The Road to the Stars – Chapter Nine & Ten

Twice in one week!

I convinced Adam twice in one week to let me put up multiple chapters! You may have noticed, if you’ve dealt with him at all, that he tends to be stubborn? A bit determined to do things his way? One might even say pig-headed? If one wasn’t being kind, that is, which I always am. So I’ll just say he’s as stubborn as the day on Luna is long.

However, even he admitted that Chapter 9 – a quick look at the reaction the Primus is still having – was too short to stand alone.

You might ask, then, why it’s a chapter? Okay, so I asked. Here’s what he said:

“The perspective is totally different from the chapters before or after it. I felt I needed to step away cleanly on either side, set it off by itself, to led it the importance it deserved.”

And then a fun chapter, the first time I brought the girls up to Enterprise. It was as much of a challenge anything involving them ever is!

As always, if you want to skip past the “waiting for another chapter” thing you can click on any image to buy the book; you can get it in any format you want! Or just click the button below. Either works.

Also – if you just want the ebook and want it free, you can click here:

Also here’s a shiny new trailer for the book Adam had created!

Chapter Nine

The setting was more formal, but the anger the Primus had shown a week earlier hadn’t diminished. And she was now bringing her ire towards the Enterprise, Cassidys, and nascent Terran Federation before her entire Council of Ministers. That upped the ante. Everyone at the conference table was at risk, none more so that the Minister of Intelligence.

“Report.” Newling’s voice was like cold iron.

“We have contacted our informants on Earth and given them their instructions. We have also been searching the various databases available to us to learn about these Cassidy women. I anticipate a preliminary report will be ready in a few days.”

“I don’t want a report in a few days; what do you know now?”

Dent had anticipated this request and had come prepared with as basic an outline as his Intelligence staff could produce. Tapping on his padd, he sent it to the assembled ministers. There was silence for several minutes as they examined it.

“Damn,” whistled Minister Whitmore. “I wish my generals could command loyalty like they do.”

“I had no idea that the Harriman holdings were so extensive,” added Minister Pitt. “From a purely economic standpoint, they could be as influential as any country on Earth, should they choose to be.”

“Maybe we’re going about this wrong,” said Arthur Dent, the Foreign Affairs Minister, and cousin to the Minister of Intelligence.

“What do you mean?” asked Newling, frostily.

“Well, would it be possible to bring them onto our side? Wouldn’t having their starship and infrastructure solidify the position of the Solarian Union as the pinnacle of power in the system?” He looked around the table and saw some agreement, so pushed on. “Have we attempted some economic diplomacy with them?”

“Other than our commercial dealings with HLC, we haven’t had any particular reason to,” mused Minister Pitt. “Of course, we’ve been looking at HLC as a single company, rather than a part of a larger whole.”

“I think that, if we are to gather information on these people, that should be taken into consideration. Economic pressure can be highly motivating,” said Dent.

“We’ll incorporate that,” replied his cousin.

“I am unsure that we’ll be able to apply much economic pressure,” said Pitt. “The only part of their, well, their empire we interact with has been HLC, at least to my knowledge.”

“Perhaps a more direct method would be advisable,” suggested the Minister of Security, Kim Brown-Pitt. She was a rarity within the Artemesian circles of power: a member of a family by marriage, rather than birth. She had clawed her way to the top of MinSec over the bodies of less ruthless, and less careful, supervisors; in some cases, literally.

“Oh?” said Dent, with some distaste. His Intelligence ministry worked with MinSec regularly, but he had no particular love for the woman running it.

“Don’t by coy, Colin,” that notable now said. “It’s not like you’ve never used any devious means in pursuit of your goals. Why beat about the bush? These women: do they have family? Would they be responsive to threats?”

“We know how they respond to threats,” growled Whitmore. “You saw that broadcast, if not live then you’ve surely seen it since. ‘But if you come after us, you will live just long enough to regret that decision for the remainder of your very short life.’ I believe those were her exact words.”

