The Tiger in the Boneyard (TGG)

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The Tiger in the Boneyard (TGG)

Post by fgalkin » 2008-11-03 01:07pm

Well, after some prodding from Marina, I'm finally posting this, exactly a year after I started writing it for NaNoWriMo 2007. I apologize in advance for the quality of the writing, since I was going for 50k words in a month, it puts quantity over quality, and the writing is less polished than normally. I'm also rewriting parts of it to fit in closer with TGG canon, so, while it will make the whole thing better (and bigger, too), it will also take some time, since I don't have a lot of free time available. So, it might take a while for me to put the whole thing up.

Having said that, sit back and enjoy the ride! Comments and criticism most welcome, as always.

The Tiger in the Boneyard



As the fleet carrier Righteous Fury slid into her mooring dock high over Calpurnia, the crowds all over the planet erupted in jubilation. The warship was accompanied by a swarm of smaller civilian ships, which surrounded it like a school of pilot fish, mingling with the carrier’s own complement of parasite craft. They relayed images of the majestic carrier throughout the planet, where a public holiday had been declared, and beyond. The scions the Great House Calpurnius and its subjects were welcoming their heroic daughter home.

Inside the ship, however, the atmosphere was far from jubilant. As Thais hurried through its decks towards her mistress’s quarters, she could not help but sense the unease of her fellow paladins. Unlike the people below, the crew of the Righteous Fury knew of the uneasy relationship between their commander and her sister Calpurnius Anina, the head of the Great House Calpurnius, and could not help but wonder what the invitation meant.

The commander’s quarters were located in the armored core of the Righteous Fury, close to both the command deck and the Emperor’s Temple, for the senior-most paladin on a ship, particularly one as famous as Calpurnius Isis, represented a special link to the Emperor Ascendant and was considered holy. As she returned the salute of the commander’s personal guards (paladins of the Order, and not one of them of the House Calpurnius), Thais experienced a moment of trepidation, as she prepared to enter her liege lady’s presence.

Inside, the commander’s quarters were both large and lavish, as if nobody deigned to inform their designers that they were located on a ship of war. A large atrium held a pool with holographic water- the only concession to the possibility of a sudden loss of gravity. Statues of the heroes of the Order of the Golden Dragon and of the House Calpurnius lined the walls, and the ceiling was filled by a holographic view of the space on the dorsal side of the ship. The floor was covered a beautiful mosaic, depicting the commander’s victory at the battle of Ube. Thais continued on, past the servant’s rooms and towards the main part of the house, walking through rooms full of almost unimaginable luxury, far richer than those of her family palace on Merella. She also knew that this was one of the safest places to be on the ship. It was surrounded by an extra layer of armored bulkheads, a special service corridor would lead the inhabitants to the escape deck in case of emergency, and the servants were drilled constantly to stow away anything breakable or valuable in the time it took to clear the ship for action.

Thais was met by Xerxes, the commander’s butler, standing guard over the door of the lady’s private chambers, who informed her that the lady was waiting to meet her, before opening the door

Calpurnius zi Gorrag Thais Pia, herself a Knight-Commander of the Order, and an accomplished fighter, usually felt utterly insignificant in the presence of her liege lady. Calpurnius Isis Kerena, Lieutenant Admiral of the Order, sister to the head of the Great House Calpurnius, the hero of the campaigns against the Pceu, the greatest operational commander of the Imperium in over a century, was, literally, larger than life. Standing well over 2 meters tall, she towered over most of her subordinates. Her features were the product of 3 millennia of genetic engineering that neither time, nor the calamities of the Fall could destroy, and were without flaw. Her movements were both graceful and precise, thanks to her restructured muscles and life-long training. She was a member of the High Nobility, the few hundred individuals among the trillions of the Imperium, who lucky enough to retain the blessings of the Dual Emperor’s genetic enhancement programs. She was one of humanity’s most powerful psychics. She was, in a word, perfect.

