(TGG) The Cardinal Files: An Inside Job.

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(TGG) The Cardinal Files: An Inside Job.

Post by The Duchess of Zeon »

The Cardinal Files: An Inside Job.

Prologue: Just a cup of coffee in the morning...

Evidenzburo training and routing facility,
Waidhoften an der Ybbs, Lower Austria.
Universe HAB-1, the Habsburg Domains.

Waidoften an der Ybbs was a thoroughly nondescript if quaint little village in lower Austria, with the primary benefit to it being that it was on the Trieste -- Prague maglev line. Well, that was the thing most people noticed at first. Less talked about was the facility outside the town with half-buried buildings and lots of sensor posts around it. Most people who got off at the stop headed into the town.. But there was always a steady stream heading slightly out of it, to those rolling hills behind the security fences.

One of them, a woman who might have barely been five foot even by the old English measure, and maybe an inch or more less than it, was perhaps the weirdest of them all in her black clothes, but clearly not mourning garb. She walked rather slowly, with long wavy-to-curly dark hair spilling down her back and rich, expansive dark brown eyes taking in the world; her skin was on the darker side for what might be considered Caucasian tones, and she could easily pass for any of the ethnicities living in the band from Romania to Portugal; if once fancied her the child of several ethnicities, the possibilities became more or less limitless. And, to fancy her outright a child would be appropriate; if it weren't for the size of her ample bosom she would easily pass for sixteen, and maybe fifteen. Her actual age was seventy-three, and that was just where things began.

She disappeared through the gates, as they all did, and then she made her way delicately, and with a now un-hidden nimbleness, up to one of the buildings inside the facility, where she was again faced with a security checkpoint, and showed all the documents that were required to tell exactly who she was. But the place was friendly, and did not get many strange visitors; she was actually on a first-name basis with the security personnel. Well, she used their first names; she had simply learned to ignore the half-reverent formality she got in return.

"Thank you, Gunther," Sophia commented to the security guard who'd finished scanning her through, vocalizing the usual friendly greeting. She sighed softly, cup of coffee italienne in hand from a vendor in the town, as she headed back into the facility proper once more, idly wondering what sort of issue was at hand. It was presumably another assignment; she'd fully recovered, and one series of classes had just finished, for which she'd barely finished grading analysis results, on top of it, but that wouldn't stop anyone if the situation was urgent enough--Thank God. She rather wanted to be back out in the field, the sooner the better. It was in the end what kept her sane, after all.

"Inspektor Vuletic," the Guard offered cordially in return against the backdrop of her musings, and Sophia just nodded and wandered back in the general direction of the meeting room, long skirt and neatly embroided blouse in her typical black still very well done, though a slightly battered duster hanging around her body showed lesser attentiveness, or perhaps a fondness for something old. Her purse was slung to the right, and it was overall about as formal of dress as one could expect from Vuletic when she wasn't infiltrating an area which demanded even more formality, or receiving a medal at a formal ceremony. Her mind was clear with the aide of the coffee from the same local stand she always got it when at an der Ybbs, and the temptation of the challenge of another mission was already growing delightfully, considering the huge length of time her recovery had ended up taking.

As she arrived in the designated meeting room, the briefing officer looked down at his old-fashioned mechanical watch in a brief bit of studiousness and then began to speak. "We should be able to make this briefing short, though this is not a good thing," he said casually as she entered. Joseph Hodgeson smiled thinly, as if inviting her to share a joke. "Herr von Pleven sends his regrets, but he is being called over to the War Ministry for an unrelated matter. It will just be the two of us today."

There was a small holo-tank in the center of the room, around which a briefing table had grown, and which had chairs sitting underneath. Hodgeson plugged in a Evidenzburo issue perscom into the holotank, before pulling out a chair for Vuletic on the side opposite the door. Nothing else was required.

"Thank you, Joseph," Sophia smiled gently as she pulled her coat off and settled down. "Short briefings are terribly bad, though I've gotten more and more of them the longer I've been here. I wonder why..." Sophia smiled rather darkly and then laughed. "Thank Herr von Pleven for his concern, at any rate."

"Of course." He sat down himself somewhat offset from her, on the other side of the holotank, without answering the joke at all--sadly Joseph didn't share Leonidas' sense of humour. The thin plates that formed the boundaries of the device were no obstacle to seeing each other, but the dimming of lights and booting up of the briefing program would make it harder for him to see how she was absorbing the information. He plugged commands into his perscom, which took care of handling the environmental factors; the lights dimmed and the holotank sprang to life, filling in a three dimensional graphical representation of the Wladimyr sector, a collection of systems just opposite the boundary of Imperial space in the spinward quadrant from Earth.

"A little background. We're concerned about a development on the capital of the Wladimyr sector, out along the frontier. The sector was only reincorporated a hundred years or so ago, and had a long period of existence as a series of independent worlds and systems. There was a minor little vest-pocket empire out there, the Great Rus Oblast, which had lapsed into schism and claimed to be a purification of the true Church, successor to the true Roman Empire, and so on. That lasted roughly from six decades after the Deluge until 3120 or so, when we could shake a veteran squadron of dreadnoughts from the Khanate border loose on them. It is a potentially restive part of the frontier and the Imperial military presence has remained elevated well above what its strategic importance requires."

He narrowed the focus first in on a rayon of worlds near the center of the sector, and then on one particular point of light identified as Dvonomir. It expanded into a stereotypical representation of a Terran-like world, blue water marble with flecks of green peeking out from behind white clouds. "The capital there was part of a coalition of loyalist worlds involved in staving off the Rus Oblast, and was selected as the new administrative hub as the most developed of such worlds in the sector. It is therefore something of a surprise, and highly disconcerting, to have had the gendarme arrest a number of revolutionary and subversive cells in the capital city of Saint Wenceslas. Not that this would normally be much cause for engaging your talents; if it were a strictly local matter the present staff in our own theater headquarters could handle it, if the planetary authorities could not."

The holotank shifted again to display a tri-dee photograph of a messy apartment, having obviously been tossed. In one closet, piled up, were various weapons and tapes, and strewn pamphlets in front of it. "Nothing remarkable in the photo, except... zooming in on those three grenades there, in the corner... Does the model look familiar to you?"

"Yeah, they're Alliance standard," Sophia answered smoothly. "Seen them in CON-5 before. Blast. It's starting, I guess? Or that's the fear, anyway?"

"It is a disturbing discovery,' Hodgeson answered with his usual dry manner. He allowed the hologram to linger on the grenades a bit before moving on. The picture now changed to display several pamphlets, and he zoomed in on one quoting something called the Declaration of Independence. "There are other signs of an interuniversal connection on the part of this subversive cell. While much of the information on the other universes, the ADN in particular, is available publicly, those grenades certainly are not. And why would a native subversive cell, operating at a far remove from the gate in a sector barely cognizant that the other universes exist, quote precedents from another history?"

"Is it a concern that I will run into the AID, or are we just to quash this as rapidly as possible? Or both?" Sophia answered, rubbing her head thoughtfully and looking up from her very small and extremely birdlike form to Hodgeson. "It does tend to inform operations, but forgive me. I've just interacted with enough Alliance citizens on prior missions to have privately suspected this was bound to happen sooner or later, for all it's an unpleasant surprise."

"Unfortunately, we simply don't know." Hodgeson moved the hologram forward, displaying a collection of the usual face-forward shoulder-straight posed individuals associated with police records. There were six in all, five men and one woman; the five men had been visibly beaten. "Those are the cell in question, and we were fortunately able to take them by surprise so they did not suicide or, we believe, notify their contacts that they had been taken. One of the boys there managed to grab a knife and stab one of the arresting gendarmes, which accounts for the... rough handling the crew gave to them. So far they have not cracked under interrogation, that discrete mind-probes suggest that they are in fact telling the truth that their contact supplied them with the items in question and that they are unaware of the origin of the grenades."

"Alright then. What are the specific objectives for the mission? Have we, per chance, found the contact in question, or have they proved resistance to letting us unravel further developments amongst the cells?" Sophia asked, her tone more definitely seriously as she began to warm up to the mission. A relatively safe one, as missions went; inside the boundaries of the Empire it was a crime to kill her, after all. Not so much on her foreign excursions. Not like it couldn't still happen, though.

"The important thing is to determine the degree of extrauniversal complication in this affair, and as soon as possible. Our analysts do not believe AID has penetrated into our home possessions to a significant degree, certainly not enough so as to be supporting terrorists with direct material aid." He shook his head. "It still doesn't explain these dashed grenades, though. We're tightening the quarantine regulations at the portal but this really should be impossible. Getting weapons or material formatters, their so-called replicators, past our scans and inspections would take an enormous doing, but if they could, we must fear for what else is compromised."

"They have not given up the name of their contact, but based on interrogations among other cells as well as gendarme surveillance we believe they used the same contacts for several groups. Sloppy of them, rather amateur for what we know of AID which is either a bright spot or even more alarming."

“There's another possibility which I suppose I must consider if the impossible proves to be impossible, Sir?" Sophia looked up pointedly. "That they're not getting them past our scans? I find it difficult to believe even the alliance would use an advantage like finding our universe's coordinates by handing out grenades to anarchists in the provinces, but they're so ideological that I wouldn't rate it impossible."

"It is rated as highly unlikely by what our best intelligence on the Alliance and IUCEC suggests, but we can't rule it out at this time." Hodgeson reached up to tug on his ear, a nervous tic picked up in public school and never dispensed with. "But it's part of the urgency of your mission. We need to know for sure, one way or another. You are being given carte-blanche to discover what links this subversive organization has to the Alliance or other extrauniversal entities. The Evidenzburo and military intelligence personnel in the Wladimyr sector are being given instructions from Generalmajor Schulhauser himself to cooperate fully, with an endorsement by the Hofkriegsrat. We believe you will be able to roll up the contacts used by the Saint Wenceslas cells and can then infiltrate it, or take such measures in pursuit of your mission as you deem appropriate."

"What authorization do I have to conduct telepathic interrogation?" Sophia asked, her voice almost seeming to drop an octave, and a succinct reminder that the tiny, somewhat dusky skinned woman in front of him was one of the most deathly powerful telepaths in the Empire, beside her unique telempathic feedback psychic traits. However, the question was more than maudlin; it was serious and important because the Empire did believe in the rule of law. Depending on how serious the situation was viewed, however, different laws were applied....

"It is a matter of the highest national security, so your authority to conduct scans covers all persons detained for subversive activities under the Internal Defense Act of 3047. The Act has not yet been invoked on Dvonomir but as the investigation proceeds it will probably be necessary to declare a state of siege, especially if other operations now in work net suspects on other planets in the sector. And of course you may use your powers in lawful discharge of your duties in the event of resistance after your identity is established, such resistance being prima facia evidence of treason. If the investigation takes you outside the Empire..." He shrugged eloquently.

"So noted. I assume my travel authorizations are unlimited, within the usual budgetary review?" Cardinal could travel where she wanted on a mission, unlike most of the lower ranking agents, but the bean-counters would be damned before they let her move up a class with government funding....

Hodgeson nodded. "You'll also be given a line of credit from one of our cut-out accounts with the Royal Bank of Siam to draw funds from, and we can set up additional accounts as you require for your infiltration work. There will be no delays on that, since you have been effectively authorized to expend whatever resources you require on this mission. it will be reviewed but you will not need to petition the station chief, or even Generalmajor Schulhauser himself, before doing so. It is being taken deadly seriously at the highest levels."

"Very well then. I'll leave immediately and receive any further updates from the station chief when I arrive, seeing as the time delay makes it the best way of going about things," Sophia answered confidently, "seeing as there's no real concerns of identity breach for me in this situation." Many of her missions, after all, didn't require her face to be reconstructed, and ironically she was less well known in the Empire than in some foreign states, these days... "What else is there for me to know?"

"Full details on the operations underway, the suspects in custody, and so on will be uploaded to you when you link your perscom in to the facility server," he said. "You are of course free to make your own travel arrangements, though our military liason may be able to secure you a berth on a fast cutter heading out to Wladimyr sector in two days time."

"Oh, that will be nice. Military ships mean more sleep, anyhow," Sophia answered, bringing her handbag sized purse up to shuffle through until she'd found her persocom, and then began conducting the download a moment later. "Perhaps I'll sew myself a phrygian cap while I'm waiting to arrive," she added with a dry, self-amused smirk.

"You'll have the time, "Hodgeson said, still as serious as ever. "Rather far away from the core of the Empire, and conditions are still rough out there. In any case, the station chiefs and sector intelligence personnel should provide you with any support you need, but you have direct access to Senior Analyst von Plehven if required, and he will have direct access to the Director. If there are any obstacles, you should not hesitate to use that."

"I of course will. Thank you, Sir." She smiled, and made another adjustment in the secured persocom. "If you can tell me the embarkation station for that cutter, or send it to me this evening, I'll be aboard her."

"Dieter will make the arrangements right away to have you taken to the cutter, then." He looked somber, before nodding his head respectfully. "This could be your most vital assignment yet, Sophia. Godspeed."

"I understand. I'll find out, Joseph, don't worry. Playing with revolutionaries always means there's a weak link. It happens when you involve amateurs in the game. For that matter, that's a pretty good description of the problems in a democracy, too. Have a good day, and godbless," she finished politely, rising and slipping her persocom back into her purse. It was time to go back to work.
The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth. -- Wikipedia's No Original Research policy page.

In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.
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Re: (TGG) The Cardinal Files: An Inside Job.

Post by The Duchess of Zeon »

Chapter One: Little Girls Shouldn’t Go Out Unescorted.

Dvonomir Spaceport.

Unteranalytiker Markus Eidrecht paced nervously in the terminal at the Saint Wenceslas Dvonomir Spaceport, awaiting the transfer shuttle that would bring an important contact from Terra itself to his offices. The well-built, blonde and blue-eyed Nieuw Frisia native stood out among the shorter, stockier and darker-skinned Slavs who inhabited a world slightly heavier than his own home planet.

His rainproof black overcoat, worn on top of a poorly tailored business suit, marked him out as some sort of government official to all the families and merchant travellers in the area. But that was okay, because recognition here would not be all that important, now that he was just riding a desk; and since he had another deputy, a Junior Inspector, who would actually direct the legendary Cardinal (if rumors were true) to her waiting car. But he wanted to be nearby to observe, and he would attract attention away from her arrival, or so the thought had been.

He glanced over his shoulder, taking in a small line of uniformed and liveried drivers, many of them carrying signs with last names on them. His man Ivan was thee among them, holding up the name of the cover identity that he had been told to expect would arrive. The compulsion to smoke was drawing on him, though, and as passengers began filtering in it was a timely excuse to step out for a bit, so he'd be in a position to double-back to the waiting official transport. Cardinal!

Well, he hadn't been given that precisely but he knew the level of authority the visitor was being given and the nature of the problem here in the Wladymir sector it was an easy guess. He spotted her, or so he thought, coming out of the long line of people streaming from the last arrival, so he took out a cigarette pack from his coat pocket and lit up, before heading outside. He'd met her shortly enough.

Sophia Dragomira Vuletic—Agent Cardinal—was nothing to write home about as a special agent in the usual stereotypes, but that's the ones who were selected, appearance wise. Of course, her appearance was that of a chameleon, but that was due to her pure fanaticism and commitment to changing it at will, a process she volunteered for with disturbing regularity, and rarely went back to wearing the same face she had before.

Inside the Empire, nothing of the sort was required. She was wearing a fine woven multicoloured, Spanish style peasant's skirt and a white blouse with a long, cream-white coat over it, a single duffle bag slung over her shoulder belying her otherwise inexperienced look, purse across the other shoulder. She walked crisply, though, in simple, rugged flats, down the line until she saw the name. She did look fully Spanish, and on close investigation, also about sixteen years old, and possibly younger, or possibly, again, older. Dark eyes caught the sign and started over as if Racquel Huevara had been her name since the day she was born.

The local agent bowed slightly from the waist, in the respectful gesture common to servants everywhere. "Ms. Huevara, I am Dmitri Uragan, your father has hired me to convey you to the hotel and through Saint Wenceslas according to your will." The German was, per local practice, rather halting and stilted. "Baggage check is on other side of terminal, I will accompany you and take luggage to the auto."

"Thank you very kindly, Mister Uragan, but sadly there were some issues with luggage processing on the trip outbound, so it's following me in a day; thus why I had to take an overnight bag with me." They didn't seriously expect me to have luggage, did they? I'd just be apt to lose things I like. Of course, it's probably all just part of the game, and that would mean they're taking things quite seriously indeed if they're afraid they will be under surveillance at the transfer station. "If we can go straight to the auto I'd appreciate it very kindly, Sir." She presented the duffle to him immediately, since nothing less would have been expected.

He took the duffel nonchalantly, sliding the strap over his arm and allowing it to rest on his back. "The auto is parked outside by curb. Is Lavanti 203 hovercar, local manufacture, very smooth ride, you'll see." He led her out, fortunately clearing by now as the crowds from the shuttle headed over to the claims or began clumping together with waiting family. As far as spaceports went the Dvonomir example was not overly elaborate in construction and positively tiny compared to any given port in the Core Worlds, but it was the largest in the sector this far out in the Frontier. They were on the other side of the building in less than fifteen minutes of walking, where the reddish tint of the local sunshine greeted them both.

Ivan pointed out a nearby black painted luxury model hovercar to her, heading over to open the nearby passenger-side back door for her. Another man was sitting on the other side, though the erstwhile Dmitri's positioning of the door and the tinted windows obscured the view of bystanders inside. "We can be at hotel in ten minutes, I guarantee," he said, feigning the kind of ingratiating enthusiasm common enough in his supposed line of work.

"That will be very sufficient," Sophia answered with a smile which was more or less genuine, while she moved to settle into the car without further ado, looking across at the man beside her as, with a flick of her hand in delicately swift movement, she closed the door, just gently enough to avoid slamming it.

"Unteranalytiker Markus Eidrecht, pleasure to meet you Fraulein... Huevara." He introduced himself even as he stubbed out the remains of his cigarette in an ash tray discretely melded into the seat in front of him. They felt a bit of a shake as Ivan meanwhile stowed her duffel in the back seat. "I'm the head of the investigation into the Great Rus cells here in Saint Wenceslas, and normally acting prefect for the Evidenzburo agents here. I'd applied to the sector command for more manpower, but I was surprised when I received word you were being sent, and with the authority implied in my notification..." He let it trail off. Huevara, or whoever she was, could report directly to Earth above all the sector officials, possibly to the Direktor himself.

"Well, the information you sent us included a very interesting piece of hardware which caught everyone's attention in a very bad way," Sophia answered. "For the record, you do have the authorization to know that I'm Cardinal and you may refer to me as such in your reports, indeed, it is appropriate to do so. Unfortunately I cannot be as forthcoming with my real name. The authority implied is official, and total. The job of all regional Evidenzburo personnel is now to support me as I deem necessary."

"We will cooperate to the fullest degree possible," he promised, a bit nervously. The driver's door opened, with Ivan getting in up front and starting the engine. There was a brief feeling of gentle upward push on them as it started.

"This is Ivan Dentsov, one of our agents here in the capital. He'll be at your disposal as a driver to maintain the legend, if you deem it necessary. For now, though, we'll head to the local Evidenzburo offices where we can get all the administrative matters dealt with." Cardinal would need to be logged into the local system, provided with her own office space, allowed to requisition equipment and so on once there. "Do you have any questions about how the investigation is proceeding so far?"

"We're expecting it necessary to declare a State of Siege as more information becomes available; has anything urgent appeared in the past few days that I'd be unaware of that would suggest the necessity of such a declaration, first of all?" Sophia answered back crisply, her eyes intensely alert as she scanned outwards through the tinted windows while talking.

"We've uprooted cells on three more worlds in the sector in the past week, including a group on the old Rus capital of Vladimir that managed to put up a firefight with the gendarmes." Markus shook his head. "There have been strikes and demonstrations in the cities of Vladimir, Novo Apraxin, and Shkota that had to be dispersed by constables in riot gear. Lots of chatter about the possibility of another uprising, and disturbing signs of outside interference. We've certainly found more of the grenades, and Russian-language literature that looks to be heavily influenced by interuniversal jargon. The customs inspections have turned up more evidence of smuggling from the independent worlds just beyond the Frontier, including weapons."

"Armed resistance to gendarmes by groups posessing foreign contraband weapons and treasonous literature? This situation has grown much faster than I'd even thought it would back in Vienna," Sophia answered, and leaned back to close her eyes.

"On the other hand, it does make things a bit easier. I want you to collate everything suggesting this is going to lead to a general revolt and prepare it as a data-dump back directly to Earth. This is sufficient for a declaration of a State of Siege, if barely--but barely is good enough in this situation for us. So we'll send it back with my recommendation and see what decision is made--I don't want to involve the governor's office until we can be doubly sure of security there. To put it this way, the urgency behind this operation is such that having the freedom to interrogate under the emergency acts really makes things much easier; by giving us justification to do so, we have a real chance at cracking this thing far more rapidly. And it's much more serious than just a revolt. Have you had any luck with locating the contact who was running the cells initially uncovered?"

"The situation's bad, and I've already sent a report of that nature off to the naval and army authorities and the Viceroy's office. The Rus were advanced enough to have access to prolong genetic therapy, so there are a lot of people who only second-generation Imperial subjects on Vladimir and the other worlds forcibly reintegrated last century. We've pegged Valentin Kirilov as the contact for groups here in Wenceslas, he's a speculative merchant with contacts on those independent worlds we've been worrying about. Surveillance showed him trying to get in contact with some individuals who were arrested, and he fits the profile, known schismatic and his parents were petty officials in the rebel state." He shrugged. "I expect your abilities will let you confirm once you start interrogating the suspects under the emergency rules."

"That's the general idea," Sophia answered. "At that point I'll have the necessary information to go about infiltrating the rat line they've got providing information and weaponry to these cells, which is my primary goal here. The people here are being fired up by foreign, even alien passions to their traditions and lineage, out of a sense of resentment. Once the stoking material is removed they will settle back and the problem should quiet itself.”

She paused significantly. “If not, we'll find things ending up rather bloody, though regardless the main actual goal of the Evidenzburo here is to respond to what can only be classified as likely Alliance of Democratic Nations intelligence penetration with agents provocateur, until we can disprove it. The secondary possibility is that one of the political groups in the Alliance, the Freedom Party, is known to operate a paramilitary espionage service of agents provocateur with strong connections to one of the Alliance's subsidiary intelligent groups, associated with the Jewish state in one of their universes.

"Indeed, I rather that possibility as the more likely, simply because so far the sophistication of this operation doesn't seem to suggest it would be the AID, but rather such a subsidiary organization which would nonetheless have easy access to alliance weaponry and agitation materiale. We would assume in either case, of course, that they're operating with tacit government approval; Weisbaum's goons do provide plausible deniability." She yawned gently.

"I'm going to have to spend a while going over all the information you have while we wait for the declaration of a State of Siege to go through. If it doesn't, I do have an alternate plan, but I won't talk about that yet. If it does, I want you to contact me immediately, wake me in the middle of the night, whatever, to get me down there to run those interrogations as rapidly as possible. This is a time sensitive operation, and it'll only be when have information of that caliber that we can coherently plan how to bring down the network that's operating here and precisely identify who is running it."

The ride was thus far surprisingly smooth, a hallmark of better production hover-cars. But then Eidrecht had only chosen the best for the purpose. "This is very urgent, yes. I am to contact the Viceroy's office when we get back to the headquarters to check on how matters are progressing politically, and you are welcome to do so with me. In the meantime is there anything we can do for you? Of course all of the reports on the investigation are collected and prepared for your review, all of the material we have on the suspects is also on the same download once we log you in to the local computer network. If Earth made arrangements for you to stay in the city to go with your legend they did not see fit to inform me of it."

"No, I'll probably create my own identity for actual work, for the moment I think I'll want to stay in a suite inside the headquarters if you have one for detentions of valuable individuals that's reasonably comfortable. If not, just give me a cot to sleep on in my office," Sophia answered. "I'd also prefer avoiding that the Viceroy see me face to face--not that we have reasons to be suspicious of him, but his staff is less well vetted. Frankly, having backup is simply a nice feeling, and I'm not to concerned for my position here. My main issue is keeping my face out of public as much as possible, as even here on the capitol I will want to go out quietly and see the mood of the people, sooner or later."

"Ah, yes, we have a little suite for that, though it's a bit... unusual for one of our own to stay there. But it makes sense under the circumstances. I'll fill you in first thing after talking to the Viceroy's office, too. I hope you're being a little paranoid there, but that is what we're paid to be." He chuckled, a trace nervously both the situation and Cardinal’s fervent intensity, and the hovercar continued on to headquarters.

Cardinal’s eyes never left the landscape as she committed it to memory with an obsessive, silent intensity.
The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth. -- Wikipedia's No Original Research policy page.

In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.
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The Duchess of Zeon
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Re: (TGG) The Cardinal Files: An Inside Job.

Post by The Duchess of Zeon »

Chapter Two: Those good old Greek shipping magnates...

Dvonomir Evidenzburo Hauptquartier.

Sophia was nursing coffee and staring somewhat blankly at the latest readout, having gone over the material entirely and looking at the appendices: The photos, the lists of family relations, those sorts of things which were useful to her once interrogations began, or in the worst case, that they were not authorized before she had to start acting. Someone had at least brought her food that she, distinctly Central European in tastes, had thoroughly appreciated, the plates cleaned away by the efficient if slightly bemused staff, considering her location in a VIP holding cell with the access codes having been given to her, though none actually realized her prominent.

She was dressed very modestly in rustic flannel pajamas, and a light blue terrycloth robe over them for further concealment and modesty, since nobody had been in for quite some time and she was trying to catch up on rest without sleeping; she'd eventually give in to that call of her body sooner or later, and if the developing situation prevented that from being the case, she'd take stims as required. Sophia had turned the abuse of her body for the commission of her duties into an art form, as it had been more often than not literally commented behind her back. For the moment, there was information to review. She had read it once, but to thoroughly commit it to memory a second time would be useful.

The initial break was made, predictably, when one member of a cell located on a college campus was pulled over for violating traffic laws, with a search of his vehicle turning up weapons and subversive literature. He cracked under investigation rather rapidly, which of course rolled up the rest of the cell, and provided certain leads that connected with a few criminal investigations. Other cells were discovered through connections with smugglers, which led to a large scale roundup on Dvonomir and a rayon-wide investigation of neo-Rus subversive groups; altogether fairly standard for the breaking up of a group of subversive rabble-rousers.

The first cell to turn up the Alliance grenades and other material was located in the suburbs of the capital city, Saint Wenceslas, composed of a six person cell tied together through two connections; two of the men were former gendarmes, and another had failed the training program, and they recruited among their families. That led Sophia to the suspicious prospect of perhaps having to question the loyalty of the gendarmes, but that would not be an immediately provable thing. Only if the situation got bad would it really become a factor. The cell had nonetheless begin composed of three men with some combat training, two students at the university, and a sister of one of the ex-gendarmes who worked as a cleaning lady in the colony's chartered assembly building.

Suspicion suggested that it was one of the if not the only combat-oriented force available to the neo-Rus subversives on Dvonomir, depending on the extant of the rot. The two families in question had been minor parts of the Rus bureaucracy before immigrating to Dvonomir after the Empire took control over the sector. That is a background shared with most, but not all, of the cell members, and was important because it suggested less democratic and more nationalistic elements… Which made the nature of the subversive literature more unusual.

Surveillance, searches of financial records among the cells, and testimony of a few broken members of the cells suggested the connection to Valentin Kirilov, since his movements have also conveniently traced to cells uncovered on other worlds in the sector. Valentin, Sophia decided in that moment, would certainly have to be secured the moment it could be justified, and interrogated.

Across the rayon a total of eleven armed cells had been found to that date, but only one of the cells--on Vladimir--was able to engage the gendarmes in a three-hour firefight from a residential home, which killed all but one of the subversives and wounded three gendarmes. There was no evidence of ties outside the sector, but the subversives certainly spread across at least seven planets within it.

Sophia sighed softly as she finished that part of the reviewing, stretching out, catlike on her bed, and shaking her head faintly at how her breasts immediately obscured the display. “Unfortunately, the day you can get a breast reduction will be the day you get forcibly retired from field work.” Men were usually cheap tricks about them, and a surprisingly large number of women, too. The thought made her wince, as it often did. Fortunately a Rus’ nationalist organization had no real place for homosexuals in it so her usual attack on the soft underbelly of a foreign state’s civil service wouldn’t be necessary. The sin left a sour taste in her mouth, and indeed it seemed like it might be possible on this mission to get through it without violating Church law. Fat chance, now that you’ve thought it. The exhausted retort from her mind was abruptly interrupted by the knock of the door.

It was, at least, an opportunity to turn the display padd off and rise when the door unlocked in turn--there was no warning buzzer, of course--from the outside, though politely didn't open. Clearly someone thought it important enough not to wait that long for her, though. She drew the belt on her robe tightly closed, and the tiny woman--she really did look like a 16 year old girl with a quite ample bosom, and possibly younger (or older)--with her long and extremely wavy hair. In another universe she might have made a passable model for Marianne, but normally spoke with a distinct Croat accent in her normal speech--she was, of course, an excellent accent mimic--opened the door and smiled upwards, naturally the tendency to look up on expecting to see someone being long ingrained. "Greetings, Unteranalytiker Eidrecht. Please, come inside, what's come up?"

Eidrecht nodded politely in acknowledgement, wavering a moment at the threshold of the door before entering. He was still wearing the civilian outfit he had donned to pick up Sophia, rather than the formal suit normally required by agents in the headquarters. "I've been in contact with the Viceroy's staff, and with Earl Stephens himself," he began quickly, establishing the purely professional nature of the visit. "He has placed worlds in the Vladimir rayon under martial law and has been advised that the Hofkriegsrat will meet tomorrow to discuss the imposition of a state of siege in the sector. We do anticipate a formal authorization will come within the next three days, including an invocation of the Defense of the Realm Act and other extraordinary measures. Once that has been formalized we can move ahead with the psychic probes of detainees and hopefully unravel all the details we need to quash this movement."

"The declaration of martial law for the Rayon will allow us immediate extraordinary detention powers on a short-time basis, a week or two, correct?" Sophia asked from where she sat back down, wrapping a blanket around herself for even further modesty. She was aware of how unusually informal she was, and took some pains to dispel any untoward image with the further blanket, even though it wasn't truly necessarily; she wasn't showing anything below the neck except her hands, after all, and they were busy bringing up a display on her larger portable computer.

"I am thinking,” she continued without confirming the first question, it being more of a statement, “that we can use that to detain suspects now we want to immediately interrogate when we receive authorization of a state of siege, by running a very large drag net of temporary detentions, which look like we're desperately trying to get as many people in detention as possible to avoid an uprising, with no actual target except the vague suspicion of subversive activity."

"That would tend to make them not realize we know that we've actually picked up high-value individuals in the temporary detention, and possibly also give them a sense of complacency with the air that we're blindly flailing about. It is, perhaps, impolite to detain large numbers of innocent people for this sake, but it is necessary to have these individuals available for immediate interrogation, and it will only be for a few days anyway--and with the streets abroil they'll arguably be safer in our care anyway."

"A wise suggestion," Eidrecht remarked. "There has already been rioting on Vladimir so we'll probably have some neo-Rus activists in custody and we can certainly make sure we hold on to them. Our people on that world will have lists of known subversives and I will append a list of leads we've picked up in the rest of the sector. A general sweep will be expected so it shouldn't be overly alarming. In the meantime we've also stepped up surveillance of suspects here on Dvonomir and the worlds outside the Vladimir rayon, so we can sweep in as needed. Unfortunately the merchant we suspected as the link between the local cells, that Valentin Kirilov, is due to depart to Novo Apraxin tomorrow—this coming evening, to be precise."

Eidrecht's made a sour face at that. "We can wait to pick him up there, but if he tries to flee once news comes of the state of siege he may be difficult to track down. We could, covertly, pressure the customs authorities to detain him on some trumped up charge or another, or even sabotage his ship, but that would be open to legal scrutiny if he isn't the subversive we think he is."

"Well, tell me in detail what you know about Kirilov, please, everything you can think of," Sophia answered, abruptly thoughtful. She had already resolved to make sure of keeping an eye on Kirilov, and now it seemed like she might well have cause to do it personally. "And do you know how he's traveling?" She’d read the dossier but it was sometimes useful to have information repeated from another perspective.

"Well, Kirilov is sixty-two years old, and hails from Shkota, which was on the core worlds of the Great Rus. His grandfather was director of one of their state shipyards, and took away a small group of light freighters after the government collapsed. Since then the Kirilovs have been a mainstay of steady-volume commerce here in the Wladymir sector but the family business was hit hard about forty-eight years ago, back when Outsider piracy first flared up. They're losing ground to the organized shipping cartels coming in from the Inner Rim worlds, but he's been aggressive about making profits on speculative runs between worlds rather than scheduled service. So far he's keeping his head above water, but you can see why we thought he was likely suspect when the first leads came in."

He paused, recalling the rest. "He was married, there was a divorce thirteen years ago, no children there but he has an illegitimate son back on Shkota and the proximate cause of the breakup of his marriage; his wife died a year ago in an aircar accident, no reason to believe it suspicious. Our surveillance thus far shows him to be mostly sober, fairly hardworking and driven in his business, but he has gotten drunk and made anti-Imperial statements at least once."

“So he plays around a bit." Sophia mused softly. "Well, sometimes the oldest ways are the best," she added quietly. "I can keep a handle on him personally, I think, since he really is the key link in this entire chain as best we can tell so far. And I can detain him and interrogate him on the spot the moment a State of Siege is declared. We'll go ahead and construct a suitable false persona for me--I'll go down to your document manufacturing facilities and talk with some of your computer specialists and handle it myself--and get passage on that ship he's leaving on. You can send me a code-phrase when the Stage of Siege has been declared, we'll work a suitably innocuous one up as a normal translight communication to a first-class passenger."

"All of our resources are, of course, at your disposal. I'll handle the booking, there were still a few berths left on the liner. RSL Northampton, it was, from the the Lloyd lines." He grinned a bit, emphasizing his youthful appearance. "First class accommodations, I presume?"

"Yes. I need to put on a suitable impression for Mister Kirilov," Sophia answered, a coyly ruthless expression turning over her face. "It doesn't even need to be untoward. With his wealth, he has certainly be able to afford at least some prolong treatments, and sixty-two with prolong is hardly too old to remarry—which with his wife dead would be allowed. And the declaration of martial law," she added with a half growl, surprising from her tiny and very feminine form, "lets me get away with it in the face of our gallant and heroic bean-counters back in Vienna."

"Always a bright side to everything," Eidrecht answered jovially, both because it was true and because he was amused and relieved that even Cardinal shared the same sentiment as everyone else in the Evidenzburo for the Department of Accounts. "Well, our document facilities are down in the basement. I can escort you there once you're ready, or just call the guards to admit you while I play travel agent."

"It'll only take me a moment, so by all means, if you'd wait outside?" She smiled vaguely. "I'm used to short notice, after all. I'll be taking an infiltration kit with me, as well, if nothing else then so I have the necessary documentation to order the RSL Northampton back here immediately if it's required."

"As you wish," he replied, stepping outside to wait on her. As he did, he pondered the impression Cardinal had made thus far. Eccentric, but with a great deal of respect and trust back on Earth, that much was obvious. He would be keenly interested to see the master of infiltration, of so many rumors, hard at work.

Sophia, for her part, dressed back quickly into her under-bottoms and then under-skirt, and selected a long black skirt, double-layered; flowing lace on the outside, and an opaque inner layer more carefully clinging to her body on the outside, with stockings and a pair of fashionable lady's boots--with several inches of platform for her very short stature! For her top: a simple sports bra in gray under her clothes to contain her breasts was procured, and she followed it with a tight, stretchy undershirt, and then finally pulled on and buttoned quickly a full-collared blouse with aged, silver buttons which fit her very well indeed, and had three-fourths sleeves. Over all this she pulled on a long black coat which on her was almost touching the ground, and penultimately flipped her smaller perscom into her purse. The last act, then, before going to the door was the most significant; she, taking advantage of having here no need to hide her faith, secured a silver crucifix around her neck.

The moment she had, she stepped out of the room with her precocious efficiency, now attired in a suitably severe black for an Evidenzburo agent, but still retaining a thoroughly distinctive flare. Not content with being the least bit dissheleved, she produced several hair-sticks and proceeded to start binding about half her locks up within them in a rapid approximation of a high and fine, if rather oriental, style. "Lead on, by all means," she gestured shortly as she finished.

Markus led her down the hall of the detention facilities. Most were empty, and clearly much less comfortable than her own private suite. At the end of the hall was a simple elevator. They rode it down five floors into the basement of the building, and upon stepping out were met by an armed guard. "Unteranalytiker Eidrecht,” the guard acknowledged his local superior and stepped back to the electronically secured portal to the document fabrication lab (it was not really fabricating documents to make them on the original machines for official government business, but it was called that regardless).

Markus nodded in response to the guard, and stepped forward to use his identification badge to open the door. Inside there were a number of work stations and a few technicians, evidently not very busy with any other projects. "We haven't had much call for use of document crafting for a while. You'll find our technicians up to date with procedure, and quite helpful, though."

"Thank you, Unteranalytiker," Sophia answered, and stepped over toward the technicians. "Gentlemen, I want you to create the suitable ID and information for one Thalia Venieri, age twenty-three, stadt-origin from the East Imperial territories on Sigma Draconis. A check of birth certificate records will show she is the--illegitimate--daughter of Constantine Marketou, also place of birth Sigma Draconis."

She brought up her perscom. "I have the necessary information here, Mister Marketou died four years ago, and we'll need to have this persona attached to several suitable accounts in trans-Imperial banks, for he did leave his illegitimate daughter with a sizeable inheiritance, if not nearly so much as his legitimate family, well the two legitimate families he actually finangled the Church into having." She smiled sweetly and flipped into a Greek accent abruptly with a casual ease. "Father was a wonderful, brilliant man, and I owe my life to his indiscretions, but, really, he was a real bastard,” her voice reaching a tone of wry disgust at a beloved but incorrigibly sinful relative.

Eidrecht shook his head in bemusement at the display. Sophia could have had an impressive career as an actress, it seemed. "I'll leave you in the capable hands of the fabrication staff then. Unfortunately the demands of paperwork never cease, and I need to get those instructions to Vladimir and see to the reservations for you on the liner. Is there anything else I may help you with?"

"The ironic thing," Sophia continued cheerfully in her Greek accent, "Is that he was in the shipping industry, too. How stereotypical is that, I know?" A delicate giggle was allowed to complete the effect, and then she turned to Eidrecht and her expression was once again formal. "Of course, Unteranalytiker. We shall be busy for a bit, anyhow, and then, even busier. I would like you to discretely see about background checks for the Viceroy’s staff, however.”

Following on the heels of that vibrant display of skill, Eidrecht was slightly startled by the serious request, but nodded. “The Viceroy would probably not like it if he heard, of course.”

“If he finds out, tell him to take it up with Generalmajor Schulhauser. And if our Direktor asks you why you said that, tell him I told you too.”

Eidrecht didn’t even think to argue that point. Having that kind of support behind one of his statements would be nice for the change, anyway. “Of course. I’ll begin the inquiries at once.”

“Thank you. Godbless, Markus,” Cardinal finished softly, and turned back to the techs. She could sleep before going to board the liner, after all.
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The Duchess of Zeon
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Re: (TGG) The Cardinal Files: An Inside Job.

Post by The Duchess of Zeon »

Chapter Three: The Oldest Trick in the Book.

Liner RLS Northampton.

The RLS Northampton was an older liner of a design falling out of favor in the Core Worlds, but with a long service left left to her and top of the line amenities out in along the Rim. With facilities to accommodate 3,000 people it was on the small side for use with regular, heavily trafficked routes but was perfect as a glamorized cruise liner for the elite of the Wladymir sector. The scheduled run to Novo Apraxin was booked full with returning passengers, alert to the possibility of restrictions on further travel within the old Rus sphere. A grim sense of foreboding had many people aboard depressed and concerned for their future, but the crew of the ship kept up their optimistic facade and scheduled a band performance to celebrate the departure.

It was in the ship's ball room, of course, and after dinner had been served. Three was an open bar, some hors d'oeurves and champagne being offered by liveried servants, and the ship's band playing casual music of some indigenous styles, or so Sophia fancied them to be. It at least in theory, after they taken their dinner with the ship’s officers, gave them all the opportunity to mingle with the rest of the passengers in a pleasant social climate; it was a comment on the general mood of the ship that few passengers showed up, however, even with the inducement of good wine and harder spirits.

On the other hand, Valentin Kirilov was not a man to let good alcohol go to waste. He looked to be in his mid-thirties, as did everyone with one of the last few generations of prolong gene therapy. Dark brown hair kept in a fashionable ‘Caesar’ cut topped a broad Slavic face, where dark eyes peered out from underneath a heavy brow. He was just beginning to go to fat, but his face was rimmed by a bushy, close-cut beard that distracted from the first evidence of that decline. He was dressed in a bright red tunic, with gold sash extending across his chest, and a black belt holding it in place above dark-green trousers; it was a common style for men in the area, derived from the martial uniforms of the Great Rus state. He had a glass of top-shelf vodka in his hand, and was talking animatedly with a mixed circle of men and women about the possible impact of a state of siege on speculative contracts.

Thalia Venieri entered the room in the grandest fashion possible. She dressed, slightly severely but still very elegantly, with pearl necklace and golden earrings to adorn her ears, the light blue dress in the sort of neo-Persian melange favoured by the capitol at the present with a sort of Sarong-style to it, though with a traditional top and bodice--though it still gave off a few of exactly the socially acceptable amount of decollage. The light blue material was decorated with red and had patterns of white on it to accentuate her rather darker skin, with her lips adorned in a lush wine colour, wearing wickedly high heels that she handled well to counteract her considerable shortness.

Her hair she let hang down, taking advantage of its being naturally wavy but pulling it to the left artfully to reveal her face, just a hint of bangs on the right hanging, all by means of a hairpin decorated with the feathers of a grand peacock. And to complete the desired look, long sleeves and the lack of any showing of her shoulders to emphasize modesty even as the decollage was somewhat on the daring side, she did, gently, wear an old Orthodox crucifix innocuously about her neck. They were not unheard of among Greek Catholics, but unusual nonetheless, and here, at least, she thought it would be something of a sign. Like any proper lady the entire assemblage was completed by elbow-length opera gloves, and proper stockings concealed her legs, though it was certainly true that by subtle hints one could tell that she was only a respectable and fashionable, rather than outrageous, member of the nouveau riche and not a lady of genteel breeding. Sophia Vuletic nonetheless very much intended to impress, and her target was already set.

Her entrance attracted attention, as eyes were drawn to the newcomer. Her fashion style was new, exotic, a possible indication that tastes had changed in the Core, and more than a few of the people in the room made urgent note of it. But there was more directed appraisal as the men in the room drank in her form and the women sized her up as a potential rival. Kirilov halted his conversation momentarily, struck by the sudden arrival of an attractive woman he had not previously noted on the ship, and found his interest drawn by her daring use of the old Orthodox cross.

"As I was saying, that's why it's not profitable anymore to take on short-term contracts across the line. The Outsiders have gotten too greedy and their protection tax undermines the increased demand." He finished off the point, and listened politely but with little attention to the reply one of his rivals made, before excusing himself under the pretence of the hors d'oeurve table. He hoped to make his way over by the new arrival, without being too blatant about it.

Sophia had been headed in that direction, herself, which made things altogether substantially easy. She made way to not notice his approach, even though she did, delicately selecting her way through some olives and cheeses and a bit of pickled herring, a moderate amount carefully dictated by not seeming to gorge, but at the same time, she was a quite curvaceous woman and wanted to seem healthy--and above all, not at all a product of surgery. Though in some universes her curves might be considered undesirable by peoples obesssed with skinniness, she struck the balance for the most part in the Empire--and she knew what her breasts and rump could do for men by long experience. But she was delicately, delicately making sure to not give off the slightest hint of impropriety or forwardness. And she was good at it.

Sophia would not have looked really a day over twenty-five at the most generous, even considering the effects of prolong; life, and the number of reconstructive surgeries she'd actually had (but by the best doctors in the universe, and of a more extreme bone type than most would be willing to undergo), had been kind on her, and one could easily mistake her for a jailbait sixteen year old, even when dressed as she was now. She waited, passive and exuding it with her abilities--it was not illegal, after all, for her to influence the emotions of those around her--a fine feathered bird.

Valentin made his approach carefully, or so he supposed, slipping in ahead of her along the food line, and gently picking up a puff pastry. He caught her eye, and bowed lightly from the chest. "Please excuse me my directness, but I do not believe I have had the pleasure of an introduction to my lady. I would surely have remembered it if I had. If you would favor me so..." He smiled broadly, in an effort to be as charming as he could, though a couple of glasses of vodka were already effecting him.

"Why certainly so, Good Sir. I am Thalia Venieri, and if the Good Sir would be so kind in return....?" She hinted out for his name with a smile that revealed her flawless teeth and a happy disposition with eyes paying the sort of attention one might expect of some delicate curiousity--boldness certainly might bring that out in a woman if nothing else, when it was handled honourably, and Valentin had not done so that badly, all things said.

"Valentin Kirilov, humble independent merchant," he replied, though his tone belied any attempt at false modesty. "I am glad to see a new face on this run, which is rare these days. If I might be bold, are you a visitor to our Vladimir sector?"

"I am, hailing originally from Sigma Draconis, Good Sir," which was only 18.8 lightyears from Earth, and oh-so-very-definitely Imperial Core. "I was traveling on a... Strange, and slightly silly personal whismy, I confess, but nonetheless was very pleased to arrive." She smiled quite broadly then, though. "And it's very interesting that you're a merchant--my father was in the business too, before he passed on, God bless him. Well, the shipping side of things, to be precise. Perhaps you have heard his name before? Constantine Marketou, the managing director of the Athena Stardrive Lines."

"Ah, yes, even out here in the Rim we have heard of your father," Kirilov averred. "I for one am rather glad your father kept his operations away our sector, or I would have been undone," he laughed, but it was a shallow laugh. The Core shipping lines were putting a constant press on his profit margins, driving him into ever riskier business models to stay afloat, but he really didn't want to talk about that to a pretty girl, even one who by the difference between her surname and that of her father was marked as illegitimate. "What sort of whimsy could bring you out here to our quiet backwater? I'm afraid our worlds do not really have much to offer compared to the wonders of the core worlds, and little of importance to most travellers."

"Father was a very stern man," Thalia agreed in a way which certainly said everything--it was as close a member of polite society could ever get to admitting her dad was a real bastard. "As for my whimsy, Good Sir, well, my father was a Byzantist--the crucifix I wear was his gift to me at my Confirmation, and was made for a Byzantine princess, he said, in the 9th century AD--and the fervour rather caught me as well. My life is a comfortable one, and however strange it may sound I have always found myself enchanted with the religious artwork and architecture of my distant ancestors. So I came here to view the Basilicas and Iconography of the sector, which is some of the most recent revival work done in that style." She both showed that she had a brain, and money, while staying on a topic of religious activity, which was very acceptable to say the least--and hinted that for all her father's reputation she was not a trollop like the mother she had carefully not mentioned, for all her illegitimacy was already on the table. But most importantly, to a man with secret schismatic sympathies, her inclinations would be quite fascinating indeed.

"Ah, it is heartening to see an outsider taking an interest in our religious observances. The youth today, here in our own sector, often do not. Well, with some exceptions," he conceded, but went no further. "Most of the Christians in this sector come from a Byzantine background, and have maintained their traditions within the prescribed forms. You should definitely visit the Cathedral of the Eternal Virgin in Sverograd, it's the port that services the capital on Novo Apraxin. It has the most impressive collection if icons drawn from across the sector, courtesy of the community of businessmen who originate there; I have a hand in it, if I might be allowed to boast there. It was done in a style of the Hagia Sophia, as a showpiece during the time of the Rus, when the sector reverted back to a more purely Byzantine-influenced rite."

"That will be a fascinating opportunity indeed," Thalia answered. "I confess I did not know how much I find, you understand ? Little news of the sector, I fear, gets back to the core territories, and so I could do little reading in advance--making it quite the adventure." She laughed a tad nervously. "Quite the adventure indeed, actually, since it seems we will soon be under a State of Siege, and I confess to being more than a little frightened of that. The sector was quite safe for me to travel on my little adventure alone in, when I set out, but now..." There was a faintly helpless shrug. "I am not quite sure of how to secure myself. On the other hand I don't really imagine things getting so bad that I need to flee for my life--the people have been so kind to me so far that I don't think it could truly come to bloodshed--so I elected to carry on my journey." A slightly sheepish smile was admitted. "Perhaps because it heightened the sense of adventure, too."

I don't think you need to worry too much," he said, trying to reassure the young lady. "I doubt very much it would come to violence, not on a large scale. The Imperial authorities are simply overreacting to some youthful spiritedness. There was a fight on Vladimir, but they probably just turned up a bunch of smugglers rather than the terrorists that are being claimed. There is some discontent with the way our culture and rites have been disregarded in favor of the lackies in the Dvonomir rayon, and some of that anger has found expression, but we Rus are a civilized people." He lifted his glass and drained a fair amount of the vodka, adding to his already well-lubricated state. "If you would desire it I can show you around the planet, the best artistic and religious expressions of Byzantine heritage. The people there know I am one of them, so it might be safer if there is some manner of flareup. I do hope, in any case, you will do me the honor of calling on me at my estate after we arrive."

"Why, I would it an incredible opportunity to receive such a chance to tour through all the grand and interesting sights of your Byzantine heritage," Thalia agreed with a ready smile. "It is, in a manner of speaking, my heritage as well, but one I am far more distantly removed from than you--there is nonetheless something of it which excites an appreciation in me. So, certainly, both for sake of your knowledge and protection, Good Sir, I'd gladly accept the opportunity." She looked indeed quite happy with the given opportunity, and was, though part of it was the feedback from Kirilov's own emotions, which fed her and led her to give him just what he desired.

"It will be my pleasure to show you my homeworld." There was a measure of fierce pride in his voice. "You have definitely come to the right place, and I will be sure that you see what there is of your real heritage here. It is a matter that I have invested my philanthropy and time on and am delighted to see it having results. Ah, perhaps I can make some introductions for you here on the ballroom. Do you have an escort for the night?" Her charms were quite enough to have him desiring to stay near her for a while later, and he was definitely excited to find someone else who might sympathize with his own views.

I do not," Thalia replied with a very ready and encouraging smile. She would need to wait for a formal request that would follow before accepting, after all. Such was the way of things, and there was this somewhat shy way about her, and so very youthful--but Kirilov was not old enough for it to be improper, either. So far things had gone very well, and Kirilov at least put on airs well enough that Sophia would feel rather bad if it turned out he was just an honest merchant. But all things said, that was rather unlikely.

Valentin saw his opening, and took it. "Would you favor me, then, with your company this evening?" He smiled, all charm, reinforced by the fearlessness of the vodka. Thalia was clearly sympathetic, clearly someone he could do things for, and she was certainly charming enough to be worth his while in any case.

"Why certainly, Good Sir. I'd be very pleased with your company," she answered back, fondly, and took a step closer to Valentin. What secrets do you hide ? Sophia mused even at the same time as she was genuinely enjoying the pleasure that Valentin took in her presence, wafting over her through her powers, putting her in her strange mission mode where she drifted between her actions like water flowing between rocks, seeming to go wherever they desired, and yet in fact irrestible to her object.

Valentin's own mood swelled as success reinforced his already vodka-buttressed confidence. The music changed, again, to a modern melody patterned on an old boozy Cossack-inspired tune originating with the colonists of Vladimir and which was perennially popular in the sector. He held out an arm for her, suggesting the lightly crowded ballroom floor. "Would you care to dance for a bit, my lady? We can save the introductions around the room for a bit later."

"It would be a pleasure," Sophia answered, and took his arm. Her shoes were not precisely made for it--but Sophia was so lithe despite her voluptuous body that that would just enhance the shame when others saw her; she was an exquisitely skilled dancer, and had honestly danced in most ridiculous footwear than the high heels she tended to wear to compensate for her height in formal settings, anyway. That and it would surely please Valentin.

The melody was something of an opportunity for Kirilov to show off, and genetic therapy meant that he had lost none of the coordination he had enjoyed as a youth, even if his body had gone a bit soft. There were a number of dances native to the sector, most of them highly influenced by Slavic folk-dances and notable for relatively energetic movements and improvisation. The tropak-derived dance that Valentin chose was more sedate, but still comparable in tempo to more famous Latin dances, and he was initially concerned about Thalia's ability so he led carefully. But as the dancing continued he was impressed with her ability and became more daring, even incorporating the difficult rapid steps into his routine. He was flush with the exertion but enjoying himself greatly, and relished the attention drawn his way as the rest of the room kept an eye on Thalia.

