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A Matter of Survival

“I haven't forgotten about them. Or about the operatives you're saying will be among the survivors. But they're human. This Flare isn't. How can you catch such a woman?”

She shrugged. “You probably couldn't on a well-populated planet, such as Terra or Kalar. Too many people, too many skulljacks.”

“So if she ever got aboard a ship travelling towards such a world–”

“You'd never catch her,” York asserted. “So, it's just as well she isn't on Rigel. Otherwise, the information would be as good as in Dr. G's hands.”

“How could she get it back to Kurzweil if the Dai Zhani are finding it hard to reach Zhuhai?” Hull asked bluntly.

“I imagine the good doctor has any number of agents scattered around. Especially on Terra.”

“Cyborgs on Terra? That's hard to believe.”

“Nevertheless, it's true.” York smiled. “The Directorate penetrates the Singularitan worlds. Do you imagine Dr. G is any less adroit?”

“I couldn't say,” Hull answered stiffly.

“He isn't. Take it from me.”

“You forget, we keep those worlds sealed off, Miss York. A gnat couldn't slip through.”

“Is Myranda Flare smaller than a gnat?”

Hull, vexed, flushed red. “All right, she got through, though I don't know how.”

“You can't possibly stop them all, Captain. The Draco and the other blockading ships serve to keep traffic to a minimum. But there is an amount of surreptitious traffic. I know, that's how we get in and out ourselves. It's not as if we can simply have an Ascendancy ship drop us off at the spaceport.”

“I suppose you're right. Nevertheless, I'm entirely confident that the admiral is taking all possible precautions, York. In fact, it's beginning to look very much as if we won't be in on the kill after all, which would be a pity.”

“Why not?” York asked sharply.

“There is a Shiva-class cruiser already in transit here.” Hull told her. “ATSV Cetus. By a fortunate coincidence, it was undergoing repairs on one of the naval bases in a nearby subsector. The repairs weren't vital, so the Admiralty ordered her here.”

“It will arrive here? When?”

Hull nodded. “In thirty-five hours. But she's scheduled to come out of hypertime closer to the third planet than we did.”

“Two ships are better than one, I suppose.”

“No, I wouldn't be at all surprised if we were ordered back to Xigaze.”

“Before Rigel is even found?” said York, incredulous. “I can't believe that!”

“There are reasons, Miss York.”

“Such as?”

“The Admiralty's policy is to restrict all information concerning the Shiva technology to certain qualified captains. I don't happen to be one of them. And I don't mind saying, Agent York, I regard it as a wise policy. From an operational point of view, I realize Cetus is more than adequate for any emergency that might arise.”

“Was the Rigel?” York asked softly.

Hull flushed. “I will point out that if it turns out that Rigel was sabotaged, it will be the first case in over three centuries, and I can assure you that it won't happen again. We are aware of the danger now.”

York leaned back, trying to restrain her fury. “How can you say that, in view of what happened on your own ship? You have an attempted murderer aboard, and you don't know who he is, or what he might do, or how he might be linked up to what happened aboard the Rigel. I'm telling you, Captain, it will be a terrible mistake if I am not there to interrogate the survivors!”

“This is a Naval matter, Agent York!” Hull snapped angrily.

“No, because you're dealing with enemy intelligence operatives, and that means counterintelligence! That means it is the Directorate's responsibility.”

Hull raised both his hands. “I'm not denying your expertise would be useful, but let me make it very clear. I will follow whatever orders I am given, as is my duty.”

She thought quickly. This was a disaster! “I must be there, Captain Hull. Can you arrange for me to transfer to the other ship?”

“To Cetus?” He was quiet for a moment. “I can request it once they come out of transit. I can even advise it.”

“Please do so,” she said urgently. “It is vital!”

He raised a finger. “I will, but please recall that I can only advise. Admiral Garstig captains Cetus and he outranks me. If he won't have you, there will be nothing I can do about it.”

She nodded quickly. “I understand. Thank you, Captain. But please, please, be persuasive! And also, can you send a message to the Admiralty asking them to talk to Director Karsh about the situation and discuss the possibility of me transferring ship? If they would see fit to give the appropriate orders to Admiral Garstig, that would be satisfactory.”

“Agent York, August Karsh hasn't the slightest say where naval operations are concerned. He might advise, yes, but not give orders.”

“We're dealing with the sunbuster here, Captain. This is about the survival of the Terran empire! And this isn't a space battle, it's an intelligence operation. Those are the facts, and you should pray to whatever God you believe in that the Director can make the Admiralty see sense!”

“I'll do what I can,” Hull said wearily. “You never stop, do you, Agent York.”

“I'll stop when I'm dead.”

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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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