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Peacekeeper

By Ronnie Murray,2014-11-04 21:09
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From Publishers WeeklyFormer USAF officer Reeve channels her flight experience into this crisp military SF debut. Major Ariane Kedros is a jaded N-space pilot who left the Armed Forces of the Consortium of Autonomous Worlds under the shadow of war crimes committed against the Terran Expansion League. Given a new identity to protect her from TEL retribution, she wanders around uncharted areas of space with her friend Matt Journey, seeking unusual artifacts and taking on occasional intelligence gigs for AFCAW. When several of her former crewmates are killed, Ariane is sent on a new undercover assignment that brings back haunting memories and puts her in considerable danger. Reeve drives the story at a breakneck pace, providing a fine mix of derring-do, honor and courage, and the Published by Roc on 2008/12/02

    Peacekeeper Laura E Reeve Table of Contents Title Page Copyright Page Dedication Acknowledgements CHAPTER 1 CHAPTER 2 CHAPTER 3 CHAPTER 4 CHAPTER 5 CHAPTER 6 CHAPTER 7 CHAPTER 8 CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

    CHAPTER 11

    CHAPTER 12

    CHAPTER 13

    CHAPTER 14

    CHAPTER 15

    CHAPTER 16

    CHAPTER 17

    CHAPTER 18

    CHAPTER 19

    CHAPTER 20

    CHAPTER 21

    CHAPTER 22

    A DEADLY TRAP

    Not knowing what waited for her on the other side, Ariane grabbed a handhold as she opened thedoor. There was no decompression, so she stepped to the threshold. The slate’s alarm went offin her hand, vibrating as well as flashing red dots.

    It felt surreal to look up at the status displayed above the door—calm green—then to lookdown at the slate and see blinking lights and the text WARNING! OXYGEN CONTENT INADEQUATE!

    TEMPERATURE DANGEROUSLY LOW! DO NOT EXPOSE

    SKIN!

    At least the suits had been equipped with shrink-to-fit gloves, so she hastily saved theslate’s data with a single action of her thumb. Still standing at the threshold, she reachedaround to flip the emergency disablement switch before stepping all the way into the gym.

    The door closed behind her anyway.

    She whirled, her breath starting to come faster. She’d toggled the mechanical disablementswitch, yet the door had closed. She was beginning to feel persecuted, and those feelingsbecame overwhelming as the lights dimmed and a text message formed on the back of the door:

    HOW CAN YOU HANDLE THE GUILT, ARI? SOON YOU’LL HAVE NO TROUBLE

    SLEEPING. . . .

     To the U.S. Air Force and Army members I’ve had the privilege to work with, and the many

     military personnel who heard the call to duty and followed it without hesitation other

    Acknowledgments

    Most novels grow from many favors and much input. This one is no exception, and I apologizethat I can acknowledge only some. First, my husband, Michael, deserves recognition for hisencouragement and scientific advice, including his ability to simplify subjects ranging fromquantum physics to cosmology. I am also indebted to my parents, Gerry and Norma, for theircontinuous support and for not noticing when I filched books from their library. I’mexceedingly grateful for the patient reviews and astute questions from my critique partner,Robin; my sister, Wendy; and my first reader, Summer. My agent, Jennifer Jackson, deserves allthe accolades I can compose for her, after sticking with me through multiple manuscripts.Finally, thanks to Jessica Wade and the staff at Penguin Group, who brought this series intobeing.

    CHAPTER 1

    The name Pax Minoica might satisfy the damned latinized

    League, but the Minoans don’t care.

    [Link to theories regarding modern Minoans encountered in twenty-first century]

    That’s not the purpose of the name; the Senate’s appealing to net-think nostalgia byhearkening back to pre-Terran

    Earth. Two ancient accords, both successful, carried the

    name of Pax Minoica. Alexander the Great brokered the

    second, so the Senate gets the bonus of megahero

    aura, helping them spin these treaties to citizens . . .

    —Anonymous Sophist at Konstantinople Prime University, 2091.98.10.22 UT, indexed by Democritus9 under Hypothetical Effect Imperative

    The floodlights from Aether’s Touch washed over the vessel on the portside slip, enhancingits tortuous lines and pulsing skin. It looked like an amoebic parasite sucking life away fromAthens Point rather than a docked spacecraft using legitimately leased resources.

