Plymouth 9: Deadlock

Councilor Kozu waved his arm at the large Council Chamber screen behind him. “So that's our strategic situation in detail. The bottom line is, the Tsiolkovsky Hills impact site has turned into a bloodbath.”

Figuratively speaking, thought Emma as she leaned back in her chair. Nice, clean war. Lots of robots, but no bodies, no casualties, no cost. But in the end, everybody, on both sides, dies.

Kozu continued. “Eden has dug in on the edge of the debris field, put in permanent fortifications; we've been able to muster superior mobile forces, and neither side can get what it wants.” He turned to where Emma was sitting. “Elder, given your detailed knowledge of Eden, we were hoping you could offer some advice.”

She put her fingertips together in front of her face and nodded. “Withdraw and let them have what they want. If it's our intention to hijack their starship program anyway, let them have the technology.”

He shook his head. “We've already discussed that possibility, and dismissed it. First, we're going ahead with our own launch and starship research program. We may have to complete or repair the starship after we take it, and at least some of our scenarios involve sending up our own launch vehicle to make the takeover in orbit. Second, we can't trust that Eden won't destroy the technologies required to complete the starship rather than let them fall into our hands.”

Emma pondered. “That makes sense, but wouldn't it be to our advantage to share what we learn with Eden so they at least have the opportunity to develop the technology, so we can steal it back?”

Kozu chuckled. “With respect, Elder, your mind works in strange and convoluted ways at times. But if we offer the information freely, they'd be suspicious at best, and at this point,” he gestured at the map again, “we still have no information to give. Something has to break this deadlock first.”

Emma rose from her seat. “Let me ponder this, and examine some other options. I don't know what I can do, but I'll work on it.”

Kozu bowed his head. “Thank you, Elder, I don't know what more we can ask.”

She paused on her way to the door. “One more thing. Did you get anything else out of the prisoner?”

“Sadly, no. He's been completely uncooperative.”

“You're sure you won't consider other methods of persuasion?”

“Elder! We've discussed this. It's barbaric.”

“Any more barbaric than your 'solution' to dealing with him long-term, using him as a test subject for the new stasis chambers and blasting him into orbit with the satellite launch?”

“We don't have the facilities to handle such a prisoner for any length of time, and it would be a humane option to life in prison.”

“Hypocrisy is what it would be. If you want to execute him, toss him out an airlock. No, actually, the atmosphere is probably just thick enough now to make that a senselessly cruel death. Put him against a wall and shoot him.” She scanned the assembled Council members. “What I'm saying is, don't kid yourselves about what you're doing. This is a dirty business we're in, and you can't make it any better by making it prettier. That's how you got yourselves in the mess you're in now.”

# # #

As Emma walked the Piazza she felt bad about what she'd said. They were trying to do good, even if they sometimes didn't know how. Emma couldn't claim to have a much better track record.

As she walked past the booths and vendors, she couldn't help but notice how shabby and makeshift the place had become, a shadow of its former self. This was the very soul of Plymouth. She thought of spies, battles, and executions. Even if we win, will there be anything left worth saving?

Then she saw a group of squealing children bumping through the crowd. A clothing vendor was at first startled, then amused as a brown-skinned young boy bumped him from behind and rushed away between stacks of colorful shirts, hotly pursued by his playmates. That is what we are fighting for, what we must not lose. We must not gain our survival at the cost of our souls.

It was time to start looking for redemption, before it was too late.

# # #

Emma had only just returned to the lab and begun to lecture her team on the necessity of delivering her some sort of intelligence miracle when Frost announced an incoming call from Panati.

She anxiously ran to her quarters. Perhaps this would be just what she needed. Unfortunately, it was not to be.

“Sorry I haven't contacted you sooner, but the situation here has gone from bad to worse. Don't expect to hear from Jensen any time soon. He and several scientists who helped him are under house arrest pending an investigation.”

“That's bad,” agreed Emma.

“What's worse is, if Van Dozier can find even a shred of evidence to charge them on, I have no doubt they'll be tortured.” He shook his head sadly. “Jensen is a tougher bird than I gave him credit for, but he'll crack eventually, and he now knows about me.” He smiled nervously. “Need a defector?”

“Much as you'd be welcome here, Mr. Panati, you could do us a lot more good right where you are. In fact, I was hoping you could help me.” She outlined the situation at the Tsiolkovsky Hills site. “If there were some kind of distraction at home, something that could prompt them into recalling some of their forces, it could be all the advantage we need. Perhaps just some act of sabotage.”