When Thais entered, she was being dressed by a small crowd of attendants. Like Thais, she wore the dress uniform of a senior paladin of the Order- a tall conical helm, an ornate cuirass encrusted with real gold and gems, and matching trousers. However, while Thais, as a Knight-Commander wore red, her lady’s floor-length cape and stole were woven with the finest gold thread, indicating senior command rank. Golden were the hilt of her ceremonial sword, and the edges of the black sash across her chest, indicating her being a member of the Fleet. She seemed to be a living continuation of her quarters, a statue of Imperial Gold. The crowds below would be impressed, for sure, Thais decided.

“My lady, all is prepared.” Thais bowed. “The shuttle and your escort stand ready, and we have received landing instructions from the planet to Tarmudson base. You are then to transfer to an open-top gravcar, and ride in triumph through the streets of the capital.”

“Gorrag,” the admiral acknowledged the bow with a nod of the head. "Our security arrangements are unchanged?"

"We have limited ourselves to the customary precautions, as a show of good faith, as you have ordered." Thais bowed again. "The gravcar is equipped with a Mark XVI shield generator. I have also stationed snipers along your projected route, arranged for constant orbital surveillance by the Fury’s own satellites, and ordered a company of drop-troops to be prepared for immediate deployment to anywhere on the planet, should the situation require it. Ican, of course, always cancel the public part of the trip, and have us take the shuttle directly into Calpurnius palace.”

“Thank you, Gorrag, but that will not be necessary. We have not set foot on our home planet for close to four decades. I will not deny myself and you the pleasure of seeing our beautiful planet without good reason.”

“As you wish, my lady.”

“You do not agree, Gorrag. Why? I know your family is from Merella, not Calpurnia, but surely you must have some feelings for the seat of power of your House.”

Many decades ago, when Thais entered the service of Calpurnius Isis, she was amazed to discover that her liege was remarkably reluctant to use her own prodigious mental powers without need. Not only her peers, but even ordinary paladins and even her servants were largely safe from anything but a brief surface scan. For a while, Thais could not understand the reason, until she realized that it was her lady’s way of reminding herself that even those less blessed than her were still a part of the Emperor’s Plan, and ought to be treated with the proper respect. Thais could certainly see the advantages of such an approach—she could be sure in situations like this that her lady’s often prescient comments stemmed from the fact that she truly knew her aide well, and not because she was reading her mind. Unfortunately, such an approach also produced mistakes.

“My lady, it is not that,” Thais said. "I love our capital very much. To be quite honest, it’s the Lady Anina I am worried about. We have still received no indication of what she plans to discuss with you, aside from it being of the utmost importance. There are all kinds of rumors floating among the crew of the ship, and even among some of the Knights...."

"You fear a trap? But, I know my sister and have no reason whatsoever to suspect her of foul play. I have heard hints that she intends for a reconciliation. My star seems to be on the rise. I know that Admiral Alai Gag intends me to be his successor as the commander of Spinward frontier when he retires next year.”

“My lady, that is great news indeed! But I have heard nothing of this before.”

“The information is still secret, Gorrag, and we intended it to remain that way until the official announcement came. But House Calpurnius has excellent spies. It is possible that my sister knows even that which you do not. If so, she may have decided that I am too dangerous an enemy to have, and intends to end the divide between us. Emperor knows, that would raise our House to great new heights. We may even split with House Ikras and become loyalist again. I would like that very much.”

“That would be the best thing to happen to our House in its history. But, My lady, that is even more cause to take caution. Great House Ikras will surely take offense of that, and if they know of what this meeting is about, they will be sure to try to stop it. Perhaps, you should have delay your triumph until after you have spoken with the Lady Anina?”

“No, Gorrag, I shall not do that, on the chance that I’m wrong, and the meeting with my sister ends like our last. Then, I will not have a chance for that at all. I have dreamed of this day for so long, I will not give it up for anything.”