    "Matt? Get us a different slip. They’re putting us next to Minoans,” Ariane said overinternal comm to the only other crew member on Aether’s Touch . Her fingers flew across her

    console and strengthened their firewall, a precaution she took when docking at any habitat. Shewasn’t paranoid, only sensible.

    "I’ll talk to Command Post,” Matt replied from the protected array compartment. He soundedaltogether too fresh and cheery, she thought sourly, because he had gotten rack time during

    N-space. The bright pumping into his bloodstream since they entered real-space had cleared hishead. She, however, had to stay awake through N-space, and that meant clash, as most pilotscalled it. Clash kept her terrors at bay, her reflexes sharp, and her thoughts clear butjaggedly edged with irritability. Running her fingers through her loose, short curls, she feltthem tremble against her hypersensitive scalp. The clash pushed uncomfortably behind hereyelids when she closed them, and the bright wasn’t helping.

    "That’s all they can give us. All their class-C slips are taken.” Matt no longer soundedcheerful.

    "That’s shit from the Great Bull itself. Who’d we piss off?” Ariane’s question wasrhetorical. Everyone followed the rules when Minoans were around, so she and Matt would sufferthe most rigorous inspections possible from Athens Point Customs and Flight Records.

    "We can’t afford Minoan attention. Do you think they know what we’re carrying?”

    "Don’t see how. I don’t think this is personal; it’s just bad luck.” Ariane focused on thedirectional lights flashing at their slip.

    "Bad luck all around. I already notified Nestor and told him to stand ready.”

    "Great—him and every lurker on this habitat,” she said.

    "The claims will be puncture-proof. Really.”

    She didn’t answer. Among Matt’s frustrating qualities were his unshakable confidence, goodhumor, and optimism. As a perennial pessimist, she doubted that he and Nestor could close theloopholes. By now, lurkers had seen their ship arrive and had their legal vultures ready tomuscle in on the action. Once Nestor submitted their claims and the deadline expired, thecarnage would start. Aether Exploration’s claims would have to withstand everything frompatent infringement threats to good old-fashioned claim jumping.

    Aether’s Touch and started Y-vector approach into the docking ring. EverythingShe oriented

    was right on track. She had time and was as curious as the next mundane, so she reviewed thevideo of the portside ship.

    No mundane human, to her knowledge, had been on board a Minoan vessel. Net-think speculatedthat the outside skin was a partially organic composite, perhaps because of its mottled green-yellow color and the pulsing movement of conduits. Lights glowed through its hull, but didn’tresolve into decks. Net-think also postulated that Minoan shielding allowed true windows intheir N-space ships. Ariane couldn’t guess where their referential engine was located orwhether the ship was armed. She didn’t dare direct her lights and cam-eyes toward the Minoanvessel again, as she didn’t want to attract their attention. She idly watched the approachvideo from the starboard cam-eye, happy to see the angular outline of a mundane ship. When shesaw weapons pods, however, she magnified the video and frowned as the AFCAW logo slid by. Whywould a military ship, in this case a lightweight cruiser, dock at Athens Point when it coulduse Karthage?

    "Let’s get through docking without a fuss. How’s it look for flight records?” Matt’s voiceinterrupted her deliberations about the cruiser.

    Ariane chewed her lip.

    "You’re legal, right? Ari?” His voice became sharp.

    The logs on Aether’s Touch would prove she’d stayed within real-space safety limits, butthat wasn’t the source of Matt’s concern. She considered the cocktail of drugs inside herbody. The street smooth she’d added to take the edge off the clash wasn’t an approvedsupplement. On the other hand, regulations didn’t prohibit smooth, and in this case Athens

    Point Flight Records got to decide whether she had used a safe dose.

    "I’m not sure,” she said reluctantly.

    Matt swore.

    "Look, I only added some smooth. Plenty of pilots use it, with no problems.”

    "But we’re going to be hammered with every regulation possible,” he said.

    "How’d I know we’d be squeezed between Minoans and AFCAW?” Her voice rose and her stomachtightened. She should have made this run strictly by the book. Too late now . There was

    ominous silence over internal comm.

