Redemption Exchange

Fourteen centuries ago, the Hub Conventions brought an end to large-scale human warfare. Since then, what’s been going on between the Hub’s vast powerbases has always been called something else. The collateral damage and casualties don’t dispute the semantics.

Sep 282012
 

Read me the story:

Colorful skyscape with vivid rose, purple, blue lights and stars against night sky.It was around the hub of the evening in glorious Tanhesh, the capital of fabled beauty Siriran, Empress of the Neopars’anii Worlds Federation. The tavis field lightly filtered the last rays of the Peacock Sun, sending random fountains of green-gold and turquoise light flaring through the graceful towers of the Forbidden Hive. Declan Rawl and Mohv Quiddik of the Kyth Agency, in a flowcar negotiating the tail end of mainshift rush hour, were oblivious to the stunning display. It was old stuff to them.

Siriran had originally been the product of a plutocrat’s fancy, purchased as the culmination of a couple of generations’ worth of wealth accumulation in the lucrative interstellar shipping sector. Farahay Nirajin had been the last controlling owner of a Galanian combine that dominated most of the far-flung nexus of daughter and granddaughter colonies. At the end of his life, he’d been consumed with the idea of creating a private colony based on his own artistic concepts.

Money can buy just about anything. In Nirajin’s case, it bought an Optimal-2 planet charter, a thousand-year premium terraforming package, a top-of-the-line habitat engineering support system, and three of the Hub’s more astonishing habitats, before changes in shipping routes, heedless expenditure, and mercantile mopery and dopery bankrupted the project. And Nirajin.

The planet was a bit of a white elephant—one reason a private buyer had been able to afford it was its lack of any discernible economic assets, another was its (then) inconvenient location in an offshoot node of the Bharagat Circuit, well outside of normal Galanian nexus trade routes. But the relocation of Arvash Galan and expansion of the IPC beacon net routes in the Circuit placed it very favorably indeed when the original Pars’anii terraforming was winding down and the much-expanded colony needed a new home. Parsi culture being given to the extravagant gesture to begin with, it seemed to be, in the native argot, “kazhmé” (fate).

Siriran became the capital world for the growing Federation. Pars’anii being a polyglot bunch to begin with, their open-door policy for long-term visitors, immigrant groups, and habitat sub-lessees produced one of the Hub’s more colorful worlds.

Quiddik eased the flowcar onto the stratline that linked the west end of Tanhesh Center to the meandering series of smaller habitats that fringed the vast Kirancj Park system, built against the foothills of an old, rounded-off mountain range. He selected a departure station two stops up from the stop that served the m’Anhadon compound, and released it to auto. It would ping him when they were approaching the stop. He turned to Rawl, who had activated a scanfield and connected to the Kyth datahub.

“What have we got?”

Rawl’s fingers twitched delicately, manipulating the data returned, adding more levels, re-arranging the relationships. “Something interesting.”

“Interesting how?” Quiddik had enough data handling skills to make him formidable in any average commercial or academic context, but he wasn’t in the lofty data-wrangling class of Kyth’s elite. Kyth had acquired his strategic skills and experience, as well as his general utility in any kind of mayhem, when it had become too dangerous for Quiddik to continue his employment with Tranest Corporation’s Security Division.

A faint line had appeared between Rawl’s thick, straight brows. “Just a minute… Nope.” He angled the display so that Quiddik could view it. It took Mohv a bit longer than it had taken his colleague, but the net result was the same: A very effective, polite lockout on private data of any kind related to Anisala m’Anhadan—including a very effective security screen on the compound itself. “Can we bust that?”

Rawls shrugged. “Well, sure. Anything can be busted. But untraceably? Not from here, and not before we get there. And I’m pretty sure they’d regard the attempt as an unfriendly gesture, which is not the impression we want to make.”

“Huh.” Mohv frowned. “So, what did the public profile generate?”

Rawls called it up. Kyth’s profiling was as thorough a CRAP utility—collection, review, analysis, and presentation—of publicly-available data on anything, as you could get outside of a U-League research lab. And there was a surprising lot of publicly-available data on Anisala m’Anhadan, for such a low-profile individual. Very little of it was directly related to m’Anhadan herself. But the second- and third- order connections were copious, and the patterns were revealing, of… something.

