Episode 42: An investigative black hole

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Qin has been tasked with implicating Renic in... something. Anything. Time is running out.

The door chime to Qin’s quarters aboard the Terminus announced the arrival of her guest. Qin strode across the recently tidied room and gave her uniform a quick glance to ensure its neatness. She stopped in front of the doors and clasped her hands, first behind her, then in front of her. The door slid open, Yadav standing in the corridor beyond.

“Lieutenant Meredessi,” Yadav said, her voice overly official—playful, flirtatious. “You had a matter to discuss?”

Qin smiled, stepping aside and gesturing for Yadav to enter. It was the first time anyone else had been in her quarters in the year since being assigned a private room. “Indeed, Lieutenant. Please, enter.”

Yadav nodded and walked forward, doors closing behind her. She exhaled, raising her arms as she slowly turned to observe the interior of Qin’s private residence. She gestured to Qin’s collection of plants residing on their shelves and hanging rods, the air of formality dropping from her voice.

“So, this is where Qin tends to her garden,” Yadav said, letting her eyes linger on the neatly arranged row of plants. “It’s different from how I imagined.” 

Qin stepped forward, tilting her head. “How did you imagine it?”

Yadav cleared her throat—hesitant, nervous—and shrugged. “Well, I am not exactly sure I had anything in mind, only that I’d wondered when I’d finally see it for myself.”

Qin and Yadav met eyes, each standing for a moment before Qin turned her gaze to the floor, the urgency of her task intruding into their pleasantly awkward moment.

“It is not much, but I hope it meets your expectations,” Qin said, crossing the room toward her workstation. “I apologize that this is not a social visit, but there is a development with regards to our contact on Kestris.”

Yadav nodded, shaking her head as if trying to bring herself back to the present moment. “No, yes. Of course,” she said, clearing of her throat.

Qin arrived at the desk and pulled out her chair, then pulled out another from against the wall for Yadav. They sat, and Qin angled the computer so they could both see. “The persistent query that OS-9 computers has been running for intelligence related to the Red Kestrels or Indigo has returned a hit. I believe it is relevant to not only OS-9, but to Agent Siddig’s request as well.”

Qin tapped a command into the computer and all information gathered by OS-9 on Senali, Kat Basara, and the Red Kestrels appeared in a categorized list. “Commander Tau introduced Senali as a location of interest when attempting to frame Agent Mori, though I am not certain he realized OS-9 would add it to the scope of the ongoing data harvesting algorithm across the sector.”

Yadav studied the screen, eyes moving back and forth over the briefs, abstracts, news reports, and other intra-sector intelligence communiques. She hummed and nodded, taking in what she believed was OS-9’s must updated intelligence on the Fringe planet. It was, only this list had been hastily doctored by Qin minutes before she’d summoned Yadav to her quarters, the data sources primed to serve up exactly what was needed to push their investigation down the required path.

It was a small deception. Qin believed Yadav would have ended up with the information now sitting before her anyway, but it would have taken more time. Time they didn’t have—Qin didn’t have—if she were going to get Lee the information he requested. A harmless means to a foregone end.

At least, that was how Qin the 5E agent consoled herself. The pang of guilt in her stomach indicated she was not as successful at self-deception as she would have liked. But, the doctored query allowed Qin to leave out Lee’s request, the integrity of the sergeant’s identity taking precedence over Qin’s personal misgivings. Yadav was someone Qin wished she could share an authentic moment with. For now, the only person she’d be able to do that with was Lee.

On the screen was the confidential report from local investigators on Senali. Yadav sat back in her chair, lips pursed in satisfaction. “Looks like an incident of high potential. Kat Basara and the Senali Red Kestrels were Agent Mori’s last known target.”

“Indeed,” Qin said, grateful for Yadav’s willingness to participate without backing Qin into more corners that required the increasingly frequent personal deceptions.

Yadav raised an eyebrow, a subtle grin bending a corner of her lips. She nodded toward the desk. “There’s only one computer. How did you want me to assist?”

Qin thought for a moment; was this an invitation for a personal affirmation? “My methods are rather deductive and rely on inference. I want you to remain more… judicious and far-sighted. And…” Qin turned her attention back to the computer screen, risking a moment of authenticity, “your company is assistance enough.”

Yadav laughed. “In that case, I will do my best to remain a pleasant addition.” She waved her hand at the computer. “Tell me a story of treasonous naval officers and far away planets, Qin.”

