“Have you given any thought to what we talked about?” Captain Andrews asked Tanis.
“What? About the governorship?” Tanis asked.
Andrews nodded, and she saw Sanderson and Sera looking at her with great interest.
“I don’t see why you can’t take it,” Tanis said. “You were the governor at The Kap. Everyone would follow you.”
The captain shook his head. “I’m not on the colony roster, I’m crew,—which makes me ineligible. You, on the other hand, are colony; you can be named the governor pro-tem for the colony setup phase before elections are held.”
“Andrews, really, you’re splitting hairs here,” Tanis sighed. “That charter is from five-thousand years ago. The crew’s not going back to Earth, we’re all colony now.”
“Well then,” Andrews replied quietly. “It makes no matter. I really don’t want to be the governor. This trip was supposed to be my last. Sure, it was never going to be a milk run but that’s why I was up for it in the first place. One last adventure.”
His eyes swept across their faces as he paused. “But that’s just it. I’ve had my one last adventure. I’m ready to retire, maybe take up fishing. I hear that’s what you do when you retire. Lots of fishing.”
“Now that you’re done evading the real discussion, Tanis,” Sanderson said with a small smirk. “What about you? Everyone would follow you.”
Tanis held up a hand. “That’s not really my game. I’m good in a fight, in preparing for battle, but settling down? Starting a colony? I don’t know about that.”
<Well that’s a pile of BS,> Angela added her thoughts to the conversation.
“I’ll second that,” Sanderson said. “You ran the Victoria colony for nearly a century. You were damn good at it too.”
“We had Markus and Katrina then,” Tanis said. “They were the ones that drove that colony. I was just there to make sure that things ran smoothly.”
“What do you think a governor does?” the captain asked. “We have millions of brilliant people; they all know what they need to do to pull this off. What they need is someone they trust at the top, to make sure everything goes according to plan, and that all the pieces fit together.”
<Found it!> Corsia’s message came over the Link and saved Tanis from continuing the conversation.
They walked to the holo tank as the data from the Andromeda flowed in and updated their view of the Ascella system.
<Well, not it,> Corsia noted. <Them. There are three positions that we’ve located thus far.>
The locations lit up on the holo display. One was on the planet closest to the Ascella System’s primary star. The small world was a Mercury analog, which raced around the star, making it a great location for high-v launches toward anyone approaching from the Inner Stars.
The other two were further out, located in the ring of icy asteroids, which lay just over an AU from the star. Good positions for fast interceptors and larger fleet sorties.
<Good work, Corsia,> Tanis replied. <Keep looking, all of those are a bit far from our rendezvous, which means they probably have another base, or two, in here.>
She caught Andrews and Sanderson sharing a look and a small smile.
<Damn…I just can’t help but take charge of every situation, can I?> she asked Angela privately.
<And you wonder why they think you’d make a good governor.>
“Look, Andrea, I know what Tomlinson said, but you need me in there,” Mark spoke with his arms spread wide for emphasis. “I know Sera better than anyone; I know how she thinks, what makes her tick.”
“Better than me?” Serge asked. “I only grew up with her, spent thirty-five years of my life with her.”
Mark turned to face Serge at his console on the ship’s small bridge. “No offense, Serge, but you know her like a brother. I have other…knowledge—she and I were almost married for fuck’s sake. There are secrets you only tell your lover, not your brother.”
“And there are things you tell your brother and not your lover,” Serge replied, his brow furrowed deeply. “My father, you know, the president, said you were not to be at the meeting.”
“Yeah, and before that, he said that I shouldn’t be here at all. Situations like this are fluid, we need to adapt to things in the field,” Mark spoke slowly, careful to keep the edge from his voice. It was imperative that he get on the mission, he needed to get Sera under his control and find out if she really did have the CriEn module.
If she had it, and if the logs were intact, then he would have to do something definitive.
“We may need a stronger presence,” Andrea spoke slowly. “They have their fleet deployed—not the most trusting of gestures.”
“Are you suggesting that we muster the watchpoint?” Serge asked. “We could pull an escort.”
Andrea shook her head and Mark wondered what her secret orders contained. There’s no way she’d be sent on a mission like this without an additional objective.
“No,” Andrea said. “We need to earn their trust, to be completely unassuming. These people are not to be trifled with—we can’t make any aggressive moves.”
“Aggressive moves or no, I’m going to go ensure that we’re ready if we need to get out of there fast,” Serge said and rose from his console.
After Serge left the bridge, Mark listened, waiting to hear him descend the ladder before he turned to Andrea.
“So, what’s your secret plan?”
She cocked an eyebrow. “Mark, there’s no subterfuge here. There’s just one plan. Trade tech for a world.”
“My ass, there’s no subterfuge. With you and Justin, there’s always subterfuge. You’re practically constructed from it,” Mark scowled. "If had to guess, I’d say someone isn’t coming out of this meet alive.”
Andrea didn’t reply, but her cold stare told him he’d hit upon it. Not that it was difficult. The Hand’s currency was control and the easiest way to get control is to take out those who currently have it.
“It’s their general, right? That Tanis Richards woman?” Mark asked with a sly grin creeping across his face. “She’s demonstrated a bit too much moxie for Justin and your ole dad, hasn’t she?”
Andrea still didn’t respond, and Mark shrugged. “Fine, don’t tell me, but I can be a lot more help than Serge. I know how to do the sort of thing that has to be done, and I have an idea about how to take out Richards with no guilt falling on you.”
His words finally drew a reaction out of Andrea. She raised an eyebrow and asked, “Oh yeah? What’s your plan?”
“Simple,” Mark replied. “We have Sera do it.”
Andrea chuckled. “You have a pretty high opinion of yourself. There’s no way either of us can convince Sera to do anything she doesn’t want to do.”
Mark shook his head. “We don’t have to convince her, we just have to tell her. Way back, I planted a hack inside her mind that will let me suppress her and make her compliant. I just have to pass the activation token.”
Andrea laughed. “Of course you did—I bet you never managed to pass that token back when you had your little falling out, or she wouldn’t even be alive right now, would she?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Mark said with a neutral expression and a shrug. “ But I just have to touch her in the right spot, and she’ll be ours in seconds. It’ll also lock down that pain in the ass AI of hers.”
Andrea nodded, apparently already in agreement with his plan. “And what about Serge, he’s not likely to go along with this. Unlike you and I, he likes Sera.”
“Already taken care of. Serge is about to get very sick.”