2950-01-11 – Tales from the Service: Guest of the Bureau
Nojus here. Duncan and I are well, which most of you know, since there wasn’t much of a fight at Hallman three days ago. Nate’s ships formed up as if to give Fifth Fleet a proper fight, then more or less scattered and ran. Fifth Fleet destroyers running ahead of the main fleet body caught a couple of haulers they were using to carry supplies, but none of their cruisers or large support ships were placed in any real danger.
With the last of the Incarnation ships in the system being a few lurkers poking around the edges of the stellar grav shadow, it seems the threat to Berkant is pretty much dealt with. What the bastards expected to accomplish here is still a mystery, but whatever it is, I rather doubt things went according to their plan.
As for Hallman itself, the Incarnation seems to have done extensive building work on the surface, but from orbit it all appears deserted, with no-one answering broadcasts. Admiral Zahariev has not authorized a landing party yet, suspecting a trap, and does not even trust the place enough to leave major fleet units in orbit around the moon.
Despite the anticlimax, everyone here aboard Saint-Lô is in high spirits, and I can’t say I blame them; this is the first time Nate has been prevented from conquering a Frontier world.
As per Duncan’s instructions (which were likely governed by Naval Intelligence requests), we’ll be continuing with another section from Duana’s account, whose odd provenance was discussed last week. I’m not sure how Naval Intelligence wants the public to think of its subsidiary bureau’s methods by the release of this material, but I will say from the feedback we’re getting that this is not exactly going to paint the Bureau of Counter-Intelligence in happy pastels.
“Good evening, Mr. Cole.”
The man with the bag over his head jerked upright, his muscles straining against the bonds that tied him to his chair and the bolts that affixed the chair to the deck.
Duana smiled. Unlike many Ladeonist radicals, K.B. Cole had only the power of human muscles at his disposal, so neither the bonds nor the bolts were in any danger. To be sure, Cole’s large frame and bulging arms were quite impressive, but the limits of human biology still fell far short of tearing steel.
Though she couldn’t see Cole’s face, Duana could easily guess the things that were going through his mind. He probably remembered little of his abrupt extraction from the club; most likely, the last thing he remembered was being serviced by one of the establishment’s resident women of ill repute. Every moment she left him in silence, he was piecing more of the picture together.
“Sorry, miss.” The voice muffled by the man’s head-sack trembled with an almost effeminate tone at odds with K.B. Cole’s size. “Are you t-talking to me?”
The act was good, and it might even have been convincing, had Duana’s associates not already identified K.B. Cole from archived biometric data filed during one of his stints in a Galactic West penal colony. That the screening interviewer at the local Naval design bureau had been fooled by his gentle-giant idiot savant act was almost forgivable, given that Cole was a borderline genius with several psychopathic traits and driven by the impossible utopian fables of Adris Ladeon.
Unfortunately for Cole, though he was a human male, and Duana knew how to deal with those, Ladeonist radicals or otherwise. “Come now. I’ve been following your activities for some time now, and I must say, you know how to impress a girl.”
“I’m n-not sure I-”
“Mr. Cole, we have you on the whole scheme.” Duana stepped away from the door, letting her favorite pair of interrogation heels click on the metal floor of the holding cell. “It was really quite impressive. Do you know how rarely anyone gets a full day’s head-start on us?”
Something in the big man’s posture changed; his shoulders rose a little, and his back straightened. When he spoke again, it wasn’t with the timorous gentle-giant voice. Cole’s new tone was a low, pleasant baritone oddly similar to that used by narrators and paramours in romance holo-dramas. “I was hoping it would be thirty-six hours at least.”
This too was an act, Duana recognized, but it was one she could work with. Ladeonists, as a creed with no sense of universal truth and a well-earned social stigma, often found themselves moving through the rest of Reach society by slipping from one assumed character to another. Someone like Cole had probably long since forgotten who he really was, so it was a waste of time trying to make him drop the act entirely.
“If there wasn’t a war on, it would have been.” Duana paced around the bound man, spiraling closer. “But if there wasn’t a war on, where would you find an enemy agent to sell those plans to?”
“If it wasn’t me, it would have been someone else. You can’t stop what’s coming.”
Duana had heard the theme of inevitability, of history leading inexorably toward the future dreamed of the Ladeonists, far too many times from far less competent people, to believe a bit of it. If humankind had a foreordained destiny, it wasn’t to turn to Ladeonism, but she was only too happy to seem sympathetic if it got Cole to talk.
“Of course I can’t change history. I’m just one little spider sitting in the middle of one little web. But do you know what I can change? What happens to the flies that get themselves caught. If you’re right, it doesn’t matter one bit whether you tell me what I want, except that it makes the rest of your life a lot better.”
Cole’s bagged head turned left and right as he tried to face Duana, who was now directly behind him. “Better how?”
“Longer, for one. A lot longer.” Duana reached out and put one hand on the big man’s forearm. He flinched away from the touch, and Duana didn’t doubt that if he could free his hands, he’d have snapped her neck without a second thought. “I can think of a few other ways, if you can keep up your end of the bargain.
Cole remained silent for several seconds. A man as smart as he was could certainly tell that Duana was only manipulating him, but he could probably also guess at the miserable and short future that waited for an uncooperative Ladeonist agent in her custody. At length, he sighed. “Tell me what you want to know, take the sack off my head, and I’ll consider it.”
Duana chuckled, using that throaty tone she’d found highly distracting to most men. “Do your considering first. I’ll be back later.” With that, she walked past him to the doorway leading out of the cell.
Duana snapped her fingers, and the rest of Cole’s shouted question was lost as a soundproof gravitic shear-barrier leapt into existence in the archway behind her. Just as easily as she had separated herself from the man, she put him out of her mind. After all, he’d be right where she had left him in the morning.