For a moment, Ophelia's attention wandered. It felt, all things considered, oddly strange to be back in her (temporary, she again chided) office on Roak. The room barely looked any different and hardly reflected any signs that everything that had happened... had happened. Of course, it only took a look down at her right arm—still in a sling—or the fact that she still couldn't see from her third eye that, yes, there had been a coup attempt and yes, she had nearly died.
Ophelia forced her self to focus again (it was her first day back, after all, and there was so much to be done), turning her attention back to Lieutenant Commander – now Captain – Maddox. Maddox nodded and folded her hands in her lap, nearing the end of her report. "And with the refurbishing of several of the surviving battleships like the Mercury from the Naacap IV battleline, Federation space forces are back up to approximately 75 strength compared to before Schilling's coup attempt."
Ophelia, still heavily bandaged and with a blanket loosely wrapped around her shoulders, considered the numbers from her personal tablet. "Well, that's not bad, all things considered." One of her eyebrows arched. "They managed to recover the Mercury?" Ophelia asked, honestly surprised.
"Yes, Madam President," Captain Maddox answered. "The CoE crew in charge had to strip her drive manifolds and replace several of her burned out shield generators, but, ah..." Maddox grinned. "Well, ma'am, the Mercury's an old Aquaelie-class, and according to the engineering crew, 'they don't make 'em like that anymore.'"
Ophelia nodded. Her father had been an engineer in the fleet, and judging from the high esteem he had reserved for the class she didn't doubt it. "And how's the political situation shaping up?"
"Division of resources talks with the Neutral Powers are proceeding smoothly," Maddox started. "Planetary garrisons have already been formally turned over, and military personnel from seceding planetary governments are already returning to their homes."
Captain Maddox started to frown. "But there's a major debate going on in the Neutral Powers leadership," she continued. "A substantial minority of the neutral-coalition leadership are advocating autonomous, independent planetary governments, while another large portion is advocating an actual Neutral Power federalized state..."
Ophelia nodded, almost as if she had expected no less. "They joined together with only breaking away from the Federation itself in mind—I don't think even they realized that they might not agree upon the next step..." She closed her eyes. "It will be a while before we see things settle among the neutral-coalition... And who knows what the galaxy will look like by then..."
Earth history alone was rife with examples of the hugely complicated process of states simply dissolving. And they usually came attendant with major risks... Violence among the former neutral-coalition members as they sorted out a new pecking order would not be without precedent. "We'll have to tread lightly from here," Ophelia said quietly, mostly to herself.
"Meanwhile," Captain Maddox resumed, her nose crinkling. "The interim Rezerbian government has extended its apologies over the actions of dear, departed Sergeant Brooklund," she started, not quite able to hide her distain. "I'm sure it has nothing to do with the several battleships we've poised in orbit over their homeworld..."
"Well," Ophelia started, "I'd think that serves them right. Quite frankly, I don't want them to even think about building any of those special-class ships, ever again." Her expression soured as her temper built. "Hell, I don't want them to have anything close to an effective space force for the next 25 years!" she declared heatedly.
"Being a little harsh, aren't we?" Cliff asked from his reclining position in the other chair opposite the President's desk. He had been altogether too quiet during the meeting so far (Ophelia had nearly forgotten he was even there). Now, his seemingly lazy and relaxed expression barely concealed the calculation in his half-lidded eyes.
Ophelia took a deep breath, as if calming herself. "Perhaps," she started, conceding that she had let her emotions get the better of herself for the moment. "But at any rate," she resumed in a more even tone, "for the time being it's in the interest of the interstellar community to maintain tight sanctions on Rezerbia, until such time as they can demonstrate having overcome such... tendencies as motivated Sergeant Brooklund."
"Now on that point," Cliff started, suddenly animated again, "I don't think you'll find much of an argument."
Ophelia apparently having passed his 'test,' Cliff moved on. "Oh, and I wanted to show you..." he started, lifting up for inspection a manila folder he had been holding the entire time. "A little digging found this," Cliff said, tossing a manila folder down on the desk. "Apparently the Schilling family has something of a history of mental illness. The old man, as it turns out, was more or less clean – if a little too sold on his own righteousness.
"The kid though," and here Cliff shook his head. "They knew from early on that he had the potential for major problems. Most of that, however, was covered with a few well-placed bribes."
Cliff folded his arms. "As near as anyone can tell, the old man's death started bringing more of that out in the kid. And the Executioner attack, the death of Earth – his beloved home planet – and subsequent... reduction of the Federation just finished the job." Cliff whistled. "Still, though... Hard to believe he managed to hide that neat of a psychological break as half as well as he ending up managing..."
