Shadow Of Freedom – Snippet 24

For that matter, exactly who had jurisdiction over Simões (and the priceless intelligence resource he represented) was also something of a delicate question. Their operation had been jointly sponsored by the Kingdom of Torch, the Republic of Haven (whether or not anyone in Nouveau Paris had known anything about it), the Audubon Ballroom, the Beowulf Biological Survey Corps, and Victor Cachat’s Erewhonese contacts. There’d been absolutely no official Manticoran involvement, although Princess Ruth Winton’s contributions hadn’t exactly been insignificant. She’d been acting in her persona as Torch’s intelligence chief, however, not in her persona as a member of the Star Empire of Manticore’s ruling house.

Bearing all of that in mind, there’d never really been much chance of heading straight for Manticore. Instead, they’d made for Hainuwele, on the direct line to Torch. It was the closest safe harbor, given the available wormhole connections, and they’d hoped to find one of the BSC’s disguised commando ships in-system and available for use as a messenger when they got there. They’d been disappointed in that respect, however; when they arrived the only ship on station had been EMS Custis, an Erewhonese construction ship which had just about completed the conversion of Parmaley Station into a proper base for the BSC and the Ballroom to interdict the interstellar trade in genetic slaves.

Artlet’s and Zilwicki’s repairs had been less than perfect, and Hali Sowle had limped into Hainuwele on what were obviously her hyper generator’s last legs. Custis’ captain been out of touch for two or three months himself while his construction crews worked on Parmaley Station, but he’d been able to confirm that as far as active operations between Haven and Manticore were concerned, a hiatus of mutual exhaustion had set in following the Battle of Manticore. Both Anton and Victor had been vastly relieved to discover that no one had been actively shooting at one another any longer, given what they’d learned on Mesa, but it had been obvious the good captain was less than delighted at the notion of finding himself involved in the sort of shenanigans which seemed to follow the team of Zilwicki and Cachat around. He’d apparently suspected that his Erewhonese employers wouldn’t have approved of his stepping deeper into the morass he was pretty sure Hali Sowle and her passengers represented. They might have convinced him to change his mind if they’d told him what they’d discovered on Mesa, but they weren’t about to break security on that at this point. Which meant the best he’d been willing to do was to take his own ship to Erewhon (which, to be fair, was the next best thing to twenty light-years closer to Hainuwele than Torch was) to fetch back a replacement generator for Hali Sowle. In the process, he was willing to take an encrypted dispatch from Victor to Sharon Justice, who’d been covering for him as the Republic’s senior officer in the Erewhon Sector, but that was as far as he was prepared to go.

Zilwicki didn’t try to pretend, even to himself, that he hadn’t found the captain’s attitude irritating. Fortunately, he was by nature a patient, methodical, analytical man. And there were at least some upsides to the situation. Neither he nor Cachat wanted Simões out of their sight, and while they had no particular reason to distrust Custis’ captain or crew, they had no particular reason to trust them, either. If even a fraction of what Jack McBryde and Herlander Simões had told them proved true, it was going to shake the foundations of star nations all across explored space. They literally could not risk having anything happen to him until they’d had time for him to tell his tale — in detail — to their own star nations’ intelligence services. Much as they might begrudge the month or so it would take Custis to make the trip to Erewhon, they preferred to stay right where they were until Justice could arrange secure transport to Torch. They’d both breathe an enormous sigh of relief once they had Simões safely squirreled away on Torch and could send discreet dispatches requesting all of the relevant security agencies send senior representatives to Torch.

No one expected it to be easy, and he knew Cachat was as worried as he was over the possibility that the Star Empire and the Republic might resume combat operations while they waited, but both of them were aware that they’d stumbled onto the sort of intelligence revelation that came along only once in centuries. Assuming it wasn’t all part of some incredible, insane disinformation effort, the Mesan Alignment had been working on its master plan for the better part of six hundred T-years without anyone’s having suspected what was happening. Under those circumstances, there were quite literally no lengths to which Victor Cachat and Anton Zilwicki wouldn’t go to keep their sole source of information alive.

Which was why they were all still sitting here aboard Parmaley Station’s moldering hulk while they awaited transportation elsewhere.

“You know,” Yana said a bit plaintively, “nobody told me we were going to be gone on this little jaunt for an entire year.”

“And we haven’t been,” Zilwicki pointed out. “Well, actually, I suppose we have, depending on the planetary year in question. But in terms of T-years, it’s been less than one. Why, it’s been barely ten T-months, when you come down to it!”

“And it was only supposed to be four,” Yana retorted.

“We told you it might be five,” Zilwicki corrected, and she snorted.

“You know, even Scrags can do simple arithmetic, Anton. And –”

The powered door giving access to the combination viewing gallery and sitting room was one part of Parmaley Station which had been thoroughly refurbished. Now it opened rather abruptly, interrupting Yana in mid-sentence, and a dark-haired man came through it. Compared to Zilwicki’s massive musculature and shoulders, the newcomer looked almost callow, but he was actually a well-muscled young fellow.