    "Matt?”

    "AFCAW? Here?”

    "Cruiser, lightly armed, docked to starboard.”

    "I’ll be on deck for final connection.” Matt cut off to lock down the array compartment. Aether’s Touch was a second-wave prospector, and while she supported a crew of only two, shehad the latest exploration-rated equipment. Sapphire-shielded crystal arrays held theirprecious cargo: information gathered through every possible remote sensor and telebot availableon Aether’s Touch . Physical samples were stored in the compartment aft of the vaults.

    Ariane turned back to her console and concentrated on the approaching slip. The autopilotwasn’t foolproof and any pilots worth their salary wouldn’t let their ship attempt dockingunattended. Matt climbed to the control deck as station supply and recycling tubes wereclamping on to the Aether’s Touch. He was more protective of the ship than Ariane; she

    knew he watched the station crews critically through the cam-eye, ready to pounce on any safetydeviations. Ariane’s fingers danced over the smooth console surface. She turned overenvironmental controls to the habitat so they could run on station resources and power. Ofcourse, Athens Point would bill Matt for every second of each service.

    "Aligned and using station gravity. Switching over air supply.” Ariane called out herchecklist steps over intercom as was required by regulations, not that anyone needed to hearthem. Matt knew when his air supply changed. She watched his reflection turn and sniff the air,his angular cheekbones, nose, and jaw showing a pleasing profile. He kept his blond hair short,

    cut in a military style that Ariane preferred. Not that she’d made her preferences known tohim. . . .

    She looked away. Matt was her employer, the civilian equivalent of her commander. Besides that,

     . The only way for a crew to work successfully was to keep the relationshiphe was crew

    professional. Ariane clamped down on her thoughts,I’llnever make that mistake again.

    squashing the memories into darkness.

    "Ah, fresh air.” Matt sighed.

    Ariane suppressed a smile. Only crèche-get could appreciate station air. Matt was agenerational ship baby and carried the generational-line last name of Journey. Because of hisupbringing, he considered any proven crew member to be family. Perhaps he was a bit tootrusting, but this worked in her favor since she didn’t have an authentic family orbackground.

    She and Matt trusted each other, which was necessary because new space had its dangers. Thegenerational ship that established the time buoy in the new solar system wasn’t responsiblefor charting or resource discovery. That was the job of the second-wave prospectors, and Arianeliked being out in the lonely nether reaches for months on end.

    "Let’s see what’s waiting.” Matt leaned over her shoulder and activated the cam-eye feedfrom the dock. Wearing colorful badges and crisp uniforms, three officials stood at the end oftheir ramp and looked as pompous as possible. They expected Customs and Flight Records, but notStation Ops.

    "I’ve never seen all three officials on the ramp before, and certainly not in such cleangear.” Matt widened the view to show the whole ramp, and they saw the reason Station Ops waspresent.

    "What the . . . ?” she said.

    "We’re fucked,” he said.

    Several paces behind the three officials stood a tall figure with an elaborate horned headdressand robes that managed to look diaphanous while remaining androgynous. A Minoan . No one would

    have asked its purpose here; the Minoans rarely explained their business to mundanes. It stood,stopping traffic, in the center of the main ring corridor. A buzzing cloud of remotes, tryingto record the rare occurrence of a Minoan on a commercial habitat, kept several meters away.Behind the billowing mass of remotes, well behind them, stood a few onlookers who were just atthe edge of cam-eye view from the ship.

    "Don’t panic. There’ll only be delays. They’ll have to do a brain-wave pattern panel todetect and quantify the smooth.” Ariane said this matter-of-factly, since the flight recordsofficial had all the appropriate equipment hanging from her left shoulder.

    "As long as no one gets a whiff of our cargo,” he said.

    She nodded, her gut wincing. The waiting Minoan drew excessive attention to their arrival, morethan Matt’s messages or her delays with Flight Records required. The entire station wasprobably watching and loading video of the Minoan onto ComNet. They might as well haveannounced on the feeds that they’d made the most significant find of their lifetimes, whichwas far more important than her pilot license and rating.

