The lift transporting Wesley Garland to the main conference room thirty stories up seemed to run much faster than usual on this particular day. Typical. Nothing like a crisis to alter the flow of time. And the Ganymede mission had been sprinting from one crisis to another lately with Wesley doing everything he could to placate SciCom members. Most were now becoming extremely concerned about the unauthorized actions Commander Ramirez and his officers had been taking over the past several days. A handful of committee members were outright angry, going so far as to suggest Wesley resign his post so the committee could decide on a new mission commander.

But Wesley still had enough prestige to keep the naysayer numbers small. And his most ardent detractors dare not leak their disaffection to the media for fear of a prodigious backlash not only from the majority of committee members but the global public as well. Right now, there was zero tolerance for those who intended on upsetting the apple cart by airing out petty differences. For the moment, Wesley and the committee he led could do no wrong and everyone wanted to keep it that way.

Wesley casually peered over the railing of the glass encased lift as it ascended quickly along a recessed groove in the side of the building. The island of Perth was covered in skyscrapers, most of western Australia now forever drowned in the aftermath of the Great Calamity of the late twenty-first century. The beach line seemed to butt against the edge of the building from this height though it was merely an optical illusion. The massive geologic shift that allowed the old city of Perth to survive as an island after extensive flooding along Australia's coastlines was an interesting phenomenon that geologists continued to make documentary vids about even to this day.

The lift chimed its destination arrival and Wesley walked out of the lift with a heavy sigh. He vaguely noticed someone in his periphery stand and begin walking toward him. Wesley cast a furtive glance toward the figure, then stopped in recognition. It was Joseph Middleton, his executive assistant and long time friend.

"Joseph!" Wesley said with a mixture of affection and puzzlement. "What are you doing here?"

Joseph's outstretched arm connected with Wesley's and both men vigorously shook hands. Joseph's wide, tight smile divided a head with a large chin and even larger forehead, the eyes, nose and mouth occupying a small sliver of space in the center of his wide canvas of a face. "Good to see you, Wes. In person this time."

"Well, this is a surprise," Wesley said. "You know you could have attended this meeting from Liberton. Why go to all the trouble of coming here?"

Joseph looked down and shook his head in mock dejection. "Wes, do you know how hard it's going to be to get a seat at the Australian Open next year? Bloody Aussies still haven't figured out we're in the damned twenty-third century. You can't just send 'em a holo - no, you've got to transact face to face - especially with the big money I'm shelling out for those premium seats." He pointed a finger at Wesley, eyes squinting with conviction. "Killian's gonna take the whole thing next year, mark my words. Did you see him in that fifth set tie break of the finals a few weeks back? Killian had that bleedin' Cossack against the ropes until his lost his serve."

Wesley chuckled. "Uh-huh. You want to tell me another one?"

A corner of Joseph's mouth flicked upward then he spoke in graver tones. "Well, the real truth is the soon-to-be ex-wife wanted me out of Edinburgh for a while. Apparently I've never been a very good listener."

"Hmm. She actually said that?"

"Well, how would I know, Wes? I can't stop arguing with her long enough to find out!"

Wesley shook his head and snickered. "Well, that excuse is a little more believable. But I know you better than that, Joe. You've been playing this game with Aileene for nearly fifteen years and neither one of you has budged. And my instincts say neither of you ever will."

"Yeah, yeah." Joseph looked away for a moment and his face softened with affection. "She's a spirited lass, that one. I really can't stand her sometimes."

"Something tells me she'd say the same thing about you."

Wesley slapped his old friend on the shoulder, steering him toward the conference room down the hall. "And now that we've danced around it long enough, you want to tell me what you're really doing here?"

Joseph put his head down as they slowly walked, the hallway empty of people except for them. "I thought you might need some help today. Someone to back your play. Just attending this meeting from my office at home didn't seem right, Wes. I felt I needed to be here personally, that's all."

Wesley looked at Joseph with a furrowed brow. "I see. Well, I appreciate that, Joe."

Joseph nodded his head in acknowledgement but never smiled, never looked up at Wesley. They took a few more steps in silence as Wesley waited for Joe to elaborate. When he didn't, Wesley prodded him with "C'mon Joe, if there's something else bothering you, let me know. You know I hate having to mine your brain for information. It makes me feel like I'm violating you somehow."

Joseph stopped walking. He turned and faced Wesley but his eyes searched around the room nervously as he battled some inner unpleasantness. Wesley observed his friend's turmoil and became concerned. Finally, he gently laid a hand on Joseph's shoulder. "You can tell me, Joe," Wesley said quietly. "What is it?"

It was sufficient to get Joseph relaxed enough to focus on Wesley. Joseph breathed out then motioned Wesley to walk over to the far wall, opposite the conference room. Joseph huddled in close to Wesley and spoke in tones just above a whisper. "I've learned that one of Ganymede's officers is making a case for Ramirez to be relieved of command."