“Words for the cameras are one thing; how she reacts when she sees her wife being tortured is another thing entirely.”

“Didn’t you read that dossier?” said Dent. “I really don’t think that either one would react positively if we were to threaten the life of someone she loves. Kendra, the one who styles herself an ‘Admiral’ these days, has been vocal about what she calls ohana. It’s a sense of family which is so all-pervading in her that it’s nearly a religion. That is not a button we want to press.”

“Ministers, please. That is an interesting thought,” said Newling, calmly, quietly. “But I think you misunderstand my interest in the Cassidys. I do not wish to have them ‘on our side.’ I do not wish to have them support us. I do not wish to have them supplying us with ships.”

“Ministers, remember this: we already are the supreme power in the system. What a pair of women – Earthworms – do is irrelevant to the success of the Union. We don’t need their starship or their money or their support to endure and to triumph.” Her voice began to rise. “We will not torture them to gain cooperation; we will simply kill them. If through some machination we somehow obtain their starship, or their habitat, or anything else, then is immaterial. We will not be challenged! We will not be insulted! We will not be threatened! And certainly not by these Earthworms!”

Her voice now a shriek, Newling stood and stomped from the room.

Chapter Ten

“You have to promise not to touch anything.”

“I promise,” two voices said nearly simultaneously and not at all convincingly.

“I’m not kidding,” said Kendra, producing her sternest look.

Mikki giggled, followed by Lisa.

“Really not kidding, girls.”

More giggles.

“A little help here, Chief?”

Stifling a grin of her own, Chief Stone turned the gaze which had terrified the bravest men and women of the SEALs on the two auburn menaces.

“If you two push even one button, there will be no hand-to-hand training until next month.”

“Yes, Auntie Mikki.” This time the words were much more believable.

“How do you do that?” said Kendra quietly.

“I just treat them like I treat boots,” replied the Chief.

The four were en route to Diana in the Brahmagupta, one of the next run of MOVs that hadn’t been assigned to Enterprise. Cass had used the transporter station inside HLC’s Los Alamos labs to be teleported to Enterprise, but Kendra thought that the girls might enjoy seeing the journey. Of course, there wasn’t anything to see yet, as they had just taken off. That might be adding to their restlessness.

“Coxswain, can we have the screens active back here? Just the outside view?”

“Yes, ma’am,” answered Coxswain’s Mate Shannon Fowler. She wasn’t part of the Enterprise crew, but when Kendra had established her Federation many of the people who had been working on the Wolves, Diana, and Endeavour suddenly found themselves with military-type positions. The adjustment was going well, generally. It probably helped that Kendra was remembering to wear her uniform.

The screens suddenly showed the panorama as the MOV climbed from Los Alamos. The girls started oohing and aahing appropriately pointing to one thing and then another, trying to get both her and the Chief’s attention. It made for a quicker flight, at least.

CM Fowler had kept the Brahmagupta to an acceleration the dampers could handle; even so, they were already far above the clouds and the sky outside was a blue that was just this side of black. Kendra quickly scanned the MOVs systems with her ‘plant; so far, everything looked good. She made a mental note to tell the CM and her Engineer after the flight was over.

“Smooth,” commented Stone.

“The CM is taking it easy on us,” Kendra said. “I’ve been in one of these when it was pulling two hundred gravity’s acceleration. The dampers can’t quite handle that, so you end up feeling 4 g’s.”

“That’s not so bad,” Stone said. “There was one time that the Team had to –”

Her story was interrupted by little Mikki bouncing up and landing solidly in her lap. “Auntie Mikki, we’re going to space!”

“Yes, sweetie,” agreed the veteran of countless combat encounters. “We’re going to space.”

“We’re going to where you work, right Mama?” added Lisa.

“Yes, we’re going to where I work,” said Kendra.

“Can we see it yet?” continued Lisa.

“No, not yet. It’s a long, long way away.”

“As far as the market?”

That got a fond laugh from Kendra. “Even farther.”

“As far as Mom’s work?”