    After they opened the air lock, Ariane took a moment to digest the smells and the air quality,the unique signature of every station. Heavy equipment wasn’t allowed on class-C docks; themixture of perfumes, sweat, and spices overrode traces of ozone and lubricant. As stimulatingas the scents were, the gray deck and panels of Athens Point were similar to those of otherhabitats. She paused at the top of the ramp, disoriented. The panels near their slip should becovered with—ah, now they had been found and targeted. Advertisements aimed at Ariane andMatt, selected per their buying habits, opened and fought for space on the wall and even theceiling. She knew better than to look up this soon on station, before she was used to habitat-g. For this very reason, the deck was off-limits to anything but operational and emergencyannouncements. The audio for the advertisements started yammering in her implanted ear bug; she

    pressed behind her ear and turned it off, since it would automatically activate for private andurgent messages. Turning the ear bug off, unfortunately, triggered higher volume from the nodessupporting the wall display. Every merchant she or Matt had ever used seemed to be trottingadvertisements across the wall. After being isolated in new space for more than six months, shewas unnerved by the discordant sights and sounds.

    Ariane glanced past the officials. Hopeful advertisers were even peppering the Minoan. Itsheaddress extended its head organically and supported the requisite horns, jewels, andbeads—apparently justifying the jewelry commercials. Hidden equipment obscured its head andface, and raised contours that sucked in light rather than reflected it. The "velvet-over-icemask,” coined by net-think, defeated man-made sensors and ensured that facial features or skinwasn’t visible.

    If Minoans had faces or skin. Net-think had more theories than she could count regarding theorigin of the Minoans and who or what they were. Shortly after the Hellenic Alliance putmankind onto Earth’s moon, the Minoans arrived. They offered the essential element for N-spacetravel to several other solar systems. At the time, they controlled the secret to making N-space time buoys, and a hundred years later, they still maintained that monopoly.

    She looked away from the Minoan quickly, focusing on her scuffed boots. The officials waited.She jerked her head once to shake her loose curls and make them presentable. As she walked downthe ramp, her boots made light, ringing taps, sounding deceptively delicate. Matt followed, hislanky stride making rude clunks. When she stopped, he put his hands on her shoulders and stoodbehind her, looking over her head. She felt tension in his hands through her coveralls.

    Aether’s Touch into slip thirty-three. She’s recorded as owned"Athens Point welcomes the

    and crewed by Matt Journey, and piloted by Ariane Kedros.” Station Ops used a clippedintonation. "We’ll start with the pilot, then move to the ship and cargo.”

    "We’ll need proof of pilot identity.” Flight Records handed Ariane the recorder. Proof ofidentity was unusual and she felt Matt’s grip tighten on her shoulders.

    "Great Bull-s—” Matt swallowed his expletive in deference to the listening Minoan. "What’sgoing on here?”

    "This is standard procedure, Mr. Journey,” said Flight Records.

    "No, it isn’t, and I object to paying for retinal matching. The regs don’t require—”

    "It’s okay, Matt. Let’s pay, regulation or not,” Ariane said. Antagonizing the dockinginspectors wasn’t going to speed things up.

    She felt his hands relax and took this as acceptance. She held the recorder against her eye totake a reading and handed it back to Flight Records. Identity forgery in the autonomist worldswas almost impossible, because it required changing all primary and secondary documentation incrystal. Once written to crystal, always in crystal. The data couldn’t be changed or erased,and both government and commercial security systems protected crystal vaults.

     A false identity is impossible, unless your identity is created and paid for by the

     . Her mind veered away from those thoughts. I’m Ariane Kedros, she told herselfgovernment

    firmly.

    "Any implants with artificial synapse interfaces?” asked Flight Records.

    "No.” Ariane shivered as the slim, humming detection wand waved over her head, neck, and back.Her implants were the common, innocuous kinds, used for communications, drug monitoring, orstorage of personal information. CAW had outlawed synapse interfaces for piloting vehicles anddenied air and space pilot licenses to anyone who still sported such an interface. Hospitalvegetable bins were full of those who had jumped on the wet-ware craze a couple of decades ago.Early adopters didn’t consider the viciousness of the anonymous hacker. Popularity of synapseinterfaces waned in the face of the dangers. When they discovered that synapse-enhanced gamescould be used remotely for murder, the Senate stepped in and created legal constraints onsynapse interfaces.