“As you wish, my lady. Then, we shall leave as soon as you are ready.”

As she and her liege lady made their way to the flight deck, escorted by Calpurnius Isis’s private armsmen and a full security detail of Order shipboard troops, Thais once more could not hide from the sense of unease that permeated the ship, despite the best efforts of all the paladins in their path to act cheerful. Her own psychic abilities were no match for those of the admiral; she was not even a telepath at all, but merely a part of the ten percent of humanity that retained slight empathic abilities, and she was not even a mid-range empath at that. But even she could sense the apprehension of the crew. The fact that the admiral could feel it to a much greater extent, and remain unperturbed and set in her course of action spoke volumes of her desire to end the divide that split her House in two, and this filled Thais with both hope and pride.

Together, they had reached the flight deck, where the carrier’s complement of parasite craft was being constantly re-armed and re-fueled before being sent out on what were still, at this point, routine patrols. When they appeared, the crew on deck momentarily stopped their work for a quick salute to their commander- a clenched fist against the heart- before returning to their duties. An company of drop troops could be seen preparing to embark in a drop lander to be deployed if needed. They quickly snapped into parade formation and presented arms smartly. The Knight-Cornet in command, approached the group and snapped to attention.

“My ladies, we are ready! Just give the word and we’ll drop from the sky and smash the lot of them,” he began to say, until a glare from Thais made him stop. He suddenly realized that not only did he speak out of line, but that his eagerness got the best of him, and the admiral would not take kindly to the suggestion of murdering her own people. “My apologies, my lady. I meant no offense,” he continued, in a much more muffled tone.

“Indeed you did not,” the admiral replied. “But it would be best if your skills would not be needed today.” The officer bowed and beat a hasty retreat to his waiting troops.

The group was met by a Knight-Lieutenant in charge of the flight deck and was escorted to their shuttle- a spacious craft that could accommodate the Admiral, her aide, the Centurion bearing her personal standard, and the honor guard easily and had more than enough room to spare. As they were about to enter, however, the admiral had stopped suddenly.

“It’s odd, Gorrag. For an instant, I’ve experienced a most peculiar sensation”

Alarmed, Thais reached out with her own meager skills, knowing it to be futile, and indeed she felt nothing aside from some paladins’ eagerness for the coming shore leave, which promised to be a good one, if the reception given to their commander was anything to go by, and other’s unease at being in the same space as so illustrious a figure (and one that could read they every thought, or so they believed).

“My lady, perhaps we should cancel the public part of the trip after all. I’ll arrange for us to be flown directly into the palace.”

“No, Gorrag, it’s nothing. I’m just anxious, that is all.” Even privately, to her long-time aide, she did not suggest that the paladins under her command are somehow to blame by distracting her. She truly believed that the paladins were doing the Emperor’s work, and their failures were the product of her own mistakes.

“Wery well, then, my lady.”

As they entered the shuttle, Thais felt her mind reach out through her neural implant and interface with the computer. She sat down near the admiral and closed her eyes. An image of the flight deck appeared before her eyes, courtesy of the shuttle’s sensors. She felt the soft rumble of the engines as the craft lifted off the deck and began moving towards the hangar exit.

She felt her stomach lurch, and saw the shape of the Righteous Fury grow smaller and disappear above as the shuttle began its descent. They were escorted down by a wing of Hawks, the pilots of the aerospace fighters doing their best to stay in formation, knowing that their commander was watching.

The shuttle went in, at first going into restricted airspeace, staying close to the long silvery line of the beanstalk that connected the orbital facilities with the surface of the planet, then veering off sharply towards the glittering spires of the high city of Calpurnius, home to some 200 million inhabitants, and the seat of government of the Fifth House. They circled the city at it's midpoint, some 25 kilometers above ground level, to give the Admiral a good look at her home; and continued on, to the airfield of Tarmudson base. Thais could see everything perfectly fine using just her neural interface, but still she opened her eyes and looked out of a porthole. The three main spires of the high city, surrounded by a swarm of aircars, occupied most of the sky, plunging the base and its surroundings into deep shadow. Thais frowned at that. Was this a simple oversight on the part of the recieving party, a not-so-sublte snub, or the sign of something much more sinister?

