Since the departure of Gabriel Pope, one of the greatest frustrations Daragh Ryan had been facing was communication with the Prime Minister’s Office. There were a number of reasons for that difficulty, not least the fact that the media had caught Pope’s Chief of Staff, Murt Sergeant, marrying a seventeen-year-old Mexican girl. And had uncovered the fact that she was the sixty-four-year-old’s fourth wife. Concurrently.
That means four at once.
Now, strictly speaking, there are no limits to the number of spouses a person can have – it’s not the government’s place to tell you how many anniversaries you’re going to forget – but since the war news was winding down, this little scandal was basically undermining the man’s ability to do his job.
Not that Murt had been great at it. I don’t even know how Pope ended up with that guy at his right hand, and perhaps I don’t want to know… but he had, and now he was causing great complications.
Because while Marshal and Mel were practicing ways to kill people with the
Ha, did it again!
And while Kris was getting back aboard Lion and beginning to figure out her crew, the folks at PMO were keeping tabs on their counterparts in Olivia Bennington’s office… and they’d discovered a crucial piece of information about the Deputy PM’s plans (and by extension, the plans of the Emperor).
But that news was sitting on Murt’s desk while he tried to avoid questions about the sordid messages he and his new bride had swapped from her school computer (not going anywhere near the details of that particular story).
The good news, if you can call it that, was that just before he’d left for Mars, Pope had appointed a new Deputy Chief of Staff for Earth Affairs, and that fellow was a bit of a political wonderkid. Two degrees, lots of experience on campaigns, and more enthusiasm than could be contained by a modest black hole.
And this kid, realizing that his boss was preoccupied with offers to appear on the Geraldine Coilier show, took the file and walked it over to Admiralty House himself.
It was the first time he’d been there, and he made an impression. You can see it on the security camera feeds, actually – he walks into the lobby wearing his black-on-black suit, strides up to the reception counter that has eternally been operated by Gerald and Betty, hands over his Parliamentary ID and asks to see Daragh Ryan immediately.
And Gerald and Betty both look at him, and his ID, and assume it has to be fake.
Because you have to appreciate that the wonderkid was only twenty-one, and he only looked sixteen. But they scanned his pass, checked the security files, realized that the precocious fellow was who he said he was, and then called the Second Lord.
That is how the first meeting occurred between batshit insane Second Lord of the Admiralty Daragh Ryan, and completely unhinged Deputy Chief of Staff Schwartz T. Babcock.
Yes, the Schwartz T. Babcock. You really think more than one set of parents would have punished their child with such a name? Not since Victorian times, at least…
Daragh’s mood had been in freefall since Kris had gone into orbit – our Aussie skipper had done her best, but the realities of an impending coup tended to bring everyone’s morale down. As such, the Irishman was in no way ready for the effervescent attack that Schwartz was about to unleash.
Sitting behind his desk with his shotgun in his lap, the Second Lord wore a deep scowl as he watched the young staffer come in.
“You’re a politico.”
“And you hate political people,” Schwartz said with a big smile. “I look forward to changing your mind, Second Lord. My name is Schwartz T. Babcock, and I represent the Prime Minister’s Office.”
Daragh’s glare could probably have shattered glass, but Schwartz didn’t so much as blink.
“This better be something important,” the Second Lord said eventually, and Schwartz nodded as he held up the file he’d brought with him.
“It is. Let’s go on a journey, you and I…”
Uninvited, he took the seat opposite Daragh and opened the file, then turned it in the Irishman’s direction.
“We know when Bennington’s going to call the confidence vote. She’s making the next ways and means confidence, and it’s going before the House and the Senate at 5:00 and 5:30 on Friday evening.”
That actually was useful news, and as much as Daragh might have trouble with Schwartz’s manner, he wasn’t going to be petty.
“Shit, I was hoping you were actually going to justify me grabbing you by your stupid collar and throwing you out of here,” he muttered, leaning forward to take a look at the report.
Of course, we should at this point turn to a discussion of the significance of a Friday confidence vote, since it was now late on Tuesday, and Marshal was due to arrive on Thursday, but instead Schwartz seized upon the banter. And I can’t not go with it.
“You’re the second person to criticize my choice of clothing,” he said, and Daragh frowned and looked up.
“Murt Sergeant criticizes it too. He thinks it suits me because I’m an ‘obnoxious fucktard’. Tells everyone who’ll listen that I am.”
Not kidding. Daragh just stared, at this point entirely confused by the conversation.
“He calls his Deputy Chief of Staff that? Publicly?” the Irishman had to ask.
“Every day,” Schwartz nodded, still wearing a political smile. “I die a little bit inside every time I hear it.”
Daragh stared for another few seconds, then just shook his head and looked down at the file, “Well don’t mind him, he’s just worried someone’s in his office who’s going to take his job.”
