Colonel Sarakai Voutelen followed Commander Amieta Invelen into the interrogation cell. As Sarakai took up a position against the wall near the only door, the Commander continued forward.

Sarakai didn't even need to look around the room to know it was grey-on-grey: steel table and chair, bolted to the dull grey deckplates; grey walls, grey ceiling, silvery one way observation window in one wall, grey right down to the cuffs that held Roth's hands behind his back.

Amieta was the XO for the ship - all the ships, really - and Sarakai's immediate superior, and would do most or all of the talking, so Sarakai was free to observe. She studied the man sitting in the chair, hands cuffed behind him. Jorion Roth. Fair hair, worn shoulder length. Brown eyes, perhaps a touch above average height, fairly nondescript. He also seemed calm, considering his situation. Amieta stopped on the other side of the table, looking down at the man, and said conversationally:

"How've you been, Mr Roth?"

"Very well, thank you, Commander Invelen. And yourself?" Roth's Gallente accent was almost undetectable, and he accompanied the question with a slight smile. "Hmm? I hear Ennur is very pretty this time of year."

"Well, I'm pretty good." The XO answered, taking out a pack of cigarettes and tapping one out, "Ennur's a shit hole though, believe me. Now, I know what you were doing. We aren't trying to establish your guilt here. I'm not the police."

"No," Roth agreed.

"I'm just wondering," Commander Invelen paused and squeezed the tip of the cigarette between her thumb and index finger where it flared to life, "what you thought killing me would accomplish?"

His slight smile hardly flickered, "Your death?"

Commander Invelen continued, almost as if she didn't hear him, "I mean, hell, I'm backed up. Even if you hadn't fumbled it Jory, it wouldn't have gotten you much. Two weeks of my life really worth the risk?"

Sarakai pursed her lips as his eyes flickered slightly. What was that for?

"You did know I was backed up, right?" Amieta took a drag on her cigarette and exhaled lazily, "I mean, cause you cocked up the rest of it pretty good."

"It's a safe assumption to make, isn't it, Commander? After all, it's common practice among pilots. And those with certain ... dangerous jobs." Roth smiled again.

Did he not know? Or is the XO getting close to something else?

"Like FIO agents, right? Course, you don't die, they don't wake the new copy up, do they?" The XO's smile wasn't pleasant, "And if you're chipped, you aren't dead."

"You're collecting a full set, are you? A row of Roths, all nicely chipped and obedient." There was a note of anger in his voice, quickly covered.

Did he - He really thinks we're going to chip him, Sarakai realized.

The XO drew on her cig, "You ever think about actually checking on that? Before you hauled off and started trying to kill people? Before you tried to poison your own damn daughter?"

Sarakai saw Roth tense, but when he answered his tone was even, and he seemed calm, "A simple hand-scanner showed me the chip in Ciarente's head when I met her. No doubt you don't see anything wrong with living like you do. But Ciarente would have thought it an abomination, when she could still think for herself."

"That was the doing of her boss, actually. Inhibits suicidal behaviour. Probably needed it because you were such a fuckhead when she finally managed to retrieve you." Amieta shook her head, "Hell, you even bother to check whether I was chipped Jorion? Maybe try talking this thing out?"

"Ah, her boss." Roth nodded, "I've learned quite a bit about Captain Vikarion and his 'harmless' chips, over the past few months."

"If it was a True Slave chip, I'd have had it out with a fucking combat knife if I had to. Maybe if you hadn't jumped to conclusions, maybe tried talking, she would have just gone home with you, instead of still being around Vikarion." The Commander dragged on her cigarette, no longer smiling. "All she wanted, you know. Go back to normal."

Roth studied her, "It's quite a complex fantasy they've built for you, isn't it?"

The XO managed a chuckle, "You think so?"

"Or you're an excellent liar." He shrugged awkwardly, the cuffs that held his hands behind his back limiting his movement, "Which is also possible."

Stubborn bastard, Sarakai thought, If he was a little less stubborn, it wouldn't have come to this.

"That chip is gone now. You might have seen that if you had used your little scanner again instead of poison." The Commander sneered as she went on, "What do you think I'm lying about sunshine? Hell, why would I lie? We're the evil Sanshas remember? I can put whatever the hell I want in your head, can't I?"

"I really couldn't begin to guess your motivations. Maybe this is what you've put in my head. I'll just have to wait and see."

"Think so?" Amieta laughed, the frustration of a moment ago apparently gone. Sarakai knew her well enough to know it wasn't, Just shoved down, and for how long?

Jorion Roth shrugged again and the XO continued, "Really though, I'm curious, what makes you tick Jory? Hell, you did some research on me to find me, what in there makes you think I would join the Sanshas?"

"I didn't imagine they'd given you a choice." Roth smiled sadly, and to Sarakai it looked genuine. "I'm sorry, Captain. If you're in there, somewhere. I thought I could ... free you."

"I can do without that kinda freedom, thanks for the offer. Unlike you, I wouldn't be dumb enough to get caught by Sanshas, Jorion." It was said with a hint too much force. Sarakai saw the hand not holding a cigarette twitch as if it wanted to clench into a fist.

