Another of humanity’s traits that is terrible and admirable all at once is our capacity for denial. It is both a mechanism that enables us to survive and something that will, someday, get us all killed.
— Erich Quizibian, Roots of Disaster: Predicting the Death of the Human Race, c. 5073 PD
20 Novem, 5249 PD
Adam met them outside the meeting hall. He was waiting for them, expression serious, almost grave. His eyes betrayed a brief flicker of surprise when he saw Frederick in the skimmer’s backseat, but it was quelled in an instant.
“What’s wrong?” Lindsay asked as she climbed out. Her heart began to beat a little faster. Bloody hell, what’s gone wrong now? She felt sick, stomach bucking like a boat in rough seas.
“I heard from Alana,” he said, gaze flicking between his niece and his wife. “She sent a tight-beam signal to my personal comm half an hour ago. They made the system and they’re about five ours out by her estimation.”
“Five hours out? That’s pretty shoddy plotting,” Rachel said.
Lindsay’s lips thinned. Brendan’s a better astronavigator than that, but I don’t think ‘lana is. I’m not surprised they’re still so far out. She felt the overwhelming urge to mentally reach for Brendan, a desire she quashed, though denying it left her feeling even queasier. Focus, Lindsay. You can come unglued later. You can give in later. She caught her lip between her teeth, biting down hard enough that she was surprised she wasn’t leaving marks, drawing blood.
Frederick, silent as a wraith, appeared beside her. He took her hand and squeezed.
She sucked in a breath. “What’s going on, Uncle Adam?”
“Alana wouldn’t talk about it on an unsecure line, but she said that none of them would be speaking to anyone when they got back unless it was me, Aidan, or the two of you. I imagine that Alana doesn’t trust Daci yet.” His gaze slid toward Frederick. “I want you at their debriefing. Whatever they saw and learned is apparently disturbing enough to make an ex-Compact black ops agent paranoid.” He shook his head. “She also said that we have to pull the sensor logs of that ship as soon as they set down, before D’Arcy gets wind of their return. Up to that, Eaglet?”
Rachel frowned slightly. “I’m rusty and I’ll need my kit, but I think I can manage.”
Adam nodded. “Good. Now we just need to make it through this Council meeting without anyone suspecting that something’s amiss.” He crossed his arms, looking between the three. “Who’s aide is Freder supposed to be?”
“Mine,” both women said simultaneously. Rachel looked at Lindsay curiously as Adam favored them both with an amused expression.
“What are you thinking?” Rachel asked.
Lindsay shrugged with one shoulder. “That odds are on one’s going to notice me dragging someone along. No one ever noticed Brendan until he made himself noticed. You’ll be under more scrutiny, if Kara and the Marshals and I are right and you’re the Speaker’s top choice to succeed him.”
Rachel’s lips thinned. “I’m not.”
Adam squeezed her shoulder and shook his head. “Like as not, Eaglet, you are. Amelda’s too young and Kara’s too young and the rest don’t have the balls for it.”
Rachel just shook her head. “That’s not how it’ll be.”
“Then Sergei is going to work himself to death,” Adam predicted.
Lindsay shivered. He’s right. She’s the only valid choice in there, and I’m willing to bet the Speaker knows it. Aunt Rachel’s apparently the only one who doesn’t.
Well. Her and D’Arcy Morgause. She’s just got too much self-doubt. He’s delusional or something.
“Well,” Frederick said quietly, “I suppose that means that I’ll be the Oracle’s aide, since I don’t imagine you’ve got a uniform available in my size, Grumpy.”
Adam’s gaze slid sideways. “Don’t tempt me, Freder. It wouldn’t take much to get one.”
“That might actually be the least remarkable,” Lindsay said. “No one would say anything crosswise if Uncle Adam showed up with some kind of advisor. Even one that’s not in uniform. They just might assume that Freder’s someone from Mission Systems or something.”
“Your wife is going to have an apoplexy,” Adam said to Frederick. He was grinning, though. Apparently, he didn’t think this was that terrible of an idea. “And she will probably try to murder me sometime after we leave the meeting, but my gut’s screaming this will be worth it in the long run.”
Lindsay smiled briefly. “Trying your hand at some prophecy yourself, Uncle Adam?”
“Everyone’s got a little bit of it in them, even me.” He winked at her, then sobered, glancing toward the stone walls behind them. “This isn’t going to be a pleasant meeting. Not with the rumors on the newsnets.”
Rachel blinked. “After the screams every psychic around the world heard? We still haven’t managed to confirm that someone wiped out a planet?”
Adam sighed. “D’Arcy’s made an art form of dragging his feet. He doesn’t believe it happened, so he doesn’t want to spend resources confirming that it did. I don’t have the assets to spare right now or else I’d be sending someone to have a look myself.” He headed for the doors and they trailed behind him, Frederick first, followed by Lindsay and Rachel. Lindsay shoved her gloved hands into her pockets, trying not to scowl.
Of course he doesn’t believe that a planet died. I wouldn’t want to believe it, either, but I heard the screams.
I saw the dying, the burning, three months before it happened. Her lips thinned again. But I thought it was a nightmare then. I’m such a goddamned fool. I could have done something about it.
She looked down at her feet as she followed her aunt, uncle, and a dead man down the stone corridors toward the Council chamber. Some bloody prophet I’ve turned out to be. Don’t I have a duty to more people than just the ones on this planet? Do I?
I wish Brendan was here.
Swallowing the lump that rose in her throat at the thought of her husband, she took a deep breath and stepped into the chamber.
About half the Council had already arrived. She caught the flicker of shock and fear that washed across Daci’s face when she laid eyes on Frederick, emotions that the Marshal was quick to bury.
That was good, because Lindsay had scarcely settled into her seat before D’Arcy Morgause arrived with an entourage of three of his agents on his heels. Her jaw tightened as she watched them haul some projection equipment into the room with them.
Oh. This ought to be good.
Her gaze flicked across the chamber to her uncle, who looked disgusted and sick at heart all at once. D’Arcy gave him a cat-like smile before he turned his gaze, full of hate and loathing, toward Lindsay.
And very, very bad.
Damnation and hellfire, Brendan, I wish you were here. I really, really wish you were here.
We’re going to need all the help we can get this time around, aren’t we?