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If the general should at any time capture spies, he should not employ any one single method in dealing with them. If he considers that his own army is weaker than that of the enemy, he should kill them, but if he has complete equipment of arms, thorough preparation for war, a powerful army, vigorous and disciplined, excellent officers, all trained by experience, he will make no mistake if, after making the spies examine his army drawn up in battle array, he occasionally even sends them away unharmed; for reported superiority of the enemy necessarily causes fear, but reported inferiority brings courage.

—from “Strategikos” by Onasander

HIS EYES reduced to slits and his thin lips pressed tightly together, August Karsh leaned forward to glare at his assistant. “An Anatolia Dorcas lands on Valatesta, and Flare shows up. A chip belonging to this same Dorcas pays for a taxi registered on Faraday and Flare happens to surface there as well. Do you seriously think these are coincidences, Clender?”

“Well, it's not confirmed, August–”

Karsh tapped a lean finger against the desk. “That's her—Anatolia Dorcas.”

“But how can she have evaded the security alerts,” Clender said, visibly worried. “We've had an all-ports out on Dorcas since before Flare killed the Faraday section chief.”

“Because that's what we're meant to believe!” Karsh snapped. “She's toying with us. She's baiting us. She's toying with me!”

“There's no record of an Anatolia Dorcas leaving Faraday, August. We've checked every ship's registry. Perhaps she's still there? Even with the local police and government assistance, it's going to take a while. We don't have much of a presence there.”

“It's useless,” Karsh replied acidly. “You may as well call it off. She's not on Faraday anymore. She wasn't using the Dorcas identity there either, she only paid for the taxi with the chip tied to the ID in order to draw attention to herself. Don't you understand, that's the game she's playing with us, she's poking us in the eye hard enough to concentrate our attention on where she isn't!”

“We're trying to cover that contingency. Agents on every world within five subsectors of Faraday are on alert.”

“She walked right into our planetary chief's office, commandeered his var, then assassinated him in a ridiculous manner meant to draw maximum attention throughout the whole sector, and you think an agent is going to spot her because he's been alerted?”

“Well, we've made it an absolute top–”

“Great suns of Centauri!” Karsh interrupted angrily. “Our agents haven't got a snowball's chance in Hell of catching her and we both know it!”

It was an uncharacteristic outburst. Clender said nothing. Karsh sat there, his face flushed red as he glowered in the uncomfortable silence.

“What's the matter, August?” Clender finally asked. “Opol's death seems to have bothered you a good deal more than Shek's.”

The director nodded shortly. “He was suborned.”

“Opol? No! By whom?”

“House Dai Zhan. A planetary chief, can you believe it? It was his wife. She was a Dai Zhani operative under deep cover. She passed all the vetting without raising a single flag, and we never would have known if she hadn't tried to run when the news of his death broke.”

“She thought we took him out!” Clender surmised.

“Understandably. They caught her at the starport and she's being sent here in an induced coma to ensure she doesn't suicide. But she's not important, although I am concerned about the idea that Li-Hu succeeded in penetrating us without our knowledge. The point is that this makes two.”

“Two what, deaths? I don't follow you, August.”

“Two double-agents. Mirror images of each other. One of ours, and one of House Dai Zhan's. Both dead, and both killed in the most public manner imaginable. Manners, I should say. She really outdid herself with the Faraday stunt.”

“You think Myranda Flare is sending a message?”

“I think Golem Gregor is sending a message,” Karsh said. “If Flare knew Shek and Opol were double agents, she wouldn't have targeted both of them unless there were some other object. One or the other might make sense, but not both. No, Clender, she had just one objective in mind—to draw our attention to her actions.”

“But why?” asked Clender perplexedly.

“To make us believe that the machines are trying to establish some sort of alliance with House Dai Zhan,” Karsh replied softly.

“How does that make sense? She killed Opol! A suborned planetary chief would have been one of Li-Hu's most valuable assets.”

“She's signaling that the attempts have failed, that no alliance has been effected.”

“You're losing me,” Clender admitted. “Why would she do that?”

“There is only one rational reason. To mask the fact that such an alliance is already in place,” Karsh answered.

“Why would Dr. G want to do that? What difference would it make to us?”

“If we knew that such an alliance were in effect, we would assume both parties were working together and respond accordingly. By killing Opol, Golem Gregor is trying to convince us that no such alliance exists, hoping that we will focus our attention on Li-Hu's agents rather than his. Ironically, this would increase his potential value to Li-Hu by giving him an alternative means of retrieving the information if he cannot manage to retrieve the technology itself.”

Clender shook his head. “That's convoluted, August. Even for you. And, if you don't mind my saying so, more than a little far-fetched.

“It's a hypothesis,” Karsh replied. “But it's logically sound and it's my working one until something more convincing suggests itself.”

“Why would they use Flare? Why not someone more expendable?”

“One could say that her actions have two functions,” Karsh answered. “In addition to concealing the alliance between Li-Hu and the cyborgs, I'm sure it hasn't escaped your attention that she's gradually been moving further and further away from the subsector of interest. Why? Because she knows we'll be intent on tracking her. One would almost suspect she's trying to draw our attention from what is happening in Zero Seven Zero Two, which is of course nonsense. She's valuable, and she's dangerous, but she's hardly a Shiva-class cruiser.”

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A Mind Programmed

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Vox Day
The Greater Terran Ascendancy finds itself facing a historic crisis when the Shiva-class cruiser ATSV Rigel goes missing during a routine patrol through the Kantillon sector. Fortunately, the Ascendancy Intelligence Directorate's top operative, Daniela York, is on the scene.
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