Careful XO, he is a professional. He has been on your side of the table, he knows what to look for, Sarakai thought, as her superior continued, "Anyway, I think this whole thing is because you're too arrogant to believe your daughter could accomplish what she did. It had to be a Sansha plot. Not you screwing up and sliding so far into cover you couldn't get out again."

"You're..." Roth paused and smiled again, "I almost said 'you're free to think what you like', but of course, that would be a little inaccurate."

The Commander considered him, "You know, when I met you, the you that had the broken head and thought he was an Angel, I was a little relieved. I thought to myself, 'Hey, the real Jorion can't possibly be this much of an asshole.'"

That slight flinch of his eyes again. Something he didn't know? Or a sensitive subject?

Amieta continued, "I'm sure as an FIO officer, you know all about that though, right? Why you woke up on that station in Delve in that crazy bitch Tenebrae's clutches?"

Roth nodded slightly.

"Kinda wishing I'd lied to Cia here and there, told you that it wasn't possible, couldn't be done - bringing you back I mean. Discouraged her." Commander Invelen sighed, "You couldn't just stay there on the 'locate - low priority' list either huh? Had to walk right up to me?"

"You expect me to wait around for you to take the children I have left?"

"That what you think we're doing?" The XO shook her head, "Cia is my friend. The sister she cares about the most is Camille, and she was in the hands of the psychotic prick who tried to kill Cia. Of course I'm going to help her save her sister."

"Oh, 'friend'. Well, how touching." Roth leaned forward slightly, and said levelly: "I had five children, Commander. Then four. Now three. But you'd know that."

"If I brought Cia in here, and you told her everything would be how it was before, she would happily go back to being a student on Debreth. Try to put the things that have happened to her as a pilot behind her. You could even check with a scanner, she doesn't have any non-standard implants." The Commander paused, "I wish that was an option."

"And of course, your technology is always so reliably detected." The bastard is actually smiling again, Sarakai thought, "And I take her back to Debreth, and she goes back to being a student, until the day she ... activates, or whatever you call it."

"We activate her? Because our evil plan is to unleash a.... 20 year old girl on Debreth?" Amieta's tone was dry despite her frustration, "The horror."

"Do you think I'd take the risk of letting her anywhere near my family?" Roth snapped, the first completely unguarded reaction Sarakai had seen from him.

"So, first a basic scanner is sufficient." Frustration was fast mounting in Amieta's voice again, "but when it isn't convenient to your little paranoid fantasy, we are suddenly so much more competent. Not that I blame you for thinking we are competent, after how easily we bagged you. None of that was anything to do with Sansha, of course. That was pure Watch Marine training."

"I would have let her go, Commander. I told her that." Roth said, his voice even and matter-of-fact again, "But she kept looking."

"Only one person here has tried to kill a family member Jorion. It isn't her. You snapped, then when she dug you out of that hole, you tried to kill her." Amieta's voice rose as she continued, "What would you do? Would you leave your family with someone like that?"

"I'll protect what's left of my family from anyone." He paused. "Even those who used to be part of it."

"Far as I'm concerned, the only one who has given up their right to a family is you."

"I don't much care what concerns you." Roth said coldly

"Tell you what, you're only going to have what we want you to have in your head when you leave, right? What do you want to know? You ask, go for it."

What are you doing, Invelen? Sarakai thought, That is the exact opposite of how to conduct an interrogation. To the extent this is really an interrogation.

Sarakai kept her face blank as Roth glanced over at her before looking back at the Commander, "You said you weren't taken by Sanshas, Commander. Why did you drop off the grid in '00?"

Right to it. He may be stubborn and blind, but he's sharp. She gave him the clues, and he's still a professional.

"I," there was an almost imperceptible pause, "joined the Guristas."

"Just like that?"

"Watch dropped me, Guristas picked me up." She tapped her left side with two fingers, "I can show you my tattoo if you'd like."

"'Dropped' you?" Roth pressed. "Your file says presumed KIA."

"We were killing Blooders, it went pear shaped. You have a problem with killing Blooders too?" The XO dragged on her cigarette, though Sarakai could see the struggle to stay calm in the set of her shoulders, Hopefully Roth can't, she thought. "Then, like I said, Guristas picked me up."

"You're the one allied with Blooders, Captain Invelen, not me."

Amieta grinned wolfishly, though Sarakai could still see the tension, "Have a pile of blooder tags weighs more than you do that says I, personally, am not allied with them." Amieta looked slightly pale behind the grin to Sarakai, "Anyway, then Guristas, then I came to work for Silver. Well before he joined Naqam."

"And now," Roth said contemptuously, "You fly in fleet with Blood Raider slavers as they hunt others."

"It's a nasty cluster out there." Amieta nearly snarled, "Not poisoning any of my family is a great comfort to me though."

"Oh, just sell yours to Captain Cyshade, I suppose." Roth needled, "Is that what you have planned for Ciarente and Camille?"

"I wouldn't even give you to blooders Jory. And unlike you, I don't write off family."

"Just take other's?" Roth asked.

Sarakai stood silent by the door, wishing she could intervene. Don't let him get to you Amieta. He thinks you are planning on chipping him. He's trying to goad you.

Amieta crushed out her cigarette a bit more energetically than she needed to in one metal palm and flicked it away, "When it is that or leave them with someone who tries to murder them? Sure."

