They knew how to hit us and where to hit us—and when. The only thing they didn’t seem to know is how hard we’d fight back. Now we just have to figure out who the hell they were—and who our allies really are.
— Sarah Farragut, regarding the bombing of the provisional settlements at Tertius Prime, c. 4851
3 Eindecem, 5249 PD
“Your system defenses are shit, Grumpy.”
Adam grimaced, bracing himself against the edge of the console. Above them hovered a map of the Eridani Trelasia system, complete with data on all of their defensive emplacements, patrol lines, and the locations of the few ships attached to the defense forces. It wasn’t a very full map and some of the colors highlighting a few of the defensive emplacements and the orbital stations made it even worse.
That attack cost us too dearly. At least some of the orbitals would be salvageable, though it would take time.
Of course, time was the one thing that Adam Windsor knew they didn’t have—not in any sort of abundance, that much was certain.
Deacon stared at him, as if waiting for a response. Adam sighed and shook his head.
“Distance was supposed to keep us safer than any orbitals we have,” he said, the words tasting like ashes. “Up until a few decades ago, no one gave a damn that we were out here. The Foundation banked on that continuing.” He sighed. “We were fools, but we believed it, too.”
“Not entirely.” Deacon nodded to the map, waving a hand at the emplacements and ships. “You wouldn’t have had even this much in place if you were expecting distance to be your only defense against the inner homosphere.” He crossed his arms, staring at the maps for a long moment. “But it’s not enough. You’re right about that much.”
Silence stretched between the two for a few long moments before Adam cleared his throat. “How were your casualties up there?” His voice was quiet. He hadn’t gotten to ask the question yet, though in truth he had been dreading it. The men and women that had crewed Deacon’s forces were volunteers.
So are mine.
A quiet breath escaped the former professor. “Better than yours, I think. We pulled in some of your pilots on the way through the debris fields. I think most of them will make it, but I’m not that kind of doctor.”
Adam sighed. “We don’t have the pilots to lose, either.”
“Something tells me you don’t have the population period to lose.” Deacon rubbed at his temple, shaking his head. “Eridani Trelasia has all the resources a population needs to survive except for a population large enough to fight a war for that survival.”
“Aptly put,” Adam murmured. “Though I would argue that time is also a resource we don’t have.”
“There are ways to buy that,” Deacon said, his voice grim. “I’m just not sure any of us have the stomach for it.” He regarded Adam with a long, silent look. “Who else isn’t dead, Adam?”
“You mean besides America and Grant?”
A muscle twitched in Deacon’s jaw. “He might have the stomach for it.”
“America won’t let him out of her sight. Not now, not with everything that’s happened to them—and none of us are about to let him go haring off god-knows-where at this point.” No matter how much he wants to go haring off at this point to get the shit I hid. Adam rubbed at his temple, staring blankly at the displays without actually seeing them. He drew a deep breath, looked around. They were alone.
He deserves to know.
He went and locked the door to the room. Deacon quirked a brow, watching him.
“You’re taking precautions for something,” the other man surmised as Adam walked back to where they’d been standing near the plots.
“Always am,” Adam muttered. “Not going to tell me it’s like old times?”
Deacon gave an eloquent shrug, appropriating an empty chair with a good view of the map. He leaned back, watching him. “I could. But it’s not, is it? No matter who’s still alive, it’ll never be like old times again.” Silence drew on for a few long moments, then Deacon asked, “How long have you known that Freder was alive?”
“I’ve always known,” Adam said. “I helped Daci get him to safety after what happened. Rachel didn’t even know until a few weeks ago.”
“Sneaky bastard.” It was said simply, a statement of fact. Adam didn’t smile.
“He doesn’t remember who killed Mimir,” Adam continued. “He thinks that he’d figured it out before he was attacked, but he’s not sure anymore and doesn’t remember the last few days before the attack. If the information was archived anywhere other than his head, it’s never come to light.” He crossed his arms, shaking his head slowly as he stared blankly at the starplot. “And I doubt that anyone who was trying to kill him then would care if he said he doesn’t know now what he knew then. They’d still try to kill him because they’d still think he’s a threat.”
“Logic tracks, considering the prime suspects back then. They never figured out who did it, didn’t they?”
Adam’s lips barely moved as he spoke. “I think they wanted to forget.”