Qin forced a smile at Yadav’s casual, but too-close-for-comfort, comparison. She entered the protocols distributed to the Indigo team’s principal investigators, and, like a digital fog, the access privileges cloaked her presence in the Navy systems. Even ship’s security staff would not be able to detect her. Most of all, no other OS-9 team members—including Commander Tau—would know of their findings, because in a breach of protocol, the findings would not be entered into the OS-9 records. In this, Qin and Yadav joined Agents Siddig and Mori in hiding information from their own people.

Qin furrowed her brow, speaking her thoughts aloud. “If the commander was on Senali when Basara died, his comm would be out of range of any Imperium beacons. Our task is to triangulate Commander Tau’s location during that time period, or, if a positive identification of his location is not possible, to determine that he was either not where he was supposed to be or unable to be located altogether.”

Yadav scrunched her mouth to the side. “Hard to implicate someone whose job renders their whereabouts unknown and unrecorded by design.”

Qin tilted her head at the comment. “We will have to hope that if we come up short, the specific nature in which we are short is still enough to cast doubt onto the commander.”

Yadav shrugged and raised her hand to the computer screen. “Let’s see what the commander is leaving in his wake.”

Qin navigated to the central Navy access database where all comm checkpoint records were stored. She submitted the query for Renic’s Imperium identification number from the last week. Though she knew that her Indigo access permissions would prevent this query from being known to anyone but Yadav, Julian’s warnings about the degree to which Renic would punish those who wronged him still caused her to hesitate for a moment before entering the command anyway.

Row after row of entries filled the screen, showing the beacon’s identifier and the time Renic’s comm had triggered it in the timeframe. Countless doors both restricted and not, government and military vehicles, elevators, and even his own office door in the underground Naval Special Investigation Division headquarters.

“I’ve seen comm location logs before, but always with very narrow parameters. But this… this is his whole life. There must be hundreds,” Yadav said. 

“Four hundred and thirteen,” Qin said, pointing to the final tally. “I am certain each of us have similar counts.”

Yadav hummed. “I know we are monitored, but passing through over a hundred beacons a day? I’ve never really stopped to think about how many times we aren’t actually alone.” Yadav turned to meet Qin’s eye. “I suppose it’s good that we don’t give anyone reason to look.”

Qin shifted in her seat, hoping her hum of agreement did not appear too fabricated. They each turned their attention back to the screen. Qin typed as she spoke, eager to move past the notion. “If we take the closest approximation of the time of the fire, we can establish a window of time based on average jump times from Kestris to Senali. A modern jump drive can cover the distance one-way in less than fifty hours.”

Yadav scoffed playfully, tilting her head. “Less than fifty? Qin, I would have expected you to have an estimation down to the minute.”

Qin sighed, just as playfully. “Unfortunately, without knowing the exact model of jump drive and the mass of the vessel that needs to squeeze through the quantum fold, I can only make a guess based on the kind of ships a Navy commander would have easy access to. Unless, of course, the commander is hiding wormhole technology from us.”

Yadav hummed, narrowing her eyes. “Fifty hours is a fine enough approximation. So, doubling that, let’s check the last five days. That’s enough to make the trip and back with time to spare.” 

Qin updated the dataset. The table of entries reduced to only the ones that fit the five day window, all the way up to the current moment. 

“Look,” Yadav said, eagerly tapping her fingertip against the screen. “He hit a beacon just an hour ago. Where is that?”

Qin tapped in a command and the beacon’s comm-name address, stored in the Imperium location-name servers, appeared. “A Navy shipfield here on Kestris,” Qin said.

Yadav leaned forward, face both closer to the screen as well as Qin. The proximity tugged Qin’s attention, and for a moment, she found her mind oddly blank. She’d never been this close to Yadav, especially not in her own quarters. If anyone were to look at their comm records, did the beacons have the fidelity to pick up just how close they were actually sitting? 

Yadav continued, nodding toward the screen. “Let’s walk it backward. Look for a gap that is more than a day?” 

Qin brought her mind back into focus, reluctantly pushing aside her pleasant musings. “A day, yes.” She added a filter to the reduced dataset on the screen. Two entries became highlighted in the table. “Here. A gap of one-hundred and five hours.”

Yadav’s eyes narrowed at the screen, her hands rubbing the tops of her legs eagerly. “That’s the window. Plenty of time for a fast ship to jump from Kestris to Senali, get into a confrontation, and get back.”