"A mercy killing. If you'd known Cia before you people got your hands on her, you'd know she'd agree, if she still had her own free will."

"We found Camille alone at the shuttleport, you know. She ran away on her own. From you Jorion."

"She's seven. I thought you said you were going to tell the truth."

"I am telling the truth. Big bad FIO agent couldn't keep tabs on a seven year old. What's it take to fucking get through to you Roth? Even if we had True Slaves - we don't - I wouldn't be friends with them."

"Friends, maybe, no, but - operator? We'd say handler." Roth paused, then said distantly "It can look like friendship. If you don't know what's really going on."

"Or if it's actually spirits-damned friendship?!" Amieta leaned forward, gripping both sides of the brushed steel table.

"You don't think we have enough surveillance for me to know what's happened to Ciarente? If you were honestly her friend ... I doubt she'd be in such a mess. What, is she fighting the Transcrannial Microcontroller? I hear that can happen."

"If I had her chipped, I would keep her from getting into all the shit she has gotten into."

"If you really had her interests at heart. Or whatever you have in place of one."

Sarakai started slightly, seeing thin black lines creeping up her commander's face, Oh shit. Warpaint coming out. Control, Marine, control.

"Ancestors, are you really that much of a spirits-damned thick headed fool?!" the XO nearly shouted.

"But you don't, do you?" Roth went on, his assessing gaze making Sarakai suspect he knew as well as she did what those spreading lines meant.

"Of course I do, but apparently unlike you, I think she needs to make her own decisions here and there, along with her own fuck ups."

Roth continued as if the XO hadn't spoken, "It's about yourself, your corporation, your damn Nation. Ciarente is just some kind of pawn in that. Trade her to your ally, Celes Tenebrae, perhaps."

"Celes will not get her!" Amieta's fist slammed down with enough force to dent the surface, and she pointed at him with one matte, metal finger, "And she is no fucking ally of mine."

Sarakai kept her face a blank mask, Keep it together Commander. Please. He's trying to bait you.

"DED records indicate otherwise," Roth said with a slight shrug. "Is that how you're working Ciarente? Tag-team effort?"

Sarakai could see the XO's jaw muscles bunch as she clenched her teeth and the black of nano-tattoos flooded across her face. Sarakai spoke for the first time, a warning in her tone, "Commander..."

Amieta didn't seem to hear her, and her right hand gripped the table so hard that the edge crumpled in her fist as she hissed, "No fucking blooder is ever going to get Cia. No fucking psychopath father, no fucking Sansha."

"The Blooders and the Sansha have her, Commander." Roth glanced at the crumpled table edge and smiled in satisfaction. "If you're really her friend, as you keep saying, you really have let her down, haven't you?"

Sarakai saw the shift in the way her CO was standing, and had to stop herself. She couldn't interfere with a superior officer, and it probably wouldn't help anyway at that point. Bastard is smart or lucky, to hit her where it hurts.

Amieta ripped the table up from where it was bolted to the floor on the right, shoving it over to the left and out of her way with a crash, her prosthetic arms and shoulders whining slightly in protest. She cleared the space between herself and her prisoner in a single movement, grabbing him by the front of his shirt, pulling him out of the chair and slamming him against the back wall. Roth gasped with the impact, then managed a smile, "Maybe you really are her friend. Ami. Did you know you were being used as bait by Silver Night and Tenebrae to win her trust? Did you not know? Or did you choose to do nothing?

As if he has a death wish, Sarakai thought, and felt her blood run cold as she realized that was the truth. Better dead than chipped. Even I can't argue with that one. If he really was in danger of being chipped.

"I did everything I could!" Amieta slammed Roth against the wall again, then holding him with one hand, grip tightening, she held out her other hand, "Sarakai, keys!"

Sarakai hesitated, "But..."

Spirits, I know what you're doing. Ami, it's going to hurt you more than you could ever hurt him.

Sarakai reluctantly dropped the keys in Amieta's hand. The XO's irises had gone completely black . Spun up implants and adrenaline.

"Everything you could?" Roth said. "Or everything you were willing to risk doing?"

Amieta snarled and headbutted Roth, then jerked him sideways. As he sprawled across the deck plating, she tossed the keys at him. "Go ahead. You can even keep the cuffs."

Roth pushed himself to a sitting position and eyed Amieta, making no move to get the keys.

"I'm waiting sunshine. You'll make a good True Slave you know. All those Federation secrets." Amieta's contempt turned to a snarl again, "Do it!"

It galvanized him to action, and he turned his back to Amieta, reaching for the keys with his hands cuffed behind his back. He fumbled with the keys behind his back and finally managed to uncuff himself. He turned and stood facing Amieta, keys in one hand, cuffs hanging from the other.

"I'm seeing I made a mistake Jory," the XO said levelly.

"You should have let my family alone," Roth retorted.

"You shouldn't have tried to kill any of them."

"Ami," Roth said with a pitying smile, "Ciarente was as good as dead the day she met you. She was a trusting girl. But relying on you was a fatal mistake."

"I should have found you and put you down sooner." Amieta's voice was even, but permeated with menace, "Only mistake was saving you, not just killing you when you showed your colors. Sarakai, if Mr Roth gets past me, you are to let him go."

