Episode 32

A Drastic Action

“There must be a more simple explanation, August. The Dai Zhan agents may hold possession of the Rigel, but they can't move the technology. It's too bulky. And they can't hold the Rigel much longer.” Clender declared grimly. “The Cetus is out of hypertransit now, as is the Draco. It won't be long before they locate the right star system and track down the ship or its remains.”

“Which leads me to conclude there may be a second cyborg agent active on this case. If Dr. G is using Flare to distract us, he is trying to distract us from something. Which, one would assume, is an Integration sleeper on Rigel, Draco, or even Cetus.”

“You think there might be others capable of transferring their minds?”

“It is a possibility. And they may not even be limited to transferring themselves into human minds. It's entirely possible that there is an operative lurking somewhere in the ship's digital storage facilities.”

Clender blanched. “Have you shared your concerns with the admiral?”

“Not yet. It's not the only possibility and he's already overwhelmed.” Karsh slapped the desk. “York reported that Flare's transfers were physically limited by the need for a sufficiently reliable connection. But that's only true if Dr. G is determined to keep her mind intact. What if Gregor has decided the sunbuster merits sacrificing his best agent? Even if she is one of a kind, this might be the point at which he's decided to cash her in.”

“By Jupiter, you might be right!” exclaimed Clender. “I wouldn't put it past him. He's ruthless. We know the cyborgs have neither consciences nor souls.”

“Think about it. What is the nearest inhabited planet to subsector Zero Seven Zero Two?”


“Besides Xigaze. There is no commercial travel there.”

“Ah, then it would be Terentulus, fifth of the green-white sun Geddes. Do you want the planetary data?”

“Type, population, and index,” Karsh answered.

“Terentulus is a Tech 10 world categorized for agricultural settlement. Population 4.1 million. Economic index is point zero-zero-five.”

“Zero-zero-five?” The director put his hands together and pursed his lips. “Send an order to the section chief on Terentulus. He is to set up an auto-relay sending all incoming commercial crew and passenger data to the sector headquarters on Kantillon for analysis.”

“Right away,” Clender acknowledged.

“I also want all personnel deemed of vital interest to the Ascendancy evacuated from the planet as soon as possible. Effective immediately. Commandeer a passenger liner if necessary. I can't imagine there could possibly be that many people of significance there, but one never knows.”

“Understood. I don't understand, are you planning to impose a quarantine if Flare shows up there?”

“Exactly. Even if Dr. G has decided to sacrifice her, he's going to want to reduce the transmission risks as much as possible. Terentulus is the closest astronomically predictable location equipped with high speed laser transmission facilities, and anyhow, if he's willing to risk a ship-to-ship transmission, we can't possibly expect to identify and locate it. So, we'll focus on what we know we can accomplish.”

“Your intention is to seal off the planet and isolate it completely? That might not be enough to catch her. You pointed that out yourself.”

Karsh smiled grimly. “We may not be able to catch her. But once it's confirmed she's on a planet with an economic index of point zero-zero-five? We can reduce that to zero-zero period, if we must.”

“Destroy Terentulus?” exclaimed Clender. “The entire planet? August, you can't possibly justify such a drastic action! There are millions of innocent people living there!”

“To preserve our monopoly on the Shiva? I most certainly can.” Karsh's expression was remorseless. “And if necessary, I most certainly will. Now, Clender, arrange for a meeting with the High Admiral within the hour. Let him know I have a number of items for our agenda.”

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A Mind Programmed: A Drastic Action