Qin nodded, the rush of the discovery blending with the rush of Yadav’s proximity. She smiled, keeping her eyes on the screen as she continued to enter commands. “The two entries are, as you might say, ‘bookends’ around an unbroken gap. They are at the same location.” She retrieved the location name for the mirrored entries. “The auxiliary Navy shipfield outside the capitol complex. That is the last entry, one-hundred and eight hours ago, until he appeared there again today. The commander has yet to trigger another beacon after leaving the shipfield.”

Yadav sucked her teeth, rocking her head back and forth. “Which means he probably took a private vehicle that didn’t have a comm beacon. Curious move.”

Qin nodded, highlighting the mirrored entries. “Yes. This shipfield appears to be how the commander could have left, and then returned, to Kestris in the suspected window.”

Yadav sat back, glaring at the computer screen. “Yeah, the window fits, but Navy vessels are all beaconed from bow to stern. Unless he went to a shipfield and simply didn’t leave for a hundred hours, he either disabled his comm, or used a ship that did not make any record of his presence.”

Qin’s mind wandered back to Lee’s advice about the ‘why-why’ of contextual clues. She envisioned the scenario, picturing Renic in her mind, how the commander saw the world around him.

Qin pat Yadav on the arm. “Esme, if we take into account the nuances of Commander Tau’s personality, I do not suspect that the commander has the technical knowledge to tamper with his own comm, nor do I suspect he would take the time to arrange for someone else to tamper with it for him, not if there is an easier option.”

Yadav smiled, nodding. “So instead of doctoring a comm diagnostic log or involving a technician to help him cover his tracks, he just takes a ship that doesn’t log his presence.”

Qin nodded back. “Indeed. The commander must be analyzed as someone who operates out of a place of arrogance, thinking others are too far beneath his cunning to notice the clues he leaves behind.”

“Others like us,” Yadav said through a scoff. Her eyes narrowed at the log of Renic’s movements. “If that’s the case, we can find his ship.” 

Qin saved the data of Renic’s comm beacon history and navigated to a new Navy database, the one for the shipfield activity where Renic had disappeared. She filtered her query to bring back the shipfield’s departure and arrival data that fit within the time gap.

Hundreds of entries filled the screen, vessel names appearing in a column next to the timestamps of each request they made with Navy space-traffic control.

“Busy place,” Yadav said, exhaling. “He’s in there somewhere. Filtration vector?”

Qin typed and spoke, the anxiety she’d originally felt at Lee’s urgent request being overtaken by a flutter of excitement. She was on the verge of delivering on what Clarke had originally sent her to do. All she needed was Renic to remain just as arrogant as he appeared on the surface.

“If we presume that the commander departed and arrived shortly after each of his comm entries, we can reduce the list to only ships that were logged as departing and arriving within,” Qin thought for a moment, “twenty minutes.”

The list of ships filtered further down to only two. Both Qin and Yadav leaned forward, eyes inches from the screen, and each other.

Qin tapped the screen. “Two ships. One, the Cavalier, a light-escort cruiser. And this one, an unidentified corvette-class ship with an encoded Imperium transmitter signature, but no designation.”

Yadav’s expression hardened. “Retrieve the Cavalier’s beacon records and flight logs.”

Qin accessed the beacon records for the Cavalier. Hundreds of entries filled a new list with countless crew and passengers, all with properly functioning comms registering their location aboard the Navy vessel.

“The Cavalier’s flight log verifies it jumped to a remote Imperium defense station just inside empire space in sector thirteen-B. Too far for a visit to Senali. Checking for the commander’s comm aboard the Cavalier…” She filtered to include Renic’s comm identifier. “No match,” Qin said.

“And the other ship?” Yadav asked, voice soft against Qin’s cheek.

Qin pulled her eyes away and returned her gaze to the screen, though her focus remained on the sensation against her skin. Attention split, she entered a command to request the undesignated ship’s beacon logs.

“Nothing,” Qin whispered. She expanded her query, requesting the ship’s flight logs, intrajump transmitter logs, even it’s atmospheric weather station request logs. “Hmm.”

Yadav hummed. “Indigo can’t get them?”

Qin shook her head. “It is not access insufficiency. The records are not merely restricted or blocked. The request endpoints returned a ‘connection unknown’ code as if the ship were not equipped with logs in the first place. It is a specter.”

