The mood in the war room was glum, to say the least. Colonel Oltman had positioned a satellite above the Tharsis Bulge, so that all of them could watch the live video feed of the mothership floating above Olympus Mons. It seemed to be powering up.
“Madam Prime Minister?” called Chee from his jet. “How are you doing?”
“How am I doing?” Norine Maciel almost laughed. “How are you doing?”
“We’re fine, Ma’am,” Chee said, answering for the thousand pilots he was leading on their way to Olympus Mons. “Getting our second wind. Goldberg’s playing some really obnoxious music to wake people up.”
“Yeah, I noticed,” answered Norine. “The mothership is very, very close to the caldera. You’re not gonna have much room to shoot the cables. And when you get that close, of course the mothership will shoot you down with its own blasters. And you won’t be falling onto a mountain like Mt. Sharp, you’ll be landing in a bed of hot lava.”
“All due respect, Madam,” Al-Basani put in, “that’s just part of the job.”
The Prime Minister looked at the same reading they were looking at. The M.U. jets were ten minutes away. Ever since Rhodes’ announced his deal with Aquinas, the 51% number had plummeted; Oltman’s current simulations gave them a 22% chance of success.
A door to the war room slid open. It was Azalea, the woman who’d knocked Martina off the mini-Petronas. She was holding a gun to Peoria’s head. “Norine Maciel!” she shouted.
Already standing, Norine faced Azalea and placed her open-palmed hands in the air. Every single person in the room stood up, and most of them pulled guns out of their holsters. No one bothered with a bo in a moment like this. Too bad Martina isn’t here, Norine thought.
“Call off your jets,” said Azalea, “Or I kill the only normal grandchild you have left.” There was something about her voice that Norine found – curious.
“Look at that screen,” replied the Prime Minister. “We only have a 22 percent chance. Why not just let them try?”
“Do you want this child to be missing a head? Tell them to stand down. Now.” Yeah, Norine was certain. She’d noted traces of the same thing in the viral vid of Azalea fighting Martina. With her peripheral vision, Norine saw that every gun in the room was trained on Azalea. Or were they?
“Falke?” asked the Prime Minister.
Both of Falke’s hands were on his weapon’s barrel. His eyeline ran straight through his weapon’s sight, to Azalea. “Yes?”
“Shoot Samoset. Now!” As she spoke, Norine dropped to the floor like an anvil into a lake.
Senator Samir Samoset shot his gun right where Norine had been. His shot just barely missed. Falke wheeled around and blew him away.
Azalea said, “Wángbā!” and threw Peoria to the ground. She withdrew her bo, knocked out three generals, and almost made it to Norine before Senator Jodie Weaver managed to shoot her as she bounded.
“Wángbā bitch,” spit Weaver.
Azalea and Samoset died bleeding on the war room floor.
Chatterjee ran to Peoria. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah, but that was scary!” said the little girl.
“Yes,” agreed Chatterjee. “Yes, it was.”
Generals Rainier and Hasan helped Madam Prime Minister to her feet, and she embraced Peoria like she had just won a marathon.
“Chatterjee,” said Norine, “I need you to go to Pablo and Drigo right away. My ring confirms their hearts are beating, but they may be unconscious or injured. Revive them if necessary and bring them here.”
“Right away,” said Chatterjee.
Holly Guen-hye’s jaw may as well have been dragging on the ground. “How did you…?”
“Know? I didn’t. Well, not everything.” The crowd quieted down. For the first time ever, no one in the war room was looking at a screen. “I knew we had a mole without knowing who it was. All their propaganda had made me into some kind of devil, so they had to kill me or they would have looked impotent even in victory. If our defenses hadn’t held the White House, we would have never learned who the mole was…well, we’d all be dead, except perhaps Samoset. But I hoped they’d hold, so I laid a trap. I allowed Chatterjee’s cousin to get into the war room, and I let that be known to most of this room – so that Peoria could theoretically be used the same way.”
