Planet Manhattan, New York System:
Trent was thrown against the wall. Hard. He fell to the floor and rolled, his weapon landing a few feet from him. His right shoulder had exploded in pain, the wound he'd received on São Paulo returning with a vengeance. Nevertheless, he crawled over and picked up his weapon before surveying the scene.
The desk had been completely obliterated. Jones was laying in a bloody heap several feet from where the desk had been. Grimes had apparently been thrown through the window behind his desk by the explosion. Trent knew he was dead; if the explosion itself hadn't killed him (an unlikely scenario), the two hundred story fall definitely would. Jones' condition was a bit harder to ascertain. He didn't appear to be moving, but Trent was far enough away that he could be breathing shallowly and Trent wouldn't notice. Lane was a few feet behind Trent. His head was bleeding but he'd managed to rise to one knee and was holding the unconscious guard's gun. It was for naught, however, as the door burst open and no less than three dozen armed men stormed into the room.
"Drop the weapons!" ordered one of the men. Lane and Trent both raised their arms in a surrendering manner and dropped the guns. One guard came over to each and kicked the weapons away before placing them in handcuffs. Trent saw one man look up from Jones and shake his head. Jones was gone. "Take them to holding cell A," said the same man who had spoken, who was apparently in command.
"Wait," said Lane. "I need to speak to the highest ranking official in the Navy. We have information that needs to be brought to light."
"I will… see what I can do," the man said. He jerked his head and Trent and Lane were brought to their feet. They were taken down several floors and put in a spartan room with only a table and four chairs, all bolted to the floor. The guards exited, leaving the two alone.
"I should have shot Grimes," said Trent bitterly. He slammed his fist on the table. "Damnit, I could've saved Jones. I guess I'm still not used to shooting political figures on sight."
"It's quite likely that the bomb was on a dead man's switch," said Lane pensively. "Even if you'd have shot him the bomb would have gone off."
Trent nodded, the words having relieved him of some of his guilt, though not all. "Where do we go from here?" he asked.
"Grimes and Dick are both dead, which means that I am the one who will become Acting President, assuming I'm not arrested. I need to contact King and have him relay the evidence, and then I'll be sworn in. After that, we'll have to consolidate our forces and stand up to Rheinland."
"And in the meantime?"
It was three hours until anyone else came into the room. It was a middle-aged woman in full military uniform who finally entered the room. Her rank insignia was that of a Rear Admiral. She dropped a folder on the table and sat down.
"Normally it would be an interrogator in here instead of me," she said formally, "but considering your identity and the events of the past few hours, I've decided to talk to you personally."
"Rear Admiral Denise Lindsey, isn't it?" inquired Lane.
She nodded. "Correct, Mr. Lane." She opened the folder and looked through it. "The circumstances of recent events have been… unusual, to say the least. The highest ranking man in the Liberty Navy confronting the Acting President while in the company of a man wanted for treason." She looked up at Lane. "That in and of itself begs many questions, which I'll get to in a moment." She looked back down at the folder. "Acting President Steven Grimes and Admiral Richard Jones both died from a bomb planted in the President's desk, according to the medical examiner's preliminary report. The bomb, which was placed in 416 in case the President's Office were breached by enemy forces, can only be activated by manual detonation or the death of the President. Since Acting President Grimes died as a result of the explosion, he must have detonated the bomb." She looked back up at Lane. "So, what in the hell is going on? Because none of this makes any sense."
"Grimes was a traitor to Liberty and we were presenting him with conclusive evidence of that," explained Lane. "Apparently he decided to take the coward's way out and kill himself rather than face the consequences. Admiral Jones was unfortunately standing too close to the desk when Grimes triggered the bomb."
"You have this evidence with you?" she asked, her tone not indicating whether she believed Lane or not.
Lane shook his head. "No, the copy I gave to Admiral Jones was almost certainly destroyed by the explosion. I can have Michael King transmit the evidence to you, though, if you'll allow me to contact him."
Lindsey sighed and nodded. She pulled a communicator from her belt and talked into it. "Please send in two armed guards to escort Mr. Lane and myself to the communication center." Within moments two men had entered the room. Lane stood and left the room, followed by the two men and then Lindsey. Two more guards entered the room. Trent sighed, sat back, and closed his eyes.
It took nearly forty-five minutes for them to return, at which point Trent had dozed off. The door opening, however, brought him back into full awareness. "Uncuff him," Lindsey said as she and Lane entered. The guards undid his handcuffs and Trent flexed his hands. "You are free to go," she continued.
"Admiral Lindsey, Mr. Trent, please join me in conference room one," said Lane as he walked from the room. Trent and Lindsey followed.
"What's going on?" asked Trent.
"Admiral Lindsey says that the evidence exonerates me from any wrongdoing. I'll be sworn in as soon as the Chief Justice arrives. You have contacted him, yes, Admiral?"
"Yes, sir," she replied.
"I want you to be one of my witnesses," Lane continued.
"The Constitution states that the President must be sworn in in the presence of four witnesses: one from each branch of the military and a civilian. Normally, it's quite publicized, negating the need for choosing witnesses, but we're a bit pressed for time. Admiral Lindsey will represent the Navy, Agents Zane and King will represent the LSF, and – who's representing LPI?"
