Chapter 2

The following day, Dale was surprised to see the construction gangs leaving for the Hazards, first thing in the morning. Natasha came striding into the Engineering Bay, mood first.

"Have the Brass gone through that data already?" Dale asked.

"No idea." Natasha said shortly. "It seems that the construction gangs know nothing about all this. They're just carrying on with the job they were contracted to do."

"I take it the Admiralty hasn't been in touch with you either." Dale commented and Natasha snorted.

"Those workers should have been grounded here until that data was processed properly. Bedlam didn't contact us after four decades just because they were bored. Speaking of contacts, all our channels are blocked and I'm not sure who's responsible. This is still my Station!"

"Do you want me to try and unjam them?" Dale offered.

"No, Dale." Natasha heaved a sigh. "If it's the Brass who jammed them then I don't think they'd appreciate us clearing them. All we can do ..."

"Sir! Officer Grey came running into the Bay. " Sir, excuse the intrusion. There's an argument in Communications, Sir. Admiral Foley and the Bedlite."

"What?" Natasha shouted. "They're in Communications?"

"No Sir, they're fighting over the secure channel. All other channels, including the internal ones, are all inoperable." Grey explained.

"Dale, come on. I don't bloody believe this." Natasha marched from the bay, Dale hurrying to keep up with her.

The two people involved in the communication channel argument were clearly Admiral Joel Foley and Sor Vanley. At the time Natasha and Dale entered the room, Vanley was insulting Foley in good style and Foley was bellowing in outrage.

"Sirs! Please!" Natasha shouted above the roaring. "Had I known this communication was to take place now, I would have been here to receive you both. With respect, I find it insulting to have my Station used in this way without any consultation whatsoever." The communicators were silent, but the lines were still open. "May I at least know who contacted whom? I was under the impression that this was arranged for a later time in the day."

"This ... this ... person forced a direct link to HQ." Foley snapped.

"Get your workers out of that space, Foley." Vanley growled.

"You are in no position to make demands! That is still Commonwealth Space. You are in Commonwealth space!" Foley stated flatly.

"We ceased to be Commonwealth property when the Commonwealth abandoned us." Vanley shot back. "Look we've just done all this! Ironically enough, I'm the one trying to save your workers! You're sending them to their deaths, Foley!"

"Admiral Foley, Sir." Natasha spoke up. "Are we to presume that your scientists have processed that data?"

"Have they buggery!" Vanley snapped.

"Sor Vanley, please! That isn't really helpful, is it?" Natasha glared at the communicator.

"No ma'am." Vanley replied and Natasha got the impression he was smirking. "The good Admiral insinuated that we were being stubborn and selfish and merely out to protect our own privacy. Personally I can't see the problem with that, however this isn't a personal matter."

"So you admit that your concern for my workers is all rot. Genuine concern would be personal, and you state that the matter is not." Foley said smugly.

"By the stars you're a prick." Vanley heaved. "Right, try this for size. Fifeogen has the potential to be converted into fusion weapons. Warheads, Admiral Foley. Now you know this because our Boffins told you this in their report. There really aren't alot of other uses for the poxy stuff. I'd rather not have brought that up in front of the Station Staff, no disrespect Captain Crown. It's a non issue though. As I keep telling you, you cannot mine and handle the stuff."

"And we're supposed to be all good with the fact that the Bedlites have the capability to manufacture fusion bombs?" Foley said in alarm. "I can assure you, Vanley, our mined and processed Fifeogen will not be used for such a purpose."

"So why do you want it?" Vanley asked quietly.

"You don't have to concern yourself with that, It's classified." Foley sounded furious and frustrated.

"Commonwealth classified. I'm sure the Blockade Planets would be very interested to know that the Commonwealth Admiralty were attempting to extract Fifeogen. Like I said, there aren't many uses for it." Vanley stated.

"You'd risk a full interplanetary war? You're insane. You're also testing the water, Vanley. No sane human being would risk that."

"I'm not human. Take your workers away from our atmosphere, Admiral."

"And if I refuse?"

"Then the Blockades will know you are researching Fifeogen warheads within a week." Vanley delivered then waited.

"My Colleagues and I are in no doubt that such a lie could have catastrophic consequences. The matter needs deeper and more constructive discussion. Would you agree to a meeting in person on the Cumberland? It would be in the best interests of everyone involved." Foley said at last.

"No one has ever left Bedlam." Vanley pointed out.

"And we can't survive your atmosphere." Foley countered. "Station Cumberland has hosted many meetings involving dignitaries from many worlds. I'm sure you aren't suggesting that you'd be mistreated?"

"Absolutely not!" Natasha blurted. "Sor Vanley, you will be made very welcome on my Station. I'll see to it myself that you are well catered for."

"I'll be in touch." Vanley said. "Foley, have your ... colleagues ... there by midnight your time. If we're not there within thirty minutes from then, we aren't coming. As I said, no one's ever left Bedlam. Captain Crown, thank you." The link was closed and all the Station communications returned to normal. Natasha and Dale exchanged glances, neither daring to speak. The dim lights over the communicator showed that Admiralty HQ was still linked.

"Captain Crown." Foley said quietly. "The Admiralty aren't in the habit of dancing to anyone's tune. However, this is an exceptional matter, as I'm sure you'll agree. Make arrangements to accommodate them. If they don't show, we'll use the venue for our own discussions."

"Yes Sir." Natasha replied. Foley dismissed Natasha and she gratefully left, taking Dale with her.

"Bombs?" Dale said in shock, once they were in Natasha's private rooms. "Fusion bombs?"

"If the Bedlites wanted fusion bombs it could only be for one purpose. Seeing as none have been launched at their historic jailors, The Commonwealth, I assume they've never actually manufactured any." Natasha reasoned.

"But they have the ability, knowledge and resources to do so." Dale pointed out.

"It seems to me that had no choice but to study their atmosphere in great detail and depth in order to survive. They studied it and lived Dale. Remember, they were men and women just like us at one time." Natasha rubbed her temples. "I can't bring myself to accept that our Admiralty wants Fifeogen for that purpose. It just doesn't make any sense."

"They seem pretty eager to get it although I have to agree with you. No one wants a war on that scale, no one at all. Do you think Varley was bluffing about informing The Blockades?" Dale asked seriously.

"Possibly but The Commonwealth can't afford to take a risk, no matter the size of that risk." Natasha let out a long sigh. "I have a whole Station to prepare so I'd better get on with it."

"Will you be at the meeting, do you think?" Dale stood up.

"I don't think, I know. I've hosted enough Brass conferences to know I'm legally entitled to be there and I wouldn't miss this for anything, nor will you." Natasha said decisively.

"Me? You want me there? I doubt protocol entitles the Engineer to be among it." Dale said doubtfully.

"My Station, remember. I entitle you to be among it. Dress uniform, report to the Docking Bay at eleven thirty." Natasha began issuing orders via her computer and Dale left to assess the condition of his much neglected dress uniform.

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