Episode 16

Top Priority Alert

“Isn't that what they're doing?” asked Karsh. “If I am correct, and the hotel bombing was Flare's doing, then that's exactly what's happening.”

“I never thought of that,” Clender admitted.

“It's not necessarily the case. There is another possibility. Flare's ability can only come into play if the saboteurs or the second ship have a scientist with them who is capable of extricating the vital information from it. They've had weeks to examine it unmolested, after all. Once they've got the information they need, they could pass it to a third party, one that is capable of bypassing our blockade.”

“How could they do that?” Clender challenged.

“By smuggling it to an agent on the destroyer,” Karsh pointed out. “Suppose Corden Hull—he's Draco's captain—doesn't see it as sabotage, but believes it was an accident? In that case he'd rescue the survivors and bring them aboard. That would give the parties responsible the opportunity to pass on the information to someone apparently beyond suspicion.”

“To a crew member? Are you thinking there is a traitor aboard the Draco?”

“Why so surprised, Clender? We have a detention world full of turncoats.” A ghost of a smile touched his lips. “Doesn't it strike you as suspicious that the distress signal from Rigel was sent in the direction of Xigaze?”

“Not at all, August. That is the closest naval base to the subsector. I'd take it for granted they would beam the signal there.”

“I don't take anything for granted,” Karsh said gruffly.

“Well, if that's the plan, it won't work,” Clender asserted. “Not with Daniela York on the Draco.”

“I have every confidence in York's ability to forestall any attempt to transmit information through the crew, but remember, Li-Hu doesn't know she's on the scene. We were just fortunate that we were able to extricate her from Kurzweil and get her to Xigaze on time.”

“Foresight isn't fortune, you always say.”

“There is that. But regardless of whether the cyborgs or the Dai Zhani initiated the Valatestan overture, we're faced with the same problem,” Karsh said. “In concert or in opposition, Li-Hu and Dr. G are both after Shiva, and it's our responsibility to prevent either of them from obtaining it.”

“And we will!” Clender declared loyally.

“There is one more thing you should know,” Karsh told his right-hand man. “The High Admiral informs me that the cruiser Cetus, which was undergoing emergency repairs on zero-five-zero-eight Feymanus, has been rushed back into space.”

“Is he sending it after the Rigel?”

Karsh nodded. “There is a chance it will reach Subsector Zero Seven Zero Two before Draco locates the missing ship. The admiral would prefer that.”

“Presumably because the captain of the Cetus is Malhedrone?”

“More because Draco's captain isn't. Hull is from one of the Achernarni planets and therefore deemed insufficiently reliable,” Karsh explained. “Seeing as he is a spinworlder, the Admiralty would prefer he doesn't learn too much about the Shiva technology.”

“That would negate Daniela York, August.”

“Exactly, and that is a potential concern. The objective isn't getting there with the most firepower, but getting there with the best brainpower. This is a job for the Directorate, not the Navy.”

“Did you explain that to the High Admiral?”

“I did, but he still wants Cetus there first, if at all possible.”

“On the other hand, wouldn't it be less likely that there are any Dai Zhani agents aboard the cruiser?

“One would assume so,” Karsh agreed. “But we can't be certain. What I know is that if Draco finds Rigel first, York is capable of dealing with the situation. That is my preference, my strong preference, but unhappily, the Fates do not delegate their duties to me. And there is something about Flare's involvement in this that troubles me. There is something that I am failing to see there, of that I am sure.”

“We'll get her, August. We have a sector-wide, top priority alert out to all agents.”

“I want more than that,” Karsh stated. His eyes cold and hard, drilled into his assistant's face. “I want every senior operative on every world in the Kantillon sector to drop whatever he's doing and concentrate on locating Myranda Flare. And I want every head of station to trace every single adult passenger who left or arrived from Valatesta on the day of the bombing and the two subsequent days. Top priority, effective immediately.”

“But August–”

“I am going to get Myranda Flare, Clender, and I'm going to get her, dead or alive.” He turned away abruptly, in dismissal.

But as Clender touched the panel to open the door, he heard Karsh's voice softly behind him. “Preferably alive,” the director added.

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A Mind Programmed: Top Priority Alert