Sarakai saw the flicker of surprise on the man's face, Give them a little hope, so you have something to take from them. He must know.

Amieta spoke again, face set behind the mask of black lines "Like a B holoflick."

Roth eyed Amieta warily, "In B-grade holovids Watch officers don't hand people over to the Blooders on a platter."

Amieta gave a growl: a low, animal sound, as she tore the table from its remaining bracket on the floor and threw it at Roth. Even as he ducked and deflected the table with one arm, she was closing with him. He slashed at her face with the keys. Her hand shot up and closed around his wrist.

He dropped one bracelet of the cuffs in his right hand and swung them at Amieta's face as she held onto his left wrist. The combat boosted woman jerked him to one side, throwing a punch at his torso and throwing off his aim with the cuffs. Roth grunted as Amieta's fist connected. He headbutted her in return, then aimed a kick at her knee while she was off balance. She shuffled in, deflecting the crippling blow. A jab to his solar plexus staggered him and he moved with it, trying to break her death grip on his wrist by dropping his weight.

She held on, and chopped at his neck and he swung with the brutal strike, even managing to choke out another insult, "A friend would - fight Cia's real - enemies."

Amieta backhanded him: the force of rewired, enhanced muscle and high end custom cybernetics behind it. The sound was like a side of beef being hit with a metal pipe. Roth lost his feet, hanging from nothing but her grip, his eyes losing focus for a moment. Amieta dropped him on the floor and kicked him as he lay on the ground, and he rolled away to protect himself.

Wild eyed, Amieta turned and yanked the chair from the brackets securing it to the floor and spun to slam it against Roth, who yelped as it broke the arm he brought up to protect his head. Then, incredibly, he spoke again, "I guess - you only - fight when there's no - risk to - yourself."

Amieta kicked him with a sound of pure fury.

"Wouldn't - expect - more from - a blooder pet."

With a scream of rage she smashed the chair down on him again, breaking it against his shoulder and head. As he slumped, apparently unconscious or dead, she tossed away the pieces of the chair and stalked back to Sarakai, "Get him into shape for questioning if you can. Either way, make sure he has something to remember himself by."

Sarakai studied her commander cautiously. The XO was breathing hard, but blue gave edges to her pupils again. The tattoos were fading, she was back in control, though perhaps a little late. Hopefully we will be able to revive him long enough for questioning.

"Gutting out - at the - clinch - Ami?" The voice came from the bloody figure on the floor behind them.

The Commander went rigid, then stalked from the room.

Sarakai breathed a sigh of relief, Ami is in control again. She has the sense to -

The door slammed open again.

Oh, shit.

Amieta had her pistol in her hand, and without a word or hesitation she shot Roth in the back. Twice.

Amieta glanced around the room, then at the body with a look of disgust.

"Someone clean up this fucking mess."

Amieta holstered her sidearm and swept from the room. Sarakai eyed the corpse one last time before following, I hope whatever your secrets were, they were worth it.


Jorion Roth walked through the unremarkable doors that concealed the local branch office of the FIO. On the other side of a slightly shabby foyer, another set of doors led to the real front entrance: a narrow hall, spy-eyes covering every angle.

From behind the blast-proof glass, the agent on desk duty gave him a wide-eyed look.

Jorion ran his hand over his bald head and gave her a rueful grin. "Cloned," he said. "Not a fashion statement."

"Oh, Agent Roth, I know," she said.

"Really? Do you know what happened?" Jorion shrugged. "The last three weeks are a blank. And my record-keeping seems to have been a little sloppy."

"No, I don't know, but ..." She bit her lip, and pointed to a large parcel on the other side of the security doors. "That came for you. I had it scanned. It's ..."

Jorion pressed his hand to the reader and his re-structured re-printed DNA was close enough to the original for the security doors to slide back.

He approached the parcel with caution. "You had it scanned? No explosives, or ..."

She shook her head.

Jorion flipped up the catch, and swung the lid open. A cloud of white smoke made him step back, before he realised it was just the vapour from a cooling agent. He stepped forward again, cautiously, and looked inside.

His own eyes stared back up at him, fixed and open, slightly dulled. His hair and eyebrows were - Its hair and eyebrows, Jorion made himself think - were rimed with ice crystals. And he couldn't be sure beneath the bruises, the broken nose and concave cheekbone, but Jorion thought there was a smile on the face of the severed head.

The head that once housed my thoughts, my memories. Myself.

The edge of a thick vellum card poked out from the cooling crystals packed around the head, and Jorion gently pulled it out.

One line, in elegant script:

A memento of your trip to Goinard.

He looked at it for a moment. Goinard. Why did I go to Goinard?

Surely I wasn't stupid enough to mess with Ethan Verone?

What else would take me to Goinard?

"Get this down to forensics," he said at last.

"Um, yes. Agent Roth? Are you all right?"

"All right? Why wouldn't I be?"

She stared at him. "Someone just sent you your own severed head!"

Jorion smiled at her. "Not the first time," he said. "Probably won't be the last."


Hunting the Hunter Part 5

For once, there'd been no-one Amieta knew in the Gate.

