Read me the story:
Gavith Frenholm tapped the call response tab. The double-blink indicated it was a ComWeb transfer, but there was almost no delay in the connection. The Kyth Agency paid for the highest level of ComWeb service, and then added its own transmission boost from a beacon in the Maccadon system.
The glamorous-looking face that appeared in the receiver might have been a socialite or tridim star. Fashionably ice-blue hair was piled high, and the iridescent “butterfly” pattern face paint offset a bone structure that might have come straight from a top biosculpt studio. But that was deceptive, because Magalin Faris had never had more than the occasional tempsculp job- the planed cheekbones and graceful curves of brow and jaw were entirely her own.
“Gav. What’s up?” The beacon-lag was only a few seconds.
“Boss wants to talk to you. Sealed at your end?”
The brilliant eyes widened slightly, and she nodded. “Sealed now.”
“Putting you through.”
The boss was in a meeting, but as soon as he’d identified the caller, Gavith had pinged his comchip. By now, Ren Dylart would be activating his own secure receiver. Magalin Faris was one of half a dozen trouble-shooters deluxe, “special” employees of Kyth Interstellar who had immediate access.
At her end, Magalin waited, humming a pleased, tuneless little hum. She’d been doing some fairly routine, somewhat boring work at the Central Ophiuchus Consortium Shareholders’ Decennial Conference, and the request to contact the Maccadon office came at just the right time. The Conference was breaking up the next day.
“Mags, I’m sending you a shortcode squirt with a routine personnel consult- an executive vet for a new client, Holiday Safari Worlds.”
He could see her eyes sharpen with interest when the transmission reached her. Dylart flagging her on an assignment that would normally go to one of the many sharp, skilled operatives that populated the Personnel division at Kyth’s Orado HQ, told her the assignment was non-standard. But even on a sealed circuit he wouldn’t give details.
“All right, I’ll get right on it. You’ll be getting my report on the Consortium Conference in about 24 hours, give or take.”
He nodded, and shut down the connection.
The shortcode squirt popped into her in-box an hour later. She deactivated ComWeb transmission, made other security adjustments, and dropped it into the decryption algorithm for the current time and location.
A little over a hundred hours later, she debarked from a Lodis Lines passenger ship to the main nexus port in orbit around Tayun, one of the major commerce nodes in the Ophiuchi Circuit. Gone was the butterfly makeup and the stylish updo. Daynas Oquav (registered alias) wore conservative business attire appropriate to a middling-high subexecutive for a big transcluster firm like Kyth Security.
Even by the laissez-faire standards of the Ophiuchi Circuit, Tayun’s mercantile operations rated the term “swashbuckling.” Friendly colonial government, minimal regulations, excellent family connections with various power nodes in the Hub Mercantile Council, and a long tradition of tolerance for borderline and even outright shady enterprise combined to give it a reputation as one of the Hub’s more vibrant and entrepreneurial business environments. Strict interpretation of the Hub Conflict Conventions and a well-developed “Commerce Logistics and Tactics” sector—the polite euphemism for “mercenaries and assassins” contributed to a history of bloody commercial vendettas that had by now grown their own set of sub-rules and traditions beyond the HCC.
Tayun, in other words, was no place for the timid or conservative to establish business operations. On the other hand, if you were planning on bending rules…
Kyth maintained only a cursory visible presence on Tayun. A small office in a modest towerblock near the shuttle depot. She checked in just after opening time, greeted the local staff, updated her secure Kyth datafile, and then called the client on a standard comservice connection. Two hours later, after a review of the case and a meal, she was at the hotel room door of Jen-zi Cheyn, Commercial Representative of Holiday Safari Worlds.
“Cheyn” was a registered alias, unsurprisingly. Kyth files had supplied the public history of the alias, and an assessment of possible core identities, but with low probability ratings. Bit of a mystery man, Jen-zi Cheyn.
He answered the door of a middling high-grade residential suite in casual business attire that had a hint of Central Axis to it, to Magalin’s experienced eye.
They scanned each others’ ID chips. She noted good commercial security masks. He gestured for her to be seated.
“Ten Cheyn,” she began.
“Jen-zi, please, Ti Oquav.”
“Jen-zi. And I’m Daynas. Your case request says HSW is looking for a Chief of Operations.” Tayun business etiquette—right to the point.
“That is so,” he smiled. “I represent the HSW investment consortium, and in fact, I am the Chief Executive. We are soon moving to a new phase of active operations. For this, we require the right mix of talent and qualifications in an operations chief.”
“Kyth Personnel can certainly help you,” she smiled. “We have already done an analysis of Holiday Safari Worlds, naturally. You have interests in the Central Axis Worlds and the Tirvath Cluster—adventure resorts on a dozen colonies, including Procyon Delta-IV and Tantriga, as well as the Jontarou Shikari Xenopreserve.”
He nodded. “And now, we are planning an expansion. We are looking at opening up additional preserves, both Xeno-themed, and terratype, on an unprecedented scale.”