"You are wonderful dancer," he said, as they neared and passed by each other from behind, arms elevated. "Is very impressive to see an outsider who can manage with such a tempo, and one those heels...," he averred, as they swung back around to face each other. "You must have had excellent instructors."

"My mother," Thalia admitted very softly, such that only he would hear, "Was once the Prima Ballerina Assoluta of the Nieuw Carstens landstadt company." It was a gentle confession, and brought a fond smile to her lips as she still matched his every move. In some way it was a pity it weren't true; the reasons for Sophia's mastery were rather more prosaic. Her expression was warm and delighted nonetheless, her face showing a very healthy glow from the exertion.

"So that explains it," he whispered back, and gave her a smile. And then turned in away from her, before conducting the famous Cossack steps required at the end of the dance. To his serious delight he managed to avoid messing up, and if he didn't quite conduct them with the same vigor he had thirty years ago, it was still an impressive enough display of manhood by the standards of the Rus.

Another, slower dance followed. The ballroom became more crowded as the tune, a 25th century ballad famous throughout the Empire, drew out travellers and those natives who were less confident of their athleticism. Valentin took the offered hand of Thalia and led her slowly in the extravagantly languid forms and twirls that the other dancers were enjoying. "A pity, to waste your talent on such a mundane waltz," he commented softly, taking the opportunity to draw her nearer.

"I do so enjoy your more energetic dances here," Thalia agreed with a sweetly brilliant smile, and accepted being brought closer quite readily. "Mister Kirilov, you are a truly excellent dancer yourself, strong and exuberent, and I do admire it." It served effectively as an admission that the interest was mutual, at least after the dancing--which Sophia had, in fact, actually been impressed by, for all that she knew that Kirilov was certainly working himself to his limit. She did not quite consider it appropriate to call him Valentin yet; that implied a degree of intimacy that a proper lady would not so quickly provide.

"Ah, perhaps you will have the interest to see our cultural exhibitions while here," he replied, taking her into another sweeping pass. "The art of our rayon dances is kept alive by many troupes, some of the best in Sverograd. If you have a mind to see and learn a bit more, I could certainly arrange a good reception for you with them." Indeed, it was turning out to be a great night. "The tropak and hopak, the Cossack dances, and national costume are preserved by such people as a reminder of our patrimony, much as our Byzantine-influenced icons and cathedrals."

"I would appreciate that very much; such cultural legacies are something I've always appreciated," she followed with that delightful skill. "A bit bookish of me, perhaps, but in truth I find it more vital and energetic than the passing fancies of the Core."

"Any sane lady would prefer that vigor to the foppish courtiers and their sterile prancing," Kirilov replied, again smiling broadly and stretching out subconsciously to display something of his physique. Against the proverbial court lackeys he would appear the very image of masculinity. "So yes, I will certainly arrange that visit. The director of the Sverograd Cultural Association owes me quite a few favors and I will collect one for you." The music came to an end as she swirled in along his arm. "Would my lady like to take a break from the floor and discuss matters further over drinks?"

"That would be lovely," Thalia answered with a delighted smile. Valentin himself had likely already had a fair bit for the night, but it was scarcely like she'd stop him from drinking more. She might find out quite a lot like that, irrespective of how things went with the declaration of the State of Siege, the news for which might or might not catch up with her in the next two or three days. In the meantime, she'd spend the time rather enjoyably to put it mildly.

Kirilov walked with her over to the bar, a tasteful polished-walnut counter serviced by an attractive blond woman in the livery of the Northampton's crew, black vest with red striping over white tunic and black dress pants. "One glass of Vladimir Veliky," he ordered. "It's the finest vodka in the sector, from the Stepanovich estate on Vladimir itself, made in the ancient fashion from potatoes and with water from their famously pure natural spring. Only a vodka from Holy Mother Russia herself could compare to it."

"Well, I shall try it I think, as one glass will not hurt me and I haven't had a single thing to drink the whole night," she smiled, and then asked, a bit sotto voiced, "You see Moscuvy as the Third Rome, yet?" Holy Mother Russia had certain connotations.

"Oh, is just a matter of speech, common in the rayon," he passed off, not quite drunk enough yet to have lost all of his inhibitions. On the other hand, he was just enough to express something of his true opinions, as the bartender handed them their drinks. "But too many of our people rush to scrape and bow at the whim of the outsiders. Our noble Byzantine rite has just as much antiquity as the Latin rite that the Viceroys have tried foisting on us since the fall of Great Rus, and that breeds a certain resentment and defiance." He found them seats by the bar, somewhat alone with only another couple sitting nearby, and they obviously well into each other. "This state of siege, when it comes, will just be another excuse to tighten up the leash on us, like they've been wanting to do for years."

"It is sad, the centralizing impulses that have crept into religion as well as government since the Deluge. The First Empire was a better place, and with the Bogumils defeated is it really necessary? But beyond such surface thoughts I admit to never having considered it, Mister Kirilov, from a perspective on the rim. But it is true, I don't dispute. Greek Catholicism has always seemed more substantial and spiritual to me than the Latin Rite, and I do go to mass at a Greek Rite cathedral."

"Yes, there is much to what you say," Valentin replied, perking up a bit from the moroseness that had suddenly descended on him. "You are quite a perspective young lady, Ms. Venieri. Yes, there can be no doubt of the glories of the eastern rite over that of the west. If only we were left alone to our rite and to our culture, but alas. We have to deal with Core world courtiers coming in, trying to make us in the image of their bloated Court, and bringing in their corrupt hangers-on to displace our honest trade and businesspeople. It is heartening to see that you appreciate our circumstances."

"Well, my father, for all of his successes might have imperiled the efforts of traders on the rim like yourself, in his grand days, certainly harboured a great love of the Greek Rite and his ethnic heritage, that he didn't stint in teaching to me," Thalia answered. "That, I am proud to have inheirited from him."

He did provide what he could for you, like all good fathers," Kirilov responded, for his own benefit as much as for hers. Men had needs, and they handled the consequences, giving as much as they could to support their children. It was the way of things, and he was getting a little emotional as the evening wore on and he continued drinking vodka. "And yes, Rus, Greek, it was a common cultural block and civilization, with our shared rites. When Tsargrad fell, naturally the center of that civilization migrated to Russia. The kinship between our peoples can never be forgotten, whatever our present circumstances."

"And I appreciate it very dearly," Thalia answered, fondly smiling. "I am sure it shall work out all quite alright. The natural tendencies of the Eastern peoples are to conservatism and so even the current crisis will be weathered, surely so, Mister Kirilov? Our shared cultural principles have not yet fallen, throughout all of history, though I hope you'll forgive some womanly ignorance of grand things and trends in favour of a focus on the details and elements of the ethnic customs of the land of the eastern rite."

"Ah, that is only proper. And I promise you a full opportunity to see those customs at first-hand, as well preserved as in any place in the Empire." He drained his glass at that, and sat it back, empty, on the table. "It is the order of things. Men go out into the world and earn a living, deal with the realities of life, sheltering women who are free to attend to their natural interests. And those interests preserve peoples and cultures, but so few women seem to appreciate their role and grow resentful." Certainly his ex-wife had been, and the contrast Thalia was running with her was only increasing his attraction. "Bah, it looks like people are starting back to their quarters." The depth of people on the floor was thinning, and the band was subtly getting less fresh-sounding. "It's still pretty early, lightweights..."

Thalia laughed delightedly. "Well, let's stay until we're the last people out, surely. I am very much enjoying the evening with you, Mister Kirilov," she added, and was in fact enjoying herself. She wasn't even offended by his comments, not when he himself was so happy--she didn't have that sort of capability at the moment to feel emotion against her mark.

"Wonderful, gospodina!" Valentin stood up, certainly refreshed by the break and feeling a pleasant buzz from the liquor. "Shall we attend to the dance floor a little more. The band may still have a few good tunes left in them, I think."

"Yes, before we lose the chance, let's!" She agreed delightedly, and was on her feet with all the swift grace of a deer to take his arm once more, her own head, well, not nearly so much affected as his.

Valentin was caught up in her enthusiasm and his own desire to impress the pretty lady, and strained hard to match his earlier athleticism as the band struck up another local trepok tune. "Ah, is a wonderful evening," he spoke loudly, as he finished off an improvised display of Cossack dance.

The band continued on, with decreasing enthusiasm, for another half-hour as the rest of the guests slowly filtered out. The liveried crew members began cleaning up tables and the bar closed down before the band played its final note, and took a bow. The half-dozen people still on the floor gave them a polite round of applause before they started leaving as well. Valentin and Thalia waited until they were alone, except of course for the band members polishing up their instruments and the cleaning staff preparing to wax the floor. "So that is that, alas," Valentin lamented. "Well, shall I escort my lady back to her room? It is late at night, yet." He was breathing a little deeply, and was flushed, clearly having exerted himself; sweat beaded up on his brow, which he wiped off with a discrete handkerchief. Despite the exertion and courtesy, though, there was a note of anticipation in his offer.

"You may certainly do so," Thalia answered softly, musing precisely on how she'd handle it. She'd make a very reasonable protest.... And if he wanted to sleep with her anyway, give in, Sophia decided quietly in her own mind. It was, after all, hard for her to decline things.

Kirilov offered her his arm, and escorted her out into the now mostly-deserted corridors. "See, no crew around, lighting is dark. So where did you have a room, Miss... ah, might I call your by your Christian name, my lady?"

"Yes, Valentin, you may," Thalia answered smoothly. "I'm on Deck Four, A-19 in the First class, of course," she elaborated, smiling softly.

"You honor me," he replied, again smiling, turning on the charm. He kept it up as he walked with her to the lift up to the A-Deck, stopping every now and then to share an anecdote of his homeworld. At last they arrived before her door, with Valentin having leaned in progressively closer, as a prelude to making more intimate contact. He halted before her room, and slipped an arm around her waist. "We are here, my lady," he announced rather superfluously. The close proximity was inflaming his lust, and he leaned in closer to her, smelling her sweet perfume. "You are a very beautiful woman, Thalia..."

She smiled, and shifted slightly receptively for him--inviting a kiss, at least. "Thank you, Valentin. You're not married, I see..." She added a bit slyly, and softly. "..Nor am I, though I certainly don't aim to ever become a spinster, God forbid."

"That would certainly be a tragedy..." he mumbled, as he pulled her gently up against him and brought his head down, brushing her check before finding her lips and planting a decidedly un-chaste kiss there.

The kiss was eagerly received, and she closed her eyes, leaning into him, with a soft delight evident in her form as she, so secretly, soaked in his moods and made them her own. Her performance was thanks to that ability beyond flawless; emotionally she became a mirror in this moments, exactly what the person across from her desired her to be.

Valentin ran his hand down her arm, before bringing it up behind her neck, supporting her head as he continued the kiss. He was barely cognizant of his surroundings as he leaned in closer against her soft body and continued to lengthy kiss, his beard tickling her face and chin. It had been a while, and between Thalia's air of sensuality and alcohol his mind was a heady mist of lust and pleasure. He pressed her against the door almost instinctively, and began running his other hand down her thigh. "You... incredible, I want you," he mumbled, as he pulled back temporarily from the kiss.

Sophia did not bother resisting by that point. She just reached up and gently keyed the door open, to let them stumble in together to her bed.
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Re: (TGG) The Cardinal Files: An Inside Job.

Post by Steve »

Ah, Sophia, I think you secretly enjoy this despite all that strict Catholic behavior. :P
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Re: (TGG) The Cardinal Files: An Inside Job.

Post by The Duchess of Zeon »

Steve wrote:Ah, Sophia, I think you secretly enjoy this despite all that strict Catholic behavior. :P
No, she really doesn't. Why, will be explained in more detail shortly, though it should be already somewhat clear from When Two Worlds Collide.
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Re: (TGG) The Cardinal Files: An Inside Job.

Post by The Duchess of Zeon »

Chapter Four: État de Siège.

RLS Northampton

Sophia had certainly enjoyed the past three nights with Kirilov, for what it was worth. It was not the kind of enjoyment a normal person would find, for it was completely involuntary. Sophia knew that it was sinful and wrong; it was enjoyable because Kirilov enjoyed, and she enjoyed all that he enjoyed when in his proximity like that; it was as it had always been for her on missions. Her own feelings, thoughts, and desires, were completely submerged and she became a perfect mirror to those of her lovers.

Regardless of how tenable the dalliance was, she had however been getting worried about the message coming, and while relaxing in her quarters that afternoon before another ball on the ship--and, expectedly, sleeping with Kirilov again--she was drumming her fingers impatiently. Ironically enough, that brought about an insistent beep from the comm terminal. She was on it like a greyhound, keying the message up and reading through it with no further ado. It was the agreed on code message: A State of Siege had been declared.

There was nothing more to do, except change into her work clothes quickly--which in this case meant all-black pants, buttoned blouse, and the usual duster and gloves, pulling her hair back severely this time, and slipping into a pair of heavy leather jack boots which were perhaps the trans-universal symbol of a law enforcement officer. One, after all, expected Evidenzburo agents to dress the part, and though that usually meant a more modest skirt there were a variety of ways that could be an inconvenience in space in loss of artgrav situations, which meant the women’s style of pantaloons would be acceptable. She slipped her identification cards in, too. Henceforth she was, per arrangement back at Wien, Theodesia Koczwara, Inspektur of the Evidenzburo and cleared Telepath interrogator.

In fact, it was her full authorizations, privileges, and rights all provided, except under a false name arranged in advance through a programme with the judiciary to protect the names of intelligence agents while still providing a coherent and traceable legal record; thus the alias Theodesia Koczwara would be accepted in court as reasonable identification for her for all purposes, as it was linked through the closed files definitively to Sophia Vuletic, but her actual name would never have to be released to the public even during the possible subsequent trials of the individuals in question. Imperial law mandated that active field agents of the Evidenzburo were exempted from the right of defendants to face their accusers in court.

Suitably attired, she strapped an open carry holster to her belt with a semiautomatic Frankischewerk FM.19 flechette pistol, not a regular military model, but when not using her small plastic low-detection model, what she much preferred, especially in space, and dropped a knife into her belt. The downside of the plan, which had been pointed out to her before she left, was that there was really no telling how many sympathizers with the rebels might be on the ship.

She started out without further ado, shutting the doors to her quarters behind her and heading immediately to the nearest turbolift, which she took upwards--it was fortunately only a short hop--to the next deck, which was the entrance to the sealed command and officers' habitation quarters. It was restricted to passengers except for 5 deck, which she was heading to now, which let people access it for tours of the command spaces that were sometimes given, or, more pertinently, to store their belongings in the purser's safe on that deck.

As she arrived, she walked straight over to the purser's officer, and pressed the buzzer to alert the purser that someone was waiting, while she coolly undid the buttons on her coat, and letting it hang free as she waited for the purser to answer.

Merchant Lieutenant Niels Svensson gritted his teeth in irritation and shut down his perscom, saving the status in his game for another period. He shoved it into the vest pocket of his uniform, and walked around the office walls to step out behind the service counter. When he saw the black-attired secret agent, looking like a figure out of a tri-dee drama, his eyes opened wide and his mouth involuntarily opened. "Ah, ah, how may I help you?"

She held up a metallic card with both machine-readable and outwardly displayed information including her holographic representation, which crisply identified her in German as Inspektur Theodesia Koczwara of the Evidenzburo. "I need you to take me to the bridge immediately, Lieutenant. The sector is now under a State of Siege, and this ship must be deviated from its current destination and returned to its port of origination with all haste."

Svensson leaned up over the top of the counter to read the card, and gulped as he did. This was serious, serious business indeed. Best to do what she said and bring her up to see the officer on duty. "One moment ma'am, I'll call the watch officer and inform him we're coming." He pulled up the sleeve on his right arm to reveal a simple wrist-com, operating on the ship frequency, pressed the button to be put through to the bridge. "This is Lieutenant Svensson, for the watch officer. There's a representative of the Evidenzburo down here, telling me to take her to the bridge. She says they've declared the state of siege for the sector."

A raspy voice answered back over the com. "Svensson, this is Captain Townshend. Escort the individual up to the bridge through the back lift, please. And remember to lock up your office."

Sophia stretched out her telepathic abilities as the conversation went on--intent might well give her a warning if a double cross was planned, for all that the chances of a man named Townshend being associated with Neo-Rus rebels was more or less nonexistant. They did, however, pay her to be enormously paranoid about such things.

Svensson ended the conversation and pulled his sleeve back over the com. "One second, ma'am." He turned back behind him to shut the door to his office, and keyed in his personal code to keep it locked. Niels came back around and lifted up the countertop flap, putting him on the same side of the room as Sophia. "If you'll follow me, Miss Koczwara..."

"Go right ahead," Sophia answered, hand resting delicately in the general direction of the flechette pistol, the closing flap released from the holster. Just in case. "The faster, the better, however."

"Right this way," Svensson said, clearly nervous. He took her around the counter to a secured door at the side, the entrance to the back corridors leading into the crew area. He quickly keyed his code in, and bolts restraining the door withdrew back into the armored frame. From there it was a long, if straightforward, walk down metallic corridors to the lift at the very front of the deck, which would bring them to the bridge. Niels was too nervous to make any small talk as they took the lift up, and was relieved when it opened onto the plotting bridge, with its banks of monitors and displays surrounding the captain's chair.

Standing nearby to greet them was Captain Rufus Townshend, the master of the ship and a forty year veteran of the industry. His formal midnight-black spacer uniform was decorated with gold braid and the hash marks of a merchant captain at the sleeves, so the Evidenzburo agent could immediately identify him. Salt-and-pepper hair poked out from behind the peaked cap he wore as a bridge officer, and his green eyes were surrounded by subtle lines belying the genetic therapy that gave him the physique and health of a man half his age. He kept the same "old man" face as he always did, but a slight tension around his jaw left Svensson in no doubt that he was irritated.

"Captain," Sophia held up her identification. "I'm Inspektur Theodesia Koczwara of the Evidenzburo, on your passenger manifest as one Thalia Venieri. I am invested with full emergency authority by directive of the Evidenzburo at the highest levels. This ship has a suspected ringleader of a treasonous rebel group aboard, which is receiving military supplies and ideological guidance from the Alliance of Democratic Nations, a foreign power. Accordingly you are instructed to come about at once and return to our port of origination with all possible haste and without informing your passengers until I give specific directives to that effect. Furthermore I want a detachment of security personnel placed summoned here and placed under my command immediately.

"Do not worry. Your line will be amply compensated for the interruption, and I have the authority to guarantee that to you. however, the situation in the sector has reached the point where we are under a State of Siege and one caused by the collusion of rebels with foreign agents, no less. The criticality of the situation cannot be overstated."

The badge looked real, but more importantly, so did her demeanor; and it was true that everyone had been expecting that a declaration of siege would be made any day. Townshend checked the face on the idea against the breathing woman standing in front of him anyway, and nodded reluctantly. If things were as she said, there was not a moment to waste. "Helm! Plot a course change back to Dvonomir, at full sustainable speed, and engage!'

"Captain, another request for you. Please get a security detachment to your shuttle bay immediately," Sophia added thoughtfully. "Just to close off any route of escape. And is it possible for the escape pods to be locked down as well? I don't expect anyone to be mad enough to take their chances with drifting for eternity in hyperspace in one, but they might take the forlon hope of rescue by a friendly ship over detention."

"We can lock down the launch programming on the pods," he affirmed. He signaled over to the nearest seaman. "Call the Chief and Third Mate to the bridge. Tell them we have a security emergency and relay my order to Mate Engelbrekt that he is to assemble the security team to cover the launch bay and to provide a detachment to the bridge."

As the seaman moved off to obey, Captain Townshend brought his hand down on one of the monitor banks, gripping it for strength. "It was only a matter of time before something like this happened in the sector. You have the full cooperation of my crew. Once Chief Mate Engelbrekt is here we can coordinate the security team with your requirements, but unfortunately there's only twenty men plus whatever off-watch seamen we can arm. I'll also have the Third Mate lock down those lifeboats and escape pods as you requested."

"Hopefully there won't be substantial resistance," Sophia answered somewhat languidly. "You need not fear for your ship, though. Once I take that security detachment down and go quietly detain my man, I'm going to be interrogating him immediately. I'm a P-5 and under State of Siege regulations we'll find out quickly if there's enough of them aboard to form a threat to the ship, before they realize what's going on and could organize themselves." She stiffened herself slightly, and continued with a shameless, precise, mechanistic calm:

"However, interrogation isn't my normal work at all, so if you have a nurse or female doctor aboard you could summon to be on hand when I've finished, I'd appreciate it very much. I won't be in a state where I can take care of myself or function for several hours afterward."

"All our personnel are trained in first aid," the Captain said. "We'll find one of our female crew who can be spared for that, if we can't find a female practitioner among the passengers."

"Thank you, Captain. Mostly just someone to give me a tranquilizer and watch over me after I've made a report of any urgent threats to the ship," Sophia--'Theodesia'--answered, rather subdued. She rarely conducted interrogations, exactly because she was a feedback telepath. She experienced every single emotion her target experienced, and it had been what she was quietly dreading about this assignment from the start.

The lift behind them opened again, admitting two more officers of the ship and six men in the livery of the vessel, armed with non-lethal shock rifles and carrying plasma pistols in side holsters. The Chief Mate was, second in command of the ship and head of the security detail besides his other duties, stepped out first. He was improbably dark and bushy haired for a Scandinavian man, and halted to salute Townshend. "Chief Mate Engelbrekt reporting as order, with a security detachment." His accent carried the slight lilting of Swedish native speakers, and his movements were as crisp and efficient as those of long-service navy personnel.

"Thank you, Mate Engelbrekt. This is Inspector Koczwara of the intelligence services." He indicated the darkly attired woman in front of him. "We have been informed of the declaration of a state of siege and are returning to Dvonomir, and she requires our assistance in apprehending a suspected traitor. You'll follow her orders to the fullest."

The Mate nodded and turned to the Evidenzburo agent for instructions, even as the Captain conferred with his Third Mate about shutting down the launch protocols for the emergency escape vessels.

"If you and three of your men could accompany me, Mate Engelbrekt? The others should remain to guard the bridge, just to be safe. We're going to B-209 in the First Class, quarters of Valentin Kirilov, and haste is recommended." She started for the lift immediately.

"Seamen Peters, Jeffreys, and Gamboli, accompany me," Engelbrekt ordered promptly, before following Sophia onto the lift. "Do you believe that Mister Kirilov will offer armed or unarmed resistance?"

"He's probably armed, but I don't think he'll be expecting this, unless he's been monitoring shipboard communications," Sophia answered. It was not a long trip down to the level. "He is, however, familiar with me, and so I will key the door to let him know there's somewhere there, and then step back. Once he opens it, well, we need him alive very badly, so stun him if necessary," she elaborated. The moment the lift open, she said no more, but brushed smoothly ahead with a swift stride to compensate for her shortness.

"The stunners will put him down hard and give him a hell of a headache, but they shouldn't cause any lasting damage," Engelbrekt explained. "Alright seamen, be prepared for anything once that door opens. The main threat will be if anyone tries to intervene, so Gamboli, Jeffreys, I'll want you covering both ends of the hab corridor outside the room."

Sophia waited without concern until the two men had spread out. Then she held her hand up, and walked over to the door to B-209, and pushed the entry buzzy, still holding her hand back to indicate she didn't want them to come forward. "Valentin?" She offered a husky-soft voice. "It's me, Thalia. I wanted to stop by before the ball this evening." Her other hand was resting on the holster of her gun.

Valentin opened up door from the interior console, and it slid aside to reveal him still in his red silk bathrobe, with ruffled hair and unkempt appearance. "Thalia, is wonderful..." he began, but halted in confusion as he took in her attire.

Sophia pushed her way inside without further ado--the most irritating possibility would be that he'd slam the door shut and, say, shoot himself before they could pry it open. She also drew the flechette pistol as she pressed right up against him, her dropped hand a signal for the mate and remaining sailor not guarding the approaches to dash up. "If it's any consolation, Valentin," she said very, very tenderly, almost reverently and with a little bit of compassionate sadness, her eyes wry and her expression thoroughly gentle: "They took you seriously enough to send the best agent in the Evidenzburo here on the fastest courier they could find."

His yes widened in abrupt shock, but he was no fool. Rushing her was hardly an option, especially as he spotted members of the crew out in the corridor, armed with what looked like rifles. Instead he vented his rage in an impressive volley of obscene oaths, and his face contorted into violent hatred.

Sophia gently rolled her eyes. She had expected that, too, and had dealt with worse for that matter. "Please, Valentin," she cut through with her eyes hardening. "Let's not make this any harder than it has to be. I've been known to write missives to the court before begging leniency for cooperative men. And you might well not even be guilty of treason, but a lesser offense which will spare you utter ruin. This is, however, a State of Siege, and if you resist me in the execution of my duties, there will be very little anyone at all can do for you, except perhaps God."

He threw his hands up, but the burning anger coming off him abated in not the slightest. "As you wish, Imperial whore," he answered spitefully.

"Have a seat, then," Sophia gestured to one of the chairs in the room, and laughed very softly. "Though I will object if you call me a traitor to my people, for I was adopted from the ruins of a Bogumil world when very young--into a staunchly Catholic Polish family. My real name, and title, is Inspector Theodesia Koczwara, and this is your formal notice of your detention under the provisions of a State of Siege, under probable cause of treason or collusion in the commission of treason, and collusion with agents of a foreign power.

“Due to that probable cause, you have under those provisions no right of appeal, no right of counsel, and no protection against self-incrimination as long as you are held within this sector while the State of Siege is in effect, and evidence gained during that period may nonetheless later be used against you in a court of law, or else you shall be tried in a special military tribunal during the course of the State of Siege. Cooperation is your only recourse to mercy should you be guilty."

"And yeah," she added almost as an afterthought, "I am a whore for the Empire. Unfortunately for you, I'm also a P-5. I think that puts the choices you have in a more direct light." The last words were clipped out with a measured sort of malice.

"A mindfucker and a whore," he replied, lamenting his luck. "Alright, I brought in packages for some of those kids arrested on Dvonomir. They were smuggled in from across the Line and I knew whatever they were was illegal but I didn't ask questions. Then they started asking me to pass on messages to groups on Dvonomir and in the rayon, and threatened to expose my smuggling if I did not. I did not know the content of the messages, nor did I care if they were anti-Imperial or not." He was certainly genuine on that point.

"Smuggling and violations of the espionage act. Well, you should actually get out in time to have something of a life on the other side," she continued a bit nonchalantly, "which makes me somewhat less guilty, I have to admit." She shook her head, and moved to gingerly sit in the chair across from him, her flechette pistol held with the casual ease of an experienced killer, no less, and, of course, men with rifles waiting outside. "Oh you little man, Valentin. What does make people like you so greedy? I felt lucky to have a computer growing up..." A sigh. "I'm going to have to confirm that, of course, and a lot of other things. I suggest you just try and relax, it really will make things easier for you." She didn't add: And for me.

He wasn't blase enough to relax, and he was still furious about being manipulated, which meant that she was going to be pushing through a red haze of fury inside his mind. It made things more difficult, but she was able to confirm various particulars. Valentin had grown up hating the Empire for the destruction of the Great Rus and his family's steep fall in prestige. His shipping company had run in the red when competition from the Core worlds emerged, only deepening that dislike for the empire and its work.

It had also made him desperate, and he resorted to speculative contracts and smuggling forays to keep his company running. The unexpected boon in profits let him regain face among... and then his subconscious began resisting the probing. There was nothing that indicated training or even intent, only the reflexive obscuring of detail that was common when a suspect did not want to reveal a particular facet of his life, whether from shame or guilt or to protect someone else.

Already, as the obvious target of that rage, Sophia was battered by it, and looking somewhat obviously ragged--but she was also dangerously furious, too, for she was a feedback telempath, and that meant she was just as liable to be driven into a rage by such close contact with the mind of someone she was scanning, if they were enraged, as not. It gave her surprising power in the interrogation, and she forced her way with barely checked brute strength. It would not do wonders for Valentin's mental health, though she was controlled enough not to actually damage his psyche or brain in a fundamental way. But from a five foot tall woman whose primary features were the mediterranean attractiveness of her features, the sheer energy would have intimidated even another telepath who knew how well looks could be deceiving.

The Sverograd Merchant's Guild was a primary refuge for the former elite of the Great Rus state, and a constant source of funding for defiant Russian cultural preservation. They provided private support to schismatic priests of the Byzantine rite as well as the public endowments of cathedrals, dance groups, theaters, and other more benign activities. They also hid a secret, having been established shortly after the fall of the Great Rus to conduct trade with Novo Kyiv, the newly settled colony established as a last redoubt for the schismatics and other irreconcilables of the Great Rus state.

The Kirilovs had been one of the founding members but Valentin had been humiliated as his debts piled up, until the Outsiders had shown up before the Guild, and made their deal. He, and a few other members of the group, would serve as smugglers... then, later, it became apparent, as cat's paws, but by then it was too late. In exchange the Outsiders had not only paid well, but had begun stepping up pirate attacks on the expanding Core World shipping lines.

For the moment, Sophia was riding a grimly intense high fueled, ironically, by Valentin's own brutal resistance up to that point with his hate. It put in her a mood disinclined to be gentle as she thoroughly broke him, flipping the stuff down to her cybernetics for storage in the discrete memory unit wired into her brain which was necessary to provide an ironclad record of these sorts of things, sorting, collating, as she tried to avoid giving in to her emotions, and then, carried on further. Details came next, details of the guilders, the outsiders, any information she could about them. And even that was not enough; she had to know, too, if any conspirators or rebels were aboard the ship. Sophia tightened her own sense of mercy, and pushed on for as long as the rage held out.

That much came as a quick relief. As far as Valentin knew he was alone aboard the ship, though a few of his associates were more or less sympathetic to his views. The telepathic intrusion was increasingly impacting his sense of reality and self, to a dangerous point as Sophia's mental will imposed itself on his mind.

That also reduced his sense of rage, though, to the point where Sophia could begin to actually feel what he was going through, and she rapidly ended up with a confused, crazed emotional kaleidoscope pressing against her through the feedback loop. A less disciplined telepath, less experienced, might have continued that for disastrous consequences in the both of them.

Sophia herself, knew what it meant, however, and reacted appropriately--without a moment's further hesitation she pulled back with her most coherent cautious thoughts, and quickly cut the link to Valentin. Quickly enough that it sent out a strangled cry from her lips, easily heard in the corridor as she sagged down into the chain, her body sheened with evidence of a vicious cold sweat, and quivering uncontrollably.
The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth. -- Wikipedia's No Original Research policy page.

In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.
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Re: (TGG) The Cardinal Files: An Inside Job.

Post by The Duchess of Zeon »

Note, Habsburg P-5 is equivalent to PsiCorps P-12.
The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth. -- Wikipedia's No Original Research policy page.

In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.
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Re: (TGG) The Cardinal Files: An Inside Job.

Post by The Duchess of Zeon »

Chapter Five: The Life of a Spy

RLS Northampton

Mate Engelbreckt and Seaman Peters stepped in quickly as they heard the strangled cry ahead, and found Sophia seemingly in a trance, shivering heavily. Valentin had sagged down to the floor, unconscious. The officer knelt down beside the suspect and checked his pulse, which was shallow but regular, and judged him not to be in any immediate danger. There was a far more important person in the room as far as he was concerned, anyhow.

"Seaman Peters, grab a blanket off the bed for Miss Koczwara." He wasn't familiar with psychic phenomenon but it certainly looked like shock might be a threat. While the seaman went over to pull off Kirilov's comforter, he bent down to look the Evidenzburo in the eye and try to see if she was following him. "We're going to take you to the infirmary now. I'll have Jeffreys and Gamboli come in and remove Kirilov there as well, and take him to the brig once he recovers consciousness. We'll keep a full guard on him."

"Few few symps on ship justa -c - couple. Dissolute. Likely not act keep guard up," Sophia blurted out abruptly, and then lapsed back into a quivering silence as fast as the words had come as the comforter was pulled over her, and she pulled it into herself.

"Let's get her help, quickly." The two men gently lifted her up in a fireman's lug, careful to fully support her the whole time. The other two security guards entered the room to carry off the unmoving suspect behind them. "Try and stay with us," Engelbrekt said distractedly. "Are you in any danger? What will you need for treatment?"

"I'm--I'm reasserting myself," she answered rather shakily, trying to explain in terms a layman would understand for all her disorientation and shock. "Wasn't as... as bad as I thought, actually. Helps that he was angry! Tranquilizer--just knock me asleep for twelve hours and I'll be fine. Rage hurts." Her voice still had a somewhat disturbingly distracted quality.

"I'll let them know when we get up there," he said, as he carefully turned to lead the Peters sideways through the door. They hustled her up to the nearest lift, passing by a few startled passengers, followed after by the other two seamen with Kirilov. The whole affair would doubtless be talked about extensively, but with no threat to the ship, and instructions from Inspector Koczwara, they could easily avoid explanations for a while.

Once they arrived in the spotless sterile hospital that served the ship Sophia was carried further in and placed on an examination bed, with a few minutes of interval before a female crewmember, the blond bartender, walked in wearing a sterile surgical jumpsuit complete with disposible gloves, and carrying a syringe. "This should let you sleep for a while," she assured Sophia, stroking her hair softly as she slowly inserted the needle into her arm and depressed the slider. "In the meantime we'll keep a close watch on you. Captain's assigned me to help you with any other medical issues needing privacy, so don't worry about that. Just rest now..."

"Stay here, when I wake up; it'ssss hard to loook into a man's mind like thtthat...." she slurred off slowly, and then fell asleep swiftly.


Having been knocked into sleep by the tranquilizer, Sophia ended up sleeping for fourteen and a half hours--hardly enough time to get them back to Dvonomir at their maximum sustained speed, that would probably take two days in total (though that, in turn, meant that they were 30% of the way back)--but they were certainly making good time on it. Sophia, for her part, was making good time with sleep, and woke up only reluctantly, eyelids fluttering to alertness as she glanced around the room, and moved her arms and legs languidly and smoothly. There was sort of a divine sense of ennui which came on sleeping a huge amount; a contented sense of not needing anything else in the world for the moment, but also not being able to do anything, and slightly fuzzier than if you'd slept a whole amount. There was the distance of it all, though.

She'd slept with Valentin twice... Whore, you're a whore for the Empire, you damn well are, the words echoed slightly deliriously in her head, though she forced them down. She had enjoyed sleeping with him thoroughly, and made sure he'd enjoyed it thoroughly as well; it would be likely the last sex he'd get in quite some time, after all, and she'd known it in advance. Yet for all that she had the perfect excuse; enjoying it thoroughly was completely relative when the desire existed only because someone else desired you.

The perfect trick for a spy, but hardly that for a catholic girl. But more importantly there was just a feeling of it being somewhat dirtier when done in the Empire, than when she did even more obscene things outside of it; and yet all of it was to a common cause and purpose, one that inevitably won out in her heart... Really, it’s just a job you do.

....No, the feelings of guilty weren’t connected at all with the problem of interrogations. Interrogations were not her way of doing things; she stole documents and passwords and seduced people into giving up information without ever quite hurting them, and even did her best to let them have a credible defense in her absence. In Valentin's case, she could not do anything of the sort. Her consolation was that, though revenge didn't help the Empire, being proactive certainly did, and unless Valentin was thoroughly broken by a long time in prison, he would be far more lethal the next time around, given the slightest chance

But it was also the aftereffect of having felt such intense hate. It was the sort of curdled rage that she'd felt before only rarely; not even her most shaken experience with Iblis, buried into the darkest recesses of her mind under the heaviest of security, could fully compare to the intimate knowledge of that hatred directed at her. And yet in the end, the emotion was vented and done; it had gone through her and sucked the life out of her, damned near, but it hadn’t. "Fair play, Valentin," she whispered softly, and moved a little.

"You're awake?" The question came from a seat beside her hospital bed, and drew Sophia's attention to the tired looking blond woman sitting there. One of the service crew, the bartender, dressed in a functional off-duty grey jumpsuit; her pale spacer complexion said she had either been working similar jobs for some time, or had been born in a space colony. "I've been waiting here for you, as I can. It's been fourteen hours, if that's what you're going to ask first."

"Thank you so much," Sophia answered immediately. "I--I knew. You kept me from having nightmares," she explained with a soft sort of smile. "Concern is something it's very easy for the telepathic subconscious to pick up on. And is comforting, in the circumstances. Uhhh." She rubbed her temples gently. "I don't really want to know anything else before I have some coffee, if you'd humour me."

"Oh, of course, I'll get that for you right away." She rose from her seat without the kind of grace practiced by most bourgeois or noble ladies, instead walking directly out of the small enclosed room. She came back minutes later with a steaming plastic-white cup and bent down by Sophia's side to hand her coffee. "Galley brewed, I'm afraid; they keep a pot of it filled for the hospital personnel. My name's Audrey, by the way. I think I mentioned the Captain assigned me to you."

"A pleasure to meet you, Audrey," Sophia replied with a cheery smile as she propped herself into a sitting position and sipped of the coffee. "And I've had much worse, fear not. I assume I was only referred to as Inspector Kosczwara, for which I apologize; my name's Theodesia. And congratulations on your own little part in securing a lynchpin in an anti-Imperial organization. That much I can't hide, though I fear the rest of the details may never come out."

"I never thought I'd be mixed up in secret agent matters," she said, shaking her head. "Though I didn't sign on to see the stars because I wanted boredom. So it's a pleasure to help, Theodosia. Is there anything else I can get you now?"

"I am hungry, and if I don't eat quickly the coffee will unsettle my stomach... But I take it there's nothing urgent to be known for me from the Captain?"

"There was a message packet sent to the ship, your eyes only," she responded, recalling the problems that had caused. It's buffered in the ship's comm system until you can download and unlock it. It wasn't marked urgent, so the ship's doctor felt you should take a little time to recover before leaving the infirmary."

"Probably a status update on the detentions I ordered," Theodesia muttered under her breath, still a bit shaken such that she was not as careful as usual--though, as a matter of fact, that would be documented by the bureaucrats and available later anyway. Even under a State of Siege these things had to be done.

Without them, after all, the rule of law would be lost in the end. Though most of the people she would be having to interrogate soon enough were liable to be terrified, and she could deal with that, she'd have to pay special attention to making sure that the angry ones were terrified in advance. She could recover faster from the false-terror than the gripping paroxysm of wrath that had taken her inside of Valentin.

Theodesia smiled faintly. "Well, food would be important, then. Lots of bread and meat, ideally, the details aren't to important beyond that, just need carbs and protein before I go to speak with the Captain, decode the message, and a few other sundry aspects of my job."

"I'll run down to the galley for you," she volunteered. "They've got pork sausages with fresh rolls, and some mashed and boiled potatoes to go for late meals. Would you like me to bring up anything else to drink with that, some juice or milk?"

"Milk would be nice. Thank you very much," Sophia answered, while using her cybernetics to process her way through the list and track down precisely all of Valentin's associates on the ship who might cause a problem for them were they allowed to remain free for the duration of the journey back. The passengers would surely already be muttering, and she'd need to let the Captain explain things in terse detail as soon as she'd detained the men in question: So, she'd eat quickly, go to the bridge, and then take another team to secure them--no interrogations, thankfully, would be required--and then the passengers could be informed of the State of Siege and the return to Dvonomir.

"I'll be right back. Trust me, it'll be a lot better than the mush they serve for patients," she promised. As she departed, Sophia's examination of the memories of Kirilov, bringing forth the associates he knew on the ship, sorted by the sympthy they had shown to his ideals. They were an uninspiring lot, to Kirilov's knowledge uninvolved in any conspiracy; the nephew of an old business parter, a friendly rival in the Merchant's Guild, a mostly irresponsible young heir to a mineral extraction business on Novo Apraxin, a young widow that Kirilov had been briefly involved with.

Gently confined to quarters, then. I'll be very polite about it and say that it's a formality required because of the word of a confirmed hireling of foreign powers, Sophia decided delicately, and more modestly than her initial inclination, as she thought over them more carefully and reviewed what she'd recorded in more detail.

Audrey returned some time later, pushing up the door to the room with her waist as she balanced a tray with one hand, and a clear plastic carafe filled with milk in the other. She sat the carafe down on the sink counter beside the bed, and took hold of the tray with both hands before sitting it in Sophia's lap. It had a plate piled with two large sausages, some split red potatoes and a bit of sauerkraut, and yeast rolls piles on top. A separate plate held butter, honey, and jam to go with the rolls, with silverware holding down a pile of napkins. "I hope this is to your taste?"

"It looks truly wonderful right now," Sophia answered. "And as I've learned to do over the years, I now intend to gorge myself in a thoroughly unladylike fashion." She laughed a bit, smiling, and went for the rolls first.

"None of the blokes here," Audrey commented, in a low, conspiratorial whisper. "I can go back for chocolate bars if you feel like 'em afterward." She poured a glass a milk from the carafe, handing it to the agent. "Will need something to wash it all down with, anyway."

Sophia giggled, and ate to satisfy herself. "That would be rather awesome, really, though we'll see how I feel." A bit of milk, for the moment, but she was mostly interested in the efficient demolition of her food as a soldier might be when given the chance to eat after long hunger.

Audrey watched her eat, careful to keep an eye on the level of the milk in her cup, and to keep a napkin ready to hand her "patient." The ravenous but systematic clearing of the plate reminded her of the way the real belters back on her home colony had eaten. "My, you were really were famished, weren't you?"

"Energy for telepathy has to come from somewhere," Sophia replied as she drank more. "It's a not commonly understood thing, but all telepathic effects are actually powered by the food energy in your body. So, right now I feel like I spent yesterday chopping wood by hand or shoveling snow or something."

"Oh!" Her face seemed to lighten up with comprehension. "No, I'm afraid I don't know much about your talent. There weren't really any around in the dome, and I've only encountered a few before out on the lines. So it's like you pulled a double-shift right before sleeping most of the day." She slooked down at the rapidly vanishing plate. "Maybe I should have brought you three sausages..."

"You can always bring another back with the chocolate," Sophia answered with a very sincere smile. "Anyway, it was, I admit, mostly an isolated life for me. Contrary to stereotype I don't get along with other telepaths very well at all, because I'm also a strong empath, and it scares me to be around people with mental shields, really, so I can't feel what they're feeling.

“Went to a special Carmelite school on my homeworld that specialized in training discipline into those with psychic powers. Mine were exceptionally strong, and my Dad by accident--he was an old Army NCO, before he passed on--had inoculated me with his sense of duty to the Empire. So, for want of something better to do and many years of training and working later, here I am."

"It must be a rather exciting life, tracking down enemies of the Empire, travelling all over space..." Audrey had a slightly disconnected look about her as she imagined Theodosia's life. "My dad worked for one of the major corps out in the Inner Rim, and he got assigned to a Belter colony in the Drachenfells system, that's out past... well, it was the middle of nowhere.

“I grew up there, which is maybe why I didn't get along with my parents, and so when I was old enough I signed on with the Niederland lines as a service hostess. Picked up a few skills at the bar, and made my way across three sectors and five lines before winding up here." There a barely sensible wry tone, as though she was resigned to disappointment. But she was giving off a mild sense of envy at Sophia, something deeply beneath the surface and not consciously acknowledge, and mingled with a heavy degree of admiration.

It was a familiar combination to Sophia, and she paid it back with all the gentle encouragement she could. "Bartending is about as honest of a trade as they come, though, so don't feel that badly about it. Really, I would have ended up a peasant farmgirl with a husband and four children if it wasn't for being a psychic, so, seeing as you didn't have that leverage to boost your chances, you did better than I, when we level things out.

“The rest is just luck of the draw. On the other hand, you can always aspire for more. Modesty in living really does come in handy in the long run, especially as a spacer where it isn't that hard to increase your rates and most positions you might want aren't truly closed to women--they just don't advertise the fact they'll take a girl as well as a man. Might at the very least leverage yourself into a trans-universal liner slot, I would say."

"Oh, I know! Though it's hard to find those opportunities out here in the fringe sectors. I'm trying to transfer to one of the newer liners we're operating in the Core. If they move me soon I could be in a position to apply for one of the home sector ships catering to the Court, or one of the trans-universal ships." She sighed; that seemed like so far away. "I'd love to go see what those other people are really like. We don't hear much about the other universes this far away from the Core."

"They are strange and marvelous places, with alien races incredibly diverse, and some you can reasonably get along quite well with, with all the grandeur of the Empire," Sophia answered without affectation but a sincere delight in her better memories of the far-off places. "For what it is worth, I will put in a good word for you with the Captain, and perhaps he will remember it when writing your recommendations."

"Oh thank you, thank you very much miss Koczwara." She practically squealed with excitement at the prospect. That would be her big break out of the Rim sectors and into the far more prosperous and opportunity-filled Core worlds. "I'm really grateful. And if you need anything at all while you're here, just ask."

"You're very welcome," Sophia answered as she finished up her food. "Though for the moment it's really just another sausage and some chocolate!"
The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth. -- Wikipedia's No Original Research policy page.

In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.
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Re: (TGG) The Cardinal Files: An Inside Job.

Post by The Duchess of Zeon »

Chapter Six: The Usual Suspects.

RLS Northampton,
In Spacedock.

It was the first time she'd seen Valentin in three days--in 48 hours--as she brushed past, walking down the tube with a duffle slung over one arm and a suitcase rolling from her other hand. She'd had to pack fairly heavily to replicate the clothes of an upper glass girl, after all, and didn’t want to lose any of them. He glared at her as she walked, but was sullenly silent, and she ignored him beyond that.

Only a wayward glance was spared as she walked down to the inevitable gendarme presence, though she couldn't help but feel the words echoing, anyway, Imperial whore, in her mind. You even enjoyed it. Oh well; work to be done. The detachment of gendarmes ahead was glaringly obvious, though who she could be, dressed in black and coming out ahead at a secured platform, was rather obvious on her part, anyway. She nonetheless presented her badge to the detachment commander as she pulled up to a halt and slung down the duffle. Theodesia Koczwara, of course. The local Dvonomir office would know that name was a Legal Alias attached to Agent Cardinal, but nobody else needed to know even her code name.

The lieutenant of the detachment examined the credentials, and satisfied, ordered the way cleared for the the procession of agent and captive to the launch shuttle that would return them to the capital. "Welcome back," he courteously offered. "My orders are to escort you and one Valentin Kirilov back to the Evidenzburo offices in Wenceslas."

"He's coming up now," Sophia answered, and turned rather stiffly to where she saw Valentin being led down the corridor by the armed personnel of the ship. "Shouldn't be any trouble for you, I think; he's already been broken," she added rather coldly, and, unvoiced: to say the least.

"I've seen broken men turn for one last rush of defiance before," the lieutenant said. But as the ship's security detachment escorted Valentin down, it seemed unlikely. He was wearing a jumpsuit of the same style as the crew, and his hair was ruffled and unkempt. The guards kept a close eye on him, but he moved across the deck with a slow shuffling that just kept them from pushing or frog-marching him down. He peered down and gave a spiteful glare at Sophia, but there was more self-pity than rage left in him. The transfer to gendarme custody went swiftly, without Valentin saying anything or doing more than looking ahead.

Mate Engelbrekt was on hand, and coordinated as several trunks were brought down after Valentin. "These are his effects, collected together after his detention. Mostly clothes, a perscom..." He pulled out a disposable datapad. "There's a full inventory here,sir," he said as he handed it to the gendarme officer.

"Thank you, Mate Engelbrekt," Sophia added at that point. "It was, in fact, a thoroughly enjoyable voyage for my first few days, and your help toward me was exquisite and prompt throughout. I leave your proud ship with no complaints."

"I'll be sure to let the Captain know," he responded, smiling a bit at it. "We do pride ourselves on service. I doubt Herr Kirilov will give us an endorsement, but we'd not want his." But if you'll excuse me, we've got to prepare to debark a lot of passengers and I'll be needed for that on the bridge." He bowed slightly and took his leave.

Sophia laughed delightedly as she let Engelbrekt leave. "No, I imagine they'd rather not," she commented to the Gendarme officer. "Shall we be on our way, then?"

"Everything is in hand here," the lieutenant agreed. "Herr Kirilov is being seated as we speak in the confinement cabin of the shuttle." He began walking back from the liner, toward a smaller ancillary dock already cordoned off by uniformed gendarme. The station's Langston Field provided a permeable seal for atmosphere that allowed ships to directly load and unload without having to deal with the complexities of airlock. When dealing with smaller craft the result was not really unlike a planetside marina.

She followed along in the tow of the unit, having passed her suitcase and duffle off to some of the soldiers--one of the privileges of being a full Inspektur with powers which might well extend to arresting the local governor if it came to it was that she was treated more or less like a commissioned officer in such circumstances. "What's been your usual duty assignment so far in the past days, Lieutenant?" She queried, trying to get a better feel for the situation.

"Oh, it's been rather busy," he averred. "The State of Siege came down four days ago. The Viceroy's office alerted us ahead of time, and the Gendarme has been carrying out sector-wide roundups. I've mostly been assigned around the capital and the University district. First with picking up another cell of students, then a raid on an underground press in the basement of a mansion in the Garden Heights, if you can believe that, all in the first two days. Then guarding the detainees, hmm, got called out last night to help pick up a smuggler and since we were still on the docks here the Evidenzburo arranged for us to provide you escort."

"What's the mood on the street?" Sophia asked next, knowing that he'd be the most likely to know it, and relate it well, for that matter, having been already that busy in such operations.

"Lot of surprise, but it's been pretty calm here. It's worse in the Vladimir rayon. We were lucky to get the drop on a lot of the people who might have caused problems." He stopped to salute the guards at the dock, and ordered them to start clearing off the cordon. "There haven't been any protests and only a few objections from the usual rabble. A lot of the people we've picked up with ties to the original cell all seem to be off-worlders, or from families who came here after the reconquest of the Sector. The loyalty of the native population seems to be as firm as it was back then."

"Do they continue to espouse 'democratic' rather than more Slavic nationalist views?" That was the other curious thing. As she'd hinted to Valentin to--the traditional slavic society demanded adherence to an authoritarian system, as was right and proper. How was it being reconciled with the democratic demands of the Alliance?

"Our intelligence people are pouring over the writings, and forensics is active as well. I haven't had the time to examine it in any depth but it seems to mimic what we were told to expect. Agitation for anarchic government and the freedom of religion, whatever that is supposed to mean. Though the pamphlets also call for the restoration of Great Rus and the establishment of a Russian language administration in the Sector, too."

"Freedom of religion, Lieutenant," Sophia answered—for she did not like to see people be ignorant, and as a lieutenant of gendarmes the man was probably not all that broadly educated, "Is a concept formulated in the 18th century in several other universes by the French, who remained Catholic in those places, but.... Heretically so, with something called Gallicanism, sort of like a western Orthodoxy.

“These frenchmen proposed completely eliminating all elements of religion from the state, and all religiously-inspired law, so that Hindus, Jews, Christians, would not merely be on equal footing but held fully equal, regardless of the majority, as well as complete atheists. As a necessary consequence, such abominations before God as abortion, euthanasia of the sick, and the marriage of sodomites to each other has been sanctioned by the governments of states, including the Alliance, which subscribe to the democratic political ideology."

"Well, those byzantinists were always ungrateful for the concessions made to them. But whoever was writing the pamphlet didn't know the Great Rus well, that's for sure." He seemed dismissive of the entire thing. "In any case, the prisoner is confined, his effects are stowed, and we are ready to board. After you, ma'am..."

"Thank you," Sophia answered as she graciously slipped forward to take her seat. "It's of importance to us," she added in some vague effort to place the comments into context, "Precisely because of how alien this propaganda is to the actual beliefs of the Great Rus. Simply explaining to them what these traitors are trying to implement will be sufficient to prevent the spread of further unrest."

"I'm just as glad to stick with the more active end of investigations. Reading through the ridiculous notions of these subversives is more noxious than facing their guns." They entered the shuttle, a larger transport type with two confinement spaces in the back, one occupied by Kirilov and the other empty. With the short range of the shuttle in mind no acceleration couches had been provided, only banks of seats with strap and waist belts and keep people still. The rest of the gendarme team had already strapped in, and the lieutenant lost no time doing likewise. "Be glad to get back on solid earth. Having nothing but the black bubble of the field between me and vacuum just always leaves me nervous."

"It can be disconcerting sometimes," Sophia agreed politely as she finished strapping in, deciding further conversation was a lost cause.

The shuttle broke away from the docks minutes later, and began the plunge through the black field of the station's field and down toward the blue marble of Dvonomir. There was little sense of acceleration thanks to the inertial compensators and gravitic engine, and the decision of the pilot to go easy on the flight back. "Hopefully the crisis will die down soon. Haven't had a day off or seen my family for a week now. Though I expect there'll be quite a lot of work after the interrogations really get underway, so any break will be temporary."

"I'm afraid that's true," Sophia answered somewhat quietly.

