Two Worlds – Chapter 290

ADM Sonya Berg

Location: Second Fleet Headquarters, Mars, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 “At ease. Keep your seats,” Prime Minister Deja Simmons looked more like the admiral she used to be than the political leader she was as she waved off the room of military, industrial, and political leaders. More important, she looked like a winner.

The victory at Harper’s Junction had been exactly what she wanted and what the Commonwealth needed. It cemented her victory over the Progressive Party in the recent elections, and it gave her the political capital, and all important, mandate of the people to push forward with her agenda. This was all stuff she desperately needed, and she was milking her victory tour for all it was worth.

Sonya took her seat near the middle of the table. Everyone who was anyone had been jockeying for position at this table since this meeting was announced and scheduled nearly a month ago. PM’s only came to Earth to placate the masses if PHA riots got too bad, or to tout a victory, so anyone who was anyone in humanity’s home system wanted to get in their two cents with the leader of the free galaxy. To avoid the unpleasantness of jockeying for position, the Chief of Naval Intelligence opted to sit below her station and watch those gathered to fawn over the new PM.

Chief among the ass kissers was Admiral Mitcham Duvall, Commander of First Fleet. Command of First Fleet was considered one of the highest honors in the entire Navy, but Sonya knew it was a ceremonial title for former big shots close to retirement. First Fleet hadn’t seen combat in multiple centuries, and was a bloated whale when it came to budgeting. None of that mattered when the Council of Representatives increased their funding annually without fail, and when actual combat-oriented fleets could use the extra cash.

<Nothing you can do about it,> she exhaled a calming breath as she looked over to Duvall’s left.

Admiral Janet Blackbird, commander of Second Fleet was right beside the older man. Second Fleet was Mars’ force, but unlike First Fleet, they still had squadrons and task forces that rotated out to the Mid-Worlds and Rim for deployment. It was still a black void of taxpayer’s dollars in Sonya’s opinion, but they at least partially earned their keep.

The Deputy Commanders of the two fleets assigned to the Sol System were in the next two seats, but only one of them was a new face to her.

{Welcome to the big leagues,} she shot the personal message over IOR to the man sitting four places away from the PM.

Admiral Johnathan Helms, Deputy Commander of First Fleet’s, eyes went unfocused as he scanned the message. A grin pulled at his lips before he smothered it. He was supposed to be looking stoic and professional in his new post as the number two to Duvall. Unlike Duvall, who Sonya had always thought was a bit of a condescending asshole because of an overrated part he’d played in a Blockie scuffle over seventy years ago, Helms was a proven commander who she’d worked with in the past. She was happy to see he’d finally gotten the corporate patronage necessary to jump all the way to full admiral. Judging by the way the man opposite the two first fleet commanders was sitting pretty, Sonya knew for sure he’d been the one to back Helms.

Thomas Gold was looking professional, but slightly distracted. When the PM had walked in, he made no effort to get up. Not only was he the man backing Duvall, and had elevated Helms, but he was the biggest contributor to Simmons’ election campaign and the Eagle Party in general. Everyone knew he was the real power in the room, but no one dared to mention it.

To show his power, he was sitting directly to the right of the PM, with the next five seats down being filled with his corporate lackeys, including the former CEO of the recently acquired Blacktide Armaments. On paper it looked like a merger, but Sonya knew a hostile takeover when she saw one. By her estimation, the Black Family would be completely knocked out of their own business in a decade or two, and if the rumors were true, their quest to marry into the Gold family had just taken a precipitous downturn.

The PM finally looked up from her PAD, which she’d been studying for the last thirty seconds in silence. The PM had the IOR implant like everyone else in the room, but it seemed she preferred the old reliable hardware in her hands. Sonya filed that away for future use.

“Ok, where are we standing with the Hegemony?” Once she had a firm grasp of this particular meeting’s agenda, they went to work.