Not sure if that's a relief or if I should be worried what Cia's gotten up to since I saw her a few days ago. Amieta thought as she walked through the maze of hallways from the Last Gate to the Interbus terminal nearly on autopilot. Her mind turned to the upcoming operation. The last bits of intel had come through, and Amieta knew that at that moment Sarakai's team was probably in place.

Guess you can still get nerves even when you aren't one of the ones holding a gun.

She walked out onto the main terminal concourse, and turned toward the ramp for her shuttle

Studying the vending machine in the Interbus terminal with every appearance of a man unable to chose between the equally unpalatable alternatives of a dry cheese sandwich or a can of Quafe Ultra, Jorion Roth watched the room behind him in the polished metal of the machine's frame.


Instantly recognizable to him after the hours he'd spent studying her picture, even if the long sleeves of her uniform jacket covered those distinctive undisguised prosthetic arms, Commander Amieta Invelen strolled across the terminal.

Jorion punched the button for the sandwich, picked it out of the slot as it dropped and turned, head down as if he were struggling with the vacuum-sealed wrapping. He fell into step behind Invelen, making sure to keep thirty feet of distance and a good number of other passengers between them.

He already had his ticket to Ennur IX - M7 - Impro Research Center. He had a few others as well, to Torrinos and Rens to cover all the bases, but within a minute it was clear that Invelen was heading for the boarding gate to the Ennur shuttle.

Eating his sandwich, the half-peeled off wrapper mostly obscuring his face, Jorion filed on after her. She took a seat near the front of the shuttle. Jorion took one three rows behind her, far enough away to be out of reach of those arms, close enough to be sure he wouldn't miss. Invelen picked a holozine from the rack set in the back of the seat in front of her and flicked through it. Jorion did the same, seeing none of the glossy advertising or the breathless copy, watching the window beside him out of the corner of his eye, studying the view it showed him - stars moving past superimposed on a tiny inverted reflection of the cabin.

Tiny-upside down Invelen read her 'zine. I wonder what Sansha make of these things? Jorion wondered. Do they have their own versions, filled with advertorials about the new improved True Slave relay?

He would have liked to ask Invelen that. I would have liked to ask her a lot of things. But that was not going to happen. The shuttle flashed through the Ennur Gate, aligned, and kicked into warp. Jorion dropped his 'zine and got to his feet, to all outward appearances a man in a hurry to disembark as soon as the shuttle docked.

Clear shot
, he thought, fingers gripping the butt of his gun.

"Don't fucking twitch."

Cool metal touched the back of his neck.

Even as he tensed, every passenger on the shuttle drew a weapon, aiming them directly at him. Every passenger except one.

Commander Amieta Invelen dropped her 'zine and stood up. "Thank you, Sarakai. Your team is to be commended."

Jorion swallowed, looking around at the 'passengers'. The Sansha passengers.

Invelen turned, a predatory smile spreading across her face.

"Mr Roth," she said. "I'm so glad we're going to have the chance to talk. I have a few suggestions about parenting I'd really like you to hear."


Hunting the Hunter Part 4

"Well, that will be a relief, won't it?" Ciarente asked. "To wrap it up?"

"I don't like people messing with me and my crew." Amieta said with a nod, "Don't like it at all."

Amieta sent another message to Sarakai, "Is the assault team ready?"

"It must have been awful," Ciarente said, "Not knowing ... I mean, having someone on your crew, not knowing who it was, betraying you."

"They're ready, and we've identified several potential places to execute the op. It's mostly a matter of waiting for the opportunity. We need to get just a little more intelligence."

"We found out who it was. Not much slips through our net, and no one does it more than once."

"Make sure you're very clear that we want a live capture if at all possible." Amieta's voice was grim, even to her own mind, "I have some questions I want answered."

"I can imagine" Ciarente nodded.

"Of course Commander. When the opportunity arrives, we will be ready."

"All that's left is deciding what sort of example will be the most..." Amieta finished her drink, "Educational."

"Thank you Sarakai. Invelen out."

"Oh." Ciarente said with an uneasy look


Interbus records really are too easy to get into.

The day they work that out, we're going to lose one of the biggest intelligence resources we have.

Jorion scanned the ticket records:

Amieta Invelen:

FROM: Ennur IX - M7 - Impro Research Center, TO: Goinard IV - M5 - Impro Factory Station AT: 111.06.02 08:00 (RET 11:00), 111.06.03 05:00 (RET 7:30), 111.06.05 05:30 (RET 6:45), 111.06.07 05:00 (RET Ticket Open)

Ennur IX - M7 - Impro Research Center, TO: Rens VI - M8 - Brutor Tribe Treasury AT: 111.06.01 01:00 (RET 06:00), 111.06.04 02:00 (RET 11:00)

FROM Ennur IX - M7 - Impro Research Center, TO: Torrinos V - M5 - Lai Dai Corporation Factory AT: 111.06.05 23:30 (RET 111.06.06 04:00)

Odd for a Sansha to be so fond of a bar run by Veto and frequented by Ghost Festival, Jorion thought.

Odd, but convenient.

Ethan Verone's security was far too tight to make the club itself a possibility.

But there's all that time on the Interbus shuttle.

And all those corridors between the shuttle terminal and the Last Gate's front door.