“And maybe his wife. Seventeen isn’t too young for me, and from some of the things I’ve overheard she’s very exuberant.”
Daragh stopped reading for a minute, looked up, then looked down again, “I can already tell you’re going to hell when you die.”
Schwartz nodded, not missing a beat, “I’m glad we’re laying the foundations for a great friendship now, since we’re going to spend so much time together there.”
As you can see, Schwartz was pretty much the same in these early days as he is now. He’s either a talented performer, a sociopath, a politician… or maybe all three.
Daragh couldn’t help but laugh, and then he shook his head, “You are obnoxious. But you’re too fucking smart. Now please stop chattering and tell me what else. Friday vote?”
Switching back to the topic at hand, Schwartz leaned forward and glanced at the file as well, “They could have picked any day for that vote, but they chose Friday. And that’s a bad sign.”
“They know Marshal is on his way?” the Second Lord asked, and Schwartz nodded.
“We’re pretty certain someone in Cavanaugh’s office leaked that fact – and that he’ll be here Thursday. So they know we’re playing our biggest card on Thursday, and they still set the vote for Friday,” the Deputy Chief of Staff confirmed.
Now we can go ahead and explain some things. When MP Leslie Cavanaugh had decided to send her Chief of Staff to collect Marshal Samuels and bring him back, the mission was supposed to be secret… but of course she’d told the Prime Minister’s Office, and the PM’s staff had told Daragh.
No one else was supposed to know, but it was Capital Island: word was inevitably going to slip out.
Now it had, and that meant that Olivia Bennington was aware of the threat to her plans to bring down the government… but she wasn’t doing anything to preempt the threat. She could have called a snap confidence vote whenever she wanted to – the House Leader was one of her acolytes – but she hadn’t.
She knew Marshal was coming, and she was going to let him have a crack at her Belt caucus, without whom she was stuffed.
Thinking about this interesting turn of events, Daragh immediately came up with two possible reasons for the confusing decision.
“Either Olivia is getting cold feet, and doesn’t plan to take us down at all… or she has some other method for keeping Commodore Samuels away from the Belt caucus.” Of course Schwartz had come to the same conclusion, and as the Deputy Chief of Staff voiced the possibilities, Daragh’s frown got even deeper.
“Option one means we don’t have to worry. Option two means she might try to stop him getting to ground. And that would take some sort of intervention that might qualify as unconstitutional…” the Irishman began thinking aloud.
He was implying that she’d have some sort of force attempt to keep Marshal from reaching Capital Island… and indeed, that was a big concern.
Schwartz nodded, “If she tries anything, it would give us latitude to do a bunch of different things. But in the short term, could be dangerous… if she catches us by surprise, stops him and no one notices until after a confidence vote, things could become very complicated. We’d be in the right but public perception could be very skewed.”
He was, of course, completely correct. Imagine for a moment that Marshal and Mel tried to take a shuttle down to Capital Island, but their craft was diverted to Halifax by an unknown signal, and when they landed they found themselves surrounded by Imperial blockheads who in turn took them quietly into custody until after the vote.
Now, that would be illegal, and the logical thing would be for the Imps to kill them to hide the evidence, but Marshal’s profile was too high. So what if they released him just after the vote, when a new PM was installed by the Governor General, and a new inquiry into Defense Command was mounted.
Then anything Marshal did to object – even if he had proof – would be cast into at least some doubt. A case could be made that he was inventing an illegal act to try to discredit the body that was mounting an inquiry into his (and all of our) activities. Public perception would be tangled up, and the legitimacy of the government unclear.
Now, obviously, if blockheads tried to capture Marshal and Mel, they’d all be killed when Mel used her special quantum attack. And recall that both of them were being trailed by another superspy, Camila Barrai, so it would be 100 blockheads against two spies. Those Imps wouldn’t just be dead, somehow they never would have been born… okay, I know, I’m over-doing it. But yes, it wouldn’t be so easy for Marshal to be captured… but nobody knew that, because Mel was still under cover.
There were other complications too, which I’ll get into later, but for now suffice to say that the possibility of a threat to the Belt Two team seemed quite real.
And Daragh was going to have to figure out what to do about it.
Fortunately, there was a frigate in orbit with a very trustworthy skipper aboard.
“Schwartz, I think I have an answer,” the Second Lord declared as he thought of Kris.
“Daragh, I’m very proud of you. Would you like to share your idea, or would you like me to tell you that Captain Jacobs aboard Lion would be a valuable resource under the present circumstances?”
I’m really surprised Daragh didn’t shoot the Prime Minister’s Deputy Chief of Staff, but hey, that’s Schwartz for you. He’s never going to hell, because the day the grim reaper shows up, he’ll talk the guy not only into voting for him, but into putting a ‘Vote Schwartz’ button on his robe. And maybe making a small donation to the next campaign.
I can just imagine that conversation…