When Grif walked in to the conference room, Velis and Bennet were waiting for him.
"You've been drinking," Velis said.
"A bit," Grif admitted.
He sat down on the opposite side of the table--their natural positions, he thought with some amusement--and studied them carefully. Bennet was openly curious, and slightly anxious. Velis didn't look curious, she looked as if she were just barely controlling the urge to kill.
"All right," Grif said. "I'll come straight to the point. I found a way in... sort of."
Velis snorted in disgust. "'Sort of' doesn't cut it."
"At least hear the plan before you reject it out of hand," Grif said. "We're going to have to get a little a creative. There's no way we're going to get in and out of that place carrying that damn thing in a sack."
Velis looked annoyed, but continued to listen.
"Ur Voys is too well guarded on most days," Grif continued, "and now that they're dealing with the mystery of their missing anagathics it's going to be locked down tighter than ever."
"So what do you suggest?" Bennet asked.
"Glad you asked." Grif grinned at both of them. "It just so happens that Ur Voys isn't a self-sufficient installation. It has regular shipments of supplies going into it, and it ships out what it produces in its labs. It also ships out any equipment that needs major repairs."
"We already tried that," Bennet said. "We thought we could infiltrate one of the maintenance crews that repairs their equipment. Ur Voys might use other facilities, but they transport everything themselves. They ship out all the equipment they need fixed, drop it off, and then pick up the equipment when it's ready to go. And all equipment is scanned to make sure there aren't people hiding in any of it."
"That won't be an issue," Grif said. "We won't be sending people into Ur Voys."
Velis frowned. "Grif, you're not going to be able to fast-talk your way out of doing this."
"I'm not talking my way out of anything," Grif insisted. "If we're going to have any chance of pulling this off, we can't send people into Ur Voys. People attract attention. Even if we could successfully smuggle someone in to Ur Voys--even if we could get someone in there legitimately--they'd be under observation the entire time, and they'd get noticed."
Velis nodded reluctantly. "That was our problem in previous attempts. There's a specific culture in the facility that requires a fair amount of indoctrination to adopt. We couldn't fake it." She narrowed her eyes. "How did you pull it off?"
Grif waved his hand dismissively. "Not important. Like I said, this time we won't be sending people."
"A thing, Velis. Rather, things. Specifically, robots. Robots are mobile. People don't bother looking at them twice." Grif punched in a command in front of his terminal, and the picture of a high security military complex appeared on each of the terminals in the conference room.
"This is Ur Ados," he said. "It's a facility that, among other things, does most of the repair work for any Ur Voys robots that need maintenance. It was mentioned in one of the files you sent me, Bennet. A brief footnote. It's listed in the public record of Varkav, so it's public knowledge… though it is high security and restricted."
Velis nodded again. "We tried to use that facility as a staging area for an infiltration. As far as we can tell, all agents died before the operation could get underway."
"Ah... Well." Grif frowned. "That's not encouraging. But we're not going to be infiltrating. I was thinking more of a stealth operation."
"You want to try and break in," Bennet said.
Grif hesitated. "Well… actually, I want you to try and break in. This needs to be completely undetected."
"What are we breaking in to do?" Bennet asked.
"Essentially," Grif said, "I want your people to break into Ur Ados and find a shipment of robots that are ready to be sent back to Ur Voys."
"You want to modify them, I guess," Bennet said, nodding thoughtfully. "So when they're reactivated inside Ur Voys, they'll be working for us."
"Well, sort of, but--"
"Won't work," Velis interrupted. "All items taken off-site are scanned before they are returned to Ur Voys, and are compared to the expected configuration. Any significant deviations result in the immediate destruction of the item. That includes programming... even robotic programming."
"What about devices?" Grif asked. "Could you conceal a device somewhere in the robot chassis?"
