The meeting 'which was not taking place' was being held in Conference Room H on the Third Level of The Secure Government Complex, a massive labyrinth between three and four kilometers beneath the surface of Phoenix, the capital world of the Colonial Union. The SGC itself did not officially exist either, but it was common knowledge that the Colonial Union had build 'something' of that nature 'down there'. ~*~
What was not common knowledge was the complex had been almost entirely unused in the six decades since it had been completed, being manned, maintained and constantly upgraded by only a skeleton crew. But in the four months since the attack on Earth Station it had filled up quickly.
One of those who never made it 'down there' was Arthor Calvan, the now former CU President. He and his Liberal Progressive Party had been too busy fighting – and losing – the battle for power in The Colonial Assemble. The LP's had confidently held political power in the CU for nearly a century after they had broken off from the unraveling old Unionist Party, the 'founding' party of the CU.
The LP's had done a fair enough job. Much of the CU's heavy lifting was really done by The Colonial Defense Forces anyway. But the LP's had made sure that the Old Line Colonies had been safe and comfortable for the vast majority of their citizens and so they kept getting voted back in. Local planetary politics might shift back and forth, but The Colonial Assemble maintained a calm steady course.
The Conclave shook that course and the attack on Earth Station tossed it right out the window.
For few decades the New Unionist Party, derisively called the Nuboos, had been quietly nipping at the heels of the LP's. The Nuboos were largely retired CDF personnel who were concerned with the general level of complacency in the CU and its institutions. Their influence had mostly been limited to command appointments within the CDF, something that most of the LP's thought not so much beneath their notice but more as beyond their concern. The LP's were culturally a 'colonial organization'. Calvan's grandfather had been CDF, but none of the LP's leadership had seen service.
When the new crisis reached its peak, the Nuboos beat that drum loudly and relentlessly. The LP's calm detachment now looked like indifferent incompetence. The CDF was an psycho-emotional sacred cow that no-one dare blame. But someone did need to be blamed and so the citizens blamed the LP's. A Vote of No Confidence broke Calvan's administration and a Special Election swept them out the door. The New Unionist Party held a four fifth's majority in The Colonial Assemble and its leader, Amanda Lowe – an ex-CDF officer – was made President.
All this took barely three weeks to unfold. Now the CU held its collective breath waiting to see what the Nuboos would do. They didn't have to wait very long.
Lt. General Carl Szilard, Chief of CDF Special Forces, mulled these events as he sat in Conference Room H. He carefully observed the condition of everything in the room. All perfectly pristine. It was likely that today's meeting was the first ever held here. “These chairs are plush enough to put you in a coma,” he thought.
Conference Room H was also very well shielded, which cut off any BrainPal connection to the outside, a very unhappy condition for a Special Forces trooper, rank notwithstanding. Full Integration was close to a religion for them. Szilard look at the only other Ghost in the room, Lt. General Melanie Ehrenfest, Chief of the CDF's Internal Security Command, sitting directly opposite him at the oval table.
She pinged 'unhappiness' at him. ::It's like being in a fucking coffin in here:: she said.
::We live to serve, Mel:: he replied, with a tinge of sarcasm.
Ehrenfest made a very slight eye roll.
::I suggest we assess the tactical situation:: Szilard said.
::Good thought:: Ehrenfest replied.
They scanned their fellow occupants, all CDF Flag Officers, seven besides Szilard and Ehrenfest. All Realborn. All originally from Earth. All long term Service CDF.
Five sat close together, talking very softly. Two of them sat apart from the others.
Of the two, the most notable was General Frank Banisterre, the newly minted CDF Chief of Staff. A good solid officer, he'd got the job when his predecessor, General Peter Larsen, resigned after the Earth Station attack. Larsen had been CoS for forty one years, with a total of seventy years CDF Service. Banisterre sat quietly, looking blankly at a wall. Probably meditating and wondering if he was going to follow Larsen out the door. He was a LP appointee after all.
The other loner was Maj. Gen Macky Smith, MD, Chief of the CDF Medical Corps. She had her nose to a PDA and seemed honestly absorbed in what she was reading. Szilard wondered why she was even here. The CDF Medical Corps were not much more than a glorified ambulance service, their job to keep the wounded alive until they could be transferred to CDF Recruitment and Processing. Besides recruiting, R&P grew all the CDF's clones and thereby had maintained possession of all the real medical regeneration equipment and personnel.
The group of five were the rest of the core officers of the CDF command structure: General Christine Ropner, Chief of CDF Recruitment and Processing. General David Halvorson, Chief of CDF Logistics and Supply. Lt. General Gregory “Grim Greg” Mattson, Chief of CDF Military Research. Lt. General Monica Adams, Chief of CDF Training Command. Lt. General Joachim “Joe” Wismach, Chief of the CDF Corps of Engineers.
Szilard had had dealings with all of them over the years and knew them to all be very good at their jobs. But he had only worked directly with Mattson and Wismach. He liked them personally, but for different reasons.