“Maybe some of them did,” Deacon agreed. “But I can tell you that not all of them did. How much of the feeds did you watch after it happened?”
“Not many. I was a little busy.”
“Understandably so, I imagine.” He dragged his chair over, closer to the plots, then settled again. “You seem to have quite a bit more than I expected on your plate.”
Adam grunted, glancing away from the plots to meet Deacon’s gaze. “What’s on your mind, Deacon?”
“What makes you think that—”
“We’re both too old to play these games, at least right now, at least given what’s going on here now. Whatever’s rattling around inside that skull of yours that you’re not saying I suggest you say before there’s not another chance.”
Deacon winced, sitting back. He cleared his throat. “Fine,” he said, his voice quiet, caught somewhere between thoughtful and matter-of-fact. “You need more allies, old friend, and you need them fast. You have resources to spare, but you don’t have human resources to draw on. You need to find a way to draw on what you do have and cultivate what you don’t and fast.” He paused, then added, “Before whoever killed Mimir tries again here.”
Adam’s stomach lurched. He swallowed the bile that bubbled up at the back of his throat, staring at Deacon for a few seconds. “You noticed.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t.”
Adam closed his eyes. “Wouldn’t matter if I did or not,” he murmured quietly. “In the moment, all it gave us with a vague semblance of what sort of pattern of events we could expect—a pattern thwarted by your timely arrival with those ships.”
Deacon exhaled, his gaze drifting toward the plots. “And I can’t do that twice.”
“No,” Adam agreed quietly. “You can’t. But we’ll think of something. We have to. There’s not a choice.”
“No. No, there’s not.” Deacon’s lips thinned. “Most of my people said they’d stay on. You’re working on getting their families here?”
Adam nodded. “Mission Systems has been a great help with that. Within the next two weeks, they should all be here and settled either on-planet or on the Mission Systems station out in orbit of E-Trel IV.”
“Good,” Deacon said, a faint note of relief in his voice. “They’re good people, you know? I’m lucky to have them.”
“So you’ll be our admiral of the fleet, then?” Adam glanced at him, watching the reflection of the plot’s light on Deacon’s face. “Shepherd the cap ships up there?”
“Did you really think I’d say no?” Deacon looked at him. “You don’t have anyone else qualified—closest thing would be you and we both know that you’re trying to juggle enough already. Aidan and Daciana are able, but ship tactics aren’t their stock in trade. They’re not trained for it the way you and I are and Grant’s got too much rust and not enough experience.”
“Grant’s a guerrilla fighter,” Adam murmured. “Guerrilla tactics and counterinsurgency—strange how they seem to go hand in hand, isn’t it?”
“Don’t be getting all uncharacteristically thoughtful on me now, Grumpy,” Deacon said, crossing his arms. “Stay on task. You’ve got a system to defend.”
“If you’re taking us up on our offer, so do you.”
Deacon shrugged. “True enough. Do we know what kind of operations Mission Systems already has up and running out here?”
“That’s a question for Mr. Scarelli,” Adam said. “He hasn’t submitted a report on their disposition beyond letting us know that they escaped damage and they’re pulling sensor and visual logs of everything they can to see if they can give us more information on those ships if any of their people spotted them.”
“Mm. I’ll have to meet with him. Is he on-planet?”
Adam shook his head. “Not right now, but he’s due to appear before the Council in a couple days. He’ll probably be here tomorrow. Do you want me to make introductions?”
“I would be very appreciative,” Deacon said. “Hopefully they’ll have what we need to get the ships repaired faster than if we were depending on just my people handling it.”
“Probably would be helpful.” Adam glanced at the plots again, eyeing the renderings of the damaged orbitals. “I didn’t ask you. Your wife’s people—you said they were Wanderers.”
Deacon nodded. “I did. Good people. We think they all made it, but there’s a couple cousins she hasn’t heard from yet.”
“Where do you think they’ll go?” Adam asked quietly. “The Whispers was as close to a home as any of them had beyond their ships. Where will they make their port now?”
“You say that like you’ve got thoughts on the subject.”
Adam sighed. “I don’t know what I’m thinking and the invitation wouldn’t come from me, anyway. It would need to come from someone else. Maybe Rachel.” Maybe Linny-pie. I don’t know.
“Invitation?” Deacon stood up, peering closely at him. “What are you suggesting?”
“They’ve always been good to us,” Adam murmured. “Maybe now it’s time to return the favor.”