“Everything is good, Madame Prime Minister. In fact, they’re better than good. All of our trading contracts are being met in full and on time. Loans are coming in without a hitch, as are the payments going out. We’ve been seemingly integrated into their banking system without a hiccup. It’s almost…”

“Alien?” the PM smirked and the room laughed. If this had been a human endeavor something would have gone wrong. Murphy would have demanded it. “How are things on the diplomatic front?” the PM turned to one of the holdovers from the last cabinet, Minister Jodi Harrington.

She had been moved out of her powerful position at Commerce and to the newly created Minister of Hegemonic Relations, whose primary mission as to conduct business with the Hegemony. It was a small position now, but Sonya had more than an inkling that it was going to grow quickly. “We’ve received return messages from our calls, but they read as courtesy replies. Whatever the more central races of the hegemony do on the day to day is still a mystery to us, and I don’t think they’re going to tell us anytime soon,” she replied looking more than a little frustrated.

“As long as the money keeps rolling in and our checks don’t bounce, we’re on a good path,” the PM moved on by fixing her attention on another subordinate.

Gold stayed silent, but his lackeys clearly had political IOUs they were calling in for legislation to be adopted by the Council. The PM handled it all like a good politician with smiles, non-committal language, and promises to get together with them individually at the earliest opportunity… which politely translated to never taking into consideration on her schedule.

Sonya didn’t pay much attention during these moments and elected to have her IOR record the meeting so she could look over it later. A message pinged in her peripherals, but it was a pre-programmed alert she’d set up to watch for items in her personal life. It was from a node with an Earth ID, so it was probably Derrick’s daily PT logs. His new legs were giving him trouble, and he liked to complain to her, so she made sure she had the therapist’s notes to reassure him with. She would tolerate it for a little longer before she pushed him back out of the proverbial nest so he could get back to flying.

“…Windsor’s look like?” she only caught the second half of the PM’s question, and she bought herself a few seconds to replay the whole question by tapping on her PAD and bringing up a holo of the galaxy.

“The situation with the Windsor’s is unchanged since their expulsion from Harper’s Junction.” ADM Ward wasn’t in the room, thank god, because it would have fed the man’s ego for him to hear her say that. “We have some light probing around the boarders they established after the unprovoked attack on Queensland and several other systems, but it looks like they are still licking their wounds. Our sources inside the Empire are limited, but they all are reporting that the Windsor’s are in a holding pattern.”

“What about the Blockies? Are they going to retaliate for Yangon?”

“Since Yangon was retaliation for Rogue Island, I would say it’s a fifty-fifty shot of something happening. We’re getting the usual bluster from their People’s Proxy Council, but there seems to be some infighting about next courses of action. I’d say we’re six months from seeing any operation take place, and that should be more than enough time for us to get new and updated hulls into service to counter anything.”

“Speaking of updating our warships. Have you given any thought to the request I sent forward about the fifteen percent quota?” Duvall stepped on the rest of Sonya’s report.

The fifteen percent quota was established by the combined military-industrial complex. It stated that they would get fifteen percent of each fleet updated with the new technology in order to have a minimum, modern fighting force available against any offensive action their enemies might take against the Commonwealth. With threats on multiple sides, this was quickly adopted by the Council and signed by the PM. The next phase of the plan was to get the frontline fleets further updated before the more static defense fleets, like First Fleet. Now, Duvall was trying to cut the line, and since his fifteen percent refit was about to be completed for the fleet it was the perfect moment to strike.

Unfortunately for Duvall, the PM knew this was coming. “We’ll talk offline about that. Mr. Gold, do you have anything to add?” she quickly pivoted to the one person in the room Duvall wasn’t going to interrupt.

“Only that we have the quantum sensor net installation progressing ahead of schedule. In another forty-five days you’ll be able to have a real-time data on ship positioning throughout the entire system without having to break it down into sectors like in the past.”

<That is good news,> Sonya nodded. The Commonwealth, and Fleet in particular, were paying a not-to-small fortune to get the next-gen net up in a few critical systems; enough that Gold Technologies was going too far surpass earning for this whole fiscal year. Even more important, it would give the Commonwealth a giant, strategic defensive advantage to use against any future attacks.

