From the desk of Admiral Kendra Cassidy
I have, or had, every reason to hate her back in the day.
She was the one who planned the KEW strike that destroyed our home and killed twenty thousand innocent people.
But let’s back up a little more.
Nicole Crozier was born on Luna, in Artemis City, to immigrants from the Martian Colony. Her mother, found a position in a restaurant owned by the Dent Family, while her father stayed home to raise their children. One of five children, she went into the Ministry of War after university more or less by accident, never intending to rise far. She did her job, of course, and was promoted and given further responsibilities.
One of those, as I said, was to plan the KEW strike on my home. As I learned later, she did the job properly: directed strike, contained, just enough to do what was necessary. Unfortunately, she was overruled, over and over and over, until she created the eventual strike which matched the requirements set down by the Primus. This bothered her so much that her supervisor ordered her off the project.
It would make perfect sense for me to hate her. In truth, I did, before I knew her; I hated the faceless, nameless person who brutally murdered so many of my neighbors on Earth. Eventually that hatred moved to the person who ordered that strike, as it should: Vasilia Newling. After all, you don’t blame the tool, you blame the person who wields it. And nobody who has ever gotten to know Nicole could hate her.
After the failed Battle of Diana, and Davie Whitmore’s disappearance, Nicole was abruptly promoted to Minister of War, mostly because she was the only one with answers for Newling on a Very Bad Day. Surprising everyone, including herself, she held the position for a year, and would have stayed longer. Her competence was never an issue; unfortunately, she happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
We had a clandestine intelligence-gathering mission underway in Artemis City. Part of the mission was the recovery of a pair of relative innocents, an engineer and the daughter of a physicist, who had been deemed ‘inconvenient’ by the Artemis regime. What Nicole didn’t know, and didn’t learn until much later, is that her mother had been active in the resistance movement for years and served as a conduit for much of the intelligence heading off Luna.
Nicole, innocent in all this, took a weekend off to spend with her family. She was introduced to the two escaped prisoners as friends of the family, and found herself drawn into conversation. She and the daughter were of similar ages and hit it off well. The next morning Nicole asked to work a shift in the restaurant for old times’ sake, and her mother consented. Nicole was surprised to find her new friend in the restaurant, but not terribly so; after all, family friend and all that.
Then everything went to hell:
“Can I clear your places?” she asked, then was almost knocked off her feet by Amber’s enthusiastic hug.
“Nicole!” she squealed. “I didn’t think we’d see you again!” And she lifted the taller woman a half-meter off the deck.
Definitely from Earth, commed Stone.
“Put me down!” laughed the other woman.
Once her feet were back on the floor, she said, “I didn’t think so either, but mom asked me to come in and help for old times’ sake.” She looked around the restaurant. “I practically grew up here. I think I was ‘helping’, if that’s what you want to call it, from the time I was, oh, three? From then until I got the job at the Ministry, on and off.”
Stone and Jordan continued sitting quietly as the two women chatted enthusiastically.
“I’m being rude,” Nicole eventually said. “Hi, I’m Nicole.”
“Mikki, and this is my friend Alyssa.”
“Nice to meet you. Are you friends of Amber’s?”
Jordan’s face was a study, but Stone said, “There’s never enough time to get to know people as well as you’d like, eh?”
That seemed to be correct, as Nicole nodded. “I know what you mean. I just met Amber this morning, but it seems like I’ve known her forever.”
“Nicole!” The shout sounded throughout the interior, and she winced.
“Mom’s still got those lungs,” she said. “I’ve got to get back. Sometimes I think I’d rather deal with the Primus. Whoops! Forget I said that.”
Stone nodded, but she suddenly had much more interest in this part-time server.
“Wait!” said Amber as Nicole started to move off. “I need your comm code!”
“Oh, yeah. I forgot to give that to you this morning. Ready?” Amber nodded, and Nicole rattled off a string of numbers. Stone carefully recorded them with her ‘plant and captured an image.
“I think it’s time we headed back as well,” suggested Stone.
Suddenly, the restaurant grew silent. Stone looked around and saw a squad of MinSec guards were at the entrance, one pointing directly at Amber and Ruben and gesturing with her other hand.
“This is bad on toast,” said Stone. “You armed?” she asked Jordan.
“Just a couple things I picked up,” the other woman answered. “You?”
“This and that. Oi, Amber. I don’t know who you are, but I think you’re on someone’s shit list.”
Amber grew pale.
The troopers started to move, slowly approaching from both sides.
“Nicole. Nicole!” Stone hissed.
“Huh? What’s going on?”
“I don’t know, but is there a back way out of here?”
“Yes, through the kitchen, but… This has to be a mistake.” She gathered herself and seemed to wrap herself in authority. “What is the meaning of this?” she demanded, striding over to the apparent leader.
“None of your concern, citizen.”
“This is going to end badly,” Stone whispered, trying to edge towards the kitchen. The other three, though, were frozen in place.
Nicole seemed to gain another half-dozen centimeters. “It is my concern,” she said, voice allowing for no disagreement. “Tell me what you are doing!”
“I don’t answer to you,” said the leader, turning her attention to Nicole. “But those people are fugitives, and we’re returning them to detention. Unless you’d like to join them, I wouldn’t interfere.”
“My name is Nicole Crozier.”
“I don’t care.”
“I am the Minister of War, and I will by damn make you care!”
Stone’s head snapped around. Minister of War?
That got the MinSec leader’s attention too, but not the way Nicole had hoped. “Then you’re a traitor, if you’re defending fugitives!” She started to bring her weapon up.
Stone was already in motion. “Jordan, get them moving!” she said, and leapt at Nicole. Her Earth-adjusted muscles allowed her to cover the ten meters in a single leap, and she grabbed her around the waist as her momentum brought them both to the ground. Without seeming to slow, she pivoted on her hip and kicked the back of the MinSec’s knees.
“Who are you?” gasped Nicole.
“Come with me if you want to live,” grunted Stone, pulling them both to their feet. She took a quick look and saw that Jordan had gotten the others headed toward the kitchen, and the rest of the MinSec guards were now focused on her. Great.
With the help of Chief Stone, Nicole made her way to the Artemis City naval spaceport, where she used her clout as Minister of War to get them both aboard an Artemesian frigate, and in short order they found themselves aboard Njord. Since then Nicole has become an integral part of the Federation and, more importantly, she’s shed the guilt she felt for the KEW. And I’ve shed the hate.
Today she’s as much part of my ohana as anyone else.
Kendra Cassidy, Admiral (ret)