Politics is less a game than a duel with swords that cut deeper than the sharpest steel. Cut one opponent the wrong way and they will slash you to ribbons, or merely wound you enough to let you slowly bleed out on the floor.
— Senator Alexander Farragut (PG – Mimir), New Earth Commonwealth Senate, c. 5225 PD
13 Novem, 5249 PD
“Let’s get to business, ladies and gentlemen.” Sergei’s voice was just barely audible above the murmur of conversation within the Council chamber. Most of the representatives had taken note of Scarelli’s presence outside and the questions had started. The Marshals and Mugabe had been damnably tight-lipped. The speculations were flying. A few voices started to edge toward panic.
Lindsay folded her hands in front of her and studied the leather of her gloves, waiting for everyone to shut up. Her head buzzed, a slight pounding behind her eyes, but no visions came. I just hope that it all stays settled until he comes back. I don’t think I can handle another swarm without him here. Her hands unconsciously tightened and she forced them to relax. He’s going to be fine. Even if we haven’t heard from them. Everything’s fine.
“—not going to hang on the word of some Guard legacy.”
Some eyes drifted to D’Arcy, whose voice had carried in the sudden silence of the chamber. Others didn’t dare look at him, they instead looked at Rachel, at the Marshals, at Lindsay—the Guard legacies in the room.
Sergei cleared his throat. “Are we ready to get started, then?”
Silence answered him. Sergei nodded.
“Very good. Let’s get to business, then. Marshal Windsor, Consul Zenak, I am told that we have a guest that wishes to address the Council?”
Mugabe and Adam exchanged a look before Adam stood slowly, clasping his hands behind his back.
“You’re correct, Speaker. The vice president in charge of operations from Mission Systems has petitioned to be heard by this council on a matter that touches on system security and resource management. Consul Zenak and I have discussed the matter at length with Marshals Rose and Church and we are in agreement that we should—at the very least—hear what he has to say.”
As Mugabe got up to let Scarelli into the chamber, D’Arcy leaned forward slightly toward Adam.
“Something tells me that we aren’t going to like what Mr. Scarelli has to say, Marshal.”
Nice little display of your ability to do research, D’Arcy, Lindsay thought, studying the spymaster. But I’d be more impressed if you already knew what he had to say and told us instead of relying on us to assume that you know what he’s got to say.
“I think we should hear him out,” Lindsay said. “We’re facing a war and we’ll need any allies we can get.”
D’Arcy looked at her but avoided meeting her gaze. “A war we only have your word is coming.”
“My visions don’t lie about things like that, Consul Morgause,” Lindsay said, sitting up a little straighter, as if her spine was made of steel rebar, “and I wasn’t raised to lie about something that important.”
“No one is impl—”
“Of course he is,” Kara snapped, cutting off Arigato’s defense of the spymaster. “The man looks at her with barely veiled fear and speaks of her with barely veiled contempt. He doesn’t believe what she’s had to say.” The second youngest consul pounded her index finger against the wooden tabletop before her. “We know that things aren’t what they should be in New Earth space. If my brother was able to figure that out, you sure as hell should have been able to, too. We know that something’s brewing, even without the visions. Those just told us how bad it could get. Don’t you dare deny that there’s a war coming.”
“Are we ready for our guest, or shall I sit back down?” Mugabe asked, his voice just barely on the respectful side of sarcasm.
Sergei stared at Kara and D’Arcy for a long moment, his gaze tired. He seemed to silently challenge one or both of them to speak again. Kara leaned back in her chair and D’Arcy crossed his arms, looking like a petulant child. Sergei shook his head slightly and nodded to Mugabe. “See him in, Consul.”
Mugabe nodded and opened the door.
Lindsay had to smother a smile at the look of awe on Scarelli’s face as he walked into the council chambers. Perhaps he hadn’t quite expected something like this, or perhaps he hadn’t expected the council to be so small, or its members so varied. His jaw snapped shut audibly as he drifted to the center of the compass rose inlaid in the tile floor of the room, slowly turning in a circle to study each of them in turn. Lindsay rested her chin on her elbow and stared at him for a long moment.
I hope I’m right about him, about this. All I know is that we need help. Is Mission Systems where we’re supposed to get some of that help?