"My Lady, this is most irregular, perhaps we should..."

She threw a glance at her liege. The Admiral was staring out the porthole, ignoring her words. “Thank the Emperor, I am coming home,” Thais heard her whisper.

She followed her gaze outside. The base itself was brightly lit by hundrerds of floodlights and she could easily make out a series of waiting gravcars, and dozens of people in the colors of her House which composed the greeting party, with the crowd of lesser dignitaries some distance away, kept in check by a line of Calpurnius troops.

"My Lady..." she tried again, but never got the chance to finish the sentence, for suddenly, the sky turned turned brilliant-white. Covers slammed over the the shuttlecraft's portholes, saving her sight, while the small craft’s computer reacted faster than even the enhanced neurons of its pilot, raising shields within milliseconds.

They were nowhere near enough, but they extended the Admiral's life for almost a second before failing. Then, it was all over- the shuttlecraft and all within it were smashed to bits instantaneously, and vaporized soon thereafter. The nuclear detonation knocked out all of the escorting squadron’s Hawks, leveled the base, and continued on, killing every living being within several kilometers.

Have a very nice day.

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Re: The Tiger in the Boneyard (TGG)

Post by fgalkin » 2008-11-09 02:48am

It's been a busy week, so you're so all you're getting is a very small update. Sorry.

Urdesh, Esis
Day 281 of Year 491 of the Age of the Emperor Ascendant

By the time Jini reached the main office of Zuleiman's Security Corporation, the local sun, Haftorang, had disappeared beyond the horizon. As she stepped out of the tube that brought her to Urdesh, the sun-shades were already lifting, filling the transport terminal with a brilliant white dawn. Even though the star itself was no longer visible, the light shining from behind the horizon was still too bright to look at directly. But, the featureless white sky strangely reminded her of home, so she looked on for a few minutes, before continuing on, despite the excitement and anticipation filling her.

Zuleiman's central office occupied a short squat building in the centre of the Nepac Commune, close to the Commune Hall, and the Hololith center. Old Man Zuleiman had insisted on maintaining his headquarters here, in the center of his Commune, despite its hardly prestigious location, and the fact that several other communes were practically begging for him to move, offering him far favorable conditions. Zuleiman had always put loyalty above all else, and to him, removing a major source of Nepac's income was unthinkable. Even now, as the company was struggling for survival, he continued to spend money on the commune as if nothing had happened.

Most of the company's employees were locals as well, and as Jini made her way through the narrow twisting streets of the communal compound, she felt slightly out of place, her pale skin making her stand out in the crowds of the evening rush. The feeling only intensified as she went deeper and deeper into the heart of the commune and people cast curious glances at her, probably surmising her destination and wondering what business brought her there. She was grateful to have finally reached the office and made her way inside with a sigh of relief. The guard manning the first security post, outside the main entrance cast her a suspicious glance, which, was promptly replaced by a welcoming smile as soon as he saw her identification. Nonetheless, he checked the records thoroughly, scanned the id implant in her head, and only then waved her inside.

Zuleiman's reception area was surprisingly plain, almost ascetic: simple brownwood paneling on the walls and ceiling, a fountain in the center of the hall, a large stand along one wall with several doors to the right of it, presumably leading deeper into the building. Jini made a quck calculation of the cost of importing that much wood and decided that if the architect desired to impress upon the visitor the wealth and power of Zuleiman without appearing to show off, they had definitely succeeded. The somber tones of Zuleiman's lobby stood in sharp contrast with the areas outside, which dazzled the passerby with shades of brilliant white, blue, and yellow, and put the visitor in a serious mood, The only bright spot in the room, was the Emperor's Corner, where a holo-replica of the Holy Pyramid on Terra was emanating a soft golden light, but even it merely underlined, rather than detracted from the overall impression. A mourning portrait has been set next to it, the face of Calpurnius Isis surrounded by an expensive frame of human bones and black ribbons, of the type favored by some sects of the Imperial Cult but which looked rather out of place on Esis.

