It would surprise some to know that Carlos DeLong found equally distasteful both of the communiques loaded on his datapad. The first was the news about Jinx Katarn. They had not been ‘friends’, not precisely… but still at times comrades, sword-brothers in the old way. A pity that he could not go to the memorial himself, or even send a representative: the contents of the second communique forbade that.
He sipped his drink and leaned back in his desk chair, staring out the great window over looking the capital city. The worst part, he had to admit to himself, was not Jinx’s death. Rather it was how the man had died. Janet and Mark both had been his friends, and he’d known Les since before the boy could talk. He understood – perhaps as well as anyone could – the nakama bond which had formed between Janet and Jinx. Such things tended to be stronger than the bonds between carbon atoms, or the bonds between quarks.
Or even the bonds of blood.
He shuddered at that conjuring and revised his earlier estimate: the communique from Coruscant was far, far more distasteful than the communique from Parliament. In fact –
The communications buzzer rang out, interrupting his train of thought. Carlos set down his drink and pressed the reply stud.
“Commodore Drax is here to see you, sir.”
Already? It’s only been three days since he visited the Red…
“All right, Mal. Send him in.”
Carlos set his drink down on his desk, then pushed the datapad a bit to one side and also tried to push Corsucant out of his mind. He was not entirely successful, until the door whooshed open and a bleary-eyed Drax walked mostly-erect into the room.
“Forget about that and just sit down, Commodore,” Carlos said when Drax tried to draw to attention and salute. “You look terrible. When did you last sleep, anyway?”
“I am uncertain, sir,” Drax said as he plopped down into a chair. “I believe I slept the day before I went to the Red, but much of that time is now a blur.”
“Working that hard?”
“Bad mental images.”
“Ah. Carlotta told you her story, then.”
“Yes. I had believed that I had left that sort of… vile behavior… far behind when I came here. Then, when she called in the sub…” He shuddered, then closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I will never, ever, truly understand that mindset.”
They were quiet for a moment.
“If it makes you feel any better, I had the same reaction when Carlotta and I first set this whole thing up. It took a few weeks before I could get a good night’s sleep.”
“So you sent me there,” Drax said opening his eyes, “knowing the entirety of what she would say?”
“Yes, I did. Because I’m not the one doing to the intelligence analysis and briefs anymore; you are. You needed to know about that mindset, the sort that enjoys pain, or else you can’t understand this new enemy. So, I’m sorry if sending you there blew your mind and made you need brain-soap, but what I need to know is, were you able to use what you learned?”
It could have been worse, commodore, Carlos thought with certain amused sympathy. I only sent you to the Red, and it’s a lot easier to leave alive after a conversation with Carlotta, than it is to leave alive after I’ve sent you into combat.
Eventually Drax nodded.
“Yes, sir. I did. Is your pad set to receive?”
“Yes it is. How long?”
“Only a couple of seconds.”
Carlos picked up his datapad and minimized the two prior communiques.
Drax tapped a control on his datapad, and Carlos pressed on his, to acknowledge the file transfer. Two seconds later the report appeared on his screen, and he quickly scanned it. Then he pursed his lips and whistled.
“Eighty-six percent certainty?”
“Best we could do, even with the mindset data,” Drax replied. “If we had word from the Garqi mission, I might be able to shore it up some more. But…”
“But it’ll be awhile before they extract,” Carlos said, quickly doing to the math. “And even longer before the data gets to Tag, and then from Tag to you. So. An eighty-six percent chance that this one raiding group – Delta, I believe – will strike the facilities at Aten-Re in the next three weeks.”
“Specifically, within the next eighteen days. RG Delta has had the great misfortune of leaving a pattern.”
“Really? Do you have a plot of-”
“Scroll down two pages, and-”
“Ah, found it.” Carlos stared at the plot. Then he blinked, held the datapad at arm’s length, and stared at it some more. Then he cocked his head sideways a bit.
“I recommend examining it while sleep deprived, and after a discussion on whips and chains,” Drax offered helpfully.
“I’ll take your word for it,” Carlos said, and then he scrolled back up to the main analysis. “Were there any indications on the other three groups?”
“No, sir. None of the others operate according to any discernible pattern, not even the one which hit Xenen; we’ve confirmed the identity of that force. The only way to intercept them would be set pickets out all along the Shermach-”
“-which we don’t have the legal authority for, much less the ship power. And if we can catch this one group-”
“Then whoever is coordinating these will have their combat power cut by one-quarter. Which is not much.”
“But it’s better than nothing.”
“Agreed. So do we send this to the New Republic?”
“Send it to- oh, that’s right. They haven’t announced it yet.”
“They have not announced what? And to which ‘they’ do you refer?”
Carlos grinned at him.
“Drax, you’ll find out tonight on the six o’clock. But since I’m not evil,” he added hastily, when Drax began glaring, “I’ll forward you what Parliament sent me two hours ago.”
He called up the second communique on his datapad, set the address, and hit the send control. Drax waited for the incoming message, clearly wondering why his CO didn’t just tell him, and then tapped the receive control. He opened the message, and as he read it his eyes got big as dinner plates. When he was done, he looked up at Carlos.
“Frak,” he whispered, almost in awe. Carlos nodded.
“The Speaker officially has enough votes for the resolution. As of the vote tonight,” Carlos said quietly, “the GDF will be authorized to conduct offensive operations against the Yuuzhan Vong outside of the Golgan system, ‘for the duration’.”
“After L2.VIII? I am not surprised.”
“Nor am I. So. I am not going to hand this data over to New Republic High Command. For one thing, they’ve got a lot on their plate right now, and little enough attention to spare. For another…well, like you said, ‘L2.VIII’. I think the boys want a bit of their own back.”
Drax sat up straight, his eyes alight.
“What do you need from me, sir?”
“I need for you to get some sleep, friend,” Carlos said gently. “You, frankly, look like hell, and I’ll need you in one piece for tomorrow.”
“0700. I haven’t announced it yet. Visit Medical for a no-dream, if you have to, but I want you rested, Drax. We have an ambush to plan.”
Carlos stood, signaling the end of the interview; Drax did likewise, though a bit unsteadily.
“Sleep, I believe, is one order which I will gladly follow,” he said, and then saluted. Carlos returned the salute, and then Drax turned and headed for the door. Carlos waited until he had reached it.
“Oh, and Drax?”
“Sir?” Drax said, as the door whooshed open. Carlos smiled at him.
“Good work. Very good work.”
Drax returned the smile and nodded, slightly.
“Thank you, sir,” Drax said, and left.
When the door closed, Carlos let out a great whoosh of breath and then turned back to the window. He stood there for a long time, watching the city. Everyone going about their business as if nothing had changed, unknowing that their world was about to get a bit red target painted on it.
But we’ve had that target on us ever since that Vong fleet crossed heliopause and hit L2.VIII, Carlos thought to himself. Shoot, the galaxy as a whole has had a target sign painted on it since Belkadan and Helska. The declaration from Parliament, this possible ambush… those change nothing. Those are just concessions to this new reality.
He touched the window.
This really is a beautiful world. But so long as the Yuuzhan Vong are in conquer mode, it’s threatened. Which means that my duty is clear.
He walked way from the window, and pressed the call stud on his desk.
“Mal, contact the senior staff; inform them there will be a strategy and tactics meeting at 0700 tomorrow.”
“Yes, sir,” his flag-lieutenant replied, and only the slightest tremor in her voice told him that she understood why the subject was strategy and tactics.
“Once that is done, forward the same invite to Admiral Bridger, on Xenen.”