The explosion happened no sooner than Mitsuko Yamato called a hold on disembarking from the king’s transport. She barely had time to get the hatch closed before the blast ripped through the shuttle attached to the ship. Even then, the force of the blast tore the outer door to the airlock away. She called up to the Command-and-Control and ordered the crew there to do an emergency detach.
“CNC, how many people did we lose?” she asked Running Fox, her chief of security from the Green Berets of House Red Cloud , one of the other Household Guard units.
“All five of the search team,” said Running Fox. “They never stood a chance.”
“Goddammit, ” Mitsuko swore under her breath. She felt her hand instinctively go to her sword, but it would do her no good here. Bombs did not do their damage with guns, blades, or anything else. They did their damage remotely. Or in a case of suicide bombers, they did it all at once before anyone had a chance to respond. To Mitsuko, it was the highest form of cowardice. “Is the king secure?”
Mitsuko knew the answer to that. He’d been looming right behind her for the past five minutes despite repeated scoldings to get into position for transfer. She turned to see his posture now rigid more from contained rage than the stiff discipline they’d both grown up with. Edward, as only she and a handful of old friends could call him, worked his jaw, his eyes wide and focused on the wreckage outside. Despite wearing the red dress uniform of House Windsor, he looked very much like he wanted to take two of her people, suit up in power armor, and go charging through the shuttle. Outside the airlock window however, she could see the shuttle still venting flame as it fell toward Earth. “The king is secure. And forgetting he’s no longer a combat officer. Did we get any word before the explosion happened?”
Someone else said, “Nothing. The team was doing a routine search when the explosion happened. We had just enough warning to slam the hatches shut.”
Well, she thought, there went a chance to question the crew. They may or may not have known something, but there was no way to know now. They were all dead.
And King Edward of Bonaparte, constituent leader of same, first of his name, leader of House Windsor, still lived. He also leaned on the balls of his feet, hand reaching for the Navy-standard sidearm he no longer carried. Never mind that the only place to charge into, guns blazing, would be a fireball spinning out of control in a few minutes.
“Remind me never to argue with you again on debarking a ship, ” said Edward. “Of course, I used to do the same when I was in Special Forces.”
“That’s your problem,” said Mitsuko. “You forget you’re no longer in Special Forces. You are a king. You are a constituent leader. You may not like the job, but part of your description is to be really, really important. Which means you need to watch your ass. Your Majesty.”
Edward relaxed and managed a politician’s smirk. ” You mean my royal ass, Lady Mitsuko.” His face took on a wistful expression, one she knew he had rehearsed over the years. “You know, Queen Mitsuko sounds so much better.”
“Maybe to you. I can’t stand the idea. And anyway, I’d just become another body to guard if I’m queen. This way I can watch your ass since I already know how to save my own.”
“Running Fox to leader, ” her unit CPO said. “Ship is secure, no casualties on our side. CNC crew has warned Border Guard about the falling shuttle.”
She knew what that meant. Whether or not anybody was alive on that ship, the Border Guard would have to shoot it down. There was no way to rescue anybody aboard without falling into the atmosphere with the shuttle. Any rescuers would be trapped and burned up on re-entry. But the shuttle could not be allowed to fall to Earth intact, or as close to intact as it was right now. If it hit a city, it would be like a small kinetic device fired from orbit, not large enough to devastate the city, but enough to level a neighborhood. Blasting it to pieces was the only way to be sure.
She hated this part of the job. “Maybe you should contact the families of the people we lost. They died defending their king. It’d be good to get some condolences from him.”
Edward’s face sank. ” I’ll get my assistants on it.”
“You will do it, or you can get a new head of security.” She ran a finger down his lapel, not caring who saw her do it. “And a new girlfriend. If we’re going to be together, formally or informally, then you’re not going to be a monarch who farms everything out. You’re ex-Special Forces. Dear. Act like it.”
Edward bowed his head in that way he had whenever he could not argue with her for chastising him. To her knowledge, she was the only one who wounded his pride regularly and got away with it. Part of that was because she was willing to tell him what he didn’t want to hear. Others had rarely done that since his coronation. “I trust you’d still be honest with me.”
“I don’t know any other way to be, bucko.” She grabbed her p-com. ” Can we get a priority car on the beanstalk in Kenya?”
“Border Guard will have a fit,” said Running Fox. “It’s all last minute. They’ll have to scramble to get him transport to Quantonesia.”
“Well, then tell Border Guard they should have done a better job keeping Cubist terrorists off their goddamn shuttle. That wasn’t our job; it was theirs.”
Mitsuko dreaded reaching the ground. She was going to have to depend on Compact Marshals to guard Edward. She didn’t like that. The Compact Marshals themselves were perfectly fine. Under normal circumstances, she’d almost insist on it. However, as long as Leitman was “acting” President, anything from the executive branch of the Compact raised suspicion. She’d already been in a combat situation against his “late” chief of staff.
Of course, it was an open secret that said chief of staff was not dead. That little bit of technology also disturbed her. It meant people who meant the Compact harm could be anywhere at any time. Which meant anyone who meant Bonaparte harm could be anywhere at any time.
“Captain to Sapper leader,” came the voice from the CNC, referencing her de facto Household Guard Division. “We have clearance to dock with the beanstalk. A contingent of Marines will be waiting for the king. And Border Guard has already arranged transport from the ground. Looks like they had a backup plan.”
“Well, that’s bloody marvelous, ” Mitsuko said, not bothering to keep the sneer out of her voice.
“You also have a summons from Cybercommand. Some O-6 named Weiss. Says you need to come to her office as soon as you hit the ground.”
This day just kept getting better and better, thought Mitsuko. Who knew? She might get to see the inside of a guillotine before it was all over. Did they even still build guillotines anymore? She put the morbid thought away, acknowledging CNC’s message about Cybercommand. “Tell Weiss I’ll be on my way. ”