Hunt for the Saiph (The Saiph Series Book 3) (7 page)

"If I may interject? Before voices are raised and things are said which may not so easily be forgotten perhaps a small cautionary tale is in order."

Christos' expression soured while Philippa's eyes pleaded with Nicholas to intervene. The continuing silence gave Nicholas the green light to proceed.

"I seem to remember a similar situation to the one we face here occurring some years ago. A young sailor showed quite extraordinary potential, a fact those above him were quick to recognize, and he rose swiftly through the ranks. But no matter how hard his superiors tried to convince him to take the next step and become a commissioned officer and fulfill his potential, he repeatedly sidestepped their attempts to push him down that road. Eventually, his constant refusals frustrated his commanding officer so much, the officer decided to try a different tactic. The next time the ship was in port the CO ensured said sailor was held up on board for a couple of hours while the CO threw the rulebook out the window and called on the sailor’s wife at home. The CO had no way of anticipating how his turning up unexpectedly at the home would be taken.

“The sailor’s heavily pregnant wife met him at the door while cradling another child in her arms. The CO begged her pardon for his intrusion but explained he needed to speak to her about her husband. She invited him in and he spent the next hour explaining to the sailor’s wife that her husband was the most promising candidate for officer school he had ever come across. His peers and superiors held him in such high regard that on more than one occasion he was given responsibilities well above his rank and performed them to such a high standard he put others to shame. However, for whatever reason, he refused to take the next step. The CO feared his constant refusal would eventually lead to a point where the offer of a commission would simply be withdrawn and, in his opinion, this would be a complete tragedy. The wife sat and listened patiently to what the CO had to say and had apparently mulled the problem over for a few minutes while the CO waited. She stood and showed the CO to the door, promising that her husband would be outside his office the following morning to fill in the required paperwork."

Philippa, so deeply engrossed by Nicholas’ story, jumped when her father let out a loud "Harrumph!" The mischievous look in his eyes did not match his stern expression.

"That was Kayla's version of events. I seem to remember it differently," said Christos as a grin cracked his lips.

"Say what you like, Christos, but I never doubted her," replied Nicholas.

Philippa’s words caught in her throat as she realized both men were referring to her mother. And if the story was about her mother, then the sailor had to be her father. Philippa's open jaw closed with a snap, which earned a hearty chuckle from Nicholas.

"Ah, I see Philippa has put two and two together, Christos." Pulling himself out of the chair, Nicholas headed for the kitchen door. "Time to refresh my wine, I think," he said, leaving Christos and Philippa alone as the kitchen door slid closed behind him.

"I... I... I didn't know it was Momma who pushed you to take a commission Poppa. I always thought it was something you decided."

Christos smiled as he leaned forward and took his daughter’s hands in his. "Oh Philippa, I would still be taking orders and saluting ensigns fresh out of the academy if your mother hadn't given me a swift kick in the ass that day. I knew I was good enough to be an officer, but sometimes you just need someone to grab you by the scruff of the neck and shove you down a direction you know is the right one, even if you don't have the confidence to go there yourself."

Philippa could only look at the man who had always been her rock, who had always known the right thing to do, who had never seemed to need to consult another living soul when a hard decision had to be made. Now she understood how deep her parents’ relationship had actually been. Momma was
his
rock and when she was wrenched from him, it left a void, which would never be filled again. He wasn’t angry she refused to take a commission, he just didn’t know how to give her the gentle nudge in the right direction Momma had given him.

Lifting her chin and straightening her spine Philippa looked into her father’s dark eyes. "I'll do it Poppa. And I promise to make you and Momma proud."

The kitchen door slid aside and revealed Nicholas standing there with a topped-up wine glass and a frosted beer bottle, which he handed to Philippa. "A toast. To the latest recruit to marine officer training. God help them."

CHAPTER FIVE

Earth First

 

HOUSE OF THE SENATE - GENEVA - EARTH - SOL SYSTEM

 

The Speaker of the Senate House banged his outdated but traditional wooden gavel on his equally traditional wooden lectern. Modern electronics, concealed within the very fabric of the lectern, transmitted the bang of the gavel to speakers placed throughout the Senate Chamber.

Slowly, almost begrudgingly, the assembled senators grew still and awaited the first business of the day: a statement by the Chair of the Colonization Oversight Committee, Senator Mathias Grant III. It didn’t escape the speaker’s notice that, for what was billed as “a mundane report on the issue of colonization license application procedures and the funding of mining operations,” there appeared to be a surprising number of senators present in the chamber. The speaker smelled something off and quietly sent a messenger to alert the president's office.

Senator Grant was the latest in a long line of Grants to take his place in the Senate. His family was from what was euphemistically called “old money” and generations of Grants had walked the political tightrope, always working behind the scenes creating and exerting their influence on matters which, if you listened to the skeptics, enriched their own power and influence, rather than that of the people they had been elected to represent.