“Grim Greg” was a 'professional asshole' and took a delight in that. His subordinates understood such and rolled with it because it weeded out the slackers and the rigid. That behavior amused Szilard. Mattson and he had worked closely on a very very delicate matter that Szilard kept out of his thoughts. Everyone in this room possessed BrainPal Executive Function, meaning they could 'read the thoughts' of anyone with a BrainPal.
It crossed his mind that maybe Banisterre was doing just that, even though it would violate the unofficial protocol that 'generals don't eavesdrop on other generals'. These were after all extraordinary times. He glanced at Banisterre, who remained impassive. But he caught sight of Ehrenfest, who smirked and winked. Szilard quickly shifted his thoughts.
“Joe” Wismach had been deeply involved in the design and construction of Gamaran habitats so Szilard had spent weeks with him on distant locations. Origainally from Germany, Wismach had spent most of his Earth years in the United States. His passion since boyhood was to build big structures in space. He had seven degress to that end. Working on the Gamaran projects had brought out that boyish passion full force. In that Szilard had developed a great fondness for the man.
And then there was the person who dominated the room even though she was not yet present: Amanda Lowe, the new President of The Colonial Union and the one upon whose orders they had been summoned.
She came from the American state of Georgia, 'back country white trash' the file had said. That had confused Szilard at first. With the Basic Income Grant and extensive social services, no-one in the United States had been 'poor' for centuries. But his research had revealed the terms origins and he felt he understood her better.
She had enlisted in the US Air Force at seventeen, done twenty years and come out a Warrant Officer Class D, the highest category. She then got a job with a local US Congresswomen, worked way up to the woman's chief of staff and won her seat when she retired. Somewhere in there she had signed up for CDF recruitment.
At seventy three she retired, got her affairs in order and two years later went up The Beanstalk to Earth Station. Out the one thousand and twenty three recruits that had she had travailed with, sixty eight survived the first ten years. Forty two of those retired. Amanda Lowe wasn't one of them. She served in the CDF for another seventeen years, retiring as a Lt. Colonel.
She settled on a small farm on Erie and spent two years being quiet. Szilard wondered if that was simply to catch her breath and plot. Her lover, a ex-CDF major named Yoko Hoshino, had settled on that farm along with Lowe, but they had not gotten married. There were no cultural issues with that either way, but there were legal ones if political office were to be involved. The laws were strict regarding relatives and government positions.
Then she ran for a suddenly vacated Colonial Assembly seat on the New Union Party ticket. She won by a narrow margin and was only the third Nuboo member to get into the CA. But she never looked back and her margins grew with each election. And Yoko Hoshino was her chief of staff. That was twenty two years ago.
Szilard had learned that Amanda Lowe did nothing by chance. He had introduced himself about ten years earlier when he had just made Brigadier General. Her name was circulating quietly among CDF Flag Officers and, being highly ambitious, Szilard kept close tabs on them.
He had gone to her Assemble office in Phoenix City and asked to see her. Being a Senior Officer in the Special Forces, he got an audience straight away.
Assemblywoman Lowe was at her desk, which was cluttered and organized at the same time. She still had school girl good looks, sweet round face, bright short blond hair, big blue eyes and freckles. But she was clearly no naif.
She wore her well known 'political uniform'; a tunic and trousers cut very much like a CDF Dress Uniform, but made from stylish and expensive cloth with subtle patterns set off with piping of bright colors. On her left breast she always wore a good sized silver broach; the CU's eight pointed Compass Star imposed upon a Wreath. On her it looked like a rank insignia.
She looked at Szilard like she could have him for breakfast.
“How may I be of assistance, General?” she asked without preamble. Her Southern drawl was still pronounced.
“Nothing specific at the moment, ma'am. And I was thinking more along the lines of mutual assistance,” he'd replied. She had a great poker face, but his SF senses could detect her heart rate slowing. “She's making herself remain calm,” he'd thought.
“Really?” she said with that poker face.
“To be blunt, you're becoming known as a..'power player' so to speak. And I thought it in the interest of Special Forces to see if a...'positive relationship' could be cultivated.” He smiled. “This is political, not sexual. Your preferences have never been secret.”
She looked at him very intensely for a moment. Then she smiled broadly.
“I've never had a Ghost over for dinner.” She wanted to see how'd react to that term and in that context. Szilard smiled back.
“I'd be honored to be your first, ma'am.”
She sat forward. “Good. You know where my official apartments are, yes?”
“Then please come by at eight this evening. We'll see what happens.”
After he left her office it occurred to him that not only had taking a seat never even crossed his mind, he'd stood more or less at parade rest the entire time. He chuckled at that.
He arrived a little before eight in his Walking Our Dress and with a bottle of dessert wine, a fine Madeira from a high end winery on Erie.