Velis looked at Bennet questioningly. Bennet thought a moment, then shrugged. "Maybe. Depending what it was made of, we could implant something inside the robot chassis that wouldn't be detected by the normal scans--essentially you'd have to rip the robot apart to find it. That's assuming it's not emitting anything. If it were a monitoring device, or some kind of remote control, they'd detect it as soon as you turned it on…"
Grif grinned. "That won't be a problem. The hard part will be getting into Ur Ados. Once you do that, you just find a few robots and conceal one of these on each of them..." Grif keyed in a command into his terminal and the picture changed. The item on the screen looked like a smooth, black stone no larger than three finger widths.
Velis looked at the object and raised an eyebrow. "Interesting."
"Yes," Grif said, grin widening. "I thought that might get your attention ."
Velis nodded thoughtfully. "You have someone who can use this?"
Grif nodded. "If we agree to his price. Which is, er, exorbitantly high… but understandable given the circumstances. And there are a few issues..."
"I'm sorry," Bennet said, "but what the hell is that?"
"It is a remote operator receptor," Velis said.
Bennet nodded politely. "Thanks for clearing that up. That means absolutely nothing to me."
"It's a way for a particularly rare breed of telepath to control technology," Grif said. "Mentally. I'm surprised you don't know about it--I thought it was the kind of thing spy organizations would go nuts over."
"Not really," Velis said, "since there aren't many telepaths that are actually able to use the damn things. Perhaps one percent of one percent--and they'd have to be relatively powerful to do anything useful with it."
"Oh, my guy is pretty powerful," Grif said. "That's actually a bit of a problem--"
"I want to know the whole plan," Velis said. "Now."
"Uh... OK." Grif took a deep breath. "Beyond a certain point, it's pretty simple. We get to Varkav. A team of your agents breaks into Ur Ados, and puts our receptors on a few key robots waiting to be shipped back to Ur Voys. You'll have to do what you do best to keep them from being detected in the initial scan."
"Then," Grif continued, "we wait for them to be delivered and set up. Then we activate the receptors, at which point we'll be in direct control of those robots, and we can use them to locate your toy. And because these receptors are passive--they only work when the remote operator is actually using them--they don't get detected by the usual methods, or even by most of the unusual ones."
"Neat," Bennet said. "So you put robots in the facility and they find the… toy. What next?"
"Then... well, then we convince them to move it for us."
Velis and Bennet sat silently, looking at the picture of the remote receptor.
"We'll never be able to get to where it is--robots stop being unobtrusive when they start doing strange things, and if we tried to use them to get to the thing directly, then I expect people will notice."
Velis nodded in agreement.
"If, however, we manage to convince them that Ur Voys security had been breached--which shouldn't be too hard, because it will, in fact, have been breached--and they can't tell exactly how extensive the breach is..."
"They'll start moving their important things to more secure locations," Velis finished.
"And that will give us our opportunity to acquire the object."
Grif nodded again.
"Sorry," Bennet said, "But I'm still a bit lost. How many of those receptors do you have? How exactly do you plan to use them to convince Ur Voys personnel that the security breach is so extensive? As soon as they discover one they'll be able to scan for the rest of them--what we do to mask the scans won't work if they know specifically what to look for."
"We'll have four," Grif said. "But by the time we're ready to go, I plan to have many more robots at my disposal. You ever use a neural link?"
"Sure," Bennet said. "They're great for computer diagnostics, programming, playing with remote-controlled toys..."
"Right." Grif leaned back in his chair. "These receptors are like that, only a telepath can use them without being connected to anything. Which means we can use the telepath to make modifications to a robot's programming after they've been delivered to Ur Voys... and if we can find some kind of data link that the robots use--to set their work schedules, make log entries, dump the day's information into station records, that kind of thing--then we can affect the programming of other robots sharing the same link."
Grif waited for that sink in. "With enough time and a little luck, we could have an army of robots working for us."
"Tell me about your man," Velis said. "What are the logistics involved there?"
Grif sighed. "Well, it's going to be complicated," he said. "And expensive. But he's our best shot."