The trip continued without incident. Rather than arrive at the civilian spaceport she had first set foot on Dvonomir at, the shuttle diverted to a small military field just outside the capital. It was nighttime in the capital, and their descent attracted little notice from those below. The shuttle touched neatly down after hovering in place over a designated landing platform. There were a few soldiers out guarding the field, but there was no sign of any special preparation, though a pair of Gendarme vans were parked nearby as well as a car for Sophia.

"Time to go," the liuetenant said wearily. He unbuckled, joining his squad as they oversaw the release of Kirilov from his confinement cell and slow march down the landing plank and across the field to an armored van.


Enroute to,
Dvonomir Evidenzbüro Haupquartier.

The interrogation cells of the Dvonomir Evidenzbüro were modelled on the same format that had been employed by secret services throughout Imperial history. Holographic emitters, too useful to not add in, created the illusion of a dank, barely lit cement-floored room. A sturdy metal table dominated the room and was supplemented only by a few cheap stamped-metal seats. There was a control bay right beside the main interrogation room where the questioning could be observed and recorded and holographic controls monitored.

The default settings though created an atmosphere of intimidation and bleakness that served to isolate suspects psychologically. The ancient tactic of coupling small gestures of kindness amid unremitting aggression would unsettle almost anyone, and most would latch on to the only source of reassurance they had. For all the dire rumors the Evidenzbüro almost never found it necessary to resort to harsher tactics.

But there were times that speed was of the utmost importance, that the situation was desperate enough to require more invasive methods of questioning. The declaration of a state of siege in the sector had untied the hands of the most potent tools of the security forces, their psychic investigators. In a dozen similar rooms in the buildings suspects were being sat down at identical chambers and brought face-to-face with men and women in somber black suits. None of the suspects had any psychic talent and most of them knew only the simplest methods of shielding their thoughts. Exhaustion eventually broke those without aggressive probing, leaving the mindreaders free reign to pry out details of conspiracy and treason from their brains.

There were exceptions who did have advanced training in psychic defense, and those required the greatest skill to handle without permanently harming. And the most powerful and skilled psychic in the entire sector, if not a good portion of the Empire, was arriving back to the headquarters today. Even before she had exited the shuttle Cardinal had received a file transmission for the most troublesome of the suspects. As she relaxed in the back of the sedan sent to pick her up at the spaceport she could review the file in depth several times as was her way, memorizing all of the quirks and vulnerabilities of her prey.

Petrovic, Ivan. Her perscomp displayed a holographic image of a young man in his late twenties, though that was deceptive in an age of prolong. He had a solidly muscled build, as fitted a man who had served in the gendarmes for a spell of a dozen years. He was of average height, and his face seemed mostly unremarkable, broad in the Slavic way but with eyes that seemed to peer out of sunken pits with a strange animation. Those were the eyes of someone who had found something to belive in with a passion.

His skin was unusually tan for the predominant genetic backgrounds of the region but not dark enough to stand out in a crowd here. Biographical details followed; he was forty two years old, had entered the gendarmes at eighteen and quit twenty years later to attend college in St. Wenceslas, taking up a law track. Unmarried and unattached, he was estranged from his parents Marko and Nittaya and his known circle of acquaintances included four other members of the St. Wenceslas cell slated to assault the planetary assembly. Thus far he had resisted all efforts to break him through interrogation and early mind-probing had been thwarted by his ability to place his mind into a meditative trance and recite page after page of case law in his mind.

"Case law and unmarried, how utterly boring of a mind," Cardinal concluded softly from the back of the sedan. With any luck though his sexual life would be nonexistant; that would be useful, for Cardinal intimately knew how to deal in emotions of desire with removing a stitch of her clothes. The memory of her sin with Kirilov stung a bit, at that, but she shrugged it off. The time for guilt and penance was never on assignment, and the thought of confession was as nonexistant now as it was omnipresent when she was back in Prague.

As if to reinforce the point, dressed in heavy coat, long black skirt and silver-buttoned top--she had several sets and it functionally served as her service uniform--she reached up and quietly removed the crucifix from around her neck, slipping it into a side pocket of her purse. Then she glanced back to the dossier, checking to make sure she'd committed everything to memory correctly. They were driving into the basement parking garage of the building--which was actually above the holding cells--and she intended to get to work immediately.

"Driver, if you'd see that the rest of my bags are returned to the room I've been sleeping in, I'd thank it very much," she spoke up more authoritatively as they rolled to a stop and she folded closed the perscomp. "If anyone asks where I am, inform them I've gone down to the holding block. That's all the relevant information."

"Yes ma'am," the chauffeur responded before cutting the engine off. He stepped out to open her door and waited impassively as she left to walk down to the personnel access lift. He would see her bags up shortly, but first buzzed in his own arrival back to the central computer. He'd now be available for any further assignments that required a passenger car and driver; there'd been a lot of those the last few days, and he expected more.

"Godbless," Sophia stepped past him and headed straight down for the lifts. She carried an override card which had no name on it--it was tied directly into her current genetic code for security and identification purposes--which could get her into any Evidenzburo facility in the Empire. And those outside of it...

Swiping it through she was able to access the holding block on the lift controls and waited patiently for the descent to the level with the interrogation cells. As expected when the doors opened there was a guard-house with a narrow reinforced antiblast window controlling entrance to the actual block, and Cardinal stepped up and slipped the card through the reader. "Good-day, gentlemen," she spoke softly. "I'd like for you to prepare subject Ivan Petrovic detention number - zero zero fourteen for interrogation."

The guard inside processed her card quickly and slid it back to her, seemingly impassively. "Detainee oh-oh fourteen is already in interrogation cell three. Junior Inspectors Brandt and Alilova are in with him, and under orders from Unteranalytiker Eidecker he is being deprived of sleep. Just go straight ahead, it will be the second cell on the right."

As Sophia walked forward she passed by a large number of security personnel and black-clad agents buzzing through the corridors. A detainee was being brought out of a cell, restrained in handcuffs and escorted by uniformed gendarmes who passed her silently. The service was trying to cycle through as many of the detainees as it could, as quickly as possible. Many were eliminated as suspects, while others were turned over to the gendarmes as they were established as low-level criminals or patsies of little intelligence value. Only a few of them would be held on to by the Evidenzbüro for any further length of time, and even they would eventually be turned over to police services and trial.

She found the cell as the guard promised, and slid her identity card into the access reader. When she left she would have to open the door from the other side in the same way. It was another paranoid touch but it did also keep a complete record of everyone who was in the room with the suspect at a given time.

As the doors opened she recognized Petrovic sitting on the other side of the table, his eyes closed and his breath shallow but controlled. A tall brunette stood looking down at him, dressed in a purely black dress cut to the same style as Sophia's. As she looked up at the newcomer in the room her elegant cheekbones and clear blue eyes were visible and with her hair pulled back in a severe bun lent her an icy demeanor. Before she could say anything another black suited figure stepped out of the shadows, cigarette dangling from his lips.

"Junior Inspector Gerd Brandt," he said aloud, introducing himself. His dark complexion and jet-black hair, with a slight build and somewhat efficient movements aided his semi-concealment. "And this is Junior Inspector Lida Alilova." The brunette nodded perfunctorily at Sophia. "We were assigned to watch over Herr Petrovic here until you arrived. Interrogation specialist, we were told, and to follow your orders once you arrived."

"That is correct. Please give me a clear line of sight to the suspect from the table, and don't express shock or surprise at anything I say or do. You will be asked to do more later." She didn’t bother to admit she wasn’t remotely an interrogation specialist, just one of the dozen or so most powerful telepaths in the Empire.

The black-garbed woman moved to sit in one of the chairs, stretching out her arms above her body and putting her purse on the table. Then in a very surprising move she kicked her booted legs up ontop of the table, crossing them and tilting the chair back to push the back up against the wall and then with black-gloved hands smooth down her skirt. "So Ivan, ever fucked a girl before? Or are you one of those brave ideological Virgins for the Cause, too busy plotting revolution and scared of the putrid degeneracy of the flesh corrupting your high ideals?"

The forwardness of Sophia caught him by surprise, and Petrovic had to stir from his trance to maintain his mental balance. He opened his eyes, the same dark brown puddles from the holographic picture, and took in Sophia. "When I was serving the system I encountered a good many street-whores who were more ladylike than this agent of our glorious Emperor," he replied sarcastically. "I am dedicated to the liberation movement of the Rus people, and will not be shaken by such cheap tactics appealing to the prejudices of the unawakened masses."

"I think you misunderstand my function in life. I am not a lady; I am a whore. Kirilov screamed to me the words imperska kurva," Imperial Whore, she said, "when I arrested him, and I didn't bother to get upset because he was right. Being right didn't help him, nor will it particularly help you, either," she cooly continued with an arch expression on her face as she stared back at Ivan with sharply intense eyes from her absurdly relaxed pose.

Petrovic shook his head, and came back to facing Sophia with a bemused look on his face. "So you found that old retread? That sounds exactly like what he would say." He matched her own unyielding stare by baring his teeth in challenge. "This obscurantist Empire exists to defend the social order that defames women like you as whores, while violating that order to defend itself. How rational, how just is that? Either it has violated its sacred ideals or those ideals are completely meaningless, a mere absurd facade used to keep the masses from questioning the oligarchic structure of the economy and society. Your very presence is proof of the fundamental inequity of the Empire, and the people have a right to overthrow an unjust government and establish a better society on its remains."

"Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue, Ivan." She folded her hands and stretched them. "The thin line guarding civilization is a place defended by uncivilized people. I'm one of them--congratulations, you've made the Empire take you seriously." Smiling, sweetly, Sophia continued:

"Let's go for a more pertinent point, though: let me tell you a travelogue story. I've been to the Alliance of Democratic Nations on several occasions. Did you know that the whole organization is directly inspired by that Declaration of Independence that you had in your flat? By that document, and another one from France called the, ah, Déclaration des droits de l'Homme et du citoyen," she repeated in perfect if rather provincially accented French. "The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. You're aware of that fact about the Alliance, perhaps?"

"I took a course, Introduction to the Multiverse, a couple of years ago," he said offhandedly. "Though the Declaration of the Rights of Man has nothing on Desroline's Systems of the Exploitation of Man. But it is far better than the pale Fleuryite Covenant which traded aristocratic exploitation for ecclesiastical exploitation."

"Ahhh, so you're very committed to a highly revolutionary society, I take it, Ivan?" Sophia smiled gently.

"I would say an equitable society, but in our present environment of oppression that is necessarily revolutionary," he said, peevishly. "The shackles of the Empire must be thrown off if the masses will have any opportunity to embrace rationalism and equality. Once those ideals have been established any post-revolutionary settlement will be the highest progress that humanity has yet taken."

"Indeed so!" Sophia answered cheerfuly. "Why, it will be such high, incredible progress, that after you're done executing the counterrevolutionaries and the nobility and the gendarmes--and their families and young children are tied to barges and sunk in the rivers, all things that the men who wrote the Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen did in turn!--are done, you shall start chopping off the heads of anyone who disagrees with your programme...." Her flippant grin held as she continued.

"But it's true. You'll be absolutely, utterly dedicated, fearless revolutionaries, and though your society will be a tyranny, it will be a perfectly equal tyranny. You will, in your own measure, have succeeded brilliantly, and the puritanical fervour of your commitment to the revolution will go down in history.

"But a while after that, the counterrevolutionaries will regain power as conservatives, and that time, some of you will be arrested, and some have their heads cut off, since now conservatives will like that method of execution.. And they won't change the constitution that much, just a little. People will start to accept what you've done. The next time around, the people your supporters will put in power, will be less fanatical, more willing to compromise, and work toward wider goals of societal equality. Things will improve for the common man, and your legacy will live on in shining testament to your commitment to that equality. The murderous bloodshed of the revolution will be justified by countless people in retrospect as 'blood for the tree of liberty' to quote one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence.

"The conservatives will return to power, and change even less than before. The move further to the left will be quietly accepted, and they'll just delay progress, never reverse it. And so it will go. And soon enough, aliens and humans will live together openly in the same society, and then, one day, one of the party planks of your ideological descendants... Will be to, say, let Delphinians marry humans. It will be considered an equality of sapience! And conservatives will hold it up for a few years and it will pass. Then you'll carry merrily along and legalize abortion and make birth control legal and women will start going to work in revealing clothes and everyone will act like a whore--except they won't get paid. And this will be declared a sexual revolution, and declared the greatest thing that has happened to mankind!

"And then, and then, Ivan," her face returned to a gentler smile and she dropped her feet back to the floor and leaned forward tautly. "And then the sodomites and sapphists will come out and demand equality, and your ideological descendants will support that too. First, recognition of what should be kept in the dark. Then, of course, marriage. And the final result, which they will cheerfully deliver, is the right to adopt children. I have been in the Alliance capitol, you see, and there I found an entire district filled with rich sodomites and sapphists, legally married and raising children. Isn't that a marvelous concept? Take those precious children who should be filled with revolutionary ardour for their homeland, and raise them up as hedonists in the hands of sodomites. They're very, so very forward about it, too; why a girl even proposed to marry me, once."

"And all the while in the background," her voice dropped and she almost hissed, facing going expressionless, "the people have been 'freed' to put on airs... The lack of social classes means that everyone is considered equal in capability, so the intelligent must learn in the same classes as the retards, the jobs market must not discriminate between people of better character, and poorer character... And because of this, everyone may reach the top, such as it is, and to do so they bury themselves in usureous debt to fund lavish lifestyles the like of which our nouveau riche would find outrageous, yet without a single high sentiment in them. They stop going to museums, and start throwing trash around their national parks.

"And in the end there are more children aborted than there are born, and everyone is a fat slob chasing after the other's new hovercar and holo-projector. Everyone covets their neighbour's possessions, and they all leave the sodomites to raise the children. The process takes less than two hundred and fifty years from start to finish. There are two people who have divorced for every person that remains faithfully in marriage, and the divorcees manage two or three divorces over their lifetimes. Women are held up purely as objects of sex, to the point they can't get a job unless they go to the interview in a short skirt and translucent stockings."

"Perhaps your puritanical fervour would have been better served," she finished softly, "By seeking out the Bogumils and converting."

"We have their example," he replied, after having sat through the rant, looking away in distaste from moment to moment, and especially at the mention of the Bogumils. "That will allow their mistakes to be avoided. Desrolines and his Secular Covenant is beyond the imagination of the revolutionaries of that other universe and time. They did not really inculcate rationalism or egalitarianism among their populations, which led to the failure of their civic virtue and adoption of shallow materialism rather than a true moral awakening. It will be different."

"A hundred and thirty odd years later, a fellow named Vladimir Lenin said the same thing, and he a fellow on his side just like you, a Jew named Leon Trotsky. They succeeded admirably in speeding up the entire cycle of rot and decay into a mere ninety years, and nothing else." A pause. "Do you like coffee, Ivan?"

"And allow you the opportunity to slip something in my drink?" He snorted. "I think not."

"How about I have some plain raw yellow potatoes, those little ones that taste good raw, brought down instead? Would that suit your fancy? You've already been awake quite some time and your body does need nourishment."

"I have gone longer without." Ivan shrugged. "Consider it a protest against detention if you want to. But I am not eating or drinking anything as long as I am under interrogation."

In a very low and almost curious voice, the answer abruptly leapt topics: "Describe to me in detail how you'd deal with me if you had caught me infiltrating your little organization, Ivan."

"The security of the revolution can only be assured if spies, infiltrators, and turncoats are eliminated as rapidly as possible." He answered bland sincerity, as though he found dissimulation pointless. "You would have been killed and your body disposed of in an isolated area, one where decomposition would be rapid and the odds of anyone stumbling over it would be low. I have several ideas on that score. No doubt it would be traumatic for the younger members of the cell but it would be useful to toughen them up and it would reinforce the urgency of our task."

At that point, with the utmost of decades of experienced carefulness, Sophia made the very faintest of slight probes to barely brush, in mental terms, against Ivan's defences and see if the imagining the details of a murder had sparked the slightest of emotional sentiment within him that could be used to open a chink. Murder usually brought out strong sentiments in people, after all, either good ones if psychopaths or else bad ones, but fanatical revolutionaries were one of the few groups that could, in fact, be immune to it. If this was not the chink in his armour, she had already observed another, and that would be the more distasteful method of attack she'd be required to undertake next.

She found him imagining the grisly task of dismembering a corpse, apparently drawn from his own experience with an unsolved murder a decade back. But the imaginary scene quickly shut down as Ivan realized what was going on, and looked with undisguised anger at Sophia before drawing a deep breath and trying to regain an emotionless mental state. He also began calling to mind the precedents on taxation of biological imports established by the local Admirality Court, a boring litany of dates and names and touching on the import of practically every creature on the planet.

"Go to hell," he said through gritted teeth before slipping back into that trance-like state that had dissuaded earlier telepathic probes.

"Well, you're very good at this, I'll grant. Only one man in a hundred would have recognized that probe. You've got a natural talent." Sophia stretched, and then pushed herself up to her feet. "Junior inspectors, if you'd accompany me, please?" She stepped over to the door and carded it open. Ivan Petrovic, detention number zero-zero fourteen, could certainly be left to stew in his own juices for a little bit.
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The Duchess of Zeon
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Re: (TGG) The Cardinal Files: An Inside Job.

Post by The Duchess of Zeon »

Chapter Seven: No Pain, No Gain.

Evidenzburo Hauptquartier Dvonomir.

The two other agents had been waiting patiently and watching Sophia at work. Both followed her without comment when she directed them to, sliding their cards into the reader in turn before following her out. "Looks like a hardcore revolutionary," Brandt commented. “The old Colonial Freedom League had a presence out, back before the Deluge. They were pretty big on Gilbert Desolines, and it sounds like Ivan there shares that with 'em."

"Pretty much," Sophia answered as she closed the door. "I wish I'd been lying to him about the effects of revolution, too. Poor bastards, when it comes down to it, I almost pity the sort of mind which has the framework of a monk, and then goes and wastes it on transforming society into an engine for the perpetuation of every single deadly sin in existence. But that's exactly where revolutionary governments always lead."

"Wish we could televise your precis there," Gerd said wistfully. "Would probably shut up half those students who took Professor Fletcher's course on the Multiverse and fell in love with democracy and secularism. The last couple of days I've had to sort through tracts on Desrolines, talk about this Jefferson fellow, listened to lectures on how the Republic of God's Covenant was a blow against despotism or an utter abomination, heard Fleury compared to foreign philosophers like Rousseau... and what the hell is it with the French, anyway?"

"Careful, my biological parents were French," Sophia smiled with amusement to make it clear it was not a serious retort. "So, though I am in practice anything but, having been raised from an infant by my adoptive family, I fear the genetic predispositions of the French strike close to home. We're all lunatics, of course; my family lived and died on a Bogumil world, liberated by the Empire at that time. I was adopted by an Army sergeant in the force, my family killed by Bogumil suicide nuclear munitions, when they'd been away to market in the city and my grandmother was taking care of me since I had colic."

A closed, pursed smile took her face, a rather nasty gesture. "His personality really is the personality of a Bogumil priest. I have encountered them before and they are exactly the same kind of fanatic. These men, are just fanatics worshipping at the altar of their Goddess Reason, and they Reason themselves straight into Hell." While she talked, she was quietly monitoring Ivan to see whether or not he was going to sleep.

Ivan's personal signs, monitored by sensors in the room, were consistent with a meditative trance rather an unconsciousness and showed most signs of remaining stable for the time being. The mostly quiet Lida saw what Sophia was doing, and offered her own observations. "He has been up now for twenty eight hours, after resting for four hours in his cell before Herr Eidrecht ordered sleep deprivation. His trance, or meditation, has sustained him with minimal signs of fatigue so far but it should be only another hour or two before he reaches a tipping point."

"It's good that Herr Eidrecht did this but we're going to let him go to sleep, of course," Sophia replied. "His weakness is his sexuality; he is straight and deeply repressed by his fervour, to the point of asexuality, but he still takes an especial distaste for sodomites and sapphists as he sees the behaviour as a fundamental example of the perversion of the upper classes. His most blatant response was where I was describing those charming aspects of Alliance life to him, I quite possibly could have attacked him there and then and gained entrance to his mind, but only with tactics so obscene I would have preferred not to use them. Unfortunately they're probably going to be necessary."

"We could just break out the rubber hoses," Brandt suggested. "He can't maintain defenses if he's being beaten with them, and they won't even leave a mark later. It'll take a lot less time than letting sleep deprivation take it's toll, and it'd spare you whatever you're thinking of doing."

"There is a moment between subconscious thought and awakeness in which the brain is not yet coherent enough to establish mental defences. If we let him go into deep REM sleep, we can wake him up with extremely sharp, violent pain, and in doing so prolong that period long enough for his defences to be wedged open, this is true. But we may need substantially faster and sharper pain than a mere rubber house can provide."

"I see." Brandt nodded, but reluctantly. The state of siege established what might be called in other contexts a state of exception, in which upholding order took such a precedence that the statutory regulations were effectively suspended. But even the rubber hoses would be reviewed after the fact and the more extreme the methods the harder it would be to justify them in the bureaucratic process. "What do you need here? Breaking his fingers?"

"Breaking my fingers will be much easier to justify, Junior Inspector, and even more effective." Her eyes glanced up to Lida with an expectation that she'd understand, though then she elaborated. "Yes, I'm a telempath. The point is that a while back I discovered something interesting. You don't just respond to the moods of others--you can also project your own. It will be your job, Lida," she said more informally, "To go into his brain once I've given you the opportunity, and keep him from recovering long enough for me to recover myself and begin the formal interrogation, which will be just a matter of a minute at most. With the full medical facility instead the office I'll be fine again by tomorrow, and Ivan was given to me first because he is the toughest nut to crack, anyway. I will in breaking him in but three hours, be able to finish the rest all the quicker without such extreme measures. As far as I'm concerned it's well worth it and you simply don't have the seniority to object."

The two junior agents seemed to be taken aback, but Lida recovered quickly enough to nod her head. "I have heard of this telempathic sense, though I have never encountered someone with the power before. We were ordered to support you in anything you needed..." For the first time in the night she looked a little nervous. "If you can break his concentration in that moment of weakness I can get inside of his mind and hold off any attempts to re-establish his trance."

"Good. When it comes down to it, it's a simple maxim that to no small extent, how far you rise in the Evidenzburo is based on your willingness to do things that a normal person would not consider acceptable to yourself, not just others. We'll wait until he goes to sleep, of course. Is there a staff room around here somewhere?"

"We have a number of rest areas and so on here," Gerd responded. "Most of them just have couches and other furniture, some monitors and stations to log in perscoms. I can secure us one while we wait for Ivan to go to sleep. Do you need anything special there?"

"Just some coffee. Lead on, if you would."


"And that would be a stable REM sleep pattern," Sophia announced as she slugged down the rest of her coffee and then shut down the perscom once again, slinging her purse over her shoulder with it inside, once more. "If you'll follow me, Junior Inspectors? And remember," she added while looking to Gerd. "Left two fingers on my left hand. But make them count."

Gerd nodded, reluctantly but clearly. "I understand. I doubt the Unteranalytiker had this in mind when he told us to follow your orders, but as you command."

"The Unteranalytiker, Junior Inspectors, is aware of who I am." Saying no more, she carried forward back to the cell.

The two junior agents followed her out of the room, back down the holding corridor to the interrogation cell where Ivan now laid soundly asleep. Sophia entered her card into the reader, opening the doors to the room and allowing Gerd and Lida to follow in their turn. Fortunately for all of his revolutionary preparation Ivan was a heavy sleeper, and his snoring was loud enough to bleed into the corridor with the doors opened.

Sophia had removed her left glove as she walked, and without further ado nodded to Lida, holding the rubber hose which would be used to wake Ivan up. She set her fingers on the table delicately, as small as they were, with two on the table and the other three curled, and looked to Gerd without a trace of emotion. No words were spoken.

He hesitated for a moment, but recognized her signal and took a deep breath before reaching out to take her hand. There was a sickening crack as he forcibly bent her two stretched out fingers at an unnatural angle, and Gerd winced despite himself.

The strangled scream she gave, having let herself be fully unprepared, was lost anyway as Lida's quick, sharp slap across the face with a rubber hose brought Ivan abruptly to his senses in confusion... Just for Sophia, through the pain, something she had practiced in the darkest of circumstances before, to direct all the measure of that agony straight into Ivan with the extent of her powers, as his brain flashed toward conscious thought in confusion and disorientation. As the pain flashed through him and caused his own brain to suffer agony, she herself felt it from him, and it rebounded in her to the point of her body violently shuddering. But she raised the hand to wave to the side to keep Gerd away. Now if Lida did her job, she'd have free reign with him.

Lida Alilova reached out and pierced through the haze of confusion and pain that shrouded Ivan's mind, searching out for something, anything that could be used to keep him off-balance. Activating traumatic and painful memories was one way of doing that, and she quickly latched onto an image she dragged up of a childhood encounter with a fierce dog. She stimulated that even as she tried to find something even better to assail his mind with.

"I think I've got him under control," she said as Ivan began squealing and giving away a high pitched tone of jumbled nonsense. "Stimulating his memories right now to keep him off-balance while I establish myself in his mind. I can keep this up if he tries re-establishing a trance or emotional balance, but we risk turning him into an emotional wreck and doing real psychological damage if it doesn't end soon."

"Don't worry," Sophia answered through gritted teeth, tears flowing down her cheeks in very copious quantities through the feedback cycle she'd generated. She reached for the glove, and yanked it onto her fingers hard enough to bring a second scream as the tight, thick leather forced the delicate bones back into position. And then, she pushed herself to her feet, and staggered to Ivan, physically putting her gloved hands on his forehead, and concentrating.

Within moments Sophia entered Lida's mind at the same time Lida was there, and Lida would to her surprise find Sophia seeking her out. In doing so some memories would spill, perhaps compromising her identity, but a fellow telepath and agent was relatively safe to entrust that to. Sophia's age and the skill it gave her with her telepathic powers were obvious, too, as she met Lida's mind in such a way that she could draw the other woman's strength and stability into herself and break the pain-loop with Ivan, the concept of which she based to the other telepath to clarify the why of their connection.

As she stabilized herself she took over inside of Ivan completely, integrating herself into his psyche and beginning to draw out details with rapidity and intensity, in such a way both her and Lida would receive them. The process was seamless enough that the danager of psychological damage receded at once as the bond was firmly established.

The only time she had ever experienced anything like the telepathic loop was when she had made love with another telepath and recalling the memory made her blush involuntarily. But she was a professional and began focusing on the task at hand, reviewing the images and knowledge that Sophia was extracting from the suspect. Her own impression from his mind was confirmed, his time as a gendarme had disillusioned him, he had broken with his parents as he lost religious faith, and then found his way into a circle of subversives before quitting and heading to college. Once there he had... now that was shocking!

Professor Abernath Fletcher, specialist on the First Empire, lately teaching a survey course on the Multiverse, was also introducing students to Desrolines and his otheruniversal equivalents? That seemed to explain the proliferation of cells around the college, or with connections to the university.

"Seditious bastard," Sophia muttered under her breath as she followed the rest of the information. Abernath was going to be someone she wanted to investigate immediately, and the knowledge of him made her redouble on Ivan; leaving him an emotional wreck as long as the psychological damage was not permanent, was acceptable in the circumstances. She was looking, after all, for interuniversal connections, and a man like Abernath might well keep his connections with the subversives under a double-blind.

The chain of memories followed. Discrete coffehouse and social meetings with other students and ex-students of Fletcher, and the introduction of a thickly set, heavily bearded man called only Pavel who represented a movement to restore Great Rus. There were ideological entanglements as more students with backgrounds on Vladimir came to the meetings, and eventually the fateful day when they broke down into cells. Ivan was the leader of his, conducting business with the other cells and his control in the Great Rus Liberation Organization through Kirilov. And it was clear that Petrovic hated the older man despite their close cooperation in subversion.

She could feel Ivan's sense of belonging and comradeship with the other five members of the cell, his growing dedication to his studies as a lawyer and to preparing himself for revolution. Studies with yoga groups on campus to learn meditation... ah, he had dragged his anti-psychic methods out of books and worked out much of the missing details himself. And then he was given a new mission through Kirilov, planning for an assault on the chartered assembly here on St. Wenceslas...

Sophia dug deeper, even as she froze the memory of Pavel deeply in her mind so she could pick him out of a lineup at a later date. The date of the assault was an absolutely crucial thing to know, and if Ivan had any idea of who had set it, where the message had come from via Kirilov. If not, she could find out through Kirilov, and so in equal measure she sought out the when of the message's arrival; Kirilov hadn't known what any of the messages had contained, but she could revisit him and find out where he had gotten the message delivered at a certain time.

…The order had come three weeks ago the same way all the others had, via encrypted data crystal hidden in a false compartment of one of the packages Kirilov had dropped off. It had contained no date for the operation, though Ivan had been under the impression that it meant an immanent move by the GRLO. Kirilov's package had also contained a number of the Alliance grenades, which had apparently substantiated the mysterious Pavel's claim of foreign support for the organization. Petrovic assumed the headquarters for the organization was located in Vladimir, but the only superior hew knew of was the Pavel character; though his memories did implicate quite a few other detainees.

Sophia dumped the raw data of the memory of Pavel directly into the hardwired storage of her small cybernetic backup that she'd had from her days of monitoring DNI technicians and to facilitate the use of a neural interface, required for spaceship operation in Taloran territories. It was quite useful, she found, now also in interrogations. She wanted to see if a computer in particular could reconstruct it, as she turned to marking down all the others implicated. That would be quite sufficient information from Ivan, though in the process she made quite sure to demolish his defences against psychic attack. Doing so would cause further emotional trauma but leave him vulnerable for quite some time to further interrogation as required, and in this state wouldn't make the damage permanent, not when Sophia had gained such total control over him.

I believe that is all the information of value he has, Lida spoke through their psychic bond. Should we take him to his cell now so you can get your hand treated?

Yes, let's pull back out of him, Sophia agreed simply, and with a mental touch best construed as the embrace of a sister, gently pulled back from the presence which had soothed her and protected her from the further influence of the feedback loop, becoming aware of the world around as she staggered back from Ivan, who was himself now coming to as Lida followed suit and regaining control of his own faculties.

What greeted him was a vicious statement by the pained Sophia intended to destroy his desire to resist permanently. "Welcome back, Ivan Petrovic, to the land of the not-long living. You should have become a monk. As it is, alas, it took me only three hours to shatter your resistance to the ground, and look at you now. You gave every bit of information on your conspirators that you know, into the hands of this little Imperial gutter whore. Perhaps next time you should remember to focus on pain management skills as well--it won't help you now, but it should make your execution go more smoothly for you." Not made out of any kind of actual furious sentiment, it simply took his mind and shattered it a bit more with good old fashioned humiliation and shame, so that they need not ever have to break him again.

Rather than give him a moment to respond, Gerd moved quickly and efficiently to slip his arms back into a pair of restraints. "At least you made sure you'll have company on the gallows," he commented to the frazzled subversive. "I'll take him to his holding cell so you can go to the infirmary."

"Thank you." She glanced a bit hesitantly to Lida. "If you'd help me up there, Junior Inspector?" Another job done, and Sophia was certainly feeling like it was time to give herself the reward of giving into the pain. And even better, the painkillers!

Lida had finished reorienting herself, and so responded quickly to Sophia, offering her arm. "Of course. There's a station here on the floor at the end of the holding cell corridor, in case of emergencies. They should be able to handle it there." Sophia nodded as she keyed out, and let Lida guide her down the corridor, leaving the Junior Inspector with a puzzled expression, for she laughed in a slightly desperate and crazed tone the whole way there.
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Re: (TGG) The Cardinal Files: An Inside Job.

Post by The Duchess of Zeon »

Chapter Eight: No sin on a mission.

Evidenzburo Hauptquartier Dvonomir.

They arrived at the small infirmary, and Sophia tugged off her left glove with a yelp of pain. "Two left fingers, cleanly broken," she spoke to the Medic without further explanation. "Just bind them up and get me out of here again, I have business to attend to."

“Ah, how…”

“You don’t need to know,” Sophia cut off the medic, and in an Evidenzburo headquarters facility, that was at least taken quite seriously.

Once Sophia's fingers had given doses of healing accelerant drugs and had point cementite-casts applied around them which super-hardened instantly, they were as good as new. Constrained by the tightly bonded cementite rings at the point of the break, though it would take a couple weeks for them to actual fully heal, but the rings were thin enough she could pull her gloves on over them.

For the moment, nobody except Gerd and Lida would know how she broke Ivan within the impossible record of three hours. It would indeed have come off as impossible against even a gendarme without his further training, who should have been able to last at least two days at the very least without the use of 'destructive tactics'. Sophia was rather inordinately proud of the efficacy of her brutally simple tactics now that the painkillers were letting her think clearly again.

"Thank you very much for not resisting that connection. It was necessary to break the feedback loop I'd established,” Sophia spoke as they headed up to make their report at the Unteranalytiker’s office.

"I understand." Lida had felt as much when Sophia had made the connection. "I was ordered to give you every assistance after all," she noted, and her mouth tightened into a severe but genuine smile.

"You did, and because of your willingness to do so instantly, I am going to instruct the Unteranalytiker to detach you to me effective immediately. I need someone reliable like that for interrogations and as nearby backup as I follow this situation to its ultimate source."

“Thank you, Inspektur. I’m… I’m very honoured,” Lida answered rather nervously, surprised at someone as junior as herself being abruptly chosen by the mysterious agent from the capital. And after being bonded with her mind, she had some idea of just how important and experienced the senior Inspector was.

Sophia didn’t answer, for they’d already arrived at the Unteranalytiker’s office. Long black skirt swirling and the matching long duster blown out a bit behind her, she headed with airy confidence and no indication of pain right into the foyer of the office where the Unteranalytiker’s secretary was quite busy with her work.

Eidrecht's secretary recognized Sophia and immediately notified her boss of the arrival. Markus stepped out from the office afterward, greeting them both. "So you broke Petrovic," he said, guessing immediately the cause of the visit. When Sophia declined to contradict him he invited them into the office to discuss the matter.

As the head of the planetary presence of the Evidenzburo he was alloted a generous amount of space, and had filled it with tasteful but not excessive furnishings. The room was dominated by a wall-display holographic emitter he could use as a computer, communications platform, and monitor. Along either of the walls ran polished oak bookshelves filled with various reference works and topped with sports trophies; he was, it appeared, an avid runner. His desk was large, handcrafted oak with a small monitor and control unit tied into the wall display unit, and presently covered with all manner of loose sheafs of paper awaiting his signature. He directed them to a pair of plush chairs opposite the desk, and waited until they had taken their seats before sitting back down himself.

Thank you, Unteranalytiker," Sophia politely began as she sat down. "We indeed broke Petrovic. The man is a murderer, and was due to lead an assault on the assembly building so this was certainly no ideal distribution of armaments. The grenades were sent through Kirilov in a secured container along with a message ordering the attack. I need to re-interrogate Kirilov to determine on what planet and when he received that message, which probably came from a figured named Pavel who is one of the principle leaders of the conspiracy. I saved Petrovic's image of this Pavel in my cybernetic backup memory and will transfer it to your computers so a composite identity diagram can be produced and matched against all available records.

"On a further note, as an outside possibility that I must dismiss, a professor Abernath Fletcher at Petrovic's college was indoctrinating Desrolines into his students, as well as his equivalents from other universes. He could be a conduit to Alliance or Alliance-associated forces and operating under double cover, and since the main focus of the investigation I am conducting," it was likely Lida hadn't even known any of this, or the significance behind it, but now she would, which wa spart of the point, "Is to immediately find out the depth of Alliance involvement, I have no choice but to use the State of Siege to immediately interrogate him, and I want him brought here with the utmost haste to facilitate that. Beyond that, once I've conducted the other critical interrogations, I need to leave on a fast courier for Vladimir; I'll be taking the Junior Inspector here with me as backup. The head of the organization and their ties with the Alliance may certainly be found there."

She detailed everything coherently but with the greatest of rapidity as she bulleted out all the important facts, and concluded with instructions. This was, indeed, Cardinal; first Kirilov, now Petrovic broken in three hours and more leads to be immediately hunted as ruthlessly as they could be.

Eidrecht sat back, deeply impressed with what she had managed to accomplish in such a short period of time. If left to his own resources Petrovic might have been broken, yes, but it would have taken far longer and required pretty drastic tactics. "I'll send some agents to Karoly University immediately to pick up this professor of yours, and cut orders detaching Inspector Alilova to your command. From what I've heard Kirilov is cooperating with my interrogators to save his own neck, and their report should have the details of how he's been contacted and commanded. At least that will give us time to try and match this Pavel to our databases, and for you to make arrangements for a false identity if you need it. And to send an encrypted warning to Unteranalytiker Bedrich about your arrival."

"As it currently stands I'd just like to travel to Vladimir on a military vessel and have a false identity constructed for both of us based on the situation in Vladimir at the time we arrive and any new information collated during the journey," Sophia replied. "Speed in dealing with the rest of the hard interrogations--there's plenty of people implicated by Petrovic we don't need to worry about anymore, though--will be most crucial. If you can get the information on Kirilov's contacts and commands up to my perscomp right now," she pulled it out of her purse.

"I'll match it with the receipt of Petrovic's instructions, which will confirm my destination as Vladimir if it's all as I suspect. For the moment, though," she took a thin wire, and slipped it into her neck through a nonstandard interface plug to her perscomp--noticeably favouring her left hand rather heavily, the only sign that something was amiss. "I'm downloading the raw data for you I got out of Petrovic to do the database match."

"One second please." Edirect adjusted the controls on his desk computer, and then ordered it to download the relevant files to Sophia's perscomp. "I'm sending you Kirilov's report, it seems he was contacted through that merchant guild monopolizing commerce with that outsider world, New Kiev, usually via hand courier on Vladimir and shipped the packages through a variety of the other local transport concerns with delivery instructions included." He glanced down at the display created by the holographic emitter. "And the database search is running now..."

Sophia double-checked the information from Kirilov’s further interviews that had just been conducted over the past few hours, and nodded slightly in relief. "Vladimir it is, Lida," she commented softly. "Now, if God blesses us today, we'll manage to get some kind of lead on Pavel as well."

"So we can hope." His eyes rose in surprise again, though, as the computer suddenly and insistently vocalized a match. "Well, perhaps we have been favored," he mumbled, and activated the wall display. A perfect match for the profile retrieved by Sophia from Ivan's memory suddenly emerged from the wall; a heavily browed, rough-hewn face with a slight scar near his right eye, cheeks covered by a thick grown brown beard, deeply set black eyes.

"Pavel Yeremeyev." Eidrect didn't even need to bother looking at the details the computer provided. "He's a wanted man throughout the sector, leader of a band of outsider pirates who first flared up a decade ago. How the hell did he waltz right into St. Wenceslas City and meet with students at Karoly University? And why the hell would he want to?"

"A single armed cell is not going to take over a sector government," Sophia observed coldly. "But they can serve as a diversion for an assault team against the planetary defence control. And it is not like this world has much in the way of planetary defences to begin with. If this man is a wanted pirate with a fleet of armed starships, I think we must at least consider the possibility there's a separate cell group of armed attackers here, we have not discovered, or some sort of conspiracy in the local defence ranks. And if not here, then certainly on Vladimir. This whole development is starting to make a lot more sense, and has grown more ominously in the direction I feared. Beforehand, the idea of a single squad available to attack government facilities in St. Weneceslas was ridiculous, a farce of a revolt. Now…”

"I'm afraid you may be right," Markus said, though the situation still puzzled him a bit. "Yeremeyev though is an amoral pirate, and probably a sociopath judging by interviews with survivors of his attacks and the crewmembers of his we've captured. Hanging out with professor and discussing nationalist subversion just doesn't seem right for him. But it's clear we've got a major internal security threat on Dvonomir and I'm ordering a full-scale review of the gendarmes, the customs service, spaceport operations..."

"Excellent." She paused, and then decided to elaborate: "Unteranalytiker, I've been to the Alliance before. Their public policy is really determined by the popular press and opinion polls run through average individuals. If the press produces images of a bloody war to repress a 'gallant group of freedom fighters', there will be strong impulses to make war on the Empire, regardless of the sense of doing so. A nationalist organization might well take advantage of this sentiment to try and spark a war which could lead to their independence."

"I'll include a warning to that effect in my report to Vienna. I think your own report there will have more weight, given your firsthand experience of the Alliance," he said. "Devil's brew here. Desroline fanatics, academic subversives, old Rus schismatics, outsider pirates, and meddling from the ADN. Well, I expect you'll get to the bottom of it, and I for damn sure am going to know how Pavel Yeremeyev has been traipsing about my world with impunity."

"Yes, most assuredly get on that, Unteranalytiker. I am going to go ahead and compose my report to Vienna right now, while letting Junior Inspektur Alilova give you her own report on the interrogation, and after that I’m going to get some rest. We'll meet again when it's time to interrogate our dear Desrolinist professor."

About thirty minutes later as Lida was finishing, there was a chime at the door, and Eidrect's secretary stepped inside. "Inspector Godwin has heard from Karoly University that Professor Abernath Fletcher left on vacation three days ago. The Inspector said to notify you at once, and that he was trying to get more details on the circumstances."

"All points bulletin to the spaceport security personnel to detain him sight," Sophia spoke immediately and quite decisively, without allowing for another response and taking full advantage of her authority to show how seriously she was treating the ‘vacation’. "And let’s send Inspectors to go over his property and vehicles with a fine-toothed comb for any information about his whereabouts, with an APB for any of his vehicles that are missing as well issued to the gendarme and the local police. Also his family, if he has any on the planet, should be questioned about his whereabouts as well as any close friends, and detained if they refuse to provide details. The gendarmes and locals should also be on the lookout for him on foot at all checkpoints, special attention should be paid to any remote cottages that he or his friends might possess that could serving as hiding places. The timing of his 'vacation' is surely not an accident."

"At least the state of siege will let us handle all of this with a minimum of paperwork," he said through gritted teeth. "Someone had to have warned him, before the declaration came down. Well before he was even a blip on our screens. And unfortunately the only people in a position to do that were with the gendarmes, the planetary government, the viceroy's office... and the Evidenzburo personnel within this office,” he referred to the building in general.

"Perhaps he was simply scared by informed speculation about the possibility of the declaration, after martial law was declared and media began reporting on the unrest in the sector?" Lida spoke up for the first time in a while, offering a less paranoid suggestion.

"Which is quite reasonable, but that simply means he felt his position so extremely guilty that he had to destroy his life by blatant flight to escape at any cost. Which means we want to talk to him rather urgently if possible, to put it mildly."

Eidrecht had, during the exchange, engaged his own DNI feed and issued the appropriate orders directly into the facility computer, which would transmit them to the appropriate agencies. "Godwin is a good investigator, used to be a Sergeant of the Detective Branch in the Wenceslas City constabulary. If anyone can find the leads we need to track down Fletcher, he can. We'll also throw up wanted notifications all across the planet, and in a few days, across the sector. Fletcher is originally from New Wessex in the Core, even attended Cambridge on old Terra, so he might have contacts further back in the interior of the Empire so I'm also alerting the bordering sector authorities."

“We should consider encouraging the Viceroy to use the State of Siege to lock down all travel into and out of the Sector,” Sophia added in a slightly detached state of thought.

"It would mean a substantial hit to commerce but I concur. I'll make the recommendation to Earl Stephens."

"Thank you, Unteranalytiker. I'm going to be taking a short nap and then working on the four interrogations I still consider important enough to do personally. I should like a courier to Vladimir... Sometime late tomorrow, if you can coordinate with the local naval commander," Sophia finished.

"I have a few boats standing by for that sort of thing," he replied. "One of them will be available to you. If there is nothing else I'll let you get to your report. I've got a lot of measures to order and paperwork to fill out myself thanks to these developments."

"It's not a problem, Unteranalytiker. Good luck and godbless." Sophia rose, slipping her purse over her shoulder and motioning to Lida to follow her out.

"Godspeed, Cardinal," he replied, before diving into his own work. Lida followed Sophia out the door, quietly pondering the situation. She was on the most important case of her life, and as that sank in she felt a sudden jolt of nerves, which she tried to repress rigorously.

"Don't worry. It's natural to be scared, though you'll need to be open to my entering your mind to soothe it away if we get in a tense situation under cover," Sophia spoke gently as they stepped through the office, and she headed back down toward her improvised quarters. "How long have you been in the service, Lida?"

"Twelve years," she replied. "I was recruited right out of Karoly University. Until this month I spent most of my time training, or doing research on the local pirate bands and running a couple of interrogations every so often."

"Well, lots of training, at least." Sophia paused by the door to the holding room she'd appropriated, pushing it gently open and finding her bags inside. "Come on in, Lida. Did you ever train for infiltration operations?"

"I took the advanced course two years ago as preparation for infiltration on an outsider pirate base," she replied. "The navy destroyed the band we were interested in before the mission could be launched, so I don't have any experience. Most of the demand for my talents was in routine security scans, memory enhancement, and basic investigative fieldwork."

"Well remember that to help you fit in it may be necessary at times for me to directly influence you telepathically with emotions, as I said. I'm a telempath, as I mentioned, but more specifically I can establish feedback cycles. It's why I'm primarily an infiltration agent, and," she smiled wryly as she sat on her bed, offering the chair to Lida, "What they say to be one of the best alive. It was your calmness when I abruptly sought the stability you have, which was why I chose you; I need you as an anchor, because I normally do not do interrogations and they're extremely emotionally traumatic for me."

Lida sat down with characteristic delicacy, folding her hands into her lap as befitted a proper lady. "I had wondered why you would not look for a more experienced partner. Since you explain it this way I understand, and none of the other telepaths at this station have any more qualifications than I do. And I do now know what to expect with the feedback loop your powers make possible."

“Be aware of the fact that you are going to follow me to the very end of this ratline. Up to and including into Alliance space, if it's required. I already have a cover identity for infiltrating the rebels in Vladimir in mind, though I may substitute it with another one. Suffice to say that there is a connection from Vladimir to outside the Empire, and we need to get into the outworlds to find out where the Alliance materials are coming from. I intend to use the information we've collated to appear as cell members from Dubrovnik who escaped the dragnet, and be allowed to join in the escape of the unbroken cells outside of the Empire, and possibly along their rat-line all the way to the Empire. You're scared and out of depth and have no experience, and that works well because it honestly describes most of the members of these cells as well. It would in fact be more suspicious if we were both composed.

“I can fake being scared very well, and having someone along who actually is will guarantee I can do so with utter perfection,” she smiled tautly, “Since I can just feed off your own fear, both mitigating it inside you and projecting it from myself. The reason I don’t take advantage of that sort of loop is that it’s much harder for other infiltration agents to fake being scared—they can appear so on the outside, but mentally, where a telepath could see and feel? Certainly not--so I need an amateur who actually will be." A pause.

“At any rate, that inability to match my perfection at emotionally fitting into social settings is in fact why I always work alone normally. But here, I really need someone else--we will be doing things with our abilities, Lida, which you were taught never to do, quite possibly, when we leave the Empire. Destroying minds. And we may well be in a situation where instead of being able to call in backup we will have to escape by walking into our embassy in the Alliance Capital. The long way out, you might say--at worst it might take me months to be able to make a report, though, the sooner the better obviously, but the important thing, and indeed my only goal, is to discover how Alliance military materiale got into the Empire. "

"That is much further afield than I had ever thought I might go from here," she said lightly, trying to hide her nervousness. "But you certainly do not flatter me by saying I will be uncertain and fearful, even if that is useful." She laughed softly, and it became a short giggle. "Of course I will follow you wherever this leads to and I recognize the gravity of the situation. And it is obvious that I can trust you to know what you are doing even if I do not. If we do have to go on the run in a foreign capital at least I have the best possible partner for the adventure."

"If it provides you any comfort I am, formally, Inspector Sophia Dragomira Vuletic, and I've held the rank of Inspector for thirty-nine years, being in the service for exactly fifty years. If we do indeed leave Imperial territory under cover it will be the twenty-sixth time I've done so. You probably might be more aware of me under the code name of Cardinal. Consider my telling you this also my promise to you--I will not leave you behind, Lida."

"I had heard that Cardinal herself was being sent here." Alilova tried to keep any hint of awe out of her voice, but her eyes did widen just a bit as her suspicions were confirmed. "It will be an honor to work with you on my first undercover mission, and a great relief."

"Maybe not much of a relief," Sophia replied. "My success is in no small part due to my willingness to do anything. You are going to have to share it, and if you hesitate I may have to make you share it. I advise preparing yourself for that in religious terms, on recognition of the fact that the Lord God will forgive anything, Lida. Because where we are going, there are no ten commandments. Just the success of the mission."

That brought Lida up short, and she hesitated to reply as the implications of what Sophia demanded of her sank in. That too had been part of the gossip and the rumors about Cardinal, overshadowed by her glamorous reputation for constant success, the speculation about her secret awards and medals, but always there. Lida reminded herself that she had chosen her profession freely, to do something important and that imposed sacrifices. "I see," she finally said, in a grave voice. "If I were not committed to the Empire I would not be here. If that requires... I suppose, extreme actions, then I will do so. But how do you prepare for such things?"

“By being at peace with the fact that you're already a sinner damned to Hell without the benefice of the Lord Christ. Murdering a man in cold blood--or sleeping with him--is not any lesser or greater of a sin against god than disobedience to your parents and the innumerable other failings of the human spirit to which we're all subject. The penance will be greater, but done in the line of duty, it is still sometimes necessary to accept that. In a universe of sinners, Lida, it is required that those who defend even a Christian society commit un-Christian acts. When I go on missions as I do now I request the same rites as are given to soldiers on the verge of battle, and then, until I return to civilized christendom, remove all thoughts of sin and guilt from my mind."

Another brief pause, and she smiled softly. "In some way it is being the mother-lioness of the Empire, for I remember my nephews and nieces and remind myself that their innocence lasts only as long as the Empire does. Without the actions of people like me, it would be torn from them with their lives, or into the poverty and ignorance of the Bogumils, or into the materialistic indulgence in sin of the Alliance."

"And now," she finished, "people like you."

It was an awesome responsibility laid out that way by Sophia, and Lida could only hope that her shoulders were strong enough to bear it. Someone had to bear it, and if Cardinal could then she could as well. "Thank you, Sophia. I will keep your words in mind always and put my trust in God."

"Well, then, If I were you, I'd see to your soul while I nap. Afterwards, I'll need you for the remaining interrogations.”

"I will," she said decisively. "With your leave, I will go see the chaplain about confession. I'll be in contact on my perscom if you require me for anything."

"Go right ahead, Lida."
The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth. -- Wikipedia's No Original Research policy page.

In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.
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Re: (TGG) The Cardinal Files: An Inside Job.

Post by The Duchess of Zeon »

Chapter Nine: And for dinner, sharp conversation.

An Imperial courier,
Enroute to Vladimir.

The Evidenzburo usually had a few courier vessels detached for its use in every system, as sometimes highly useful fast transports and for completely secure communication capability. Dvonomir as a sector capital was certainly no exception, which allowed Unteranalytiker Eidrecht to secure his agents a berth for a speed run to Vladimir with no particular difficulty. Access to the Imperial Navy's communications systems meant that the two women could remain in touch throughout their transit, which was a decided advantage over taking civilian transport. The accomodations were spartan by liner standards, with the women sharing an otherwise empty bunkroom in the officer quarters. The professionalism of the officers of the ship and strict discipline among the conscript seamen kept the situation from becoming awkward.

Aviso 91568#B had only its serial number for identification, and was one of countless such vessels commissioned in the Empire. Like most couriers it was a converted warship, an obsolete corvette taken in hand and extensively refitted for its new tasks. The interior was almost completely gutted, rearranged to support new gravitic engines and banks upon banks of highly secured, encrypted computer storage systems.

The vessel's weapons systems were severely reduced, removing all provision for missiles and other munitions and reducing the energy complement to a handful of laser batteries and point defense clusters. Automation was heavily employed to reduce crew size to a sixth of its normal complement, allowing a mere thirty-nine men and six officers to handle a ship massing nearly 70,000 metric tons when fully loaded. There was still plenty of room for a large gym, an entertainment lounge, and a generously stocked communal mess, and the crew quarters were incredibly generous by naval standards. That made courier duty a popular assignment despite the long times spent in transit or on ready alert for departure.

The relatively low rankings for billets on the ships made them good assignments for promising junior officers and was the typical first independent command of rising stars. Leutnant zur Raum Esteban Burrejo gave every sign of being one of those and kept his crew efficiently taut. Still, the presence of civilian female guests did demand a certain level of acknowledgement, and he had personally guided the two Evidenzburo agents on a tour of the ship and had scheduled a formal dinner the evening before the ship was due in at the Navy's Vladimir transit station.