Yoko Hoshino answered the door. She was wearing a light blue casual short sleeved civilian version of a CDF Utility Suit along with flip flops. She smiled and said, “You're a little overdressed, General. Lose the tunic, open your shirt collar and roll up your sleeves.” He did as instructed. Yoko checked him out, grinned. “Much better.
They proceeded to the kitchen. Wonderful aromas were issuing forth. Amanda Lowe was bustling around, chopping, stirring, tasting. “So, did I win my bet?” she said as she went. She was dressed the same as Yoko, though her Uties were pinkish and she wore an apron.
“No,” said Yoko. “Walking Out Dress, not full Blues.”
Lowe turned around and grinned. “Oh well,” she said. Her apron said “Kiss The Chef” in big red letters and was well broken in. “Good evening, General. Pull up a stool and have some wine. We'll have this mess ready in a few minutes.”
Yoko began slicing vegetables and sliding them over to Lowe, who put them in a steamer. “Miss Hoshino is not only a competent chief of staff, she's also a pretty good prep chef.” They smiled at each other in a fashion that Szilard knew was genuine affection.
“It's a pleasure to watch a good team in action,” he said. They both turned and smiled at him. He got that they heard the several layers there. He sat and watched them while he sipped his wine. He wasn't a connoisseur, but it was quite tasty.
The meal was chicken breasts in a cream sauce with steamed vegetables and wild rice. It was delicious and they ate largely in silence.
He helped them clear the table and then he and Lowe retired to the living room with the Madeira while Yoko went to 'work on some papers'.
“Little known fact, General. The US Air Force more or less created the Colonial Union.”
“Really? How so?” He had never really thought about it. The CU just was.
“It was group who called themselves The Cheyenne Mountain Gang. Officers and enlisted personnel who were fans of an early twenty first century adventure show about a group of U.S. Air Force Spec-Ops types who roamed the galaxy fighting evil aliens.”
“Now you're teasing me, Ma'am.”
“No, I'm serious. After we got our asses kicked the first time, they went..well, 'off-book', running rogue guerrilla operations, sabotaging and assassinating, stealing tech, until they built up an effecting fighting force in secret. They took their inspiration and overall strategy from the show. And that is the force that retook Phoenix. I can send you the files.”
“I'd appreciate that.”
“So, you think I'm a power player,” she said.
“It is obvious to those who really pay attention. And there is your pre-CDF history. You're no stranger to that game.”
“Then what is your outcome, General?”
He sighed. “We've had an excellent run of good luck, Madam Assemblywoman..”
“And luck always runs out,” she said.
“Yes. That is the nature of the thing,” he said.
“Then one must make one's own luck,” she said with a sly smile.
“That would be what I am looking for.”
“Well, I've looked at your file and you've looked at mine. Let us see what we can cook up.” She raised her class. “To making one's own luck.”
He clinked classes with her. “To making one's own luck.”
From then on he had provided her 'access' to a number of things and she became his back channel into the Nuboos, among other things.
Now he was going to find out for certain if that relationship was going to pay off, not for himself, but for the CU.
And with that thought the new President entered the room, closely followed by Yoko Hoshino. All present stood up at more or less attention.
Szilard had not seen her face to face for nearly three months, which considering the insanity of the time, was not unusual. But he quickly noted she had seriously changed. When the nature of the change dawned on him he was so startled that he briefly lost control of his thoughts.
He looked around and saw that not only had Ehrenfest given him an quick incredulous look, but so had Banisterre. “Caught you!” he though. Banisterre went blank and looked back at the head of the table. Interestingly enough Smith had also looked at him with barely concealed surprise. “Well, well,” he thought. Of the 'group of five', only Mattson seemed to have caught his thought. “Grim Greg” just smirked.
The President stood at the head of the table, Hoshino to her right and one step back. She looked around at the assembled officers. ::Well, it seems someone has ruined my surprise:: she pinged at the group, then looked directly at Szilard. There was an audible gasp in the room. Szilard smiled ruefully, bowed slightly. “My most profound apologies, Madam President. You caught me totally off guard.”
She grinned at him. “That's some small consolation I suppose.” She looked around the room again. “So yes, I have a BrainPal.” She indicated her body. “And it is housed in a new Mark Twenty Bioform. One hundred percent human DNA, but almost as fast and strong as your bioforms. Plus is can reproduce and has an expected life span of two to three times the optimum life span of its base DNA. Which means I should live about another two hundred years or so.” She grinned. ::If nothing kills me, that is::
The room was utterly silent. “Ms Hoshino also has this form,” the President said. A few people blinked. She remained standing.
“Okay, then. Down to business. I am entirely pleased with all of you and you all get to keep your jobs.” Banisterre visibly relaxed. “For now,” she added, looking right at him.
“Second, I have nominated Ms Hoshino as my new Secretary of Defense. I have no doubt that her nomination will be confirmed, so we shall proceed as if it has been for the purposes of this meeting.” She looked around as if daring anyone to say a word. No-one did.
