Well. If you’ve read these books to here, you might be getting the idea we never disagreed, never bumped heads.
We didn’t usually come to blows over anything, true, but there were some knock-down, drag-out verbal wars going on.
This chapter was one of those.
And it was between two people who were as close as any pair you ever want to meet, even though they never (to the best of my knowledge) ever had any sort of romantic relationship.
I can’t say much more or I get into spoilers, and Adam hates when I do that.
So if you’re tired of waiting for chapters, Adam has three options for you. First, you can go to Amazon and buy the book. He’d love for you to do that (and leave a review!), but there are other choices. Click on the FIRST button (or any image) for this option. Second, if you have Kindle Unlimited you can borrow the book, and if you don’t have KU you can sign up and get a free month! Click on the SECOND button for that option. Third, if you prefer listening to your books you can do that, too, on Audible. If you don’t have Audible, no problem! You can buy it for cash money, or you can sign up for Audible and get it free! Click on the THIRD button for this option.
Outlook HQ, New Orleans, Border States
“We can do it.”
“You’re positive, Chief – no, scratch that. You wouldn’t tell me if you weren’t positive.” Cris scratched her head and thought. “You want to tell me about it?”
Master Chief Stone dropped into the chair across the desk from the Director, looking weary.
“It’s not easy,” she began.
“I didn’t think it would be. This isn’t a target in the States, or even the Imperium. Hell, it’s not even a target on Earth!”
Stone shook her head in agreement. “That’s not the problem, actually.”
“No. Your little jaunt to recover Whitmore proved that. No, the problem is going to be getting through security with the people we have, because we sure as hell aren’t going to be able to draw any more.”
Cris considered this. “What if it was a larger tour group? That at least would increase your…why are you shaking your head?”
“Because Artemis strictly limits the size of the tour groups. You didn’t run into that on the extraction because you were under the limit, but no group can have more than fifteen members.”
“Then we send two groups, four, however many…you’re shaking your head again.”
“Tourism isn’t encouraged, Cris. I looked. At any given time there’s only likely to be three groups on all of Luna, and they could be anywhere. In fact, Harpo dug out documentation that they deliberately keep the groups separated, in different complexes. If one’s in Artemis City, another will be in Tycho Under, and a third in Hong Kong Luna. They’re never together for more than the briefest time, in passing. These bastards are both paranoid and competent, which makes it tough.”
“And we can’t do anything large-scale, like they did to Los Alamos.”
“No. If we’re going for regime change, we need to be surgical. Everything we’re learning from Whitmore says that the Primus is the key, the one person with a personal grudge against Cass and Ken. Everyone else just falls in line.”
“Could we exploit any divisions? Surely they don’t all support her!”
“They don’t,” Stone agreed. “But she has a nasty habit of killing people who might possibly disagree with her.”
“And that’ll make the survivors more reluctant to come into the open.”
“Exactly. Newling’s relatively young for the position, but she’s held it against all comers for nine years so far, including her own parents.”
“Her parents? She had them killed?”
Stone waggled a hand in a ‘so-so’ gesture. “Not that anyone has ever proven, no. Still, the odds of their official transport being ‘accidentally’ struck during a live-fire exercise by the Artemesian Navy are awfully slim.”
They sat considering this for a moment before Stone continued.
“That puts us back to an infiltration and removal. Like I said, we can do it; the questions is, is it worth it? Best analysis puts us at a 75% casualty rate, or worse. Eleven or twelve agents.”
“I think we’re back to the drawing board then. I can’t justify that sort of loss rate.”
“Cris, think of what it would mean! Yes, it’s a hell of a cost, but how many have died because of that bitch?” Stone’s voice was fierce, impassioned. “She damn near killed everyone we care about when they had done nothing to her!”
“Chief, I think you need to take a step back,” Cris said. “This sounds like it’s getting personal.”
“Too bloody right it’s personal! The only reason her KEW didn’t catch Kendra and the girls is because they weren’t living there full-time, and Newling still almost managed to get them when the Brahe started punching holes in Diana! I want her off the board!”
Cris stood abruptly. “That’s enough! Master Chief, I am telling you to stand down!”
“Bollocks to that!” Stone blasted back, rising as well. “How many people is it worth to prevent another Los Alamos?”
“If I could guarantee that outcome, I’d do it.”
“Newling’s the one person behind their attacks!”
“And who’s to say that the others won’t pick up the baton? You don’t think that taking Newling out won’t make them just a bit irritated with us?”
“So what? There’s going to be chaos and confusion once Newling’s dead. You think we can’t force some concessions in that period?”
Cris considered this. “What does Harpo say?”
“You can’t take the word of a pile of electrons over the voice of experience,” Stone argued.
“What does Harpo say, Chief?” Montana said more insistently.
“There’s no such thing as gut feeling in an AI, Cris,” insisted Stone.
“Harpo disagrees, doesn’t he?”
“He doesn’t have any intuition! Whose word are you going to take, Cris? Experience or electrons?”
“When you’re talking about the lives of my people? I’m going to listen to both, and if there’s an argument between the two I’m going to vote to keep my people alive.”
Stone shook her head sadly. “I thought you were smarter than this, Cris.”
“And I thought you understood the chain of command. I’m not telling you we won’t do it. I’ll look over your plans. But you’re going to have to convince me, and you’re going to have to wait.”
Stone looked rebellious.
“Master Chief. Stand. Down.”
Visibly pulling herself back from an unwise comment, Stone nodded curtly, spun on one foot, and not quite stomped out of the office.
“Hold it, Chief!” Montana called after her, and Stone halted just outside the door.
“Come back in and let’s talk. Talk, Chief, not yell. I want to do something about this Artemis problem too, you know?”
Stone considered that for a moment, then turned and came back in.
“What d’ye have in mind?” she asked as the door closed behind her.