"A gift from a client," a voice said behind her. Startled, Jini whirled around and found herself face-to-face with a dark-skinned woman of medium height. "Psi-emitters under the panelling rebroadcast background noise from the outside, which is what allowed me to sneak up on you like that," she smiled at Jini's surprised expression. " Dris Inge, personal assistant to Antti Zvi. Please come with me, you are expected.”

She led Jini through an inconspicous door, several centimeters of reinforced steel hidden by wooden paneling, and down a long and narrow corridor. There was another security post before the to the lower levels- like most buildings in Urdesh, Zuleiman's headquarters was much bigger below ground than it was above. It was guarded by five men of Zuleiman's Uniformed Security division, wearing full suits of combat armor, with Mark XIV rifles slung over their shoulders. Their leader, a tall man wearing a commander's yellow stripes, ran far more detailed checks than the outside post, including comparing her DNA sample to the one they had on filegave her an even more detailed working-over before nodding her through. As Jini made her way to the elevator, he suddenly called to her.

"Zalida Jinesh?"

"Yes?" Jini turned.

"Catch," he tossed a half-Imperial coin to her.

Jini, of course, understood what was required of her. Reaching out with her mind, she began to apply gentle pressure to the coin as it flew through the air, slowing it down until it came to a gentle stop a few centimeters from her face. Without moving a limb, she rotated it a few times, examining it, then sent it into her pocket.

"Thanks," she grinned at the man. She did not need to scan his thoughts to know that this was the final test- an infiltrator could imitate her appearance, or even fake the DNA sample, but replicating her abilities was a much harder task.

"Welcome aboard, Zalida Jinesh Aspasia," Inge said, using her full name, but neglecting to mention the commune name- a sign that she thought her every bit her equal. "Hope you're as good as they say."

I hope so, too, Jini thought, as she followed her into the elevator. They really look desperate, and I have no desire of becoming the property of some megacorp.

Together, they descended what seemed to be dozens of meters down, until the cabin stopped.

"End of the line," Inge said as the doors opened. "The only thing deeper than us are the reactors that power the shield generators. "

"The building has its own shield?"

"No, the Old Man has been maintaining the commune's generators as a public service for the past two centuries or thereabout. He built most of the shelters as well," she said, catching Jini's glance at the ceiling. "We're on the safe level, 75 meters under the surface, ten of them being solid concrete. Nepac's command centrer is just as deep, while it's main shelter is only slightly more shallow. The Old Man really cares about his commune, in case you haven't figured it out already. "

Maybe a little too much, Jini thought. The cost of building and maintaining such facilities was staggering, and the money might have been better spent expanding operations.

"Most companies are merely a small part of commune they're located in. Zuleiman's and Nepac are one and the same. Three quarters of our employees come from the commune, and those who do not are adopted as full members when they are hired. Yes, even you, Zalida."

Jini simply stared at her in amazement.

"Didn't know that, did you? You are now legally a full member of the Nepac commune. Unfortunately, international law is less clear on the matter, so you still retain the "Zuleiman" in front of your name. But on Esis, at least, you retain full rights. Anyways, we are here"

She stopped by an armored door, visually indistinguishable from the others except for the number "11" stenciled on the bare steel. As soon as she approached, the door slid open.