Panati smiled bitterly. “Oh, yeah, that's just what we need to do, call more attention to ourselves. I have had some luck in organizing a resistance, but we just don't have the resources we need to be effective. If I could do anything, I'd ship Jensen and his crew over to you. That would put the Masters in a panic.”

Emma said nothing. It was a good idea, but she saw no practical way to bring it about. “It appears that neither of us is in the position to help the other, Mr. Panati. I'm sorry. If I think of anything else, I'll try to contact you, through more subtle methods next time.”

He chuckled. “I hope so. Actually, I've worked out a signal system with Kraft that I hope won't attract anyone's attention to me. Good luck.”

“To you too, pup.”

She stared at the blank screen and sighed. Panati and Jensen had been her only real hopes. Now it appeared that she might lose them both.

There was a knock on her door frame. She looked up to see Wu standing in the open door. “Boss, I've got something I want you to look at.”

She studied his face. “Not good news, is it?”

“I think maybe we have another secret Eden base.”

“Oh, frag, just what we need. This could end the deadlock all right, only not the way we planned.”

She joined him at the big lab bench where a series of satellite photos were displayed at large magnification. She leaned on the bench and studied the images.

“We never would have spotted this without the new satellite. It's smaller than the Gulag, jumbled terrain here makes it harder to see, and lastly, the camouflage netting just seems to be working better this time. Maybe they've improved it, or someone got sloppy at the previous base somehow.

Emma thought about Axen's presence at the Gulag. Or maybe someone managed to sabotage it so that it was easier to spot.

“This is southeast of the current Eden site, and not well located to either launch an attack on us or to support the Tsiolkovsky Hills installation. It's small for a mining base, and we don't see the truck traffic that would require. Perhaps it's a research installation.”

She squinted at the pictures. Perhaps. Or perhaps the location had other strategic importance. “Get the Council on screen. I need authorization to send a Spider out on a covert mission.”

# # #

Panati huddled in the cab of his Scout and frowned at the camera. “This is incredibly risky.”

“I realize,” said Emma, sympathetically, “and I wish I could offer promises about what is going to happen next, but all I have is hope. At any rate, your situation can't be any worse than it will be in a few days when those scientists are put under formal arrest.”

He glanced out the Scout's window. “Well, I'm outside their quarters. Now what?”

“Circle. Just turn in a tight circle right in front of the building.”

“That'll attract attention.”

“That's what I'm hoping for, pup.”

Several minutes passed, and she could see from the light and shadow crossing his face that the vehicle was indeed going in circles.

“I'm getting a call from the CC. They want to know what I'm doing.”

“Tell them your Scout is malfunctioning. Tell them you're drunk. Pretend like you're not home.”

The screen went blank for a few minutes, then Panati was back. “That didn't work. They're sending a Repair Vehicle. What'll I tell them when they find out nothing is wrong?”

She scratched her chin, trying unsuccessfully to come up with an answer.

“I can see the Repair Vehicle now. Oh, frag…” A sudden flash illuminated Panati's face. His mouth fell open and his eyes were wide. “It blew up! Frag, we're under attack, by Plymouth units? I didn't think you had any to spare.”

She smiled. “Don't worry, they know not to hit you, though they may land a couple of shots close enough to make it look good. Don't look too close at the paint, though; it's probably still wet. Pup, meet the Axen Moon cavalry. Looks like my message got through. Now, clear out of there and let him get the scientists you just pointed him at.”

He managed a crooked grin. “Yes, ma'am!”

The screen went blank. Emma leaned back, clinched her eyes shut, and let out a long breath of air. It wasn't until the Repair Vehicle exploded that she knew for sure where Axen was, or what he'd been up to. It had all been a pile of speculation and circumstantial evidence, and even then she couldn't be sure he'd go along with her plan, or that he'd even have the resources to pull it off. And of course Axen couldn't communicate with her without risking detection. Communicate in any way except action of course.

She put in a call to Kozu. “Expect some of Eden's forces to be withdrawn in the next hour or so. They may even already be moving. It may not give you much of an advantage, but it should be enough.”

Kozu looked impressed, but he didn't say so. “Thank you, Elder.” He started to sign off.

“Two things before you go. When the smoke clears, I'll need a couple of Scouts, a Cargo Truck or two, perhaps some other units if we can spare them, and an armed escort for a cross-country trip. We have some defecting scientists to pick up, and a rebel Eden base I'd like to resupply.”

His eyebrows went up. He blinked. “Really, Elder. You have been busy. I'm sure the Council would like to hear about these new developments.”

She smiled grimly. “I'd be glad to come and brief them on the situation. And while we're at it, I want to discuss a plan to rescue Eden's children. It's something we owe our souls.”

Written by J. Steven York.

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