“Venomous snake” are the first words which leap to mind when thinking of the Primus. “Egomaniac” and “paranoid bitch” are close in the running, too.
If you’re getting the idea I didn’t like Vasilia Newling, well, you’re half-right.
I hated what she did and what she made happen. She wrought untold misery across a swath of the Inner System for years.
That said, I never met her in person, nor did I even talk to her directly. I tried; Zeus knows I tried! I offered publicly, I offered privately, I sent messages to her government.
It’s one of the few regrets I have, that I was never able to talk with her. I still feel much of the bloodshed and pain of our conflict could have been avoided with a few meetings.
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“I. Want. Results. Not excuses. Results.”
The fact that the Primus wasn’t yelling was enough to chill even the most stoic of her Ministers.
“Primus, it takes time to penetrate any organization, even with the most lax security. None of the parts of the Harriman Trust could be said to have lax security, whether electronic, physical, or personal.”
“Does that mean you’ve failed, Minister Dent?”
“Not in the least, Primus! We have had successes. One of our agents is in place in the station they are building at L5; another is reporting to us from the reclamation project they are doing outside Houston; a third is instigating a criminal investigation into their operation.”
“What good will that last do? We don’t care if they’re inconvenienced by some bogus criminal charges.”
“It will distract them, and their security people, and distracted people make mistakes. Primus, we are making progress. It simply isn’t as easy, or as quick, as we hoped.”
“We’ve had some results,” said Minister Whitmore, always ready to capitalize on the perceived weakness of another.
“Yes. We’ve placed spy satellites around their station, keeping it under observation at all times. Nothing can arrive, or leave, without us noticing.”
“So you can count the ships that fly in. What good is that?” scoffed Newling.
“We’ve also persuaded our colleagues at the SUN to maintain a tight net around their so-called ‘exclusion zone’; they have been tracking their starship as it goes about its errands, though none of the SUN ships have been able to pace it.”
“That’s good news,” admitted Newling.
“We are discontinuing it, however, as I believe that will lull them into a false sense of security, and rely only on the surveillance satellites that will remain in place.”
“Then I ask again, what good is that?”
“It allows us to track personnel and material transfer, for one thing. I won’t bore you with the details, Primus, but they have dramatically increased the number of shipments from Earth. They have also increased the frequency of flights from their station into the area surrounding it; we believe these to be training flights, as there are always two of their Wolf shuttles, and one flies a tighter course than the other.”
“Any conclusion you wish to draw from this?”
“I leave intelligence to my colleague at MinInt, Primus,” evaded Whitmore smoothly. “They have, of course, been provided with all the data we have gathered.”
“Hmpf. Dent? What do you think they are doing?”
“I concur with Minister Whitmore’s assessment that the Wolf flights are training exercises. As for conclusions, my staff is still analyzing the data, so any information I can present is preliminary, you understand.” He waited for the grudging nod of acknowledgement from the Primus; while it didn’t guarantee his safety, it did at least signal that the Primus was thinking instead of simply reacting. “That said, Primus, we tend to view the increased training flights with great trepidation. Increased training necessarily results in increased capabilities of the trainees, increased numbers of trained personnel, or both.”
He waited for a nod before continuing again.
“We have preliminary data that suggests they are producing more shuttles. More shuttles would, of course, require more personnel to operate. However, given the nature of their relationship toward the Union, we also believe that they intend to utilize these shuttles in patrolling the area over which they claim control.”
“Preposterous!” spat Whitmore. “What good would that do, even if it wasn’t simply a fantasy?”
“Minister, if they increase their patrols, they can interdict our probes, our satellites, even our ships.”
“They wouldn’t dare!”
“I rather think they would,” countered Dent. “They certainly haven’t shown any restraint in their reactions in the past.”
“If they threaten any of our ships, we shall destroy them!”
“We could possibly destroy their station. Oh, do stop sputtering, Davie; you sound ridiculous. That station is enormous, Minister; it isn’t an aircraft you can knock down with a twenty-kilo KEW. We have no idea yet how it is constructed, or if it is armored, or even what defenses it mounts. In addition, and I believe that Foreign Affairs will agree with me, if we were to destroy an inhabited station in retaliation for the destruction or intercept of an unmanned probe, we may well lose the support of the other Union members.”
“They need us more than we need them!” insisted Whitmore.
“That may well be true, Minister. But what you propose may well fracture the Union and open a war on multiple fronts, a war in which we may not prevail.”
“Mars and Titan have problems of their own,” opined Arthur, the Foreign Affairs Minister. “They would follow our lead. The Miner’s Guild, however, has always been more fractious and independent-minded. They still depend on trade for much of their food, but Earth would be happy to exchange food for metals.”
“Which we would then get, under the Amendment!”
“If they traded them to countries bound by the Amendment, yes. For example, if they traded to the UE, or the United States, yes. But what if they trade to Republic of Texas, where HLC is based? Or perhaps to the California Confederacy? For all their problems, California exports more food than any two other countries on the planet. They would certainly trade with the Guild. And neither of these are a signatory, and are not bound by it.”
“Then we do what we must to take it.”
“Must everything be war, Davie? They have billions to our millions. And again, if we were attack an Earthside country for not complying with an agreement to which they are not a party, we would fracture our Union.” Arthur shook his head. “I’m afraid my cousin is right; we must find a method which will not alienate our allies.”
“Thank you,” replied Dent. “Primus, Ministers, allow us time to do our jobs. I will be reaching out to Minister Newling at MinTech for further aid in penetrating their electronic security, as well as Minister Pitt at MinSec for their, ah, expertise at covert operations.”
“Very well, Mr. Dent. You have your time. But I repeat: I want results, not words. Come to this table again with empty promises and pleas for more time, and your assistant will soon find themselves filling your shoes. Do I make myself clear?”
“Crystal clear, Primus.”