Both men were frowning as the profile marched down the display field. “OK, that’s…” Rawls muttered. “…weird.” Quiddik finished it for him.

“So… is she an academic? Or an entrepreneur?”

“Or an artist?”

“Or an entertainment packager?”

“Researcher.”

“Yeah, but that’s a damn’ peculiar mix of fields.”

Quiddik shook his head. “And a damn’ peculiar mix of first- and second-order associates.”

Declan frowned. “It doesn’t add up. Why would she be going to a Colonial School Small-Cluster Conference?”

Quiddik shrugged. “And why would anyone care? Why would someone want to keep her from going to the Conference?”

Now Declan was shaking his head. “Ours is not to reason why,” he pointed out.

“Yeah. But this is shaping up to be an interesting assignment,” Mohv Quiddik grinned.

Sep 192012
 

Read me the story:
A drawing of a large campus set on a hillside, with solar collectors for power, raised walkways, etc.A little holocon popped up on the corner of Lennath Makforsith’s desk. She caught its eye and nodded. “Ren Dylart of the Kyth Agency,” it announced. Len touched a desk control that would enable Dylart’s visitor tag to guide him through the complicated warren of staff offices, study carrels, work areas, labs, and meeting rooms that formed the History Department. She suspected he didn’t need it. It was a good .15 hour walk, though, so she returned to running simulations based on the latest trend modeling tags.

A polite tap on the side of the doorframe and a simultaneous “ping!” from the tag announced the Kyth operative’s arrival. With a gesture, she retracted the datatap that connected her to the Colonial School’s main History Archive, and re-focused her eyes.

Dylart had the kind of alert, unobtrusive competence she expected, and something about the set of his eyes and the small lines around them argued for a sense of humor, too. She gestured to a chair. “You can move the boxfile. Just set it on top of those others.”

He glanced at the apparent chaos, but complied without comment, and sat. Offering hands wasn’t a custom in the Central Hub nexus, but he nodded politely.

“Professor Makforsith, I’m honored to meet you. I found your comparative analysis of the post-Conference Charter Conventions in the Ophiuchi Circuit most insightful.”

“Indeed. You have an interest in Conflict History?”

He smiled. “An occupational interest. Kyth takes on a good many Private War contracts in downeast, as I’m sure you’re aware.”

She smiled back. “Quite so. I’d be interested, sometime, to hear any commentaries your organization could provide on its involvement in the Wylenth/Kim Sons disputes.”

He didn’t appear surprised. “If such commentaries existed, which of course I cannot confirm or deny, they are naturally restricted to internal distribution.” She was right, there was a sense of humor there.

There was a brief silence. She glanced at the window, where late-afternoon sunlight caught just the right angle to sparkle on the nanofilter screen embedded in the polysilicate. Her office was on the fourteenth level, well below the traffic lanes for stratcars, and far above the pedestrian traffic on the walkways that connected this cluster of Colonial School buildings. The angle of the sun was now such that not even a very good snoopscope filter could enable someone to see into the office from the Culturology building, a hundred and ten meters away.

“Colonial School has a Small-Cluster conference coming up, on Farn-Amli,” she began. “In conjunction with that conference, we’ll be having a series of meetings, sponsored by various commercial entities, to discuss the progress of the Devlin Survey.”

His gaze sharpened. “There is progress?”

“There will be, by then.”

The Devlin Survey was a U-League project, underwritten by a consortium of commercial and political interests, to review the sub-Optimal status of a number of systems in two adjacent star clusters in the downnorth node. If the status was upgraded, the planets in those systems might be released for terraforming and subsequent colonization. Given the comparative scarcity of desirable planetary real estate in that node, there would inevitably be considerable maneuvering to obtain and use the information to the advantage of interested parties.

Potentially bloody, savage maneuvering. It would undoubtedly be one focus of the Conference to minimize the radius and intensity of the anticipated damage.

Dylart’s head angled. “ULeague Security normally handles your conferences, doesn’t it?”

“They do, and they will.”

He waited.

She waited.

