Chapter Forty

That was the day that everything started to change.

— Kara Grace-Forester, member of the Rose Council (5245-5250)

20 Novem, 5249 PD

In the sudden silence reigning over the Council’s chambers, Adam Windsor’s comm began to trill loudly, insistently.  He shoved a hand into his pocket to retrieve it, keenly aware of how sharply all eyes had turned to him.

“My apologies,” he murmured as he fumbled out the comm., still half numb from Scarelli’s announcement.

“It’s all right, Marshal Windsor,” Sergei said, traces of irony in his voice, in his smile.  “I doubt one more interruption could disrupt our proceedings further than they’ve already been disturbed.”

You’d think that, Adam thought as he stared at his comm..  Chase’s code.  He stood up.  “Pardon me for a moment.  Matter of defense.”

“Are we under attack?”  Amelda asked as Adam made his way to the stone steps and then crossed toward the door.

“No, Consul,” Adam assured her as he shoulder the doors open.  “But it’s a matter of defense nonetheless.”

It was cool and quiet in the corridor.  He let the doors thud closed behind him and wandered partway down the hall, his comm. Still trilling in his hand.

He subvocalized a command and then spoke.  “Windsor.”

“You have twenty minutes to get me landing vectors,” Alana said at the other end of the line.  “We’re an hour out, but I need to adjust course for landing.”

“You’ll have them,” Adam said, heart starting to beat a little faster.  With Scarelli’s announcement throwing down a proverbial gauntlet, the proof Operation: Quebec was carriny became that much more critical, that much more important.  If they have what she said they have, D’Arcy won’t have a choice in the matter.  He’ll have to believe.

            Hell, the whole Commonwealth will have to believe.

            And the cycle would start all over again.

He shivered.

Gods and monsters, I hope not.  The last thing the galaxy needs is another Frederick Rose.

“We also need a medical team on standby on landing.  Doctor V, if it can be done.”  She paused.  Adam could hear Ezra Grace’s voice in the background.  “Correction,” Alana said, voice dry.  “If you can’t get her, you’re going to have to debrief Ezra en route to his clinic because Brendan needs work as soon as we land.”

Adam’s heart froze for a moment and he found himself swallowing against the sudden sickness that bubbled up in his throat.  “It’s that bad?”

Her voice got quiet, as if she didn’t want Ezra to overhear.  “Bad enough, Marshal.  He stabbed his implant and then piloted us through a nasty storm on extraction from Anduril.  Collapsed after that.  I don’t think Ezra’s sure what’s actually going on or how serious everything really is.  I really don’t.”

He frowned, suddenly aware that he was pacing up and down the corridor.  “Well,” he said, “I guess we don’t have a choice.  I’ll have to make sure he’s got Vilenauva if he needs her and keep his debrief as short as possible.”

“He really didn’t—”

“—see anything?  Except that he saw the Whispers die, same as you did.”  Adam shook his head, though Alana couldn’t see it.  “We’ll need to talk to him.  I have to get off the comm.  I’m wasting time.  You need those vectors.”

“Yes, sir.  As soon as possible.”

“And you’ll get them as soon as I have them.”

“Thank you, sir.  Chase out.”

The comm. Went dead.  For all his talk of haste, Adam stood there for a long moment, staring at nothing.

He was already dreading telling Lindsay the news.

We have to get them out of this meeting.  Me, the other Marshals, Linny-pie, Rachel…  He exhaled quietly, rolled his shoulders and cracked his neck.

Easier said than done.  What kind of excuse am I going to come up with this time?

            Matter of defense?  D’Arcy will want to know what’s going on.  They all will.  He smiled grimly.  Need to know.  And you don’t.

He turned and walked back inside.

“Forgive me,” he said as he strode through the doors and onto the Council floor.  “But I’m afraid that the situation at hand is a touch more complex than I’m able to handle without the input of my fellow Marshals.  With the Speaker’s permission, might we suspend this meeting and reconvene at a later time?”

“Is everything all right?”  Jensen Moore asked, head tilted slightly to one side.

Damn, but the man actually sounds concerned.  I wonder if it’s because it could be his own safety at stake or if he’s genuinely concerned by what’s going on.  Adam nodded.  “Everything’s fine, it’s just a logistical situation that requires more input than simply my own.”

Sergei cleared his throat.  “Since this meeting has already been disrupted twice after turning into a complete fiasco, I see no reason why we shouldn’t adjourn and reconvene tomorrow.  Is the Council agreeable?”

Most of the council was, in fact, agreeable, but D’Arcy Morgause had the temerity to stand up.  “We weren’t done with our presentation.”

“I think, in fact, you were,” Sergei said quietly, all the while shooting the spymaster a look that could melt steel.  “We may resume our discussion of whatever incident might have taken place beyond the boundaries of this system that had a major impact on the stability of the Commonwealth and the homosphere as a whole at a later date.”

D’Arcy turned a cold glare toward Adam, who smothered a smirk before it could bloom.

I made an enemy today—or made a man who was already my enemy even more so.

He found he really didn’t care.

He beckoned to Lindsay even as he headed back toward Daci and Aidan.  He leaned across the curved table toward them, voice low.  “It’s time.”

Aidan nodded and stood from his seat, coming down the steps toward the floor.  “I’ll secure a landing zone and advise you as soon as I’ve got the location.”

“Make it close to Dr. Grace’s clinic if you can,” Adam said.

A hand fell on his shoulder and he turned, expecting Rachel until he realized that he could sense her on the other side of the room, with Lindsay.

Kara Grace-Forester stood behind him, her expression caught somewhere between stern and grim.  “Marshal,” she said quietly, “is my brother alive?”

His mouth went dry, but he nodded.  Bloody hell.  I should have known she’d pick up on something like this.  But how?

“Is he in one piece?”

He nodded again.  “He is, to the best of my knowledge.”

Kara nodded slowly.  “Good.  Will he be after he lands?”

He almost choked on a laugh that tried to bubble up in his throat.  At the table next to Daci, he heard Frederick do just that.  “I certainly hope so.”

“Tell Marshal Church that he can set a perimeter at Halo Ridge.  The field should still be in okay shape.”

Adam arched a brow at her.  “Halo Ridge?”  I didn’t realize Zephaniah kept a landing field up at the old house.”

Kara shrugged.  “Dad liked it when Mom could just land by the house instead of going somewhere else.”

He nodded and glanced at Daci.  “Could you get on the horn and tell Aidan?”

“As long as you promise me explanations for other things later,” Daci said, giving him a look that promised the discussion they were going to have about Frederick’s presence at the meeting wasn’t going to be a pleasant one at all.

“On my honor,” Adam said, then turned away again, back toward Kara.  “I imagine you and Gabriel will be meeting him up there?”

“I’ll send Gabe up to unlock everything,” Kara said.  “Ezra can get started with whatever he’s got to do at the big house.  We ought to have enough for him to work with up there.”

“That sounds like it’ll work,” Adam said, then frowned to himself.  “Could you do something for me on your way up?”

“Depends on what it is.”

“Round up Vilenauva and bring her and her kit up there.”

Kara arched a brow and Adam shook his head.

“I’ll explain when we meet you.  Get going before folks start wondering what the hell we’re talking about.”  He looked at Daci and Frederick.  “The two of you come with me.”

Daci just shook her head as she came around the table to join him, already getting on the comm.  “You realize we’re going to have that long talk in the skimmer.”

“Yes,” Adam said, suddenly feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders.  “I know.”

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