"Antti is waiting for you," she said, and left Jini alone with Antti Zvi, Chief of Operations of Zuleiman's Security, and the Old Man’s right hand (not to mention a relative of some kind, Jini remembered, but then almost everyone was) . He turned out to be a youthful-looking man, short enough to look up at Jini and, and dark-sinned like most inhabitants of Esis. He stood up from his desk, a wall full of hunting trophies of some kind behind him, grinned widely and rushed to the door to meet her. His movements were sleek and graceful as a cat's and Jini had some trouble following them. She tried using her mind to focus on his precise location, and discovered that he was either a telepath much stronger than herself, or had an excellent mental block.

“Zalida!” he began, “here at last! Feel right at home!” He took Jini by the elbow and led her to a chair in front of his desk. “Sit, please. Is there anything you want?” Jini, not expecting such a treatment, managed to mumble that no thanks, she was just fine. Her reaction did not escape Antti’s attention.

“Is something wrong?”

“No, sir, not at all. It’s just that I…”

“Did not expect to be treated with respect by a senior officer of a major planetary corporation?” he asked bluntly?

“No, sir, well, I thought that my status would preclude…”

“Your status is that of a long-term employee of Uncle Zuleiman, nothing less. Other companies may distinguish between short-term contracts and contracts of indenture, and sometimes treat such contracts as means to circumvent the Emperor’s teaching that to own a human being as property is a mortal sin, but not so here. Here, you are family. "

"Family, sir?"

"Why yes, family!" he said with a grin. "In fact, moreso for you than anyone, since the fact that you cannot leave this company places us in similar conditions since none of us can leave the family and commune we were born into. So, we're stuck with you just like you're stuck with us. It’s important you understand that. ”

"Sir...what exactly does that entail?"

"Why, what a family is supposed to entail! Support, companionship, safety, that sort of thing. All the things you've never had, if what I've read in your files is correct."

That was true. Jini did strive for these things, growing up in the gutters of the Khont , and then in the various academies where she spent most of her life. But this was all so...sudden. Each world in the Imperium had its own customs, of course, but still, could he actually be for real?

“Sir, you are quite generous, and I don’t know what to say, but…”

“Antti, please. I am called Antti, so drop that whole “sir” nonsense. I am your brother, after all. So treat me that way.”

“I’ll try my best, si…Antti, but if you read my file, you know I’ve never had a brother, so I'm not quite sure how to do that.”

“You’ll have to work on that, then. Consider it your first assignment. In the meanwhile, ‘friend’ will suffice. Can you handle that?”

“I believe so, yes.”

“Good, then it’s settled.” He grinned. “Welcome to the family, Zalida.”

“Thank you, Antti,” she said, still wary but beginning to hope. This was going far better than she had dared to hope.

“Now that we got over that, let’s get to business." Antti's voice cut short her mustings and brought her back to the real world. " I’d love to chat a bit more about your first assignment, but alas, we’re sort of in a crisis here, and prefer jobs that are paid. So, here, then, is your second assignment.”

“Now that we got over that, let’s get to business." Antti's voice cut short her mustings and brought her back to the real world. " I’d love to chat a bit more about your first assignment, but alas, we’re in a sort of in a crisis here, and prefer jobs that are paid. So, here, then, is your second assignment.”

He snapped his fingers and activated the small holo-projector on his desk. Jini saw a life-sized image of a tall, slightly overweight middle-aged man (which meant he could be anything from 40 to 100, depending on the level of rejuvenation drugs available, and if his expensive clothing was anything to go by, closer to the latter). “This,” he said, “is Fenzon Sallust Bede Pltolemy, a businessman from Terra. He has come to us, seeking some extra security for a business trip he is taking to Alesium. We have provided him with bodyguards, naturally, but it appears that he wants more. He is willing to pay for a telepath trained in combat techniques. So, we have suggested your candidacy. He agreed.”

“But Antti, I’m not at all powerful as a telepath!” Jini protested. “I am barely Sixth Order!”