“That’s a little tricky because Mom works there now too. So it’s farther than where she used to work.”

“Mom’s going to work there?”

“She already is. That’s where she went this morning.”

“How did she get there? Did she fly, like us?”

“No, she didn’t fly.” How do I explain quantum teleportation to a five-year-old?

“Did she use the thing she built?”

I guess that’s how. “Yes, she did.”

“That looked like fun! She took me to work one day and showed me. She made a pineapple disappear in one place and then it showed up in another! It was so cool!”

“Yes, and it can send people too.”

“Why didn’t we go that way?” asked Mikki from her aunt’s lap.

“I thought flying there would be fun. Isn’t it fun?”

“The first part was fun, but now it’s just boring,” complained Mikki. “There’s nothing to see.”

“Let’s change that,” said Kendra. “CM, permission to interface with the screens?”

“Go ahead, Admiral.”

“Mama, why did she call you ‘Admiral’?” asked Lisa, and they were off again. At least with control over the screens Kendra was able to keep them entertained by zooming in here and there until they were closing on the station.

“Admiral, we’re on final approach to Diana. I need everyone secured.”

“You heard the CM, girls. Into your seats and buckles on!” For all their impulsiveness, both girls knew when they simply had to listen, and were fastened in in short order.

“Watch!”

Diana came into view rapidly, and Kendra tried to see it through her daughters’ eyes. The core, oriented vertically as they approached, was rough cylinder nearly a kilometer across and half again that high. The surface was a patchwork, as the growth of the station had been organic rather than planned. Sections had been added on and welded in as needed, and the expansion was continuing. Surface today might be interior bulkhead in a month. Evidence of the continuing improvements was apparent in the various beams, pressure modules, and other less-identifiable objects which protruded outward.

“Where’s Mom?”

Instead of answering directly, Kendra said, “CM, do we have a view of the bay?”

“Portside in thirty seconds, Admiral.”

“Thank you. Mikki, Lisa, we’re going to dock in the same bay where Mom works. Look out the left.”

“Port means left,” Mikki told her sister.

“I know that!”

“Girls…” That one word was all it took and they both turned to watch the approach.

The bay was on the dark side of the station, nearly at the bottom of the cylinder. There had been thought to orienting the entrance to take advantage of the natural light the sun provided, but the light would also bring hazards and in the end they chose safety over convenience. The opening itself, a massive hexagon two hundred fifty meters on a side with a maximum width of five hundred meters, was surrounded by rings of LEDs. These lit sequentially, from the outermost inward, to help guide ships into the bay and to provide a sense of depth. Additionally, Diana monitored all incoming craft and was able to override the onboard systems and bring them in under her control.

The lights came into view.

“We’re going in there?” squeaked Lisa.

“Yes, honey. It’s perfectly safe,” reassured Kendra.

Lisa seemed relieved by this, but she still gripped Kendra’s arm tightly.

The MOV passed into the shadow of the station and the guiding lights seemed to leap out at them.

Diana, Brahmagupta,” CM Fowler radioed.

“Go ahead, Brahmagupta.” Diana’s voice was clear and calm, exactly what a pilot would want to hear.

“On final approach.”

“Confirmed. Proceed to hangar two.”

“No honors,” said Kendra before Fowler responded.

“Hangar two, aye. Flag aboard, requests no honors.”

“Confirmed. Diana, out.”

“What does that mean?” asked Mikki.

“And why did you say no honors?” added Lisa.

“The pilot – CM Fowler – needed to let the station know we were almost there. The station – Diana – told the pilot where to go. What I said means I don’t want them to make a fuss when I get out.”

“Why would they make a fuss?”

“Because of what my job is,” continued Kendra. Seeing the confusion on their faces, she continued with, “It’s complicated. Let’s watch, and I’ll explain more later.”

The MOV had nearly cleared the entrance, and the Enterprise was visible ahead, down and to port.

“Right there,” said Kendra, pointing.

“That’s Mom’s ship! Why aren’t we going to it?”

