This wasn’t a bad time in my life. Not really. It felt that way at the time, because I was being pulled in so many different directions, but what I couldn’t know was how they were all going to be resolved.
Today’s chapter is one of those ‘looks bad at the time but really isn’t’ kind of days. This was our ‘home life’: bouncing ideas off each other, running from problem to problem, and generally seeming like we didn’t know what we were doing 99% of the time.
Which is a total lie.
It was probably no more than 75%. 80, tops.
Oh, and I still say that Mr. Fish is a perfectly good name for a fish!
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Kendra looked up from her workstation to see the concerned face of her wife.
“It’s that bitch from Artemis MinInt.”
“What about her?” Cass came over to see the screen.
“We have all the information we need to prove who she really is and their connections to Artemis, but nothing that’s going to stand up to legal scrutiny. I mean, Cristina’s dug up all the connections, got her dialed in perfectly, but she and Harpo weren’t subtle about it and probably broke a few laws in the process.”
“Okay, so approach it from a different angle.”
“Well, if you can’t prove it, go after what she presents. What’s her alias?”
“Smith. Samantha Smith. Her real name is Anna Elizabeth.”
“If you can’t prove that Elizabeth is Smith, then maybe it’s enough to cast doubt on whether Smith is who she says she is.”
Kendra sat back. “Go on.”
“Well, I’m not an expert in manufactured identities, but I do know someone who is.”
“Dick!” Kendra exclaimed.
Cass nodded her agreement. Dick Evans was the first person from Kendra’s ‘other life’ that Cass had met, back when they had first been plunged into a desperate race for answers. He was a forger, though that was akin to calling Van Gogh a landscape painter, or Michelangelo someone who dabbled in sculpture. He was, simply put, the best at what he did.
He was now mostly-retired, pushing eighty-five, but still living in Las Vegas Free State. One of Kendra’s former colleagues, Joe Buckley, had joined him to learn the trade after an accident had left him short a foot.
“Minna, can you get through to Dick Evans?” Kendra asked now.
“Connecting,” came the near-instantaneous reply of the ship’s AI. “There will be a lag as he is not linked to the Q-Net.”
“Who’s this?” The voice was instantly familiar and filled with suspicion.
“Hey, Dick, it’s Kendra.” She waited for her message to travel the 400,000 kilometers to Earth.
“Why can’t I tell that? And why’s it taking you so long to reply?”
“I’m not exactly in the neighborhood anymore, Dick. Light-speed lag. I don’t know why you can’t tell who I am, though, unless…”
“Minna, how did you contact Dick?” she asked the AI.
“I tapped into the commnet and found his line, then patched directly through the server trunk, routed to here through –”
“Sorry, Dick. I guess I didn’t exactly call you up the normal way.”
“Hmmph. Still not convinced. What’s wrong with Joe?” he said suddenly.
“He has the worst luck on the planet,” Kendra answered instantly, recognizing it as an identity test. “Last I knew, though, nothing really since he lost his foot.”
Dick’s tone grew warmer. “You just can’t stay out of the news, can you?”
“Guess not,” agreed Kendra.
“First there’s the starship, then the Federation, then you picking a fight with the Solarian Union, then this hoorah about your genetics. What kind of trouble are you in today?”
“Still the hoorah about my genetics, but we think we have a way out. What can you tell us about maintaining an alternate identity?”
“What do you want to know? I practically wrote the book, if I was stupid enough to put it in writing, which I’m not.”
He whistled. “That’s a pile, and I’m not about to do that over an open comm. Come down and we’ll talk.”
She shook her head though he couldn’t see. “I’m avoiding Earthside as much as I can for now. Can you get away?”
“What are you paying?” he objected.
“What’s your highest rate?”
“Ain’t found it yet.”
“Find it and add fifty percent. Suits?”
“You always did know how to negotiate.” He laughed thinly. “But girl, I ain’t much for travel these days.”
“I’ll send someone for you; they can have you here in less than an hour. You can visit with the girls,” she added, dangling one more carrot.
“As long as they don’t jump on me,” he grumbled. “Can’t today. Have to be tomorrow.”
“Fine. I’ll have your ride there whenever you want.”
“Seven a.m. Might as well make a day of it.”
“May as well,” Kendra agreed. “You still at the same place?”
“There’s a park a block away. Your ride will meet you there. Bring Joe along, if he’s free.”
“He’s not free, but he’s cheaper than me.” He chuckled at his joke. “We’ll be there. What sort of car am I looking for?”
“Oh, no, Dick. No car. You’re going in style.”
“Huh. Flaunting your money’s not a good thing in this town,” he warned.
“I don’t think they’ll have any problems,” she assured him. “See you tomorrow.”
As soon as the connection closed, she said, “Minna, ask Flashdance if she’s available. Frankly, she’s the only one of her crew I’d trust with Dick.”
“Okay, so that’s that for now,” said Cass. “What else got you going?”