“Third, everyone at now this table is either present or former CDF, so there will be no more 'mushroom the civilians' bullshit. Am I understood?” In unison everyone present came automatically to attention and said, “Yes, ma'am!” The parade ground tone of the statement was unmistakable and it evoked a deep seated response. A small wicked smile flickered across her face.
“This is the Extraordinary Committee for Defense. That is not its official title because officially this committee does not exist, nor do any of its meetings. There will be no voting. It is a dictatorship and I am its dictator. Its purpose is for me to tell you what needs to be done and for you to tell me how you're going to do it. Or, if you're truly unlucky, to tell me why it wasn't or isn't getting done.
“The number one thing that will get you fired is if you lie to me. I'm a big girl. I can take bad news. If you have some, lay it out harsh and raw. We have no more room whatsoever for soft peddling or careerist bullshit. Our collective survival is on line here.
“Now whether any of us in this particular room deserve to survive, given the things we've all done in our careers, the answer is probably no. But whether the human race deserves to survive is an existential issue beyond even our godlike authority, so we're going to table that discussion for the duration. One thing is clear however and that is our duty. And that duty is to do our utmost to ensure the optimum survival of our species. We can all agree upon that, yes?” Once again, “Yes, ma'am!” echoed through the room.
“Very good,” she said. “Now please be seated.” The collective relief was palpable. Szilard did his best not to smile.
“My first major policy announcement will be the dissolution of the Department of Colonization.” There is a slight gasp around the room. She ignored it. “Given that at this time we cannot reasonably found any more colonies, it has become redundant. Its manpower and resources will be allocated elsewhere. I know this will cause internal political unrest, but it is a fact we must face.”
“But we are not surrendering. Our new policy is Retrenchment. Since we cannot expand – for now – then let us make damned sure we can keep what we've got.” Everyone nodded in agreement. This was something they could sink their teeth into.
“In order to further that goal, my second major policy announcement will be the creation of a new organization dedicated solely to that purpose, Colonial Union System Guard.” That did not go over so well.
“Before you all start bristling and pissing on the furniture, there is one more member of this committee you have yet to meet.” She looked at Hoshino, who pressed an intercom button on the desk in front of her.
A 'non-green' general in a uniform similar to CDF's – same rank tabs, same cut, but a lighter shade of blue – entered the room. He was a tall, light skinned black man with a shaved head and almost beautifully handsome face. An “Oh my God!” escaped from Banisterre. The new arrival grinned at him. “Hello to you too, Frank.” Banisterre got up and hugged the man, clearly overcome with emotion.
Szilard recognized the men, as did everyone else in the room. Sam Randell is something of a legend in the CDF. Ex US Army professional, he served in the CDF for sixty one years, retired a full General nearly fifty years before to become a farmer. He was also a strong advocate of system defense, a stance that was rumored to have lead to his retirement before he made Chief of Staff.
The President maintained her 'pleasant' poker face. “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the commander of the new Colonial Union System Guard, General Samuel Randell.” To Szilard's surprise, the group of five and Smith stood and applauded. He and Ehrenfest joined in quickly.
“General, you have the floor,” the President said.
Randell sat next to her, with a subdued Banisterre to his left.
“Thank you, Madam President. I am obviously pleased to be back.” He smiled, gripped his forearm. “And in such a nifty new chassis, too.” There were smiles and laughs around the table. “A quite likable bastard,” Szilard thought.
“Those of you who know me will be aware that I have long advocated something like the System Guard, but that was thought to be a 'defeatist' concept. Expand. Expand. Expand was the mantra. And a totally understandable one. At the time. And times have changed.” He let that sink in.
“You all need to understand that President Lowe is a political animal right down to her bones. She is going to present the System Guard as a brand new initiative to a justifiably scared and restless citizenry. And I totally trust her instincts in this matter. But that presentation will be a political fiction. The color of this uniform is purely symbolic. The System Guard will simply be another Command in the CDF's Command Structure. In order for it to operate properly, that is in fact the only way it can functionally do so.”
“Our colonies are being attacked nearly at will and the CDF has been scrambling back and forth to protect them. That is stretching it to the breaking point. The central concept of the System Guard is to get each colony to defend itself while the CDF deals with the larger defense picture. Of course, this is going to mean an expansion of the CDF on an unprecedented level. But I'll leave those details to the President.”
“With that I'll just say I'm very happy to be in harness once again.” He got another round of applause.
The President looked quite pleased with Randell's speech. That he spoke so plainly of her nature indicated to Szilard that this committee was going to have a most interesting set of meetings.
“I came up with the name System Guard myself,” Lowe said. “So you know damned well that this is my baby. But the psyche types signed off on it because it appeals to people's provincial nature. They hear 'system' and think of their own system.
“And that is going to be a key element in our new recruiting strategy. The other is to lower the age of CDF recruits to thirty and open the ranks up to CU citizens.” She let that sink, which it did and deeply. “Over the next two years we're going to increase the size of the CDF, which includes the System Guard, ten fold.” That perked everyone up. They'd been thinking about their 'slice of the pie' and the President had just told them she was going bake them a mighty goddamned big pie. Even Szilard had to admit this news pleased him as well.
