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An Almost Preternatural Calm

Draco was rapidly approaching Bonoplane when the scanners picked up a sizable metal object orbiting the uninhabited planet. Summoned by Tregaski, Daniela York hurried to the bridge, finding the captain huddled with Galton.

Hull turned and briefly explained the situation. “We've found the missing cruiser. It's definitely Rigel. The transponder identification confirmed our tight-beam query.”

“Did you initiate communications?” asked York. She noted that the captain appeared to have filled in the officers present on at least part of the true situation.

“Not yet.” Hull hesitated. “I thought it might be advisable to confer with you first.”

“I think you're correct. My recommendation would be to avoid giving them a heads up,” she advised. “Is there any chance they know we're here?”

The captain shook his head. “They're not sending out any sweeps. They're essentially blind.”

“Good,” she said. “The less time they have to know precisely whom they'll be facing, the less time they have to customize their preparations.

Hull's face grew pensive. “Assuming you're right about… your concerns, it's all the more reason for not letting them roam my ship, York. Security dictates I should clap them all under lock and turn them over to your Directorate. Let the experts sort out the guilty from the innocent.”

“We've been over this again and again, Captain,” York shook her head wearily. “Such precipitate action could cost you the Draco, to say nothing of the Shiva tech. You must be patient! I know it is difficult, I know it is contrary to your instincts, but you simply have to trust me on this.”

“All right,” Hull replied heavily, glancing reluctantly at Tregaski. “I'll do it your way, but I want you to know my concerns. I think you're running a tremendous risk.”

“You're absolutely right, Captain. But I promise you the guilty parties won't be free long.” She glanced at the navigator. “How long before we intercept them?”

“Now that we know where they are, we can board them in approximately sixteen hours,” answered Galton. “Unless they're entirely dark, they'll pick us up when we're still two hours out.”

“It would seem it's time to prepare the boarding party.” She walked over to the star window and gazed at the planet. With the remote Gelhart sun lying at a right angle, Bonoplane had grown to a pale yellow half-disk that appeared pasted against the purple-black of space—a lonely world. Her eyes sought to discover any surface markings that might indicate heights or depths or give some clue to its nature. A vast desert, Galton had termed it—vast and dry and almost featureless. A dead world.

She wondered again that the fate of the Ascendancy should be decided in such a remote corner of the galaxy and by so few men. For all Terra's arrogance and far-flung might, it was nearing the end of the clock of its history, she reflected. Posthuman Man was already on the scene and impatiently waiting his turn on the cyborg worlds. The historical signs were indisputable, drawn in the ink of decadence and apathy. Director Karsh was battling gamely, using every means at his command to keep the Terran supremacy intact, yet he must know that he was fighting little more than a delaying action. He was only putting off the inevitable. Why? The spirit of Man was listless. When had the fatal change come? A decade? A century? A millennium? It didn't matter. Whenever it had happened, the race of Man had embarked upon a new course and moved sluggishly into the twilight of its time. Perhaps one could even say that it was fortunate for the human race there was a new force emerging, the unnatural spawn of the technological marriage between Man and his Machines.

Contemplating her own role in the events that were so soon to come, she felt an almost preternatural calm inside. It was as if this was the moment for which she had been born, as if every step she had ever taken had led her to this juncture. She had been on many other assignments on behalf of the Directorate, but never one that had carried such an awesome burden or involved stakes so high. Yet until this moment, she had been enjoying it, finding pleasure in this galaxy-spanning matching of wits. It was the great game played on a larger scale than ever before in human history. She even felt a certain camaraderie for the other players, both those who must win and those who must lose. Director Karsh, Dr. G, and Captain Hull were all players of the civilized kind, especially Myranda Flare, her opposite number.

But she felt no such kinship for the agents of House Dai Zhan. The men on both the Draco and the Rigel were men of another stripe, ruthless killers who played well outside the rules of the game. Contemplating them, she felt cold inside.

An Almost Preternatural Calm panel 3
A Mind Programmed series cover
An Almost Preternatural Calm 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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