chapter two
Part Three

Fifteen minutes later Tass made it to the bridge, calm, collected and well-recovered from the nearly mile-long hike up the ship.   She waved off the Watch Commander from vacating the Conn, there was no point disturbing things, and proceeded across the bridge toward her office.

Andrew Maidenhead, the Chief of the Boat, intercepted her as she passed his station.   "Excuse me, sir?"

Tass stopped, turning to the COB who rarely said anything directly to her. "What's up, Chief?"

"We received High Speed Pip from Lagrange Five.   They seem pretty hot to talk to you."

"They?"   That was odd, no one up her Command chain was at L-Five.   She shrugged, the good mood couldn't have lasted just a little bit longer, could it?

"Patch them inside."

Tass crossed the threshold to her office.

* * *

The wall display in Fiche's office took a moment to secure the proper protocols.   The other side was coming up on Mar's orbital path heading for track S/U 8743.   Once on station it would be nearly half way between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus, just over 3 billion kilometers away, they were lucky it was still this side of the Mars orbital path.

It was one of those moments that made you wish for Faster-Than-Light communications.   Each signal was going to take nearly ten minutes to reach its side, which was seriously going to drag out the process.

On the other side of the line Fleet Commander Crystal Tass sat at her desk in the small office just off the bridge of her SuperCarrier, with some questions of her own.

Fiche handled those questions and with Topper's input they brought Tass up to speed on the problems.   Even with the delay the worry in the Commander's face became instantly visible.   She still had family there.

"You've got to get structure in place."   It was a bold statement that seemed to come directly out of nowhere.

"What do you mean, Commander?"   Fiche responded without remembering the delay, Tass much have anticipated the question because she continued. "I'm talking about Government, a working legal system, communication lines, infrastructure, health care, police, fire and whatever else comes with a society."

Fiche looked at Topper not knowing how to respond.   Topper stepped up.   "We're actually just looking to quell the conflicts, sir."

"Then close the borders and keep people from going in."

Fiche smiled, almost chortling.   If only it was that easy.   "That's not possible."

Tass shook her head.   People out in the real world, in the transient society of the 23rd Century never got it.

"These aren't isolated incidents.   This isn't a transition with hiccups, it's not a phase.   The people there are connected to the land in ways most outsiders can never comprehend.   You put your hand in the dirt there and you're touching ten or more generations.   You don't walk away from that because someone shows up with a receipt."

Fiche was already scrambling.   If what he heard was true then the events so far were just the tip of the iceberg.

"So we need mediators.   We need to get the word out to the locals that they've got recourse other than violence."

"No one there knows what that means.   They trust themselves, family, and their neighbours.   They trust the people who got them through tough times.   You challenge that when they have a gun in their hands, they're going to shoot at you.   You do it when they've got a pitchfork, you'll get stabbed."

Topper nodded.   That much had already happened.

Tass hoped they were getting it.   The region was a series of powder kegs and only a couple had been lit.   She'd travelled the area for six months after leaving home, she knew some of what was out there.   It was what she didn't know that scared her.

"So if we halt entries for a while.   Put a higher burden of proof on claims.   Maybe get mediators in there before any further sales are approved.   Make sure the land is clear."

Tass took a breath.   She let it out slowly so she wouldn't seem hysterical when she spoke.   "You're heading for the 23rd Century equivalent of the Spanish and Indian Wars."

Topper had never heard of that.   He looked at Fiche who ignored him, recognizing the expression for what it was.   Only someone who had schooled in one of the two Americas would know the reference.

"So we get in police and a court system..."   Somehow, despite the dely, Tass cut him off,

"You need peacekeepers.  A massive mobilization and soon."

Fiche didn't understand.   The region was in turmoil, maybe even chaos, but there wasn't anything like the genocide they faced elsewhere.   No large groups were starving, or anything as urgent as that.   A Peacekeeping Force was overkill and Fiche knew no one up the chain would buy it.