“Now we're going to avoid conscription at all costs.” Everyone nodded vigorously at that, which was the next question on their collective minds. “That is a traditional CDF policy to which I am firmly committed.” “Oh, yes,” thought Szilard clearly and so did everyone else. The President smiled at that.
She continued. “While there is a lot of skirmishing and anti-pirate operations, we are no longer fighting a continuous expansionist at war with everybody, so our causality rate has dropped dramatically. Service in the CDF is still be dangerous, but it is no longer a functional death sentence.”
“So we're also going to sweeten the recruitment pot. Six years service in the CDF as a Greenie, then twelve years active service in the System Guard, served in their home system, with a Mark Twenty Bioform which they'll get to keep for the rest of their lives, BrainPal and all.”
“Damn!” said General Ropner. “That will change the entire social fabric of the CU.” As Chief of Recruiting and Processing she thought about these things.
“That is precisely my long term goal,” said the President. “We need to up our game across the board and at the core of that is our very nature as a species.” She looked at everyone with a new intensity. “Let me repeat what I said before. It is our duty to do our utmost to ensure the optimum survival of our species. Whatever it takes. I suspect you now understand that was not mere rhetoric.”
Banisterre cleared his throat. “Madam President, I'm not comfortable with the idea of turning the Colonial Union into Sparta.”
Before she could respond, Szilard spoke up. “Frank, this path is really the one we've always been on. Not to Sparta, but to Rome.” The President gave him an appreciative smile, looked back at Banisterre, who grinned ruefully. “Okay, I can certainly live with Rome.”
That seemed to settle the matter around the table. And the others seemed to look at Szilard in a new light.
“General Ropner,” the President said. “The burden of this task is going to fall upon you first and heavily. Because of that you will begin to shift R&P's regenerative medical tasks over to the Medical Corps.” That answered the question of why Maj. General Smith was at the table. “You and General Smith will start by sharing facilities and personnel until all those operations have been shifted completely. Play nice.”
She smiled at Smith. “Effective immediately, you are promoted to Lieutenant General.” Smith beamed. “Thank you, ma'am.”
Ropner didn't look quite so happy. The President grinned at her. “Trust me, General, you'll thank me for this once you hear what I have in store for you.” Ropner smiled weakly.
“First, there are about two million retired CDF personnel we believe can be lured back into service the create the core of the System Guard. They will all need Mark Twenty's straight out of the gate and fast.”
“Second, we estimate that in the first year approximately three to four billion CU citizens will volunteer under the terms of service being offered.”
“Third, we are also going to open up CDF service to all the residents of Earth, with a few additional psychological and educational requirements. We're not sure what those numbers are going to be, but they could be substantial.”
“Fourth, here on Phoenix there are six underground vaults where the DNA of every single CDF recruit and every single colonist from Earth who ever lived are stored. There are over ten billion samples and there is enough material to grow at least five clones from each sample without any degradation.” She gave Szilard a quick 'not a word' look. He'd deal with that matter later.
Ropner looked stunned for a moment, then looked over at Smith. “General, you will have my full and enthusiastic cooperation in any and all matters regarding this transfer.” Smith smiled back at her. “One turf battle out the window,” Szilard thought.
“General Wismach.” He practically snapped to attention in his seat. “Yes, Madam President.”
“The Corps of Engineers will feel this burden next,” she said. “Yes, Madam President,” he said with a slight abrupt nod of his head.
“Your first task is to turn every colony world in a fortress and every colonial system into a killing zone. Again, time is crucial. Your second task is in a way a reward for doing your first.”
Wismach looked quizzical.
“We have dug out a number of old plans for terraforming and large space habitats that were shelved a long time ago in the scramble for habitable worlds. It is time to dust them off.”
Wismach appeared on the verge of joyful tears. “Truly, Madam President?” His voice had a slight quiver.
She smiled warmly at him. “Truly, General. A promotion to Full General also comes along with these tasks.” He nodded happily, at a loss for words.
“Speaking of promotions, I'm submitting a bill to the Assembly for the creation of a new rank above Full General. We kicked around a few titles, but Marshal seemed the simplest. So everyone in this room will be getting bumped up a rank on general principle. All puns intended.” She grinned, as did everyone else, and allowed all a moment to enjoy the news.
“Obviously, the rest of you Chiefs are still going to be doing the same things you have always done, only now on a much larger scale. I have every confidence on you in this matter and in Marshal Banisterre's ability to guide and coordinate all of your commands.” It took a moment to register her use of Banisterre's new rank. There were grins and winks at him from around the table. He did his best to look properly dignified.