She watched him closely as they agreed on terms for an Executive Search contract—a very standard transaction. About two-thirds of the way through the negotiation, he began to flirt gently with her, and she followed his lead. An agreement reached, he suggested a drink to ratify the agreement—again, all according to Tayun business etiquette.
“Perhaps in the lounge? I would not wish to imply anything irregular.”
Demurely, they proceeded down to the hotel’s major lounge, a rambling, expensively-decorated oasis well-supplied with discreet nooks, many equipped with privacy guards. A host escorted them to one of these.
They made light conversation while drinks were ordered and delivered, then “Cheyn” engaged the alcove’s privacy shield, and fiddled with a control on his wrist-talker.
A glance at her scan showed Magalin that an additional layer of anti-surveillance protection had been activated. She removed a small device from an inner pocket, and twisted the top half to engage her own scrambler shield. Its automatic sensors would warn them now, if anyone approached within half a meter of its protection radius. Anyone looking at them from outside the shield would see their movements and expressions subtly altered, delayed, projected in reverse or out of sequence, and hear only a low, meaningless babble of sound. It would attract no undue attention, having the superficial appearance of normal conversation. But it would defy any attempts to lipread, eavesdrop, or even make sense from the progression of facial expressions and gestures. It would also override any known snoopscan devices not already foiled by the alcove’s privacy shield or “Cheyn’s” snoopscreen.
She sat back, and sipped her drink.
Her companion glanced at the device, then got the abstracted look of someone querying an implanted comlink. His brows went up.
“That’s quite an interesting device, Daynas,” he commented.
“I had the impression you were more than ordinarily interested in privacy, ‘Jen-zi.’”
“Very much so. It might tell you why if I give you my real name: Artavai Orms.”
Magalin had thought she was prepared for any surprise, but her jaw dropped, all the same. “Orms. As in…?”
“Tranest Corporation, yes. Those Orms. I’m, er… not exactly the black sheep of the family. More along the lines of a remittance man.”
The Orms family had held a controlling interest in Tranest Corporation, the terraforming giant, for more than two centuries. The family’s other interests were rumored to reach into almost every other major profitable enterprise in the Ophiuchi Circuit, the Central Axis worlds, and half a dozen other major Clusters in the Hub.
“I see. Then Holiday Safari Worlds…?”
“Has no connection, legitimate or otherwise, with any Tranest interest. I bear my aunt no personal ill-will, please understand. The, ah, estrangement is purely a matter of business. But I have scrupulously observed the separation. HSW represents my own interests, and those of the other capital investors.”
‘My aunt’ could only be a reference to Nadis Orms, Chair of Tranest Corporation and the latest in a line of corporate sharks that had successfully maintained control of one of the richest, most monopolistic corporations in the Hub.
“That…more than adequately explains this elaborate charade, Ten Orms.”
The Tranest solons might want him to keep a distance from the family’s operations, but they unquestionably kept an eye on their remittance relatives—family members paid, in lump sums or regular disbursements, to disappear from the family orbit for various reasons. And they could afford some of the sharpest eyes in the surveillance business. Magalin resisted an impulse to look over her shoulder.
“Please, let’s stay with Jen-zi. I rather like my alias,” his mouth twisted wryly. “The specific problem I’m tossing in to Kyth’s lap is somewhat related to my status with Tranest. I have, as I’ve said, kept out of their business. Now I’m looking for ways to keep them out of mine.”
She made a neutral “hmm” noise, inviting more information.
“Tranest has no commercial interest in a small-time operation like HSW. If anything, they’re happy that I’m keeping myself occupied profitably, at a sufficient distance. But some of our new ventures might, if brought to the attention of the wrong people, provoke some unwanted interest.”
“In other words, you want whoever is selected for your Operations position to be unaffiliated with any Tranest interests.”
He nodded. “We do have the usual contingent of information channels, formal and informal, at various levels of the company. We’ll leave them where they are. But I’d like to keep specifics about our planned expansion under the radar as long as possible.”
“I see.” She waited, to see if any more information was forthcoming, but he just raised his eyebrows. “Is this something I can rely on Kyth to undertake, discreetly, as part of the executive search process? And if so, what are we talking about with regards to cost, and what arrangements would you suggest for payment?”
Magalin was calculating what it might take to fulfill such a contract. Mercantile espionage at the level of Tranest Corporation would involve cluster-spanning activity, and maintaining discretion would necessitate a very tight, very high-level team. The interface with an ordinary executive search would have to be handled with great delicacy not to raise alarms among Jen-zi’s Tranest monitors.
But the process, if undertaken, would undoubtedly yield a good deal of useful data—secondary benefit for Kyth. And she rather liked Jen-zi, so far.
She named a price.
Jen-zi just nodded. He’d been prepared—Kyth didn’t come cheap even for standard security or investigative services.
“We’ll let you know.”
She deactivated the scrambler and made it clear that although Daynas Oquav wasn’t averse to a little pleasant flirtation with a client, it was strictly professional courtesy.
They parted amicably, Daynas on her way back to the local Kyth office to register the executive search contract, and set the standard procedures in motion. There was no detectable sign of any surveillance on Jen-zi Cheyn.
But then, there wouldn’t be.