His eyes narrowed and the corners of his mouth twitched. “Would it help if I observed that you have a quite astonishing suite of anti-surveillance tools active in this office?” The smile deepened. “Astonishing for a quiet academic, with nothing to hide, that is. Even if I wanted to record this conversation, I’d be unable to do so.”

“I am a quiet academic,” she pointed out blandly. “But who doesn’t have something to hide?”

He nodded. “I imagine that a Colonial School Regent might have one or two items that don’t come under the Information Availability charter clause.”

Lennath didn’t advertise her status as a Regent. It was publicly-available information, of course, but you’d have to know where to look. She nodded, rather abruptly.

“All right. You do your background. If you know that I’m one of Colonial School’s Regents, you probably also know that I have other administrative concerns. One of which is, very specifically, exactly the charter clause you mentioned.”

“Information availability.”

“That, yes.” She sat back, and let her gaze drop to her desktop for an unhurried breath. “It’s always been a key difference between our responsibilities and those of the Mercantile Council. And a certain amount of…” she paused to select a word.

After a beat or so, Dylart offered one: “Skullduggery?”

“Just so. We expect a few skulls to be dugged, now and then. It runs both ways. We get by on what is essentially a tacit agreement that if anyone can successfully break the rules– and the definition of success is somewhat fluid– it might be added to an account here or there, but it won’t provoke the kind of retaliation that could lead to extended and undesirable levels of conflict.”

“I imagine that both parties put a certain amount of emphasis on preventing those rules from being broken, then.” His brows drew together slightly. “The University League doesn’t necessarily seem to be… er… playing in the same class, when it comes to such objectives.”

“You cannot have thought it through.”

He eyed her speculatively, and did so. The dawning comprehension on his face brought a smile to hers. “Exactly. Where do you think innovative technology comes from? Certainly not from corporate R&D budgets. And also… we have students.”

“Interesting. I must suggest to my analysis division that we restructure some of our models.”

“I expect so. Consider it lagniappe.”

She glanced at the window again; turned back to Dylart. “We have two problems that Kyth can assist us with. One is a perfectly ordinary personal security assignment. There is a guest scheduled to attend the upcoming conference. As she is not associated with the University League, and there is no official endorsement of her views, it would not be appropriate for her to be covered by our security. On the other hand, we have reason to believe that there are those who would prefer she not be present.”

Dylart nodded. “That sounds fairly straightforward.”

“It is. We may not all agree with Anisala m’Anhadan, but it is perfectly consistent that we would enable her to bring the information she and others have compiled to the table for this discussion. No one will be surprised, though there may be –dismay– in some quarters, that we arrange Kyth protection.”

The name conveyed nothing to Dylart. “We’ll need a full threat assessment briefing. When would you like protection to start?”

“Now, if possible. You were certainly seen arriving. By the time you reach the main gate, the reason for your visit will be known.” She held out a mylar wisp. “This is everything we’ve put together on the threat assessment so far, and I or one of my staff will be available if you need additional information.” She touched a sensor faired into her chair arm. “You should be able to call out, now, on a shielded band.”

Dylart reached into the breast pocket of his very conservative business jacket, and extracted a very ordinary-looking viewer. He slid the wisp onto the top sensor, and then tapped in a few codes. “According to your information, m’Anhadan is currently on Siriran, at Tanhesh. We’ll have a team on her in,” he glanced at the readout, “about an hour, allowing for beacon lag at the Auriga nexus relay.”

“Good.” Lennath imagined that the invoice eventually submitted from Kyth would make for some serious heartburn in the Bursary. She restrained a smile, leaned back, and again touched the sensor on her chair arm.

“The other matter is… unofficial.”

“Yes?” Dylart waited politely.

“You’ll receive a request. In the next 48 hours, I should imagine. I’m not at all sure what name will be attached to it, but it will involve a routine background check for a potential senior executive hire, for a new company providing adventure entertainment. The person you assign this to should be someone who is capable of dealing with matters more complex than a routine background check.”

He watched her closely. “But not, for instance, myself. Or any other known senior Kyth operative.”

She nodded, pleased by his comprehension. “Just so.”

It was completely unnecessary to caution him that this conversation had never taken place.

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