"Sergeant Peter Avery," replied Lindsey.
"Juni's back?" asked Trent.
Lane nodded. "She completed her mission two days ago, about forty-eight hours after we left. Premier Sánchez is safe on New Madrid once again."
"Where were they holding him?"
"Fuchu Prison, of all places." They had by now reached conference room one, which had a large table seating twelve and a large monitor at the far end of the table. On the monitor were King and Juni, while already seated at the table were a seventy-some year old man and a man around Trent's age. The older gentleman rose.
"Mr. Lane, I'm pleased –"
"Time is of the essence, Justice Harris, so can we dispense with the pleasantries?"
Harris frowned. "Very well. May I have the names of the witnesses?"
"Peter Avery, Sergeant, Liberty Police, Incorporated."
"Denise Lindsey, Rear Admiral, Liberty Navy."
"Michael King, Commander, Liberty Security Force."
"Jun'ko Zane, Lieutenant, Liberty Security Force."
Trent took this as his cue. "Edison Trent, civilian."
"Rupert Harris, Chief Justice," said the older man. "The required witnesses are present," he continued as he turned to Lane and produced a book, "so let us commence." Lane placed his left hand on the book and raised his right. "Do you, Michael Lane, swear to uphold the word and the spirit of the Constitution of Liberty?" asked Harris.
"Do you swear to abide by the rules and laws set down by the Libertonian Council?"
"Do you swear to follow the will of the people, regardless of your own volition?"
"And do you accept the duties and responsibilities required as President?"
"Then, as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberty, I declare you, Michael Lane, to be the rightful President of Liberty. Thank you, sergeant, that will be all," Harris said to Avery, who nodded and left. Juni and King applauded politely as they snickered while Lane rolled his eyes.
"Now that we've got that out of the way," he said with a hint of annoyance, "I think I need to do some adjustments to the command structure. Rear Admiral Lindsey, as the highest ranking officer in the Liberty Navy I am appointing you head of the Liberty Navy. Agent King, you will remain as head of the LSF until we recover President Jacobi and I resume my duties. Agent Zane, since I have little doubt that the current head of LPI is corrupt, I am appointing you temporary head of the organization."
"Don't you have to approve this with the Council?" asked King.
"Normally, yes," said Lane with a nod, "but the emergency powers the Council granted the position two months ago allows me to appoint a head without approval for up to six months. Director King and Chief Zane, return to Manhattan immediately. We need to consolidate our forces in order to oppose Rheinland's imminent invasion of Bretonia."
"Yes Mr. President," King and Juni chorused before flickering off the screen. Lane turned to Harris.
"Justice Harris, I need you to drop all charges against Barbara Jacobi, myself, and the rest of the LSF and Navy mutineers, as well as prepare a statement to the populace about my ascension to the Presidency."
"I'll take care of it at once Mr. President," he replied. Lane nodded at him dismissively and Harris strode from the room.
"Rear Admiral Lindsey, recall all of our ships to New York and begin coordinating the reintegration of the Navy vessels that defected to our side. Confer with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and produce a report on our military assets, then speak with Director King and come up with recommendations for the invasion Bretonia is facing."
"Yes Mr. President," she said before she, too, left the room.
"Mr. Trent, unfortunately I've run out of offices to appoint people to," Lane said wryly.
"Oh, that's fine," said Trent. "I hate politics anyway."
"I still think you're a major asset to the war," said Lane. "I'd like you to continue to sit in on meetings as you have been. I'm sure I could create a position that would allow that. Tactical advisor, maybe?"
"Me?" chuckled Trent as he rose. "You'd ask me for advice on tactics?"
Lane shrugged. "Well, at any rate, take some much needed time off while we're getting everything ready. And Trent?" Trent turned to Lane as he reached the door. "Thank you for accompanying me on this mission."
"No problem, Mr. President."
As Trent left the room, he was certain he heard Lane mutter, "God, I hate being called that."
"So, all is finally well with Liberty?" asked Tobias.
"Well, I wouldn't go that far," answered Trent. "Everybody here still has an attitude problem. But at least they aren't trying to kill me anymore, so that certainly makes it better in my eye. How's the shop?"
"I've never had this much business," said Tobias brightly. "Everybody is wanting their ship armed now so that they can do something about the invasion. I swear, it's bloody amazing how this is turning out. I would wager that the civilian fighting force outnumbers the military's at this point."
"Are you going to be out there?"
"Bah! Like you even have to ask. Rheinland have stopped their assault on Holman, but they'll be back, and I'll be waiting for them. They'll rue the day they chose to make war with Bretonia, of that you can be certain."
"Mr. Trent, the Director and Chief Officer have arrived," said a voice in Trent's earphone. He sighed.
"Tobias, I've gotta go. King and Juni are here, and I suspect Lane will be calling a meeting any time."
"Very well Ed, I shall talk to you soon. Try to keep safe." With that, the line went dead. Trent made his way to conference room one, where Lane, Juni, King, and Lindsey were already assembled, along with an aide.
