WHEREIN the Woods, Learning Something is Amiss, Endeavor to Pursue
Commodore Mavis sat in his office and waited for word from the planet below.
Someone was making a play for something on the station. If the Viceroy was right, and Mavis suspected he was, then it was for the mysterious artifact sitting on level 5 in Ur Voys. Only now, the artifact was not in fact sitting on level 5 in Ur Voys, it was being moved to another location. One that wasn’t compromised.
Someone had compromised the security at Ur Voys.
The breach was, in truth, clumsy: the robots had moved too brazenly, too openly, and were deactivated before anything was accomplished. Still… the very idea that someone had managed to cause a breach on such a scale… incredible.
“Commodore.” Katryn Valdyrs’ voice emanated from the intercom. “Station commander Hallek Andros, on a secure channel for you.”
“Very good. Patch him through here.”
Mavis’ terminal blurred, and Andros’ face appeared.
“Commodore,” Andros said, “I have good news.”
“We’ve just received word from the last of the transports. All shipments have been handed off to their second convoys without incident. All security codes were validated.”
Mavis relaxed slightly. “Very good, Andros. When will we receive confirmation that the items are secure in their new locations?”
“I estimate within the next six hours.”
“Good. Very good…” Mavis drifted off into his own thoughts.
“Sir?” Andros peered at him through the terminal screen questioningly.
Mavis blinked, eyes refocusing. “Have you made any progress as to the cause of this breach?”
Andros shook his head, frowning. “Not yet. But I’ll let you know the minute I find anything at all.”
Mavis nodded. “Thank you Andros. Keep me informed. Mavis out.”
He turned off the terminal and sat back in his chair, drumming his fingers on his desk. This was good news. It meant that the artifact was out of the environment the thieves had planned to compromise. That said, Mavis was deeply troubled. His instincts told him this wasn’t over, not yet. And, despite all evidence to the contrary, his instincts told him that Vindh was behind it.
Mavis shook his head and tried to dismiss the notion. It made no sense. Captain Vindh was a clever man, perhaps even ingenious in his own way, but he simply didn’t have the resources to do something on this scale. His crew was competent, but they didn’t have the skills or the equipment to reprogram the robots of Ur Voys en masse.
Mavis pressed the button for his private intercom. “Ando.”
Ando Fargus, Mavis’ first officer, responded on the other end. “Aye, sir?”
“Is there any speculation as to how the security in Ur Voys was compromised?”
“Well…” Fargus hesitated. “Nothing we can pin down, sir, but there are some irregularities.”
“Oh? What are these irregularities?”
“Well sir,” Fargus said, “I did a little checking and spoke with the commander of Ur Ados. Ur Ados is the facility that services the robots that work in Ur Voys. A few weeks ago there were a few irregularities in station security. None of them were irregular enough to raise suspicion at the time, but they’re being revisited now.”
Mavis leaned forward, interested. “Please go on, Mr. Fargus.”
“Well sir, there are records of some unusual power readings detected by sensors in the hazardous waste sewage pipes. No one thought anything of it at the time, because those systems were undergoing maintenance.”
“It’s fairly common,” Fargus explained. “Every time the system is cycled and reset the readings spike.”
“Was that the only irregularity?” Mavis asked.
“No sir,” Fargus said. “One of the warehouses had a shipment of robots slated to be sent to Ur Voys the following day… the security for that warehouse performed an unscheduled cycle and reset.”
Mavis found that very interesting. “Did it now?”
“Yes sir…” Fargus took a deep breath. “The official cause was logged as a temporary power failure. There was no reason, at the time, for anyone to think otherwise… but…”
“But you believe you have found a link between them,” Mavis finished.
“Yes sir… a few hours before the power cycle, the technician conducting the maintenance on the hazardous waste treatment system accessed warehouse twelve, located right next to the warehouse holding the robots.”
“So this technician is responsible for tampering with the robots,” Mavis concluded.
Fargus hesitated. “Well… we can’t say. There’s no evidence she was ever in that warehouse. She was in twelve to get some equipment she legitimately needed for the maintenance. She is on record for going in there, and she did take the equipment from that facility. The only irregularity was that she disabled the security in that warehouse, but a lot of the personnel on the base do that when they’re loading or unloading equipment…”
“I see,” Mavis said. “Where is this woman now?”
“That’s what makes this more suspicious,” Fargus admitted. “She hasn’t been seen since. She took leave immediately following her shift, and we haven’t been able to contact her.”
“Did she now…” Mavis drummed his fingers on his desk, thinking. “It appears we have our saboteur.”
“Aye sir,” Fargus replied. “Although… there weren’t enough robots in storage that day to do what Ur Voys is reporting, sir. And we found no record of similar irregularities on previous shipments. There was an attempt to breach Ur Voys through Ur Ados about six months ago, but the attempt was very different… and in no way connected with Miss Robis.”
“The specialist who disappeared.”
Mavis frowned. “I am coming to the bridge,” he said. “And we will discuss this further. Mavis out.”