Mugabe spoke quietly and clearly as he shut the door and turned to Sergei from his position down on the chamber floor. “Speaker Petremoore, distinguished colleagues, I present Mr. Adriano Scarelli, Vice President of Operations for Mission Systems LLC.”
Scarelli momentarily looked like he wasn’t sure whether he should bow, salute, or nod. Instead, he clasped his hands in front of him and looked up at Sergei. “Speaker, it is an honor to be allowed to speak to all of you today. I admit that this is more intimidating than any investors summit or board meeting I have ever presented to—I cannot express how glad I am to be able to speak to all of you today.” He drew himself a little straighter even as Mugabe abandoned him on the floor and resumed his seat at one of the curved tables.
Scarelli spread his hands. “I am authorized by Mission Systems LLC to make a very unusual request of everyone here as well as everyone currently residing in this system. It is our hope that you will allow us to relocate our operations from orbit in the Comanche system to orbit the fourth planet in the Eridani Trelasia system.”
“Absolutely not,” D’Arcy snapped.
Lindsay rolled her eyes, though she tried to hide the look. Of course.
The sound of an open hand slapping a tabletop made them all jump. Amelda Watson was the source of the sound and she glowered at D’Arcy with barely contained annoyance. “Consul Morgause, still that tongue of yours, if you please, at least long enough for us to hear Mr. Scarelli’s proposal before you dismiss it out of hand. Some of us, at least, are inclined toward open mindedness in this matter, though clearly you are not.”
Daciana Rose cleared her throat quietly. “Speaker, may I make a motion?”
Sergei simply nodded. Daci smiled briefly and continued.
“Since Consul Morgause has already implied that not only does he know the details of Mr. Scarelli’s proposal but has also made his opinion known on the matter, perhaps he should be excused to continue his intelligence gathering with regards to the current tactical situation in NeCom space. We will need that information to continue conducting drills and planning for our eventual defense of this system.”
Lindsay hid a smile at the twinkle she caught in Daci’s eye. Nicely played. Maybe I should take lessons from her. I don’t think I could have tied that noose and tightened it so quickly—not without getting a knife to my kidney before I was done.
The Speaker paused for a long moment, then leaned back in his chair. “Is there a second?”
Lindsay waited two heartbeats before she put up her hand. “I second, Consul.”
“And I third,” Reine Oronoko said quietly, quite unexpectedly. Lindsay glanced at her and caught the faintest trace of a smile on the woman’s face, eyes bright. “Should the Speaker request it, that is,” she added, one corner of her mouth quirking upward.
“The motion carries to a vote. Consul Moore, if you would collect the tally?”
Jensen Moore stood from his spot at the table and picked up a leather bag that shifted and clinked softly at the touch. He made one circuit of the room, distributing the flat-bottomed glass marbles within, one black and one white. The Rose Council voted using the ancient method of the stones; it had since its foundations and continued to do so even after all these years.
“If everyone would please make their selections,” Jensen said.
Lindsay swept both marbles into her lap, her fist curling around the white one. Jensen began another slow circuit of the room, each consul dropping a marble into the bag, casting their vote. Once it was done, he motioned for Scarelli to step back.
Jenson crouched in the heart of the room and carefully upended the bag onto the heart of the rose. Thirteen white stones gleamed in the lamplight, one black shining darkly among them.
A collective breath sighed out of the council.
“The ayes have it,” Sergei said. “Consul Morgause, you are released to your intelligence gathering. The Council will deliberate without you and your vote against Mr. Scarelli’s proposal has been noted.”
D’Arcy stood stiffly. “Yes, Speaker. I will give you a full report of what I’ve learned as soon as it can be made available.” He shot a venomous glare at Daci as he crossed the floor and walked out of the chamber.
She made an enemy today, Lindsay thought, but her heart felt lighter.
“Forgive the interruption, Mr. Scarelli,” Sergei said. “You were saying?”
Scarelli smiled faintly. “Just that Mission Systems is ready to sign whatever agreements are necessary to relocate to the Eridani Trelasia system. The Commonwealth is dying, and the Foundation is our only hope for humanity to survive the storm.”