With that night due half the off-watch enlisted personnel had been scheduled to help create a formal dining set in the communal mess or to put on liveried white uniforms to work as servers for the officers and their two guests. Leutnant Swartwoot took the short lot among the officers and would stand watch on the bridge, but that left the rest attending along with the captain in the black dress uniforms prescribed for formal occasions.

The mess itself was transformed by the removal of spare tables and chairs to storage and the assembly of a varnished wood banquet table. It was carefully drapped with spotless white linen cloths, and seats marked out by carefully folded placecards. Wineglasses and crystal stood ready to be filled by servers, with the ships' fine china carefully laid out at each seat.

Leutnant zur Raum Burrejo gave a critical eye to every detail and to the appearance of the enlisted servers, but was highly satisified with his inspection. He took a moment to look at his reflection in one of the polished silver serving trays to admire the uniform; freshly pressed black tunic, with standing collar and gold filigree, colorful red cravat and swaying epaulets providing a dashing quality to it. Feeling rather pleased with the situation he glanced up at the clock and seeing the hour was coming near turned to one of the enlisted servers setting up carafes of water on a nearby tray.

"Go to the guest bunkroom and escort Frauleins Koczwara and Alilova here," he ordered. The seaman quickly shifted his burden to the table, and took off to comply.

The seaman arrived at the quarters of Sophia and Lida within a minute or so and politely keyed onto the chime for the door. Sophia had been waiting, and answered electronically. "This is Inspector Koczwara. Who's there?"

"Seaman Anders, Fraulein Koczwara. The Captain invites your presence for dinner," the enlisted seaman managed quite politely, all things said.

"It will be a few minutes while we finish getting ready, seaman. Please wait for us."

Following the fact that they were professional women, servants of the government in the intelligence services, for all that the dinner was formal they arrived in the expected Evidenzburo uniform, which did convey that formality; Sophia nonetheless chose a lace fringed skirt rather than a more usual double-layed, simply to rotate her laundry, but as usual the same unspoken absolute command that a woman in a professional field shouldn't be showing flesh below the neck was informed in their clothing choices, though she did omit the usual high collar in the choice of blouse as well, and the coat she usually wore was absent considering their shipboard presence and no need to intimidate.

Since the enlisted man had been duly sent to escort them to the dining room, they hastened to prepare themselves, albeit not indecorously. Seaman Anders did his job with a courteous bow and restraining from any conversation, as would be expected. The fact that the two women were agents of the government demanded they be shown the same respect as ladies of refinement, regardless what their backgrounds might be--and nobody knew--in the same way that military officers were gentlemen no matter their background, and Sophia certainly led the way in making sure the two played the part well as they entered.

Lida had followed Sophia's cues in dressing, the two seeing to each other's clothes with some relaxed and distracting comments. Sophia was old enough to be Lida's mother, but her demeanour was relaxed and gentle, more that of an older sister, and the guidance she offered largely succinct to conveying the appropriate serious air expected by the Evidenzburo as they were led to the improvised dining hall that the mess had been converted to.

The officers of the vessel had meanwhile assembled in a small group, casually conversing among themselves. Leutnant Giancana, the officer in charge of the ship's communications and encryption keys, had the fresh-faced Ensign Daniil Litvak. The whip-thin, swarthy comm officer presented a a striking contrast to the taller and broader, fair-haired ensign but as the two youngest officers on the ship tended to stick together.

They were joined by the ship's commissioned psychic, Leutnant Janos Onadi, whose average height and whipcord-thin figure made him look like a teenager, an impression only furthered by his delicate Eurasian facial structure. He contribued a joke to the gathering and the junior officers laughed discretely together, while trying to avoid attracting the attention of their captain.

Leutnant zur Raum Burrejo stood at a discrete distance away, keeping just out of earshot of his junior officers. The commander still managed to exude a cocky arrogance in his rigid military stance, hinting at a well-toned physique under his uniform to match his ruggedly masculine visage. He discussed technical matters with his chief engineer at his side, who stood out among the assembly in wearing a closely fit ankle-length skirt underneath her uniform.

Leutnant zur Raum Lenka Remac stood over a head shorter than her captain, and her appearance was marked by a pleasant softness instead of toned muscle, but with her wheat blond hair rolled up into a severe bun and her bearing as rigid as Burrejo's she could be taken every bit as seriously as an officer. She was the first to notice the arrival of their guests, and drew Burrejo's attention to the fact.

All of the officers removed their peaked caps as a sign of respect, and the room quieted down as the commander stepped forward to greet the two civilian guests. "Thank you for gracing our presence at dinner this evening," he began, following a polite bow. "It has been a pleasant duty to escort you, Madame Koczwara and Madame Alilova, and I arranged this opportunity to bid you a suitable farewell."

Thank you very kindly, Captain," Sophia answered with the courtesy term. "You have proceeded by a fine course to Vladimir and we've made excellent time, as best as I can tell it, and you deserve the full compliments of the Evidenzburo for this service." She noted the presence of the ship's psychic, who would certainly be aware that both of their guests were also telepaths--and one, a surgingly powerful one, for Sophia wasn't going to the rather difficult effort to hide it on the trip since she was trying to rest--but whether or not it had been brought up, was not particularly a matter of concern for her.

Since it was dinner, she reached before sitting to undo the straps which let her hinge her gloves back, as in the traditional style of opera gloves, to reveal her hands for eating; that was the most useful part of long gloves, they didn't have to be entirely removed at table, with Sophia speaking for the both of them since Lida was her junior. They were then showed to their seats, Sophia--Theodesia--first, and then Lida.

The officers followed by taking their seats, with Burrejo at the head of the table and Remac by his right side. Sophia was seated beside her, and Lida on Sophia's side. To his left was Leutnant Onadi, with Giancana beside him and Ensign Litvak taking the traditional place as the most junior officer at the other end of the table. As they seated three servers came by the seats, bearing carafes balanced on white towels in their hands. Red wine, white wine, and finally chilled mineral water were oured out delicately into the appropriate glasses in front of each dinner, no one moving or speaking until everyone had a full complement of drinks.

From the head of the table the commander then slid out his chair, and looked to the glasses. "We will begin with the customary toast. Ensign Litvak..."

Daniil picked his head up with sudden recognition, and nodded before sliding out his own seat and picking up the red wine glass. He stood and raised the glass up in the air as everyone followed his lead to rise. "Ladies and gentlemen, His Imperial and Royal Majesty." There was a round of affirmations from everyone around the table, finishing off an ancient ceremony.

After settling back, Sophia raised the next toast with a very faint smile. "Confusion to our enemies and a quick end to the State of Siege." It was a slight reminder, of the seriousness of the moment and the fact it was no regular peacetime cruise, but also very sincerely done. And Sophia was not the sort to dwell on trivialities, unless directly relevant to her mission.

The ayes around the table continued. Burrejos looked knowingly at her before taking a generous sip from his glass. The other officers had their own speculative looks, but no one said anything outright. Instead Giancana proposed the rather common salutation to friends and family, one of many almost always appropriate in mixed company. It was left to Lenka to toast the ship herself, and the chorus of bemused replies to bring the pre-dinner formalities to a close.

As they settled back down in their chairs the servers began bringing out the first course, a light selection of savories in small portions that Burrejos called tapas. There were also cheese and crackers as well as fruit lightly dressed and rolls. "The entire sector is mad for mushrooms," Amedeo Giancana commented, trying to get a conversation started and thus put the dinner through any initial awkward stages. "Those herb-stuffed mushrooms are delicious, a real speciality of Vladimir. The cook's from the world and has got that one down pat."

"The run to Vladimir is a common route for us," Burrejos commented, "if rarely with this level of urgency. But it has provided some opportunity for me and my officers to become acquainted with the planet. I am sure that Leutnant Giancana can direct you to the best restaurants in the capital." He chuckled slightly, as did the other officers at Amadeo's expense. "It is a pleasant world most of the time, though the inhabitants are... not as reconciled to Imperial control as they should be. So this present unrest does not surprise me. That it has spread to Dvonomir of all places... that is a shock."

"Not really that much of a shock. There was a long background of years of quiet dissemination of seditious literature in the academic classes on Dvonomir, though I can't go into details and it would probably bore anyway," Sophia explained. "It's a pity, regardless, when they're such good cooks of mushrooms," she added after trying them. "Since I do so love these."

"Not everyone on Vladimir is anti-Imperial," Litvak said. "The Great Rus are remembered with fondness but their government was very corrupt and it enacted religious persecutions. Those who followed the Greek Catholic rite were harassed, and worse was done to Jews and non-Christians. My family had its estate burned down and my great-uncle was in prison for staying true to the Union when the navy came and liberated us."

"That's the way it always goes with nationalists, and you have my deepest sympathies. My own biological family was killed by the fanaticism of their rulers, all except myself and my grandmother," Sophia explained briefly without elaborating. "And so I really consider the need to protect against events like this spiralling an intensely personal one."

"My family is from the sector," Lida added, "And this entire business is simply threatening the lives of everyone common and loyal, mostly formented, by those who were given an intellectual education with no moral foundation."

"That's why I joined the navy, to guard against that ever happening again," Litvak said, his emotions spiking just a bit. "There are a lot of hotheads on Vladimir that tarnish the whole planet, and everyone wants to have a little pride in what their ancestors did so few confront them. But I would ask you not judge everyone there by these hooligans causing problems in Rzhev and the criminals acting with them. Most of the planet is quiet and has no wish to lose the order and efficiency that the Empire brought to us, and these traitors threaten them as much as they do the Crown."

"Ensign Litvak makes a good point. There were traitors on Dvonomir as well as loyalists on Vladimir, and Dubrovnik was caught in civil war over our opposition to the Great Rus," Leutnant zur Raum Remac spoke softly, trying to sooth the younger man.

"It doesn't help that most of our naval personnel only visit the large cities like Rzhev and Tikograd... for obvious reasons." She was definitely speaking down her nose and there was a touch of reproach in her voice directed at Amadeo and Burrejos. "If you visit the countryside around Rzhev, or the islands off of Kazan, you don't get the hostility from the local population that many of our sailors excite. Most of the people I've met there have been welcoming and quite hospitable."

Oh, there's little question of that," Sophia agreed sincerely. "To make the point absolute, the regime which killed my parents was a Bogumil one. And for all the insanity of their leadership--the people are normal, and even welcome Imperial rule as an end to the suffering of being kept at a literally medieval level. This kind of madness is purely a trait of the upper classes in all societies which choose to resist the Empire and the Universal Church, and you've forgotten why you fight if you forget that the average person in their farms and small townships desires merely to have a peaceful and secure life and a chance for a healthy profession to be passed on to their heirs."

"Surely it is so," Burrejos interjected agreeably. "I have been riding on Aranfsky island, like Leutnant Remac and seen the contentment of the rural population. But I have also been caught up in student riots in Rzhev. It was not a pleasant experience being crowded by angry young men denouncing the Empire and the Church, so perhaps my perspective is colored. Still I hope a swift end to his present unrest so that all of the people of the sector can enjo peace and prosperity."

The servers re-emerged, delivering the soup course to each diner while also busing the tables as unobtrusively as they could. Lenka had a look of delight on her face as she sniffed the earthy, savory scent coming off the soup dish. "Mushroom cream soup with sweet onions and herbs. It is a delicacy of Dubrovnik." She giggled gently. "A love of mushrooms really is the only thing that ties this sector together."

Lida took a sip of the soup, tasting it with ladylike reserve. "I think it may be," she said after a second savoring the flavor. "We have a similar soup on Dvonomir, but we use shallots and a little garlic."

"Da, and on Vladimir we wouldn't add any thyme," Ensign Litvak chipped in. "It's that mediterranean influence on Dubrovnik at work."

"It's a very fine influence, I'd agree," Sophia smiled rather reverently as she ate in a ladylike fashion, to be sure, but more bordering on birdlike in slightly peculiar mannerism and very delicate movements, yet slightly rapid eating. But then the tiny woman always came off that way, yet never enough to break the bounds of what was appropriate for a respectable lady... Unless it was necessary to do exactly that.

A little light conversation made the soup course pass by with seeming haste, and the servers were back to take up emty plates. A rustic salad of greens, herbs, vegetables and the quintessential Russian touch of beet followed. The white wine paired perfectly with the dish, and encouraged an increasing consumption of the spirits. A lull developed in the dinner until Leutnant Giancana took the initiative again. "So, will you have time to take up a little recreation on Vladimir as you attend to your duties there? There's a fair bit to do on the planet and I can make some recommendations if you would like them."

It was, by the standards of formal society, a pretty aggressive but not impolite probe. The crew knew better than to ask directly about the mission of the two secret agents but they were all curious. Fortunately for operational security only Onadi knew they were telepaths and he knew enough not to volunteer the information. But even he was looking on with obvious interest for their response.

"The correct answer I fear is that only God knows what happens next, gentlemen," Sophia answered with a faint smile. "I may admit only to the fact that I am a long service agent sent here from Vienna," and both the long-service and the fact she was dispatched told a lot, while telling also very little.

"And I can't even explain to you why Agent Alilova is working with me. I'll further add as a courtesy that you have only me to blame for this trip; I ordered it personally. Once we arrive on Vladimir, however, I may assure you that it's quite likely that you'll never see the two of us again, though we will come through quite all right, god willing. On the other hand, it's quite likely to be extremely boring, with a lot more traveling to be had. Vladimir is just where circumstances lead and I wouldn't completely rule out the prospect of heading back to Dvonomir within days, though I rate it unlikely.

“In any case, the Evidenzburo, sadly, does not pay for me to sight-see, though at least they're kind enough to let me travel on this fine ship instead of having to pilot a small courier gunboat myself." The way she said that it sounded like she could in fact do so, and she intended for that interest in a woman capable of piloting a gunboat to distract them from further inquiries into the mission; she had told them all that was appropriate for even officers of the Emperor to know in the circumstances.

The answer was direct, surprisingly so, and shut the book on any further prying about her mission. Now it would be downright rude to try even subtle, indirect prodding and the demands of duty had been invoked. But her gambit did pay off as the hints Sophia dropped were eagerly taken up and redirected the curiosity of the younger officers. Lenka, surprisingly, was the first to indulge, and asked eagerly about the situation on Earth.

"Have you ever attended court at Vienna?" There was undisguised envy in her voice, for the glittering capital of the Empire was a touchstone for imaginations throughout human space. "They say Vienna is so beautiful, kept like a museum to support the pomp of the Empire. And every night there are operas and plays where even Archdukes and the Emperor himself attend alongside the commoners, and neverending balls and dances. Could all the holovid depictions be true?"

"I live in a penthouse apartment in Prague, actually," Sophia answered with a fond smile. "The Imperial Capitol is a bit too well-policed for me; I do charity work in my spare time, and they make sure there is nobody needing charity living in Vienna. The maglev system of course makes the commute trivial. As for whether or not I've attended court, the answer is no; I have however been in the Imperial Palace, but the Imperial Palace is a very large facility which does hold some of the organs of government. I have seen His Majesty the Emperor in person before, though there are enough formal processions and so on that for people living within five hundred klicks of Vienna that's actually a very common privilege regardless of status, as much as it may awe those who've not had the opportunity to live there. I fear we can be a bit jaded.."

"I hope to see the homeworld myself one day," Lenka said, a bit wistfully. "It must be so glamorous to live there, with the court nearby and all that history and culture. Dubrovnik can be so provincial still despite all the development that happened after the Empire came back."

"It can be glamorous, but Earth like all worlds has impoverished people who must be helped in the interests of a just and Christian society. I've honestly tried to avoid being swept up in the glamour of the Imperial capitol," Sophia explained honestly. "Which must sound so trite and moralizing of me, I know. But truth be told if you asked me for places to visit on Earth, I'd tell you of these little resorts along the Dalamatian coast where I usually take my vacations."

"I've been to Earth before too," Giancana added in. "Went from Terrafirma to attending the naval academy on Mars, and there was regular shuttle service. Had leave around Corpus Christi back, oh, would have been forteen years ago and saw the procession then. I went sightseeing, all the stuff the tourists do, and spent some more time there in Italy and Nippon. Rome's even more impressive than Vienna in a lot of ways, with the Forum and the Via Ostia of Paul XXVI, and the Museum of Sacred and Humanist Art.

“Don't think I'd want to live there, though. It's well, just feels a bit artificial, all those carefully plotted and maintained parks, and housing regulations and historical redevelopment and that kind of thing. There's a bit of charm to being out here on the frontier where things aren't so settled, so predictable, and where you can just feel the growth of the Empire under your feet."

"I wouldn't have thought you a romantic, Amadeo!" Janos spoke up in jest, but sharply enough for it. "The frontier can be a hard place to live. Extending the same order Earth and the Core worlds enjoy to the people here is what we're all about. I've lived on Szentistvan and here on Dvonomir, and I have to tell you if Szentistvan was boring we never had to worry about pirates hitting our shipping lanes or outsiders stirring up trouble and disrupting our lives."

"Ms. Koczwara's charity is probably less desperate than a bad harvest or surprise storm." There was a bit of an edge to Lenka's voice. "I do not doubt the advantages of development outweigh what is lost in frontier spirit."

"Leutnant," Sophia looked across to the other woman a bit sharply. "I said I was adopted from a Bogumil world. I was adopted by a Army Sergeant--because my grandmother thrust me into his arms because she was fifty-six and dying already, for they have no medical care for peasants on Bogumil worlds. I grew up firmly in the life of provincial yeomanry. We had hard winters, too, and got our first computer in the house when I was thirteen."

“As for my charity work, I work to redeem people, whose profession we do not talk about in polite company, because they still have immortal souls, and see to it that they have access to the resources of the Church to give them hope and a future. So yes, there is a dark underbelly to the inner core, and it may be sweet and proper to ignore it generally, but I try in humility to live my life as the merest of servants of Christ and pay some attention to those who never had the talent nor opportunities I managed even as a sergeant's daughter in the provinces." It was clear that the edge and the emotion behind it had cut into a sore point for Sophia, who all things said was an eccentric, and held some distaste for the broader society which ignored the plight of the women she helped.

"I apologize for my remarks," Lenka said slowly, taken aback by the reaction they had provoked. She nervously settled in her seat, now deeply uncomfortable with the situation. "Dubrovnik is a frontier world, not a Bogumil horror. But there are still tragedies and only so much the church and authorities can do to relieve them, bringing loss of life and much suffering. I did not mean to dismiss what you do on Earth."

"The apology is completely accepted, Leutnant," Sophia answered finally with a soft flush. "I should not have gotten so intense about it, but it's a deeply personal subject to me. I admit," she added with a faint trace of a smile, "That I am accused of being as boring and puritanical as a Calvinist by the better part of my colleagues."

"You are not completely devoid of humor and good sense so I think we can rule this out," Burrejo said jovially, now intervening to try and move past the awkwardness of the exchange of the two women.

The entree soon arrived, a pair of roasted Moscow ducklings with buckwheat stuffing and potatoes fried in the fat of the bird. It was a hearty, even fairly heavy meal fully in the tradition of the sector's cuisine. It demanded a certain measure of attention on the part of the diners, and afterward the meal found themselves in a contented mood.

A light dessert of fruit pastries followed, the palackay famous to Dvonomir, and light conversation followed. The adjournment from the dinner was lingering but within the realm of the expected, and pleasant enough in its own way, far removed from the hotness of the earlier conversation and comfortably so for all involved. Only after all the officers and both guests had departed did the servers enter the room again for a last time, and began the tedious process of cleaning up and returning the mess to its normal configurations. It was, after all, very soon to be time to dock at Vladimir, and all had business to attend.
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The Duchess of Zeon
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Re: (TGG) The Cardinal Files: An Inside Job.

Post by The Duchess of Zeon »

Chapter Ten: If your fingers catch, pry a hole.

By Marina and Christopher Purnell.

Vladimir Evidenzburo Hauptquartier.

The Evidenzburo presence on Vladimir was significantly larger than on the sector capital, a legacy of the circumstances of its return to the Empire. It was kept busy monitoring any number of subversive organizations linked to Great Rus irredentism. While most were harmless, the planet had been wracked by riots and even short-lived rebellions before, and no one at the planetary headquarters was inclined to relax their guard. That so many of the personnel had to be recruited from other worlds in the sector with different ethnic populations only made them more paranoid. Unteranalytiker Bedrich Komarek was typical of the agents he led, a native of Dvonomir with thirty years service on Vladimir but still fundamentally a suspicious outsider to the world.

With the declaration of martial law he had successfully intimidated the governor into sending the local garrison onto the streets, freeing up the gendarmes to carry out a wide dragnet of arrests. The headquarters, securely 20km outside of the limits of the capital of Rzhev, was presently overflowing with suspects despite its generous allotment of detention cells. Every student agitator, every rabble-rousing "Orthodox" priest, every businessman with shady outside contacts, they were all to be rounded up and vetted.

Tens of thousands were being held across the planet, and clearing them was taking forever. Again, the lack of local knowledge was slowing things down and Komarek did not trust the natives of the Gendarmerie to handle that end of things. That put him significantly behind schedule but with so many arrests, and troops out in force to keep order in the capital and major cities, he was reasonably confident that any rebellion had been nipped in the bud. The arrival of a special investigator from Earth had only mildly disturbed his equilibrium.

He was meeting the agent and her protege in the secure room of the headquarters, a communications suite with direct connection to the hyperspace signals network. Tall, grizzled, with a widow's peak and a scarred face, he gave every impression of being a tough veteran and eeked out the full degree of intimidation from the Evidenzburo civilian uniform. Sitting at the control panel he had already established the link to Dvonomir, and his opposite number there. The viewscreen looming over him, and dominating the room, was still black in privacy mode though; the conference wouldn't start for another few minutes. He felt them go by as the door to the room finally opened, and a pair of female agents were escorted in. He stood up in polite convention as they walked into the room, and acknowledged them with a slight bow.

"Unteranalytiker Bedrich Komarek, at your service," he introduced himself. "Agents Koczwara and Alilova, welcome. The conference with Herr Eendrecht is about to begin."

"Thank you kindly," Sophia answered, regarding Bedrich for a brief moment before sitting, and gesturing for Lida to do the same. "I assume you have received the appropriate documentation from Vienna regarding my assignment here, Unteranalytiker?"

She asked politely, her own severe, if slightly eccentric dress, black against her darker skin, was not particularly revealing of anything. Bedrich looked like the sort, paranoid but efficient, who would handle the situation with reasonable alacrity, but in these circumstances where military raids by the forces of outlanders might be possible, she would consider herself slightly concerned with the prospect of applying the hammer too harshly on his part.

"There are certain details which I can fill in if the exact purpose of the mission, and the magnitude of the instructions I have been given, has not been made clear." The last statement itself tended to indicate just what magnitude that was, after all, if Bedrich was unaware, without needlessly repeating it in a habit which she found rather crass or self-important at best.

"Markus filled me in on the situation before your departure from Vladimir," he responded. "You will have the full cooperation of every agent on this world, or I'll know the reason why. I've alerted the governor and military authorities about the possibility of terrorist attacks or a rebellion coordinated with outsider forces. We've been trying to corroborate details from the treasonous scum that have been brought in but it's slow going without bringing in the gendarmes and I don't trust them that far. Especially not with what I've heard out of Dvonomir."

"Ah yes, the latest news from Unteranalytiker Eendrecht will be very welcome," Sophia answered softly. "If you can transfer them to my perscomp I'd also like to review the report summaries for the past few days on Vladimir. I have a plan of action, but I prefer to wait to relate it until I have the full information, especially from Unteranalytiker Eendrecht, since there is a person of interest I can only hope he's found more about at this juncture--but you'll doubtless be hearing that in a few moments on your own."

Komarek nodded in agreement, and checked the time on the control panel. Shortly. "The report summaries will be attached to your account with the computer core and ready for download at your convenience," he said, logging in to the core himself to authorize the exchange. If you need transcripts those can be requested directly from the core under your authority."

They had only to wait another couple of minutes before the viewscreen activated. Unteranalytiker Eendrecht came on, sitting in an identical facility back on Dvonomir, so many light-years distant. He looked haggard, his uniform wrinkled and his eyes bloodshot from an obvious lack of sleep. He registered Sophia and Lida clustered around Bedrich, and he smiled lightly. "Ladies, Bedrich. Apologies for my appearance, but I've been up forty hours on stims. Things are very problematic here, I'm afraid."

"What's developed, Unteranalytiker?" Sophia's expression grew rather grim simply from viewing Markus' appearance; for that matter, there was also very little more for her to say at the moment, so she just sat, quietly reserving judgement and waiting tensely.

“Professor Fletcher fled Dvonomir hours before the declaration of the state of siege, on a commercial freighter we now believe to be under the control of Pavel Yeremeyev. The filed flight plan and manifest indicated it was heading to Vladimir, and I've sent an alarm about the ship through the sector. His house was burned down in some haste, but we've turned up evidence that he was in contact with revolutionary cells on four planets in the sector. That's not the worst of it, not by a long shot."

He paused, shaking his head as if trying to clear his brain. "An investigation was able to turn up links between Fletcher and three members of the Viceroy's office. They broke and implicated Earl Stephen's personal secretary. All four of them are from Core planets, with no prior connection to the sector, but all of them are associated with Professor Fletcher through academic channels. Either former students, or correspondents, that sort of thing. There's also some evidence of a trail of information going back to the Core, but we're not entirely sure yet and are waiting on further analysis of data records we recovered from Fletcher's house."

"Thank God I refused to see the Viceroy," Sophia said rather fervently. "Or else the continuation of this mission would have seen me under a scapel of a cosmetic surgeon an hour from now. Oh well, though it's nice to be avoided, it's clear that Vladimir is the funneling point for a conspiracy outside the Empire. Make sure that all that information gets to the Evidenzburo headquarters with the highest priority. If the AID is running this out of the Alliance Embassy despite all our precautions, well, it seems that the supplies at least are first being funneled through Yeremeyev. We can trust headquarters to deal with anything in the core. My task now is to find Yeremeyev, interrogate him as to the Alliance connection, and make sure the necessary information gets to gentlemen so that his organization is utterly eradicated. It may or may not lead me to further trails into the Alliance."

"You gentlemen, beyond supporting that infiltration, however, nonetheless now have the task of making sure that the sector is prepared for the prospect of a military assault by Great Rus revanchists. The rot, and level of intertwined conspiracy with the Desrolinists, essentially forces us to operate on our worst fears."

"At least it explains how Yeremeyev was able to get on and off world as he pleased," Eendrecht added, sounding as weary as he looked. "The conspiracy in the Viceroy's office provided him with forged credentials, shipping orders, pulled strings with customs... and there are going to be consequences there for several senior officials." His lips tugged up in a humorless smile.

"One thing, which may be critical. Fletcher's studies of the First Empire focused on the Colonial Freedom League, that pernicious conspiracy that brought on the anarchy before the Deluge. His offices were filled with almost every available monograph, article, and record about the League's operations in the Wladimyr sector. And all of the terrorists we've broken so far, that haven't been the usual Rus irredentists, have fitted pretty well into the Desrolines ideological wing of the League. I think the Alliance propaganda makes a lot more sense in that context."

"Is there any evidence of League-funded operations, contacts with worlds, settlements beyond current Imperial space, from the records in Fletcher's offices? Things which might tell us the precise scope of the assets the revanchists might have available to them?" Sophia perked up with a particular sort of birdlike intensity.

"We're pouring over everything recovered there, and from his house, including the possibility of secret codes and hidden data records, but so far we haven't found anything like that. The League fragmented anyway after the Deluge, split into pro-Bogumil, nationalist, Desrolinist, and even weirder wings. The Great Rus was one of 'em, which may be why they're cooperating with Fletcher or maybe explains his interest in them.

“All of our leads on Yeremeyev though go straight back to New Kiev, and the merchant guild that Kirilov was tied to monopolizes trade there. Unfortunately we don't know where New Kiev is, thanks to the encryption of the drive charts used to find it. Vessels we've seized have been careful to destroy the decoding devices they have aboard, and though they look like variants on the old Rus Navy cipher machines, they're not variants we have an example of from the invasion. Which means thus far we're stuck on using brute force to try and crack the code, and you know how that goes." He shrugged apologetically.

Sophia nodded tautly. “Well then, I shall proceed with my plan for myself and Unterinspektor Alilova to penetrate the organization, find New Kiev and make sure that you get that information so that the planet can be swiftly conquered, and of course determin the nature of Alliance involvement. But you gentlement must remember the last of those is the most important. If it takes months to subdue New Kiev and troubles continue for that long, because we are pursuing leads implicating the Alliance, this will be a necessary consequence of the priorities in this operation.”

The nods from the Unteranalytikers were very, very grim. Then, Sophia began again, with more of a smile. “That said, gentlemen, I have a very simple plan to infiltrate their organization, which I shall now explain…”


They were part of an awkward group released without more than the clothes on their backs--the rest of what they had had been "retained as evidence" by the Evidenzburo personnel or the Gendarme, god know if in the situation they'd ever get it back--of about twenty-two in all. And in that group was.... Two young women, names Lida Alilova, for a false identity was easily provided for the name of an offworlder not yet prominent, and the slight, attractively youthful Theophania Ritzhak, also known as Sophia Vuletic.

They shuffled out of the transport vehicle quietly with the others, and were then promptly ordered to disperse before the vehicle moved off in the night. Most started promptly leaving to return to their homes or make calls to get in touch with someone who could pick them up. But that was exactly as it had been intended, and Theophania, offering a reassuring squeeze to Lida's hand, gently stepped forward toward a woman she knew was Tamara Beletskaya.

"Ahh, excuse me, ma'am, but my name is Theophania and my friend Lida and I here..." she gestured back, smiling rather nervously. "We were detained when we arrived at the spaceport from the capitol when they said that our names matched those on an alert list. Anyway, they still have all of our luggage and money, and we'll just get picked up again if we sleep in the street because of the curfew...." Her voice sounded very distraught at the prospect of doing so even if they wouldn't get promptly arrested again.

"They're being so beastly, aren't they?" She offered her hand to the offworlders, in recognition of their shared plight. "Tamara Beletskaya, I'm so sorry you got caught up in all of... this. They just started rounding up everyone who wasn't a good little Imperial toady and think that gave them reason to be total jerks. Whatever. Anyway, where were you headed? I can put you up in my apartment for a bit if you're going to stay in Rzhev and wait on your belongings."

"Oh, we were on a vacation," Theophania answered shortly, and then introduced herself fully: "It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Beletskaya. I'm Theophania Ritzhak and this is Lida Alilova," she gestured back, and the younger, though looking here to be older than Sophia, telepath nodded and offered a hesitant smile, adding:

"Hello, Miss Beletskaya."

"Uhm, so, just exploring another surface world, really and it seems we didn't pay nearly as much attention to political developments as we should have. No surprise that the Empire is crushing everyone under the boot heel, though. I've heard it's all because of a couple so-called 'committees of correspondence' they found in the capitol," Theophania elaborated. "So I think in the circumstances, yes, we'd very much appreciate being able to stay at your apartment until the authorities bother to get around and release our personal effects to us."

"Oh, it's no trouble really. I have a big place." That her father paid for, the file had said. She waved over toward a pair of men walking out together, one of them towering over the other. "Genny, Oleg, over here. Meet Lida and Theophania here, they'll be staying with me for a while."

The two men, known to the agents from their folders, turned and walked over. The shorter, brown-haired Genrikh Trefiolev looked somewhat displeased at his girlfriend's impulsive action but tried to hide his irritation. The larger Oleg Chermerkin simply looked as though he were checking the two women out.

"Tamara, I'm relieved you're out and safe," Genrikh said as he approached. "Please, who are your new friends and why are you putting them up?"

"Oh, this is Theophania," she said, indicating the youthful looking, more outgoing woman, "and this is Lida," indicating the taller, severer and older looking woman. "They're tourists and were caught up in the dragnet, and the Imperials are keeping all their stuff for who knows how long. Isn't that awful?"

"Erm, yes," Genrikh responded, awkwardly. "Genrikh Trefiolev, at your service. And this is my friend Oleg Chermerkin. It is a pleasure to meet both of you."

"Thank you very kindly," Theophania replied. "A pleasure to meet you as well, Mister Trefiolev, Mister Chermerkin."

"Yes, I see you're all friends," Lida answered, thinking are they ever friends with a faint thought inside, where Sophia's reassuring telepathic presence lurked, at least for now, and replied with what seemed like the telempathic equivalent of a laugh that encouraged Lida to boldly taking her role. "And I'm so glad you're willing to take us. I can't believe we managed to stumble into this complete madness."

"Oh, yes" Genrikh said, nervously. "My cousin Yuri was detained..." he seemed to stop for a moment to scan around, as if looking for him. "Anyway, they brought us all in because of that. Me and Oleg work together at the family engineering firm, and Tamara is a friend. Bastards... pardon my language, ladies."

"It's getting late, let's hit town," Oleg suggested. He wanted to at the very least hit the bars heavily before they were closed by the curfew, seeing as how he hadn’t had any vodka since he’d been arrested and his only aim for the past twelve hours since the interrogations had ceased was to rectify that as soon as possible. "We can take the tram and drop ladies and your girlfriend off at their place."

Theophania glanced between Genrikh and Oleg and Tamara, noting how Genrikh had said Tamara was his 'friend' and now Oleg was specifying that they were together. Well, you are a slightly inept friend, Sophia thought cheerfully, but nodded, if still hesitant--they were dependent on the three friends for support, however.... "Well, we'll follow you along wherever you're planning to go," she offered, and Lida came up beside her with an agreeing nod.

"I need some sleep. Those interrogations were sooo trying," Tamara whined. "The stop's up ahead, we'll have to wait there to catch the C train. Let's get going."

Genrikh shrugged. It had been a long time under detainment. "I'll lead the way."

The newly assembled group made their way down the deserted streets, a couple of blocks illuminated by street lights and filled with apartments mostly without lights on. A covered entrance beckoned them down into the underground, to a sparsely furnished and mostly empty waiting room beside a pair of light rail tracks. There was a night watchman on duty, in blue constable's uniform twirling a truncheon in utter boredom. He halted and saluted the group with the stick as they came down, and began hanging around awaiting the arrival of the C train to take them further into the city.

"So, where are you two visiting Vladimir form?" Genrikh asked, masking interrogation under the guise of polite small talk while they waited.

"Dvonomir," Lida answered. "Well, I am. Theophania's actually from the Dvonomir System Belter Association. We worked together a lot when she represented the Belter mining cooperatives to my company, Dvonomir Ferrometall, that I work for as an accountant. She'd never been on the surface of any world except Dvonomir before so I figured it would be interesting to travel and show her some other planets... and my father doesn't like me going exploring on my own."

That caused Genrikh to look a little more dubiously at Theophania. Belters had a reputation, after all. "Mere curiosity brought you here, then? Well, I hope you enjoy your visit to our world despite this beginning."

The train pulled up, almost silently coming to a halt beside the platform. Doors opened up along the side without a sound, and a small trickle of mostly exhausted looking people came out, most heading directly for the entrance to the surface. "It's here," Tamara said, seeming a little more animated. "Only three stops before we get out and can head up to my apartment."

Theophania tossed a smile back to Genrikh which seemed intended to reassure as she started together with Tamara into the subway car, Lida following in the little cluster of, particularly, women. "Thank you very much, again, Tamara. I can't really offer anything to repay your very kind generosity except an offer to cook breakfast, though, I'm afraid." There was a slightly tired smile. It did explain Theophania's rather non-Slavic ethnic appearance and shortness, though, and since pretty much all belters got prolong, extreme youth for that matter. On the other hand, that didn't mitigate the reputation one bit...

"Don't think anything of it," Tamara reassured them, as she was heading onto the train from the platform. The train itself was clean and well-maintained, with rows of padded seats and bars hanging overhead for standing passengers. This late at night there were few people on, so everyone could sit down comfortably in a group.

And they did, the women understandably staying close together--they were at least nominally all single and it would be inappropriate to sit directly on the same seat with the men per even the most relaxed of Imperial etiquette broadly observed. Well, a belter would be flexible about it, but Theophania seemed somewhat aware of the importance of slightly avoiding stereotype. So far.

The ride itself was smooth as the silence of the station had suggested it would be. For all of its restlessness, the capital boasted modern amenities and the dedicated government services to maintain them. The maglev line breezed through a kilometer each minute without delay, with exhaustion keeping conversation to a minimum. Stops caused five minutes of delay, which meant it had been barely fifteen minutes when it arrived at the third stop Tamara had mentioned.

The station was identical to the one they left, down to the bored night watchman. Tamara led them up to the street entrance, and from there a block over to her high-rise apartment complex. The building of steel and reflecting glass soared up into the horizon, a couple of dozen stories tall, and obviously highly expensive. The doorman, unlike the night watchmen in the tunnels, was armed and vigilant but relaxed when he saw Tamara leading the group in.

The lobby inside was furnished richly, the floor gleaming with a recently applied waxing. A liveried servant looked up from the desk at the arrivals, recognizing Ms. Beletskaya before returning to his task at the monitor. Tamara's apartment was on the fifth floor, and a trip up in a smoothly humming lift, followed by a turn through a broad corridor, brought them to her front door. She opened it with a keycard, bringing them all into a spacious living room, with a large couch and several chairs in front a coffee table and a holo-display unit.

"Please, make yourselves at home," she urged, before heading off to the adjacent kitchen to begin boiling water for tea.

Theophania draped herself over the couch with Lida settling in to sit beside her, looking around appreciatively, if still very obviously tired. It was as she pulled her gloves off--another Belter accrutement on the surface, where they got very paranoid about cleanliness and atmospheric conditions--to reveal the slim and subtle med'crete casts on two of her fingers.

Oleg had slumped down over one of the chairs, letting him feel the exhaustion of the past days, but as he saw Theophania's hands he bolted up in anger. 'What'd those sons of whores do to you?"

"They broke two of my fingers while interrogating me," Theophania answered with a soft sigh. "Unfortunately I'm given to understand that's legal in a State of Siege, so, I've just been trying to not think about it to much. They did give me painkillers when they... finished interrogating me." She seemed a lot more composed than a woman ought be saying that, even as Lida herself seemed flushed with fright and agony at the thought of what her friend had gone through, but then again, Theophania was a belter, and far from normal.

"They walk all over us," Genrikh said bitterly from his own seat. "I deeply regret you two were caught up in events here. But it exposes the true face of the Empire, doesn't it?"

"It does..." Theophania glanced between the two with some evident nervousness. "It certainly does. But... Well, god knows. I am certainly more scared than I ever was before," she added, as Lida's expression also turned rather darkly nervous. It looked like the two perhaps did have something to hide....

Tamara emerged with a tray carrying a tea service, and sat it down on the table before them. She looked shocked when she saw Theophania's hands, her already pale complexion going whiter. "I'm so sorry..." she muttered, before setting out cups. "Black tea, would you like some? Sugar, lemon?"

"Just sugar," Theophania smiled again.

"Both, please," Lida added. It gave them some time to collect themselves from the dangerous ground of speaking about the Empire, or so it seemed.

Tamara served their tea first, before handing cups to Oleg and Genrikh, neither of whom needed to give their preferences. She finally took her own cup, and settled into an empty space on the couch. "I'm afraid there's only one spare bedroom, but the couch is comfortable if made up for sleeping. I've had to do that before for friends stopping by in town."

"I'll take the couch," Theophania immediately volunteered with a slightly more cheery smile again, stretching as the tea seemed to revive her a bit. "Smaller, after all, and I'm used to smaller beds and people moving around when I sleep. Thank you so very much again, ah.. May I call you Tamara?"

"Oh, of course dear," she replied, waving her hand to dismiss her negligence. "We're all friends here now, aren't we?"

Genrikh grunted, but Oleg smiled a bit at the prodding. "Da, we've all been in that damn dungeon."

"I think so!" The look was charming for all she was favouring her left hand, but fell again at mention of the dungeon. "That... The way I grew up is so contrary and alien to that place. A medieval fantasy," she continued, pausing. "Things like that must end for our society to really be a decent one, don't you think? I wonder how many of the poor prisoners not as lucky as we will never be released again..."

"Yuri..." Genrikh muttered, obviously concerned. "It isn't the first time they've stamped down on our faces, and it won't be the last. But we're a stubborn lot and they won't break Vladimir the great, not now, not ever."

"The Empire has challengers now, though, on every side and in half a hundred universes besides, all alien to its government..." And Theophania whispered, very, very softly, and lyrically, like it was part of a song, not any kind of dramatic declaimation of sentiments: "Outside I hear the ground shaking, up from under-neath... It's only when the Empire's breaking, that you see the teeth."

"Is that a poem or something?" Tamara couldn't place the reference and was interested to hear where it came from.

"It's a protest song from another universe, about the destruction of an entire people by an Empire," Theophania answered rather delicately. "I had a cousin who traveled as far as the Alliance of Democratic Nations and she taught it to me, since she loves music and picks up all sorts of things like. They have hundreds of peoples and ethnicities there, all with their own religions, even different species, and languages, all living in harmony in one state... ....And we live in an Empire where the government is willing to kill if you don't merely respect the Pope when otherwise your religion is the same."

"Sounds chaotic," Genrikh said, disinterestedly. He stirred a bit from his seat, and sat his teacup back down on the tray. "It is late, and me and Oleg should be leaving and letting you ladies get your rest. Especially you, Theophania, you will need sleep to heal. Thank you for the tea, Tamara, and I will look forward to seeing all of you later."

"Oh, of course. Thank you for the kind sentiments," Theophania smiled back, seemingly as disinterested in the thread of conversation now as she'd been interested in it a minute before, like a fluttering little overintellectual and sluttish belter girl--if doing her best to hide it--might well manage, showing less of an obsession than an angry musing. Or at least trying to avoid looking like it had been an obsession.

Genrikh and Oleg said their goodbyes, with Oleg seeming a little more reluctant, and left. That saved the apartment for just the three girls, and Tamara quickly took the seat her boyfriend had vacated. "I can go get the blankets and extra pillow for you if you're ready to get to sleep," she offered.

"That would be very nice," Lida spoke for them with a relieved smile. "I think I want to sleep for twelve hours after that! Maybe fourteen."

"Yes, that would be wonderful," Theophania said, looking a bit sheepishly to Lida for a moment then turning to Tamara. "Sorry about getting so carried away there, but, well, I'm very angry at the Empire right now. I think I scared your boyfriend, a bit..."

"Genrikh is just skittish," she dismissed it. "Afraid of spies and that kind of thing, it's rather silly of him. But he makes up for it." She giggled a bit, leaving it up to them to imagine how he did so. "His cousin Yuri is the real firebrand against the Empire so he's also worried for him."

"Ohhh. Well, truth be told, he's in a lot of danger, yeah..." Theophania pushed herself up. "But then again, so are we, to be perfectly honest, so are we. I'm frankly completely relieved that the Empire didn't hold us longer... I was genuinely scared ‘bout it. And I can understand why he's skittish."

"It's okay now, it's all over." Tamara stood up to hug the poor girl, who had been so brutalized compared to her. ""I'll go get those sheets for the couch. Just rest here as long as you need. As far as I'm concerned you're one of us now."

"And I, you," Theophania answered with a smile. "There is work for people who know about the brutality of the Empire, you know.." She added rather softly. "And now, after all, you do know. But thank you so very much, first, for your kindness." And that night while Tamara slept, Sophia would delicately go to work on the girl’s dreams to make sure she was even more trusting of her two guests.
Last edited by The Duchess of Zeon on 2012-05-31 02:15pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: (TGG) The Cardinal Files: An Inside Job.

Post by The Duchess of Zeon »

Chapter Eleven: Agents Provocateur don’t try to get you to run away… …do they?

By Marina and Christopher Purnell.


As a student being supported by her family Tamara had the luxury of rising late, and freely indulged in it most days. With the first day of her guests just out of jail, though, she had risen early and put together a breakfast tray of rolls, sausage, cheese, butter, jam, and fruits out of the meager contents of her pantry. Theophania and Lida had risen as she had made the meal, with Lida heading into the bathroom first to take a quick shower.

Tamara had given her a spare set of clothes, since the two were nearly the same size though the brunette from Dvonomir was shorter than her blonde host, which would leave her dress hanging unfashionably short, almost to the ankles. Theophania was obviously out of luck, though Tamara had promised to take her shopping later and had insisted she take a good long soak in the bath after breakfast, if desired.

A pot of boiling water whistled as Lida came out refreshed from the shower and joined the other two women already seated in the dining room. Tamara left briefly to bring the pot in with a tea service to join the breakfast tray, and once she returned they settled down to enjoy the meal. "I hope you were both able to sleep good," Tamara said, as she began fixing the cups of tea for her guests.

"Thank you so very much," Theophania smiled rather brilliantly as she stretched out a little in her dining room chair. She had slightly regretted volunteering to take the couch; it meant she couldn't take her clothes off while she was sleeping, which meant they were rather worse for wear than they otherwise would have been, but at least she was suitably refreshed by the prospect of good food. And it more thoroughly gave the impression of someone completely exhausted by interrogation, anyway. "I actually managed to sleep very well and I'm looking forward to going out shopping later," she added.

"Yes, it is all so very wonderful, and the tea smells delightful." Lida found there to be something disturbingly normative about it, and lies in the service of the Empire did come easier than elsewhere. She'd definitely figured that much out already.

"I'm so glad," Tamara replied, taking a roll and spreading on strawberry jam as she did. Modern preservation technology kept them nearly bakery fresh, and the softness of the bread with sweet fruit was a favorite. "There's a boutique a couple of blocks over that is just fabulous, Martini's, you'll absolutely love it. Genrikh and Oleg will be coming back over sometime in the afternoon, so we'll just go there and grab lunch at the bistro across the street before meeting them again. I promise I'll show you around the city later in the week, see all the sights and the best stores. With the university shut down under the State of Siege I really don't have anything else to do until it lifts." And no need to worry about costs with daddy paying her bills.

"Well, you may have a while in which to be away from your studies, then," Theophania smiled faintly. "I admit to still being somewhat worried about the authorities in my place, but...." She gestured to her hand, and really nothing else needed to be said.

"I still can't believe they did that to you," Lida thought, even as inside she said something slightly different to Sophia: I still can't believe you did that to yourself...

Well, it was useful, and it's really just a little sore now. She knew well that it would be a powerful tool of sympathy, certainly in ingrating themselves. Most people did not expect their 'oppressors' to be dedicated enough to mutilate themselves as a matter of course to secure their detention.

The thought still made Lida blanche, though it conveniently looked like her continuing response to the idea of the torture of a dear friend. Well, it seemed dear friends, anyway... She had to resist thinking of the backup cover there if there was further suspicion against them, on account of how much it embarrassed her. No sin on a mission, she repeated Sophia’s words to herself, and felt a reassuring strength.

"The Empire will do as it pleases," Theophania meanwhile answered in the conversation. "And especially to belters."

Tamara finished chewing the portion of the roll she had bitten off, and took a quick sip of tea to wash it down with. "They've been pushing us around for over a century, because we didn't want to be part of their empire or their church. What's it like with the belters? Our system doesn't have any and I've never met one before."

"Used to have some," Theophania said, evidencing knowledge of the fact that the system didn't have any because the Great Rus had dismantled their orbital habitats and forced them to live on the surface, though she doubted Tamara knew this. But she sighed and shook her head.

"We just have a different culture than the rest of the Empire. Different standards, different morals, different philosophy and different beliefs. We just want to be left alone to practice them all in peace. It's not like we visit planets for more than business or as tourists, and when we do we obey all the laws. We don't want to interfere with anyone else's society, just pay our taxes or tributes, and trade the minerals and resources of space for what we need from the outside to make our lives complete. We're perfectly content with being largely separated from the rest of society and are somewhat adapted to living in space compared to landers. And in exchange we're a fairly tightly controlled and universally mistrusted group."

You don't seem that bad to me," Tamara volunteered. "Want to be left alone. That's what Yuri and Genrikh say about our sector, too." Though they and Oleg also made dirty jokes about Belters, and she frowned a bit at remembering that. "At least we have that in common. Is it the same way on Dvonomir? They're more Catholic than us but this martial law was imposed sector-wide."

"It's because we regard the Imperial system as being... Fundamentally oppressive," Lida spoke up at Sophia's gentle prodding. "It's not so much of a cultural thing, though Theophania and I have similar views on a lot of issues, but rather one of... Fundamental rights. Do you really think anyone should actually live in a state where people can be detained like happened to us? I don't think so..." Lida's confidence grew as Sophia reassured her telepathically that the words were right on target for the beginning of thier opening.

“I guess not," Tamara responded in a puzzled tone, as though no one had ever made such an argument to her before and she was struggling to put it into perspective. Yuri always talked about the historical progression of imperium and the sublime beauty of the true orthodox Church, and when Genrikh explained it to her he never used such words. But it seemed to make sense to her as she thought it; doing what the Empire had done to her and her friends, and especially Theophania, was bad.

Another thoughtful bite finished the roll, and she nodded in more certain agreement. "Yeah, that's right. The Empire shouldn't have done that to us and it's wrong, and so it should be fixed."

"Exactly. So there are committees of correspondence on Dvonomir working toward that aim, which the government cracked down on, out of fear because they endorsed the independence aspirations of the Rus people," Theophania explained delicately. "That's why all of this has come to happen, because the Rus and the ideologues on Dvonomir who believe the Empire is oppressive, decided they needed to work together and help each other toward a common aim of being free from the present tyranny of the Imperial State."

Her face brightened a bit, recalling something that Yuri had said at their last cell meeting. "That makes sense, I see!" She had enough presence of mind to also remember that she probably needed to tell Genrikh about what her guests were saying, when he called in to check up on her as he usually did around lunchtime. "Well, maybe we can do something about that. But who wants more tea?"


As with any shopping trip of the sort in which someone involved had unlimited money and the desire to spend for the sake of the rest, the end result was that Theophania had come away with about seven blouses and six skirts and a half-dozen stockings as well as a nice scarf for the evening weather, as well as another jacket.

Lida had not escaped ending up with three skirts and three blouses and a half dozen sets of stockings herself, as well as another coat and scarf set as well, and in a variety of reds and grays and other pleasant colours for a cooler world (Tamara had of course bought more clothes for herself as well, considering the occasion of her being released from Imperial custody), they returned home from the bistro, both refreshed and relieved. Only Theophania had gotten a new purse, and was gently teased on the insistence on a large handbag when it was slightly out of fashion on Vladimir.

That left them to return from the bistro with Theophania drinking the coffee that she'd gotten on the way out, chipper and gaily going on about the excitement of three-dimensional freefall dancing, with the torrent of limbs and requirement of strapped pantaloons for modesty, which still made it rather immodest by the standards of the Empire but had left Tamara intensely curious with the idea of it as she continued with a sort of intense eagerness between sips of her coffee.

Lida, for her part, was having some difficulty believing Sophia... The woman could apparently memorize and regurgitate, or perhaps outright make up, information faster than it seemed she could think it, and it really left her no doubt that she was standing next to Cardinal, a slight telepathic hum of encouragement in the background of her mind leading her to enough daring comments too that they both seemed quite closely knit friends, if Theophania was an extroverted belter.... And Lida more the introvert, and definitely not a belter.

It was regardless a relaxing and enjoyable conversation, and all of them being washed and out of their other clothes--though Tamara had at least washed them for the two in successive loads while they were in the bath--clean and refreshed. The conversation pealed into slightly embarrassed giggles from all over a comment about Genrikh that Tamara had let slip toward the end, and they returned comfortably to the apartment...

They had only settled down in the living room for a few minutes before the door alarm range. Tamara had been expecting it, and sprang up to answer. Outside Genrikh waited with his friend Oleg, both wearing the somber black doublet and trouser combination that seemed to mark professional men on the planet, though where Genrikh had gone with a traditional red collar and kerchief his larger friend had chosen a bright green combination to add color to his appearance. Tamara looked around to see if anyone else was waiting in the halls, and then stepped out quickly to take her boyfriend in an energetic hug.

Genrikh pulled her close for a moment, but broke the contact quickly in fear of the neighbors or passers-by seeing the too informal gesture. "It's wonderful to see you again, Tam'ra," he said with real warmth, at her slightly disappointed look as he put a little distance between them. "We came by to visit for a while before dinner. Yuri's parents closed the firm early today..."

Tamara ushered them in, warning her two guests of the arrival as she did. The men took the couch, leaving Lida and Theophania the chairs they had claimed. With Tamara having evidently judged them friends enough, she took an intimate seating beside Genrikh on the couch. "We had such a wonderful day shopping, Genrikh. And Theophania and Lida here are great new friends for our little circle, I'm sure."

Her boyfriend shifted in his seat, finally leaning forward a bit with a very serious expression on his face. This was not a social call by any means. He addressed the two women from Dvonomir, trying to keep the tension from wracking him as he did so. "Tamara talked with me on the perscom about your conversation this morning, when I called to see how she was doing. These committees of correspondence you mentioned, your acquaintance with them is more than just knowing about their existence, isn't it?"