Recently, however, Mathias Grant III had emerged from the shadows. More and more he was held up as the leader of the group known as the Earth First Movement. The movement appeared shortly after the Others’ assault on Earth, riding the wave of fear and hatred the attack had spawned. The Earth First Movement preached an anti-Commonwealth policy, insisting that Earth abandon its allies and go it alone.

If the TDF had not gone to the aid of Garunda, the Others would’ve remained unaware of human existence and would have been no threat to humanity in the first place, Earth First said.

If First Fleet hadn’t rushed to defend the Empire of Alona, an empire which committed interstellar theft by stealing the gravity drive technology and placing a stranglehold on Commonwealth commerce within the Empire, then the fleet would have been in a position to easily defeat the Others, Earth First said.

Their version of the facts, however skewed, was appearing more and more in the news vids. This Senator Grant intended to become the king and not the kingmaker as his ancestors had been.

The speaker banged his gavel once more before announcing, "The Chair recognizes Senator Grant."

The hush that followed the loud bang of the speaker’s gavel seemed somehow to intensify as all heads in the ornate chamber turned to regard Grant. For the senator’s part, he allowed the silence to continue unbroken for a few minutes as he absently arranged the items on his PAD display, giving the impression he was unsure of how to begin.

The speaker was not deceived for a second and he surreptitiously sent another message to the president's office urgently requesting she contact her supporters in the House and get them to the chamber. Something was in the offing here and the speaker knew if it came from Grant then it was not good for the government.

Looking up from his PAD, Grant cleared his throat. "Mr. Speaker. My fellow Senators. Today I was due to give you a report on the progress I and my committee have made over the issues involving our colonization program, but instead I beg the chamber’s indulgence and request I be allowed to speak on a separate matter."

Damn
, thought the speaker. He knew Grant was up to something, but what? He needed to delay whatever it was long enough for the government's supporters to reach the chamber.

"Perhaps the esteemed senator could deliver his report first and then a vote could be taken by the members present to gauge whether they are inclined to hear your follow-up statement?"

From his seat, Grant gave the speaker his best conciliatory look. "I fear, Mr. Speaker, that what I have to say is of more importance than a simple update on committee progress..." A brief wolf-like smile passed over Grant’s face. "I move a vote should be taken immediately to allow the chamber to hear my statement."

Before the speaker could utter a word of protest, a voice from the upper reaches of the chamber called, "I second the motion."

The speaker had no need to check the board in front of him to see who had seconded. The smooth, feminine voice of Senator Dikul was unmistakable. The government had been ambushed. With the motion proposed and seconded, chamber procedure left the speaker no choice. A vote must be called. "Very well. The motion is Senator Grant should be allowed to make a statement to the chamber. Please vote now." The vote was a forgone conclusion. With the government’s senators thin on the ground, Grant’s motion was easily passed.

"The motion has passed. Senator Grant, you have the floor. Please continue." The speaker settled into his seat and could hardly fail to notice the vid cameras swinging toward Grant as he stood.

"Mr. Speaker. Fellow Senators. Citizens of Earth. I speak to you this morning with a troubled heart. I have wrestled with my feelings throughout the last few days and my conscience will no longer allow me to remain silent. I speak of yet another decision made by the faceless, nameless servants of the so-called Commonwealth, which places the brave members of our armed forces in the front line once more and costs tens of millions of your tax credits without even having the common decency to ask you, the voting public, what you think." Grant clenched his fists and bowed his head as he leaned on the railing in front of his seat. The speaker, a long in the tooth politician, knew enough to know this was all an act for the camera and the public watching at home; however, he knew it had the desired effect of projecting Grant as a man wracked by internal conflict.

"I refer of course by the decision of the Garundan-born Ambassador Jelav to provide the survivors of Edasich with millions of credits worth of aid on his own authority and then the decision by the leaders of the Commonwealth to expand the aid to include engineering and technical equipment, along with the necessary advisers to instruct them on the use of the equipment. Indeed, enough to support them until they become completely self-sufficient. The Commonwealth has arbitrarily committed itself, and therefore Earth, to an aid program forecast to last at least five years and costing billions of credits. A cost that will be borne in no small part by the citizens of Earth." Grant paused, allowing his last statement to sink in with the viewing audience. "Now, I am known as a compassionate man. The terror and destruction the Others have caused to the various races we have encountered cannot be underestimated. The planet Edasich was subjected to the Others’ standard orbital nuclear bombardment and its surface has been reduced to a radioactive wasteland. A wasteland we, of all the members of the Commonwealth, know will take decades of hard work and vast sums of money to repair. We know because we have been there! But, and this is something I cannot imagine the leaders of the Commonwealth have failed to consider, the position which Earth found itself in following the war which caused such devastation to our own home is not one which the Edasich find themselves in." Grant looked around the chamber and could see he had the complete undivided attention of his audience. "No. The Edasich have a choice we never had." Grant paused melodramatically. "So flabbergasted was I by this latest decision by the Commonwealth, I ordered my staff to research an alternative to the Commonwealth’s decision to support the Edasich and their moon base while beginning the massive task of making their home planet habitable again." Grant lifted his PAD and raised it above his head like some kind of holy grail. "On this PAD is an extract from the navy's Survey Command’s own database. A database to which my office has access, due to my position as Chairman of the Colonization Oversight Committee. The navy's own database lists at least nine planets which could easily be colonized by the Edasich at a fraction of the cost which the Commonwealth has projected to complete their current plan."