The MOV was turning to starboard.

“Hangar two is opposite from the bay for the Enterprise. Don’t worry, it won’t take us long to get there once we’ve docked.”

Proving her correct, the Brahmagupta settled smoothly into her hangar barely a minute later.

“Power down, EM,” said Fowler.

“Powering down,” answered Dennis Tresca, the Engineer’s Mate.

The girls were out of their seats and bouncing.

“Lisa, Mikki, hold on. We have to wait, and there are some things you need to remember when we leave the boat.”

“It’s not a boat, Mama!”

“It’s called a boat, Mikki. Are you going to listen?”

“Yes, Mama.” Luckily for Kendra’s talk, Mikki didn’t see Lisa stick her tongue out at her. Kendra did, but decided it wasn’t worth chasing that rabbit down a hole just now.

“We have to wait until they close the door to the hangar and pump in air. We’ll know there’s air when these two lights are both green.” She showed them the tell-tales at the hatch.

“When we get out, you’re going to be lighter than you’re used to.”

“Does that mean I can jump higher?”

“Yes, but don’t! Not until you get used to it. No running, no jumping, no horseplay. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mama,” returned the usual chorus.

“Don’t touch anything until Aunt Mikki, Mom, or I tell you it’s okay.

“Can I touch the floor?” asked Mikki just a little too innocently.

“Are you really asking that question?”

“No, Mama.”

“If you see a red light, stop! Just stop, right where you are.”

“Why, Mama?”

“Red on Diana means that there’s something dangerous.” That was a vast oversimplification, but would work for now.

“Mama! The lights are green!” The younger sister reached for the controls.

“Lisa, what did I say?”

Lisa’s hand came back to her side. “Don’t touch.”

“Right. Don’t touch.” Why did I think this was a good idea?

EM Tresca came back, verified the pressure, and released the hatch. With much pushing, Mikki and Lisa charged out of the MOV, down toward the hangar floor, and found themselves simultaneously too high and too fast.

“Mama!”

Both girls managed to more-or-less control their tumbles and landed with only a few minor bumps. Nevertheless, neither seemed inclined to move until Stone and Kendra came and checked them over.

“Now you see why I said no running.” It was a statement, not a question, but they answered anyways.

“Lisa, with Aunt Mikki; Mikki, you’re with me.” They moved to the hatch at the back of the hangar, which opened just before they got there, to show Kyran with one of their assistants.

“Admiral.”

“Are we going to do this? Fine. Commodore.” Kendra nodded at Kyran.

“No, but it still sounds good. And who are these two?”

“Our daughters. Lisa, Mikki, this is Commodore Kyran Knott. They’re in charge of the station, so if you get into trouble, you’re going to have to answer to them, not just me.”

“I’m not that bad,” laughed Kyran, who then noticed the plea in Kendra’s eyes. “But you don’t want to push me,” they amended in a much sterner voice. “Understand?”

“Yes!” both squeaked.

“This is Mikaila Stone. The girls call her Auntie Mikki. She’s a former Master Chief in the SEALs.”

“So you’re almost qualified to watch over them?” joked Kyran.

“Not by half,” disagreed Stone.

“And this is Chris Knepper. He was just assigned from HLC to help lead the construction brigade. We haven’t figured out a rank for him yet, probably something like Warrant Officer.” Chris was tall and sanguine, exuding an air of complete calm in the face of virtually any challenge.

“A pleasure,” said Kendra, nodding.

“If he’s near the top of the ladder, he’ll need to be a Senior Warrant,” added Stone. “Just my experience.”

“Where’d you come from, Chris?” asked Kendra. She didn’t remember him, but if he was new he probably transferred up from HLC. He seemed to confirm that with his answer.

“I just came up from groundside with the last, no, next-to-last personnel transfer, Admiral.”

“Well, welcome to the Terran Federation, Chris. If there’s anything I can do, just ask. Diana always knows how to reach me.” Having said that, she turned to Kyran. “Do you have time to walk with us to Enterprise? I’d like to talk to you about a few projects.”