Tass was way ahead of them on this.   "First thing you've got to find out is what happened to the Heartland Nuclear arsenal?"

That stopped them cold.   Heartland had used one nuke, strapped to a medium range missile, in a failed attempt to overtake Alberta during the Food War.

It was a seminal moment on the continent, the moment the aero-tech companies in Calgary came to the rescue with unrestricted grav-plate technology that was used to slam the missile into the ground before it cleared the border.   Sweetwater, Montana was still too radioactive to approach.

But little was done in the region after the Heartland government collapsed.   Regiments of tanks and such were confiscated and destroyed, Fiche remembered that much.   He was pretty sure the nukes were taken also.   He told that to Tass.

"Wrong.   I mean, some of it was done, but over twenty nukes were never recovered.   A full third of the military equipment was never found either."

"Where did it go?"   Topper said before he realized he'd even opened his mouth.

"It didn't go anywhere, Lef-tenant.   Heartland was a bunch of paranoid kooks, they built bunkers, they built underground ranches, if you can believe it.   Word still circulations there's a city out there somewhere, reinforced against the end of the world.   The point is, someone still has control of those things.   You've got pockets of cultures all through the region that won't go peacefully into this century.

"Either stop the migration or get every resource you can in there until you've found everything.   Otherwise you'll see a crisis that will make Jerusalem look like Kindergarten."

Fiche thanked Commander Tass for her time and then closed off the link in a deep funk.   Somehow he needed to put the case together to convince the decision makers of the planet that the largest Peacekeeping Force in history needed to be mobilized for a region named after what some thought were prehistoric cattle.

Convincing the brass to shift massive resources Earthward wouldn't be easy.   The head of the military, the Secretary of Defence for the United Network, was General Dennis MacPherson, an obstinate bull of a man who had bought into the 'Fleet Focus Strategy' that formed the core of operational policy.

That strategy held that the next war was going to be fought in the nether reaches of the space, for control of the asteroid belt and other natural resources in the solar system.   And it was going to be between spaceships, probably against the New Soviet, so that's where all the money went.

But Fiche had two chains of command to work through.   One wouldn't listen, the other was working to change their minds.

In fact, pressure had been put on those in charge for years to shift the focus back to Ground Operations, Astrals and Earth, by people who seemed on the perimeter of power.   They were the ones who knew that it didn't matter who controlled the system, the real battle was always going to be for control of the home planet.   After all, too many of their opponents had many more resources down here than they did.

The timing had seemed bad, but that might not be the case.   In a few days, most of the planet's leadership would be gathering in Europe, another of the damnable 'United Earth Conferences', yet with that came the opportunity to effect change.

Certainly everyone needed to approve a full mission to Buffalo Commons would be present, but did they have the assets in place to ensure the right outcome?   Maybe not easily, but certainly in one form or another.

Fiche blinked from his reverie to see that Topper was still standing by the comm display.   The analyst had been scrolling through his Link, looking for something through-out the last third of the communication with Tass, apparently to no avail.

Topper looked at Fiche with a bewildered expression on his face, "When did Spain invade India?"

Fiche looked at the junior analyst blankly.   Topper would be taking the back seat next time he came in, and probably for some time afterward.

* * *

On the other end Tass visibly slumped in her chair as the communication ended and the comm panel receded back into her desk.   It was a good thing she wasn't on the Bridge because she felt like she'd been mule-kicked in the stomach.

The motion of the Stats Display to her left called her attention.   On it was the tracking for Battle Group 465, her battle group.   Six ships, a SuperCarrier, two Cruisers, a Destroyer, one Forward Prepositioning Vessel 'TALISMAN' and the Astral Light Cruiser 'JJ MOORE'.

Tass had command of enough power to vaporize Jupiter in an hour, hour and a half tops.   But her post was out there, half a star system away from home.   All she could think about was how powerless she felt.

* * *