“This is the part I don’t understand,” said General Hasan. “You used a sansei, I mean, your granddaughter as bait?”
“Not exactly,” answered Norine. “Check Azalea’s gun.” If I were a man, Norine thought, I’d pick it up and shoot it at someone. But I’m not a man. Thank God.
Falke opened Azalea’s weapon. “These are blanks. It’s a pop-gun. How did you know?”
Norine got the text from Chatterjee: They’re fine. “Peoria, I need you to go see Grandpa now, is that okay?”
“Not really,” she answered. Nonetheless, Norine assigned a colonel to escort Peo out of the room. When Norine turned, she was surprised to see the room still looking at her.
“Know your enemy,” Norine said to them. “We’ve been fighting a rhetorical war about the definition of slavery: we say it’s any child labor, anyone working for less than a certain minimum wage…they don’t. Based on how Azalea talked to Martina, I knew how she behaved when she was exaggerating. I also knew she was familiar with the politics, and thus I knew she wouldn’t kill a child, knowing that two worlds would eventually see the vid. She hoped we would, you know, fire at her and wound her, for Rhodes’ propaganda. But she technically wouldn’t have killed her.”
Guen-hye looked like she’d swallowed old cheese. “You bet your grandchild’s life on that?”
“And mine. The whole thing was Azalea’s ruse to get every gun in the room pointed in…almost one direction. After Samoset shot me, he could claim I was just in the way.”
Even Falke was stunned. “But how did you know it was Samoset?”
“Well…only Facrogle could have been secretly paying for both the pro-Aquinas and pro-Rhodes news feeds the whole time, as a broader campaign to undermine the administration. It was possible Samoset didn’t know, but unlikely. When I realized that the tape feed in Peoria’s room had been put on a fake loop, I got a little more suspicious even as I let him think that confronting it was his idea.”
“You let him think what?” asked General Hasan.
“I tried to remain in a part of the room where I could look off the reflections of screens to see guns behind me,” Norine continued. “When Samoset was the only one pointed at me, that was it.”
“Norine Maciel,” said Jodie Weaver, “Used to be considered quite a strong actress.”
“Well, I have my moments.”
“Hey, people,” said General Rainier, “three minutes until the jets arrive.” People scrambled back to their stations.
“Unfortunately,” said Guen-hye, “We’re still at 22%.”
“This is one war room vid we might want to release,” exulted Weaver.
Falke grinned as well. “I underestimated you, Madam.”
“Oh, you don’t know the half of it.”
“What else?” said Guen-hye.
“Well, for one thing, I’ve known about Aquinas the entire time.”
“And why did you keep that to yourself?” asked Falke. “It might have helped our military planning.”
“I decide what helps our military planning.” Norine fixed him with a look. “In this case, I’ve been concerned about moles for a while – things that our enemies shouldn’t have known. I looked everywhere, including into the interior of Olympus Mons. Despite Aquinas’ grandiose rhetoric, I didn’t think he really had it in him to cut himself off from both worlds forever. Long story short, because of Olympus Mons’ proximity to our atmosphere, it can send signals to Earth on a very unusual, never-used gigahertz frequency. They used it, I eavesdropped.”
“And he never knew you were listening?” asked Guen-hye.
“He was too arrogant to believe I would figure out how to try.” The Prime Minister turned to Falke. “The truth is, you’ve been using their information, Falke. You just didn’t know it.”
Falke fingered his chin. “Example?”
“The position of the mothership. The schematics of the mothership.”
Falke frowned. “We would have found those anyway.”
“Exactly what we wanted them to believe,” said Norine. “As your Prime Minister, I decide when it’s worth it for them to know that we know, and I decide…” she looked at Weaver, “…when they need to see a performance.”
“Oh come on, Norine,” said Guen-hye. “What other shoe is about to drop?”
“To tell you the truth, Holly, I’m not sure. Let’s find out.”
Chee and Al-Basani’s jetcams showed, in the far distance, the massive mothership hovering over Olympus Mons.