The various member systems’ independent astrogation agencies were going to levy new taxes on the shipping lanes to help recoup costs, but of course Gold had weaseled out of that too. In tandem with some of its recent shipping acquisitions, they were getting away with murder on their balance sheets. Sonya was more than a little worried with the amassed power Gold Technologies was wielding today versus two years ago, but that was a problem for a different time. The PM had moved on to another admiral, so she went back to her private inbox and opened the message from Derrick.

The problem was it wasn’t from Derrick. It was a medical alert she’d programmed her highest-level security AI to snatch. It was for Eve, and as she read it, it took all of her composure to not get up from the table, stomp out of the room, and catch a shuttle to Earth to chop a dick off.

<I’m going to murder that little fuck,> she seethed on the inside while she calmly tapped out a message to her daughter under the table and nodded along to the recap of some bullshit about fishery inventories on Titan.

 

***

 

Location: Deep Space near the Kuiper Belt, Sol System, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

Archibald Papadopoulos sat in the two-seater flight deck of the Lightening Bug Class freighter, It’s a New Day and watched the cargo hold cameras while his hands flew over the controls. He was well aware that the giant oblong piece of equipment, almost too big for his ship, was worth more than everything he owned, his life, his entire family’s lives, and if he fucked this up someone was going to collect on that debt.

<But the money was just too good to pass up,> he grinned as he fired the ship’s positioning thrusters to orient its bay door toward the designated coordinates.

As the owner and one of two employees of the independent freighter company Papadopoulos and Sons he’d been contracted to deliver this particular piece of equipment to the ass end of nowhere. He’d been contracted through the Ministry of War, but the piece of hardware had Gold Technologies insignias designed into it, so he knew who he was really working for.

He was only eligible for the job because of his service record and his spot in the Individual Ready Reserve. He’d made it all the way up to CPO before an unfortunate liberty incident on New Vegas got him an early discharge. It was still an honorable one though, so he had options…or at least he thought he did. Finding work after the navy was tough in Sol system. There were a lot of guys in the IRR looking for work, and going up against old friends for a handful of jobs had resulted in burned bridges. It would have been easy to land a high-paying gig in the outer Mid-Worlds or Rim, but he wasn’t willing to make the move or deal with the inherent dangers of that area. Plus, his whole family, and hot, young wife were all on Earth.

So into the family business he went. That was almost two decades ago. Now, it was his still hot, middle-aged ex-wife and him out in the ass end of nowhere in cramped quarters. Sometimes that was a good thing.

“Archie, you limp-dicked shit stain, keep your eye on your drift,” the woman in question snapped over the net as the ship floated off course by a few degrees.

<It wasn’t limp last night,> he mentally grumbled as he refocused on his task and made the small adjustment. Cramped quarters, a long time out in the void, and his ex-wife veracious sexual appetite led to the inevitable. Since it was the one thing they actually did good in their fifteen year marriage, he was fine with it at the time. Truthfully, it was one of the only reasons he could bare working with her anymore. Friends with occasional benefits was a lot better than sharing the cramped ship with some other dude with smelly feet for a month.

“Better,” she yelled back as they settled into the proper position. “Taking over remotely.” The Gold Technologies equipment hummed to life, and she, in an old exo-suit, started to maneuver it out of the bay and into space.

He tried not to think about why the hunk of electronics looked like it was covered in a moss-like substance, which shifted to looking like glass when it was exposed to vacuum. Those were questions he could never ask anyone. Whatever this thing was it was important, which was why he was being paid an entire year’s operating costs to haul it out here, plus a bonus when he returned.

“In position. Initiating uplink to Astro,” she announced as she hit the preloaded sequence. If it didn’t work, they were shit out of luck. The Ministry of War didn’t give a merchantman technical knowhow of sensitive systems. If this didn’t work, they’d have to haul it back and forfeit the bonus. It was working when they left, so if it didn’t when they got to the destination, it was Archie’s fault.

