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CHAPTER THIRTEEN

The fleet now lying off Mobile is certainly the finest our country has ever had the pleasure of boasting of, and, with the exceptions of iron-clads, is now ready to perform any duty that may be assigned it. Blockade running still continues, but the 'rebs' must think it at a money-losing business, for during the past month one large steamer has been captured and the other night another was chased ashore.

—“The Blockade of Mobile”, The Baltimore-American, 1864.191

AUGUST KARSH glanced up from his work as Clender burst into his office, visibly excited. Karsh's own immediate reaction was one of triumph; his assistant's expression told him all he wanted to know. Nevertheless, he kept his face impassive as befitted the all-knowing head of the Directorate.

“Well?”

“We just got word,” answered Clender, fighting to keep his voice under control in the face of his superior's calm. “A passenger named Dana Smithson of Marta—that's fourth of the sun Coulson—booked passage for Terentulus the day before Flare contacted Opol. And sure enough, she departed Faraday within three hours of the time the Diamagnet was struck by Opol's vehicle.

“That's our girl, Clender.” Karsh slapped the desk with finality, sensing a deep satisfaction. Events were falling into place just as he had predicted. Myranda Flare had doubled back and she was racing to rendezvous with Li-Hu's agents. The plan was beginning to crystalize. There was an alliance, all right, as suspected. Well, they'd both fall, Dr. G and the prince alike. And Myranda Flare. Not that it would be easy. Flare was not the sort who would be easily taken.

He mused on the aliases. “Myranda Flare alias Anatolia Dorcas alias Dana Smithson, alias X. You won't find her under the name of Smithson, Clender. Have you checked with the Marta authorities?”

“We have top priority requests underway, August. It'll take time.”

“You needn't bother. I imagine we'll be informed there is no Dana Smithson,” Karsh predicted. “Or if there was, we'll find the identification belongs to a child who died two decades ago.”

“She won't get away this time,” Clender replied confidently. “Our office on Terentulus is fully briefed and is on full alert.”

“No, she will not,” Karsh agreed. “And they had better catch her. Their lives depend upon it. We have her pinned to a planet, and this time she'll stay pinned. I've made Terentulus a trap, a planet-sized trap, Clender.”

“How can a planet be a trap, August?”

“The High Admiral has already given the order. No ship will be allowed to lift from any part of Terentulus, not even for atmospheric travel. The blockade is already moving into place. Terentulus is sealed off more completely than the cyborg worlds, Clender.”

“So she is trapped?” Clender.

“Completely,” Karsh declared, “and on a relatively small agricultural planet. She can't hide for long in that environment. As per my advice, the Admiralty has diverted Cetus to Terentulus.”

“From Zero Seven Zero Two?” asked Clender, startled.

Karsh nodded. “Two birds, one stone. The High Admiral agreed it would be foolish to give House Dai Zhan's agents a second crack at a Shiva-class ship. And this leaves the matter in Daniela York's very capable hands.”

“I know we're preventing all ships from lifting off.” Clender paused speculatively. “I presume we'll be intercepting incoming ships as well?”

“The ship captains all have orders to shoot all unknown craft on sight. Terentulus is the focal point of this plot, not a barren subsector. Flare had no hope of getting to a stricken ship in deep space. Where does that leave us? The saboteurs must have some plan for reaching her on Terentulus or whatever planet she was travelling to afterwards. That's the only possible explanation. My guess is that the base on Mosva is her intended final destination. It's only two subsectors away and there is a daily courier ship between the two systems.”

“The rescue ship,” Clender breathed. “That's the only way they could be certain.”

“Exactly.”

“But even if the survivors are quarantined, there is no way to be certain they can't pass a message to a crew member on the rescue ship!”

“It's York's job to see that they don't,” he answered. “That's why I want Draco on the scene, not Cetus.”

“That's risky,” Clender warned. “What's to prevent them from taking over Draco the way they took over Rigel, then putting her into hypertransit on a course for one of the Dai Zhani worlds? It's logical, August. If they have Draco, they don't need Flare.”

“You're forgetting one important element,” Karsh pointed out. “Why didn't they simply do that with Rigel? Because they haven't got the navigator, Clender. That's evident.”

“The fact that they don't have one on Rigel doesn't mean they don't have one on Draco.”

“Absolutely true. Which is why our first move was to blockade the Dai Zhani systems. A considerable portion of the Navy is either there already or on its way. A one-man lander couldn't get through the net we've thrown around Li-Hu's little empire. Any ship that lifts off is intercepted before it can get into hypertransit.”

“You're blockading the commercial lines?”

“Everything,” Karsh declared. “Which Dr. G no doubt anticipated, hence the mutual aid society. Li-Hu is relying on Flare, which is exactly the point her hits on Opol and Shek were designed to conceal.”

“How has Li-Hu reacted to the blockade?”

“The expected diplomatic protests. Feigned outrage and media fodder.” Karsh shrugged indifferently. He was unmoved by such things. “He's caught, Clender, fair and square. He made his play, he's getting his hand slapped. He never had any intention of going to war over this. Once we take his operatives, he'll wash his hands of the whole affair and pretend it never happened.”

“Will we let him?”

“Of course. Diplomacy demands it,” Karsh answered. “What is diplomacy if not the art of pretending to believe what both parties know perfectly well to be untrue?”

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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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