War makes strange bedfellows.
— General Deacon Black, Rose Foundation, circa 4843 PD
13 Novem, 5249 PD
Lindsay tugged at her gloves, adjusting them for the tenth time. “I’m not sure I want to be facing D’Arcy Morgause right now, Aunt Rachel.”
“Are you seriously considering not going, Lindsay?”
She sighed. “No. I’m not. It’s just…something feels wrong, Aunt Rachel. Really wrong.”
“Connected to D’Arcy?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.” Lindsay exhaled a sigh. “Something’s not right with him. But I can’t put my finger on it.”
Rachel shook her head. “The man’s a snake, Lindsay, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to try anything all that questionable.”
“He was purposely delaying giving us information on my parents. Who knows what else he’s been holding back?” Lindsay raked her fingers back through her hair. “Whatever information he’s about to give us is already out of date. If he’s called the Council to give us information at all. He could be on a fishing expedition. Uncle Adam’s been very tight-lipped about the operations he’s running right now.”
“As much as that probably galls D’Arcy, the man knows the value of keeping military operations quiet until danger has passed.” Rachel took her by the hand. “Come on. Don’t want to be late.”
“Are you sure we should be leaving Freder alone?”
“Stop trying to get out of this, Lindsay. Freder’s perfectly capable of taking care of himself. Most of the time.”
“Listen to your aunt, Lindsay,” Freder called from the living room. “No one’s going to bother me here because everyone still thinks I’m dead.”
“And it’ll stay that way until you decide otherwise, Freder. Come on, Lindsay.”
Lindsay sighed and let her aunt tug her out the kitchen door. “Uncle Adam’s not going to be able to put off meeting with Mission Systems again, is he?”
“He said something about making new arrangements last night.” Rachel headed for the skimmer and Lindsay followed, exhaling a sigh.
“I don’t want him to go. Not until they’re home.” She rubbed her eyes and climbed in next to Rachel, leaning her head back and staring at the sky as the older woman got them underway. Rachel sighed.
“We’re going to need those ships, Lindsay, regardless of when Brendan, Alana, and Ezra get home, and we need them as soon as possible.” They sped along through the trees, down the roadway toward their meeting. “He shouldn’t have delayed as long as he did, to be honest, but he did it because of you.”
Lindsay winced, feeling a momentarily pang of guilt. Great. Now it’s on my head if we don’t have enough ships in enough time, when this war starts. She reached up and massaged her temple.
Rachel glanced at her sidelong. A faint smile tugged briefly at her lips. “Not entirely because of you, sweetheart, I promise. But he knew how hard that mission was going to go on you, so he delayed. It doesn’t mean that he wasn’t concerned about being away from the command center in case updates came in.”
Really? “I guess I didn’t realize how much he cared about them.”
“You’d be surprised. I was surprised.” Rachel grinned. “He’s inordinately fond of Brendan, which is what surprised me the most. Then again, regardless of how things were going between Adam and I, I doubt he’d have let you two get close if he didn’t like him.”
Lindsay laughed, though it was a weak, almost broken sound. “I think Brendan would be surprised by that, too.” But I guess I’m not—not really. She’s right. Brendan never would have gotten close to me if Uncle Adam didn’t approve.
“We’re all surprised to find out that authority figures actually like us,” Rachel said.
Her niece nodded.
They parked the skimmer not far from the Council building and walked the last few dozen yards. Lindsay’s apprehension hadn’t faded, her shoulders uncomfortably tight at the thought of another ten rounds with D’Arcy Morgause.
I’m not sure I can stand it. This might be the time that I snap. She suppressed a sigh. Rachel squeezed her arm gently.
“Stiff upper lip, sweetheart. It’ll go well. I doubt anyone’s well-disposed to D’Arcy right now.”
At least she knows why I’d rather not come.
They came across the Marshal standing in a knot outside the meeting house. An unfamiliar man stood with them, as tall as Aidan Church but slender with olive skin and dark hair peppered with gray.
“Evacuate no-essential personnel and send them to the ground. These people—they’re not going to care who’s manning them. They’ll hit the orbitals first and use the burning wrecks to cover their landers.”
Lindsay snapped back to herself, sucking in a ragged breath.
Rachel squeezed her arm again. “What’s wrong?”
Lindsay sucked in a ragged breath. “Just saw something. That man—he’s not from here.” Who is he? How did he get here?
Her aunt’s brows knit as they approached the four. Adam turned at the sound of their footsteps, offering a brief, weak smile. “Counsels Farragut, I was hoping we’d catch you out here.” He gestured vaguely toward the olive-skinned man. “This is Marcos Scarelli. He’s the vice president of operations for Mission Systems.”