He studied the records one last time, and then took a datachip from his pocket. Slotted into the terminal reader, the chip's program began to run, deleting every trace of the searches run over the past weeks. Deleting, scrambling, over-writing: Jorion was confident that even the FIO's best forensic programmers would find not a single bit or byte that looked suspicious.

As the program ran, he reached down and opened the bottom drawer of his desk, and typed a long combination of numbers on the keypad inside. The false bottom of the drawer folded back, and Jorion reached past it to take out the mag-pistols beneath.

He checked the loads carefully, and then, as the terminal flashed to signal the conclusion of the program, he put both guns and the datachip in his breifcase.

On the way out he stopped at Tomas Proleque's door. "Taking the rest of the day, Tom," he said. "Spend a bit of time with the kids."

"Of course," Tomas said. "That's good, Jory. You need to - "

"Take a break, I know," Jorion said. "Good advice. I might take tomorrow, too."

He left the office at just the right speed, a man glad to leave work behind, looking forward to an afternoon in the sunshine with family, a spring in his step, a slight smile on his face.

It was three blocks before he let that smile die, and changed his course.

At the shuttleport, he showed an ID that said he was Artaurd Quintel.

"First time to Goinard, Mr Quintel?" the deskclerk asked.

"Yes," Jorion said. "But I'm looking forward to it."


Hunting the Hunter Part 3

"How are things with you, anyway?" Ciarente asked.

An indicator blinked at the edge of Amieta's vision.

"Busy." Amieta was leaning against the black crystal bar of the Last Gate. "We - you remember when we were losing crewmen? A couple months ago?"

Amieta made the connection with a thought. Sarakai's voice spoke as if she was right there, whispering,"Good news. Rask has accepted the delivery of the first shipment."

Ciarente Roth nodded. She and Amieta usually met a few times a week at the Gate for a drink or two in the evening.

"Great work. You're confident she doesn't suspect anything about Tragenne? If you get even a-" Amieta cut off as she realized she had paused in her conversation with Ciarente.

"I don't know how much I told you about that," Amieta continued, expression a bit grim, "but it ended up being a blooder related slaving operation. They were using TCMCs. In any case, we got most of our people back."

"Nothing beyond the usual paranoia. She's run all the usual checks, his story held up just fine." Sarakai answered, "As far as she can tell, he is exactly what he appears to be. We even fed her a 'real' name, since no self respecting smuggler would operate under anything other than an alias."

Ciarente looked shocked. "A blooder - oh, how awful."

"The doctor? Has he given you anything else useful?" Amieta shot off the query and focused back on Ciarente again. Carrying on simultaneous conversations still gave her a headache, but it was better than when she used to zone out completely she reflected.

"When we hit their operation, there was one odd bit. A doctor - name of Rolasque - who was a known Angel affiliate. He was one of the ones perform the implantation surgeries." Amieta sipped her drink, "Yeah, I'm just glad we managed to get our people back. Anyway, someone sprung this doctor. After we got back to Ennur."

"Not so far, I might arrange for him to take a vacation. He's too jumpy, and the weak link in Tragenne's cover. If Rask decided to lean on him, he wouldn't hold up."

"Oh." Ciarente hesitated. "Like, someone on your crew?"

"What about our turncoat sensor tech, what was the name?"

"Gazal." Even through the com-link Sarakai's fury was evident. She took a traitor among the crew personally, "He is being dealt with. Whatever he knows, we will find out."

"Yeah, looks like there was an inside guy, who we have in custody now too." Amieta Invelen glanced around the bar, eyeing a couple of nearby patrons disinterestedly and shrugged, turning back to Ciarente, "We know who the doctor is working for, and it is a local boss. In Ennur. Strange, right? We're planning on wrapping the whole thing up. We knew when they were trying to break him out, and we tracked what they did and where he went."


Jorion tapped the screen with one finger. Mighty active for a dead woman, Commander Invelen.

He knew he could be wrong, but instinct told him otherwise.

Two records blinked on the screen below the image.

Ishukone Corporation Record of Birth: Amieta Invelen, 10-04-74.


Jorion brought up a surveillance file: both his former daughters, followed by a crew-member wheeling a trolley which held a large, irregular shape wrapped up like a present. The date-stamp on the file read 23-04-11.

Wrapped up like a present.

Like a birthday present.

He studied the second blinking record. Captain Amieta Invelen, M.I.A on 23-09-00. Presumed dead.

Is that how you ended up in the Sansha Nation? Jorion wondered. Captured? Converted? Rewired?

And then passing on the favour? To my daughters?

And how many more in the future?

Jorion could feel sorry for the long-gone Captain Amieta Invelen. Presumed dead. And that presumption was right, as far as the real, original woman was concerned, even if her body walked around under Sansha control.

A keystroke brought up another file of images. Invelen with her metal hand on Camille's tiny shoulder. Invelen side-by-side with Cia, leaving the Last Gate. Invelen walking into Cia's cargo hanger. No doubt about it. She's the one, the one we'd call Cia's 'handler' in the FIO. In Sansha terms? Controller maybe.

Captain Amieta Invelen.

They didn't even have the decency to let you rest in peace

But I can help you with that.


