A Rising Thunder – Snippet 20

 

Chapter Seven

 

“Excuse me, Sir, but an Admiral Simpson is on the com. She’s asking for a priority appointment with you.”

 

“Admiral Simpson?”

 

Gabriel Caddell-Markham, the Director of Defense for the Beowulf Planetary Board of Directors, arched an eyebrow at Timothy Sung, his personal aide, whose holo image floated above the director’s desktop com. It had taken Caddell-Markham years to master the art of moving only one eyebrow while the other remained motionless. Despite his wife Joanna’s more or less tolerant amusement at the affectation (the acquisition of which she ascribed to his many, many years in starship commands with no useful skills to spend his time mastering), he’d actually found it quite handy since he’d resigned from the Beowulf System Defense Force to pursue a political career.

 

“Yes, Sir,” Sung replied in answer to his question.

 

The dark-haired, brown-eyed Sung’s rather pale complexion contrasted sharply with his boss’s very black skin, yet there was an oddly familial resemblance between them. Probably because the defense director’s aide had been with him for the better part of eleven T-years. Given that Sung was only forty, that meant he’d been young and malleable enough to be influenced by older, more evil examples. That was Sung’s own explanation, anyway. Some senior government officials might have taken that explanation amiss, but given that the theory had originally been propounded by Joanna Markham-Caddell, Caddell-Markham wasn’t in the best of positions to do that. Besides, the younger man’s insouciance was one of the main reasons the director had chosen him as an aide in the first place. Sung had performed his own military service in the Biological Survey Corps, which was scarcely renowned for its spit-and-polish attitude, and the arched eyebrow was usually good for a snort when Caddell-Markham used it on him. Today, he seemed not even to have noticed.

 

“She’s not one of our officers,” Sung continued. “In fact, I understand she’s on Admiral Kingsford’s staff.”

 

Caddell-Markham’s eyebrow came down and his face tightened ever so slightly. It would have taken someone who knew him as well as Sung did to notice, but his aide nodded.

 

“Yes, Sir. She obviously doesn’t want to get specific with me, but from her attitude, I think she has to be here about Filareta.”

 

Timothy Sung was thoroughly briefed in on a vast assortment of highly classified information, which was why he knew about the plan to send Massimo Filareta to attack the Manticore Binary System, despite the plan’s Utter-Top-Secret, Burn-Before-Reading-and-Then-Self-Terminate Classification. And, like his boss, he thought it was the stupidest, most arrogant excuse for a strategy he’d ever heard of.

 

What Sung wasn’t aware of — yet — was that the Beowulf system government had very quietly used an extremely “black” communications channel to warn Manticore Filareta was coming.

 

“Since you say you think she’s here about Filareta, I assume she hasn’t said anything specific about the reason she wants to see me?”

 

“No, Sir. As I said, she obviously doesn’t want to get specific with an underling.” Sung grimaced. “She was pretty emphatic about the urgency of her need to speak to you as soon as possible, though. And she did say it was something she didn’t want to discuss — with you, presumably, since she was ‘discussing’ damn-all with me — over the com.”

 

“I see.”

 

Caddell-Markham pursed his lips, then shrugged.

 

“I further assume that as the skilled bureaucrat and politician-minder you’ve become, you haven’t told her I’m immediately available?”

 

“No, Sir.” This time, Sung smiled slightly. “In fact, I told her you were out of the office and that I’d see if I could contact you. I’m afraid I may have implied you were closeted with some of the other Directors at the moment and it might not be possible to ‘disturb you.'”

 

“So sad to see a stalwart military officer descending to such depths of chicanery,” Caddell-Markham observed with a smile of his own. Then the smile vanished, and he shrugged. “In that case, tell her I’m afraid I won’t be able to see her until sometime fairly late this afternoon. Go ahead and feel free to ‘imply’ that I’m out of the city at the moment — I’m probably in Grendel, in fact, now that I think about it. At any rate, I’ll be happy to meet with her absolutely as soon as I can get back to Columbia. And as soon as you’ve finished ‘implying’ that to her and scheduling the meeting, please be good enough to get the CEO, Secretary Pinder-Swun, Director Longacre, and Director Mikulin on a secure conference link.”

