A short character piece from a cooperative story. -sk

“You are pushing things too close. From now on come in more often.”

“Just finish your work. I have a briefing at fifteen-hundred.” Statira said, bobbing horizontal on the repulsor field. It infuriated her how close the doctor’s words came to an order. Authoritative in a way a servant would never dare with any other member of her House. She grimaced as the infuser touched the base of her neck. Of course there was no pain – medical technology had long ago eliminated such barbarism – but the idea of it, the necessity, stung. Each treatment was a rare moment when the mask slipped. The scanners had, most likely, never bothered to analyze the emotional twitch. At least not in any recording Statira had been able to find in the Al-Haddad systems.

“That should do it. But really, it’s dangerous to be so razor thin on the margins.” The doctor said, frowning. Statira spun in the weightlessness of the field and shifted her legs out, using their newfound weight to extricate the rest of her mass. She tugged her uniform into place and thanked the doctor with a rapid burst of data from her comm, including a scheduled follow up appointment she would invariably miss. He accepted the non-verbal dismissal with relative grace.

Already her attention was focused on the Strand, even as she walked to her quarters. By the time she arrived and drew a cup of chai, her contact displays and sub-personas were busy analyzing swaths of data on Elysium and the mission. However, the largest portion of her higher brain function was focused on two points of data that circled in her mind like a twin star system.

Dyne Vale; Candor Veracitine. To call them enigmas wasn’t quite right – more like aberrant data that didn’t quite fit a set. Like quantum echo that had first clued Lakhanpal into plane travel. Statira wasn’t quite sure, as of yet, if either would prove that useful. But anything that fell outside of the old-guard was an opportunity she would exploit.

Veracitine first.

Pulling that much, that fast will almost certainly leave a noticeable trail in Strand traffic. A voice seemed to whisper in her thoughts as the search commenced.

Let it. She answered the other self. They’ll probably be pleased I’m doing my job; if they aren’t they’re naive or stupid. And they’ll probably gain a measure of pride at catching me in the act. It was always that way with Statira. Feints and double games. A consequence of her training and programming. Sometimes she wondered if it was possible to be sincere when every action was analyzed before it came out, even body language often part of a general subterfuge of the person.

Dyne’s personal logs showed he had already pulled a collection of reports and media on Veracitine. She queued up an ocular recording of a frigate engagement and came away impressed.

82% chance it was Veracitine.

That had been her best guess as well. It was intriguing enough to go further down the rabbit hole. House Veracitine countermeasures were just the sort of brutal, sleek things that military intelligence favored. It was no secret the commander’s family specialized in such grey ops. The first layers of data she picked through were another interesting taste. Casualty numbers, battle reports; they all looked very favorable for Candor. However such numbers could be propaganda. Statira wanted real evidence.

That’s a bit foolhardy. The voice told her.

I have to know. There was a sensation of her brain plunging into ice water, as a brief war was waged in dataspaces elsewhere. In the same instant it was over. She had what she wanted. Scofield-authenticated recordings of a battle he had commanded. It played upon her display contacts in crushing detail, clarity so fine it could zoom on the smallest point without any loss of resolution.

The engagement centered around some obsolete orbital munitions store of a now-defunct House to whom the Veracitines had been beholden. A fleet of twenty-three ships were arrayed against Candor’s eleven – most of them apparently battered in previous skirmishes, and considerably smaller. The enemy fleet crawled closer, in a standard petal formation. With such a clear advantage it was the only real choice. The Veracitine forces on the other hand were clustered far too densely. It negated their maneuverability. As the two forces pulled closer the petal began to close as the first lances of weapons fire glittered in the dark.

There. A small group of Veracitine frigates split off and ran perpendicular to the encounter. The effect was as expected – the lines of the enemy expanded and thinned to contain the divide and prevent the flank.

They might have to rewrite SOP for this encounter. She wondered to herself, and wondered again at how much House Veracitine’s particular expertise in gene-modding might be worth to create such a military mind. The two largest of Candor’s frigates – nearly missile destroyers in their own right – increased speed directly into what had been the most protected portion of the enemy fleet. But the small-ship screen had been overly-diverted to protecting the flank, and so their drone carrier burst into flames under missile barrage; its slaved fighters made far less dangerous. From there maneuverability won out. Candor’s orders had been to delay the enemy – instead they held the sector, forcing a retreat. Two ranks promotion followed.

I think he was lucky they didn’t have an actual carrier. Statira’s voice told her. If those weren’t drones, it’s a different fight. And those frigates of his were lost with all hands.

But they were drones, and why do you care about a few thousand here or there? Anyway, all I care about is if it was mind games or a chess move.

The commander of the enemy fleet was Irin Plinthe. Records indicate this was their first and only engagement against each other. Military models indicate Plinthe made no mistakes in regards to the situation, based on accepted doctrine. I think it’s safe to say Candor’s more gamer, less shaper.

How safe, how sure?

Statira knew she couldn’t pull that exact answer without much, much more data. It was still theories and guesswork. It would have to wait. She covered her tracks on some of the deeper probing and turned her attention back to Dyne Vale. Where Candor Veracitine was a blinking red warning sign, announcing every danger he posed, Vale was perhaps more disturbing. Why had such a man been put in charge of an Investigation fleet? What family would procure Tardigrade Augmentation for their scion? It was…distasteful, practically a handicap in the social elite. Though lesser houses often had entirely different views on such matters, Statira remembered. Al-Haddad were far from the paragons of taste.

A background in psychology – his philosophy of morality would have to be read without electronic condensation. Perhaps it held some clue, but Statira knew those sorts of nuances would be invisible to computer analysis. His record was exquisite, if not terribly exciting – a model son and citizen. Except there was the faint pattern of subtlest dissent, rebellion; and those in positions above him had a tendency to sink while at the same time his star rose higher and higher.

Maybe he’s more like you…

The thought-voice froze her blood, and she closed all open circuits with a wave of her hand – a physical movement she rarely bothered. The realization startled her. She was troubled by Dyne Vale. She didn’t understand him, and if she could not understand him…

Statira scheduled the moral treatises as top priority. It was fourteen-hundred hours, Strand time. It would have to wait until after the briefing. But it mustn’t wait for long.

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