    "Your allowed delta tranquilizer to cognitive dissonance enhancer ratio is . . .” The eyebrowsof Flight Records went up as she read Ariane’s profile on the slate. Frowning, she evaluatedAriane’s small frame from head to foot. "Those are high.”

    "Medically evaluated each year,” Ariane said.

    Flight Records shrugged and held out the slate. "Unlock privacy control and approve dose-ratemeasurements, please.”

    Ariane thumbed the slate and gave her public password for voiceprint analysis. The slatedownloaded readings from her implant and showed doses of d-tranny, clash, and bright, as wellas radiation exposures. They would request the same from Matt, but purely as a health measure.For the N-space pilot, this was a compliance check.

    Now was the time to admit she’d operated under smooth. At the least, she could bypass thebrain-wave panel and Matt might quickly proceed into customs inspections. At the worst, theymight fine her or revoke her license. Ariane drew a deep breath.

    "I’m making a statement of personal status,” she said.

    "Don’t, Ari.” Matt’s hands felt heavier. "Hoping to get through this quickly, Mr. Journey?”A pleasant voice wafted toward them from the remotes in the corridor. Everyone turned to watchColonel Owen Edones glide through the swarm of remotes with his usual ease.

    he doing here?” Matt hissed in her ear while his fingers dug into her shoulders. "What’s

    "I can formally vouch for Major Kedros and speed this up,” Colonel Edones said. His blackuniform with the light blue trim and insignia was pristinely pressed and tailored. He strodetoward them. When he passed the Minoan, he nodded his head respectfully.

    Strangely, the Minoan inclined its horns, backed away, and left them. Everyone standing at slip33

    watched as the Minoan departed for its strange ship. A few mouths dropped open. Remotes beganto drift away, presumably to cover other areas of the habitat that were more interesting totheir owners.

    "What?” said Station Ops.

    "Shall we bypass flight records inspection?” Colonel Edones asked. "I have business with MajorKedros and I can vouch for her, by signature.”

    Flight Records searched her slate, probably only now reading the notes appended to Ariane’spilot license that read "Member of AFCAW Reserve, rank Major, assigned to Directorate ofIntelligence, rated to pilot light military air vehicles under seven metric tons and spacevehicles OFSV-16, OFSV-19, Naga-20, Naga-21, Naga-24.” She handed her slate to Colonel Edones,who applied his thumbprint. Station Ops was peeved. "But our procedures—”

    "Bypassed on my authority,” Edones said, his tone quiet and implacable.

    "We don’t need your help, Edones.” In contrast, Matt’s voice sounded young and rough.

    "Major, tell your boy to calm down. I’m carrying orders for you.”

    Ariane twisted away from Matt to face both of them. She understood Matt’s antipathy forEdones, but she’d never figured out why Edones returned the hostility.

    "You can refuse the orders, Ari. I’ll sign the 932 that says you’re necessary for yourcivilian job.” Matt’s face took on that familiar stubborn look. He had evidently read up onthe regulations, but sadly, he didn’t understand the true hold that AFCAW held over her.

    "That’ll never happen, will it, Major?” Edones had a small, grim smile on his face.

    "I’ll remind both of you that I make my own decisions,” she said. "I’ll decide after lookingover the orders.”

    "Only under secure conditions. I suggest we talk, while Mr. Journey handles his inspections.”Edones turned and walked toward his slip, apparently confident that she’d follow. She felt asurge of resentment and wondered whether she could puncture his confident arrogance, just once.But if anything defined Ariane Kedros , it was her duties and assignments for the Directorate

    of Intelligence. She began to follow Edones, but Matt grabbed her arm and swung her around toface him.

    "Ari, I can’t go through this again. You understand?” His eyes were wide, his jaw musclesclenched and raised.

    She knew what he meant. Matt had looked like that after he’d supported her head and kept her

    reward for gettingsafe as she convulsed and vomited, purging her last celebration binge, her through her last assignment alive.

    "It won’t happen again. I promise.” Her voice was steady, but she swallowed hard as sheremembered the rich taste of beer mixed with burning shots of liquor and the sweet smooth—allin quantities that could kill a bull. She was lying.