Yadav sat back in the chair, bringing her fist to her mouth and sighing thoughtfully. “That’s the perfect vessel for someone like the commander to abscond away to Senali and come back believing that both his and the ship’s whereabouts would be a black hole. Shipfield space-traffic control would clear it verbally, but clearance overrides would let it all remain off the record.”

Qin let her eyes unfocus, mind wandering around the data available. “Is that gap of evidence, in itself, enough evidence? We have a gap in the commander’s whereabouts, and a ship that would facilitate such a gap and leave behind little evidence. It is an investigative black hole as you mentioned. We cannot see it, only how space bends around it.”

Yadav and Qin each looked back to the screen. This evidence was enough to raise doubt, but something in Qin’s gut told her that it was not enough. There was too much plausible deniability built into the commander’s role. The gap in data meant he could hypothetically be anywhere, including anywhere but Senali.

Yadav snapped her fingers. “Qin. You’re right. Physicists infer the position of black holes and other gravitational anomalies by how they bend spacetime in the immediate vicinity.”

Qin raised an eyebrow. “Yes. Are you suggesting we have yet to… infer enough about the commander’s activities?”

Yadav smiled, gesturing for Qin to scoot her chair aside. Qin raised an eyebrow and obliged, allowing Yadav to place her hands on the computer’s keys.

“This is where your time aboard the Terminus, and not more traditional ships, works against you,” Yadav said.

Qin watched as the data appeared on the screen. It was surprisingly mundane. “Shipfield maintenance records?”

“That’s right. The Terminus is forever bound to the void of space, all of its maintenance and repair being carried out by technicians that live and work on the vessel itself. But most ships aren’t floating cities. The ships I served on before the Terminus, including the Dauntless, all required this,” Yadav said, pointing to a new set of records, “shipfield engineers that attend to the ships while they’re on the surface. And in this case specifically, jump drive technicians.”

Qin leaned forward, reading the data Yadav had retrieved. While the ship they were presuming Renic had used created no logs, the engineers who checked the undesignated ship’s jump drives just hours ago, did. In the center of the screen was an entry documenting the routine check of a prototype jump drive used in the latest generation of new, classified, Navy corvettes.

“Oh my,” Qin said, feeling a surge of admiration at Yadav’s competence.

Yadav continued to retrieve data, voice filled with excitement. “Look at the record. It doesn’t say which ship the drive being served is housed in, but it does have the accumulation of jump hours noted here. Ninety-seven. Cut that in half? Forty-eight and a half hours. If we take that drive’s maximum quantum-folding output and multiply that by two days?”

Yadav pulled up a navigation map of the sector, entering the parameters of the drive and time constraints. With Kestris as the point of origin, only one potential destination met the criteria. 

“Senali,” they both said in unison.

A chill traveled up Qin’s spine, not only because of the discovery, but because of who she’d discovered it with. “We have him,” Qin said.

Yadav nodded, eyes wide with excitement. “We have him.”

The two lieutenants held each other’s gaze. For a moment, Qin could only think of Yadav, her perceptiveness, how she made Qin feel less alone, less isolated.

“Well?” Yadav said, tilting her head.

Qin looked away, regaining her composure. “Um. Yes?”

Yadav’s words came out slow and prompting. “Don’t we need to get this to Agent Siddig?”

“Of course, yes,” Qin said, nodding abruptly. She closed the computer and stood. “He has established a communication channel with me, but…” Qin paused. Lee’s identity as a 5E sleeper had to be maintained, as did her own.

Yadav held up a hand. “Don’t bother explaining. I presumed Julian would expect you to be his contact. I think my cold-shoulder might have been overly effective. Do whatever it is you need to do, then meet me in two hours somewhere on this ship where we’re not bound to run into anyone we work with. It’ll be shift-change, and I think we could use a moment to breathe.”

Qin bowed her head. “Is this a professional appointment?”

Yadav raised an eyebrow. “No.”

Qin felt her cheeks warm. “Okay. Two hours. Base of the atrium on deck five?”

“Ah, the deck five atrium. Tropical-themed, and nowhere near the decks where other OS-9 would be found working.” Yadav placed a hand on Qin’s arm. “I’ll see you there.”

The elevator doors opened and Qin stepped into the corridor. Across from her, the athletic center on deck seventy-two, section four was busy with the end of third shift. Those who wanted to exercise before starting their shift were exiting, towels slung over sweat-soaked shoulders and gym bags in hand. Those who had just finished second shift were arriving, exercise clothes hiding in gym bags, dry and waiting. Qin looked down at the synthetic red cover of the book in her hands, Introduction to Quantum Cryptography. She let the book hang by her side, attempting to conceal the out-of-place object, but none of the crew who passed seemed to notice either her or the book.