Wesley looked at Joseph, stunned. "What? Relieved of...where the hell did you hear - "

"I'm not going to tell you that so I would appreciate you not asking me!" Joseph roughly whispered through clenched teeth. Wesley clamped his mouth shut in compliance but his face continued to radiate shock. He said nothing for a few moments as he refocused his thoughts.

"Which officer is making the case?" Wesley asked.

"I don't know," Joseph muttered. He saw the disbelief flash across Wesley's face, then added, "I'm telling you the truth, Wes! I don't know which one it is. Hell, it could be all of 'em for all I know. You can't exactly blame them after all that's happened lately!"

Now Wesley's demeanor went cool. "Ramirez is adapting to a situation thrust upon him to the best of his abilities. With his limited resources, he is still taking quick and decisive action, Jospeh."

"Wes, he's throwing probes around on the surface like they're soccer balls."

Wesley shrugged nonchalantly. "The probe mission is over. May as well put them to good use."

Jospeh gave his friend a beleagured look. "Don't play coy with me, Wes. You signed off on the order to end probe operations. And if you'd bothered to read the fine print it stipulated leaving them exactly where they were so they could be retrieved at a later date. Intact. Undamaged."

Wesley seemed to be unconcerned. "His methods may be questionable but there will be plenty of time to hack that apart post-mission."

An aggravated Joseph rubbed a hand over his face before responding. "I know Ramirez is a good commander, Wes, but you're not understanding me. Everyone knows you two have a history. You guys graduated the from same officer candidate school. He's served under you with distinction at least a dozen times over the years. You pushed harder than anyone on the committee to get him assigned as Ganymede commander."

"He's good at his job," Wesley interjected. "That's all the motivation I needed."

"In a purely military setting, that's true! But this whole operation isn't purely military, Wes." Joseph gestured toward the conference room. "You're also dealing with people from Science and Research in there and from what I've seen over the years most SCIRES blokes, with a few exceptions, look on the military as a necessary cross to bear. They're scientists first and soldiers last, and I mean dead last."

Wesley knew Joseph had a point. It would have been much easier to simply have one organization running the show, but neither the military nor SCIRES had been quick to approve the Ganymede mission at first. It took over a year of backroom wrangling, cajoling, and influence peddling to finally decide how both would share in the funding. Since the mission would be one of research, SCIRES would have autonomy in deciding what they needed for the mission while the military farmed out contracts for ship design and construction according to those needs. Thanks to the powerful lobbying influence SCIRES had in the global government they were able to crew the Ganymede with a larger proportion of scientists which inwardly grated military sensibilities. Military representatives rarely questioned a mandate from their own upper echelon, but they had found heeding the wishes and whims of a sub-branch of the military filled with work-a-day warriors and eggheads a little vexing. Career officers had their own special derogatory word for SCIRES reservists - chocos. It was slang the old Australian military had used over a century ago to describe their reservists. They were referred to as "chocos" because, like chocolate, they would melt in the heat of battle.

But what SCIRES lacked on the sharper end of the military stick they made up for in bureaucratic numbers. And while most of their members had not lost faith in Wesley's directorship yet, he knew that if - or when - the time did come they would likely be the first to fold.

Wesley stole a glance at his watch. Only a few minutes left to prepare. He held his chin to his chest for a moment, then looked at Joseph. "Against my better judgement, I've already agreed to Command's decision to retire Ramirez when he returns. Hell, I'm still trying to figure that one out. But if I'm pressured to relieve him of command while he's still in the field..."

Joseph gave him a cautionary, sidelong glance. "Wes, you'd better not go in there and spill what I've-"

Wesley held up a hand and stopped his friend in mid-sentence. "I'm not going to tip anyone off, Joe. Your inside information is safe with me. And I appreciate you trusting me with it."

Joseph gave Wesley a slight smile. "Despite my better judgement, I still consider you a good friend." He gave Wesley an encouraging look. "Your head's in the right place, Wes. Don't let them undermine you without a fight."

"I don't intend to," Wesley answered with a sly grin. "I don't care if I am turning into another note passing bureaucrat."

Joseph didn't say anything as Welsey turned and led the way to the conference room. Wesley may have meant that last statement as a bit of light humor, but Joseph knew better. He knew his old friend was having a harder time adjusting to the political side of his job than he let on. That was another reason Joseph felt the need to come here in person, though Wesley would never know that.

They both walked to the conference room door, stood still for a moment as unseen sensors scanned everything down to their blood type, then a small light on the side of the door lit green. Wesley and Joseph briefly looked at each other before entering, both men summoning some inner fortitude that would steel them for the long day ahead. Then Wesley touched the green light and the door hissed open.