“That may be true, but you are trained in detection, which is what he seems to be interested in,” Antti suggested. “When we told him of your other abilities, he was more than willing to overlook both your relative weakness as a telepath, and your lack of experience. And, we figured that an easy assignment like this will be a perfect opportunity for you to settle in with your new duties. Besides, he expects to conclude his business on Alesium before the Black Month, so you should be back here for most of the ceremonies.”

“So, you’re not expecting any trouble?”

“Of course not! Such requests are perfectly ordinary. A businessman seeking to expand to a new, unfamiliar market usually asks for extra security as a precaution. Personally, I think that one’s commune brothers and sisters can provide all the security one needs, but not everyone respects traditional values as much as we do. So if he wants to hire my commune brothers and sisters instead, he is more than welcome to,” he grinned, until he threw a glance at Jini. “And yes, that includes you, Zalida.”

“Thank you.”

“Of course, there was another reason he agreed. He requires an undercover operative. A telepath can scan the surroundings without appearing to do so, and he needs someone who will not attract attention."

"I see. And what will my cover be?"

"His mistress. That way you’ll go everywhere he needs you to go.”

Suddenly, the assignment seemed much less attractive to Jini. “I wouldn’t have to, you know, actually serve as his mistress, would I?” she asked anxiously.

“Don’t worry; you are not required to do anything your contract does not require you to do. So no, unless there is a sex clause that we've missed somehow, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. We don’t want to traumatize you on your very first field assignment, right?”

“That’s very considerate of you,” Jini smiled.

“For you, anything.” Antti grinned back. “Unfortunately, you have to start tomorrow. But that only means that you have the rest of the day off! All we gotta do is take you to Uncle Zuleiman, and you’re free.”

“I am to see Zuleiman?”

“Of course. He wants to wish you good luck.”

“He does that for all new employees?”

“All of them, yes. Remember, we're family now.”

“Well, then, let’s be off.”

Together, they left the office, and marched down the hallway, past another security checkpoint, and then Jini discovered that Inge wasn't quite honest with her, and the lower levels contained far more than the power facilities, for they reached an elevator that took them further down . Once there, they walked past rows of unmarked armored doors, until they found one, no different from the others. Antti, buzzed the intercom, waited for an answer, and walked in. They found themselves in a reception area, where a secretary and a guard in full combat gear passed the time in conversation while waiting for their boss’s summons. Antti led Jini past them and through another set of doors, and she thus she entered the inner sanctum of the corporation.

It was a small room, mostly bare save for a large desk with a computer terminal, and a painting depicting some ancient battle. The man behind the desk was frail with age- Zuleiman was almost old enough to have remembered the birth of the Second Imperium, and he looked it. He had been in the business for almost three centuries, most of the time heading the corporation . He looked up from the display of the terminal, looked Jini over for a moment, and nodded.

“Zalida Jinesh Aspasia, welcome,” he began. “As Zvi here probably told you, I have rather high hopes for you. Please do not disappoint them.”

“Thank you, sir, and I will do my best.”

"I know you will. Good luck."

To her surprise, he turned his attention back to the terminal, showing that the meeting was over.

"He is a busy man," Antti explained as they were walking back towards the elevators. "He greets most new employees en masse at pre-scheduled times, but he has made an exception for you. Most people in the company don't even know the location of his office. My assistant, for, one does not know of the existence this level."

Jini looked at him, surprised.

"I didn't even have to read your mind, not that I could without you sensing it, anyway. One look at theexpression on your face when you saw that elevator is all I needed to put it together, " he smiled.

"You have a good student in Dris Inge," she said. "She seems to be good at that sort of thing, too."

"What, observation and making conclusions based on what you see? It's a useful skill to have in our profession, but one must never get carried away. She sometimes is more interested in showing off than any meaningful analysis, as you have undoubtedly noticed.

"Anyway," he smiled again, "since you have time, perhaps I ought to show you your new home. If you care to join me topside, I’ll even introduce you to your new family.”

Have a very nice day.

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