Qin studied the faces of the crew members as they passed. No one seemed to be enjoying themselves. As Lee had pointed out during their last conversation, exercise was one of the things that did not require recreation hours to be spent. With the Terminus’s current duty schedules occupying most of the crew’s every waking moment, this was one of the few places people could get some reprieve from their work. Crew would arrive, work themselves to physical and mental exhaustion, then return to their quarters for much-needed sleep until the next shift started.

The large, frosted-glass doors of the athletic center’s entrance were pulled open, giving a view into the floor of countless resistance and strength training machines lined up, each specially designed for use aboard spacecraft where gravity was not a guarantee. Qin stood, book clasped in her hands, scanning the floor for Lee.

Sergeant Lee, Agent Lee. She wasn’t sure how she should think of him. She supposed keeping ‘sergeant’ at the forefront was best. While she did not think she would ever slip and refer to him as ‘Agent,’ a slip was, by definition, unintended. Sergeant Lee. That was who he was. 

 On cue, Sergeant Lee emerged from the locker-room exit near the athletic center’s entrance and feigned surprise at seeing her.

“Meredessi? Shouldn’t you be doing math problems somewhere?” Sergeant Lee said as he bounded over, his shirt drenched in sweat, a bottle of water in one hand and towel in the other. “Nah, I’m just joking. Math is good. Someone has to do it.”

Qin smiled, unsure of how much of an act to put on. She’d treated the sergeant as an eager but inexperienced—and slightly naïve—team member before, even wondering if she could mentor him. Having to keep up that pretense now felt silly. If anything, Lee needed to mentor her. 

“Sergeant, you left this on the cafeteria table. Your comm indicated that you were in the athletic center, and I presumed you would be reporting for third shift soon,” Qin said, holding out Introduction to Quantum Cryptography. The entire facade for this meeting felt particularly flimsy.

Lee flipped his towel over his shoulder and eagerly extended his arm, snatching the book out of Qin’s hand. “Oh, I wondered where I left that!” he said. The muscles of his arms rippled beneath his skin. Knowing Lee might be required to enter into physical combat to, as he had put it, ‘shoot and stab,’ Qin better understood his dedication to physical fitness.

“Yes, well, I surmised that if you were serious about wanting to advance to more cerebral assignments, having your study material on-hand would be important,” Qin said. Her words sounded conspicuously fabricated to her ears. Treating Lee like an unsophisticated subordinate had been easy when she’d believed it to be true. Everything had been easier before her activation. Qin was not an actor like Lee. She was Lieutenant Meredessi of OS-9. 

Lee flipped through the pages, grinning and chuckling to himself. “Right, I think the mental workouts in here are tougher than the physical ones back there.” He took a step slightly closer to her, eyes on the page as he spoke beneath the clamor behind him. “Report.”

Qin surveyed the area for any eavesdroppers. No one was paying them any attention, but she kept her posture casual anyway, imagining Lee to be the sergeant she had believed him to be, setting her expression to one of slight disapproval and superiority, as she presumed she had always looked to him in the past.

“The information you requested was found. It is circumstantial, but I believe it tells enough of a story that anyone who knows of the situation will be sufficiently convinced. I wrote the details on a slip of paper disguised as equations and notes and placed it in the center of the book. It’s encoded with a one-time pad cypher,” Qin said. She paused, leaning forward. “You are familiar with decoding that type of cypher?”

Lee chuckled, saying under his breath, “I’m not that much of a meat-shield. Yes, I know how to decode it.”

Qin felt her cheeks redden. “I apologize, I did not—”

Lee cut her off, smacking a hand playfully against her arm. “No problem, Meredessi! Thanks for bringing this back. I’ll be sure to check the notes,” he said, the sergeant’s jocular attitude returned. He tucked the book under his arm and took a few steps back, pointing at Qin and winking. “Gotta report to my shift. You take it easy, Lieutenant. I know you’re busy, but hey, let’s catch up again soon, eh? Maybe we can talk a little more about what’s in the book. I know I’ll probably be needing your help!” Lee gave her a playful salute and sauntered off toward the elevator bays. 

Qin sighed, shoulders dropping. That was it. She was once again the OS-9 officer who was currently off-shift and had over an hour to go until her appointment with Yadav. 

