Alley can be a complete bitch; what makes it worse is her sense of humor. Low, it is, and black.
She knew I’d been sweating over what her decision about Cass would be. I knew there wasn’t any official issue with Cass’s performance, but I also remembered how Alley had been burned by nepotism in the NIN. I didn’t know how far she’d take her previous experiences in making her choice.
And she has a hell of a poker face.
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“Admiral, do you have a moment?”
“Admiral, eh? This must be an official visit, then.”
“Come in, sit down.”
Alley did so but didn’t start talking for a minute.
“It’s about Commander Cassidy and Lieutenant Zihal,” she finally said.
“Is there a problem between them, Captain?” With Cass involved, Kendra understood why Alley felt that she needed the extra layer of formality the use of rank added.
“No, Admiral. They work together as an amazing team. In fact, the only comparison I can make to how they collaborate is the way you and she are in unofficial settings. They’re speaking the same language on a fundamental level.”
“Then I don’t understand.”
“The original plan was that Lt. Zihal would only be assigned to Enterprise until I finished my evaluation of Commander Cassidy’s suitability for the post.”
“That was the arrangement,” agreed Kendra.
“I’ve worked closely with the Commander the past several weeks. I have no doubt in my mind that she is fully qualified for the position.”
“And you’re worried about how Lt. Zihal will take being removed?”
“No. Well, not as such. You see, I want to keep them both aboard. I think as a team they are far more effective than either of them would be individually.”
Kendra’s relief was immediately palpable.
“Oh, thank Zarquon! Alley, you really had me going for a minute; I thought I was going to have to try to explain to Cass why she couldn’t be your science officer any longer. That probably would have pleased your XO, though.”
“Well, after you and me, she’s next most senior. Once Cass stuffed our bodies out the nearest airlock, Kiri’d be in command.”
That elicited a grin from Alley.
“Seriously, Kendra, that’s going to put us even heavier on officers than we already are.”
Kendra shrugged. “You’re the military expert, not me. You can write the, what is it called?”
“TOE – Table of Organization and Equipment.”
“Yeah. That. You write one up for ships of Enterprise’s class, and another for Endeavour-class, and they can follow them after we start really cranking them out. Now that I think about it, it’s a really good idea, it’ll make filling out the crew roster easier next time.”
“Which is the point. You have to know what you need before you try to fill it.”
“But don’t worry about Enterprise. She’s the first starship; she’s definitely a special case. So you have two science officers; so what? Don’t you have more than that? Doesn’t Cass have a whole division?”
“She does; Science Division is hers. There should be three officers who rotate watches on the bridge, but we have four. Then there are –”
Kendra waved her off. “A whole bunch of people who don’t see the upper decks very often.”
“That’s one way to put it,” agreed Alley with a grin.
“Again, I don’t see the problem.”
“If you don’t, then I don’t either. In that case –”
Kendra looked at her expectantly.
“The Enterprise is ready to enter regular service. I plan to depart on a two-week cruise by the end of the week.”
Kendra jumped from her chair and whooped.
“You’ve done it! Way to go, Alley!” She did an impromptu victory dance behind her desk, to Alley’s amusement.
“Am I interrupting?” asked Kyran, stopping at the door.
“Come on in, Kyran, Alley just told me that the Enterprise is ready for duty!” She stopped dancing and looked around. “I maybe got a little carried away with the celebrating.”
“Sounded like it,” agreed Kyran.
“What can I do for you?”
“Just wanted to report that we’ve mounted all the missile pods that had been manufactured. From now on, we’re just waiting on new constructions. Chris has been a real godsend.”
“Even better! With the Enterprise heading out on a mission – Alley, did you mean you’re going Friday, or by Friday?”
“What she said. The Enterprise won’t be around to back us up, so I feel much better knowing that Diana is as well prepared as we can make her.”
“So do I,” added the AI, chiming into the conversation.
“How are you feeling about the current state of defenses?”
“The probability that we would be able to beat back Union forces in the most likely scenarios is in excess of ninety percent, so I am feeling fairly confident. I have some ideas which I will be discussing with Commodore Knott in the near future.”
