Journalists. Some people hate them, some people love them, and people like me judge them one by one. I’ll likely get slammed by some of the media for saying this, but a good percentage of journalists out there today are sensationalist fools, desperate for as bloody or as sexy a story as possible, and none too concerned with the cold reality that’s separating them from it.
But I will say that most journalists are not so shallow, and indeed, I’ve been lucky enough over the years to deal with many who are in fact quite reasonable, and I’d even say honorable.
I’ll let you decide what I think about the two correspondents who were joining us for this trip. I’m actually going to be intentionally coy about this, because the relationship between me and Karen, our crews and these reporters has never accurately come to light.
Well, I’ll say this much: the movie that featured the love triangle was totally wrong.
As for the rest of our relationship, I’ll try to build cheap suspense for you. I doubt it’ll work, but it’s worth a try.
So here goes.
The day the Jupiter Force pulled into orbit over Earth, two correspondents sat in the lobby of Admiralty House, waiting to talk with John. Now, John was in orbit aboard Bonaventure, a fact that we weren’t publicizing because we’ve always liked to avoid broadcasting the exact location of the Commander-in-Chief of the fleet during wartime. Call us paranoid, but there it is.
Anyway, neither of these correspondents seemed particularly amiable to the officers and ratings around them. I’m getting my account of their presence from a couple of people I know who were there that day (one Irishman in particular), and of course from the security camera feeds of the lobby.
Suffice it to say they didn’t look terribly friendly.
But then you wouldn’t expect them to be.
You know who I’m talking about (I think I already mentioned them somewhere): they were the now-famous Jessica Qing, at this point still building her reputation, and the much more established Jack ‘Jocko’ Kent, the correspondent who’d covered the Battle of Deep Black from the cockpit of a yacht that he’d hired and used to followed us.
Quite the pair, you must agree. And yes, to the makers of that stupid romance movie, they were both attractive people – imagine, correspondents who look good on camera! Shocking!
As you also probably know, Jessica and Jocko represented rival networks. I can’t tell you which networks, because then anything I say might be construed as slander under Imperial Defamation Codes, and I’d have to fight a duel with one of their hired guns. That gets tiresome. But suffice it to say they were both there to one-up each other on this trip… which is in itself a remarkable goal.
“Ah, so that’s the reporters, is it?”
Jocko and Jessica looked up simultaneously at the words, and both appeared miffed. I can’t really blame them for their mood since, I should add, they’d been made to wait (with no explanation at all) for about, oh, three hours. Probably should have mentioned that at the start.
Now they came to their feet in a race – who could stand up first – and whirled on the speaking officer, probably expecting it to be John.
It wasn’t John, it was Daragh Ryan, the new Second Lord and the generally mad Irishman who the media tended to love for his open and shameless conduct. If John wasn’t around, there was no doubt that talking to Daragh was the next best thing – apparently it was believed that he and John had some sort of science-fiction-like telepathic ability to know the same things at once, or something.
And there was no way in hell the reporters were getting up to Bonaventure to see John Fiora when his day cabin looked like a miniature model of Manhattan. No, it was Daragh who would talk to them, and they really shouldn’t have been disappointed by that.
But, on this occasion, Daragh’s usual ability to melt angry stares didn’t quite work. They just stood there, glaring at him for about a minute. If only he’d had his shotgun with him – he’d left it behind to avoid appearing intimidating. Ah well.
“So, I’ll have to use my Irish charm to get you both to stop attempting to kill me with your stares? Now what’s old Daragh done to you two? Not like you’ve had to wait three hours, yeah?”
At this point, Gerald (of the eternal Gerald and Betty receptionist team in Admiralty House’s lobby) caught Daragh’s eye and nodded once.
Daragh’s mouth dropped open a little, “Oh… so you have been waiting for three hours. I see. Well… dammit this is awkward. I suppose pretending that we’re happy to have you here isn’t going to work after that, now, is it?”
He then flashed his charming Irish smile, and Jocko cracked a smile of his own, “You tried, I suppose that’s worth something. Good to see you again, m’Lord.”
“Oh watch your fuckin’ tongue, Jocko. People who call me ‘m’Lord’ tend to get shot at,” Daragh grinned, approaching the veteran correspondent and shaking his hand.
Daragh then turned to Jessica Qing, “My pleasure to meet you, Miss Qing. If you’ll pretend I didn’t swear just then, I’d be obliged, as I make a point of never cursing in front of a beautiful woman. Well, at least not one who happens to be the fastest rising star in broadcast journalism.”
Jessica started to smile just a little as Daragh shook her hand – the Irishman had cracked her stern veneer with his charm, “You’re lucky I had my pills this mornin’, though, my dear. You’ll probably never hear it from anyone, but when I first met Rachel Butler right out here, I gave her a great hug. You’d be in for the same treatment, but I’m behaving myself today.”
Jessica’s smile broadened just a tad, and Daragh then waved the reporters to follow him, “Alright, so I must brief you on where we’re sticking you. Come to my office with me.”
The tension of their long wait having been melted by Daragh’s friendliness, they followed, and minutes later they stepped rather gingerly into Daragh’s incredibly messy office. There was as much stuff in there as there was in John’s day cabin, but Daragh had a philosophical dislike of piles. Piles are the devil’s candy, he once told me.
No of course that doesn’t actually make sense. Doesn’t have to – it’s Daragh!