“Regarding command, I'd like to say a word about General Peter Larsen. He threw himself upon his sword in a noble attempt to save the Calvan administration. That level of sacrifice does not go unnoticed by this administration and will be rewarded after a prudent interval. If each of you serve it half as well, then we shall be well served indeed.” She looked at each of them with a sincere intensity.
Her expression then became more serious. She looked at Ehrenfest. “General, I want you to prepare a full briefing regarding the attack on Earth Station and on the overall actives of this so-called 'third force'. That will be the principal subject of tomorrow's meeting of this committee.”
“Yes, Madam President,” said Ehrenfest crisply.
“Now, one last bit of unpleasant business,” she said. “It appears that race called the Tsushuzi attacked Solvey, a colony of twenty million. It was only a raid, but caused a quarter million causalities, including several thousand captives, which are believed to be destined for Rraey dinner menus.”
“Who the hell are the Tsushuzi?” asked General Halvorson
“Not a Conclave member. We've never had any direct dealings with them before,” said Banisterre.
“So they just came out of the woodwork to take a literal slice off of one of our colonies?” asked Halvorson
“Essentially,” said Banisterre.
“General Mattson?” The President said
“Yes, ma'am.” He forwarded a file to their PDA's. “This is a old Soviet three stage h-bomb design based upon the Teller-Ulam model. It has a one hundred plus megaton yield. They were very dirty to begin with, but we've added a cobalt-polonium jacket to make them truly nasty. They are primitive and easy to mass produce.”
The President continued. “Besides their home world, the Tsushuzi have two small colonies. When we have enough of these weapons, which will be soon, we are going to reduce all three worlds to uninhabitable radioactive wastelands. Then we are going to offer a bounty of ten thousand Colonial Credits, no questions asked, for the head of every remaining Tsushuzi.”
There was dead silence around the table.
“I want them all dead!” she said ferociously. “Every fucking one of them, down to the last babes in arms. I want them to be an example of what happens from now on when you fuck with the CU. Yes, we'll play nice with The Conclave for the time being, but the message to anyone else who tries to take what we already have is, 'we'll kill all of you and your worlds too'. For a hundred years I want every single race to shudder when they hear the name Tsushuzi.”
Szilard smiles softly. “Excellent, Madam President.” The rest nodded in agreement.
“Good,” she said. “Meeting adjourned.” The President stood, followed by the rest. As she headed out of the room, she pinged Szilard. ::With me:: He noted that Ehrenfest was also trailing after her.
The rest of the CDF command structure trailed after Secretary Hoshino, all talking softly but intensely.
The President's office was just as well appointed as the rest of the complex. “Yeah, I know,” she said over her shoulder as they entered. “This whole joint looks like some kind of streamlined whorehouse.” She literally flopped down into a very plush couch, undid her tunic's top buttons. She indicated some equally plush chairs. “Sit.”
Szilard and Ehrenfest did so. “You're both unhappy about a massive expansion of the Ghost Program,” she stated, not asked.
A pause. “I'm not in a position to question your decisions, Madam President,” said Ehrenfest.
Lowe laughed. “You're gonna let Szilard take point on this one?”
“I'll provide covering fire if required, ma'am,” Ehrenfest said calmly.
Lowe looked at Szilard. “Well, Carl?”
Szilard sighed. “Honestly, I do not even wish to start contemplating the socio-cultural ramifications of letting that many Ghost Troopers loose in the general population. But as a practical matter, Special Forces will grind to a halt if we have to train that many new recruits.”
“You won't be, at least not entirely. You'll help Training Command set up a program to do so. Most of them will not be going into Special Forces, but into the regular CDF. Special Forces will just help with the Integration Paradigm. I want that concept generalized into the entire CDF, which I believe we can do because of the lowered age factor and a large number of Ghosts will push that forward.”
“And we'll make the name 'Ghosts' a positive attribute. It has a built in intimidation factor. Let the Ghosts make everyone else up their game.” Lowe smiled.
“Randell was right about you being a political animal to your bones, ma'am,” said Ehrenfest.
“You'd better believe it, General.” She grinned. “Now I have a task for your department. There are going to a number of 'special cases' regarding the allocation of Mark Twenty Bioforms, certain 'important people' who will not be going through any of the regular channels to get one.”
“There won't be that many, maybe a few thousand over a half dozen years. What I want is a small discrete facility and staff to handle the processing and to provide a short training, say ninety days, so these people don't kill themselves or others with their new toy. You'll get carte blanche for this project. Get any grief, just tell me or Secretary Hoshino.”
“In case you were wondering where I got this baby,” she patted her arm. “It is more or less well known that a few small private facilities exist for such a process, for the rich and powerful. The New Unionist Party took advantage of that to advance our agenda. But all those are now to be seized and shut down.”
“Would you like me to handle that as well, ma'am?” asked Ehrenfest.
“Yes, please. But discretely. A few important toes will have to be stepped upon.”
“I will step lightly, but firmly, ma'am,” said Ehrenfest with a pleasant smile.
“Good. Now I have to give General Szilard the once over.”