"Trent, we were just about to call for you," said Juni. "Good to see you again."
"Nice to see you, too, Juni," he replied. "So, this is where we decide who goes where?" he asked as he took a seat next to her. She nodded.
"Mr. President, I have the Joint Chiefs of Staff," said the aide.
"Thank you, Clarence," he said, dismissing her. The screen came on-line, showing four men in full military uniform along with seven other people bearing the rank of captain. "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Five hours into my Presidency and we're already holding a meeting to discuss a war."
"Are we at war with Rheinland, then?" asked one of the Chiefs.
"Technically, no, but if we allow Bretonia to fall they will pick off Hispania and invade us, rendering them and by extension the Orrids in complete control. I assume you have all read the brief on the Orrids and their involvement with the current crisis?" All of the Chiefs nodded. "We cannot allow them to take over Bretonia. What –" Lane stopped and frowned. "Where's Captain Forrester?"
"He's on leave," replied one of the Chiefs, "and the Omaha is undergoing a major refit; she won't be active for several months, I'm afraid."
Lane sighed. "What's the status of our other battleships?"
"Captains?" prompted one of the Chiefs.
"The Missouri is fully operational, no battle damage," answered Captain White.
"Virginia is still in drydock repairing damage from the battle in Zone-21," replied Captain Patterson with a wry grin. "I wouldn't recommend you giving us an order that requires use of an engine because we don't have any."
Lane winced. "Sorry about that."
"The Rio Grande is next to useless at the moment," said Captain Palmer grimly. "We're still a month away from having weapons back on-line."
Captain Wester leaned forward. "The Liberty still needs some repairs but the vast majority of our weapons are on-line. I think it would be safe to deploy immediately."
"Yukon is as battle-ready as the day she launched," reported Captain Findley.
"We're probably in even better shape than Yukon," said Captain Hurd of the Wisconsin.
"Harmony is finishing up a refit, but I think I could get her ready to move in a week," finished Captain Jefferson.
"We therefore have full use of four battleships, plus one more within the week," summed up King.
"I've also compiled a report for our cruisers," said one Chief as he looked down at a paper. "We have thirty-six in battle-ready condition and another five in reserve. That does not include the Vermont and Ticonderoga."
"Director, you've come up with a battle plan?" Lane asked.
"Yes, Mr. President," he responded as he pulled out several sheets of paper, "Rear Admiral Lindsey and I believe that this deployment will maximize Bretonia's chances of withstanding Rheinland's assault." He passed the papers around.
"Their weakest assault point is the one at Cambridge," continued Lindsey. "Only Myoko and a few Rheinland cruisers are attacking. I've recommended deploying Liberty and six cruisers to reinforce Norfolk and her destroyers, and the Bretonian Armed Forces are rushing the maintenance work on York and expect her to be under way within five days."
"Next, and where our strongest defense currently is, is Holman," said King. "I recommend sending Wisconsin and fifteen cruisers to assist Essex, Suffolk, Osiris, and their support ships."
"Finally," said Lindsey, "our weakest point is Alpha-39, defended solely by the Victory. Rheinland will attempt to take Zonell before making an assault into Bretonia, so we should stage our defense over Zonell. Missouri and Yukon, along with our remaining seventeen cruisers, should deploy there immediately. In addition, we should attempt to send in Harmony as soon as possible."
"Why such a large force?" asked Lane.
"Judging from the sizes of the fleets in Harris and Cambridge," replied King, "and our estimates for the Rheinland fleet, over half of their available ships are en route to Alpha-39. We need every ship we can spare to hold the line."
"How long until that fleet arrives in Alpha-39?"
"Unknown," said Lindsey with a shake of her head. "We're uncertain of their precise location, but we believe that they are somewhere in Delta-45. For a fleet of that size, I doubt they could arrive any sooner than six days."
"If we move out now, we can beat them there," said King. "Captain Jefferson, can you get Harmony under way in less time?"
"I'll have to speak with my chief engineer, but the estimate he gave me was a week."
Lane considered his options for several minutes. "If we do this," he said finally, "we won't have any ships to defend Liberty itself should Rheinland decide to invade."
"Actually, we can keep the Westfalen in Liberty," King said, "and I doubt Rheinland will attack anyway. They're focused solely on Bretonia."
"All right, then," Lane said after a few moments, "let's carry this out. Admiral, take command of Wisconsin and head up the task force to Holman. Director, take command of the task force in Alpha-39. Chief Zane, you'll be the commander of our forces in Cambridge. Let's do this, people." The three department heads stood and hurried from the room as the Joint Chiefs blinked out of existence. "Mr. Trent, what're you going to be doing?"
"I'll be with King in Alpha-39," he replied.
Lane nodded. "Good luck, then."
A/N: Merry Christmas everyone. This is my favorite chapter that I've written so far, and it's one of my longest, so I hope you'll enjoy this Christmas treat. This is, unfortunately, the last chapter that I have finished at the moment, but I'm back in the Freelancer "mood," so to speak. Thus, I should have the motivation to write more soon. Again, I won't give any guarantee on when the next update will be, but it will happen.