“Beacon Alpha-Seven, do you read. This is Sol Astrogation Control,” hailed an operator for the only joint agency–between all the world’s powers–that ran commercial traffic for the entire system.

“Roger, Astro, this is Beacon Alpha-Seven,” Archie sat back to wait for the message to travel at light speed to the monitoring facility in Titan’s atmosphere.

“Good copy, Alpha-Seven,” the voice replied immediately, which shocked Archie nearly out of his seat.

“Holy shit! Hey, get your saggy ass back in here Virginia, that’s one of those new quantum relay thingies,” he shouted over their private net. He was tempted to place a call all the way back to their shop on Earth but didn’t. The comms on these things were probably highly monitored at this point.

“Alpha-Seven, did you damage the package?” There was a new, graver voice on the speaker now.

“Negative, Astro,” Archie couldn’t help the hint of panic in his voice. “The package was in the container during all of transit, and I’ve got all the proper logs to show I didn’t do anything.”

There was silence for a moment. “We’re getting a bunch of glitchy readings to your aft. Please confirm.”

Archie had been so busy making sure he didn’t damage the cargo that he hadn’t been watching the sensors since they’d settled into position over half an hour ago. A Blockie fleet could have parked right on top of him.

<I should have sprung for better software,> he grumbled as his eyes shot to 2D screen that represented the quarter of a light minute surrounding Day.

Nothing.

He breathed a sigh of relief. “Astro, I’ve got nothing on my scope.”

“No offense, Alpha-Seven, but we’ve got your specs in front of us and your scope is shit. Requesting visual confirmation.”

Archie rolled his eyes. His ship’s capabilities ended right around fifteen thousand kilometers, but he should at least be able to get a fuzzy image of anything a stone’s throw away for the killjoys at Astro.

“Roger, give me a minute, Astro.” It would take a minute. While the sensors automatically did a seventy-five-thousand-kilometer bubble around Day, the visual telescope had to be moved into position. The coordinates he was getting – in real time, which was pretty awesome – were at his eight o’clock and plus forty-five degrees.

“Are you set?” he asked his ex, because to get the view he needed to adjust position.

“Yeah,” she grumbled back from the cargo-holds hardline. “Closing bay door.”

Twenty seconds later it was secure, atmosphere was flooding back into the majority of the ship, and he hit the thrusters. Day flew head over ass in a controlled tumble until the front of the boat was pointed at the anomalous readings. Next, he brought up the telescope and…

“Why are we…?” his wife yelled angrily from the top of the ladder at the back of the crew quarters when a beam hotter than the surface of the sun cut It’s a New Day directly in half. She tumbled out into space, dying in less than a minute, but not before she saw the front half of Day, with Archie frantically trying to reach her from the sealed bridge, explode.

Neither of them was close enough to see several not at all glitchy objects moving through the last vestiges of the Kuiper Belt toward the refineries on Neptune.

“Alpha-Seven, respond. Alpha-Seven…?” Astro continued to try to hail the quickly dispersing shreds of matter for half an hour before finally shooting the issue up the chain of command.

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4 thoughts on “Two Worlds – Chapter 290

  1. If you haven’t yet, I highly encourage you to check out my published works. They’re easily viewed from my Author’s Page. What I earn from those helps to go into editing and artwork costs for future books. So please pick them up, and just as importantly, leave a short review and let everyone know what you think. Every review is greatly appreciated! It’s the best form of advertising for an indie author like me, and I like to hear what people think.

    I’m on TDY is finally out! Get it here, and enjoy a whole new world of my writing.

    Also, vote for Two Worlds on topwebfiction here and help bring attention to the series.

    You can also donate to my indie writing career either by becoming a monthly patreon or donating for bonus Two Worlds chapters. Both links are on the right side of my Home Page.

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  2. Rip Coop it was nice knowing yah. Honestly though I don’t think she would hurt him that much ,she doesn’t want her grand kid to group up without a dad does she?

    Liked by 1 person

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