Episode 22

House Dai Zhan

Passing through one of the engine compartments, York saw two men huddled over a Krabacci board, a game she knew to be popular on the planets of House Dai Zhan. Looking closer, she saw they were both enlisted men, and based on their appearance, were very likely Dai Zhani.

“Beating him, Wong?” Tregaski called to them.

The younger of the two, a dark, slender man with a shaved head, glanced toward them with a bright smile. “No one beats Singkai, Lieutenant.”

“Just keep at it, Wong.”

“I have been, for two years,” Wong remarked wearily. As they passed from the room, York noted that the man called Singkai had never lifted his eyes from the board. She mentioned it to Tregaski.

“He has the concentration of a stone,” Tregaski told her. “Krabacci's like a religion to him. The ship could explosively decompress, and he wouldn't look up, not when he's in the middle of a game.”

“They're good men?”

“They wouldn't be on the ship if they weren't. Most of our engineers are smart, but Wong is a wizard with the nucleonics and Singkai can sense disharmonics before the instruments even pick them up.”

York nodded, as if in appreciation. But she was thinking that a highly intelligent engineer with a strategic mind and a strong sense of intuition would make for a formidable intelligence agent.

Once the tour had ended and Tregaski returned her to her cabin, York took the time to carefully scroll through Draco's personnel records. Hull had been reluctant to provide her with them, and York had scant doubt that he would have refused were it not for the message from the Admiral of the Galactic Seas. She quickly realized that she had only been given access to the records belonging to the enlisted personnel, as there were 384 records on her list. She debated going to the captain and demanding access to the remaining 28 records belonging to the officers, but she decided to let it pass for the moment. Right now, the most important thing was Hull's full and voluntary cooperation.

From what she had learned of him, the destroyer's captain could make an implacable enemy if handled indelicately. He was suspicious of her and slightly uncomfortable around her, less because she was Intelligence than because she was a woman intruding upon his masculine domain. If she gave him an excuse to shut her out, there was a chance he would take it no matter what any admiral ordered. The lieutenant, Tregaski, was of a similar caliber, a hulking, formidable man who blew hot and cold according to the captain's moods. Even the doctor, for all his friendliness and charm, was a potential problem. What the captain and the lieutenant missed, he would notice.

No, any confrontations were best avoided. She needed to make the officers see her as an ally in a difficult situation, a useful resource, not an irritation.

She went over the records painstakingly, studying each one methodically. Every so often she marked a record for closer review. She glanced over the next few names on the list: Dexter, Lambda, Wulf, Carson. The Draco's crew was composed of men from every corner of the galaxy, from core to spin. She wondered if that was an accident or the result of a deliberate policy adopted to prevent too heavy a concentration from any one system or Great House. If the latter, it was a sensible policy. She noted, too, that there were no Terrans among the Draco's enlisted crew. That also made sense. The outer rim was not for the Terran-born. When they ventured from Man's ancestral planet, it was generally to relax or to rule. Although Terrans staffed many of the Ascendancy's wide-ranging administrative bureaus and the upper reaches of its military echelons, their birth put them above such duties as the Draco had to offer.

It took nearly half the day, but finally, she finished and reviewed the names she had selected. Char Wong, engine technician: born in Chufeng on the planet Pehling, second of the sun Kang. Wong was twenty-seven standard years old, had a technical education, had enlisted four years before. He had been on the Draco for slightly over two years. His merit ratings were high. There was nothing suspicious that caught York's eye except for the fact that Pehling was governed by House Dai Zhan. She went on to the next name on the list.

Jona Norden, maintenance. He was the one she had met in the air-purification compartment, the slender man with the flashing teeth and the ready smile. His record explained the racial characteristics which had puzzled York at the time. Norden's mother was from Pehling, his father was a native of one of the minor planets of Spica, which was governed by House Antoninus. Education, service record, and merit ratings were all good, though unexceptional.

David Apgar, a deckhand born on Fengpu. Like Norden, he was a half-breed, but with little in the way of education. He'd been in the Navy ten years without progressing much beyond the lowest rating. There was nothing incriminating, and certainly his lack of intelligence and indication tended to rule him out.

Lu Singkai, a maintenance technician born on Ling, fourth of the sun Wansu. York recalled the ascetic figure bent over the Krabacci board and the impression of calm intensity he'd conveyed. She read his record carefully. Like Wong, he had a technical education, but hadn't progressed far in the ranks despite twenty-two years' Naval service. Older than he looked at forty-eight, he'd served on cruisers and destroyers across the galaxy. He'd first boarded Draco four years ago and his merit ratings were excellent.

There were two more deckhands, Sam Wee and Li Sun, both Dai Zhani and both with pedestrian service records. Beyond the circumstances of their birth, there was absolutely nothing that justified even a glimmer of suspicion.

York closed the reader and shut down the screen with the feeling that she was getting nowhere. Six men in all had some connection to House Dai Zhan, but with the exception of Wong and Singkai, none of them were bright enough to even get an initial interview with Ascendancy Intelligence. Nothing in any of their records hinted at any intelligence training or any background that might be relevant to the Shiva technology. She shook her head at herself. What had she been expecting, that a lowly deckhand would turn out to hold a doctorate in hypertransitional physics from a leading Dai Zhani university? On the other hand, she knew well that the most dangerous operatives were those whose records said nothing of interest.

House Dai Zhan image number 1

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A Mind Programmed: House Dai Zhan