Date. Date with Yadav, as much as she could consider it here aboard the Terminus, living a double life, the foundation of the empire she both served and deceived threatening to crack beneath her, Lee, and everyone else in the Imperium. On the list of approved recreation activities provided by the office of the fleet marshal, she did not recall romance being among them, especially when human resources would then be required to look deeper into her life and history should anything more formal ever transpire between her and Yadav.

Qin looked at the crowd of sweating, grimacing crew members in the athletic center. Each of them wore the sleek, navy-issued comm around their forearm or wrists. She looked down at her own, its glistening, curved black surface just above her wrist. Perhaps investigating further into just how closely she—and Yadav—were being monitored was a new pursuit worth her time. Investigating, and determining if there were a way to hide their movements.

Julian’s pencil tapped against his desk. He had never spent this much time away from field missions. Having to shift his focus to serving as a planet-bound analyst was starting to bore him. 

Partnering with a new 5E field agent wasn’t an option; he needed to be available to Clarke for all the things the director couldn’t do with the new scrutiny placed on him by Defense Minister Archer’s office. Julian was free to operate behind the scenes, just a desk-bound analyst upset and concerned about the fate of his missing partner. The concern his 5E colleagues saw on his face was genuine, even if they lacked the entire reason why.

A notification lit up on the screen of his personal computer, the one partitioned away from 5E systems. It was a message from his contact aboard the Terminus, Agent Bennet Lee. Julian had never met Agent Lee, but according to Director Clarke, he was a competent and stable asset, the inclusion of the latter attribute not going unnoticed.

Julian slipped the pencil back behind his ear and opened it, his eyes scanning rapidly back and forth over the text. The message was brief, but it was enough.  Attached with the message was a set of encrypted data. Julian decoded the attachment, eyes widening as the data told its story.

That was all he needed.

Julian closed his computer, standing and tucking it under his arm. He double-timed it down the halls of 5E headquarters toward the lifts, nodding politely at anyone he recognized but keeping his pace brisk enough to discourage conversation. A short ride and walk through the halls later, he was standing inside of Clarke’s office.

“Director,” Julian said, looking pointedly at the desk. Clarke took the cue and pressed a button on his computer, activating the office’s privacy safeguards.

Julian nodded, starting again. “Director, we have it. Renic was there. We have to presume that Samantha’s mission is blown.”

Clarke leaned forward. “You’re sure?”

“Sure enough. This is compelling. More than we usually go on, in fact. Meredessi is good.”

Clarke exhaled sharply. “If that’s the case, what can we assume?”

Julian bowed his head. “We assume the best. That Samantha encountered Renic, there was a conflict, and she will be scrambling to pivot her approach. She has the Nighthawk now. I would not be surprised if she tries to contact us with it. I recommend we maintain an open channel and route it offsite to non-Imperium transmitters.”

Clarke frowned. “Can you contact her with the same trick you used before?”

Julian shrugged. “I can try sending a message to the tacsuit, but that is dependent on her checking again, and we cannot be certain she will while she is, hopefully, regrouping.”

Clarke’s hand formed into a fist on his desk. “What about the Nighthawk? The lengths we went through to make sure that went missing better have been worth it.”

Julian shook his head. “The Nighthawk’s safeguards are far beyond that of the tacsuit. I do not have any way to contact it unless it contacts us first. But, if Samantha establishes a link to us, we will have a conduit.”

Clarke muttered a string of curses under his breath. “This is getting out of hand.”

“Sir?” Julian said, surprised at the director’s shift of tone.

“I made a mistake with Samantha, and I’m going to fix it,” Clarke said flatly. “When she reaches out—which she will—notify me immediately. It’s time to sink Renic. Transmit the data Meredessi retrieved to this,” Clarke said, handing Julian a standard, civilian-grade datapad.

Julian placed his computer on the desk and opened it, setting the datapad nearby. After a few commands, the transfer was complete. “I hope it is enough. Renic is formidable and he has the fleet marshal at his back. Anything we try to throw at him, Gallow can simply wipe away.”

Clarke nodded, a sadistic and uncharacteristic grin bending his lips. “That’s right. And if we can make Renic a liability, Gallow will wipe him away for us. I know Gallow, and one thing he cannot stand is a weak link in his chain of command. We just need to add a little weight to the chain and let the Fleet Marshal’s gravity do the rest.”