"Iron self-control and sheer single-mindedness on his goal," Ophelia answered quietly.
"I guess we're just lucky that he was stopped when he was," Cliff said, his expression hard to read.
"Luck had nothing to do with it," Ophelia declared flatly. She folded her arms. She didn't remember much after Federation One had met its unfortunate end (so many good people lost, fred, oh, fred, I'm sorry I got you into such—): there were blurry visions of a blue-haired woman and the harsh lights of a medical bay, but nothing solid until she had woken up in Bowman General Hospital in Lacour. But the surviving anti-Schilling generals on Moonbase and the whole of the Naacap IV battleline had told her plenty...
"That's the second time the Federation owes its very survival to those two," Ophelia said quietly. She adopted a rueful smile. "I do wish they would have stuck around this time at least to let me thank them personally."
"You know those two," Cliff started jauntily, "never did want any sort of attention for what they do." He shook his head. "But if it makes you feel better, I'll pass your message along the next time I talk to them."
"I'd..." and her she hesitated a moment, her mind racing over the fact that the Klausian sitting in front of her knew exactly where those fated two were, or at the very least how to get in touch with them, either of them alone having the sheer power to radically alter the face of the galaxy, and if only the Federation could be assured their assistance, then nothing could harm it ever again and—
She coughed lightly. "I would appreciate that, Mr. Fittir," she finished, banishing such thoughts from her mind. Those two had already been asked to bear such a burden... And further, in her heart Ophelia knew that for the Federation to still mean something—for it to stand by those words it had been founded by—she knew that it would have to work its problems out the old-fashioned way.
"Well, at any rate..." Ophelia rose to her feet. "Captain Maddox, thank you for your report."
"Of course, Madam President." With a crisp salute, Captain Maddox marched out of the office.
Ophelia settled back down in her seat, turning her attention back to Cliff. "Mr. Fittir, I don't suppose you have any plans for dinner tonight, do you?"
"Well, actually" Cliff started as he languidly rose to his feet, his tone oddly regretful, "I'm afraid I have to get going as well."
"Oh?" Ophelia's eyebrow arched again. "And just where are you off to?" Ophelia asked, unable to keep a playful tone out of her voice.
"Me?" Cliff asked. He dropped into a fighting stance, punching the air several times. "I've got some training that I need to get to." He straightened up. "Not to mention a ship to shepherd home." As Cliff walked out of the president's office, he grinned back over his shoulder at her. "If you're ever in the Klaus System, make sure to look me up."
Ophelia nodded, slowly blossoming into a smile. Cliff tossed a final wave goodbye over his shoulder as the doors closed behind him.
"And you are..." the Federation junior officer looked down at the passenger manifest on his personal tablet. "Marianna Silvestoli...?" He glanced back up at the blue haired woman. Black coat, brown vest. Blue tie? She'd clearly seen better days. Her left arm was in a sling, and there was a large bandage around her throat.
At any rate, she nodded. "That's me," she said cheerily.
The officer looked back down at the manifest on his tablet. "It says here you are traveling with a..." He keyed the tablet, trying to change pages.
"Ernest Madison," Marianna supplied.
"Right," the officer said, nodding. He frowned. "And where is Mr. Madison...?"
As if he had been waiting for that cue, a blue haired youth in a green jacket and khaki slacks came tumbling round the corner. By the time he had reached the boarding gate, he was out of breath. "Hey..." pant, pant, "sorry I'm late."
The officer noted (perhaps not that surprised) that Mr. Madison had also seen better days: several small bandages adorned his face, he had what looked to be a healing black eye, and his right hand had been carefully dressed in white gauze.
Ms. Silvestoli was apparently not amused. "I told you it wasn't wise to dawdle like that."
Mr. Madison straightened up. "Maybe. But I still think it was worth it!" he protested.
Ms. Silvestoli looked like she was going to fire something back, but the officer could see a line forming behind them. He politely 'ahemed.' "I'll just need to see your IDs, and we can get you on board."
Ms. Silvestoli was still giving Mr. Madison the stink eye, but they, almost in unison, pulled out IDs and handed them over. After a quick verification through his terminal, the officer's small read-out displayed a green screen.
"Ms. Silvestoli, Mr. Madison, welcome aboard the GFSS Hurricane."
"Please," Mr. Madison said over his shoulder as he followed Ms. Silvestoli up the ramp and into the Hurricane, "Call me Barney."
The officer watched the two of them follow the narrow walkway. About midway up, Ms. Silvestoli hit Mr. Madison in the arm. He seemed to protest this quite vocally. Just before the two slipped into the Hurricane's hatch, they entwined arms.
"Kids," the officer said to himself, grinning and shaking his head in amusement.