    "Good. Don’t take any assignment from Edones until you talk with me.” He squeezed her armwith friendly concern.

    Deep down, she felt a tiny kernel of disappointment stir. She was sure Matt didn’t believeher, but he wouldn’t confront her. Why didn’t he walk away and give her the contempt shedeserved?

    Matt watched Ari catch up with Edones. He shook his head. Whenever that smarmy colonel showedup, Ari would disappear on mysterious missions that Matt suspected were also dangerous. He’dstarted to depend upon her. So much that he’d place his life in her hands—already had, forthat matter. Just six days ago, he’d collapsed against the inside of the air lock in apunctured, barely operable suit. Ari pressurized the air lock and entered. After opening hishelmet and checking his vitals, she’d proceeded to lecture him.

    "We’re almost at the end of the season and we can leave that bot. What we can’t afford tolose is the ship, and I came mighty close; if we lost her, it’d be your own damn fault.Really, Matt, what’s so valuable out there that you’d risk your life and ship?”

    Standing there with her hands on her hips and that fierce expression on her face, Ari shamedhim into silence. He reached into the webbed pouch on his suit, pulled out the bot’s memorymodule, and held it up.

    Her eyes widened.

    "Is that a rhetorical question?” he asked.

    She stared at him for a moment, and then started chuckling. That was what he liked aboutAri—she knew that sometimes extreme measures were called for to get the job done. That’s

     Edones keeps giving her assignments. The bruises and medical treatments she hasprobably why

     comes back, the drinking she does—when she

    "Mr. Journey, I’m on a tight schedule!” The customs inspector still waited to examine thecrystal storage and data systems.

    Matt glanced down at the shorter man. When he looked up, he saw Ari and Edones turn onto thering corridor and pass from his sight.

    CHAPTER 2

    The Terran Expansion League (TerraXL) and the Consortium of Autonomous Worlds (CAW),hereinafter referred to as the Parties, Conscious of the devastating

    power of temporal distortion weapons upon the fabric

    of the universe, and Convinced that the measures set

    forth in this Treaty will strengthen interstellar peace and

    security, have agreed upon the articles written in this

    Treaty. . . .

    —Preamble to Mobile Temporal Distortion (TD) Weapon Treaty, Signed Under Pax Minoica,2105.164.10.22 UT, indexed by Heraclitus 17 under Conflict Imperative

    "I see rank still has its privileges,” Ariane said when she entered the mission commander’soffice on the cruiser. The compartment was large, by spaceship standards. A desk and two chairswere bolted to the deck. Behind the desk, the bulkhead displayed the seal of the Consortium ofAutonomous Worlds next to the Consortium Armed Forces crest.

    "Nice, isn’t it? This connects to my cabin and is fitted with every device available throughMilNet. But don’t worry, this conversation can’t be heard by normal nodes.” Owen flashed heran innocent, boyish smile and winked one of his blue eyes. When he didn’t close his face downinto that bland politic expression, he could be handsome.

    Ariane refused to be charmed. Owen was dangerous. He didn’t have an innocent bone in his bodyand he’d just admitted that he had control over what MilNet documented. She regretted being ona first-name basis with someone like him—what did that say about her? But I’m not anybody

    real, not anymore.

    She looked around. AFCAW crimson and gold were liberally splashed about the cabin andfurniture, but something was missing. It took her a moment to identify what, or specifically,whom.

    "Where’s Joyce?”

    The hulking and pragmatic sergeant who followed Owen from assignment to assignment wasn’tpresent. The saying "once you sell your soul to the black and blue, you’re forever theirs”wasn’t hyperbole. She suspected the Directorate always assigned Sergeant Joyce and ColonelOwen Edones as a pair so they could support, as well as observe, each other. After all, loadsof bullshit had rolled downhill onto these two and they were the ones that had to clean up.They were the only ones who handled certain secrets that flowed from CAW to AFCAW to theDirectorate, secrets that no one wanted to know and everyone hoped would die with these twomen. Secrets such as my identity . She knew how much work had gone into her false records aswell as those of others, and how Owen and Joyce alone shouldered the burdens, responsibilities,and knowledge.

