“Sir? I’ve never seen an init code like this before…” The communications technician was an Ensign on his first cruise, so Themat Jurnis wasn’t too surprised. He didn’t hurry as he strolled to the com station, moving only with his customary orderly dispatch. He looked at the codes on the screen and frowned. He’d never seen them either, but better safe than sorry. “You’re relieved of duty, Ensign,” he said formally, as he clicked the log tab.
“Relieved, Sir,” the Ensign left.
The string of initiation codes contained some Jurnis did know, however, including the one that signified that the contents of the message was a triple-encrypt, eyes-only message for the Lord Commander of the Second Expeditionary Legion, in person and with every security bell and whistle the brass could tack on. Too well-trained to even allow himself to imagine curiosity, Jurnis initiated a security trace for the Lord Commander: In the Orbital Command Platform, not unnaturally. He didn’t need to know why or where, merely relayed the message’s init codes to the Lord Commander’s Adjutant, Major Callet, with an “urgent” flag. Then he waited, sternly disciplining himself from even thinking about what could possibly rate such a stew of security.
Callet was inspecting inventory lists when the double tone of the com flag alerted him. What he saw on the scrambler sent him to the next room, in spite of the red “privacy” light on the doorlatch.
The Lord Commander was meeting with Alren Tydar, Hecht’s new Military Governor, and the Regional Command Staff. He looked up with no more sign of annoyance than a minute eyebrow movement, but when he saw Callet, he nodded. Wordlessly, the adjutant circled the meeting table, and handed over the scrambler.
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” the Lord Commander stood.
“Lord Commander, I must insist that we resolve this…” Tydar caught the Lord Commander’s eye and trailed off.
The OCP’s secure communications facility was adjacent to the main Situation Room. Karth Tallis placed his palm against the lock, then blinked into the retinal scanner, then spoke a series of nonsense syllables in a precise sequence for the voiceprint analyzer. Triply-encrypted, eyes-only messages were never sent with good news, he reflected, as the doorseal winked green. He prepared himself, he thought, for the worst.
An appreciable time interval later—less than half an hour, although it felt like a day, maybe a year—he sat back and frowned. Whatever he’d prepared himself for, it wasn’t this. Methodically, he re-checked the encryption. Then re-checked it again.
Again he sat back. That was it. Nothing more. Just that bald command. Could it be a trick? Frowning, he ran through the possibilities. None seemed likely, given the initiation codes and routing guide on the message heading. Outside his chain of command, yes, but it did carry the triple sealcode of the Three, the ruling Oligarchy of Klaros. And yet… why, if they bothered to put the sealcode on, would they not sign it? Surely, given the content of the message, they would want to forestall any conceivable doubts about its legitimacy.
He left the communications facility, punctiliously re-engaging the security seal. Callet was waiting in the Situation Room. The only other personnel were the security monitor and the Lieutenants standing watch at the various regional control consoles. Tallis gestured to his adjutant, and gave a few low-voiced orders.
Less than an hour later, the Situation Room was packed. The Expeditionary Legion Command Staff, the Fleet’s Flag Officer In Charge, and the Occupation Administration leadership were all gathered around the main table. Watch functions had temporarily been re-routed back to Combat Command, and the room was secured and sealed.
“We have a directive from the Three,” Tallis wasted no time on preliminaries. They all knew it was an extraordinary conference. Some brows rose. Tydar’s eyes narrowed, but his mouth folded in at the corners. Had he expected this? The Military Governor was not, in spite of his title, a military officer, but an appointee of the Civ, which had no secure communications facilities in the Hecht system yet. Tallis watched him as he continued.
“The directive is unequivocal. We are to withdraw all Klarosian personnel from the Hecht system, evacuating entirely, within four hundred hours. We are to commandeer every functional interstellar vessel in the system, and to load the maximum quantity of transuranics that can be transported by our own Fleet vessels plus all commandeered vessels. We are to return to Orbital One by the shortest possible route, without calling at Bejan Base, with the ker-equipped Fleet vessels preceding the standard-drive vessels, which are to be convoyed by adequate Fleet vessels to ensure they make a safe journey. We are not to discuss these orders with any personnel below Command Staff ranks.”
He touched the tab that relayed the segment of the decrypted message cleared for Command Staff ranks to the wraparound view projector at the center of the table, so that they could all see the sealcode of the Three, and waited. His own Command Staff, and Admiral Destane, the Flag, read the message carefully, but refrained from comment. The Civies, on the other hand, were agog. Amazing that a mere half-dozen individuals could generate such a babble. And, by the expression on Military Governor Tydar’s face as he re-read the message for the third time, whatever he might have been expecting, it wasn’t this.