“You’ll have to excuse the mess,” Daragh seated himself in his chair and then grunted as it tried to destroy his spine. “We’re so busy I haven’t even had time to get rid of Dave Caldecott’s chair. That little man apparently liked to have spikes in the spine, dammit. But sorry, we’re failing on the niceties.”
“I don’t think either of us came here for niceties,” Jocko’s words came off like those of a personable battle veteran, and if you think about it, he had in fact seen combat, if not been a part of it. So he did have some grounds to make that claim.
“No, that you didn’t. You two came for the thing my predecessor with the liquid back was most paranoid about: a story,” Daragh grinned. “I’ll say it plainly to you both, though, both John and I like you. And yes, I’m saying that to suck up to you so you’ll be nice to us… but it’s not all lies. And if you don’t believe me, just wait until I tell you where we’re sending you…”
And I just realized I haven’t explicitly explained to you what Jessica and Jocko (and their networks) had been promised. Simply put, John had agreed to attach correspondents from the two leading networks to a mission of ‘high importance’, so they could get coverage from the front lines.
The problem with that, of course, is operational security. The number of times reporters had compromised Defense Command missions since the era of Ian Hawke was startling. Irresponsible reporters looking for a scoop had, in the past, been prone to broadcast locations of Defense Command ships while they hunted for pirates. Famously, Vera Nash had reported her position from a yacht shadowing the independent cruising frigate Wyoming in 2225. After the pirates maneuvered to escape, they made a point of capturing her yacht and raping her to death on camera.
Since then, we’d been doing everything we could to discourage correspondents from attaching themselves to our heels. With the defeat of the Syndicate we’d finally seen some success – peace wasn’t exciting enough to justify the expense of sending reporters out after our active squadrons. There were none in position during the start of the war, so as you doubtless noticed through the first four books in this series, there were none following us around.
Things were about to change. Fearing that, with a full shooting war underway, correspondents could become an even larger security risk, John had gone to the two news networks that had the money to send reporters out on their own and had struck a bargain: correspondents got full access to Defense Command ships if they agreed to leave their transmitters behind.
In other words, we would broadcast their stories, but only when we knew it was safe.
The networks resisted at first, but John used a few subtle threats and a number of large incentives to get them to play ball. This mission to Jupiter was going to be a test project…
“You’re both going to be boarding Wolf tomorrow, for a mission to Io that will likely take at least four months,” Daragh’s forthright introduction of Jessica and Jocko’s mission was a little more abrupt than either was expecting. They’d figured on some token assignments on ships doing regular local duties, perhaps battleships of the Bonaventure squadron if they were lucky. But no action… no missions…
In other words, they’d expected us to stonewall.
Nope, we were taking them to Jupiter.
“That’s Ken Barron’s new mission, isn’t it?” Jocko asked quickly, frowning and not managing to reveal how eager he was about the prospect of joining the Jupiter Force.
I’ll sound like I’m blowing my own horn here, but our force was certainly a plum assignment. Remember, Karen and I were two of the hottest celebrities around, weird as that was to both of us. And the rest of the squadron was made up of other exciting people, like the beloved Andrea Kiley, the much-lusted-after Kris Jacobs, and the ever-popular Mark Gunney. The possibility of doing feature reports exploring the realities of our military life was just too good to be true…
But true it was. When John drives a hard bargain like he did with the networks, he knows to deliver on his end. Keeps them playing ball.
Jessica leaned forward in her chair, modulating her voice very carefully to contain her own eagerness, “So, we’re going to have full access aboard the most famous ship in the fleet?”
Daragh smiled, “If you mean Wolf, then yes. It’s a fifty-day cruise to Io, so if you’re thinking Rear Admiral Barron’s somehow going to be uncooperative, you’ve got over a month to wear him down. And I don’t think he’ll be uncooperative to you, dear Miss Qing.”
Both reporters sat perfectly still. They’d heard rumors about the Jupiter Force – the reports from Belt Two had basically uncovered its six-ship makeup, and some carefully controlled leaks from Admiralty House had revealed to the press that we were headed for Jupiter (well, basically it was leaked that the six-ship formation was called ‘the Jupiter Force’, and the journalists had been able to put those oh-so-subtle clues together).
“You’ll receive all the fun details tomorrow, but for now I suppose you better call your news directors and your families and tell them you’re running away for half the year. Report back here tomorrow at 0900, we’ll fly you up. You get a camera crew each, three people with pre-approved general clearance and at least three years’ experience. As much luggage as you like, though you may have to carry it yourself if you get some spacers at the docks who don’t think reporters have any business on ships of war.”
Jocko and Jessica paused and stared at Daragh’s grinning face – both of them trying to figure out what the catch was. The cagey Irishman had to be leaving something out. Surely we weren’t honoring our word and putting them on a plum ship assignment…
Daragh laughed and prodded them on, “There is no catch. You both might want to go start packing.”
Exchanging a quick, surprised glance, Jocko and Jessica rose to their feet, each stepping forward to extend a hand towards the Second Lord. As he shook each presented hand in turn, Daragh smiled and nodded, “I’m sure you won’t get yourselves killed! Hopefully, at least!”
The correspondents nodded back wordlessly, and then they filed out of Daragh’s office, both still somewhat surprised by their success. In terms of postings, this was an unbelievable stroke of luck.
Both Jessica and Jocko were on their comms as soon as they cleared the secure jamming of Admiralty House.
Then they went to pack.