Ehrenfest stood, “Yes, Madam President.” She smirked at Szilard, exited.
Szilard smiled. “I have to say, Madam President, your opening speech was a thing of beauty. I felt like a newbie back on the parade ground with my old DI barking at me. I believe it had a similar effect around the table.”
“Honestly, General, I pulled that speech out of my ass. But I probably was channeling Sergeant Barnes, my first DI. I did Basic in a Texas shithole called Lackland Air Force Base. I don't think they'd upgraded it since Pershing invaded Mexico.”
Szilard laughs. “Shitholes are the best places for Basic. Everything is up from there.”
Lowe got serious. “I understand you have some information to share with me. And this room was swept a few minutes before we entered.”
“You're aware of the Brain Ship issue?” he asked.
“Yes. The Clarke incident and the attack on Earth Station.”
“We have taken possession of one. Almost entirely intact.”
“How 'almost entirely intact'?”
“The brain was killed by shrapnel, but the rest of the mechanism is fine.”
“Reverse engineerable?” she asked.
“Oh yes.” He smiled. “Mattson's boffins have been drooling over the thing.”
“Outstanding!” she said. “About time we got a fucking break.”
“I suspect the Gamarans are also going to swoon over this tech.”
“There is more however. The hull and much of the internal gear was Horvathi, but the skip drive and gravity generator are Obin and we can definitely reverse engineer those, which will let us give all our ships a major performance upgrade.”
She smiled wider, then frowned. “Was that ship ever crewed?”
“No,” said Szilard. “And yes, we too wondered why an uncrewed ship would need a brand new Obin gravity generator.”
“Santa Claus is a friendly alien?” she smirked.
“It does track like that.” He took a beat. “Or it's Doctor Mysterious.”
“Enlighten me,” she said in a distinctly Presidential fashion.
“About twenty years ago these skip drones began showing up in various places and sending an old CDF distress code. The code was a half century out of date back then, but still highly classified. The skip drones were never from the same race twice. Some were from totally unknown races. But the all carried encrypted chips and those were always a CU standard design. But not made anywhere in the CU. Totally untraceable.”
“And these chips contained...?”
“Most of the time, very high quality intelligence on our friends and enemies. It was largely raw data, but each time it gave us enough to know what to look for and where to look. They were like brain teasers, each one made us improve our intel capacity and skills. And some wag named our unknown benefactor Doctor Mysterious.”
“This is the first I'm hearing about this,” she said. “Which I will admit is a good thing.”
“We, Ehrenfest and I, have a full briefing ready for you.” He paused. “We discovered just such an encrypted chip on the Horvathi vessel.”
Lowe pondered this. “And this information has always been reliable?”
“One hundred and ten percent reliable,” he said. “It was 'too good to be true' reliable and we've been waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it never has.”
“And you've never had a clue as to its source.”
“None, though our endless speculation has led us back to really only once place.”
She gave him a questioning look.
She blanched. “Fuck.”
“Yes, that was the general consensus.”
“I survived two battles with those crazy sons of bitches. If they are running some kind of long con on us we're well and truly fucked.”
“Well, there are two things in this that lead me to believe this is not a con. First, the drones started showing up after we fought the Consu on Bellaria. That is where John Perry came up with his double tap firing program that won us the battle, which we later found out greatly impressed the Consu.”
“Seriously?” She narrowed her eyes. “The Consu decided to help us because of fucking John Perry?”
“As you said, Madam President, they are crazy sons of bitches.”
“You said two things.”
He then told her what the information on the latest chip revealed. She turned as white as sheet.
“Is such a thing really possible?”
“It will take us a few decades to develop it, but, yes, it is not only possible, but even likely.”
“Jesus Harold Christmas on a fucking rubber crutch,” she muttered.
“I am so far alone in this idea, but I think they are also this so-called 'third force'. Or at least some how involved with it.” Szilard had other suspicions, but those he kept to himself for now.
She blinked at him. “Why would they help us and then kick our asses like that?”
“Because we were arrogant and stuck in our ways.”
“This was some kind of fucking interstellar intervention by fucking crazy giant superbugs?” She practically spit that out.
“With all due respect, ma'am, do you have a better explanation?”
She stewed on that for a moment. Szilard remained silent. Then she laughed.
“Well fuck me, General Carl Fucking Szilard, fuck me if I do.” She gave him a nasty but amused look. “You picked the Perrys on purpose, to fuck up the whole Roanoke plan, didn't you?”
“Yes,” he said somewhat defiantly. “The plan was not only immoral, which I can live with if I have to, but it was massively arrogant and could have gone far worse for us than it did. And that outcome was no fucking prize.”
“Okay, I will grant you that.”
“And John Perry's actions may have knocked the old CU paradigm into a cocked hat, but he and his family have actually saved us from ourselves and bought us some serious breathing space vis-a-vis The Conclave.”
