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EPISODE 40

The Devil's Advocate

She changed the subject. “Speaking of keeping me on the scene, are you making any headway in your little investigation?”

“Frankly, I'm puzzled,” admitted Benbow. “The gas was cyanic, as you suspected. I've confirmed that, and I've also confirmed that we don't use it aboard ship, don't store it, and it can't be produced from anything we do store. Nor do we store the type of canister that was used in the attack. Everything was spirited aboard.”

“Doesn't surprise me,” she commented.

“No?” the doctor asked sharply. “That raises some questions. If the gas bomb were brought aboard, as apparently it was, then it presupposes a knowledge of what was to happen, how it was to be used. That's worrisome, Miss York, especially if the incident were related to whatever your mission happens to be.”

“Which it is,” she replied calmly.

The doctor studied her. “How could anyone, even the captain, have known that Draco would be sent out here? No one could have known that!”

“Well, I seem to have figured it out in time to catch a ride. Remember, Draco was by far the closest available ship of its class to this subsector, or it was until the Admiralty brought the Cetus out of the shipyard.”

“But why this subsector? Have we not yet reached the time you spoke of before, when our reason for being here would become apparent?”

“Not yet.” She exhaled heavily. “And if I transfer to the Cetus, it will never arrive.”

“And leave my curiousity unassuaged? You wound me, Miss York, you really do!” The doctor grinned and indicated her mug. “More coffee? I have to say, of all the various theories presently circulating through the crew, I favor the abandoned alien ship theory.”

“An alien ship?” she handed him the mug. “Interesting. And what is the reasoning behind that notion?”

“You've practically confirmed it, actually. An object deep in uninhabited space. A mysterious signal. The Admiralty and AID want it. House Dai Zhan wants it. The Singularitans want it, although I can't see how they have a hope in Hell of obtaining it, being blockaded as they are. Who knows what technological miracles await the first to arrive and claim it?”

“That makes sense,” she admitted.

“The only thing that doesn't make sense is the attempt on your life. Why the bomb?”

“I was the unpredictable element. There's always an unpredictable aspect to these situations, you know.” She paused, recalling how searing pain had poured down her throat and into her lungs, and shuddered at the memory. “My arrival panicked someone. He lost his head and decided to get rid of me. By doing so, he tipped his hand. And now I'm beginning to get the picture. A rather fantastic one, to be sure.”

“Alien fantastic?” Benbow said suggestively. “You know, I was thinking that you might not actually be a Directorate agent. You might be a xenologically-trained diplomat operating under the guise of an intelligence operative.”

“You have a vivid imagination, Doctor.”

“Comes with the profession. It just occurred to me that an intelligence operative wouldn't be expected to be caught with her pants down.”

“Literally,” she admitted. “Look, we're not superhuman, you know.”

“But are you what you say you are? That's really the question, isn't it?”

“Do any of us really know who we are?” She rose and accepted the mug from him. “I'm afraid I shall have to leave such questions to you and your fellow neuropsychologists, Dr. Benbow. Thank you for the coffee. May I take this with me?”

“By all means, Miss York.” The doctor made an ironic little bow as she smiled at him and departed.

Leaving the medical suite, York felt curiously invigorated. If Benbow enjoyed playing the devil's advocate, she found the exercise to be stimulating too. His notions concerning the possibility of an alien ship were amusing, but they weren't actually all that far off. What was the difference, in the end, between the desire of Terra's rivals to acquire the sunbusting technology and unknown alien technologies. In any case, their goal was to end the Ascendancy.

She wondered if Benbow would be disappointed if and when he learned the true situation. Well, they'd know soon enough. If only she could be certain of getting on-board the Cetus! She knew Director Karsh would be doing his best to get her to the stricken cruiser, but the introduction of this unexpected uncertainty so close to the crucial nexus made her nervous.

The strain was making her impatient. The waiting had been endless, unproductive tedium disrupted only by the clumsy attempt on her life, but now they were deep inside the Gelhart system, speeding toward the planet that the Rigel likely orbited. She could feel the climax gradually building, that moment when competing plots and plans and actions would come to boil, when the devious machinations of Prince Li-Hu and Dr. G and Director Karsh would be put to final test.

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The Devil's Advocate episode cover
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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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