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The Working Theory

Captain Hull was hunched over a holo when she entered the outer chamber. The pale blue light he preferred gave his skin a ghostly hue. “Sit down, Agent York.”

“Thank you, Captain.” York seated herself in the chair facing him and waited for Hull to speak.

Hull ran his hand through the image and it disappeared. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on the desk. “The doctor and Lieutenant Tregaski have been looking into the attack, and they've made some quiet inquiries, but they're not making much headway.”

“On the gassing of my cabin?”

Hull inclined his head. “We officers tend to operate under the illusion that the deck is sacrosanct, but it's amazing how many enlisted personnel have access over the course of the day. Between cleaning, maintenance, mess attendants, cooks, the ship's patrol, once it's all added up, it amounts to nearly one-third of the crew.”

“I imagine you're accustomed to ignoring them,” she suggested. “They become part of the scenery over time.”

“That may be.” Hull paused before continuing. “I suppose it will interest you to know that among the crew members with confirmed access to the deck were two of the Dai Zhani crew members.”

“Which ones?”

“Char Wong, an engine technician, and Lu Singkai, maintenance. They came up to play Krabacci with Wallu, our mess attendant. I don't have any reason to suspect either of them concerning the attempt on your life, but events do seem to be transpiring as you predicted. So, I thought you should know.”

“Have they been up before?” asked York. “Or was their presence here unusual?”

“Wallu says they usually play once or twice per week. Apparently Singkai is quite good.”

“So I've heard. Did they arrive and leave together?”

“They didn't ask. There haven't been any interrogations since I didn't want to cause too much of a disturbance,” replied Hull. “If you think it's important, I can have Tregaski ask Wallu in confidence.”

“It's probably better that you didn't make an issue of it,” York suggested. “I'm confident we're dealing with amateurs here. Even if the attack had been successful, all it would have achieved was to confirm their presence and put you on your guard.”

“It did seem to smack of desperation. They'll find it harder to get at you now that we have been alerted.” Hull shifted back in his seat and folded his hands. “But that's not why I sent for you. When we exited transit, I received a message from Mosva. It was sent on behalf of the AID section chief. Do you recall that cyborg agent that made contact with House Dai Zhan?”

“Flare?” She sat up straighter. “Yes, of course.”

“Apparently she did more than make contact. She killed the agent, then disappeared. A bomb.”

“You're kidding!” York sat back in her chair, her eyes wide. “Not that she doesn't have blood on her hands, but she's wasted in basic wet work. Did the meet go bad?”

“The message didn't say. However, I was instructed to inform you that the working theory is that the cyborgs have effected some sort of alliance with Prince Li-Hu. The murdered agent was a double.”

“One of ours?”

“You know more about this sort of thing than I do.”

“Whose working theory?” asked York.

“The High Admiral, and, I presume, your Director Karsh. I understand the AID is working closely with the Navy on this one.”

York suppressed a smile, thinking that Hull almost certainly had the situation exactly backward. If anything, the admiral was waiting like a beggar on Karsh's doorstep, hoping for a few crumbs of information.

“Are these intelligence situations usually this complicated?” Hull asked her. It was clear that he found them not only distasteful, but confusing.

“Things are seldom straightforward, but this is more convoluted than anything I've ever experienced. But then, you understand, Captain, the stakes are almost beyond imagining!”

The captain nodded. He looked tired. The stress of knowing there was a traitor on his ship was obviously telling on him. Her heart went out to him. Here was a courageous man who was trained to risk his life by meeting an enemy face-to-face, a man ill-equipped to deal with disloyalty and secret knives in the night.

“Well, at least that Flare isn't our problem. And just in case you're wrong about her limits, I've banned all direct-feed entertainment devices and confiscated them from the crew. I'll be damned if I'll take any chances of her sabotaging this ship!”

York tried to keep a straight face. “With all due respect, Captain, I think we should be more concerned about the operatives known to be on board than a woman several subsectors away.”

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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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