“Huh? Oh. Nothing really, not as such. Just, well, you know me. I hate waiting.”
“I know you do,” said Cass. “You’ve never been good at it. Remember your ninth birthday?”
“Oh, Zeus. I’d almost forgotten,” groaned Kendra.
“I didn’t,” laughed Cass. “You were in such a hurry to have your cake and blow out your candles…”
“Don’t say it! Minna’s listening!”
“…you nearly burned the house down!”
“How did it happen, Commander?” asked the AI.
“We were all in the backyard, playing games, and Kendra snuck inside, took the cake into a closet, and lit the candles. But there was something hanging down, I don’t remember what it was.”
“It was an apron that my parents wore when they cooked.”
“Right. Anyways, it got too close to the flame, and whoosh! Kendra comes running out of the closet, screaming, trying to carry the cake with the candles still burning, out the back door and right into a pile of leaves, cake and all.”
“It was fall, my dad was raking earlier,” explained Kendra.
“So her dad goes inside, grabs an extinguisher, and puts out the fire. That was pretty much the end of the party, and Kendra was grounded for a week.”
“Two weeks,” Kendra corrected. “Two.”
“I see,” said Minna. “Enlightening.”
“The point,” said Kendra, trying to pull the conversation away from the flaming birthday cake. “Everything is waiting. Waiting for Endeavour to be repaired so we can go switch the crews on Lemnos.”
“A week, two at the outside,” Cass said. “According to Kiri.”
“Waiting for the next court date, which just got delayed. Again.”
“Where you get to drop the hammer on the Artemis connections. Well, once Dick does his magic.”
“Waiting for Cris and the Chief to come up with their plan for a regime change on Artemis.”
“We’re going through with that, then?”
Kendra looked pained.
“I’m not sure how else to break through the logjam. Sometime soon they’re going to re-launch the Averroes, and then we’re going to have to deal with a warp-capable ship in the hands of people who’ve already proven their willingness to kill indiscriminately. A few more months and there’s going to be three of them.”
“We’ll have four starships to their three, plus the Wolves and the Direwolves.”
“I really don’t want to kill more people than we have to. Given what Nicole and Davie have told us, as well as the reports that Cris has prepared from her HumInt, it seems that this Primus is the root cause of our issues. She is the match which lit all this off. We eliminate her, we eliminate the problems.”
“Are you okay with that?” Cass asked quietly.
“Yeah. Yeah, I think I am,” admitted Kendra. “I promised our people not to spend their lives unwisely. Killing Newling would do that. Remember what I used to do for OutLook?”
“I remember. Assassin.”
Kendra nodded. “Twelve assignments, eighteen more in the line of duty. My hands aren’t clean, babe. No matter how much I do in this part of my life, I can’t ever get away from my past. In this case, though, it gives me a different lens to look through, a different perspective. I’ve got to say if the choices are being responsible for the deaths of more like Mia, or killing a single person, I’m going to weigh heavily towards a single death.”
“And won’t the chaos in Artemis cause more deaths?”
“Maybe? Maybe not. We’re still working on it, you know. The way Nicole and Davie explain it, it’s a matter of getting the right replacement for Newling in place to take over after she’s removed. That’s the way it’s always worked in the past when one Primus has replaced another, but right now there isn’t anyone who’s actively trying to take her place.”
“What about Nicole?”
“She’s not part of the Four Families,” answered Kendra with a shake of her head. “That’s not an automatic bar, but it’s a high hurdle to clear. It would be like trying to install someone not a Daley on the Sears Throne in the Imperium.”
“Whitmore’s part of the Families, but she’s been dead, officially, for a year. She’d be a focal point for opposition; they could accuse her of faking her death in order to overthrow the legitimate government, and she wouldn’t be able to say anything in her defense.” She shrugged. “There are some candidates in the Families, but we have the dual problems of knowing their motivations and making contact.”
“And in the meantime we have a dreadnought about to launch.”
“And in the meantime we have a dreadnought about to launch, yes. Which does put some urgency into our discussions.”
“Then you’re doing all you can.”
“Will you stop being so damn reasonable!”
Cass grinned. “Nope.”
Kendra harrumphed, which only made Cass’s grin grow wider.
“Fine. Then you can help keep me busy while I wait.”
Cass arched an eyebrow.
“During duty hours? My, my, Admiral.”
“No, no, I mean yes, but…you’re the only person who has ever been able to get me tongue-tied.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment. Fine. What do you want to name the kittens?”
“Did we agree to take some?”
“Well, it’s not written in permacrete, but I think it would be a good idea. According to Dr. Desjier, they’re all healthy and developing normally. He expects them in another couple weeks, though he did say that he’s a doctor, not a vet, and this is decidedly outside his usual practice.”
“Then we have time to think of names. Especially if we don’t know if they’re boys or girls or what.”
“True enough, but with your track record we ought to start now. You never did name the fish you had in high school.”
“Hey! Mr. Fish is a perfectly good name!”
“I rest my case.”