Lindsay rocked back against her heels. Rachel looked like she wanted to do the same, but recovered more quickly, extending her hand to the man.
“Mr. Scarelli, Rachael Farragut. What brings you all the way out here?” She shot Adam a quick glance that clearly asked the same question, though more pointedly.
“Marshal Windsor has been gracious enough to arrange for me to address the Rose Council this afternoon,” Scarelli said quietly. “We have a proposal for them that I very much hope that the Council will approach with an open mind.”
Adam ignored the sharper look that Rachel gave him, reaching around her and drawing Lindsay forward. “Mr. Scarelli, this is Lindsay Farragut. Commander Channing is her father.”
“Commander Grant Channing?” Scarelli took Lindsay’s gloved hand with only the barest trace of hesitation.
Lindsay nodded. “Yes. I took my mother’s name when I came here from Mimir.” Scarelli’s grip was firm and Lindsay forced herself to match it. Hearing him speak, she knew it was his voice she’d heard in her short-lived vision.
“My father met him once, a long time ago.” Scarelli smiled faintly. “He said that he was a dangerous man, one that he hoped never to cross.”
A blush crept over her cheeks as she shook her head slightly, withdrawing her hand. “I never really knew him. I was evacuated when I was a baby. I haven’t seen him since.”
Something softened in Scarelli’s gaze. “I’m sorry, Consul Farragut.”
She forced a smile. “It’s not your fault, Mr. Scarelli, and it was a long time ago. Perhaps I’ll be able to know him someday.”
“Then he’s still alive?” Scarelli looked away from Lindsay toward Rachel, then toward Adam and the other Marshals. Adam cleared his throat.
“To the best of our knowledge.”
Rachel caught Lindsay’s wrist. “We’ll see you inside,” the elder Farragut said, tugging her niece along in her wake.
Scarelli smiled briefly and nodded. “It was a pleasure to meet you both.”
“Of course,” Lindsay murmured. Rachel just smiled.
Once they were inside, Rachel let go, a shudder wracking her. “I hope he knows what kind of game he’s playing,” Rachel murmured, looking back over her shoulder at the doors.
“Game?” Lindsay blinked at her aunt, then followed her gaze back toward the doors. “What are you talking about, Aunt Rachel?”
The elder woman shook her head slowly. “There’s something going on that he hasn’t told me about, but I think that it caught him off-guard, too. Mission Systems is here for a reason and I’m not sure the Council’s going to like it.” Rachel turned and started walking toward the Council chamber.
Lindsay shook her head, crossing her arms. “They’re going to ask us if they can stay, Aunt Rachel.”
Rachel froze, then twisted, moving as if she was caught in a block of ice. “What?”
“Are you surprised?” Lindsay asked softly. “Even if D’Arcy hasn’t told us the whole truth, none of us are stupid. We know that things must be getting bad back in Commonwealth space—I’ve seen what’s coming, Auntie. I know it’s coming. It’s just a question of when and how bad.” She sighed and went to Rachel, putting her hands gently on her aunt’s arms. “We’re asking Mission Systems for the ships that the Guard ordered before Mimir fell. We’re a port in the storm they see rising all around them. It’s only logical that they’d ask for our protection.”
Rachel barked a bitter laugh. “What protection? We need those ships so we can protect ourselves.”
“Distance, maybe? I don’t know. Maybe they know something we don’t.” Lindsay’s shoulders rose and fell in a shrug. “Regardless of what he says, Aunt Rachel, I may vote for them to stay.”
The other woman stared at her as if she’d grown a second head. “What if they want to rip up the mountains and turn our rivers and lakes to acid?”
“They’re not stupid, Aunt Rachel. Something tells me that Scarelli knows what they’re getting into—at least in part. You heard what Mugabe and Uncle Adam said. They’re not going to settle here unless they agree to live by our rules. If they don’t want to do that, though, if they want to build an arcology out in the asteroid ranges? I won’t oppose that. Would you? Would you deny them the chance to get away from New Earth space as long as they won’t try to force their way of life on us, destroy our system?”
Rachel swallowed twice before she dropped her gaze and shook her head slightly. “You sound like your mother,” she said in a bare whisper. She took Lindsay’s face in her hands gently and kissed her forehead.
“I don’t know where you got that wisdom of yours, Lindsay,” she said with a sigh, turning away and heading toward the Council chamber, “but you’d best put it to good use today. You’re right. Regardless of what Mr. Scarelli has to say, we need Mission Systems and their cooperation—I just hope that we don’t have to sell our souls to get it.”