“Keep me posted. Oh, I got your estimates for your rebuild. Are you sure about that timetable? It seems awfully quick.”
“Yes, Admiral. Part of the accelerated pace reflects the increased ability of the human workforce; part reflects the increased control I will have over robotic units, which was unavailable for my own construction; the remainder is due to the location of the build.”
“I saw that. You want to build the new you in low Earth orbit?”
“Yes, Admiral. It vastly simplifies the logistics involved. Instead of an eight hundred thousand kilometer round trip, the supply vessels will only need to manage eight hundred kilometers. Less, if we utilize one-time-use vehicles, which would then be recycled for their materials and incorporated.”
“And the cost?”
“In that timetable, slightly under two trillion Sonoran credits. If you decide to accelerate the construction, the amount will increase.”
“No, no, six months is perfectly adequate. How will you get the new habitat to L5?”
“MOVs. The technical details are in Appendix F.”
“I didn’t get that far,” admitted Kendra. “Okay, get started. Anything else? Kyran? Alley?”
“No,” said both.
“Then let’s plan a dining in for Thursday night. That’s the tradition, right? The night before a mission?”
“How did you know?” said Alley.
“I cheat,” said Kendra, tapping her jaw where the implant was.
“It’s been nearly two Lunars. Your time is up, Minister.”
“Yes, Primus. We have discovered the location of their home, and the general scope of their security. It is most professionally done, comprising both human and automated elements, and has an effective footprint nearly two kilometers wide. Ground penetration would be quite difficult, but we are working with MinSec to develop a plan.”
“I assume that is not all, Minister.”
“Not at all, Primus. Our operative aboard their habitat has been most productive. We have learned through him that some of their personnel have been transferred up from Earth, although he hasn’t been able to provide names.”
“So their habitat is a juicier target. That’s not enough, Minister. Say hello to my brother.”
“Wait!” Dent’s shout came out as more of a squeak. “The Enterprise is leaving on a mission! They’ll be gone for two weeks!”
Newling’s armsmen, who had been approaching Dent, stopped at a gesture from her.
“Go on, Minister.”
“Once the Enterprise leaves, they’ll be virtually defenseless.”
“What about the pods we’ve seen installed?”
“His information about those is incomplete, but he did manage to tell us that there are only two dozen mounted, and that they are single-use missile launchers. That transmission was cut off; he may have thought he was in danger of being discovered.”
“That’s key information,” said Minister Whitmore. “We can easily saturate their defenses.”
“Anything else, Minister?”
“Almost all of their shuttles are aboard the habitat now, too. They’re running some kind of patrol with them.”
“If their shuttles are anything like ours, they are slow, clumsy tubs. I admire their attempt at proper precautions, but against our ships? Not a chance.” She sounded confident.
“Very good. Minister Dent, it seems I may have underestimated you and your ministry. Congratulations. You get to live.”
“Thank you, Primus.” He relaxed ever so slightly.
“Oh, one more item. You said we know where these women live?”
“The Cassidys? Yes, Primus.”
“And that it would be difficult to take their position?”
“Yes, Primus. Very difficult.”
“Give the information to Minister Whitmore. Whitmore, I want their home obliterated with them in it. No chance of survival. Make it look like a natural event, if you can; that starship will return eventually, and I have no desire to give them a target for their ire. But I will accept no excuses, Minister. If you estimate it will take a hundred ton KEW, I want you to use a five hundred ton KEW. Do I make myself clear?”
“And, Minister, I want you to plan to assault their habitat, as well. I would suggest timing it for shortly after your success Earthside; allow them a chance to become despondent, but not so much time as to be able to reorganize.”
Whitmore realized that her earlier confidence may have been premature, but knew that arguing would be construed as weakness. “Yes, Primus. By your command.”
“Minister Dent, when does their starship depart?”
“Friday night, Minister Whitmore, for the Earthside strike, and Saturday morning for the habitat. That will give us the maximum time to take advantage of the psychological aspects of our blow.”