 

*   *   *

 

“So has anyone ever actually met this Admiral Simpson?”

 

Chyang Benton-Ramirez, the Chairman and CEO of the Planetary Board of Directors, was about eight centimeters taller than Caddell-Markham’s hundred and seventy-five centimeters. He also had dark hair which was turning white, despite the fact that he was barely seventy-five T-years old. Personally, Caddell-Markham suspected Benton-Ramirez preferred things that way, on the theory that it gave him an interestingly distinguished look in a society accustomed to prolong’s extended youthfulness. And the snowiness of his hair made a nicely distinctive visual contrast with the darkness of his bushy mustache. The political cartoonists just loved it, regardless of their own political persuasions, at any rate.

 

His Board colleagues looked around at one another’s images, then turned back to him with various combinations of shrugs and head shakes.

 

“Marvelous,” he said dryly.

 

“I’ve never met her, Chyang,” Director at Large Fedosei Demianovich Mikulin said, “but I did have a chance to give her dossier a quick once over before the conference.”

 

Despite the fact that he was the Board of Directors’ oldest member by the better part of two decades, the blond-haired, blue-eyed Mikulin actually looked younger than Benton-Ramirez. He was almost thirteen centimeters taller, as well. A physician by training, he’d been a member of the Board for over thirty T-years, always as a director at large rather than heading any specific planetary directorate. His colleagues in the Chamber of Shareholders and Chamber of Professions had returned him so persistently to the Board because of his demonstrated ability as an all-around troubleshooter, and Benton-Ramirez, like his last two predecessors, had learned to rely on Mikulin’s advice…especially in intelligence matters.

 

“And her dossier told you what, Fedosei?” the CEO asked now.

 

“She’s Kingsford’s operations officer,” Mikulin replied. “She’s also some sort of cousin of his, and she’s connected by marriage to Rajampet, as well. Despite that, she’s only a rear admiral, and according to her dossier her last shipboard command was as the captain of a superdreadnought. As far as we know, she’s never commanded a fleet or a task force or even a squadron in space. She does have a reputation as an operational planner, but that’s an SLN reputation, so I’d take it with a grain of salt, especially when someone with her family connections hasn’t been promoted beyond junior flag rank. She’s obviously trusted by her superiors when it comes to politics and bureaucratic infighting, though. As nearly as I can tell, Kingsford — or Jennings, at least — has used her as go-between on some fairly gray operations that no one wanted officially on the record.”

 

Benton-Ramirez nodded. Fleet Admiral Winston Seth Kingsford was the commanding officer of the Solarian League Navy’s Battle Fleet. That made him Rajampet’s heir apparent as chief of naval operations, and Admiral Willis Jennings was Kingsford’s chief of staff. Neither was any stranger to the internecine warfare of the League bureaucracy.

 

“I think we can safely assume, then,” the CEO said out loud, “that none of us are going to be too happy about any minor gray areas she may have been sent to go between in our case.”

 

“Probably not,” Director of State Jukka Longacre agreed. “The thing I have to wonder is how unhappy we’re going to be?”

 

The director of state’s amethyst eyes narrowed. Those eyes were his most striking feature — especially against his dark complexion and depilated scalp — but his powerful, hooked nose ran them a close second. Caddell-Markham had always thought that with the possible addition of a golden earring, Longacre would have made a wonderful HD pirate. In fact, he’d been Chairman of Interstellar Politics at the University of Columbia before his election to the Board seven T-years earlier.

 

“You’re wondering if something’s leaked about our warning to Manticore?” Benton-Ramirez’ tone made the question a statement, and Longacre nodded.

 

“I doubt it,” Secretary Joshua Pinder-Swun said.