“A few projects?” Kyran produced an exaggerated sigh. “By your command. Chris, will you lead?”

“Certainly, Commodore.”

“Oh, good,” Kyran said, sarcastically. “I just got him to stop calling me Commodore, and now you’ve got him doing it again.”

The girls executed a complex, semi-chaotic orbit around Stone and Chris as Kyran and Kendra brought up the rear.

“Get me up to speed,” said Kendra. Since they talked at least every day, frequently more often, they’d learned how to cut to the essentials quickly without bruising anyone’s feelings.

“The first missile pods have been installed. Diana’s connected to them and has full communications with them.”

“That’s great news; I’ve been worried since we got that message from the Union on launch day about leaving you without any defenses. How many pods do you have in?”

“Right now, just eight. My crews are getting the hang of it now, and we should be through the backlog in another couple weeks. After that, the only thing that will slow us down is production of the pods.”

“Have you thought about reloading?”

“I want to work with the Wolf pilots, the ones who are going to be stationed on Diana. I think they could probably use their tractor/pressor beams to move the missiles around.”

“Hmm.” Kendra considered this. “A couple potential issues with that. I don’t think the pilots are going to like the idea of ferrying missiles around for a hot reload in the middle of a battle. And where are you thinking to keep them stored that the Wolves could access them?”

“In the bay.”

“Which doesn’t close.”

“Not yet.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. I’ve had some thoughts about the direction we’re going to take for Diana. I know that there’s no particular plan, but I think –”

By the time they had arrived at the airlocks leading to the Enterprise, Kyran had sketched out their idea.

“I’ll give you this, Kyran, you are not afraid of thinking big!”

“Is that a yes?”

“What does Diana think? Diana?”

“I believe it would be an excellent direction to take,” said the station AI.

“Can you handle it? That’s an awful lot to oversee for a single AI.”

“I have considered it most carefully, and running a station of the size the Commodore proposes is within my capacity. However, I would not be averse to the installation of a Beta AI to absorb some of the tasks and provide redundancy.”

“And would it be a new construction, or an expansion on the current station?”

“I would definitely prefer it be new construction,” responded Diana. “As you know, AI’s don’t do well having their structures worked on after awakening. It is akin to a person doing body modification to themselves.”

“How are you handling the current construction?”

“Very well, thank you. My apologies, I thought I would try a small joke. The new construction is taking place in sections which are not yet connected to my systems; in my analogy, it’s having the body modifications done under anesthetic. I could handle the expansion, but there are inefficiencies in my current form which I would like the opportunity to eliminate.”

“Trade up, in other words.”

“Yes, please. No offense, Admiral, but as a habitat engineer you’re an excellent courier.”

“Very funny. All right, you two. Plan it out and get me estimates on time, cost, and materials. Keep moving on installation of those pods on the current station, but shut down any other project that isn’t absolutely essential for safety. Oh, do you have a suggestion for your junior AI’s name?”

“I was thinking Hecate,” said Diana. “She was associated with doorways and entrances; my thought was to put her in control of the internal spacedock, bays, hangars, and other associated divisions.”

“Seems good. Chris, you still with us?”

Knepper was looking just a bit shell-shocked, but he rallied.

“Yes, ma’am. They’re quite…energetic.”

“That they are. Kyran, thank you for walking with me. If you need me, I’ll be aboard Enterprise for a while.”

“Gotcha.” Kyran and Knepper headed back into the station, while Kendra turned to Mikki and Lisa.

“Ready to see Mom? Remember, best behavior. This is just like going to see her at her old office, but she’s not the boss here.”

“No, you are!” said Mikki.

“Best. Behavior.”

“Aye aye!” giggled Lisa.

The Road to the Stars – Book 2 – Chapter 9
The Road to the Stars – Book 2 – Chapter 10

Published by gaffen620

Author of The Cassidy Chronicles. Lives in Colorado with many dogs, cats, and one very patient wife.

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