He strode out of his office onto the bridge of Centurion, standing next to his command station. Ando Fargus was climbing up the stairs from the lower tier, heading in his direction. When Fargus approached, Mavis asked “do you have an image of Miss Robis?”
Fargus nodded, moved to an empty terminal and keyed in a command sequence. The terminal screen blinked, and the picture of an attractive young woman with red hair appeared.
“She was last seen on her shift?”
“No,” Fargus said. “She was last seen in a bar the following afternoon.”
“Was she seen talking to anyone unusual?”
“She was talking to someone,” Fargus said. “No one knows who he was. We’re looking into it.”
“Commodore.” Katryn Valdyrs called up from the lower tier of the bridge. “You asked to be informed of all Maximilian-class ships attempting to take off.”
Mavis peered down at the woman. “Yes, I did. You have news?”
“Sir, the Alo Minh is asking for clearance from the tower.”
Mavis hesitated. “Hail the Alo Minh. I wish to speak with her captain.”
Mavis turned to Fargus. “I want you to listen to everything Captain Tax says, and make sure it checks out properly.”
Fargus nodded. “Yes sir.”
The terminal screen at Mavis’ command station flickered, and the aristocratic face of Jobin Tax appeared on screen.
“Captain Tax.” Mavis forced himself to keep his voice casual, conversational. “Leaving so soon?”
Jobin Tax smiled, a weary yet courteous smile that suggested he’d gone through many trials to get to where he was right now. “Soon is hardly the word… I logged my request to leave nearly two and a half weeks ago. I’m afraid we were quite unprepared for the bureaucracy involved…”
Mavis smiled. He glanced at Fargus, who began to access the Port Authority database to search for Tax’s clearance records. They would have a log of every misstep made. It wasn’t an implausible excuse: many outworlders were unprepared for the exacting nature of the clearance process on Varkav. He’d thought Tax would do better…
Fargus looked up. Mavis switched off the sound on the transmission and nodded slightly for him to report.
“His story checks out,” Fargus said. “He filed two and a half weeks ago–one of his crew did, actually. Looks like he tried to rush the process, and it cost them quite a bit of time. Also looks like Captain Tax had to go down there and straighten it out himself. His ident authorized the last round of documentation, not his crewman’s.
Mavis nodded again, and switched back on the audio. “I regret you ran into so much trouble, Captain Tax.”
Tax sighed, shrugging slightly. “It is my fault for hiring the man I did. He has done nothing but try to cut corners the entire time we were on this planet. I believe there are three or four suppliers in this district who will have nothing whatsoever to do with me when I return.”
Mavis smiled again. “I trust you will be able to mend those fences, given time. Well, have a safe trip, Captain. I look forward to your return…”
“Thank you,” Captain Tax said. “Tax out.”
With that, the terminal screen went blank.
“Miss Valdyrs,” Mavis said, “Tell the port authority they may clear the Alo Minh for takeoff.”
“Aye, sir,” Valdyrs said.
Fargus looked up at him. “Aye, sir?”
“We need to learn more about this incident.”
Fargus nodded. “I’ll get right on it, sir.”
“Very good. I will be in my office.”
Mavis returned to his office and thought about the events of the day. The attempt to steal this mysterious artifact had, by all appearances, been foiled. So why didn’t he believe it?
Could the memories the Viceroy read in Vindh’s head have been nothing more than a ruse? Not likely… how would they have known the Sword would be hunting him? And why would Vindh submit to a process that would most likely kill or seriously harm him? Perhaps Vindh had been placed there under duress? If so, Mavis felt little sympathy for him.
And none of this explained why Vindh was nowhere to be found.
As the hours passed, Mavis grew impatient. He could not act until he had useful information to act on, and at the moment there was little he could do to facilitate that.
Eventually Mavis’ desk terminal beeped. “Commodore, Hallek Andros is on the secure comm channel and insists he speak with you immediately.”
“I will take it here,” Mavis said. “Patch it through.”
The image of Hallek Andros, Station commander of Ur Voys, appeared on screen. Andros looked tired and gray, as if he’d aged ten years.
“Commodore,” Andros said. There was a note of defeat in his voice.
“What?” Mavis said.
Andros took a deep breath. “I regret to inform you that Special Project 51273 is missing.”
“What?” Mavis stared at the man incredulously. “What happened?”
Andros shook his head and shrugged. “I don’t know. It must have taken place on the other leg of the journey, after we handed it off in mid-point. Their access codes were up to date, and their authorization key was perfect…”
The intercom beeped again. “Sir,” Fargus said, “I have more information about our possible saboteur. One of the locals said he saw her talking to offworlders.”
“Report, Fargus,” Mavis said. “And be quick about it.”
“Well, sir, it was some of the crew from the Alo Minh.”
Mavis closed his eyes and counted to ten. “The Alo Minh.”
The time for speculation had ended. It was now time to act.
Mavis stood up, pushing back his chair carelessly. “I will handle this myself,” he said, straightening his uniform. “Fargus, I’m entering the bridge. Tell whoever is at helm to prepare to leave orbit. Immediately.”