Hunting the Hunter Part 2

There was a hush in the room as the audio feed came in from Maj. Tragenne. Dorne Tragenne was head of the fighter wing aboard the Ideal, Amieta's ship. Despite not being trained in espionage as such, Amieta suspected his prior experience had prepared him to pretend to be a smuggler for the Serpentis Corporation. His meeting with Rask was in the back room of an Amarr eatery that the Angel boss used as her HQ.

M'selle Rask, a pleasure to meet you. Dr Rolasque tells me we may be able to help eachother?

"How are we doing on the counter-intelligence side?" Sarakai glanced over as Amieta spoke, "Everything going smoothly?"

"It is going well." Sarakai added a qualification, "Though there is never a guarantee, when you are dealing with professionals. I'd be very, very surprised if we've been anticipated or detected though."

Well M'selle I think I could supply steaks at 1000 and both types of, ah, flour you wanted at 400, standard. Premium cuts would need to be on a case by case basis, of course.

"Let's hope so Sara." Amieta glanced at the cheap speakers, "Sounds like we've got her hooked. If Dorne manages this without being tossed out an airlock, remind me to give him a bonus."

Of course Mr Trenes.
The Angel's voice was gravelly, I look forward to a profitable relationship.


Notification: Search complete. Number of results: 2451. More? Y/N?


Records scrolled past. Most were easy to discard. Jorion was not interested in Amiadi I., Lai Dai employee charged five years ago with violating confidentiality agreements. Nor do I care about A. Torvelen, listed as inventor on an application by Caldari Steel to patent a new cargo loader inversion locking system.

A touch of the screen sent results to one file or another, each decision feeding back into the computer's search algorithm. No, I do not want to know more about Amieta Inveligall, senior executive at Echelon Entertainment. No, do not tell me more about A. Invelly, teacher of modern dance at Nugoeihuvi Corporate school on the station orbiting the fourth moon of Uphallant III.

Yes, please give me further information about A. Invelen, listed as corporate support co-ordinator for Home Guard in the Koichi system ten years ago. Yes, please tell me more about Amiala I., registered FIO informant in Nonni for six months in 80.

Jorion reached the end of the results. Some were promising, but ...

None of them feel right.

He called up the image he'd stored off the Behind New Eden broadcast and studied his target. FIO informant? Corporate Support Co-ordinator?


But if Amieta Invelen wasn't somewhere in those search results, where was she?

Where would I hide, if I were hiding my past?

He re-opened the search program. Broaden search: include (status = deceased)

The computer bleeped acknowledgment. Working.

Jorion Roth waited.


Hunting the Hunter Part 1

Amieta Invelen stood, arms crossed, studying the images thrown up by a projector on one wall of the cluttered office space. Sarakai Voutelen, Amieta's head of security, pointed to a man exiting a doorway surrounded by neon lights as she continued briefing her boss.

"This is Rolasque leaving the 'Lucky Comet' Casino on deck 17. He spends a lot of his time there and we have two of our people on the staff." Sarakai tapped on her datapad and another photo popped up, "This is Dr Rolasque meeting with who we think is his boss. Her name is Ollada Rask. She is one of the local Angel bosses, very big in the protection and illegal gambling rackets in-system. We are also pretty sure she is the one behind the trouble we've been having, but we aren't sure why."

"Do we have anyone close to her yet?" Amieta turned, "Much as I don't want to do the polices' work for them, if she's the one, we should make an example of her and the entire organization under her. Hunt them down to the last crooked dealer."

"Well, Rask has been trying to break into arms and narcotics too. Sort of set herself up as the local criminal one stop wholesaler. Major Tragenne has volunteered to pose as a smuggler with Serpentis connections willing to be her supplier, we would just need an 'in'. We were thinking we would flip Rolasque, use his gambling problem."

Amieta eyed Ollada Rask's profile on the wall.

"Do it."


The terminal beeped quietly. Notification: Search complete.

Jorion Roth tapped the keys to bring up the results. Subject: Amieta Invelen. Number of confirmed matches: Forty-seven. More: Y/N?


The results scrolled across the screen: fragments of conversation from public comm channels captured by FIO sniffer programs, records of Interbus tickets, reports of corporate standings ... Jorion skimmed them.

Scolluzer caught his eye. Not that I needed proof that Naqam took Camille as well as Ciarente. But if I did ... The date, the arrival and departure times on the Interbus records, were incontrovertible. Naqam, in general. Amieta Invelen, in particular.

Scanning the rest of the results brought no new information. No record of birth; no record of employment prior to becoming a pilot ...

No-one walks across the Cluster without leaving a few footprints.

He pulled the keyboard towards him and began to type. Query type: individual. Parameters: (Amieta or *ieta or Ami* or A) AND (Invelen or *velen or Invel*) AND Caldari citizen AND (current age = 25 < gender =" F)">

The computer warned him Reducing probability match threshold will result in increased false positives. Do you wish to continue: Y/N?

Jorion pressed Y.

Yes, he thought. I wish to continue.


Birthdays Part 4

((Part 1))


A man stopped in the doorway of hydroponics bay 3a and glanced around the interior. He was perhaps 183cm tall, handsome in an unremarkable, regular way, with gray eyes and short cropped brown hair. His uniform identified him as a Warrant Officer attached to an assault wing in the Watch. He stood apparently lost in thought for several minutes, until the room's other occupant approached him.