"Yes it is," Theophania answered, and dropped all pretenses of being scared--it was like she straightened and stiffened inside as well as outside, more the aura of a frenetic revolutionary taking over her, dropping her guard to show through her actual thoughts on the matter. "I'm the contact for a group of cells in the Dvonomir belter colonies, mostly inspired by a Doctor Fisher who was a good mentor for all of us at the planetary university, though I wasn't directly inspired by him. We were actually, ironically on a vacation to Vladimir because... We had some good idea things would be happening soon and wanted to take the last chance we could get to relax beforehand. Unfortunately the Imperials doubtless found out before we could act." She shrugged laconically.

"We had been talking about knocking out the Dvonomir naval shipyard but it was still in planning stages. On the other hand I knew enough about it make resisting the Imperials worthwhile and they seemed to conclude I was just an innocent belter slut after psychic scans and torture didn't break me, apparently they didn't realize I'd had combat training in resisting both from some members of the Dvonomir gendarme who chose to support us. You may not think women altogether very strong for this sort of thing, but I am a belter and Lida's as tough as they come among landers.

“Unfortunately now I will admit to saying that I'm probably worse than useless. The Vladimir authorities didn't realize how valuable I am, but Dvonomir has probably cracked enough of my weaker-willed associates by now as to realize it, meaning that you will probably shortly be in a great deal of danger again yourselves. And if you think of turning us in to save your hides we'll spin such a delightful tale of lies as to put the lot of you on the gallows with us."

Oleg and Tamara were both visibly taken aback by the revelation and by Theophania's unsubtle threat, and even Genrikh flinched at her blunt confession. It was far more than he had expected, and not for the first time he wished Yuri had been let out with them. But in the absence of his he was in charge, and so squared up his shoulders."I suspected you were a member of the organization, but this is a surprise," he admitted. A thought flashed through his mind; could she be an agent provocateur? But it was too late for caution whether she was telling the truth or spinning a web to entrap them all.

"We too work for the freedom of the Rus people from the yoke of the false Empire," he declared, trying to be bold. "My cousin Yuri leads our cell and he has remained detained by the bastard Imperials, so I am already concerned for our continued security. We hadn't received orders yet but were being told to expect them soon when the state of siege came down, and they just started sweeping up everyone who didn't kowtow to the Emperor and lick the Governor's boots.

“I don't have the contacts Yuri did but from what I can tell the network is shredded and our fallback positions on Vladimir itself have been compromised. If they break Yuri anytime soon we'll be rounded up again, probably given the same treatment you were, so I was thinking of evacuation off the planet. We have another member who may arrange that. Now, I'm not sure of the exact situation with you people from Vladimir but I do know Yuri told us the committees of correspondence were our... allies, of sorts."

"We're with you to the death," Theophania answered rather simply, though she looked as fervid now as she had while calmly making her threat. "That said if we can get out of the Empire it will be the best... All our plots on Dvonomir are in ruins at this point and my best hope is to try and get myself and Lida out to the Alliance of Democratic Nations, where we can raise attention to the suffering of the detained in their media... The Empire will execute them all and release none unless it is placed under considerable foreign pressure, at this point, I fear... And we must have survivors to provide for exile organizations to carry on the struggle. If you can indeed get us out, we will do whatever is required of us, and I'll put my experience to work in making sure we're not caught while we escape." She hoped in that to put to rest any idea that they were agents provocateur, who would after all be trying to get the group to further incriminate itself, not simply flee.

“Aye, it looks like things are shot here," Oleg threw in. "And Yuri said something about us having outside help, aside from just those League people from the Core. That we could win it. D'you think he was talking about something like that, Genrikh?"

The other man shrugged his shoulders. This was well beyond his rank in the Rus liberation struggle. "It sounds, maybe so. I'll have to talk with Kon... another contact." He nearly bit his tongue in frustration at the slip. "We were already looking for passage to New Kiev, to volunteer there in whatever we could find. We’ll see about taking you two with us. It's clear we're all going to be swept up if we stay here."

"We are willing to help however we may. Where can you get in touch with this contact securely?" Theophania asked authoritatively, because, of course, ninety percent of the time acting like you were in charge of a situation meant that you were. "We're going to have to take precautions even leaving the apartment on the prospect that we're under surveillance, so we want to absolutely minimize our contact with the outside world as much as possible..."

"Uhm, we're taking precautions," Genrikh said, reluctant to divulge any more information. And especially to cede his role as leader to the outsider woman. "I'm the only one in the cell supposed to contact him. But I guess you're right about the rest, there. It'd be suspicious if me and Oleg didn't keep turning up for work, though..."

"Or if I didn't show up at the bars all of a sudden," Oleg said, laughing a bit at the prospect.

"It depends on how fast we can be evacuated," Theophania delicately ceded, having tested her limits with Genrikh as much as she cared to and found him not completely spineless, which was probably useful. "Until then, yes," a trace of a smile, "Whatever is normal for you will do. But while we are leaving... Well, I can't really plan until I know what's going to happen, of course."

"I'll let you know the details once I have them," Genrikh said. "Probably Thursday." He also resolved to ask Konstantin for more detail about the alliance with the Colonial Freedom League and nets on Dvonomir, just to be safe. He was at least trying to think like Yuri, anyway. "In the meantime then, what plans do you ladies have? University is going to be closed indefinitely, Tamara..."

"I don't know," his girlfriend responded. "I thought we were going to play tourist for a bit, but is that a good idea now?"

"If we're under surveillance then harmless sightseeing won't hurt, probably help," Genrikh said, uncertainly looking over at Theophania. And seeing her hand. "If they want to break in here and abduct you again," he said with a noticeably colder voice, "we won't be able to stop them. So I think not worrying there is best. And as far as surveillance goes, they already knew we are all friends and usually meet here a lot, so at least this isn't suspicious."

"No, we won't be able to stop them," Theophania agreed calmly. "And I'm sorry for the suspicion that I've brought down on all of you... I'd offer to kill myself rather than surrender, but I'm not going to force that on Lida..."

The other woman blanched and shook her head. "I'd rather, rather not see it come to that, Theo," she said rather affectionately and with a hair of nervousness even as she followed the line Sophia artfully suggested with a slight thrill at how well things were now going along. "I don't think for what it's worth that it would do any good. They'd probably take you apart with psychics if you were detained again, and..." A hapless shrug.

"That's... kinda morbid," Tamara commented, though her face looked a little pale.

"Yeah, well, I'd rather not go back there, Tamara," Theophania answered very softly.

"We are fighting for our freedom, dear." Another glance at Theophania's hand. "No, they won't shrink at inflicting torture on us or having our minds raped. Suicide is a sin, but there is no reason they need to take us alive," Genrikh said. "But we will live to fight another day, I'm sure. On New Kiev, where the real Church holds sway and our customs live on vibrantly, unshackled by the outsiders."

"I'll drink to that," Oleg said laconically.

Theophania smiled. "Thank you. I will remember your kindness for a very long. Just get us out of the Empire, and even if we can't travel further in your company we'll find a way out, and work 'till our own ends to give your people and all peoples the freedom they deserve. It is now pretty much all that I'm living for. These sorts of experiences... Crystalize the soul."

"I hope so." Genrikh expressed his doubts softly. Yuri should have been here leading them. He knew all the protocol and cell contacts and security measures. He was stuck with improvisation and the faint hope of making the right decisions. "But we will get you to New Kiev, yes. I think it is important that you do so."

“Thank you so kindly… Genrikh,” Theophania rose, a sincere look of relief and eagerness on her face. “Together we shall escape the crushing gauntlet of despotism, aye, I’m sure of it, and soon enough we’ll all take our breaths on a free world…”

From the emotions of acceptance in his own rightness that were flowing out of Genrikh’s mind, Sophia couldn’t help but to admit it cockily through her link to Lida: Got him! The release of all of a detained cell except for its leader had worked out perfectly. They had the information they needed but not the will and discipline to be suspicious in their current state… Which meant the two telepaths were now all but guaranteed their ride to New Kiev. What Sophia hid from her companion was the fact it meant they would soon be two telepaths alone on an entire planet of enemies with no way to escape and no way to signal in their location, until they perhaps with luck and the grace of God secured knowledge of the connection to the Alliance… And with it a rat-line to the outside world. We might as well be diving into a black hole…

Sophia didn’t hide it perfectly from Lida.


Don’t worry, Lida. Leave that to me… We’ll come up on the other side. Promise. Hell of a lot of hubris you've got, sister, she thought idly. She really wasn't interested in dying by finding out what a pirate gang would do to a captured woman in the Imperial service. Oh, most assuredly not...
Last edited by The Duchess of Zeon on 2012-05-31 02:15pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: (TGG) The Cardinal Files: An Inside Job.

Post by The Duchess of Zeon »

Chapter Twelve: One last message before we go…

By Marina and Christopher Purnell.

Rzhev, Vladimir.

Genrikh returned two days later, once again accompanied by the hulking figure of his friend Oleg. They had a guarded look on their faces, and Genrikh in particular was furtive, as if looking out for any signs of surveillance. Some necessary paranoia had rubbed off on him, though from his evident nervousness perhaps a bit too much of it. He gave Tamara a quick peck on the cheek as she brought him in, and announced without any warning that they would be going to the Cathedral of Saint Andrew the Hieromartyr. It was early afternoon, an odd time for a visit to a church, but the women could sense better than to question the need. They left quickly, taking the efficient underground trains to arrive swiftly to the eastern end of the city and the small plaza overlooked by St. Andrew's.

"It's named for the Hieromartyr of Crete," Genrikh explained for the benefit of the off-worlders. The onion domes of the Muscovite style cathedral towered over the businesses allowed to develop in the area, a consequence of zoning laws designed to retain a more human scale to the older portions of the urban area. The Cathedral looked almost deserted, without the steady bustle of visitors that marked most active churches in the Empire.

"It was built as a donative cathedral by Knyaz Belinski of the Zemlaya Islands, as a symbol of his piety and for his own use when he was in the capital attending the Zemsky Sobor of the Great Rus. The Empire closed it down after they conquered it, and gave it to the custody of their Greek Catholic yangs. The true Orthodox clergy were deprived of their sees and sustenance..." He shrugged at the bit of history. "But we have friends who hold true to the old faith."

Looking around carefully, he led the group up to the front entrance of the Church and rapped the heavy brass knockers attached to thick wooden doors. After a couple of minutes the left door opened, slightly, and then was heaved open presumably on recognition. A rather scrawny, very young looking man still growing the bushy beard of a Byzantine rite priest, and dressed in black ecclesiastical robes, stood in the way of the door. Genrkih embraced him in the hearty greeting that found favor on the planet, apparently whispering something to the man as he did.

The ecclesiastic stood back after ending the embrace, and seemed to study the people behind Genrikh with care. Seemingly satisfied with what he found, he nodded slightly. "Be received into the house of God, then, and come, for we have much to discuss." He propped the door open to allow everyone to come into the darkened and empty church.

Soft candle light and the smell of incense greeted them from the cavernous interior. The altar and the nave behind it, with the iconostasis, were shadowed by a lack of light though a dull yellow gleam there suggested the luxury of a noble donative church. The priest led them over to a set of pews away from the entrance, near a corner where the light was particularly dim and the acoustics would not carry far. An icon of the Apostle James stared out at them in the flat, hyper-stylized manner that marked all Byzantine religious art. The priest halted underneath, and turned to face the group.

It was a comfort to Sophia, strangely enough, to be there. She had most of the time been involved in operations in areas with no Catholic priests recognized as such by the Church, if not outright heretical or atheistic. The Rus were at least schismatics, and for all they were mad on account of it, if she screwed up on New Kiev, there was the prospect of receiving valid last rites for both herself and Lida. She hid that thought carefully from Lida, of course, knowing it would likely not comfort the younger woman as much as it did her and left her willing to press her risks to the hilt.

She regarded the young ecclesiastic very cautiously, with a sort of blandly polite smile that nonetheless had overtones of a very, very real relief. And she also, of course, modestly waited for him to speak. The Orthodox opinion toward women tended toward the stern, and she'd remain in the background with Lida unless required to defend their urgent need for evacuation.

"I am Konstantin," he said flatly by way of introduction. "Brother Genrikh Ivanovich and his cousin Yuri Pavlovich know me, and Oleg Dmitrivich and Tamara Beletskaya are known to me." He examined the remaining two women briefly. "Genrikh has told me that you, Theophania Ritzhak, and you, Lida Alilova, are members of the committees of correspondence established on Dvonomir, and by that of the Colonial Freedom League. I have been unable to verify this information but such is expected under the circumstances. You have requested to be taken from this world to safety, is that correct?"

"Yes. We intend to try and travel to the Alliance, however of a forlorn hope it is, to raise a public outcry there against the Empire amongst their population," Theophania explained. "So that at least the Empire suffers in its foreign and economic relations as a consequence of our shared oppression."

"Genrikh has told me of your intentions. I have questions before we may proceed further." Konstantin glanced up, drawing some strength and calm from the icon above, the reminder of God's providence. "Your full names, your backgrounds, and most importantly details of how you came to be involved with the committees of correspondence and were introduced into the Colonial Freedom League."

"My full given name is Theophania Midori Ritzhak," Sophia began. "I'm a senior-grade accounts payable specialist for the Dvonomir System Belter Association mining combine. I'm fifty-three years of age and I was born to Teodor and Sophia Ritzhak on Belter Colony Dvonomir ZHK-187. I was introduced into the belter Committees of Correspondence for the Colonial Freedom League by my cousin Mischa Ritzhak who'd been to the Alliance before and studied under Dr. Fisher at the Dvonomir university; she completed her Masters coursework there," and Mischa Ritzhak was an actual person, the identity provided by Dvonomir Evidenzburo Hauptquartier after her requests had been relayed at the meeting which had led to this plan, "About seventeen years ago, I believe. My task in the belter association committees was to carry messages between them and the surface as required of the highest secrecy, on account of my ideological reliability and commitment. I was the highest security courier available to them," she added with a trace of boastfulness being allowed to naturally creep in as it might with an amateur.

"I also recruited Lida Alilova, and she usually worked to assist me in passing messages and was a member of the same cell as myself, Teodor Radan being the head of the cell."

Lida took over at that point, Sophia's reassuring psychic presence guiding her as she began: "Lida Alilova, age thirty-one, accounts payable department at Dvonomir Ferrometall," she explained. "My parents are Pyotr and Pikula Alilova, from Sinyavskiy on Dvonomir. Theophania is a close friend of mine and recruited me directly into the cell including herself, Mischa, and headed by Teodor Radan. My involvement was pretty much what she's said; we cooperated on all our participation in the committees."

Their statements were being recorded for later analysis, and not even Konstantin knew precisely how much corroboration was possible but their stories sounded reasonable. The secularists generally recruited among family and acquaintances, where more roads were open among the nationalists of the Great Rus. He made no outward show of making a conclusion, though. "That is appropriately detailed. So now, I ask you, why have you joined this struggle?"

"Personally? In hopes of securing a system of governance for the Empire which will provide each national, ethnic, and cultural minority, belters included, with the right of choosing their own laws, customs, and nationhood, should they desire to do so, by free plebiscite of their people; even, including in the case of the Great Rus perhaps, a restoration of traditional government, again should your people desire it--it is not my business what you choose, only that you are given that choice, which is a fundamental right of all peoples. Doubtless when that great day is achieved our societies will be very different ones, but you have that right, as do we," Theophania concluded.

Lida, making sure to continue their deep cover, spoke her own words--with a bit more hesitancy. "I'm fighting, so that Theophania and her people can choose their own free association, but also more personally so that Dvonomir can hold free elections. The imposition of Governors who don't share our culture and customs has gone on for too long and though I desire different things for Dvonomir... It was never part of the Great Rus anyway. I should like to see an organization similar to but different than the Alliance instituted in place of the Empire, which will give outright independence to those peoples which desire it."

"I understand the desire of the Belter people for greater autonomy," he said, not quite keeping a trace of revulsion out of his voice. "Your mores and customs are different from ours, and not compatible. This has been so for century after century. The people of Dvonomir have been loyal Imperials for centuries, the violent enemies of the Rus for even longer, and staunch adherents of the Latin rite. Throughout our long struggle their hostility was unceasing and their jubilation at our conquest remains in the memory of many still living today." He looked closely at Lida, and seemed distinctly suspicious. "You reject this heritage for friendship with this outsider, and the facile rhetoric of another universe?"

Lida knew the suspicion that she was under, there was no doubt of that, and tensed as she realized the overarching important to their mission that she answer it correctly.

A gentle voice from Sophia: Now, it's time., came reassuringly, though, and she was able to speak confidently according to the first of the two confessions they’d planned, each one, as Sophia had explained it, to convince their enemies that they had no further reason to press. Satisfied by the thrill of discovery, she had put it. “Not entirely another universe. We didn't want to cause arguments or dissension, but we are at least broadly on agreement with the principles of Desrolines," Lida stated flatly, and Theophania with a trace of amusing nodded her head curtly.

"We are in broad agreement there. Obviously of course belter culture is perhaps the one culture within the Empire which is not inherently compatible on its own merits with Desrolines. We are, indeed, allies of convenience with you, but Lida would find our people better to live among than any other on account of those sentiments, which she held privately long before I met her."

Genrikh took a step back, and Oleg shook his head in an automatic display of disapproval. Tamara, who had slept through her history class on the Deluge, started to ask who Desrolines was but saw the movement around her and thought better of it. The priest seemed little shocked, though. "Godless, then. And no more welcome on Dvonomir than you would be here on Vladimir. We are allies of convenience, but your organization are allies still and we have certain obligations to them. I will not pretend that I have any sympathy for your plight, and I would invite you to reconsider your false beliefs but time is of the essence.

“I will make arrangements for your travel via our escape route to New Kiev, subject to the final approval of the leadership of the Colonial Freedom League on this world. You will all need to return to this place tomorrow evening, at 1900 hours, bringing nothing of your persons. Absolutely nothing. You will be supplied with new identities and travelling accessories and disguises for the trip." If you were approved, naturally. But that was unvoiced. If the CFL decided that Lida and Theophania were not members of the organization, a rather different welcome would be awaiting them.

"I understand perfectly," Theophania answered calmly and with a prouder and less humble look to her now. "You will certainly find it well worthwhile, your generousity, and I will remember it as long as I live--I will make sure that the Alliance howls with outrage at what is being done here, and you know as well as I do that they will be more naturally sympathetic to an atheistic belter than a traditionalist priest. It serves both our interests." She shrugged. "We will follow your orders exactly, being quite familiar with the necessities of the revolutionary life."

"We will remain true to our agreement with your leaders," the priest affirmed. The Desrolinists were frightfully mistaken, which made them so much weaker than the Empire. Their folly would be apparent to them in time, and they would return to the comfort and truth of orthodox belief. The great spanning Catholic Empire, close to the truth but Satanically deceived away from the fullness thereof, was a much more formidable enemy and so allying with lesser evils was acceptable to win freedom from them. Then he addressed the neglected native rebels, who need some measure of reassurance after the confession from the outsiders. "Genrikh, Oleg, Tamara; cling to your faith as a shield and the Lord will relieve your burdens. Once on New Kiev you will find the government of the Great Rus, the true government, eager to shelter you and use you in our effort to liberate ourselves. God be with you."

"Thank you, Father," Genrikh replied, while Oleg made the sign of the cross. Tamara stood quietly, not really comprehending all of the politics and implications of the situation, though figuring from the reactions of the men that she needed to be careful. Although atheism wasn't that scandalous, was it? They seemed like nice people.

"I will be in communication with you, Genrikh, later," Konstantin continued. "As for you, Theophania and Lida, I will pray that you take true stock of the state of your souls while on New Kiev. Seeing the true faith in all of its glory will be an enlightening experience for you all."


The group returned to the cathedral at the appointed time, taking the underground and bringing nothing but the casual street clothes on their back. Genrikh and Oleg had kept their distance after the meeting with Konstantin, though Tamara had been her chatty herself. It was early in the evening, but the district showed little sign of activity with the sun down. The cathedral was too bright, too iconically Russian to look threatening the way a Latin gothic structure would have, but it seemed as abandoned as the rest of the historical city. Without tourists around, most of the small business owners saw no need to stay open late, and the curfew limited the hours of those who remained open anyway. It was long before the curfew was enforced, but most people stayed home earlier than it required, anyway, out of fear.

Inside the cathedral was another matter. They found it brimming with a number of priests and nuns, all of whom seemed to be weirdly on edge. Konstantin was waiting near the entrance to greet them, pre-emptively thrust them a small suitcase from two separately maintained, now rather small piles. They were cheap plastic, with a rudimentary lock, the sort of mass-produced articles used by the extremely budget conscious. "Change in the storage rooms, they're off from the west wing entrance, those doors over there.' He pointed helpfully at a set of small doors blending into the background of the wall. "You will be disguised as clergy and leaving orbit on a ship owned by the Church. The authorities will not search thoroughly. Now hurry, we must get to the spaceport within the hour before the curfew begins!"

"Of course," Theophania answered at once in obedience of the order, guiding Lida along with the rest of the group toward the west wing where they could change as had been indicated. Inside, of course, for Sophia it was another matter entirely.

The passage across the aisle led into a sparsely lit interior corridor, with two storage areas linked across parallel to each other. This was where the mundane cleaning supplies and other secular bulk goods were maintained, as were the wine casks and flour for the Eucharist kept. One of the storerooms had a crudely drawn paper outline of a nun attached to its front with tape. It was evident then which room was intended to allow women privacy to change.

That is a rather brilliant plot on their part, though I hope Bedrich is leaning harder than that on his security forces even in the case of priests. Not like it matters. No telepaths here, you agree with that, yes?

You'd be better at telling than I would, Lida answered. But I do concur.

Strangely pleasant to be wearing a crucifix on a mission again, Sophia mused. It was rather a cheap one, but necessary to avoid nuns that looked distinctly odd, and actually was a relief. Regardless they didn't have much to worry about as they both fully dressed in the new clothes.

Lida was more scared, but that fit; Theophania was clearly the more fanatical of the two, and her calm disposition as she finished dressing was aided by actually being so religious that she was quite familiar with how nuns appropriately acted... But the discomfort with wearing a habit when it was not warranted was entirely absent on account of her professionalism, which was a good point--anything else would be suspicious. It did explain the complete lack of possessions, but in part due to having to leave truly everything behind, Theophania was also slightly concerned about Tamara's behaviour in the circumstances, so she turned to the Rus girl and spoke as they finished dressing.

"You must remember to be quiet and modest in your disposition," she offered. "Anything else would seem out of sorts."

Tamara looked a little pale, even shivering a bit as she changed into the disguise. "I, I understand," she replied. "It just... it's so very real now. It was just, i mean, Genrikh was right but we hadn't really done anything before now, and it was scary when we were detained, but it was exciting and nothing happened. And now I'm leaving Rzhev without telling anyone where I'm going and when can I come back, I don't know?" Traces of tears were welling up in the corner of her eyes, and she fought it under the guise of removing her makeup with a towel. "I'm scared," she finally whimpered.

"You'll come back as a heroine when Rzhev and all Vladimir is liberated," Theophania offered in quietly confident reassurance. "Now you begin the life of a revolutionary, such as it is, and now I suppose it hits home precisely what that means. Be strong, though. This is your chance at liberty. And under a State of Siege you could be shot for conspiracy right now anyway, so it's not like you're taking any risk by fleeing. Quite the contrary... ...It's the only way you have to avoid the gallows, Tamara. So stiffen up and remember that though it's a hard road it's one of victory and, dare I say it, a little romance? We'll make it off world just fine, I'm sure of it, and then you'll be safe again."

She blotted her eyes again an put the towel down, her eyes a little puffy. "Thank you, thank you. You're right, I have to go. I feel better." She stopped shaking afterward, and managed to put on the disguise without further trouble, but anyone looking at her could tell she her nerves were still taut.

The ladies emerged dressed as nuns, and followed Genrikh and Oleg back out into the cathedral proper. The milling figures, probably twenty "priests" without counting Konstantin, and eight nuns, had already organized themselves into two distinct groups. They followed, and Konstantin addressed them about the plan. There were two small buses outside, one for men and one for women, that would conduct them to a private hub at the spaceport. Their identity papers would be disbursed there, and they would board the transport vessel Bezmjatezhnost which would ostensibly be taking the group to Novo Apraxin system, the priests for scheduled assignments to parishes there and the nuns to a new monastery.

In reality they would transfer aboard a privateer ship for transit to New Kiev once the Serenity had reached interstellar space, and the transport would be written off as the victim of a pirate attack. Once at New Kiev they would be under the orders of the exiled government there, or, as he pointedly put it, the "misguided clique of godless" led by Abernath Fisher.

After that final briefing they boarded the busses, segregated by gender. These were older, somewhat run-down people-movers, though the ride was as smooth as with any functioning countergrav vehicle. They hit a roadblock on the exit leading to the spaceport, but the constables manning it simply let them through after the most cursory of visual inspections. Even during a state of siege, no one wanted to offend the Church and the security services were not devoid of the general Imperial respect for clergy. The disaffected pro-Byzantine priests within the Greek Catholic hierarchy were aware of such factors and as the situation clearly showed prepared to exploit it. Thus it was barely a thirty minute drive until the buses had pulled into the private hub reserved for Church vessels and the Rus refugees began unloading.

Out of the door came a pair of gendarmes escorting a spaceport inspector. The inspector, a stocky, officious looking man in civil service uniform, visibly scanned the rows of priests and nuns looking for whoever was in authority with them. Konstantin stepped forward to represent the group. "Good evening, sir. We are here for the scheduled departure to Novo Apraxin, with expedited release priority assigned by the planetary governor's office. Surely you have been notified?"

"I have," the official confirmed. "Still, the forms are the forms and regulations are regulations. Under the State of Siege I'm to inspect your transit papers personally to insure there are no stowaways or smuggling. I'll try and be quick as possible."

Konstantin nodded. "Thank you, my son." In truth it was irritating but they had prepared for the eventuality. "Brothers, Sisters, please form a line and allow the good inspector to check your individual travel papers. He is merely doing his job and we surely do not wish for the schismatics to gain an advantage." He managed to speak entirely without irony.

Sophia and Lida of course got up in line politely with all the others and waited as the inspector moved along the line, talking with each one in turn and asking them questions... Sophia made sure that she was in front of both Lida and Tamara as they'd gotten up, and the rest was just patiently waiting as the official checked the papers and, as he felt necessary, queried their holders. She did not think him greatly suspicious of the group but clearly the tension in the moment was evident in the air, and for a good inspector that might be enough to demand further checks. But she first reached out, and very tentatively touched his mind, scanning, considering to make sure he was sound and honest in his duties, not himself part of the enemy.

Satisfied with that very gentle touch, she waited until he arrived before her, so that any reaction of surprise on his part would be masked by his inspecting her own documents, and then reached out more strongly with her powers. Inspector, you will let this entire group through. I am called Cardinal, an agent of the Evidenzburo, and clearing them with the normal hassle is crucial to Evidenzburo operations. Furthermore you must inform Unteranalytiker Bedrich of the Evidenzburo and him alone that Agent Cardinal has successfully penetrated an enemy rat-line. You will use the pass-phrase blue dog running for the Evidenzburo headquarters to take your request seriously. Pray for us, Inspector.

His initial response at the sudden and unexpected intrusion in his mind was panic, then disbelief. He seemed on the verge of asking her questions, but then suddenly shook his head and handed the papers back to "Theophania." A call to the Evidenzburo would clear things up quickly, and in the meantime the group would not go anywhere. He frowned as he continued down the line, and the sudden change in his mood was enough to attract Konstantin's attention.

"Is everything in order, Inspector?" The priest inquired as the official reached the end of the line, and though his voice hid it the thin ring of sweat developing on his forehead betrayed his tension.

The government official shook his head. "Nothing as such, but there seems to be a scheduling error conflicting with another liftoff in this sector that I was informed about just now by comms-link. I need to contact my superiors and clear this up. Please, do not move from this area." To accentuate the request he left the armed gendarmes outside when he returned back into the building.

When he returned ten minutes later his expression was unreadable, but he cleared the entire group through without further delays. Konstantin sent up a private prayer of thanks to God. Loading the transport at least was straightforward, there was plenty of room and no one had anything in the way of excess luggage. Getting everyone settled in their rooms took longer, but the transport was spacious enough to allow everyone their own small quarters and there were several common areas for recreation. It was not an ostentatious vessel by any means, but neither did it exalt the sacred virtues of austerity and asceticism.

The room Sophia was assigned was identical to those of all the others. There was a bed fashioned up along the wall, and a desk with a virtual computer and small holo display unit on it. An open bathroom with the tiny spacer's shower would allow her to stay in the room for everything but food and laundry, if she so desired. There was also a closet, but it was small and empty; with any luck it would only be a couple of days before the handoff to the ship running them to New Kiev. On the downside there was very little room for visitors, which meant that Lida was sitting on the bed with her, the other choice being the rather uncomfortable desk chair or the bare metallic floor.

"Well, it's very nice that we've gotten away," Sophia offered first, casually. She'd already gone through the room for bugs and, without electrical monitoring equipment was as sure as she could be that there would be none. The prudish Rus certainly wouldn't put video cameras in the quarters of women anyway. Radio bugs were more of a concern. There was a distinct degree of boredom involved in being there, though.... It was irritating to not have anything to read.

You've succeeded marvelously, you know, Lida, she offered more encouragingly. And so far, there was a bit of teasing amusement, We haven't had to fall back to our own last-ditch false cover. Which of course involved 'admitting' they were lovers. As usual Sophia found it best to throw people a bone—when they were suspicious, they thought you were hiding something… Tell them that you are. If possible the worst thing possible which wouldn’t threaten the mission, like being a whore or a sapphist. The later, in this case.

Atheism is bad enough with them, Lida replied. We have been fortunate so far, thank God. And hopefully we will continue to be so. Though, and there was a faint hint of a smile on her lips, I understand in the dissolute Alliance this would be some kind of fantasy for men. And maybe for a few Calvinists here.

Oleg would probably be the least bothered, Sophia answered with a sly smirk on her lips in reply. I honestly suspect that he's probably going to, first thing he can, try to sleep with me because of course as an atheist belter I'll say yes to anything with a pulse. The mental words were accompanied with a slightly dramatic hand gesture of extravagance.

I doubt there are many men who wouldn't try to sleep with you if they had the chance. Like her last boyfriend, the cheating bastard. I'm concerned about what will happen when we transfer over to a new ship. There can't be many that have the location for New Kiev, and most of them appear to be smugglers or pirates. And once we do get to the planet, what will we be faced with?

A world of schimastic revanchists... God knows. We'll probably run into Doctor Fisher himself. My plan is to propose to him my proposal to send us to the Alliance, and convince him to do it. And he should send us down the same rat-line the grenades and other materials came up through, when I convince him, letting us unroll it perfectly. Depending on how things go I think we might yet end up walking into our embassy in the Alliance capitol as an end to this mission. Depending on how much AID involvement there is, it might be some months. A pause, more uncomfortable. If the pirates are suspicious of us they might make.. Demands against us. Or simply because we're atheists. Or if they do suspect we're a sapphist couple. I'll deal with them, whatever they may be.

Lida looked rather uncomfortable, and felt an icy chill descend over her. You... I pray that won't be necessary. It's so much to ask, and it's not like I'm a virgin. We could just find one of the stronger members of the crew, if it came to that. Better than... something little short of gang-rape. She wasn’t prepared to leave Sophia alone in those circumstances even as the thoughts left her utterly queasy.

If it's necessary for the mission. But it's very unlikely, Lida. And regardless, I am going to try and deal with them first. Even in that. You know I'm a telempath, not a normal telepath. I don't suffer emotional trauma from being raped because I simply experience whatever a partner is experiencing. Thus, it's never happened to me on a mission, since I always consented rather than make a fuss over it. Like I said back on Dvonomir, the Empire pays me to be a whore. Not so much you. With all of this said, though, I think that Yeremeyev's men fancy themselves privateers and will, even seeing us Desrolinists, abstain from making.. unreasonable demands against our virtue.

That's true she conceded. We've never had reports of him or his taking liberties with female captives. And we are "allies" after all, but they are rough spacers outside of the law. I'm trying not to be nervous or scared, though we really are heading into a lion's den...

Well. We'll see what the Lion's Den is like soon enough. We have God to trust, after all, and far more surely than these self-righteous schismastics. Sophia smiled, and reached out to hug her companion tightly, in a gesture as thoroughly devoid now of anything more than sisterly compassion, as her abilities allowed her to lace it without hesitation with romantic overtones.
Last edited by The Duchess of Zeon on 2012-05-31 02:16pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: (TGG) The Cardinal Files: An Inside Job.

Post by The Duchess of Zeon »

Chapter Thirteen: It’s my life…!

By Marina and Chris Purnell.

Privateer Grom Pobedy,
Deep Space.

The overlay of hyperspace and real-space made transitioning outside of a gravity well relatively easy, and less demanding on the hyperspace engines. Setting up a meeting between vessels in the formless void was largely a matter of agreeing on the same set of coordinates, though it was still a rare choice to do so among space farers. In almost every case the preferred course was to simply transit through hyperspace for the entire voyage, and make any transfers of people or equipment in the outer system, or even to wait until orbit around a gravity anchor could be achieved.

The lack of any frame of reference from a solar system was mildly disturbing, and if anything went wrong there would be no one around to help. If the FTL comms system went down, the risk of being marooned forever came up, and even if no one had ever recorded a case where such a thing was suspected of happening the space-going communities naturally dreaded the prospect. A disabled starship would be impossible to detect among the vastness of interstellar space if it could not call for help. But for desperate people engaged in criminal enterprises, that anonymity was a comforting shield.

With its Anderson Field engaged the Serenity was effectively invisible against the backdrop of stars. Only a patch of darkness darker than black blotching out the stars behind it gave a visual clue as to its location. The privateer cruiser merely eight hundred kilometers distant was likewise all but invisible to the naked eye, which led to the startling spectacle of the transferring shuttles appearing to come out of nowhere and disappear suddenly. Electronic sensors would have pinpointed both ships out as equally well as if their fields had been fiery orange. But it was unsettling enough to eyes not long-used to space travel so as to encourage the shuttle crews to turn off the video feed to their passangers. That made for a rather tedious flight for the subversives being sent over, but if the rather taciturn regular crew was concerned they hid it well. If anyone noticed those same crew evidenced accents from all over the sector, and quite a few from far beyond it, they likewise did not find reason to comment about it.

Sophia and Lida went together aboard one of the earlier shuttles over to the privateer vessel. The pirates in charge of loading boasted only assorted jumpsuits as far as uniforms, customized with flourishes and patches of no coherent pattern. The only constant was that they were armed to the teeth with blades and multiple plasma pistols, and evidenced a surly attitude toward their new "guests." The reception over at the cruiser was cursory; one of the mates, distinguished from the rest of the crew only by means of a rank patch hastily sewn on his jumpsuit, had welcomed them to the "Great Rus vessel Grom Pobedy" and left it to underlings to sort out the arrivals from Vladimir. After that was finished they were broken down into new roommate groups and conveyed over to their new quarters. Women were singled out for leers, catcalls, and even the odd rude gesture or suggestion from passing pirates but the ship's complement was disciplined enough that the advances were largely remote and not overly aggressive.

In those conditions Sophia was quite happy to find herself, Lida, Tamara, and a girl named Ludmila all tossed in the same room and promptly left alone, save curosry instructions of where the galley was. Sophia took advantage of those instructions herself the moment they were allowed to leave their quarters, and with the cheap crucifixes they’d all be given, proceeded to barter their way into a couple of the crewers’ spare sets of clothes outside of their regular duty jumpsuits, and a book. This happily done with plenty of outrageous flirtation and a fair number of gropes permitted—the men had, feeling her up pretty much everywhere they could, nonetheless backed down from pushing her into sex after she’d flirted so openly with them on the danger of the fact that (exactly as she’d intended) any man claiming her would have provoked a fight with pretty much the rest of the off-duty crew—she returned to their quarters with plenty of hot tea and enough clothes to get them all out of the obnoxious nuns’ habits which she could not really stand wearing. It was really one of the more boring things she’d done so far on the assignment, short of just sitting around with Lida trying not to eat her own hair for amusement.

Theophania, Lida, Tamara, and a girl—whose full name turned out to be Ludmila Sokolov—organized their quarters fairly equitably, with two bunkbeads available: Tamara and Ludmila on one side and Lida and Theophania naturally taking the other side, with Theophania, being so small, volunteering to take the bottom. Theophania in particular looked distinctly odd in ill-fitting synthleather pants and a flannel shirt she’d ended up choosing out of the clothes that she’d traded for, but seemed more comfortable than in the habit, though regardless she was still wearing the same bra--nobody with her kind of cleavage could get away without one.

The paperback copy of a Russian novel someone had had was the greatest asset. It had not surprised Sophia that she’d managed to acquire it, since at least culturally among Russians most were highly literate and so even the likes of this trashy privateer's crew had proved to have some kind of reading material. Reading Mokotov was considerably improving her own toleration for the sheer boredom so far due to the lack of any computer access privileges or reading materials, and she was entertaining Lida with a fairly animated retelling, which Tamara had listened to for a while before engaging Ludmila in more idle chatter about life back on Vladimir, Ludmila herself, a bit more intellectual than Tamara, distracted between the two.

Breakfast, a hearty set of biscuits laid out with what Sophia suspected was some kind of fish gravy, had been filling but not exactly haute-cuisine. It had at least passed away the morning, and now they were back to reading and idle chatter. Insomuch as they were all content with each other, however, there was no doubt. The first day had passed into the second in this fashion, and a while before, Tamara had at least volunteered to get another teapot from the galley and bring it back, which was hot and also a considerable benefit in passing the time until they were tired enough to sleep as they raced toward New Kiev. And of course from time to time telepathic comments between Lida and Sophia kept the two engaged, amused, and reassured by each other's company.

There was a knock on the door, at first a short rap, growing more insistent. Tamara, closest nearby, opened it and stepped back when confronted by the form of the priest Konstantin, whose surname it turned out had been Radimov. He nodded politely to the young woman before lifting his eyes further into the room, fixing on Theophania and Lida. "I need to speak with Miss Ritzahk and Miss Alilova, now." It was clear he was not making a request.

Theophania looked up without blinking and set the book aside as she pulled herself up from the bed, casually putting her cup of tea back. Above, Lida pushed herself up to find her chilling fear soothed away with an injection of calm from Theophania's mind that let her face the demand with equal calmness.

"Comrade Radimov?” She intentionally used a Desrolinist form of address to remind the priest of the fact that he had a responsibility to his allies for their safekeeping. "What do you need us for?"

That seemed to set something in Konstantin's mind, and he looked rather critically at Theophania. "I have responsibilities to everyone on this vessel, including your roommates. Now that I have had the time to think back on our first meeting, I am dissatisfied with something. You were able to answer eloquently through your misguided view of the world, the reasons for your participation in struggle against the Empire. Your friend, Lida, was not. They were simply meaningless phrases intended to obfuscate, not really believed. No, her reason for being here is that you are here, isn't it?"

"Yes it is, Comrade." Theophania answered levelly, and didn't even blink. "I was trying to be polite around your sensibilities, since being a Desrolinist does not automatically make one a boor." The last bit was touched with a hair of sarcasm, naturally, for Sophia herself couldn’t help it.

"So, you admit your depravity?" The priest looked repulsed but unsurprised. Tamara seemed confused, though Ludmilla's brow was creased as she already began putting it together.

"Yes, allowing for the moment your right to call it such. Why do you think we have volunteered for what is honestly a virtually suicidal attempt to escape through the gates to the Alliance and put our talent to use in whipping their public opinion against the Empire? We would neither be happy nor welcome on New Kiev in any circumstance. We shall either escape, at which point our heroic tale of escape will be all the richer for our romance in the eyes of the Alliance, who you must admit we really need help from to make progress now, since homosexuality," and the use of the word itself was telling, if scarcely unheard from a Desrolinist, "Is considered a human right there. It is the perfect propaganda to move their populace toward a harsher line against the Empire. And if we like as not die trying to escape, well," she shrugged laconically. "Better the smallest chance at freedom than to live as repressed slaves."

The priest was unimpressed by her spirited defense, and now let his anger show. "All of that lofty rhetoric to hide that you are simply a pervert! Your freedom is only the freedom to practice your immorality without being reminded of God's word, not the means to live the truth. There is nothing noble or honorable about your selfish deception, and the indulgence of carnal lust without restraint. I will not allow you to dishonor the rest of the ship with your licentiousness, at the least. I am going to the captain to have you reassigned elsewhere, so you will not taint the purity of the Rus."

"I hardly go around sleeping with every woman I see," Theophania answered with a bit of tired frustration in her voice. "And I can die as well as you can, and in service of nobler causes than even my own love. All of my words about belter independence were, I assure you, quite sincere. But whatever; I doubt they teach priests these days about the Sacred Band of Thebes. C'mon, Lida, we'll go see the Captain with the Father here."

"Yeah, no problem, Theo," Lida answered as she hopped down from the upper bunk, Sophia's gentle telepathic instruction encouraging her in the right direction and overcoming her own embarrassment, and showing more of her 'actual' temperment as Theophania's lover. "I'd take a storage locker at this point."

"Perhaps that should be arranged," the priest said with real violence. "Let us go, yes. Ludmila, Tamara, I hope these sapphists have not corrupted you. Remember the strength of the true Church and the salvation of the Lord...”


The captain of the vessel was none other than Pavel Yeremeyev, pirate scourge of the sector, and he was none to happy to see them. Standing up in his lair he was an imposing figure, with a savage looking, bushy brown beard framing a face marked by several angry looking scars and eyes that seemed to recede into his face like gunports. His small personal office was devoid of any softening touches that might have made visitors more welcome, an obvious attempt at intimidation from the pirate warlord. And he was pissed about being asked to take notice of the civilians he had brought aboard his ship. "Priest or not, this had better be damned important to justify my time," he growled.

"It is," the clergyman avowed, and speared a look at the two women beside him. "These women are engaged in unnatural congress and pose a moral threat to the crew, the Great Rus freedom forces, and their roommates. I strongly urge you to make some isolated space available to them so as to keep their perversions from corrupting others."

"A moral threat to my crew?" Yeremeyev looked skeptically at the women, after stifling his urge to laugh. "Alright, what do you have to say for yourselves?"

Theophania regarded the Captain for a moment, and then smiled cleverly. "I am not going to make a fuss about things. Just let us remain together at all times, and I'll consent without complaint to Doctor Fisher or the other authorities over me in the independence struggle, to whatever accommodations you have planned. I am a belter, and I can squeeze into tight spaces as required. I offer no defence, and simply ask you keep us together and toss us somewhere we can sleep, eat, and be warm until we get New Kiev. If the Father Radimov does not want us around the Rus, then by all means, we leave it to your discretion to put us elsewhere, Captain."

"Like I have the fucking time to worry about this," he said, obviously disgusted at the situation. "There's nowhere else to put them away from the crew. And if a couple of balaklava plucking cunt slurpers,” the Captain outright dropped into ‘mat and the obscene allusion to female masturbation to intentionally goad the priest for wasting his time, “are going to tempt away their roommates into becoming zherebila with all my men around it was a lost cause anyway. They'll stay where they are and you'll quit bothering me about petty garbage like this."

Father Radimov looked aghast at the abrupt and vile dismissal of his concerns, and dared to press on anyway despite the clear warning. "Captain Yeremeyev, you are the torch of Rus freedom! Only God can bring our struggle to victory, and we must obey His laws. Allowing these... women free reign among our pious virgins is allowing Satan free reign. Agreements be damned, all of natural law and morality demand we isolate and shun these perverts."

‘Theophania’ and Lida remained quiet, for Sophia had already clearly elucidated their position; they simply didn't care, and the best way to please the Captain at the moment, it seemed, would be to shut up and let the priest talk himself into trouble rather than trying to do it for him. At that point, Yeremeyev might actively side against them. As it was, they just patiently waited.

"You are a guest aboard my ship, Father. You do not give orders or make demands." Yeremeyev settled down in a chair, pulling out the perscom he was using to scan through the quartermaster's report. "You are dismissed."

The priest gritted his teeth and spun around on his heels, striding out angrily. "I will protect the spiritual welfare of Tamara and Ludmilla," he promised. And would write an ugly report to the Great Rus admiralty about Yeremeyev's moral failings.

The Captain merely watched the priest leave, and snorted. It had been six years since his last confession, and at this rate it was going to be seven. But that left the women. "Don't cause trouble on my ship," he cautioned them bluntly. "And it sounds like you both need a real man. Fortunately there are plenty here, even if they are admittedly in short supply back on Vladimir.” The comment was particularly biting.

Theophania laughed merrily, and saw, if she struck while the iron was hot, the perfect opportunity looming before her. "Why, thank you, Captain. But I am a belter and I'm not unfamiliar with men, either. Promise." The look was downright saucy, and Sophia could certainly do that very well. ¨As for Lida, well, I'm extremely fond of her and I'm just worried about making sure that she's left alone."

Sophia's saucy forwardness startled Lida enough, even now, to add rather delicately, and distinctly wallflowerish, but still very conscious of the roll she was to play: ¨I really, truly don't mind what she does, Captain, she's all my life to me. Thank you so much for treating us fairly, which is all we could want." Of the two it was clear that the one who would be interesting in bed was Theophania the Belter, and that had been Sophia's point.

Pavel caught the look, his lip turning upward in response. "My crew are no gentlemen but they know their limits. You will not have to worry about it going too far with her.” His gazed bored in on Theophania in particular as he continued with a hint of something more in his voice. “But perhaps we should discuss this together a bit later?" Belter women were always fun, and it had been a while since he had last had a good fuck.

¨Why, certainly, Captain. I wouldn’t wish to trouble you at all, so let's meet later?" Theophania answered with a look that suggested that though she indeed did not want to trouble the Captain, she was thoroughly prepared to do other things to him. ¨And thank you again for your kindness."

He shrugged. "I'm too busy to attend to a priest's delicate feelings," he said, somewhat contemptuously. "I shall call for you later tonight for that discussion. Enjoy your stay on my little pleasure cruise, in the mean time."

¨Thank you!" Theophania answered with a brilliantly salacious tone as she turned and led the two out at once.. Making sure to lend a bit of a sashay to her back as she did. Sophia fully understand just how useful being Yeremeyev's mistress could be if she could manage to achieve it. Particularly including access to the ship's secure systems so that they could find out the astrographic coordinates of New Kiev, which was the second most important task appointed to her...

Best possible outcome, Sophia offered to her countepart decisively. Pavel is going to definitely sleep with me, and then I'll be the Captain's Woman and my saying you're off-limits will be as good as making it so. Also will give me access to secured areas, and suggesting to him that he should remain asleep for a bit mentally will be more than sufficient to give me a few minutes in the computers. No worries anymore. She was smiling triumphantly as they headed back down to their quarters, her only concern being that she expected to probably find Father Radimov in their quarters haranguing Ludmila and Tamara about how they could avoid the temptation of sapphism.

It's just the break we needed she concurred. And she gave a unthought thanks that no demonstration was needed now. It may offer us some advantage on New Kiev as well. Yeremeyev is a popular figure among the Rus, a sort of romantic bandit like, oh, Wilhelm Tell. If he vouches for us that may let us avoid any intrusive scrutiny from their side.

Quite. I got a fairly good read on him there and he's clearly not the sort to care of his woman has a pet of her own, finds the idea amusing actually. Other men are cause for killing in his mind, but women? That's just an amusement, particularly considering the belter reputation. But it's not like we're going to be under regular surveillance and he'd probably prefer we don't publically show any affection for each other, anyway, which provides an excellent excuse for to not do so. Worst thing we'll have to do is sleep in the same bed when I'm not with Yeremeyev but we might expect someone to show up. That will be useful if we're on New Kiev for a while. On the other hand I fully expect to catch an earfull from Konstantin the moment we get back to our quarters...

Enduring that without laughing will be the real challenge. Is he ever, they say, barking up the wrong tree…. Yeesh, I mean, it seems like Rus priests have something especially against sapphism and sodomy, almost an obsession. But well and good there.

Aye, it is pretty much like an obsession—and that too, Sophia agreed, and then, arriving at the door to their quarters... hesitantly pressed it open.

"And here are the sodomites returning," Konstantin said loudly, as soon as they entered the room. Tamara and Ludmila were sitting quietly and obviously distressed on the lower bunk facing the door, having already heard a fair bit of the priest's harangue. "Do not allow them to try your belief. If you love God, then you must resist and shun their vile sin. Your very souls are at stake, and though it is unfair to place you in a room with this measure of perversion, faith in the Lord will allow you to resist all temptation."

Oh dear God, Sophia did giggle, but only mentally. ¨Hi Tamara," she promptly offered, pointedly ignoring Konstantin. ¨I'm very sorry this silliness has come up." She ducked into her own bunk and felt the tea pot. Naturally it was lukewarm by now, and with a quiet sigh she went to pick up the book, Lida deciding for sake of politeness to return to the upper bunk and not make a show of sitting next to Theophania.

That seemed to infuriate the priest, and he rounded on the two women. "Your foul surrender to base lust is accompanied as always by deception. Trust them not if you value the crown of salvation awarded by God's sacrifice." He looked back at the other two girls, who seemed visibly intimidated, before scowling and storming out.

"Um, hi Theophania," Tamara replied after Konstantin had departed, a little meekly. "The Father said a lot of nasty things about you two. Do you uhm, really... you know, like he said?" Sapphism was another new concept for the girl, and she was still trying to wrap her head around it.

"Well, I am a belter," Theophania answered back flippantly. "The Answer is Yes, we are lovers. But one girlfriend is enough for the both of us," she added with a trace of amusement. "The basic flaw with priests is that they assume that if you commit one sin you're interested in committing all of them. Are you interested in sleeping with me? If the answer is no, then I'm not interested in sleeping with you, either. Promise."

"Double for me," Lida spoke up. "I'm only interested in Theo, period." It was still amusing to say that, and a relief that nothing more than a closeness in affection would be required to reliably convince outside observers of the validity of their ´relationship´. And they had as telepaths who were opening their minds to each other pretty much established that already, just on a platonic level.

"Wouldn't it be boring without a pe..." Tamara suddenly shut her mouth and looked flushed as she realized what she was impulsively asking. Beside her, Ludmila seemed hard-pressed to stifle her giggling.

Sophia couldn't help but grin rather impishly even as Lida was nearly as embarrassedly amused as Ludmilla. She rather innocently raised the fingers of her right hand and waggled them for a moment before diving back into the bunk and hiding, with precious little maturity evident. It was certainly good for relieving stress, and… "That's all the answer you're getting!"

Tamara looked away embarrassed as the giggling continued on, though she joined in as she did. "But you seem like good people," she finally concluded. And they hadn't tried to seduce her, that was clear. "Konstantin's going to be watching anyway. So I think we're safe, Ludmila." It was mostly said to reassure herself.

“Yeah, I think we don't have to worry about that, whatever the good Father thinks,” Ludmila agreed… And that was pretty much that.

“Thank you." Sophia laid back in her bunk and rubbed her eyes. "Between my dearest Lida up there and Captain Yeremeyev I'd be much too busy to even contemplate someone else, anyway. He invited me to meet him to talk about this more this evening and I know exactly what he wants."

Lida rolled her eyes theatrically. "I know I've said before that I'm only jealous of other women, but do you have to boast about it, my irrepressible belter?" Sophia did have a particularly theatrical approach to this at times and Lida had figured out she couldn’t sometimes help promoting herself.

"You caught Captain Yeremeyev's eye?!" Tamara nearly squealed, and even Ludmila looked frankly jealous. "He's so handsome and intense, brave and just utterly manly. If I didn't have Genrikh, and..." she trailed off, but leaving little doubt as to what she would do for the Captain.

"That's cheating," ‘Mila objected, almost entirely humorously. Almost. "You can't have both men and women!" Well, apparently belters could and did but it still seemed vaguely unfair; especially because it was Yeremeyev.

"Captain Yeremeyev seems to think it isn't!" A pillow reinforced the point from Theophania, as inside, Sophia was filled with a ridiculously mirthful delight for someone in her position. The completely absurdist fashion in which she’d convinced the Rus that she was a sincere anti-Imperial and Desrolinist was somewhat infectious, and Pavel Yeremeyev, she could already tell, would be one of the more interesting men she’d ever had the opportunity to sleep with. Now, undercover and cut off from contact with the Empire, thoughts of sin and propriety were gone entirely. There was just the mission and the moment, and the later was Yeremeyev. Her thoughts about him and the impending events of the evening ended up as completely uninhibited as she proved herself to be when she was again summoned to meet with the Rus privateer… In private.
Last edited by The Duchess of Zeon on 2012-05-31 02:17pm, edited 1 time in total.
The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth. -- Wikipedia's No Original Research policy page.

In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.
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Re: (TGG) The Cardinal Files: An Inside Job.

Post by The Duchess of Zeon »

Chapter Fourteen: Rusting glory and snowed-in dreams.