    "He’s TDY.” Owen’s voice didn’t encourage any questions and she didn’t ask anything more,familiar with the temporary duty orders that came from Owen. She had no need to know what Joycewas doing.

    "When did the Directorate of Intelligence get its own ships?” she asked.

    "Thanks for noticing. Relax. There’s no need to stand on formalities after all this time.”Owen opened cabinets in the side bulkhead, searching for something.

    "I couldn’t miss the Intelligence emblem on the air lock. Why would you be given command of acruiser?” She remained standing and stared at the AFCAW crest behind the desk. Its cleanmidcentury design of the stylized Labrys Raptor had started with the Colonial Air Forces onHellas Prime.

    "The final treaty’s been ratified and we’re closing down Naga’s temporal distortion mission.Can’t your employer afford any feeds? Ah.” Owen pulled out a bottle. He opened it, sloshingthe dark liquid. "Want a drink?”

     . The amber highlights sparkled, and as he poured Yes, by Gaia and any gods of the Minoans

    himself a glass, the sensuous smell filled the cabin. Her mouth watered as she regretfullymeasured her resolve, and whether she’d lose it with the drink. Ari, other people don’t

     Matt told her. Every drinkisn’t a struggle of control or a bigthink like that,

     decline it. Rationing anddecision. They either want it or they don’t—if they don’t, they

     But for her, the idea of anyone not wanting a drinkrationalizing your drinks isn’t natural.

    was unnatural.

    "Shutting down the Naga systems puts you out of a job. No more secrets to protect,” she said,trying to ignore the liquor.

    That wasn’t true. There would always be Ura-Guinn.

    "Don’t be naive, Major. We could always retrofit the Naga vehicle for kinetic weapons, butthat’s not our immediate concern. Someone has to ensure the TerranXL inspection teams departwith the same intelligence as when they arrived. They’re still our enemy.”

    "You intelligence golems love all this intrigue and secrecy, don’t you?” She moved backwardand sat down in the chair that opposed his desk to get farther away from the smell of theliquor.

    "You’re one of us now, so live with it. Your orders.” He tossed her a military-issue slate."Of all people, you should realize how important this particular treaty is. We’ve gotten tothe crux of Pax Minoica. Fifteen years of dancing about the negotiation tables under Minoanoversight and we finally begin the drawdown of the weapons system that started it all. We’regoing to start destroying the warheads that damage nous-space-time, if we’re to believe theMinoans. . . .” He let his words trail off, leaning back behind his desk. He took a deepswallow of his drink.

    "No, of all people , I don’t need to be lectured on the dangers of a temporal distortionwave.” Her voice was harsh.

    She thumbed the slate. It contained a copy of the treaty, which she paged through quickly.There were protocols to follow, inspections required by each side to verify numbers ofwarheads, schedules for destruction of warheads, blah, blah, and blah. She opened the ordersnext. At least Owen kept her in-system. Karthage Point was a military habitat, under full AFCAWcontrol and located near Hellas Daughter, the major moon of Hellas Prime. One of Karthage’smissions was testing Naga systems, designed and built on Hellas Daughter. The first treatyunder Pax Minoica had curtailed actual testing of temporal distortion waves. Now the testsquadron, performing a dying mission, used simulations and tested guidance and targetinghardware without warhead packages. This last treaty finally dismantled the operationalsquadrons. Karthage also had one of these squadrons, with a complement of TD warheads,qualifying it as an inspection site under the Mobile TD Weapon Treaty.

    "This is different—putting me back into uniform. Why assign me as liaison to the Terran

    inspection teams?” She looked up to see Owen watching her. "Diplomacy isn’t my forte and I’mnot familiar with the Karthage facilities. You’ve got plenty of lackeys that can do thisassignment better than I can.”

    "I have faith in your skills, Major. You can fit in anywhere you want, and be anyone youwant.”

     Yet I can’t feel comfortable anywhere, with anyone, she thought bitterly. She leaned back

    into the plush chair.

    "I’m thinking of taking Matt’s advice,” she said. "Maybe it’s time to resign mycommission.”

    "Give up AFCAW protection? That would be foolish.”

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