The President looked a bit frazzled. “Jesus. The Consu. John Perry. And his daughter, the little empress of the Obin.” She sighed.
“You wanted this job, Amanda,” he said with a smile.
“Well, God Damn me if that ain't true.” She laughed. “You keep reminding me of that, Carl.” She looked at him intensely. “We're going to have to be the new Cheyenne Mountain Gang.”
“Indeed, Madam President.”
“Okay, get out of here. I got another victim waiting.”
He stood to attention. “Yes, ma'am!” And was out the door.
Brig. General Abel Rigney had been sitting in what he assumed was the office of The President's personal secretary. But since it was empty, except of a huge portrait of President Lowe leaning against the far wall, there was no-one to confirm or deny his assumption. But he had been told he had a meeting with her, to report to this office, etc so he was going to go with the intel at hand. And wait.
After a few eons has passed, the door to the inner office opened and General Szilard emerged. Rigney jumped to attention. “Rigney.” Szilard grinned at him. “You must be the next victim.” He kept going, saying over his shoulder, “By the way, congratulations on the promotion.” “Thank you, sir,” he called after.
Then The President herself was beckoning him from the door. By the time he was through the door she was hanging up her tunic on a old fashioned coat rack in the corner. As she turned she rolled up the sleeves of her blouse. “My apologies for the lack of amenities, General, but we're still in clusterfuck mode.”
When he got a good look at her he realized that she seemed a lot younger than she looked before. When the penny dropped, she grinned at him. ::It seems my new state of being is the worse kept secret in the Colonial Union:: she pinged at him. ::Szilard spotted it as fast as you did:: The shock of it caused Rigney to wobble a bit.
“You'd better sit down, General,” she said with amusement. He functionally dropped into the plush chair. He could not stop staring at her.
“Are you familiar with the Mark Twenty Bioform?” she asked.
His eyes widened. “Y..y..you've got a Mark Twenty?”
“Yup, with all the bells and whistles,” she said.
“Shit,” he said, then caught himself. “Sorry, ma'am.”
She laughed. “No worries. Makes up for being busted so quickly.” She smiled wickedly as she sat at her desk. “While I've got you flat footed, I'm handing out promotions today, so you're now a Major General.”
He'd gathered himself by now, so a solid “Thank you, Madam President,” came out of his mouth.
“Enjoy it while it lasts, General. You'll be resigning from the CDF in a few months.”
He blinked. “This woman is insane,” he thought. And then worried that she'd have Executive Function.
::Yes, I do as a matter of fact:: She smirked. ::But as I genuinely wanted this job, one would be have to admit your assessment is something of a given:: He could feel her shift gears.
“It is my understanding that you're our 'back channel to The Conclave.”
“Yes, ma'am,” he said. “I have a good working relationship with Hafte Sorvath, a Lalan who is probably Gau's closest adviser.”
“Good, because I am assigning you to be the CU's Ambassador to The Conclave.”
“Hence my impending resignation,” he said.
“Yes,” she said. “You'll get one of these nifty Mark Twenty's and so will every member of your legation. Who are to be CDF or ex-CDF personnel exclusively.”
“My team should be kept small, ma'am,” he said. “And I'd appreciate some flexibility in recruiting.”
“You can have anyone who Ehrenfest signs off on.”
“I can work with that,” he said, satisfied that she meant what she said. “What are the mission parameters?”
“Overtly? To negotiate a comprehensive non-aggression treaty between The CU and The Conclave, plus various trade agreements etc.”
“And not so overtly?”
“To buy us as much time as you can,” she said firmly. “Two or three centuries would be nice, but I'll take two or three decades.”
“Understood, Madam President.”
“It takes seventeen weeks to grow a Mark Twenty, so getting the rest of your team lined up needs to happen within the next few weeks,” she said. “Things are moving fast.”
“So I've been hearing, ma'am.”
“You're going to hear plenty more, probably before you even get to dinner.” She stood and extended her hand. Rigney grasped it and she squeezed hard. “It's a solid little chassis, General. I think you'll come to like it.”
He laughed. “Yes, I expect I will.”
After Rigney had left, she sat there in her big plush President's chair, stared blankly. Her body was fine; it could go for days. But her mind was crisp. This was probably the most intense day of her life, those two battles with the Consu notwithstanding. She knew that statement was two words short; 'so far'.
She called Yoko on her PDA. “Am I needed?”
Yoko shook her head. “It's all good right now,” she said.
“Okay, I'm down for thirty.”
“Good thought,” Yoko said, blew a kiss.
She lay on the couch, shoes off, trousers undone.
::Tinkerbell:: Lowe addressed her BrainPal.
::Yes, Madam President:: Tinkerbell replied.
::Take me down past REM for thirty minutes, Gentle Mode. Usual protocols apply::
::Yes, Madam President:: said Tinkerbell in a slightly softer tone.
Tinkerbell began a series of chemical processes in The President's brain and Amanda Lowe drifted down into deep blessedly dreamless sleep.