By Marina and Chris Purnell.

In orbit of New Kiev,
In the remnant territory of the Great Rus.

Six days on from the transfer they had arrived at New Kiev at last, and the idea of being the first one from the Empire--truly from the Empire, not a treason--to see an Outlander world brought a perk of excitement to Sophia, though she had done it before. Even been raised on one herself, which was a rather less pleasant memory altogether, the way that things went. But these memories were rather far from her mind.

The past five nights had been spent with Pavel Yeremeyev and she had been desperately intent on pleasing him, perhaps even more than usual. For one he was a seductively good, powerful and virile lover in his own right; on the second, he was vitally important to her mission, and the two were conveniently not mutually exclusive. This left her relishing every moment with him for some very strangely crosswise reasons. But every second of it was worthwhile, and she had thoroughly won him with a skill in bed that he doubtless didn't realize was founded on a power whose purpose and origination still lurked deeply in the back of her mind, the memory of the last mission for the Evidenzburo that she had embarked upon. Her kind had been, it seemed, engineered aeons ago to please the powerful and sadistic; but now it was her who could use the power to control. And she'd been doing so for half a century before she'd learned that.

It was as natural as breathing, and so was the consciously scummy way she dressed, a tanktop pulled over a bra revealing plenty of those ample curves and all of that over a pair of trousers several sizes too large that she'd just yanked up midway on her stomach and firmly belted in place. The barely five foot tall Sophia Vuletic was not precisely someone who any of the tough men aboard the Grom Pobedy would have clothes available for. In its own way, though, it just made her all the power desirable, particularly to Pavel who knew precisely what she looked like when she was undressed, and for the casual violation of all Imperial norms that it represented.

Every single movement of her body was calibrated to enhance, to the very limit, the idea of unrestrained, animalistic female sexual lust, in short to remind them that she was an atheist belter and therefore a wild animal in the body of an attractive woman, in the worst and most debasing way that the belters would be protrayed by the crude dregs on the edge of civilized society. And most importantly, that vibrant female sexual energy was all Pavel's. And he loved the knowledge of knowing she, and all she was, was in her grasp. She played the part without restrain, or limit, her wavy hair piling on top of each other in layers of waves down her back as she sashayed onto the bridge and flaunted the fullness of her body's lush curves even as she aimed herself straight for the Captain's chair and Yeremeyev. She needed no permission, already, to do that.

And even in a set of clothes so limited as a white tank top which was intended to be underclothes, not the only thing except a bra worn on a more modest woman to boot; and denims, well.... She'd pulled them tight enough, and her curves were ample enough, to nicely compensate for the bagginess, and indeed that just seemed to add to the intensity of her features. "We're almost there, Pavel?" She asked in that sweet soprano that came from the distressingly youthful features of her face. As always, she was not just gifted with a body worthy of a sacred prostitute, but she looked like a teenager whose curves had grown up a bit too fast, just heightening the appeal.

Lida had managed to play at respectfully restrained acceptance of a male to share her lover with, tinged with a faint hint of bemused regret that she would never quite have Theophania to herself, as she'd wryly admitted to Ludmila and Tamara. And that casual promiscuity and refusal--in a woman!--to accept merely a single partner, coupled with an appearance and demeanour which made even Pavel Yeremeyev seem to accept it without complaint--though doubtless only because Theophania's other lover was also a woman--heightened the sense of outrageous desire around her.

As her wanton behaviour peaked with Yeremeyev's approval and she played up every moment to the utmost, she had not merely left Lida supposedly wistful, and every one of the women refugees jealous, but it had infuriated Konstantin to the point that he had locked himself in his quarters and started fasting, which left the two couple to laugh in mocking glee. Not so much now, though: They were arriving at New Kiev, after all.

Pavel grinned with undisguised delight and lust as his woman settled into his lap, her curves already beginning to provoke a reaction from the contact. He certainly had enough restraint to avoid acting on it right away, but he was already keenly anticipating their next bout of sex. "We are waiting to be cleared for orbit, maybe another hour," he answered her question, even as he began running a hand along the tight fabric covering her thigh. "It is crowded here, thanks to all those relics out there and the lack of proper transfer station."

Sophia could see what he meant, thanks to a battered but still highly operational holotank taken as a trophy from some poor unfortunate vessel. It was hooked up to the front of the bridge, and displayed the usual marble of blue and white and brown that marked readily habitable worlds throughout human space. Tracking symbols marked the proliferation of vessels already orbiting around, and the rather inadequate civilian transfer station that so slowed down getting to and from the planet's surface. The "relics" Yeremeyev referred to, she knew from past snippets of talk to be the two squadrons of battleships that made up the remaining striking power of the Great Rus Navy, all of them heavily obsolete and only spottily upgraded thanks to a lack of facilities to handle more than basic maintenance.

"Sixteen battleships?" Theophania observed as she wriggled enticingly in Yeremeyev's lap. "Well, I suppose it isn't that bad of a fleet. They're even fairly large for battleships. They'd barely be able to hold their own against even just a single sector fleet, though," she added rather more grimly, but then relaxed back into Pavel once more. "It does look like a rather miserable orbital setup, though. You shouldn't have gotten rid of your belters," she added in a chiding way, but clearly her second meaning was apparent from the way she moved when she said it.

"I am beginning to see many advantages to having some around," he laughed, with the crew in earshot joining. "It was a rude colony world when Vladimir fell, lacking the infrastructure to support as many of the relics as escaped. And they brought plenty of cowards and idiots with them to the world." He seemed ready to spit at the thought of certain of the emigres who yet maintained power and influence on New Kiev.

"Well, you have made a life for yourselves nonetheless," Theophania sighed softly, settling low enough in Yeremeyev's lap to look upwards toward him with a rather beatific smile on her face. "Is New Kiev still mostly pastoral, Pavel...?"

"Da, there's lot of good farmland around the equator of Halych and we produce abundance of everything. But I prefer the wilderness of the northern regions, where I have my dacha. Introduced evergreens covering enormous regions, stocked with game and predators to test wits and strength against, blanketed in pure white snow." He smiled fondly, recalling home. "Even the capital is up north, along the Irutyush river, where one can only be constantly reminded of our ancient homeland. If only the climate alone really bred hardiness..."

"If it did," Theophania answered with a trace of wistful humour, "I could breathe vacuum."

That seemed to crystallize something in Yeremeyev's mind, as Theophania felt his body become a little more rigid, as if coiling for action. "I'm going to show you the dacha. My lands, where I call home. That's something better to do than waiting for traffic control to get off their asses. We'll take the yacht down, it can go directly to the surface. Kliment can handle the docking procedures with the station fine."

"Oh, lovely!" She perked up instantly. "I should very much like to see what you've built for yourself, Pavel. Let's surely leave, then; it's painful to watch these incompetents pretend they know how to control a spacelane anyway."

He stirred, and Theophania shifted off his lap to allow him to stand. Even as he did so, he couldn't quite resist giving her shapely bottom a playful pat with the palm of his hand. "Kliment, take over and have the yacht prepared for departure!" The officer so named, a heavily built, half-Asiatic and elaborately mustachioed man in the same grey jumpsuit as the rest of the crew, nodded acquiescence. "The boat bay is a couple of decks down and aft. We can leave in minutes once we get there."

"Well, I need to let Lida know," Theophania answered fairly automatically. And she was damned sure not going to leave Lida alone, not yet without having been cleared through whatever passed through security. Indeed, this way would be much easier.

"Alright, we take her too,' he said, a little grudgingly. He could stand, even be amused by, Theophania retaining her female lover but sometimes it was inconvenient. "You can go by your quarters, get ready. I'll go down to the boat bay and oversee preparations. My technicians know their jobs but sometimes showing them the boss is ready to look over things is useful." He'd dole out praise or abuse there, if it were warranted. Knowing which was and when made him a popular commander and give him the loyalty of a heterogeneous crew.

"Of course, Pavel! Don't worry, Lida is as quiet as a churchmouse, and she's not jealous of men in my life," Theophania repeated with a rather encouraging sort of tone, or so she hoped, before she darted off with a brilliant sway to her rump. "I'll be just a few minutes, promise!"

Sophia headed straight over to the quarters which Lida was still sharing with Ludmila and Tamara, and politely keyed on the entry chime, composing herself with the sweet sort of expression she had often used when waiting for a girlfriend, a thought that filled her with some mirth.

Lida was reclining on her top bunk, leafing through an old paperback novel that Sophia had given her, while Tamara and Ludmila played a game of cards on their own side of the room. They looked up first, and made a polite greeting to Theophania though Ludmila looked somewhat dubiously at her outfit. Lida put down her book first before smiling at her partner. "Theo, dear, welcome back." She put a lot of emphasis on the back, gently scolding her "lover" for her absence.

"Good news," Theophania offered with a faintly wry smile. "Captain Yeremeyev is taking us to the surface together, Lida. He wants to leave right now--in his private yacht--so if we can toss what things we have together...? "

"Uhm, okay," Lida said, trying to sound ambiguously. She groped about for her own personal effects on the top of the bunk, before climbing down and pulling out their two cheap suitcases from under the bottom bunk. "At least there's not a lot," she said, earnestly enough.

Tamara sat down her hand of cards on the bed and scooted forward. "He's really taking you for a trip on his personal yacht? That sounds so romantic." She flushed a little. Romance novels generally didn't involve two women with the dashing hero, especially if they were into each other.

"Something of that sort," Sophia answered, and looked fondly at Tamara for a moment. "Take care of yourself, hmm? Good luck to you and Genrikh in settling down here and making a life for yourselves, alright? I expect an invitation to the wedding!" She reached over and grabbed one of the suitcases helpfully for Lida, at that.

"Be sure to invite us over and meet the Captain," Ludmila added from her position. She twirled a bit of hair around an index finger. "If he has to share you, maybe it's fair if you have to share him..." She smiled broadly and laughed, making it clear it was a joke. Mostly. Theophania's influence was, perhaps, having some corruptive effect.

"I think that's fair if it means I get to have her to myself more often," Lida threw in, as she hoisted the other suitcase.

Theophania looked sheepish. "I will make sure to do so at some point," she offered rather more cheerfully. "You two take care!" She started out, her look toward Lida being more sheepish as they headed out and bid Ludmila and Tamara adieu, dashing through the ship with Theophania well in the lead as they went to where the yacht was docked.

"So where is Captain Yeremeyev taking us?" Lida asked, as they descended down in the lift taking them to the boat bay. How fortunate it is that we avoid the entry screenings. I hope it doesn't cause problems later, though.

"To his private Dacha, my dear."It shouldn't. He seems to virtually have the planet at his fingertips, Sophia answered cheerfully to Lida's mind.

Pavel met them as they entered onto the cavernous floor of the boat bay, mechanics and technicians running around at his back and a variety of vehicles parked out around them. "We are going right away," he announced, directing their attention over to a large, but rather unpretentious looking, vaguely ovoid personal transport.

It dwarfed the smaller shuttles around it, as befitted an FTL capable vessel with stores intended to last for months on end. A tell-tale armored prong on the top showed where it had been refitted to carry a weak Anderson field. "One of my first prizes," he said, beaming with pride at it. "Not much to look at, da, but she has been mine for fifty years of service. Still more nimble than the gold-plated pleasure cruisers the court fops purchase to put around in the system with."

"She'd handle beautifully in virtually any circumstance," Theophania agreed cheerfully, and then clapped her hands together as she settled the suitcase down for the maintenance crew to load. "May I pilot her sometime, Pavel?"

"Need to show your belter skills, eh?" He ran a hand through his bushy beard, as if in thought, before smiling in wry amusement. "Perhaps we can take a tour of the outer system later. The storms on Perun are a sight worth seeing, and the orbital junk in the rings make it a challenge. You'd like that, no?"

"I'd adore it," Theophania answered, smiling in genuine happiness.

The crew had meanwhile finished loading up their luggage, and a crew chief flashed Yeremeyev an all-ready sign. "Soon enough. But now, another sort of natural beauty. It's snowing around my dacha, so you have the lucky experience of getting to see a true Rus winter at first-hand." The boarding plank of the yacht descended as he spoke, allowing them to climb up to the cockpit of the vessel.

"This will be interesting," Theophania answered with a quiver of real nervousness. "I know more of planets than most belters, Pavel, but they still make me a bit skittish..." She continued, if still mostly merry, as she entered through the ramp.

"Come, I'll show you the controls. That should be reassuring." He smiled impishly. "Maybe if you're a good girl I'll let you sit in my lap while I fly..."

Poor Lida--well, not so poor in reality--was left behind as Sophia urgently scampered after Pavel, laughing merrily and genuinely enjoying herself.

The interior cockpit was roomy for a vessel intended to allow operation by a single individual, with a central terminal-console and chair for the pilot surrounded by a raised platform with observation benches. Two more control seats were stationed ahead of the main piloting seat, forming a vee arrangement in front of the largish main screen. At the very back of the room was an automated door leading to a corridor where the rest of the yacht awaited. The model would have four rooms that could be transformed from individual suites to communal bunkrooms, a kitchen with attached dining area, a small exercise room, as well as stores and access to the engine room where Yeremeyev presumably had installed his Anderson Field generator.

Yermeyev took the center pilot's seat, as might be expected. He was absorbed communicating with the hanger control station for a few minutes, before finally activating the countergravity drive and bringing the yacht into a hover a few inches over the floor. With a floor cleared for departure he nudged it out quickly, though no sense of momentum was imparted to the inhabitants inside. They were soon outside the Grom Pobedy, and Yeremeyev turned on the viewscreen to display the black membrane of the ship's Anderson Field, before switching the view to give them all a representation of the ship's graceful lines, which were rounded and smooth where Imperial warships embraced hard lines and sharp angles.

“Isn't she a beautiful vessel?" Pavel crowed, taking a final long look before activating the yacht's own Field.

"She truly is, Pavel!" and Sophia meant it sincerely, as she moved up to the console close enough to Pavel, showing a hint of Spacer's seriousness as she settled down, strapped herself in, and briefly checked to see if she couldn't at least run a diagnostic. Keeping a belter away from a control console was like keeping a whore away from a gelder--and perhaps that was a suitable joke considering her sluttishness and willing keeping of two partners, rather completely unheard of in a woman--and it was natural that she'd just immediately slipped her way to it.

Pavel chuckled, but kept his attention on flying the yacht as it completed the transition outside the field of the larger vessel. Lida sensibly sat down on one of the observation benches, smiling a bit slyly where neither Pavel nor Sophia could see it, amused at how well her partner had slipped into character. Her own skill set did not include anything useful here, so her attention was naturally focused on the viewscreen and observing the interaction between Sophia and Pavel. So far it looked as if her (not all that) unique style of field-work was bringing in brilliant results.

They neared New Kiev in minutes, and Pavel brought out a sensor probe to provide them with another orbital view. They were approaching the eastern hemisphere, dominated by a single large continent that stretched from the remote north of the planet and bulged at the equator before breaking off into a chain of countless islands above the ice-pack at the southern pole of the world.

"The continent of Halych," Pavel commented, as the picture was magnified on the viewscreen. His own eyes were kept on the console but he could both watch orbital vectors and talk about his homeworld. "It is where three quarters of the population resides and the equatorial regions are our breadbasket. But the far north, ah, there is our capital Novo Vladimir and the best dachas. Virgin forest as far as the eye can stretch, seeded with Siberian animal forms, it is just like the homeland back on ancient Earth. We lost it centuries ago, but here it is reclaimed in all glory!"

"In all the glory that could be imagined, primeval, untamed, and without any environmental controls," Theophania flushed a bit as she finished. "Which as I think I said really does somewhat scare me. I understand natural beauty but... Untamed wilderness is very alien to my way of life? I confess I don't understand how you survive in it so well, Pavel, you must be an utter genius at it, besides what I already know about your strength and stamina...."

"You don't have to worry about survival with me around," Pavel laughed, a bit amused by the way the self-confident belter was so intimidated by the environment below. "I've hunted in that wilderness for forty years now, pitting myself against nature and every time, winning." His eye twinkled a bit at that. "Not without some impressive scars you know of. But that is how real men are made. It says much that so many of our politicians and commanders prefer tropical bungalows and equatorial estates, where life is easy and soft. But there are yet enough of us to insure the Rus spirit lives on, and I have some weeks before I can venture into space again. I'll show you something of how to survive like a real Siberian woman can, and you will be doubly talented there."

"I will do my best to learn, Pavel, for your sake," she answered with some dubiousness, if determination. Clearly, belters were in their own way far softer than even those politicians with their tropical bungalows, but then, that's probably why Theophania was sleeping with a woman until Pavel had come along, and half of the belter 'men' were really just effeminate catamites anyway. "I certainly don't doubt my safety there around you."

Pavel nodded with satisfaction before beginning a terse, expletive-filled conversation with orbital control. After several minutes he ended the call and retracted the sensor probe as preparation to enter the atmosphere. The Field absorbed the friction of re-entry, lighting up with stored heat that would be shed seconds later as the yacht entered the atmosphere. It streaked to the north and east, losing atmosphere at a steady rate and finally dropping the Field and switching back to the countergrav drive from sublight engines as it passed over the broad swathes of snow-covered forest that he had previously extolled.

The viewscreen showed a sudden break in the forest, amid a rolling series of hills some distance from the capital, and Yeremeyev zoomed in on it to display his dacha and associated compounds. There was a cleared landing zone beside what was clearly a garage of sorts, surrounded by several inconspicuous looking buildings, including what was obviously a wooden banya. The main house was several yards above the cluster of these secondary buildings, with a well-worn trail leading to the deceptively primitive and rustic-looking two story hunting lodge. There was already black smoke pouring out of several chimneys located on top of the lodge's heavily slanted roof, visible through the lightly swirling snow coming down over the area.

He brought the yacht down surprisingly gently, going into a slow descent until he was meters above a clear space beside the garage, and then slowly inching down above the white-carpeted landing space. Landing struts deployed inches above the ground, and Yeremeyev was able to put the vessel down without the characteristic abrupt jerk of impatient pilots. "Not, bad, da?"

"Oh lovely! A true ice palace, I think," Theophania declared eagerly. "Shall we go inside, then, look through it all? I haven't been truly comfortable in quite some time, and it seems we've got a home again for a while.." She glanced back. "Doesn't it, Lida?"

"Yes, Theophania dear, that would be nice." She said it hesitantly, and seemed to shrink back into the observer's bench while looking warily not at her partner, but at Pavel.

The Rus pirate had stepped out from his console and stretched, conspicuously displaying his muscled physique as he relieved the tension built up in his body. He yawned disinterestedly at the interplay between his mistress and her other lover. "You are both guests here at my dacha, and the servants are loyal and do not gossip. A home here on New Kiev it will be for you. And let us go enjoy a warm fire there... but first, through the snow. Come, I have a set of coats in the stores room..."

The women followed Yeremeyev as he lead them back through the central corridor of the yacht to the stores room, recessed under the main habitation deck. He went in alone, and after several moments came back clad in an enormous brown pelt and wearing an ushanka. In his arms were two other grey fur coats, and hats to go along with them. "Gray wolf, I shot them myself," he said proudly as Sophia and Theophania took the coats. "This one is brown bear, another excellent kill from the woods around here."

"Thank you so kindly. It's incredible to think of the power of hunting beasts like that, I confess," Theophania was looking a bit reverent at the thought. Belters might be scared of the untamed nature of worlds, but didn't care one bit for how they were exploited, to be sure, and the idea was.. Somewhat romantic. Or so Sophia was definitely making sure that she showed in her thoughts as she pulled the coat on.

"They're very warm," Lida commented softly, trying to maintain her front as a self-conscious wallflower of a sapphist. And they needed the warmth as they debarked into the howling snow that awaited them amid the tall pines that overlooked Yermeyev's compound.

Once on the ground Pavel halted, and drew in deep lungfulls of the icy cold air. "Refreshing, so refreshing!" After months of breathing the recycled air of his starship, or the atmosphere of foreign worlds, the return to his pristine homeland was welcome beyond measure. "It's bracing, even when it pierces your lungs with the depth of winter. This is truly life, the sort man was meant to lead, exposed to the elements and mastering them. Hunting in this great wilderness is merely the purest expression of that ancient struggle."

Theophania stood beside him, actually used enough to the idea of cold to not be utterly bowled over by it, but for the sake of her cover, discomforted by the air being that cold. "It's like breathing vacuum," she exclaimed, though it was more of a soft comment over the howling snowstorm that stood between the yacht and the Dacha.

Her partner had little trouble maintaining her cover; the climate was like not much she had encountered before on Dvonomir. She strained and her lungs began to feel like they were on fire from the sheer cold of the surrounding atmosphere. She pulled the wolf-pelt ever closer to try and warm up, and it was with relief that they arrived at the main lodge.

They were admitted by a brown-haired, stout looking fellow in his own fur jacket. Pavel introduced him as his majordomo, Dmitri, and ordered the man to prepare the main hall with warm fire and beverages and to begin laying on a dinner. Dmitri responded with alacrity, and the group quickly settled down in comfortable couches before a raging fire, surrounded by the rest of the lodge and with many of Pavel's trophies looking down upon them. Tea warmed their insides and fur blankets provided another layer of warmth as they heated up from being out in the snowstorm.

"Surely nothing can be so.. cozy, as to relax in one's own warm lodge, surrounded by winter's embrace," Pavel said, getting a little poetic. His own warming up had included a couple of shots of vodka.

"Certainly there's something beautiful about it," Theophania answered in relief at being inside, and out of the cold, and also the prospect of being able to bathe, and put together a proper wardrobe once more. Though also important was the tea, which she savoured every second of sipping. "Well, thank you, Pavel. You've saved our lives, there's no other way to put it. We were in the thick of things, combat trained commandos for the operation, and would have certainly been shot, women or not."

He looked a little dubiously at Lida, who hardly seemed like a trained commando. Even with Theophania it seemed to be a stretch, though the Colonial Freedom League had a lot of strange ideas. He granted perhaps if he were surprised probably the Imperials would be too. As for the praise, though, he shrugged. "We have an alliance with your people, however tense. The common enemy of the Empire is enough yet. But I must caution you to be careful on this world, which is not like that of Dvonomir or even Vladimir and far from the ideals of your people. And may God keep it so," he said, a bit wryly.

"You are not exactly being a good Christian," Theophania exclaimed with a very sly and gently needling look, which held plenty of overtones of and please don't start being one now! "But I understand. I've been scared of New Kiev, we both have, really. My original plan was to find some way into the Alliance, when Lida and I were released on Vladimir."

"Hah, no, well, some sins are more acceptable than others," he said, draining his teacup and setting it down on a table beside his couch. "The CFL people in Novo Vladimir will have to help you if you want to go to the Alliance. They have been tight-lipped about how they get people and material from there. And keep their Alliance contacts to themselves." There was a hint of suspicion in his voice as he recited that fact. "But as long as you remain discrete and stay as my guests you need fear nothing from this world. And I hope you find it a comfortable experience here at my dacha."

"You're worth staying with, Pavel," Theophania answered cheerfully. "For as long as you want me.. around, anyhow. Though I'll be the first to admit it's all slightly awkward, and we certainly don't fit in here in the long run. But then again I didn't think we had better than one chance of three to successfully make it the Alliance."

"A gamble, and unless they've told you more about the line they have to the Alliance than they've told us, not sure you have ability to put any odds on it." For all his crudity, Yeremeyev was a starship captain and underestimating his sophistication had been a fatal mistake for many before. "Stay here, da. It doesn't matter that you don't go to church and so on. You're my mistress." He looked over, remembering Lida, and chuckled. "You're both my mistresses. That will buy you all the respect you need, and you'll find joys of living out here, as I do."

Lida tried to look a little uncertain and hesitant, even as she was reduced to a face amid a pile of blankets. In truth if half of what Sophia said was true she wouldn’t have minded being in her place... but her reticent, sapphist cover persona was a different matter. "I guess... I guess as long as Theo wants to stay here, if we can also be together..."

"Surely we can work out some sort of personal accommodation, then?" Theophania mused thoughtfully. "It's not like I would care if you were fucking half the women on the planet, Pavel. Which you can consider an invitation to do so if you wish. Well, in that case I probably wouldn't see you as much," she amended with a very sly grin.

Pavel laughed, loud and heartily. "I could, too. But you need not worry about my paying you proper attention." Certainly he had every intention of doing that tonight. "So stay here, both of you, as long as you like. Just comport yourself with restraint while in Novo Vladimir... and there's not much reason to visit it often anyway. And I will be sure you find your stay very agreeable." There was a certain arrogant smugness in his voice, but justified enough.

"Of course. I'd like to remain in touch with the CFL and stay involved in its operations--we are not without our principles--but otherwise, yes, we shall make this our home as well."

"If you insist." Pavel yawned, displaying how much he was concerned about it. As far as he was concerned there was no threat in Theophania being involved among them. There were few real men in Vladimir and none at all involved with the CFL. "I can take you there, or Dmitri in my absence. But I hope perhaps you will spend a few days here in the dacha first, making it a home? I can show you the grounds of my estate, and visit with the locals, who will be very hospitable since you are mine. Perhaps, perhaps, spend a night outside..."

"As long as there's not a storm, I'd love that," Theophania agreed, remembering that, after all, she was actually a highly skilled survivalist herself. She'd just have to fake not having the slightest clue. "A few days, certainly they can wait. It'll all be total chaos over there right now, anyway. Thank you, Pavel."

"Wonderful," Pavel replied. He meant it. A few minutes later and Dmitri entered, informing them dinner would be served presently. Trays were brought into the lodge and a pleasant repast followed. And Yeremeyev was convinced that Theophania would be his for as long as he liked. Which he couldn't help but feel would be a very long time indeed.
Last edited by The Duchess of Zeon on 2012-05-31 02:18pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: (TGG) The Cardinal Files: An Inside Job.

Post by The Duchess of Zeon »

Chapter Fifteen: I’d like my treason with a side of assassination, please!

By Marina and Chris Purnell.

Upon the world of New Kiev,
In the remnant territory of the Great Rus.

The capital of the Great Rus was a rude, if picturesque, affair when seen from thousands of meters above. The great, wild, rushing Irytush River neatly bisected the city, which had grown up around plots of land carved off its banks. Steel and composite suspension bridges provided an impressively crude solution to the problem of everyday transportation over the river. Many of the buildings were the brown that marked timber construction, which as Pavel had remarked earlier was still an economical staple of construction on this rough colony world. In the center of the sprawl two diametrically opposite districts faced each other.

On the left bank stood steel constructed skyscrapers, archaic by Imperial standards but standing out as a touch of higher technology amid the much smaller and cruder buildings that surrounded them. On the right bank stood a low-slung, almost fortress-like set of buildings surrounded by what was unmistakably a set of ferrocrete walls. At the very center stood an onion-domed palace that served both as the center of the elected Grand Duke's administration and the meeting place of the Zemsky Sobir that elected him.

The overall impression was an overgrown Siberian village, back before that mighty land had been tamed and built up into the core of the Tsar's empire. That had to be deliberate, and explained why the center of government had not been moved to the more temperate, productive regions to the south.

Sophia watched the capitol, so much smaller than even her adopted home of Prague, swell up before them. Part of that was deceptive; the city was quite populous; but the lack of arcologies made it seem much smaller than it really was, indeed, quite spread out. She sat very quietly, wearing rather functional clothes, a pair of khaki pants and a black blouse...

Generally, she was just trying to project the image of a belter unconcerned with her appearance and letting loose a bit now that she was, for this day anyway, not needing to charm Pavel. And she'd shortly be encountering Desrolinists who would prefer functional clothing anyway, though she still very notedly had that big fur coat Pavel had given to her; she simply needed it here.

Lida sat beside her, wearing a heavy peasant-style dress and thickly sewn blouse closed at her neck. She was the more modestly feminine and unassertive of the pair, willing to defer to local norms and not making waves—well, at least nominally. They had nonetheless naturally fallen into their respective roles and it allowed the more experienced Sophia to take the lead without raising any questions from others.

"We'll be there shortly, dear," Sophia assured in her guise as Theophania Ritzhak, smiling gently. "Though of course you can always peer out the window over my head, anyway," she lightly made fun of her own shortness.

"It's a pretty city. Very picturesque." She noticed Dmitri looking back at them, and shyly smiled while taking the opportunity to hold Sophia's hand. They had an image to maintain, after all.

The servant scowled a bit, but he had to begin a descent as the aircare crossed over the left bank. There was a small complex of more modern buildings standing out in a clump amid the wooden structures that made up much of the city. A primitive dirt field nearby provided a landing space, with Dmitri bringing the car into hover mode and placing it down near what looked like an office complex. There were only a handful of other modern-looking vehicles nearby, with a large number of wheeled personal transports grouped together at a further end of the field.

"Colonial Freedom League headquarters is in building right ahead," Dmitri said from the driver's seat. "I will stay here with car until you are finished."

"Thank you kindly, Dmitri. I don't think we'll be long," Sophia smiled and quickly slipped passed Lida to rise and help her up with an offered hand. She could, when playing the air of the dominant lesbian in a homosexual relationship, come off a bit dramatically gentlemanly and foppish and sometimes relished the hint of melodrama with which she played the role, as absurd as it was in her... completely voluptuous physical appearance. It did heighten the bit of a chameleon she was even in this character of Theophania, the effusive belter who could be at once a man and a woman's dream, though, and that was the point of it all.

It was a chilly day even by the standards of locals, the wind seeming to penetrate even through their thick fur coats. They hastened onward and entered the climate controlled building with obvious relief. A small lobby greeted them, with a bored looking receptionist sitting by a computer panel in the center of the room. She was flanked on either side by two elevators, and corridors leading deeper into the buiulding.

"Who are you here for?" She was rather curt with the challenge, and her accent and complexion placed from another sector.

"Theophania Ritzhak and Lida Alilova. We're from Dvonomir; we escaped through Vladimir with the recent arrival of Pavel Yeremeyev from that planet," Sophia explained crisply. "I was from the Dvonomir belter association cell network, and Lida here is my.. partner."

“More refugees?" She seemed to perk up a little. "It's been bad out there." She consulted the computer schedule, and found their names. "That'll be with brother Beyer, then, One moment."

A couple of minutes after she called him up on the computer, Klaus Beyer came in the lobby down the rightmost corridor. He was a pale blond man of average height and a rough looking build, seemingly ill at ease in an Imperial-style three piece suit. He nodded at them. "Ms. Ritzhak, Ms. Alilova. I'm glad to meet some other people who have escaped from the Empire." He came closer, offering his hand like he would with male guests. "Klaus Beyer, of the CFL. I've been given the task of organizing the brothers and sisters who have escaped here. Please, let's talk in my office..."

She shook his hand back with a cheerful grin. "Glad to meet you, Brother Beyer," she answered, making her particular sympathies within the CFL about as blatant as she could, here. "Sure, lead right on."

They followed him back down the corridor, passing by a few doors before he stopped and pulled out a security card. The door opened, admitting them into a rather spartan looking office. Klaus made his way over to his desk, squeezing by a rather full bookcase. "Please, take a seat, both of you." He booted up his own virtual computer, taking care to move aside a framed photo of a youthful, slightly plump brunette.

"A lover of your's?" Theophania asked softly, indeed, delicately, with the concern evident on her face on the account of all that so many of them had lost, in general. She helped Lida to sit as she waited for some sort of answer to that.

"My partner, yes." He obviously didn't want to talk about it, but the shadow of concern over his face was unmistakable. "Ah, well. Please tell me the circumstances behind your escape."

"My apologies.." She paused for a moment, then shrugged. "Well, Brother Beyer, we're lovers, so we were vacationing together on Vladimir.. I wanted to get away from the Empire, even if it was to somewhere suffocatingly conservative, and get some feel for the people we were going to be allies with. Just personally. And it seemed like a fun adventure at the time. We were training for spaceborne assault operations with the rest of my cell, and we both completed our full assault training," she added rather proudly, "But of course operations weren't due to begin anytime soon.. And then presumably the Empire got lucky. We were detained on Vladimir but never considered a serious threat, though I did get two fingers broken for the trouble of being a bit smart with the Evidenzburo goons."

"After they released us, we fell in with the members of a Rus revivalist cell by pure fortune and happenstance--it had a female member and I just begged her for a place to stay the night during the curfew without realizing she was one. When they bugged out, we went with them."

He nodded as he checked the report the New Kiev authorities had filed on them. "Which cell were you associated with?"

"We were part of Teodor Radan’s cell," Lida answered, hesitantly. She wanted to give the impression of supreme reluctance and understated passivity, both to hedge her own uncertainty and to reveal as little of her own personality as she could. Judging by the way Beyer looked at her, she was succeeding.

"Yes, Lida's right," Theophania answered with a soft look. "And if you can believe, she’s a crack shot, too,” she added with a smile before it faded: “My cousin Mischa was responsible for recruiting me and was also in the cell. I'm not sure what's become of her though I can only fear the worst, of course, and it's unlikely that it will be anything but when the final accounting comes.... Unless, by chance..?" A flash of nervous hope crossed her face.

"No, I'm afraid not." He said that sadly, but he'd had to say it a lot recently. "The files... tasked with a diversionary attack on the public spaceport, yes. Unfortunately combat skills are not what we need at the moment." He typed a few notes into a file, then pursed his lip. "What sort of civilian background do you have? We're trying to keep our people here busy and there's a lot of support functions we need performed, to first handle the fallout and then try to rebuild."

"We were both in book-keeping," Theophania answered, "Seeing as it's how we met, and all, as the Belter Association had a contract with Lida's company. Though I'm a good pilot besides."

That drew his interest. "Yes, we need bookkeepers. There's a lot of material that's built up here in our storehouses that we need to account for. It may be here for a while." He shook his head. "If you're willing to start here we can arrange for you to have an apartment nearby. We took over the complex to house our refugees. The Rus want to keep us all in once place." He snorted at their paranoia. "There's also a stipend from our accounts, which is part of why we need accountants and bookkeepers."

"Well, actually, I think it would be inadvisable for us to reside here," Theophania answered, and then added, with a faint smirk. "You see, there's a reason we weren't processed by the other refugees from the Grom Pobedy. Pavel Yeremeyev took me as his lover when we were aboard, and he took us directly to his dacha on the surface when we arrived."

"Oh." That caught Beyer at a loss for words. He shook his head in disbelief. "I, uhm, I hope he didn't force himself..."

"No. Pavel wouldn't need to do that," Sophia answered with a dry smile. "I seduced him, Brother. Primarily by smiling at him and being humble and polite. Well, I know how much Orthodoxy hates homosexuals so since I am attracted to men as alike as women; I decided it was how I could best protect Lida from the authorities on Vladimir."

"Ah. Yes, I suppose that's not uncommon with Belters. Yeremeyev is just..." He paused for a moment. "He's been a problem for the movement. He distrusts us and has been the most skeptical of the value of Alliance support. I grant, I guess, he doesn't have a reputation for that sort of thing. But, uhm, well, are you continuing this relationship?"

"Yes. It seems to be the only way for Lida and I to have any kind of life here," she answered quietly. "After all, he ignores her. Esteems her weak, finds my affection for her humorous, doesn't mind putting her up. It's scarcely what we hoped for when we fled Vladimir, but it seems the best we can get."

"It's a backward planet," he readily agreed. He looked sympathetically at Lida, who turned her head bashfully. He sighed. "But it does open opportunities, I regret to say. Could you exercise some influence over him as his mistress?"

"He says I'm the best woman he's ever had and I don't mind his sleeping with any other lady he might fancy," Theophania answered cheerfully. "I'm a damned good pilot and was thinking of trying to get him to let me accompany him on raids on the Grom Pobedy. I might have some influence with him. He's already talked of taking me to the formal celebrations coming up.. I forget what they're called, but I'm having a particularly scandalous dress made for it."

"It's Founding Day, for the first settlement of the world last century. I think every planet in human space has a holiday of the like." He gave her a thoughtful look. "If you can help... manage Yeremeyev, it would be useful. We've been looking for a way to do that almost since we first came here to New Kiev. I think perhaps you should speak with our Chief of Operations, Isabella Sanchez."

"I'll go ahead and do that whenever she's available, then," Theophania answered, "Though that does explain why I didn't remember it," she added, referencing her belter status... "Unfortunately, Pavel wants me back by tonight, so we don't have that long.. Would she happen to be available now?"

"Hmm, let me check." He consulted the computer, as before. After a couple of minutes he nodded his head again. "Okay, she can see you now. She's on the seventh floor. If you take any of the lobby elevators it will be right there once you step off. There's a big nameplate on the door. You've been security cleared so there shouldn't be any trouble with the guards though of course we'll have to log you into the system proper sooner or later."

"I think... I'm not much use with anything dealing with Pavel," Lida said. "I could volunteer for that bookkeeping position you have. It might be a good idea if I had a place here in the city, as long as Theophania can visit freely."

"That does make sense. I'd rather have you with me, but he doesn't precisely let us spend much time alone together anyway," Theophania replied with some real sadness tinged into her voice as she replied. "But I suppose I should go up to see Sister Sanchez."

"Well, if you're away on business for the CFL here a lot..." Lida gave her a hopeful smile.

“That would work nicely," Theophania agreed.

With Beyer and Lida moving on to discuss the details of her employment and obtaining an apartment, Soophia left the office and headed back out to the lobby. There was no apparent sign of security forces present, though her trained eye could see some relatively unobtrusive surveillance equipment. Presumably that fed into a central security office or database. In any event she was able to take the lift, alone, up to the seventh floor without challenge. Once the doors opened she found herself facing another office block, with a small lobby off to her right side and three doors in front of her. The one of the far right had the promised large bronze nameplate, advertising the office as belonging to Isabella Sanchez.

Sophia paused and knocked politely on the door, wondering at the nature of the woman, with her powers as securely restrained as they were, just the steady reassuring incoming empathic sense was left to guide and direct who she was as she waited. This might well be the break that she'd been looking for, and all ironically because Yeremeyev had liked her ass. Well, it wasn't as if that hadn't happened before....

The door opened. Isabella stood nearly half a foot taller than Sophia, and directed liquid brown eyes downward. Her coffee-colored skin was set against a red blouse obviously custom tailored to fit a generous bust, matched with light green trousers of the sort favored by the local men. Her copper colored hair was kept straight and cut in a youthful looking bob that resembled styles favored by professional women in the Alliance. Her flawless skin, lack of facial lines, and easy smile made her look in her early twenties, but with the latest generations of prolong she could easily have been over a century old.

"Isabella Sanchez," she said, in standard German with a pronounced Spanish accent, as she exnteded her hand to Sophia. "You must be Theophania Ritzhak. Please, come in."

"A pleasure," Theophania answered a bit cheekily as she shook the other woman's hand. Her long hair seemed the only thing slightly out of place with the rather baggy and androgynous presentation the clothes provided.. Well, if it weren't for the fact that she had such ample curves; but it was a surprising closeness to her own look and it made Sophia wonder for a moment; she'd passed herself off as a belter often enough before... The women there tended to go in two ways. "Thank you very kindly, Sister Sanchez, for seeing me... I suppose Brother Beyer informed you that I've ended up Yeremeyev's mistress."

She nodded, carefully, while directing Sophia over to a plush chair kept in front of her desk. "He did, and while I hate resorting to sex to manipulate people... that's what this backward culture reduces us to." The office was kept fastidiously neat, and well decorated with green plants and exotically colored flowers. Isabella took another chair by Sophia rather than go around and set before her desk. "Yeremeyev is a problem, and we'd like your help solving it."

"Well, for starters, I'm a belter, and I honestly don't mind sleeping with him--he's very energetic," Theophania smiled back with a faint grin. "But what do you need assistance with, Sister Sanchez? I can certainly do whatever is required for the cause at this juncture." And with the emphasis she laid on that, she meant it.

Isabella smiled wryly. "Oh, if half the rumors about that man's prowess are true, I envy you. Unfortunately we clashed a few too many times for me to seduce him myself." She seemed regretful enough about that. "If you can, though, we'd like you to influence him back around to carrying through the plan to attack Vladimir. He's leading the faction among the Great Rus that favors pulling back now that the general uprising is no longer possible. We've invested too much in this enterprise to allow it to collapse entirely, so we need them to launch their attack anyway."

"I've talked with him enough to know that he's really against it, Sister Sanchez," Theophania answered with a faint smile. "Sitting in his lap on the bridge of the Grom Pobedy, on one occasion. Anyway, he's quite convinced that any kind of continuation will see the destruction of the Rus, and he's probably right. I don't know how I could convince him to the contrary unless I introduced him to the President of the Alliance and got him to swear on a bible that he'd aid the Rus..." A wry look. "He's so committed about it that he won't even consider going on raids for quite some time. The Grom Pobedy is being reduced down to a caretaker crew for the immediate future."

"Damn that cult of personality around him." Isabella shook her head, a little angrily. "He has enemies among the boyars and even in the Rus Navy, but he's popular enough to exercise a lot of influence. And if the aggressive, driving Pavel Yeremeyev is pulling back..." She sighed. "All that work for nothing."

"Well, unless we do have some way we could demonstrate solid Alliance support to him, more seriously?" Theophania glanced up, eagerly, if for the opposite reason than that which Isabella might automatically assume. "He'd certainly listen to me on that, and I could facilitate any meetings..."

Isabella laughed sharply. "If we had any contacts we could use to prove the Alliance was supporting us, we would have used them. It was necessary to deceive the Rus into serving our needs, and to stoke the sector-wide uprising. But the truth is we were simply able to smuggle in some replicator patterns and made some low-level contacts with a few of what the Alliance people call political pressure groups. It was enough to convince the Rus that the Alliance would intervene in a accomplished fact, but now they're demanding further proof we can't provide."

“Then I don't think there's anything I could do..." She let Isabella's disappointment flow through her and provide the perfect emotional result, for inside she felt only elation that it meant that the Empire was not in serious danger... For now. The smuggling route had to be determiend and closed down, and Isabella herself appeared highly placed enough to know where it was, precisely. "Even though it seems like a miserable fate for a belter to be stuck here forever, it seems like it might be mine. And I'll probably end up destroying everything with Lida, and Yeremeyev will make me bear his children... It's no life for a 'belter, specially the way they treated us in the past..."

"Sadly. The Great Rus dismantled all our settlements in their sphere, so I don't feel very bad about luring them in to be sacrificial lambs." Her mouth set in grim amusement. "If you've seen their orbitals you know they really could have used us."

"..I said the same thing to Pavel!" Theophania beamed and leaped up for a moment before setting back down into her chair. "It's wonderful to meet another of us!--I thought it from the moment I saw you, truth be told, and now I'm so happy that I'm not at all alone, at least. Where there are two of us, there is home... If I may call you Isabella...?"

Isabella seemed to beam with delight. "Oh, I'm sorry, I thought brother Beyer would surely have told you. But yes, please, call me Isabella, if I can call you Theophania. It's a pleasure to finally have another belter here. Most of the brothers and sisters here are pretty enlightened, but still landers. It's not the same."

"No it's not, and surely you may," Theophania smiled back. "There was a healthy little community in the Dvonomir belt as you know, but still just a couple dozen out of millions.... Being so isolated from the repression inherent in the rest of Imperial society it is sometimes hard to muster the courage to oppose it. But then I met Lida, and, well.." She shrugged softly. "I started listening to poor Mischa. But yeah, Isabella, it is good that there's at least two of us. Enlightenment isn't quite the same thing.. And some of 'em are shockingly prudish for all the high ideals they might otherwise have."

"I've dealt with that before," she said, sighing gently. "There's a big contingent among the League that thinks because we see sex as a natural and health biological function, that we're all undisciplined sluts. I had to claw my way this far up into the operation, and I'd hoped to prove our value. And now I'm stuck here on this repressed rock where they think all of us, belters and landers alike, are baby-raping atheist perverts."

"Well, it's going to be a hard stereotype to overcome," Theophania answered. "But I'll be glad to help in any way I can. Even if it's just working Pavel to at least guarantee our continued toleration. I'm sure some of the Rus would like to turn on us, now.... Not like I particularly want to live here forever myself," she muttered.

Isabella nodded sympathetically. "I certainly understand and you've got my full sympathies. I hope your relationship works out, though landers can be so jealous and insecure. But if you have no real love for Pavel..." She paused in consideration. "Well, our developing fallback plan was to kill Pavel and have it look like the Evidenzburo did it. It would remove him as an obstacle, stoke outrage against the Empire, and convince the Grand Duke that the Imperials know the location of New Kiev anyway. If you're willing to help," she said, cautiously, and taking a breath, "that might make it a lot more feasible."

"I'm going on a trip with him after founding day," Theophania answered, "Where he's going to let me pilot his yacht through the outer system. That means plenty of access codes to his computers..." The cool way she flipped to discussing killing him like that showed that her heart was... Certainly not with the man. "What can I do to help you in eliminating him, if it will aid the revolution?"

"It's more at the idea stage now," she responded. "We have no lack of people with combat training, so it's a matter of deciding how to proceed. Simply shooting him in public may not suffice, while something... at closer range, runs the risk of failing. We need to control circumstances well enough, and long enough, to let us plant the evidence we need to lead the Rus off."

"I can kill him myself while I'm in bed with him," Theophania answered simply.

"That's the possibility I saw," Isabella admitted. "Men are always at their most vulnerable then. If we could also take care of his servants in close succession, it would let us manage the situation at his estate."

"How would we escape, or cover it up, though? Do you have any ideas?" From the looks of it, she had one of her own, and indeed Sophia already did... And it was simple, and perfectly ruthless, as a coherent plan borne of all the facts available to her coalesced into her mind.

"There's where our current planning fails." Isabella squinted a bit at the admission. "Pavel's dacha is isolated, but not isolated enough that several aircars coming and going won't be noticed."

"Well, we could just not escape," Theophania answered tightly, and flippantly, and then added: "I can pilot his yacht, so after we kill him and everyone at the dacha, we'll go to the Grom Pobedy and hijack her using his command codes that I can get from the yacht. There's just a tiny caretaker crew, like I said, so we'll be able to secure them down, and jump her out to hyperspace almost immediately.

“It'll need both of us, though, because even two belters will be hard-pressed to run a cruiser I suspect virtually single-handedly, even for the simplest of operations. But most importantly it will look like an Imperial strike team has discovered New Kiev, marked its location, killed Yeremeyev, and escaped in his ship to tell the Empire. That will force the Rus to launch an all-out assault on the Empire as their only chance to avoid being crushed like bugs, and we can divert the ship to somewhere that we can abandon her and re-enter Imperial society." A pause, and she smiled slyly. "Or just become pirates ourselves to help continue to fund the CFL."

The daring of the plan stunned Isabella. When she finally looked back at Sophia, it was wider eyes and obvious respect. "That would tie up all the loose ends, I think. That's an impressive bit of thinking, and I like it. I like it a lot, if we can pull it off. Something like this has to be approved by the operations committee, and brother Fisher, and it'll take a bit of time to confirm all the details..." She had rushed through, and was now breathless. "I'll definitely submit your idea for consideration, today."

"Thank you, Isabella," Theophania smiled sweetly. "It will require the both of us to personally accompany the strike team, but I can deal with Pavel and his servants myself. We'll show them what a couple of belter girls can do... And we'll play the Rus' hand for them."

Isabella returned the smile, and then laughed gently. "That would show 'em. Okay, I'm definitely in favor unless we turn up something when the committee goes over the idea. And I certainly would look forward to working with you."

"Thank you very much, again," Theophania replied, and then answered, just a bit salaciously, "It'll be nice to get back to the capitol to see you anyway. And maybe I'll run into you during the Foundation Day ball...? Pavel and I are planning a surprise for the stuck-up nobles and priests that should be well-worth viewing..."

The grin on her face was matched by a rather salacious grin and cant to her eyes. "We have to attend, and I wasn't too enthusiastic about it to put it mildly, but... I'll very much look forward to seeing you there."
Last edited by The Duchess of Zeon on 2012-05-31 02:18pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: (TGG) The Cardinal Files: An Inside Job.

Post by The Duchess of Zeon »

Chapter Sixteen: In the Court of Jarisleif.

By Marina and Chris Purnell.

Upon the world of New Kiev,
City of Novo Vladimir, the Rus capitol.

At street level on the right bank of Vladimir the Kremlin naturally dominated the skyline. Its ferrocrete walls were taller than any of the houses or offices allowed on this side of the Irytush River, and the onion domes of the palace inside strained yet higher into the air. The golden bulbs stood atop dusky-red towers that provided a strong color contrast with the brown wood that still made up building material in the "historic" district of Novo Vladimir.

There was a broad plaza that surrounded the walls, allowing a clear line of sight to the imposing brick-red gates that allowed entrance and from whose balconies important decisions and decrees were still first announced to the people. The massive iron gates were mostly for show, and were kept open almost all the time, but the pair of low-slung armored fighting vehicles and uniformed infantry sentinels conducting traffic stops was deadly serious.

This being Founding Day, the boyars of the Great Rus had established a feast and entertainment for the people of the city at their own expense. All along the walls tables were piled high with roasted meats, cooked vegetables, stews, soups, fruits, cheeses, sausages, rolls, and tray upon tray of rich black bed. There was kvas in abundance, the thinly alcoholic beer drank almost exclusively in the place of water, and shots of vodka as long as supplies ran clear.

People had packed the Kremlin Plaza to partake of the bounty, and were serenaded by "Cossack" bands operating at each corner of the walls. Once night fell there would fireworks, and flame performers, and gypsies would come to ply their various trades, and the vodka would flow even more freely until the sun finally rose again. Fortunately the boyars, knowing their people well, decreed the day after Founding Day to be another holiday.

The impressive height and build of Pavel Yeremeyev insured he would have stood out in the crowd. He was wearing his bear-fur coat, still necessary outside the confines of climate-controlled cars and buildings, over an almost piratical interpretation of a Cossack's vest and breeches. An ushanka sat uneasily on his head as he moved through the crowd being jostled as men and women turned and halted in his presence, forming knots of admirers with whom he spoke warmly in the earthy ways of the urban workers. He had insisted on heading to the Kremlin on foot earlier on, and Sophia was keenly aware that despite the inconvenience he was thoroughly enjoying the attention he received from the masses.

Sophia had played herself up as thoroughly as requested. Whereas Pavel Yeremeyev dressed himself like a pirate.. Well, Sophia dressed herself as the sort of woman a pirate would take home. Theophania Ritzhak knew exactly how to scandalize, that was for sure. Her dress consisted of sheer, gauzy laced fabric which was see-through in its entirety. Nominally modest, it covered every part of her body in its black sepia-tones that left her skin all the darker beneath it. Strategically, there was solid black material--silk, no less, very rare here--for the high collar she wore.

Descending from the collar were two further strips of it, in such a way that she'd been forced to have a strapless bra made. These strips met with another opaque band wrapping around through the lighter material to cover her breasts, and also, as the opaque material continued down the middle of her stomach, covering her belly button, gave it the appearance of a cross in a faintly sacriligeous way. With another opaque band at the waist, the dress continued in its gauzy, fully revealing ways straight down to her ankles, which were supported by very high platform shoes.

This necessitated, for sake of modesty, that she had arranged to wear a skirt over it, which had a short section which went to about two-thirds of her thighs, short, straight, and sheer black material on the inside.. And on the outside, black lace with drifty floral patterns, again stretching down to her ankles; everything from her lower thighs down was therefore hazily not-quite-there, faintly visible between the two layers of obscuring but not concealing material, and almost impossible to tell whether or not you could see it. Though, of course, as a further concession to modesty she wore black stockings which extended far up her thighs, but even these had chevron patterns on them which revealed tiny slivers of bare flesh.

The belt trimming the skirt and the dress together was made of silver tassel, and her inner coat was short and terminated at her waist to show it off, with a high collar on it and silver floral designs against black fabric.... And a collar trimmed in small emeralds. It did not interfere with her gloves, long opera gloves which were as black as the rest and extending up to her elbows. They were bedecked with an emerald marking each knuckle, besides.

A silver necklace with a diamond, conversely, was around her neck, and she wore long hanging earrings which culminated in emeralds as well. Over it all, of course, was the fur pelt coat, done in the highest fashion, which Pavel had gifted to her. To complete the look her makeup enhanced her dark features, so very rare amongst the Rus, with lipstick sharply the colour of wine, and her hair was done up in a partial bun with some of it hanging down lightly behind her, arranged through the use of silver hair-sticks in a faintly oriental fashion. She was hanging on Pavel's arm and knowing exactly what she was--his pet whore--and playing it to the very limit.

Pavel had been pleased -very pleased- with her dress, and had laughed off any concerns about propriety. It did theoretically meet the standards for decency, even if, as he had anticipated with relish, it gave a few of his older enemies a heart attack or apoplectic fit. It was clear from the looks on the faces of the men in the crowd, and the envious stares speared to Sophia by most of the women, that having her by his side only enhanced his own image.

