doesn’t know he can’t tell.” Cass didn’t even look up for that. While she had never been involved in espionage and undercover work, her life with Kendra, and the tales she’d been told, had given her a fair familiarity with at least the basics.
“And if Blackmon picked up on it, then there’s little risk that they’ll think we’re eavesdropping on everything they say.” Kendra stopped and looked over at Cass. “You almost done, hon?”
“Last tweaks,” Cass answered. “Why?”
“I was thinking that maybe the girls need an early night tonight.” Kendra came over and started rubbing her wife’s shoulders. “Then I can collect that kiss you owe me.”
“I owe you?”
“I think so. We can figure it out, come to some arrangement, can’t we?”
“I suppose we can,” agreed Cass. “I suppose we can.”