Velis frowned. "Be more specific."
"Well..." Grif tried to look unconcerned. "Well, his name is Ebur Tosk, and when he's on his meds he's a great guy."
Velis looked at him steadily. Grif shifted his weight nervously.
"It's not quite like that," he said. "OK, here's the whole story. Ebur just so happens to be a pretty highly rated telepath--you have to be to develop this, ah, I don't know what they call it, but the telepathic link that he can establish requires a high degree of ability."
"Well... Where Ebur grew up, they don't really test for that kind of stuff, and most of the people who manifest telepathic abilities... you know what happens to a telepath who doesn't, ah, know how much is too much."
"They go crazy," Bennet said.
"Right. Well Ebur went crazy. Fortunately for him, he is one of the very few people who can be pulled back with treatment. Most of the time he takes, uh, I can't remember the name, but it kills his telepathic ability and alters his brain chemistry, and he's a normal, peaceful guy. Fun to be around. Good sense of humor."
"Ah." Velis made the connection. "He hires himself out as a slave circuit."
"That's right," Grif said. "You wait for his meds to wear off--that's the unpleasant part--and then you dope him up on something else. He sits there and does pretty much whatever you tell him. You can link a machine on your end to a machine on the other end by using him as a bridge. Alter programming, operate via remote, all sorts of things. He's got incredible range and bandwidth."
"As to the logistics," Grif continued, "it's tricky. First we'll have to put him in stasis and smuggle him in. From what I understand telepathy doesn't exactly radiate--I mean, you can't detect someone using it--but telepaths still manage to notice other telepaths, somehow. Even on meds he registers as a telepath, and if a Sword decided to try and read him on a whim... well, whims are bad. Next, we need to baby-sit him while he comes off his meds and then give him the slave circuit drug. Unfortunately they… they don't mix well. So we need to give him about a week after stopping his meds before dosing him with the other stuff."
"How do you manage that?" Velis asked. "Have you done it before?"
Grif nodded. "Yeah, we stick Ktk in a room with him. Bugs are dead zones as far as telepaths are concerned. It's not even a matter of not being able to understand the alien mind, Ebur says telepaths just don't sense anything at all from them. So Ktk sits on him--literally if necessary--and has a shock stick that it uses when Ebur starts messing around with our heads. Using psi blockers generally is usually a good idea at that point, but it's risky to have those in Throne space. Telepaths notice those almost instantly, and they stay in your blood for weeks after they wear off..."
Velis nodded in agreement. "But you've done this before? He is manageable?"
"Yeah, we've worked with him before, and he can be managed. It's not fun for anyone involved, and I guarantee at least one particularly nasty moment. The good news is that as powerful as he is, he's kind of clumsy with anything that's not a receptor... so you get fair warning before he does anything dangerous. It gives us time to tell Ktk, who then puts the stick to him."
Bennet shook his head. "He agrees to this kind of treatment?"
Grif shrugged. "He's very expensive. I mean, don't get me wrong--he's worth every standard. If I had to go through all that I'd charge a lot, too..."
"How much does he want for this job?" Velis asked.
"Well, I haven't told him the specifics," Grif said, "only the distances and projected time involved. He wants two million standard."
Velis didn't flinch. "I can't agree to that on my own," she said. "But if everything you say is true, I think I can get Alef to agree to it."
Grif hadn't expected her to agree so easily. "Well, he's expecting a call back. So I'll tell him you've tentatively agreed to his terms?"
"All right." Grif stood and stretched his legs. "Then I'll tell him to come on by... give you a chance to ask him any questions you want, brief him, whatever."
"And I will prepare a short message to Alef," Velis said. "Telling him we just might be making progress here. Congratulations, Grif. I didn't think you could do it... but it looks like you've come up with something that just might work."
"Hear that, Cyrus?" Grif called out. "She said it might work."
"Pay me, bug!" the terminal said.