"Can I help you with something?" The man who spoke was heavily built, with sad, pale blue eyes. He stripped off a pair of gloves as he approached and crossed his arms across his chest.

"Possibly. I'm looking for Janirinen Matakima? He is a researcher here, I was told he was working in this section? I'm his brother."

"Spirits, Val? Is that you?" The heavier man's eyebrows threatened to reach his receding hairline.

"Jan? Ancestors man, it's been ages. I finally got enough leave to come back for a couple days. This place hasn't changed a bit, you know."

"Really?" Jan chuckled, a sparkle in his eyes, "It has you know. I've managed 1.3% better efficiency, plus I'm working on extracting more nutrients from the ice they process at the refinery so we can expand without having to import so much from off-station. Means we've got more plants, now."

Val held up his hands in mock surrender, "Forgive me for not noticing the difference. Now that you mention it, greenery is practically bursting from the duct work. When I was asking after you, your underling did say that this bay must be a special project of yours. Apparently they think you have some sort of hidden lab in here, because you're always here, and always come out with new and greater ideas."

"No, no secret labs. I just do my best thinking in here. Calms my mind, I guess, I'm so familiar with it now. Some of my happier memories too. When we were..." Jan turned and busied himself organizing a clutter of tubing on a nearby workspace as he trailed off.

Val's smile disappeared, "I went to the memorial, you know. They just had the one, for her whole unit."

Val leaned against the door frame, suddenly looking tired, as Jan turned back to him, eyes red, "All she did, making through the accident, through OCS, her last letter said they might have been considering her for Captain... Do you know what happened to her Val? They wouldn't tell me anything. I'm lucky I even found out, and it was just 'Asset missing, presumed deceased' in some database. I didn't even know there was a memorial."

Val shook his head, "No idea. I tried to find out, but it's classified way, way above my pay grade. It's the Watch though Jan. Whatever it was, if there was anything they could have done-"

Jan interrupted him, "I know, of course. They did whatever they could, even if it wasn't enough. I know, but it doesn't bring her back." Jan rubbed his hand across the back of his neck, "Want to get a drink? I don't know about you, but I could use one."

Val looked like he wanted to respond, but then just nodded with a weak smile, "Yeah, sounds about right."

"Let's go." Jan headed for the door, gesturing for Val to follow him as he walked out of 3a, "You remember Valenin? He runs a bar down in R section now."

Two days later, Val sat aboard the transport that would take him away from the station. Returning, seeing Jan again, and knowing he would never see Ami again made him realize he had been making a mistake. He should have come back sooner, made the time off however he had to. He made a promise to himself to keep in touch with Jan, to make sure it wasn't 17 years next time. Life was too short to only see family at funerals.


Birthdays Part 3

((Part 1))


Jan slipped into the hospital room. Though it was the first time he had left his home station, that wasn't the reason for his hesitance. A cocoon of medical equipment hid the recumbent figure inside the room. As he approached he realized that the shape was wrong, even with all the equipment. Far too narrow, near the top. Fragments of the doctor's explanations came back to him, slipping into his thoughts as he walked further into the room:

Severe burns over most of the torso and...

He came close enough to peer through a transparent window near the head area and smiled with relief when he saw blue eyes only partially dulled drugs. They peered up at him and it was a moment before the brightened with recognition.

It's a miracle she survived more than a few seconds, much less long enough to reach us.

The lower half of her face was entirely occluded by some sort of breathing apparatus. The machinery that kept her alive whirred in the background.

...barely stable...

He cleared his throat, "Hey Ami, don't know if you can hear me in there. The doctors say you'll be out of here in no time. Anyway, it's our birthday sis."

Her arms had to be amputated, and most of the internal structures of the shoulders were removed as well. Virtually all of the tissue near the surface of the upper body will need to be regrown.

"I brought you this." Jan held up a small glass container, perhaps half the volume of an average beverage can, "It's its own ecological system. It just needs a little light now and then."

This accident is really an opportunity...

"It was for next time you visited. I didn't know I'd be seeing you so soon." Was that crinkling around the eyes the top half of a smile?

...opted in for the enhanced capabilities program when she applied to recon...

"Anyway, I thought you might like to have a little piece of home with you. I hope I made it small enough so that you can keep it in your personal effects."

...new program, and she will be one of the final late stage trials.

He turned it so she could see the tiny bits of green that were inside "I designed it to last nearly forever."

...better than new! In fact...

Jan swallowed and set the little glass world down on a nearby table, concentrated on what he knew, "The circulation systems run on heat, so a warm light, or being held once in a while helps."

Further prosthetics will be implanted if she remains, ah, a viable candidate...

"Well, you can tell me if you like it later. In any case, they say you're st... that I can stay for a few hours. I thought you might like some entertainment. I thought I'd read Kirigan's 'In the Wind, Dragons' to you." Jan tapped on a datapad to pull up the collection of traditional stories and poems and began reading in a warm, soothing voice, "First was the Wind..."

Jan had to leave the next day to return to work. He planned on visiting again while Amieta recovered. A string of events conspired to keep him busy until after she was judged sufficiently recovered to be reassigned. By the time he was able to get time off and money enough to travel, she had been promoted and disappeared again into the machine that is Ishukone Watch. One of the occasional letters she was able to send did mention that his gift was a comfort to her.