The murmur of hasty conversations reached the speaker's chair. Where the hell were the government senators? Only a senator from the floor could request the speaker bring this tirade of anti-Commonwealth rhetoric to an end, but looking around, the speaker could only see either Earth First supporters or the undecided. And it was those undecided who held the true balance of power today. The viewing figures were being repeated on their terminals as they were on the speaker’s, and they had been rising steadily as the major networks cut into their normal programming to bring Grant’s speech into people's homes. The speaker was in no doubt Grant and his Earth First movement had used their influence behind the scenes to orchestrate this with the networks. The speaker was brought back into the House as Grant continued his oratory.

"If the Edasich were simply relocated, then not only would the cost be lower, but the expense involved would, with the correct repayment plan, be recouped by the Commonwealth within a fixed term; similar to that of our own colonization program. I point to Janus as a shining example of what can be achieved with hard work. So why has the Commonwealth decided not to pursue this course of action? Sadly, my committee and indeed this chamber, has no authority to question the decisions of the Commonwealth. Perhaps we should call on President Coston to explain to this chamber, and the citizens of Earth, how this decision came to be made?"

Calls of agreement from Grant’s supporters filled the chamber.
And there it is
, thought the speaker. Grant had moved from questioning the motivation of the Commonwealth to questioning decisions made by the president herself. But Grant wasn’t finished yet.

"At a time of military overstretch, with many of our patriotic volunteers who flocked to join the Terran Defense Forces returning home in triumph following the successful conclusion of the war against the Others, the question has to be asked: Is the added burden of providing protection for yet another world the straw which will break the camel's back?"

Another chorus of agreement rang around the chamber.

"The fleet is already being forced to mothball many of its larger vessels due to lack of personnel, so why take on more commitments?"

The speaker noted Grant failed to mention the decision to mothball some of the fleet’s heavier units had nothing to do with lack of trained personnel. Rather, it was a conscious decision by the Combined Joint Chiefs based on the fact the navy would be better able to support the program of colonization by introducing groups of lighter, more flexible cruiser units while retaining the core heavy units, expanding Fortress Command and the new Carrier Strike Groups.

Why let facts cloud a good political speech?

"Since the inception of the Commonwealth, it has been Earth followed by Janus, which has not only been the industrial but the military bulwark of the Commonwealth. Was it not the TDF that saved Garunda from destruction? Was it not the TDF who suffered such horrific losses at 70 Ophiuchi? Was it not the TDF who rushed to the aid of the Alonan Empire and left Earth near-defenseless in the face of the Others’ sneak attack? If not for the bravery of Admiral Chavez and her valiant sailors I, all of you in this very chamber, and many watching this vid cast from home, might well not be here now. Time and time again, it seems our brave military personnel are thrown into battle to defend others. And for what? Yes, we defeated the Others. But what thanks have we received from the Empire of Alona?"

"None!" Came a voice from the chamber floor.

"At a time when we are reducing our forces, we are also supplying gravity drive technology to a race, the Benii, which has already successfully colonized two star systems without it. Not to mention the fact the Benii have a significant standing navy and have been training for years how to use it to best effect. Am I the only one who sees the folly of our current leadership?"

"No!" Was the cry from the floor.

"We need change and we need it now! We need to put Earth’s interests and the interests of our citizens first! I have spoken to my family, my friends, and my esteemed colleagues of this Senate and I have come to a decision... I intend to put my name forward as my party's nomination in the upcoming presidential elections and I will stand on an Earth First policy!"

The speaker could only watch as the chamber erupted into applause.

#

Clement Bradshaw, Chief of Staff to President Coston, silenced the holo cube in the corner with an undisguised snort of disgust. "Well, at least we know who the enemy is now."

Rebecca Coston placed her steaming cup of tea down on the low table before replying. "True Clement, that little speech of his was well-planned and the speed with which the networks picked it up goes to show he has friends in the media."

"Hmm... it would appear the senator got all his ducks in a row before declaring his intention to run against whoever we eventually decide on."

Rebecca couldn’t hide a little wince at the comment. "Any luck finding out from the party leaders who they favor as our candidate next spring?"

Clement shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine, Madam President. I think they, like us, thought Arnie Harriman would jump at the chance, but when he announced his intention to retire at the next election it left them without a clear nominee. Perhaps I could still persuade you to run?"

Rebecca let out a short laugh. "If you think you could get the Senate to change the constitution and allow me to run for a third term, then you go ahead. By the time you do that, I'll be hiding out in Aaron Beckett's cabin incommunicado until the results of the election have been declared."

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