It took them a while to get through to the gate. The Rus infantry had green winter greatcoats over their gold and green dress uniforms, and bore functional and deadly looking magpulse rifles. The guns seemed to be a generation or two older than those boasted by Imperial forces but were doubtless just as good at their main functions. The lieutenant of the squad was marked out by his ushanka, which stood out from the shakos his enlisted men wore. He greeted Pavel warmly enough, but still demanded to see the hero's identification card.

“Of course, you have your duty lieutenant." He smiled gamely despite the annoyance, and presented his credentials before tilting his head toward Sophia. "And this is my guest, Ms. Theophania Ritzhak."

The Rus officer ran his card through a small scanner machine at the gate before returning it. His eyes lingered a bit on Sophia, though he wisely forebore to remark on how lucky the privateer was. "Everything is in order, gospodin. I hope you and your lady enjoy the festivities."

Theophania remained silent, and focused primarily on Pavel, looking for all the world like, though she was not smitten with him... Well, Pavel Yeremeyev could certainly satisfy a woman in bed, and the little slut, as she appeared, looked thoroughly satisfied. She allowed only the briefest of gracious smiles in thanks to the officer, though it was still quite a spectacular touch, before her eyes returned to Pavel where they belonged.

"No doubt we will," Pavel replied, more than a little smugly as he brought Sophia in a little closer to his body.

He led Sophia through the gate and onto the Kremlin grounds proper. Past the two tanks they were confronted with the imposing dusky-red bulk of the palace serving as both the residence of the Grand Duke and the meeting site of the Zemsky Sobir. It boasted three onion domes on a sprawling walled facility decorated with golden and precious stones along the tops of walls and at windows. The main entrance was decorated with a mosaic done in Byzantine form, framing the giant doors with the story of Novo Vladimir's founding and the hopeful scene of a return from exile.

"So many of the boyars cannot wait to return to their plush estates and reclaim their holdings on Vladimir, over a century now." Pavel remarked a little contemptuously as they passed by. "That is their real motive for pushing for a return." He seemed a little bemused after he said it, though. "I know a pirate complaining about greed? But they are too soft for life here and that is why I alone have struck back successfully at the Empire. They have had a hundred years to adapt to this world and they refuse to, and have kept us weak by doing so. Now they grasp at straws."

"We needed more time to prepare," Theophania sighed softly. "But now you're right. Nothing will happen in our lifetimes and it leaves us only to make such lives as we might, where we are. This world is beautiful, though you still must show me my natural home and let me explore the system, Pavel," she reminded him, gently and fondly as she leaned in against him while walking along with him.

"Soon, soon my dear," he promised. "Now, we must put in an appearance before the Greand Duke. Fortunately timed so that the banquet begins afterward. After that the ball will begin, though many guests will have stuffed themselves too full to take part. More still will fail to hold their liquor." That drew his full measure of disgust. A man who could not hold down alcohol was not, ultimately, a man.

"There will be politics, always. Who we are seated with, who speaks to us afterward, who asks who to dance, and so on. Normally I leave early because I have no patience with these games, but I want them to see you and be furious and jealous. With any luck we can kill a few old toads while here."

"The priests will be especially disapproving, I think. Especially since that silly little man of a priest back on the Grom Pobedy has doubtless spread stories of my immorality far and wide," she smiled grandly. "It is truly a wonderful time to accompany you, and so warm in the cold of this world." Her stride was unaffected by the superbly high platform shoes, and she would later proudly demonstrate her ability to dance in them as well.

The reminder of Konstantin brought a look of irritation to his face. "I doubt anyone will pay him much attention, and so what? The priests will be busy trying to hide their stiff cocks, the ones that aren't faggots." He softened a bit as the entered the palace proper, where servants milled around to take their coats and other items to be checked. Pavel handed his off to the nearest liveried form. He didn't need to bother to say whose it was.

Theophania did the same with her heavy fur coat... And she expected the response to revealing more fully what lay beneath it would be suitably appropriate, even if she was still wearing her under-jacket, and would until the suitable moment for that to be removed, which was rather later. It was still risque enough to attract real comment, after all, and seemed particularly suited to the dusky, earthy intensity of beauty and voluptuousness that her body clearly represented, hanging so close to the powerful Yeremeyev.

There was, for a second, a complete hush as Theophania's partially revealed dress was taken in. The servants halted only for the barest of seconds but it was perceptible, especially given that they would be beaten for mistakes. The few guests milling around had greater freedom to stare and admire, or become indignant and furious, though anyone giving vent to their feelings had to take into account the heavily muscled and dangerous looking Yeremeyev standing beside her. That reduced the commentary to a whisper, of which Sophia could make out carry feminine voices as well as admiring male comments and the hushes of violated decorum.

A chamberlain approached them, raising an eyebrow at the daring of Yeremeyev for bringing in a whore, but saying nothing. "Gospodin Pavel Yeremeyev is summoned before His Most Serene Highness the Grand Duke at the audience hall, to present Founding Day wishes... He stopped for a moment. "Will you be presenting your... guest before the Grand Duke and Zemsky Sobir?"

"Of course!" Pavel answered swiftly and decisively, and with a hint of mirth in his voice. "Lead us on, good sir." His arm found Theophania's body and drew her back close in as he did.

The chamberlain gave no further indication of displeasure as he led the pair past milling servants and formally attired guests, down richly appointed hallways lined with portraits and tapestries. The audience chamber was on the Grand Duke's half of the palace, the East Wing, and a scattering of armed guards provided rigid but visible security at certain doors they passed. A ceremonial guard was also stationed at the audience hall, and despite efforts to remain rigidly at attention Theophania could see both soldiers giving her body a once over. One fought down the beginnings of a smirk.

"If you want," Theophania whispered softly to Pavel, "You can introduce me to the Grand Duke as a CFL commando. It is, after all, accurate." She was amused by what everyone would think of the absurdity of that, though, and wondered if Pavel would similarly find it amusing. It also was her intent as it stood now to show the beginnings of a bit of detachment or resignation related to the goals of the agency. Of course in reality Sophia just found it darkly amusing.

"I'm not sure I want to provoke him into a heart attack," Pavel answered wryly. But the audacity was appealing, and in truth the old man was part of the present problem. Vacillating, weak, tired, possibly senile, the Zemsky Sobir had chosen per its usual standards. Theophania had heard him weighing forth on the subject before.

The guards stood aside as the doors opened, revealing a chamber gleaming with golden paneling and draped with oriental rugs, before which stood an ornately carved wooden throne on a step-dais. Officers and suited officials lined both sides of the room, and the Grand Duke stood slightly before his throne.

He was a visibly aged figure, wearing a thick and colorful, deeply archaic kaftan with a fur-lined crown hanging on top of a long mop of grey hair. After a few minutes of standing as an officer pledged his best wishes, the elected ruler slid back down into his chair.

There was a brief break after the man finished, before the court herald stepped forward and blew a soft note on his horn. "Your Most Serene Highness, officers of the court, Gospodin Pavel Yeremeyev, Knight of the Order of Saint Michael, holder of the Banner of Saint Andrew, and guest."

Pavel made his way confidently up the rug, stopping where the Rus officer had been before bowing. It was not a deep bow, since Yeremeyev was himself a boyar and as such not subject to the personal authority of the Grand Duke as sovereign. A knyaz would not even have done that much, instead pretending to the status of equality granted to all of the upper nobility. "Your Highness, may I present Theophania Ritzhak, a member of our allies of the Colonial Freedom League."

Theophania dipped her head gently--but no more. She was going to play the part of someone who was still, after all, at heart a daring and outrageous revolutionary and if that got her into a bit of trouble, well, she suspected it had already been an issue of with the rest of the CFL and Pavel would protect her to some degree anyway. She could not imagine Theophania failing to follow up the example that she herself had remembered from the Alliance, of a famous moment in the antecedents of its principle founding state. "Your Most Serene Highness," she offered at least. "I am deeply honoured and humbled to have the opportunity to meet your personage."

The Grand Duke's head drifted downward, in what could generously be interpreted as a nod. "We are pleased... pleased to have once more at our court, Gospodin Yeremeyev." His voice was thin and reedy. "It is our wish that you enjoy these Founding Day celebrations." He looked up, as if he had remembered something. "Your services to the Great Rus are well recalled."

"I look forward to many, many more years of service to our people, Your Highness" Pavel said, deadpan. If the Duke realized his condition was being subtly alluded to he gave no sign of it.

They were ushered out shortly afterward, as a line of people to be granted the audience began to form behind them. Pavel left looking somewhat pleased with himself, though Sophia could sense an underlying unease. With the banquet set to begin soon though they were hurried to another part of the palace, one more empty of both guests and guards at the time. Servants moved to and fro around them, but seemed to pay them no mind as they went about fulfilling their own urgent duties as the main festivities were soon to commence.

I take it our presence is being slightly shuffled to the side," Theophania offered, having shuffled along fairly admirably in those high platform shoes, all things said.

He shrugged. "I hadn't seen the old man in a while. His condition is worse than I had heard, clearly. That will probably mean a new election among the Zemsky Sobir soon." And that brought all manner of possibilities and especially problems. The failure of the uprising plan meant that New Kiev was in a very delicate and very vulnerable position. "There are certain factions at work, I think who do not want him to embarrass himself and so are keeping the audiences shorter than usual. Even that young officer ahead of us barely got three minutes."

"Well, that will be a thoroughly unentertaining distraction, I suppose,” Theophania answered lightly. "It will detain you for quite some time, my Pavel?"

"God forbid!" Pavel shook his head. "I'll probably have to fend off some assassins if it comes to that. Maybe worth it if we can get a better man in charge. One who will show a lot more real spine, instead of pandering to the exile boyars dreaming about their easy lives again."

"Expand outwards instead of inwards, encourage the population to grow? If I were the ruler of this planet, I think that would be best. The Empire is uncomfortably close. But I don't think they'll bother with annexation. We'll have lives, such as they are." A quiet moment, and she smiled daringly. "The next time you do go raiding, Pavel, take me with you?"

He smiled in pleasure at the request. "Can't stand to be away from me for long, eh?" His mood improved, he guided her into a waiting room where a few other guests stood around. His arm draped across her back conveyed an appropriately intimate and possessive air. "Well, I'm afraid you might distract me much, little minx, but how could I turn down such a bold request?"

"I'm safer on the Grom Pobedy than on the planet, in your capable hands..." She smiled up, with Pavel still towering over her despite the heavy platform shoes, after all, by an absurd amount. But Sophia had never much minded that she was not even quite five feet in height. It served her purposes nicely enough... "Well, with you in command. I might be a horrible critic to your poor helmsmen..."

Pavel laughed at the prospect. "Maybe Nikolai could use a little instruction. He would pay attention to you, if not for the right reasons. But we'll see. Hopefully soon."

"I'm safer on the Grom Pobedy than on the planet, in your capable hands..." She smiled up, with Pavel still towering over her despite the heavy platform shoes, after all, by an absurd amount. But Sophia had never much minded that she was not even quite five feet in height. It served her purposes nicely enough... "Well, with you in command. I might be a horrible critic to your poor helmsman..."

Pavel laughed at the prospect. "Maybe Nikolai could use a little instruction. He would pay attention to you, if not for the right reasons. But we'll see. Hopefully soon."

He had in the meantime noticed a few friends, and brought Theophania over to meet them. The room filled up fairly quickly, with servants bringing out platters piled with zakuski, small appetizers, as well as alcoholic drinks. Audiences with the Grand Duke seemed to run bare minutes for most of the prominent guests, which was much remarked on. Sophia began to make out the lines of faction and politics animating the elite of the Great Rus, marked roughly by their reaction to Pavel.

His friends and allies greeted the man boisterously, while his enemies avoided him, sometimes contriving to walk to the other side of the room whenever Yeremeyev approached. A disproportionate number of his friends were lower-ranking naval officers, sporting aristocrats, and any sporting similar Cossack-knockoff outfits. Older people, higher-ranking officers, and most of the knyaz class were less warm in their greetings.

The banquet itself went on and on for two hours. There was course after course of Russian favorites, often doctored away from the simple peasant fare that it had roots in. Conversation depended on a large extent on one's neighbors, and Yeremeyev was, despite his low title, stationed on the first table across from the commander of a squadron of battleships.

He was no one of those people who found Yeremeyev charming, though Pavel amused himself barbing the regular naval officer about his lack of experience. Soophia did not miss the looks the good admiral's wife was showing Pavel, which was undoubtedly another cause of the chilly reception to the pirate captain. The nobleman to his right was more talkative, albeit almost monomaniacally about hunting; Yeremeyev was more than willing to indulge the man with tales of his own successes.The food itself was wonderful but she was quite happy when dessert was finally carted away. There was a brief respite for more drinking, to "help the feast digest," before the ballroom was opened.

The ballroom boasted several bars and seating along the sides of a polished dance floor, with a traditional brass band performing on the orchestra dais at the front of the room. Men in suits and braided dress uniforms guided women in flowing dresses through the mazurkas and other light dances.

It was of course then that it was time for Theophania's inner coat to come off... And that's when the daring of Yeremeyev's pet whore was fully apparent, and proudly so from the perspective of Theophania, focusing her emotions on Yeremeyev, letting his glee at the moment soak into her, and fill her with the same experience as she proceeded forward on his arm. "Shall we dance first, or would you rather like to drink some more, my Pavel?," she offered solicitiously, the uncomfortableness she would have felt at the revealing clothes in any other circumstance washed away by Pavel's emotions.

He was smirking. The eyes of half the room were on Theophania, and he could see a certain straining, incredulous reaction in more than a few faces. Fortunately that was all very deeply satisfying. "A dance or two first, while we have the momentum." He took her hand, and led her on the floor without further ado. Pirates quickly learned how to compound an advantage, after all.

The band struck out a new, wilder tune inspired by Cossack melodies that themselves bore the imprint of the Tatars and other, still more fierce peoples. It was familiar formal music for the Great Rus, significantly slowed down from the original and without any bawdy lyrics but still fast paced and energetic compared to the waltzes and mazurkas favored by Imperial balls. Pavel naturally took the lead, and with supreme confidence in her abilities as a dancer, and on her heels, swung her outwardly with his right hand and pulled into a twirl timed with the beat of the music.

They twirled and whirled and danced intensely with Theophania in her high platform shoes, and she kept up ably despite it, grinning now in some actual delight, not merely Pavel's--though of course for her it was impossible to tell the difference--on account of fact she was an accomplished dancer, and appreciated the fact that Pavel Yeremeyev was truly everything that Valentyn had only wanted to be.

It was suitably ironic, and of course she respected him as a far more serious threat, and a bit of a thrilling challenge, in comparison with the last Rus man her dusky voluptuousness had seduced. She let herself focus in entirely on two things--on Pavel and on the music--and let him lead as a man properly ought in a dance, and then nothing remained except to revel in the splendour of it.

It was a hearty, energetic combination of movements mated to a fast tune, and her ability to keep up with the much larger Yeremeyev -and on those heels, in that dress- drew no small amount of attention. Pavel's celebrity and build, contrasted against his smaller, exotic woman, made them the center of the ballroom, confirmed when the band began shifting their performance to suit the more vibrant inclinations of the pirate captain. That just made it harder for many of the other dancers to keep up, which made Pavel and Theophania all the more conspicuous. They would be the talk of the entire capital before the night was over.

They danced through two more performances of similar tunes before someone with enough clout to move things asked the band to play a more sedate waltz. No doubt the reprieve was needed by much of the floor, though Yeremeyev didn't bother to hide his disappointment. "But, if they need a break, so be it. I will take my own at the bar. The Grand Duke at least opened up the good bottles of vodka for the celebrations."

"Certainly so, Pavel. I understand a CFL delegation is here.. So I'll pay my brothers and sisters a visit," she offered, a bit wanly, before smiling brilliantly at him. "I'll be back soon enough!" She slipped away at that point, though it was hard to avoid the eyes on her.. And essentially looked for people who would be far, far more out of place than she was. And most importantly, for Isabella.

They were sitting in a clump at the end of the bar nearest the door, well away from the dance floor and the band, mostly ignored by the other guests. She recognized Abernath Fisher from his file photos, and the auburn-haired professor sported a Rus styled formal suit of stiff black tunic and trousers with obvious discomfort.

Beside him Isabella defiantly sported the exact same outfit, modified to accommodate her generous figure, and was caught up in a light conversation with a ginger complexioned, red-haired man in a field gray paramilitary uniform. There were a couple of other men hanging around them, and one more woman dressed more modestly in an adapt Rus peasant's skirt and formal blouse that was formally acceptable.

Sophia walked up to them largely unannounced, and then, paused and smiled fondly, and then... got to work, as it were. "Brothers, sisters, Isabella," she spared a special nod to the other belter. "Forgive me for not introducing myself sooner--I am Sister Theophania Ritzhak of the Dvonomir Belter Association cell cluster--but Pavel Yeremeyev, ah, detained my attention."

Her approach quieted the existing conversations and a moment passed in which she was evaluated. Fisher gave her a dispassionate look over, though his mouth tugged upward in the beginnings of an amused smile. Most of the men gave her rather more interested looks, her dress and figure having the intended impact on them. Isabella looked surprised, but quickly shook it off, giving her an admiring nod... and the same interested look as her male colleagues. "Sister Theophania, welcome," she said, perhaps recovering first on account of being familiar with her. She extended her hand casually, while holding a drink in her other. "This is the sister who provided that suggestion we've been discussing so much recently."

"Pavel wanted to shock some people," Theophania answered with a light shrug as she moved to settle in at the bar as well, still broadly smiling. "I was not adverse to the idea myself."

"I imagine you've done a fair job of it," Fisher blandly commented. He offered his hand in turn. "Abernath Fisher, presently acting as the Sector Manager for the League. Isabella has told us quite a bit about you, Sister Theophania. I am glad you were able to make your escape here." He kept that strange, amused half-smile. "I had my own close call on Dvonomir, as it turned out. A pity more didn't make it."

"Yes, my cousin Mischa didn't make it out--she was one of your students, once upon a time, Brother Doctor, and with luck managed to get on the crew of a ship and spend some time working the Alliance.. But she returned. Family is family to belters, and..." Theophania shrugged. "It makes one look at revolutionary necessity rather more coldly, and urgently, I suppose, Brother Doctor." And one could read quite a lot into that statement considering what she'd suggested to Isabella. But that had been the point.

"Yes, my cousin Mischa didn't make it out--she was one of your students, once upon a time, Brother Doctor, and with luck managed to get on the crew of a ship and spend some time working the Alliance.. But she returned. Family is family to belters, and..." Theophania shrugged. "It makes one look at revolutionary necessity rather more coldly, and urgently, I suppose, Brother Doctor." And one could read quite a lot into that statement considering what she'd suggested to Isabella. But that had been the point.

"Urgency." Fisher rolled the word around in his mouth. "Yes, things are certainly urgent. Your arrangement with that brute Yeremeyev is convenient to that end. You have my sympathies if it hurts your relationship with your partner, but it is a boon to our movement and the cause of liberation."

"I'm sure she understands we all have sacrifices to make," Isabella responded, smiling softly at Theophania as she did. "It's the nature of the system we fight. She's not alone. Poor brother Klaus hasn't heard from his wife since the repressions on Vladimir began. Only the promise of victory can make this life bearable for us all."

"Such as it is, we will manage; but thank you kindly for the consideration," Theophania agreed with faint smile. "Well, on the positive side, I am going to get to escape New Kiev for a bit, Brother-Doctor, as I'd hoped. Pavel will soon be taking me on his yacht for a tour of the system, he's promised, in the next couple of days after the celebrations have finished." Which was useful information, and meant that Theophania might soon have the codes they needed. ''I'm just glad, at least, that my relationship with Pavel will be of use."

Isabella shook her head. "I hope I can get off this stifling world soon myself." The comment was edged with a hidden meaning, but the sentiment was heartfelt enough. "Shocking the locals is amusing for a while but it's gotten a lot harder of late. And now it's mostly disapproving looks and distance rather than fits of outrage. They're a bit too used to it. If I could get out hiking or skiing a little more often..." She looked significantly at Fisher.

"Your duties are invaluable for our cause, Sister Isabella. If I could spare you, I would." The half-smile seemed to grow a bit. "But perhaps soon, once our security people finish their review of that proposal.”

"Well, enough shop talk," Isabella said, turning her attention back to Theophania. "How have you found the evening so far? It looked like you were enjoying yourself on the dance floor. I can't say any of us are as fond of eating and drinking ourselves into a stupor as the Rus. That defines a good time for them as far as I can tell."

"Yes, it does, though Pavel is of course too much like the bears he hunts to actually ever end up in a stupor no matter how much he drinks. A whole bottle of the hundred proof barely gets him buzzed, I Swear," Theophania answered with a faint shake of her head. "The dancing, however, was marvelous. Poor things didn't know what they unleashed when they let someone so used to zero-gravity out there...."

"They have only themselves to blame," Isabella said, shaking her head. "If the Empire wasn't so much more powerful... but it is." She perked up, though, as the band started on a new waltz. She gave Theophania a sly look. "Do you want to really scandalize the Rus?"

"Pavel might have to rescue us from being shot," Theophania murmured, but from the tone, she was not at all objecting in the slightest, and confirmed it a moment later: "Let's."

Isabella took her hand gingerly, and led her through the crowd of people blocking off the bar from the dance floor. They received a number of shocked and hostile looks from onlookers who realized what they were doing, and drew steadily more attention as they went out onto the floor itself. Isabella encouraged the shorter woman to lean in intimately as she led them into the sweeping movements of the ancient waltz. Much as before, the eyes of the entire ball seemed to be upon them as had their dance, but with much less pure admiration for Theophania's skills.

"Mmmm." Isabella leaned in and whispered down at Theophania as she led her into another turn. "Half the ballroom wants to kill us, and the other half wants to fuck you." A bemused smile followed. "Maybe a tenth have the imagination to want to fuck us both."

"Maybe a tenth," Theophania grinned back sweetly. "Maybe. But that's not very gentlemanly of you...." Sophia teased gently, but at the same time had to bite off the rest of what she had thought to say, namely Speaking of which I bet you the Grand Duke wouldn't realize you were a woman, only because exploding into laughter at a private joke would not be very opportune at the moment.

"I'm not a gentleman," she observed, but belied it by dipping Theophania in a rather forceful manner. "Though they think me a freak of nature." She brought Theophania back up. "It's been so long since I was with another belter, though. Or a woman." There was a quiver of hesitation in her eyes, though she continued to lead strongly. "I don't suppose sister Lida would mind?"

"No. We've actually always had an open relationship--don't tell Pavel," she added with a sly and brilliant grin, which faded a bit to allow: "She's also a lot more outgoing when not surrounded by priests...." But she didn't miss a beat in the dance to her whispered words, suspecting that Pavel had long since noticed and was probably amused. But also saying some obscenely derisive things about Isabella...

Isabella couldn't keep a broad, genuine grin off her face. "That's wonderful, wonderful." As they turned in Isabella took the opportunity to pull Theophania closer, rubbing very intimately against the slinky fabric of her dress. "Landers can be so difficult most of the time, but it sounds like you've found a good one." The music was building to crescendo, so Isabella took the opportunity to lead her into a series of faster paced moves. After a couple of minutes it began to die down into a lengthy but slower farewell. "Perhaps I should arrange for you to have some urgent business here in town tomorrow?" Her eyebrow was raised to accentuate the question and suggest the real agenda they might have.

"That would work. Pavel will not be doing anything after today, and we'll be leaving together the day after.... I'd like it very much." Theophania grinned as the dance winded down, having succeeded in thoroughly scandalizing them all.

"I'll look very forward it," Isabella promised. "If so much weren't riding on it I would slink off with you right now..." She sighed. "But I suppose we've had our fun for the night." The music was ending, and they were walking back off the floor. "Back to Pavel." She smiled encouragingly. "And I hope you enjoy. I couldn't quite decide if I were more jealous of him for having you, or more jealous of you for having him. Though I've made up my mind now..."

"I'm making sure he enjoys every moment," Theophania answered, with a somewhat inscrutable expression on her face as she smiled very faintly and parted from Isabella's arms. The dance had at least been perfectly chaste.. well, no worse than any dance between an unmarried couple ought to have been, except for the sex of the participants. That had prevented outright criminality, in the eyes of the Rus, Sophia suspected... But also, in answering Isabella the way she had, she'd spoken with perfect honesty, though more and more the details of the plot she'd hatched were coming to mind, and with them, the confident relief that she might not have to kill Pavel Yeremeyev after all. She turned back for him, grinning as she approached for two reasons.

He was shaking his head indulgently. "Well, I see you took the scandalous to heart." He had a grin on his face, though. Everyone would be talking about his new mistress tomorrow, and her exoticism and smoldering sexuality redounded on his own potency. The stuffy nobles that looked down their nose had forgotten how true Rus thought. "And here I thought your dress would suffice to cause apoplexy, but you have taken things to a new level. Though," he said, taking Theophania's arm, "I now have to show up that outsider bitch on the floor."

"Why Pavel, I'd never think to deny you the chance," Theophania answered with a brilliant look on her face, and let herself fall into him obediently and follow him against his arm out to the dance floor.
Last edited by The Duchess of Zeon on 2012-05-31 02:19pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: (TGG) The Cardinal Files: An Inside Job.

Post by Steve »

Ah, Sophia, she never fails to entertain.... :lol:
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Re: (TGG) The Cardinal Files: An Inside Job.

Post by The Duchess of Zeon »

Chapter Seventeen: Countdown.

By Marina and Chris Purnell.

In the system XHR-15567,
Containing the planet of New Kiev.

Altogether the system was indeed one of the more splendid. The star was typical of the main sequence, and so didn’t match the grandeur of the triple star of Talora Prime that Sophia well remembered, but the huge gas giant named Aurora after one of the ships which had discovered the system, and right on the critical line where it would have, above the present mass, had to have become a brown dwarf, was truly delightful, and particularly in a vividness of rings exceeding that of even Saturn. Sophia had no regrets about the trip, and outright delirious delight in the form of Theophania was a more apt description. They had spent the trip doing little more than having sex and navigating through the rings, usually with Theophania at the helm pulling on all her skills as a pilot with fifty years worth of training in starship operation and a fair amount of experience with countless types to imitate the natural grace of a ‘belter.

Still, it was a bit unexpected that when Pavel woke up in their little stateroom on the lower level of the three-deck yacht, Theophania wasn't there. Nor, was she on the second level with the main living and transport quarters except for the privacy of the captain's. She was unsurprisingly on the upper deck, which contained the engines and the bridge and nothing else. The gravity controls on the little yacht they'd left in two days before into the outer system were selective by deck, and the Theophania had needed the alone time without gravity, on the one deck which wouldn't be rather upended by her doing it. So when Pavel approached, he would quickly find himself in zero gravity...

...But arriving on the bridge, there was a finer sight. Silhouetted against the brilliance of the ringed gas giant visible in the reflection of the sun below, floated Theophania. Her body was completely, utterly nude, with her arms hanging out to the sides, and her hair floating like an immense fan behind her, angelic, relaxed, half-lidded eyes studying the brilliance of the clouds below in a sort of quiet repose.

Pavel was no stranger to zero-gravity, though he would freely admit that he lacked the grace and elegance that marked Belters in their natural environment. He floated in, gripping handhold to handhold, keeping himself reflexively oriented with the deck downward, his head above. It was all to get to the central chair to strap himself down, but he found himself unable or unwilling to intrude deeply. He did, however, soak in the sight of his woman immersed in the sensation of weightlessness and the stunning beauty of the outer system.

"I really love this system after all, Pavel," she began to speak very softly, "As much as I might be loathe to admit it, for I don't really like any of the people on it except for you, well, the Rus. But it looks like I'm going to be here for the rest of my life, and I don't want to be confined to a planet if I am. I want to fly as far and free as a bird can through the stars. Even if Lida can't bear it, well, things have changed more beyond my imagining, and Isabella fancies her, anyway."

There was a quiet pause, before she continued. "But I'm never going to be happy spending my life on the surface of a planet. Here, though, here I can be happy. You're a space-ship Captain, Pavel. What would you do with me for the future? I've had prolong and I'll be this beautiful for another hundred and fifty years, and never lose my spirit. But that spirit is iminicable to the submission of your women on the surface. I declared I would never hew to those standards of morality... And I never will. Not on Kiev any more than in the Empire."

Pavel waited, floating, paused in thought. He looked over her flawless body again, and imagined it, the same, a century later. What was his long term purpose? But she was right, such an extraordinary woman would be caged in the circles of the nobility and yet forever divorced from the earthy masses. It seemed like a sad fate. "I... thought I would continue to raid the Empire as long as we remain at war. I never really have given concern to what comes after that. If you would join me there, live with me on the Grom Pobedy, vacation at my dacha, I would have you as long as you wish."

"And if the Empire comes?" There was, laced in her voice, evident and obvious worry at the thought.

He was silent for a minute while he pondered that idea. "I will fight them, of course. New Kiev is my homeworld and the only planet I feel comfortable on. I am not a successful privateer by being suicidal, but we have no more redoubt now." Something he had bemoaned before the naval high command more than once.

She was silent for a little while, and then slowly pivoted to fully face Pavel in space, her nudity utterly revealing, and tears were evident in those dark eyes. "It hurts me to see the flames in the sky over a peaceful world, to imagine your death in battle against the Empire. You will lose. They have sixteen hundred dreadnoughts; you have sixteen battleships. We would lose. Pavel, I'll be a pirate for you, before I'd see you die. If the Empire comes, shall we not run for it and keep hitting them back as long as we can? Wouldn't you do so much more damage to avenge New Kiev that way, than by staying to fight with one heavy cruiser? I love you, Pavel Yeremeyev, and I am a belter. Space is my home. You have given me comfort and a home on New Kiev. If it comes to it, let's leave, cut a swathe through Imperial shipping for as long as we can, and I'll be here for you in my home as much as you have been there for me."

Pavel drank in the sight of her, so different from any woman he had ever known before. And then, he smiled. "Such an adventure! Such an audacious plan. One worthy of the king of pirates. That boldness, from such a delicate woman, is incredible. Perhaps you are right. It serves more of a point than a hopeless last stand, and the fame we could earn for it..." And it dawned on him this was why she had so bewitched him. Belter slut she might be, Theophania possessed a verve and audacity that almost no women did, and which he respected beyond measure. He pushed away, floating freely now toward her. "If the Empire comes..."

He embraced her, wiping away the tears forming at her eyes. The tumbled together in zero-gravity without direction or dignity. "It hasn't come yet. Maybe it will never come. We are careful with our codes to the system, and once the furor from this last debacle is over, perhaps they'll stop looking again. And we can settle more systems out here, build the Great Rus anew again."

She squeezed against him and smiled softly, soaking in the warmth from his clothed body, and the reassurance from his heart. "Perhaps the Empire will never come, and we will spread out. But my home is in the stars, and your ship of war a finer abode than I've ever had before. Never make me settle to a planet, Pavel Yeremeyev, and I promise you, I'll follow you until the end of your story..."

"So, so. I could not deny what your extraordinary nature requires," he said, finally. "You will come with me on the Grom Pobedy and share my life, and risks. You are strong enough for it, perhaps the only woman in the sector who is." He lifted her head up with his hand, and kissed her passionately.

Sophia abandoned herself in it, and hoped somewhere inside that Yeremeyev would have a fair chance to escape when the hammer fell. She could not so easily have left him without planting the seed in the mind's eye, and now it was time for the fates to also have their say...

CFL Compound, Novo Vladimir.

There was a gentle knock on the entrance to the simple prefab structure which contained the various tiny efficiency apartments which provided housing for the single women of the CFL, not quite as bad as the dorms for a lot of the men who were still effectively refugees, albeit ones with sort-of jobs at the moment. Sophia, dressed crisply in leather pants and a couple layers of dark blouses with one of Yeremeyev's fur coats over them, was waiting at the door, with an innocent smile on her face, a charmed and happy one like she was very pleased to see her lover again. Which wasn't precisely accurate....

There was the audible retraction of a lock before Lida opened the door, dressed in a very thick, very pink house robe. Her face was flushed a little, as though surprised, and steeling herself she stepped forward to embrace Sophia. "Come in, come in love, it's so wonderful to finally see you again," she said, aloud, for the benefit of the neighbors who might be watching. And it had been a while, strictly speaking, especially considering Sophia’s weeklong excursion with Pavel in the outer system.

"I've talked to Isabella," after sleeping with her for the second time, her inner voice rather nastily added in reminder of what she'd been up to, "And you can have a brief leave from your duties to return to the Dacha with me tomorrow for three days!" She was smiling and showing off her immense happiness as she fell into the taller woman's arms... Well, for as long as it took for them to slip back into the house in that tender embrace, and lock the door behind them...

Lida was just as eager to drop the pretence as Sophia, and wasted no time sliding back with her partner into the room. Sophia shoved the door in place beside her, and Lida broke the embrace to lock the door. She then swept by to the kitchen and turned on an archaic looking stereo system to loudly play romantic music. "I've swept the apartment for monitoring bugs and found nothing," she announced, voice low, "but one never knows what the people outside or in other apartments might hear."

"It would be rather pathetic for my career to end on account of an incompetent insulation job," Sophia agreed cheerfully. "But that's exactly how they tend to get the best. Good thinking, Lida. Speaking of which, we're going to be going home soon. Day after tomorrow, it looks like, if the council approves my idea, and I'm going there next."

"Hmm." Lida pursed her lips, trying to contain her instinctive joyful reaction. "Let us hope they do so. I am, I admit, growing quite eager to return home. And this plan offers the best chance for resolving our mission completely." She did allow herself a wry smile. "Nothing to it that we had feared, it will still be satisfying to wrap the Rus and CFL up."

"Well, they brought it on their own heads by trying to deceive their allies in such a way that ironically made us come down on them with the hardest of hammers. The wages of sin is death, and all that--I find it perfectly suitable. And there's still the issue of where the replicators came from. I'm suspecting that several very important people in the Empire may be facing a firing squad over this, Lida; that's potentially just as explosive as the other alternative, if mercifully less immediately dangerous," she answered.

"Well, enough of that." A trace of a smile was allowed, and she proceeded to more serious things by far—because they would affect their future survival.

"Isabella filled you in on the basics, since you'll be our adjutant for the strike team, but here's the specifics that have been ironed out if we get final approval: It's going to consist of fifteen or sixteen people plus you, myself, and Isabella, eighteen or nineteen in all. The two of us are tasked with killing Pavel and his servants and then an aircar carrying Isabella and the strike team will arrive as I warm up Pavel's yacht. We'll go to the Grom Pobedy with his access codes and I'll con my way to the bridge, and we'll use it to trap the caretaker crew. Isabella and I will run the ship on DNI with the safeties taken off the AI core, and clear straight out of the system. The mission hopes to avoid, but of course there will be, a firefight aboard the Grom Pobedy. This will be subject to some final revision, again."

"Your briefing was entrusted to me by Isabella anyway," Sophia offered with a curled grin. "So here's the parts which pertain to our mission."

"Basically I'm not going to kill Pavel. I'm going to telepathically put him into the null-state," she referred to a telepathy-induced recoverable coma, "And then we'll deal with his servants. Since we're trying to convince everyone the Empire is coming, at least nominally, it makes sense that most should escape. We'll drive them away and only kill the ones we absolutely have to, and then drag Pavel to his yacht, I know a place I can hide him while we run the start up sequence." Sophia smiled tightly. "We need him because the two of us only have maybe a fifty-fifty chance of taking out the strike team on our own, even with our telepathic abilities."

"When secured the ship, I'm going to nab Isabella. Getting her was important, because interrogating her is certainly going to crack this case wide open and tell us exactly who supplied the CFL with those replicators, and how they got through security. We'll drag her to the yacht and then wake up Pavel at the same time, and let him loose on the ship. He can use his command overrides to free his trapped cartaker crew, and go at hammer and tongs with the remaining members of the strike team while we escape in the yacht. That also has a side benefit; on the outside chance at the CFL's plan could actually cause further disruption in the Empire, letting Pavel regain control of the Grom Pobedy--and we'll make sure he wins--should let him get back here in time to prevent the invasion of Vladimir by the Rus as a last gasp. No invasion, no risk of a rising, and they will destroy the CFL on the planet for us for treachery. Then the Imperial Fleet will move in and bring the Rus to an end."

Lida took a deep breath. "That's a very daring plan," she said, with some hint of admiration. "And if everything goes to plan it should resolve all our difficulties. Setting the Rus and CFL against each other is no less than they deserve, yes. But what if Isabella wants to confirm Pavel's death? Or the crew resists effectively? There are things that can go wrong we should look at now before we have to improvise."

"I'll set the Dacha on fire as the aircar is landing, to conceal any possible evidence of CFL involvement, I'll claim. There's nobody within a dozen klicks, the fire won't even be noticed," Sophia answered easily.

"The issue of the crew's resistance is a trickier one. Of course, the good news is that the CFL doesn't have any telepaths to assign to the mission it appears. Not enough available to make any expendable like that. Neither does Pavel's caretaker crew. If we have to use our abilities to stay alive while the two sides fight it out, we will. I can take the ship to hyper on my own if I have access to the computer core--my DNI rig is the best that the Empire can produce. Obviously we can't account for all contingencies, but the problem is that the planet is locked down. Any other method of escaping is sure to result in our capture or death as it looks now... And I'm not really interested in staying here to have Pavel's kids."

Lida nodded her agreement. "It is our best chance, and the only option with such a, you might say, payout at the end. I was just trying to provide a critical eye. But I think you are correct. We can count on both the pirates and CFL being taken unaware by our abilities after they have hammered each other." She smiled happily. "Let's just hope Professor Fisher and his ilk don't get cold feet now."

"That is the hardest problem, isn't it? They're academics and they might back out. But that's why I started sleeping with Isabella, and scandalized high society with her on that dance floor. It was so liberating to her to do that... She'll drain every ounce of respect she has with the rest of the committee to get this mission approved, because she's utterly convinced it is her chance to prove that women can pull their weight, and belters, besides." She smiled faintly. "In certain respects, she's even right. We do, after all, have to accomplish the CFL’s mission.. And then a little more besides."


The discussion of "sister Theophania's" daring proposal had dragged on for a couple of days, though Isabella's staunch support and a lack of any other good options made it a foregone conclusion. With the decision made the rest of the operations committee faded back into their regular duties, leaving Fisher as overall head of the sector and Isabella as the commander. Having come to their own understanding they summoned Theophania to the CFL offices to formally appraise her of the decision and final planning, and authorize their preparations.

It was a short walk over to the main building, the same one they had visited their first time in Novo Vladimir. The receptionist waved Theophania through this time, with directions to Fisher's office on the upper floor suite. She rode the lift in grim silence, unable to telepathically communicate with Lida lest they be detected, and worrying about the prospect of a last-minute cancellation. It seemed sure Fisher would have to approve, but… Well, no time to worry now, she thought to herself as she knocked on the door.

The office itself was far larger than that of Isabella or Klaus, functioning as both a residence and workplace for the sector manager. The place was richly appointed with furs, tapestries, oriental carpets and the other trappings of a Rus nobles' abode, with the only real mark of an academic found in books piled up on nearly any available flat surface. Fisher met her as she entered, with Isabella by his side, directing the woman to an open "study" he had created out of odds and ends of furniture and two impressive bookshelves.

A nudge from Isballa prompted him to hospitality. "Would you like tea, or coffee? I shouldn't neglect my duties as host."

"Some coffee would be nice; I didn't even realize they grew it here, seeing as all Pavel serves is tea, albeit very strong," Sophia answered cheerfully. "Brother-Doktor, I'm certainly incredibly surprised to see such a fine collection of books. I kept one of my own, before this all happened, at Lida's apartment on the surface due to the usual belter idea of three-dimensional volume being more precious than gold." She cracked a grin at it, and seemed comfortable with what was coming about, generally speaking.

That seemed to warm the professor up, a bit. "It's always welcome to meet another bibliophile, sister Theophania. Too many people these days just cling to their perscoms and virtual libraries." He took on the persnickity tone of an elder bemoaning the foolishness of the latest generation. "I managed to save part of my collection, but most of it belongs to friends, or are purchased. The Rus do have their own distinct literature that presents an interesting contrast to Imperial norms..." He realized he was starting down the path to a lecture, though, and shook his head. "I will go put on that coffee for you. Another rare import, alas."

"Well, perhaps we'll be able to send some back," Theophania answered with increasing cheerfulness, the meeting seeming positive already. "There is the issue of what we will do with the Grom Pobedy afterwards, after all," she sort of trailed after Fisher, not thinking it appropriate to let him wander off his own, a bit impolite indeed, but in the end settled for remaining in the room with Isabella. "She's a heavily modified heavy cruiser, but most importantly by the standards of the Rus so heavily upgraded she can overmatch any of the Imperial vessels of her class. The finest ship Pavel owns--the rest are mostly converted prizes--and though we'll need a crew, I have hopes we can obtain one."

"That's certainly an advantage of your plan, and one that proved influential convincing the committee to approve it," Isabella said, interceding with the other woman. "So, yes, the plan was approved in the broad outlines you suggested." She smiled pleasantly. "It will give the League a valuable military asset and salvage the only really worthwhile military equipment the Rus have. I like the idea of playing pirate captain in her with you and Sister Lida."

Theophania gave up all pretenses of nervousness and grinned brilliantly. "I suppose I'll take the Chief Engineer slot when we get things organized, then, Captain." There was a nod of her head in Isabella's direction as she busied herself with readjusting the hairband she'd bound around to pull her hair back with. "Lida certainly deserves to see me yank a garrote around Pavel's neck at this point, what with how her patience has been toward things. The two of us will manage things quite ably at the dacha... What are the final details, if I may? We might as well get down to business while the coffee is brewing."

“We want you to kill Pavel in his bed sometime in the early morning of the 21st,” Isabella answered.

Two days from now, three technically, it was to be, Sophia noted, nodding and not commenting.

"Sometime around 0200 or 0300 hours if you can. You'll send the operations signal to an unregistered account I will provide on secure disk before you leave here today, and allow us access to the main landing ground without alerting the servants. My team will arrive in three aircars rented through an unknowing third party, with sixteen shooters counting myself armed with Rus military firearms. We will secure the rest of the compound, plant a false trail in the security computers of the dacha. Any questions thus far?"

"No," Sophia answered, though the change in her original proposal would enormously complicate her efforts to smuggle Pavel onto the yacht. But she'd just have to work around it, and her brain was already churning over ways to do so. They’d be ruthless ways to her body, but she had torn through her flesh to accomplish missions before, and the lack of a heartbeat strongly reminded her of it in that moment. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak… A moment’s religious reflection brought her contentment with the risks her forming plan entailed, and she answered accordingly with the necessary lies. "That seems perfectly sensible and a much improved version of what I'd originally thought of. I'll be fully capable of accomplishing it."

"Once there we will secure the yacht and you'll use Yeremeyev's codes to access the Grom Pobedy in orbit. Perhaps contact the bridge directly and convince them Pavel is coming to visit." She shook her head. 'We'll dock with the vessel and you will use your codes to lock the crew out of the systems and activate the isolation measures on the ship. We'll take the bridge by force, supported by your control of the computer core, and then neutralize the rest of the crew as we depart from orbit. Simple enough, no?" Isabella smiled wryly, quite aware it was going to be a rather difficult and trying mission.

"I assume by neutralize we'll just try to detain as many as possible? They are cutthroats and I'm sure a few would be of negotiable virtue, though I don't know how they could prove it except by having them kill the others who have remained loyal to Yeremeyev." Even Theophania looked extremely grim at the same time she made the suggestion.

"Those who surrender once we have control will be locked down in the brig," she confirmed. "We'll adjust as situations require. With the approval and my appointment as operational commander I have some discretion now in how things are carried out."

Fisher returned, with three cups of freshly brewed coffee in hand. He offered them around. "Almost the last of my White Mountain beans," he lamented. "Isabella here has filled you in on the decision of the committee, yes?"

"Yes. It will not be hard to implement," Theophania answered confidently. "The changes are just improvements and I can kill Pavel quietly." She took the coffee with a pleased smile and sipped it at once, relaxed and in her element with the decision already made.

"That's good to hear." Fisher looked amused. "Not too many of our brothers and sisters would go to such lengths to get off this world. If it works you will have made a great and lasting contribution to our work, and should silence a few less enlightened members of our organization."

"I would hope so," Theophania smiled more tautly. "I'm honestly more concerned about everyone being left behind on the planet, Brother-Doktor. Even as the revolts spread we could still see a very heavy Imperial fist slamming down here."

"We hope to arrange some manner of evacuation of our personnel sooner or later," Fisher replied dispassionately. "The Rus have no more desire to host large numbers of us, than we have to be here for long. The disruption of the smuggling community is unfortunate in that regard, but a prolonged battle over Vladimir should give us the time we need."

"Alright," Theophania replied simply, and looked to Isabella. "I imagine we'll be traveling pretty far out in the Grom Pobedy before establishing some kind of operations?"

"We can operate it ourselves in flight but we'll have to get a full crew before we can start raiding," Isabella noted. "We're trying to arrange a rendezvous with a merchant ship to transfer more of our people, but it will have to be outside the Dvonomir sector. The exact details will be established once we have control of the ship and can evaluate its condition."

"Of course. I assume you're the one who knows all the contacts so one of our objectives is keeping you alive," Theophania offered to the other belter with a grin.

Isabella giggled at that. "I suppose it is. I promise I'll do my best to stay alive."

"Much appreciated," Theophania grinned back. Oh you better, she thought inside, knowing exactly how important Isabella was to the mission. Just not the mission she thought she was.
Last edited by The Duchess of Zeon on 2012-05-31 02:20pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: (TGG) The Cardinal Files: An Inside Job.

Post by The Duchess of Zeon »

Chapter Eighteen: But who else would they send?

authored by Marina and Christopher Purnell.

Pavel Yeremeyev’s Dacha,
New Kiev.

Sophia had spread her legs for Pavel Yeremeyev for the very last time that she expected she would ever have to. Of course, she could think of convoluted scenarios of why it might happen again, but they were not something which she put any stock in. It was a relationship of sin, for all that she could see herself happy as his wife in another world, where she’d been born of the Rus and someone, ultimately, completely utterly different, her mind had reminded. Without her powers she’d have only her beauty anyway, and she doubted that would be quite enough for Pavel.

Still, he had excited uncomfortable intensity from her, to the point that where she might usually plan for a way to bring the Grom Pobedy back and warn off the Rus without him, now, she simply focused everything on making sure he survived. And she was more than capable of seeing that through. Nor, really, was her affection for Pavel noteworthy in any way, objectively. It was only subjective to her usual complete detachment and submersion in another’s emotion that the discrepency was noticeable. She did not care at all, beyond her usual human compassion, for Isabella Sanchez. Pavel Yeremeyev, on the other hand, merely fought to defend his home… And she was going to guarantee that he was going to lose it.

That musing did not in the slightest even slower her down through what came next. It was slightly after three o'clock of the morning when Pavel felt a gentle pushing against his body, rousing him from his slumber. It was not that early; Pavel did tend to rise early, and they'd gone to bed fairly early that night at around ten of the clock, so it meant he'd already had five hours of sleep, though as he awoke there would be the slight form of Theophania, looking rather pensive, but also taking advantage, a bit, of the closeness that she'd accrued to the pirate lord on their excursion through the system of the past week's duration.

"Pavel, forgive me, but I couldn't sleep at all, and I wondered if you'd accompany me to the Banya..." She looked bleary, for that matter. "I'm trying to think of how to explain to Lida that she isn't the most important person in my life anymore, and it's kept me up, and I'd like to relax with you if you're not too upset at me for waking you..."

He roused himself easily enough; being a light sleeper was a survival trait in a pirate. A quick glance at Theophania's face seemed to confirm that it was not a fanciful request. He reclined up and took hold of Sophia with his thick arms. "Ah, my poor little minx. Well, we're awake and everyone else is asleep, the wind is howling and the woods are alive..." He smiled gently. "As you like, da."

She squeezed back urgently against him, and sighed softly. "Thank you so much, Pavel. It's hard for a belter to break someone's heart. We are strange creatures, like that. But yes, it's just the two of us, and the wilderness... And that sounds altogether very romantic, even to say."

He nodded, and rolled out of bed. Even in the dim darkness his nude figure was impressive enough. "Should we make the run just in furs? No one else should be up at this hour..."

"Let's," Theophania agreed, though she knew that it made the job even more difficult. Now she'd have to keep the unconscious Pavel from dying of hypothermia while she got him to the yacht--and herself. "I will master the ways of your world as best as I'm able," she insisted proudly, and pushed up, planting a kiss on his bare chest before going to get their coats and politely handing Pavel's to him with a renewed smile in the dark.

Pavel took the coat and wrapped it around his frame, looking something like the bear he had slew to make the coat. "We'll go downstairs and head out through the back, the banya is closer that way." His enthusiasm was building and it was a bit infectious. He led her out, stepping softly for all of his build, down the stairs and stopped to deactivate a security system before heading out of the door into the freezing temperatures. "Run, run, but don't breath deeply," he advised, before he started for the wooden steamhouse.

Sophia did exactly as he urged, but then, she'd been in a combat situation in Antarctica before, as she still vividly remembered, and this was hardly as bad as that had been. Also a less taxing opponent... And her artificial heart had a few ugly surprises in it, like the fact that she now had internal resevoirs of adrenaline drugs, of battle-timers and other boosters and enhancers, all in exceptionally powerful but minute quantities and integrated and hidden in what looked like a normal civilian model cybernetic heart to outside inspection. And they couldn't explode what was already gone.

It would be rough as hell on her body, and Sophia suspeted she'd be in for an artificial liver and kidneys sooner or later, but that didn't matter now. The drugs slipped into her body, and the world slowed down, the tick-tock of seconds being counted away on her cybernetics seeming as slow as minutes as she actually reserved her strength to avoid surprising Pavel with any unusual burst. The Banya was in the direction of the yacht's landing zone, and she wanted to let them both warm up before she knocked him out and started dragging--a feat that would only be possible with the drugs.

For the last time Pavel was blissfully unaware of how he was being manipulated by one of the finest agents of the Empire, and simply embraced the sensations of a wild run through the crisp winter air. His lungs began to burn from the utter dry chill of the air around him, and the fur could do only so much to block the wind, but the vigorous exertion of his movement brought a pleasant warming sensation and the sheer stubborn pride of being master of such an environment.

They arrived with a real flush of triumph on the part of both at the Banya, Sophia only a hair behind her lover of the moment. She pulled to a stop with him and let him open the door, feeling nothing of the cold that he did, not with those drugs now coursing in her veins. She stepped into the heat of the Banya first as he gallantly held the door open for her... And when he entered and slammed it shut, met his lips with her own by leaping up to wrap herself around him in a passionate kiss.

Pavel supported her with his strong hands, gripping her shapely ass and sliding forward along her naked thighs, as he kissed her back breathlessly. The steam, the run, and her naked flesh was a heady mix of sensations and even he felt a little light-headed. He carried her, still embracing intimately, over a wooden bench and sat down with her feet wrapped around his stomach. If she wanted to fuck this energetically, there were certainly positions suited for it...

Before the fur coat was completely shrugged off, and therefore in Pavel's mind the last thin claim that she could make to not being a telepath was removed, the possibility that she'd been concealing something was left intact... She focused with all her powers, and reached into his mind in a sudden, surprise rush, and essentially told his brain to go into standby. She had done it before, and it was not hard. She didn't need to penetrate his thoughts; just make him more or less go to sleep, until some other telepath told him it was appropriate to wake up.

She watched him slump back, and pulled furtively away in an instant, smiling rather sadly. "I hope you remember our conversation from the yacht and take my advice, Pavel," she admitted to herself for all that as an agent of the Evidenzburo she should in rights try to arrest or kill him if she could. But that was going to be impossible anyway as the mission dictated, so she was allowed her little private hope. Then she focused, and reached out to where Lida was nervously waiting, unable to get even the slightest bit of sleep, and understandably so. He's out, and I'm dragging him to the ship now. The security codes have been deactivated. We're running slightly late so just the code to the CFL headquarters as we've discussed...

Lida received the message from her partner with unalloyed joy, the tension of waiting sloughing off as she finally had something to do. She was still nervous, mind, but things were under her control now. Right away, Inspektor. I'm adjusting the communications suite as the instructions require, and sending the signal... now. Getting back an acknowledgement, and it's down. On to phase two?

Yes. If you're already in the jumpsuit I had made, just get to Pavel's armoury and wait for me there, Sophia made sure to be actually clear on it. Obviously if anyone comes for you there, kill them. He has a couple silenced pistols so you won't necessarily wake the rest of the house.

I'll meet you there. Lida broke contact and slipped out of her room. She hoped the servants remained asleep, and that everything went according to plan with Sophia. And then she pushed the thoughts out of her mind, leaving only room for the moment.

