WHEREIN the Devil is Given His Due
Commodore Hu Mavis was not a man given to luxury or excess; he was, largely, a man of discipline and austerity. His office aboard the Centurion, however, was a concession to comfort. He had remodeled it after the den in his home on Nuris: everything but the fireplace, which was impractical even on a ship that size. His desk was wood, the bookshelves, while not wood, were a good facsimile, and the books, while not made of paper, were actually bound.
It calmed him. It helped him focus. More than once he’d hit upon the solution to a seemingly insurmountable problem simply by sitting in this office, staring at the pictures of his wife, children, and grandchildren, and drinking tea.
It was late, and under most circumstances Mavis would, if he were up, be drinking tea before turning in to sleep. Tonight, however, Mavis had no intention of sleeping. Nor was he drinking tea: tonight he was drinking whiskey.
Mavis leaned back in his leather-bound armchair–the one piece of furniture he actually took out of his den instead of trying to recreate it–and stared at the ten deceptively innocuous packets lined up on his desk.
WU-961. The chemical sniffers confirmed it, once they’d been set to actually look for it. Only one was open, unused: it was to the Marine’s credit that he immediately reported what he’d found. The Marine’s sense of duty saved his life and salvaged his career. Mavis was a just man, and his crew knew it. The Marine would recover from purification and continue to serve with distinction: in fact, in time the loyalty he displayed by willingly revealing his misdeeds might even serve to advance his career. The Radiant Throne recognized that all men were sinners before God; just as Christ had told the thief that he would be in paradise that day, so too were those who would willingly repent be shown mercy by the Throne.
At the end of it all, the Marine would be a better man for it.
“Quite unlike you, Captain Vindh.”
Mavis raised his glass and toasted the smuggler’s victory. It was, he was forced to admit, a brilliant deception, expertly played. He’d underestimated Vindh–a habit that he very much needed to break–and Vindh had prospered greatly from it.
Mavis sighed, sipped his drink, and frowned. Captain Vindh had deceived him, but more troubling than the deception was the original theft. Captain Vindh, a non-citizen, an unbeliever and a known criminal, had managed to enter one of the Radiant Throne’s most secure facilities, steal a large quantity of one of the rarest gifts the Emperor had to bestow on her favored servants, and leave without the theft being detected.
He had no idea how.
Vindh couldn’t have simply waltzed into the compound, grabbed the drugs and sauntered off into the sunset. He would have needed help from within the facility itself, and that possibility was troubling. The men and women at Ur Voys were placed there only after submitting to a vigilant screening process. Who had fallen through the cracks?
Mavis didn’t know. Either someone had the ability to deceive a Servant of the Lord, or he (or she) had been coerced in some nefarious way. Perhaps the traitor had been loyal originally, turned only after entering the facility. Satan was ever-present, testing the faithful, looking for any opportunity to cause them to stumble.
The entire facility would have to be locked down. The thought made him deeply unhappy. He would need to bring in a Sword… a skilled one, capable of rooting out the tiniest traitorous thought in a strong-willed insurgent. Mavis wasn’t a telepath, and as such had little authority in those matters, but he had some influence with those who did. If he requested aid, and explained why, he was confident he would be heard.
They would reach Varkav in a day. When they arrived, Mavis would set about determining how a common smuggler was able to break into a high security facility and make off with one of the Throne’s most precious treasures. Until then, he would sit, and drink, and meditate on the subtlety of the devil’s work.