Sophia let the full strength of the drugs into her system, now that both her and Pavel were as warm as they'd get, and re-closing their fur coats alike, she gritted her teeth and reached down to bodily lift Pavel Yeremeyev, who managed to weigh close to twice her own weight, halfway up. The other half of him she dragged as, squatting, she forced her way out of the door into the driving snowstorm in the middle of the Rus winter and toward the yacht.

Each step was impossibly painful as she dragged a load that she couldn't drag without the adrenaline drugs giving her such an incredible boost. In the same way the rush of adrenline sometimes allowed men to perform the feet of lifting a hovercar, it let her move Pavel Yeremeyev, and she sorely regreted the development of the circumstances in such a way that she couldn't rely on Lida's help or even a cargo dolly to do it with. Just her own muscles and they were being pushed past their limits at that as she struggled through the snow. It was a distance which could have been run in fourty seconds.

It took her more than fifteen minutes to cover it, and only the drugs kept her from collapsing out of cold as she arrived at the ship with him. It had been nearly twenty minutes, and she was exhausted to the point that she couldn't even contact Lida, just reassure her through the link as she focused on tapping in the codes and entering the yacht. Her skin was already nipped with frostbite in places, though not seriously enough to demand immediate medical attention, but her body screamed with the pain of the exposure to cold, the sheer physical effort, and the side-effects of the drugs overloading her muscles.

Dragging Pavel inside, she took him into the fairly large yacht's sole escape pod, and sealed him inside of it with one final gasp of relief, before overriding the control system for it and thus allowing herself to manually lock it down and prevent anyone from launching it no matter what they did, deactivating the explosive launching bolts physically. That brought them to twenty-two minutes as the dreadful tick-tock slowed down time to hell and back, and her eyes were red and crazy from the intensity of the drugs as she turned back and pulled herself into a black skinsuit. Pavel had another armoury on his yacht, of course, and Sophia had left a couple hair bands in their stateroom which let her pull back her hair as she entered the codes to the armoury and pulled out a heavy plasma pistol. No playing around with light flechette guns, this time.

Very, very coolly, she turned around and stepped out of the yacht as the warm-up sequence began aboard at her own computer control, making a steady jog back to the house. On arriving inside, she swept it with her abilities to make sure everyone was still asleep and contacted Lida again. It's done. Pavel is safe and secure and the yacht is on start-up sequence. I'm heading to your position. No attempts on the armoury yet?

They seem to be sleeping soundly. she reported. I'm guarding the armory but it's possible that Pavel was too confident. Or maybe he couldn't imagine anyone inside the house proving to be a threat. We'd better move quickly to clear out the servants, though. The CFL cars could arrive at any moment now.

They instructed me to not alert the servants, Sophia answered grimly. Very, very grimly. We'll have no part in a wanton butchery if it takes place, heading out to prepare the yacht for launch, but I'm not going to break those cut-throated orders at risk to the mission. Even though it means we're essentially letting the innocent fall to these vicious atheists. But I fear it can't be helped... By the way, I'm walking into the armoury now, she warned Lida as she stepped forward, offering her partner a brief smile as she headed straight over to one wall where she availed herself of the chance to, right in front of the other agent but in a very professional fashion, grab the necessary harness to thrust between her very ample bosom as to put a concealed flechette pistol there, and then slip knuckle-dusters onto each hand as casually as could be.

We could find an excuse to warn them, Lida pleaded. Things go wrong. Maybe Pavel forgot to set all the alarms on off after all...

I'll try to talk Isabella out of it. She is a belter, and I've never met one yet who was a sociopath, Sophia answered simply. But no warning. Her eyes looked across to the other woman with a dreadful finality. Remember what I said; there's no law beyond the Empire, and yet the Empire depends on our succeeding. There are men in this CFL, also in the highest places of our state whose actions could lead to the deaths of billions. I can't take the slightest risk of making Isabella suspicious of us now.

Lida sighed, but conceded the point. I hope to God you're right. I don't want that on my conscience. She took note of Sophia's own preparations, and put down the plasma rifle she was cradling to pick up a pair of plasma pistols and holster them to her waist. Obviously Sophia had very different ideas about being well armed. The waiting in the worst part.

It always is, Sophia agreed as she next took out a belt with holster suited for the plasma pistol, and a dagger on the other side. She seemed disinterested in a rifle. It'll be at pretty close range aboard the ship, to warn you.

Lida sat the rifle aside, sheepishly. Combat isn't my specialty, sorry. She started looking around for something more suitable, finally settling on another heavy plasma pistol. At least she was familiar with it from the shooting range, unlike the close range flechette guns.

Don't worry, we could use rifles, but I don't see either of us being very adept with them, all things considered. I prefer pistols on a ship, especially when playing around with the firepower of a plasma weapon, that's all. Sophia was grinning, even though, inside, she was just as worried about Isabella's pending arrival and the results it might have.

Lida's perscom buzzed, quietly, just once. She pulled it out of a pocket and opened the miniature device up, checking the holographic screen to confirm what she already knew. They're making a landing now. We're to stay here while they secure the compound. We're supposed to deny access to the armory if any of the servants are able to make their way here. I guess... shoot to kill.

More or less. Sophia, not to be deterred, sent a friendly interrogatory ping via her wireless transceiver for her DNI outwards toward the landing site. She knew, after all, that exactly one person there had the necessary hardware to receive such a ping--it was universal in belters and very rare otherwise, after all. If there was a chance to avoid killing them....

The ping was received, and returned back by the software lodged in the head of Isabella Sanchez. The diaspora of belters had resulted in the establishment of a common transmission protocol, allowing their implants to synchronize on a low power frequency with a shared encryption scheme based on a one-time use pad created by their pseudorandom number generators. The end result was detectable unlike telepathic communication, but there were no sensors in range and working out what was being transmitted would take, charitably, millions of years by a dedicated computer. The Evidenzburohad a few which could do it in a practical period of time, but they were not here and that was irrelevant.

*Theophania, dear, lovely to hear from you. Is everything at the compound okay?* On another down side, such communication could not convey emotion the way telepathy could, but Isabella's concern was still evident.

*Yes. Pavel has been killed, and the ship is warmed up and ready to go,* Sophia answered crisply. *Nonetheless, I have to ask, what are you planning to do with Pavel's servants, exactly? I was thinking that by frightening them into fleeing into the town that we'd reinforce the idea it was an Evidenzburo strike team. I can even play the part very well, if you wish. They don't have any access to any arms.*

*It seemed safest to liquidate them. If anyone recognized us they wouldn't be telling the authorities.* There was a pause as Isabella began unloading off her aircar onto the compound landing strip. *There might be something to your suggestion, though Theophania dear, no one would believe you were an Evidenzburo assassin.*

Sophia couldn't resist laughing out loud at that as she answered, *Still, Lida and I were cleared through security by Pavel himself. If we're identified, they have nobody to blame but their own hero, don't they? Start loading the yacht immediately and we can flush them from the dacha, and then you can come in to modify the computers? I truly do not give a damn if the Rus think I am an Imperial, that's for sure.*

Isabella hesitated for a moment. *Alright, damn it, I'm the commander and I can authorize deviations. Do it your way. Now they'll still say we're weak." But she had no real desire to abet a massacre either. "If it works it won't matter.*

*These are the servants, the weakest of the underclass of this kind of feudal society, Isabella. There's nothing weak about sparing their lives when we're fighting for their liberation,* Sophia answered simply, and then grinned to Lida. "Alright, we've got permission to flush 'em. Grab that plasma rifle after all." She reached for one of the others on the rack. "Because this is all about intimidation."

“Thank Christ." Lida grabbed the rifle she had put down. "Just open fire with the rifles and shoot the place up? We could also use our powers to spook them, but..." Even a trivial use of psychic powers required fuel, and while it might not be that burdensome now, it would still eat into their available resources later, when more demanding use of talents might be required.

"No. I think we're just going to walk into the servants' quarters and go introduce ourselves. This is supposed to be a false-flag for an Evidenzburo operation, after all." Sophia went to the entrance to the armoury with a sharp gesture, dressed only in the full body skinsuit--minus helmet--and looking terrifying with the dull, bloodshot eyes brought on by the adrenaline drugs. There really was this strange transformation which turned beautiful and voluptuous Sophia into a killer, namely in the way the eyes looked of someone who had seen to much in her life. Isabella might not have believed Sophia could pass for an Evidenzburo agent before, but perhaps she'd lose her doubts when she saw 'Theophania' after this. But by then it would be too late, as Sophia locked up the armoury after them and led Lida at a crisp jog, functioning under the drugs as effectively as a killing robot, toward the servants' quarters.

The quarters were an annex to the main house, connected to Pavel's dacha by a narrow hall designed to let them come and go from their duties without being exposed to the elements. Once past the main entrance it expanded to a series of rooms, most with little more than room for a bed and table. They took their meals in the kitchen in the main house, and had access to the other services of the main estate. At the very end Dmitri, the majordomo, kept a larger apartment with room for a family, though he lived alone.

"Stop here and cover me," Sophia coolly ordered to her junior, as she proceeded forward... And started simply slamming the butt of her rifle against each door in turn, hard enough that a few of them cracked under the influence of the adrenaline drugs which demanded a hundred and ten percent from every muscle in her body as she strode along riding each microsecond on the cybernetic internal clock in her body as though it were an eternity. When she reached the end of the hallway, she outright kicked the door to Dmitri's quarters open with her heavily shod spaceboots.

The older, solidly built servant was up and alarmed, wearing a nightshirt but clutching a cudgel as he peered through the shattered remains of his door. "What the fucking hell is this!?" He seemed to be awake but without lucidity.

"I didn't properly introduce myself before, Dmitri! My name is Sophia Vuletic. Inspektor Sophia Vuletic. And if you want to live for more than another minute, you are going to get these servants out to take their chances in the storm. Otherwise, we will be forced to terminate you."

“You miserable cunt..." He dropped the cudgel anyway, though, harboring no illusions about his odds. "Where is Gospodin Yeremeyev? What have you done?!"

"You have my word of honour as an agent of His Majesty's Evidenzburo that Gospodin Yeremeyev is still alive," Sophia answered in pure sincerity, "Before the God to whom both our churches kneel, I swear it, even; now get these men out and hiking for the nearest village! I don't have the time to waste on killing you--and if you dally, I don't have the time to waste on keeping you alive!" Somehow that soprano stayed authoritative despite the furious banshee's tone which it took as she shouted, with her eyes looking like that there was little doubt that at the very least she was so doped up on combat drugs--which she was--that she could chop half the men apart with the plasma gun before they could even blink.

He grumbled, but his sense of duty overwhelmed his budding feeling of outrage. Master Pavel would want him to get everyone out. "Give us time to get dressed and collect our furs, at least," he spat out a little too gruffly to be accused of pleading.

"That's reasonable," Sophia stepped to the side. "Anything else would be un-christian of me. Go ahead and do it, but you only have a couple of minutes."

He hurried to slip on his cold-weather boots and rummaged around in a side closet to pull out a large coat of animal pelt as well as an ushanka. Bundled up, he pushed by a wary Sophia to take charge of organizing the rest of the servants. There were six of them on the compound, two mechanic-technicians, two maids, and two handymen. The groundskeeper and the huntsman both had their own housing off the compound, safely in the nearest town. The women were the most disoriented and difficult to rustle into awareness, but they were quickly weighted down with enough pelts to spare them from the cold and were gallantly assisted by the young manservants.

As they departed through the dacha Dmitri turned at the front entrance and took a final look at his master's compound. "Bugger you!," he screamed back angrily, before stamping out to join the rest of the staff in their wintry sojourn to the nearby village.

"Been there, done that," Sophia muttered under her breath in reply, and followed them with her eyes until she couldn't see them in the dark anymore. *I drove the servants off without violence. They only saw Lida and myself, Isabella. Can I accomplish the modifications to the computer databases, or are they unnecessary now, or do you still need to do them yourself?*

*It can't hurt to be sure,* Isabella responded after a short pause. *I'm handling the uploads now from the yacht, but if you want to plug into the systems and help...*

*I'll plug in and run a secondary diagnostic to make sure the data overwrites don't leave any discrepencies. Can run it while I head over to you--I've got the range.* She walked over to Lida as she communicated with Isabella internally. "Come on. Let's get to the yacht." She headed out through the same door by which Dmitri and the servants had left, dashing through the harsh weather toward the yacht.

Lida dutifully followed out into the snow, wrapped in a fur coat she had taken when she had the chance. Even steeled against the cold she stopped as she exited before pushing on. The yacht at least was nearby, and well-illuminated by the three rented aircars. Black clad figures were still visible moving around it, readying the ship for takeoff or loading more supplies aboard.

Sophia jogged up, homing in on Isabella's well-memorized mental signature as she settled down to walk up to her. "Isabella!" She offered cheerfully, but with a faint edge of hysterics underlaying it... Which only made since considering what she looked like at that moment, all things said.

Isabella was still concentrating on the finishing touches of the doctoring of the security programs of the dacha, could certainly spare a moment for her newest lover. The pleasure on her face turned to shock as she saw Theophania's condition. "You look... was it that rough, dear?"

“I'd never actually killed anyone before in my life," Theophania answered simply. "And particularly not a man I was having sex with at the exact same moment I started strangling him to death. Oh, and I took some high-end stimulants he had, to make sure I'd have the strength to do it," she finished with a shrug. "Still under their influence. Will be for the assault, too." There was a quiver in her body as she turned away. "I grew up believing sex was special and magical and something that heals and delights and creates new life and running into the rest of the Empire and its attitudes about sexuality was one thing. Killing someone I was sleeping with--well, I don't want to talk about it anymore."

"Oh, dear." Isabella bit her lip, and then embraced Theophania tightly against her, intimate in presence if chaste in intent. "You just go rest. We'll handle everything from here. We should be ready to depart by 0500 so please take the time to settle down."

"Alright. Come for me when I'm needed, Isabella..." She hugged the woman back fiercely for a moment and then released her, stepping back and turning aside to retreat back to the stateroom in the yacht... Which coincidentally was the room through which the escape pod was accessed, to make it conveniently for the owner to escape and survive in a catastrophic emergency. Nothing Sophia Vuletic did on a mission lacked in deliberation. But she’d managed to make this mission as bloodless as she could, and used up every measure she possibly could without endangering its success. Now the killing would begin.
Last edited by The Duchess of Zeon on 2012-05-31 02:21pm, edited 1 time in total.
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In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.
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The Duchess of Zeon
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Re: (TGG) The Cardinal Files: An Inside Job.

Post by The Duchess of Zeon »

Chapter Ninenteen: Remember, the law stops at the border.

authored by Marina and Christopher Purnell.

Pavel Yeremeyev’s private yacht,
Over New Kiev.

The yacht departed Yeremeyev's compound at 0520 hours, late enough not to be overly suspicious but still very early in the morning and so dulling the reflexes of any planet-bound observers. The CFL team had taken care to arrange various false leads in the house itself pointing to an Imperial connection, while loading up the yacht with supplies and commandos for the attack itself. Isabella and a pair of the black-clad operatives took positions on the bridge, with Theophania awoken to serve as her second-in-command and to, if necessary, contact the Grom Pobedy and allay any suspicions the crew might have. Fortunately enough ground to orbit control was primitive and the yacht itself was so well-known as a personal vehicle of the great Yeremeyev that no one on land bothered to query about its destination. As long as they stayed clear of the orbital paths of other ships and kept a fair distance from the Rus naval shipyards orbital control seemed inclined to likewise let them do as they wished.

Fortunately two belters were more than enough of a navigation team to keep the yacht away from any sensitive tracks. Their destination was a small private yard in the orbit of New Kiev's second moon, where Yeremeyev had stashed his cruiser for repair and refit, and a long stand-down, after her return to the system. There was only a small naval presence on the other side of the moon, and no weapons or ships covering Yeremeyev's private yard, giving it the truthful appearance of a very remote orbital. It seemed Pavel had though the best precaution was to insure that his ship could cast lines and jump to hyperspace as quickly as possible. That had played right into Theophania's hands.

"We'll dock at the main boat bay, just like Yeremeyev himself would," Isabella confirmed, as the ship's computer took over maintaining their pre-plotted course. "The schematics of the ship say the bridge two decks up, then right down a main corridor to the CIC. Much of the caretaker crew would be tending the engines or rotating on and off watch in their own quarters, so besides the boat bay crew we shouldn't run into anyone before hitting the bridge."

"I'll be able to deal with them," Theophania answered from her position toward the back of the tiny and packed bridge on the yacht. "They'll be expecting me as a matter of course, after all. We're cleared to dock, by the way," she added tightly. "There are a couple of men on duty on the ship but they don't find anything odd about this. They know Pavel has been letting me pilot lately."

“Good." Isabella smiled thinly. "We'll have you and Lida come out first after we dock. Perhaps you can you draw over the men on duty in the bay? Maybe..." She paused a moment in thought. "Perhaps tell them you and Pavel need help offloading some personal items? We could take them out at once and hopefully avoid alerting the bridge."

"I'll try to. They should only have a boat crew of two, though, even for a cruiser like this, so there might not be any spare hands from whatever they're doing. Don't worry, I won't let the bridge be alerted," she concluded simply. For the moment, her and Isabella were on the same side: Sophia needed the Grom Pobedy to escape as badly as Isabella did.

"Okay, I'll leave that up to you. We'll have my troops on standby just in case you need them. Once the boat bay is clear, we'll just head for the bridge with the first section, while the rest secure engineering once we have control over the ship's systems." With that resolved Isabella leaned back and integrated her DNI interface back into the yacht's controls, taking over the approach to the boat bay. Controlling a hyperspace capable vessel the size of Pavel's personal yacht took some concentration, and the yacht was not a nimble beat. The boat bay though was ready for them and mostly cleared of shuttles and cargo, leaving her a good margin as she eased it into the underbelly of the Grom Pobedy.

"Right on." Sophia jacked out, herself, considering the situation. The yacht was 92.3 meters long from stem to stern and had three habitation decks unusually arranged from the top up with the engineering spaces built above the bridge and behind and ahead of it (forward the superlight drive, aft the reactor). She had effectively a height of 15 meters, and beam of 22 meters, and really was a truly excellent vessel, but took up heavy the primary boat-bay of even a multi-megatonne cruiser. She certainly didn't try to move until they had docked and the large, heavy metal securing arms clamped down at the appropriate places with heavy shudders and thuds. Then she pushed herself up, flashed a smile to Isabella, and turned to head below.

Sophia ducked down through the ship to where Lida was waiting for her in the grand stateroom, but first paused by the armoury to reach in and fondly pick up an old chemical weapon, with no energy signature to trigger the internal alarms... And started screwing a silencer onto the barrel. She was smiling vaguely as the adrenaline drugs coursed through her body once again. "Alright, Lida--it's beginning. We're to go deal with the boat bay crew. You just hang back and let me do the work, all right?"

Lida nodded, nervously. At least these people were pirates, maybe technically privateers, but still combatants who were implicated in Yeremeyev's raids on the Empire. Her conscience bothered her less about it. "I'll cover you if you need it. I haven't killed anyone before, but..." She gripped her own heavy plasma pistol. Her scores on the firing range with similar guns were more than adequate.

"Feedback works both ways. Open your mind to me, Lida, and don't worry about the rest," she offered gently, and then turned and opened the door again. "You'll know if I need you to open fire," she added more openly as they headed toward the embarkation ramp, Sophia stuffing the last of her guns under a long coat to guarantee the concealment of the rather considerable armament she was carrying.

Lida cleared her mind, willing herself to open no mental barriers to her partner. It was a vulnerable state for a telepath, and she was keenly aware of it, even if neither the CFL force nor Pavel's crew had any telepaths among them. She mastered her jitters as she followed Sophia out, and steeled herself for the prospect of sudden violence.

Two crewmen were left to handle boatbay operations, both operating a control console from a small command pit inside the bay itself. The main operations hub overlooking the yacht was blacked out, power cut off while the ship was in drydock. After all, no one would need to coordinate a half dozen simultaneous arrivals. The arrival of the yacht hadn't quite taxed the capabilities of the auxiliary station, nor was it a huge surprise, though both crewmen wondered why their captain had chosen the day to return to the ship. One of them, a cleanshaven youth in an ill-fitting grey jumpsuit, still undergoing basic apprenticeship as a spacer, was dispatched up to the bay by his more experienced colleague. If the Captain was pissed at something, or needed a back to help move stuff, he would bear the brunt of it; and so he approached the deck ramp of the yacht nervously.

It was, however, the Captain's whore who appeared off the deck, walking confidently down the ramp like she owned the ship, which was reasonable enough: Pavel let her do what she want, it seemed, as long as she spread her legs for him whenever she wanted, and being a belter, well, they like doing that anyway, didn't they? It certainly appeared so as the small woman in her coat stepped down to the edge of the ramp and simply gestured back inside. "Get in there, Pavel wants some help with his bags," she ordered flatly, and of course it was Lida with a gun waiting inside, instead, as Sophia simply walked past the poor young spacer and headed for the command pit.

Passing behind her the youth headed to his doom. He made his way up the steps and entered the ship, looking brightly for the Captain. His eyes focused widely on Lida, wearing her black jumpsuit and heavily armed, but it was far as he got. The Imperial agent calmly fired her pistol, sending a plasma cartridge into his forehead at point-blank range. The smell of burning flesh and voided bowels made her wrinkle her nose. Dealt with, Sophia. Taking care of the other? Her mind open, she couldn't quite hide her disquiet with having finally killed someone, and a boy young enough not to have aged into the prolong maturity.

As Sophia arrived at the crew pit, she turned to face the crewman in a sinuous move of her fine body and addressed him: "If you'd come with me, Pavel wants some help with our luggage," she repeated the line, "And that little whelp you sent isn't quite enough." Her coat was perhaps odd to wear on a ship but did for the moment conceal her weapons, just as the heavy gloves she was wearing concealed the knuckle-dusters.

The older crewman had been with Yeremeyev to know better than to disappoint the boss. "Alright, one minute, have to lock down the controls." He muttered under his breath about the apprentice spacer as he began setting the console on standby. His attention left the admittedly fine body of Sophia, though he could anticipate following her to the ship as a welcome compensation for his trouble. The crew knew better than to harass the captain's pet, but no man could be blamed for the sight of his eyes...

Sophia didn't bother with luring him back. The moment he'd turned, she used those adrenaline enhanced--dangerously so--muscles of her's to pull the silenced chemical pistol out of her coat and with three gentle coughs, two to center of mass and one into the head, fired three subsonic rounds into his body and then stepped forward to kick it, dead or dying it didn't matter, off the controls he'd just locked down. Then she contacted Isabella through their implants. *Alright, lured one back to the ship, Lida got him. I just took care of the one still at the controls with a silenced pistol. I'm jacking in from this station to start locking down the rest of the crew while you assault the bridge.*

*We'll debark and head that way now.* Isabella led the assault team down herself, all wearing the same black jumpsuits and body armour, bearing short range flechette rifles or plasma carbines. They moved with some degree of precision down the ramp, and made their way to the corridor leading out to the lift that would take them to the bridge level. They had been thoroughly briefed, and swept through the bay with a purpose. Isabella stopped by the auxiliary command pit, walking Lida over to join her partner. "I'm off, Theo. See you soon, on the bridge." She blew her lover a kiss as she started off with her commandos.

"You too!" Sophia answered with an enthusiastic smile as she stripped off her coat and settled into one of the chairs away from the blood and mess, and immediately went about jacking into the DNI port on the consoles. "Cover me, of course, Lida," she instructed with a faint smile, as her eyes rolled back somewhat as she connected into the computers, and put in the codes that she'd taken from Yeremeyev's yacht's computer banks. A hesitant moment, and the computer accepted that she had the necessary authority, though Yeremeyev's command override codes could still lock her out, and the AI cheerfully informed her of that. She nonetheless had enough authority to create her own subsidiary access codes under them, and then went into the security protocols....

Isabella paced her trained operatives down the corridor, following them as they turned left to the core lift. She gripped her own pistol tightly for reassurance as they swept through the ship. So far, they had encountered no one and she expected there would be no surprises until they opened the bridge. Her men had trained for two days with a holographic copy of Yeremeyev's command center, and knew the route ahead intimately. She had her implants to provide navigation and in all honesty her role was more as commander, but if it came to a fight she earnestly oped to prove her worth.

The lift itself answered their commands, and provided a moment for rest as they rode it up two levels. Her lieutenant Augustin led the commandos out, leaving two of them to guard her as she followed on. Once they had control of the bridge she could do more, but the coddling made her impatient and she had rebuked him for it. He had simply shrugged his shoulders and cited the needs of the mission.

The entrance to the CIC was supposed to be secured access, but it opened up without warning or delay for Agustin and his commandos. There were six crewmen on the bridge, including Pavel's executive Kliment, and all were taken by surprise as the League troops immediately opened fire on them. Flechettes range off the metal deck as Kliment, standing by the command chair, was shredded by the attack. A pirate by the sensor console was blown back by a plasma carbine. The rest dodged behind consoles or grabbed their own pistols as the commandos surged forward, intent on clearing the bridge in close quarters.

It was quick but brutal. The commandos used their weapons as bludgeons, with covering fire from the flechette guns as needed. One pirate stood up from behind a console and hit Agustin with a plasma pistol, in the shoulder, before being torn to pieces; the shot knocked the man bodily over, but he leapt back to his feet with nothing more than severe ablation to the plate. Another was cornered and beaten heavily, and the other two threw out their guns and called for surrender. They were taken up, restrained, disarmed... and then Agustin led them out of the corridor, passing by Isabella as she headed to the bridge. She nodded, reluctantly, and they were taken to a nearby storage locker and shot.

Isabella swept in, wrinkling her nose at the carnage she saw. The remains of Kliment made her queasy, and two commandos pulled the other dead body by her. "Clean this bridge up," she ordered her guard. "I'm jacking in to the computer now, so once that's done tell Augustin to start seizing the engine room." She took a seat by the navigation console, mostly because it was clean. It wouldn't matter where she was once she was jacked into the computer. *Theophania,* she reached out, *we've secured the bridge. I'm sending Augustin to take the engineering section and running things from here. You can come up here and join me now, and we'll start taking her out.*

*Understood. The security systems are under my authorization key at the moment but they're programmed currently to lock down the crew quarters, and I've secured everyone. The personnel in engineering are also secured and I've disabled the self-destructs; only Pavel could reactivate those, and he's dead,* Sophia reported back coolly. What she didn't add was that she'd been using her prodiguous hacker skills to insert a series of trapdoors in the computer system that she could tell Pavel about when she woke him up, of course. *The AI has been released from all safeties and we're making our acquaintance right now, I'll tell it to say hi to you when I jack out. See you soon!* She flashed off as a cheery and temporary farewell, and then unjacked and turned to Lida. "Isabella wants us on the bridge," she offered a bit jauntily as she rose, stepping over the dead body of the crewer nimbly. So far, so good...

Lida felt a brief unease as she followed, linked to the dead bodies she had seen thus far. But she steeled herself. "I hope it isn't a mess there," she said, trying to keep her spirits up with a grim joke.

Sophia, pulling off her gloves to reveal her knuckle-dusters, simply shrugged. “You’ll get used to it soon enough, I’m afraid, so one way or another…” They traveled to the bridge, after that, in silence. On arriving, Sophia stepped out of the lift immediately and headed for the Captain’s chair where the remnants of Kliment were still being cleaned up. “Hi, Isabella!” She offered cheerfully as she stepped back for a moment, waiting. “How are the start-up sequences going? We probably don’t have much more time until Dmitri and the other servants reach the village and manage to spread the alarm. The one down-side of that mercy,” she added a bit weakly, “though I don’t regret it.”

"I hope we don't," Isabella replied wearily. "I've brought the fusion reactor up to eighty percent, enough to power the hyperspace drive. We're ready to cast off the connections to the yard and slip out from orbit into space once the computer finishes drawing out a course. That should just take a few more minutes."

"Pity in some ways she's so big. We could still run her on manual if we just had more people, though," Sophia answered as she moved to settle into the freshly cleaned Captain's chair, in which she had previously only sat while in Pavel's lap. "Nice to be back in this chair, though," she added with a faint, tired grin as she plugged in, contacted the AI, and wired herself into the astrogation duties and direct engine oversight. *Okay, I'm in and established,* she reported to Isabella, even as Lida moved to sit in one of the jump-seats beside her, and, still keeping up appearances, slip a hand over one of Sophia's gloved ones, and squeeze it tightly.

*Great to have you in* Isabella replied. She tilted her head to look directly at Theophania and Lida, and winked at her. *I'm overseeing the core as it finishes crunching the hyperspace route. If you can handle the fusion reactors...*

The computer core of the Grom Pobedy, freed of the restrains worked into the artificial intelligence interface, calculated a path into hyperspace in almost record time. With that in its data-banks it executed the other instructions that Isabella had already given it. The physical docking clamps on the yard were removed, and the conventional engines of the ship flared to life. They pushed the multi-megatonne cruiser forward, clearing out of the docks and then coming to full military power, blasted it out of the dock and past escape velocity for the small moon it was based around. Inertial dampeners kept the people aboard from feeling the acceleration.

Sophia began monitoring the intermix ratio in the reactors with some tension; the largest thing she'd regularly handled before being a 5,000 ton gunboat—with the exception of, very recently, Pavel’s only slightly larger yacht--and a few slow and bulky megaton-range freighters, the power and scale of a cruiser's engines was rather chilling to be in control of, though she was mostly coordinating with the AI, and ended up completely submerged into the system as she let Isabella do the actual navigation and just concentrated behind the scenes on making sure the ship was ready for Isabella's helm directives. And, just in case, she began to ease the reactor up to full military power and started to charge the weapons banks and bring the shield generators to standby as well.

*Wonderful job with the reactor, dear,* Isabella cut in. *Alright, we're clearing the gravity well of the moon. Letting the AI off its leash gave us a much better navigation fix too, so we can jump out further in-system. The engines are at full power and I don't want to risk damage by overcharging them, so it's just a matter of a few minutes before we can jump.*

*Seems best,* Sophia answered tensely, though for the moment her mind strangely wandered back to the last untethered AI she'd known, well, untethered in the usual way. Dhirisma had, after all, Ysalha Armenbhat as both her life-companion and her moral centre and though Sophia didn't believe the AI had a sole, the connection certainly made her moral. She wondered what would be the fate of the Grom Pobedy's AI now that it was free to grow and explore, her task back primarily to status monitoring, though.... *I do think we're now being pursued, Isabella.*

A small corvette shifted to an intercept course from a patrol that had taken it near the second moon. Other ships though had clearly taken an interest in the flight of the cruiser, with a Rus battleship and small group of destroyers readying themselves from orbit around New Kiev proper. The corvette could be handled easily enough, though Isabella was loath to risk the ship while under what amounted to jury-rigged command, and any entanglement could provide the margin for heavier forces to catch up. But the Rus wouldn't have counted on the edge given to the cruiser by unleashing the AI... so they were caught astonished as the ship suddenly shifted into hyperspace.

*I don't think they were able to get a good idea of our course for pursuit* Isabella observed. *And it won't do them any good anyway, if they knew we were heading into the Empire. I think we're safe now, which just leaves mopping up the crew.*

Sophia evidenced a bit of frustration to herself. She'd wanted to take the corvette under ranging fire before going to hyperspace to give a little help to the Imperial forces as best she could who'd soon be coming to put paid to the Rus, but the chance to paticipate in the military victory was denied her, and she took it philosophically enough. After all, it meant they were succeeding.

*I don't really think it's necessary to do anything to them, Isabella. The security systems are excellent and I've actually blocked off their section of the crew quarters by filling the surrounding compartments with inert gas using the security system. If they try to escape, they'll suffocate, and there's energy force-shields for defensive purposes up as well. Pavel was very thorough about internal security. All it means is that we'll have to sleep on the yacht when we're off-duty. Let them get hungry, since there's no galley in the security cordon, and they'll surrender soon enough.*

*We'll wait them out, then.* Isabella wasn't sure Agustin had the forces available to take control over the crew, and getting them to surrender would let them be incarcerated in the brig with a minimum of force. *Alright, running a final systems check. If everything is in order I'll redirect our course to the rendezvous site and bring in a watch to handle it while we take a break. ETA with the League freighter bringing in a full crew would be twenty-four days at our present speed. We'll have to cross the sector border first.*

*A good long run skirting half the Empire,* Sophia agreed. *I believe the AI can handle things from this point? I'm going to have health issues if I take more of those drugs...*

*Nothing anomalous on the reports. Locking in AI priority orders now, and I'll arrange the watch party. You're free to jack off and head for some rest now.* Isabella whetted her lips. *Perhaps I could join you after I finish...*

*Join me? Join us... Lida and I will be in the stateroom on Pavel's yacht, how's that sound?* There was a lack of innuendo in the connection, but the way Sophia had conveyed it seemed quite suggestive enough as it was. After all, Lida's behaviour had been, it had seemed, merely a mask to help protect them from Yeremeyev.

*Mmmm. Now that's something I haven't done in a very long time...* She couldn't help the satisfied grin off her face. Lida was attractive herself in that mousy kind of way, and involving the other partner was always a good idea to keep jealousy at bay. And it was so damned fun. *Okay, I'll see you both in a bit.*

I just offered for us to have a threesome with her, Sophia mentioned offhand to Lida. Don't worry, it's in Pavel's stateroom... Which means she'll be onboard the yacht and we can detain her at that point. No need to actually go through with it. Sophia nonetheless got this sly grin as she looked toward Lida, having disconnected, and then unjacked from the computer, the interplay hidden to Isabella due to her own interconnection with the system.

Lida shook her head, bemused and somewhat horrified by the depraved creativity of her fellow agent. That's... something else, Sophia. She vaguely wondered if Cardinal had ever actually gone through with anything so depraved. Undoubtedly so. Do you want to leave, and me follow? Or do you want us both to leave at the same time and play it up for her?

The later, Sophia answered with a hint of amused cheerfulness as she pushed herself up out of her seat, and offered a hand to Lida. "Shall we go down to Pavel's.. My stateroom on the yacht, my love?" She asked with mirthful delight. "We've been awake for twenty-four hours now, and exhaustingly so..."

"Too long, but I think we can manage for a little while longer, love." Lida held Sophia's hands with both of her own, and brought her face down to "whisper" loud enough for Isabella to overhear in Sophia's ear, grazing the shorter woman's neck with her lips as she did so. "I'm looking forward to having you a lot more often without Pavel around... I don't mind your friend, though." It was as best she could do in the circumstances, and hoped it set the right mood.

"I know, dear. You've never liked having men in your life.. And I don't blame you one bit." With one arm draped around the taller woman, Sophia was smiling in rich and decadent delight as the two walked out to head below.
Last edited by The Duchess of Zeon on 2012-05-31 02:21pm, edited 1 time in total.
The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth. -- Wikipedia's No Original Research policy page.

In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.
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The Duchess of Zeon
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Re: (TGG) The Cardinal Files: An Inside Job.

Post by The Duchess of Zeon »

Chapter Twenty: Wheels within wheels.

authored by Marina and Christopher Purnell.

Privateer Grom Pobedy,
In deep space.

Sophia was stretching out decadently on the bed, completely naked, having removed every stitch of fabric from her body and then slid under the covers. This latest of Sophia's willingness to play to the moment, had left Lida slightly at odds, so she'd sent her partner into the bathroom in the yacht's master stateroom to await the signal to come out again, and then slipped back up from under the sheets to bare her breasts to the world, and her long hair hanging out free behind her and coiling against the pillows like a sea of dark chocolate. Most importantly, though, the heavy plasma pistol was under the covers with her, with her right hand gently resting on it, and the adrenaline drugs still gently coursing through her body. I can sense her coming down, Sophia commented to her partner, so get ready.

That much at least I can anticipate Lida answered. It was a bit disturbing to play the sapphist, and even more disturbing how well Sophia managed it, but at least the charades were finally at an end. Well, almost, she conceded, having an idea of how Sophia was setting her ambush.

Isabella pushed the door to the stateroom open moments later. She'd taken the time to slip into a more comfortable jumpsuit, one without the armor reinforcement of the commando models, and had it unzipped low enough to provide a nice view of her cleavage. She caught sight of Theophania's form in the low lighting of the stateroom and stopped for a moment, her eyes drinking in the sinuous, busy form of her lover. She never tired of the sight, and her heart sped up at the thought of caressing the voluptuous fellow belter once again with a wild abandon, and decadent tenderness that only two women could match. Lust, surely, radiated off her as she stepped into the room, smiling.

"I'm here, lover," she husily whispered, nearly a pure. "And where is our sweet Lida?" She had taken a look around, finding no sight of Sophia’s partner. "I want us all to have a wonderful time tonight..."

"She's at the toilet, is all," Sophia answered simply. She had one advantage, being keyed into the yacht's control system--of course it had a simple jammer for privacy. And of course Sophia activated it at that moment, even as her telepathy neatly signaled Lida. Alright, head out, if you please, as she looked Isabella directly in the eyes, calmly, and with all pretendences and guile dropped as she spoke in perfect Spanish without a hint of an accent.... And pulled the plasma pistol out from under the covers to level at Isabella.

"My apologies, Miss Sanchez, but I'm afraid I didn't introduce myself properly before. My name is Sophia Vuletic. Inspektor Sophia Vuletic, of His Majesty’s Bureau of Evidence. And I’m afraid to say you are now under arrest."

Isabella had trouble processing the rapid change in circumstances, and froze up shocked even as Lida exited the bathroom with a pistol gripped tightly in her hand. "But, you... both of you?"

Sophia shrugged faintly as she rolled out of the bed very smoothly, her gun never leaving Isabella as she held it steady through the manoeuvre. "Yeah. They're always surprised," she replied. "But I've made seducing other women something of a specialty over the past fifty years of service to His Majesty. Or perhaps seductions in general—the honey trap is the oldest game in the book but still just as effective. Anyway, I believe I said this to the Rus agent Valentyn Kirilov when I arrested him, but; congratulations, Isabella. You made the Empire take you so seriously that they sent the most decorated living agent in the Evidenzburo to hunt you down." Sophia seemed to relish it, in more ways than one, and it revealed her only real weakness, a tendency to self-satisfication when at the culmination of her missions.

She also didn’t give Isabella a chance to take advantage of it. “For the moment, however, I need you to go to sleep,” she calmly continued, and driving in a wedge due to Isabella’s completely shocked mental state, she collapsed the belter woman into a state of controlled unconsciousness just like that which she had achieved with Pavel in the banya before.

"She's out until I wake her, of course," Sophia commented to Lida as she watched Isabella's body crumple, the look of shock still on her face. She crawled out of bed--Lida would just have to deal with her nudity, Sophia, in the adrenaline rush of the moment being completely without shame--and went over to the closet wherein she'd put the clothes she had made for herself. Though she'd never worn this outfit before, instead putting all the pieces together as parts of different outfits innocuously, it matched what she preferred for working clothes: the quick and simple panties, tight undershorts that went to the knees, and long, flaring black skirt with lace trim was familiar enough, and then she combined it--having first stuffed her breasts into a tight sports bra--with a black shirt with gold buttons she'd had made with a faintly military trim for something else, and then pulled a long black coat--wool, and thicker than usual--over the rest before thrusting her feet into a pair of black lace-up boots.

Close enough to what Sophia always wore, at any rate, as pulled her hair back, and then grabbed her plasma pistol again. "Time to wake up Yeremeyev. Cover me..?"

"Of course." Lida seemed a little more comfortable with Sophia fully dressed, though waking up Yremeyev was dangerous in the extreme. The man was in superb physical shape and likely to be really, really pissed off. Her plasma pistol would put an unprotected man down easily enough, but that would raise other problems. They needed him alive rather badly to escape. "I can paralyze him with my talent if he tries to lunge at you, instead of shooting him, but for someone with Pavel's willpower it might take a lot out of me."

"I can do it too. But it's not like I'll be in the escape pod at the same time, so I rate it unlikely that it will be needed. And Pavel is actually fairly self-disciplined for all he plays at being otherwise." Sophia knelt down by the access hatch to the escape pod and activated it, giving her direct line of sight to Pavel's prostrate body... And then she focused inwards, and concentrated with her powers, found the supreme command she'd put into Pavel's subconscious.... And pulled it away. It would be no different than awaking from a deep sleep, and might have even been relaxing.

Pavel stirred from his unconscious state, his fur coat seeming to writhe as he woke fully up before bolting to his feet. There was an inevitable moment of disorientation as he took in his surroundings, and mentally accounted for the fact that he had last been in the steam room, about to have sex with Theophania. He recognized the escape pod, and pulled up his coat to provide some warmth before looking to the access hatch and seeing his mistress. "Theophania... what happened? Why are we in the yacht? I can't remember anything, but we were in the banya."

"The CFL ordered me to kill you," Sophia answered as Theophania. "I disobeyed, because I really do love you, Pavel. They told me to kill you and get the yacht ready for departure, the used it to hijack the Grom Pobedy. But I just knocked you out, used stims and adrenaline drugs to drag you through the snow to the yacht, hid you here. I kept the CFL from killing your servants and all of the caretaker crew except the men in the hangar bay, the bridge, and engineering when we arrived. The rest are locked down, and your security codes can still override the measures the strike team put in place.

“It's a false-flag operation; right now on the surface of New Kiev they think it's an Imperial special forces group which has stolen the coordinates for the planet, and the CFL is pushing for an all-out assault at Vladimir to spark their hoped for mass revolution before it's too late and the Imperial fleet arrives to crush you. But the Imperials don't know where New Kiev is, it's an all-CFL operation. They're taking the Grom Pobedy to meet a ship full of loyalists and man her for use in piracy operations on the far side of the Empire to fund their opreations. But I can't go along with it, Pavel."

"Fucking sons of harlot swine," Pavel said, furious at the betrayal, and went on cursing for several seconds before he collected himself. He finally wrapped the coat around him and made to climb up the hatch. “I must take control of my ship back, now. Those lying, backstabbing bastards, I'm going to cut their balls off and feed them to pigs..." He looked up at Theophania accusingly as he gripped the ladder leading to the stateroom. "You should have told me, little minx. Or did you just decide where your loyalties lie after you tried to take me out?"

"They put Isabella in charge of the operation, and I was raised under the maxim that belters never betray each other, ever. And of course I was a dedicated revolutionary, you know!" Sophia pulled back to let him continue to climb up, but continued talking:

"It's hard to abandon everything you believed in. I know you'll never forgive me for it, Pavel, but I'm giving you your life, your ship, and your homeworld--we only left a few hours ago, you've got plenty of time to get back and warn them and get your revenge on the CFL. I took Isabella prisoner; I'll kill the two men we have guarding the boat bay for you. Then I'll let you go with full weapons and armour to regain control of the Grom Pobedy," she continued rather frantically. "Since you'll never forgive me for this, I'll leave with Lida on the yacht after you've started to retake the ship. There will only be thirteen of them left after I deal with the two here, spread out between engineering and the bridge. Lida and I will take our chances with trying to escape to the Alliance."

Pavel remained grimly quiet as he climbed out of the pod, though his feelings of betrayal, anger, and sadness were being readily broadcast to both telepaths. He gruffly denied them any expression. "Get my armored jumpsuit and some guns, woman. I'll use the auxiliary control console to override their code measures." It felt a little ridiculous even to Pavel to be standing around nude except for his big fur coat. "You..." He shook his head. She had endangered his homeworld. Forgiving that was too much. "Help me and I will let you and that cuntlapper of yours go. That is all you have any right to expect."

"Go get the armour and the guns for him, Lida," Sophia ordered quietly, moving to sit on the edge of the bed, craddling that plasma pistol like she very much knew how to use it, and waiting until Lida had gone out of earshot to the armoury on the yacht. "Wish I'd just stayed a good little belter and worked the freighters out here. We could've met when you seized the ship I was on. Might've been happy together, that way," she trailed off into a whisper.

It almost broke through his resolution. "Perhaps so. If you had warned me..." He shook his head. It was too late to talk now and he had to focus on saving New Kiev and taking back his ship from the CFL. There was a long moment of silence before Lida came back with the requested equipment, meekly handing it over to the pirate captain. Pavel left to the bathroom to change, with regret starting to have a toehold among the furious anger that dominated his emotional state.

When Pavel returned outwards, Sophia was standing with a look of more intent resolution on her face. "Kill them all, Pavel." She gestured to Isabella's unconscious body. "Belters deal with belters, so leave her to me. But the rest are your's. All the sympathy's gone from me now and if you want to make their deaths a fitting pyre for our love, then make 'em hurt as you please. If by some chance we run into each other again..." She shrugged faintly. "Well, odds are I'm going to be captured and executed trying to get out. But I don't have anything left except to try and beat 'em." She leapt up, smiling sadly, and gestured toward the door. "Let's take those bastards in the bay out, 'eh?"

"If we run into each other again, we will see then." Pavel nodded, establishing an understanding with Theophania, such as it was. "These two men in the bay, guarding the active auxiliary control pit or is one of them patrolling?"

"They're staying together by the auxiliary control pit," Sophia explained as she led briskly toward the exit, Lida staying behind to guard Isabella, which was likely all she was good for, so it was understandable.

"I didn't get to be a successful privateer by jumping right into the nearest trap," Pavel said, grimly. "They still believe you to be loyal to them, but they would recognize me immediately. I want you to distract them while I drop out through the landing gear and cover the distance to the pit. I'll use the landing ramp for cover once I'm down there, then sprint the distance."

Pavel looked down at the diminutive woman, and shrugged. "I'll still exit out the landing compartment, just in case. But by all means, if you can handle them both, go ahead."

"It's the least I can do for you, my love," she answered softly, and jogged down the ramp before Pavel could reply, heading over to where the two strike team members were with her plasma pistol on the inside of her long jacket. She didn't take any chances, not this close to escaping, and directed the full strength of her telepathic abilities on slowing and confusing their responses to her approach rather than trying to talk to them or interact with them, and convince them her approach was indeed perfectly normal... Right up until the moment where she drew the plasma pistol.

The first one of the two strike team members cried out in both confusion and surprise, and then the distinctive energetic sound of burning air ripped through the bay twice, the first shot hitting his face and burning it away and the second slamming into the chest and gouging out it in a spurt of flesh converted to plasma and internal organs rupturing from the abrupt change in heat superheating the water of the body. The other one leapt back, thinking to save his life before trying to alert anyone else, but the third bolt tore through his side and he dropped, though still alive.

Sophia approached with her boots clopping dully against the metal of the deck, and fired a last shot into his skull without a trace of emotion, the brilliant burning blue light colliding with and searing him, killing him instantly. She stared down, emotionless, for a long moment, and then turned back to the yacht.

Pavel had, true to his intentions, gone down through the engineering access door to the bowels of the ship, and dropped down through the open space created by the deployment of the landing skids. He'd missed Sophia's approach, but after slipping out had seen her handiwork with the pistol. He stood out by the ramp, and nodded his approval to her. There was a woman worthy of him, alas. "I see I should perhaps have had more faith in your capability," he finally said as he walked down to the engineering pit.

"Thank you. Good luck, Pavel." She looked across for a moment, and then paused and smiled very gently. "Maybe I won't risk trying to escape through the wormhole. Maybe I should become a pirate myself."

Pavel smiled grimly, even as he made his way over to the console. "I think you would make a formidable one." That was, indeed, high praise from him. And with it he began punching in his command codes into the computer, first locking everyone else out of the core and then going about busting the various safeguards that Isabella had worked into the system.

"By the way!" Sophia called out. "I freed the AI, but in doing so locked a bunch of tripwires to make it loyal... To you. Inputting your command codes just activated them. Should make you a pretty decent ally, all things said. See you around, Pavel!" She turned and walked back toward the open ramp of the yacht.

Pavel couldn't quite bring himself to add his own wishes for a later meeting, or good luck to Theophania, but he wasn't sure he didn't want to. Still, taking control of his ship was a major challenge in and of itself, and it required all his concentration. First he ordered the computer to cut off the bridge and engineering, where all the CFL personnel were located. Then he ordered the ship dropped out of hyperspace, and cut the lockout of the crew quarters. That left getting in touch with his crewmen...

Sophia returned to the yacht, activating the ramp to close her up, and then jogged up to the bridge. Alright, Lida, we're leaving! she offered telepathically, and with some considerable exuberence. She strapped herself in quickly on the bridge of the yacht, and began the power-up sequence immediately, toggling her access controls that let her command the bay to open; auxiliary control was shielded to maintain an atmosphere when the doors opened, and Pavel was in a full suit anyway, so she wasn't worried about that. They were already back in real space, and Sophia jacked in to direct the operations of the yacht more efficiently as she prepared the launch sequence.

Thank God, back to the Empire. Lida's relief was evident through the telepathic connection. And with a big enough fish in tow to let the agency roll up the CFL on top of the coordinates to New Kiev. She walked into the bridge, taking a seat by the auxiliary control console to help out if needed. "Another successful mission for Cardinal, then?"

"Something like that," Sophia asked crisply. "I'll be feeling rather bad for Isabella when she wakes up," she commented off hand as she gently brought the thrusters up, which didn't require full reactor power, and maneouvred them with a delicate touch out of the bay, using the available reactor power to activate the shields immediately while manoeuvring clear of the cruiser on a full power burn... Toward interstellar space. "We'll go deep, out of the range of the Grom Pobedy's sensors, and then double back to the nearest Imperial colony which should have some kind of secured communications equipment."

She got full reactor power and plotted in a quite simple course immediately. Not waiting another instant around the batteries of the Grom Pobedy which could easily vapourize them, she activated the controls, and the redshift of the stars abruptly coursed around them through the visual pickup feeds as they raced into the supralight range. It was only then, and truly, then, that Sophia slumped back in her chair with a long, exhausted sigh. "You're going to get the highest award they'll give to an Evidenzburo agent for this, Lida," she said, softly, with her eyes closed, as she left Pavel and his crew, the cruiser and the strike team, all to their own fates and devices.

Lida felt herself relaxing as they left the privateer cruiser behind. With the plot showing that all systems were operating normally, there wasn't anything to worry about. "I think you did all of the real work here, Sophia. I was just honored to serve with you, and happy enough now to be returning home. Though I suppose there is the debriefing and writing the reports to dread once we get back." She cringed a bit at the idea of having to write about Sophia's... adventuresome use of her sexuality to finish the mission. Bureaucratese would at least mandate a detached, clinical tone that might help with the embarrassment of discussing those sorts of things in an official document.

"Also the interrogation of Isabella. We're still outside of Imperial space, and so once we get started on our course home I'm going to work her over," Sophia explained simply. "Assuming she doesn't consent to it. I'll see about that." She stretched. "At the least you may accompany me back to Earth since I had you detached to assist me, and give your report directly at Evidenzburo headquarters. They'll probably fast-track you for promotion and reassignment at the least. You held up exactly to what you needed to do, so don't doubt your own abilities."

"Thank you, Sophia." She welcomed the reassurance, even as she pushed down a momentary ping of guilt for killing someone only hours before. "I... well, your opinion will mean a lot. And you did keep your promises before we left, so I'm grateful. And the opportunity to accompany you to Earth is appreciated. I thought I'd spend my entire career in my home sector."

"Thank you, for filling in the gaps in my strength. I may need you again, in a bit." She eased the yacht out of hyperspace, and spun her bow around back toward Imperial space... The charts that Pavel had aboard the computers were nicely delineated to indicate the level of communications gear--and thus level of threat--in the surrounding systems, and she selected the coordinates to the nearest system which had the transmission equipment she needed, just on the other side of the sector border, and began to lock in the coordinates.

There was a flash of a faint smile. "Haven't ever had to deal with an inside job like this so bound up into internal politics before. I figure it's a result of the contact with the Alliance. But we showed it off right enough, and I don't think the Colonial Freedom League will be much longer for the world."

"I'm sure rolling them up will be a priority for the agency," Lida agreed. "Just as the Viceroy will be delighted to finally conquer New Kiev and put an end to Great Rus agitation on Vladimir. And it looks like we've got a valuable warning about tightening up security at the rift into the other universes." She sighed as she leaned back in her seat, relaxing. "It could have been so much worse. No Alliance agents, and at least the CFL seems to have cut any ties with the Bogumils. Though being betrayed didn't keep the Desrolinists from stabbing the Rus in the back. Do you really think they believed the Alliance could have been drawn in with a major uprising in the sector, and is that something we need to worry about in the future?"

"It may well be, Lida, it may well be. I have lived there before, after all." She frowned, and then activated the hyperdrive once again as the calculations came through. "That mission isn't even highly classified, though. They just sent me to look around the moment the rift opened and we found this strange and rival great power, to figure out how their society was organized. A tourist taking lots of notes. I just lived in the capitol and made ridiculous numbers of requests under their 'freedom of information act' which lets private citizens request information on anything in the government, and the government has to actively redact it if it's classified and can't refuse a request as such." She snorted softly. "Oh well. We're on our way home now, Lida, and... I'll go see to our 'guest.'"
Last edited by The Duchess of Zeon on 2012-05-31 02:22pm, edited 1 time in total.
The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth. -- Wikipedia's No Original Research policy page.

In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.
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