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.

Sep 012012
 

Read me the story:
pencil and chalk sketch of expensive-looking restaurant with modern furnishings, open clerestory and large windowsOf course, her sister would want to meet her for lunch at the oh-so-exclusive, oh-so-expensive club that Partel and her husband belonged to, Mirget Kostak reflected sourly. Trust Partel to rub her nose in just how much more money and status Flest Vanus and his bride enjoyed than Mirget and Welstam Kostak. Although she had to admit it was a beautiful setting, the stepped terraces adjoining the clubhouse, overlooking the vast green expanse of the kress lawn.

She could see a white-clad threesome just moving off the launch area for the fifth kress marker, their gilies trailing behind them with expensive equipment bags, as the maiter led her to Partel’s table. Actual human servers, no less. Nothing but the best, for the elite of society here in Chart Deb. Partel was waiting for her at a table on the uppermost terrace. A frivolous, colorful parasol floated above the table to shield her from the brilliant light that kept the kress lawn and the elaborate plantings around the terraces so lush.

Darling! I adore the outfit! How quaint!!” On the offensive immediately, but that was no surprise. Being offensive was a sisterly specialty. Mirget’s smile was just as insincere—and fully natural, as she didn’t hesitate to remind Partel. “Darling… how sweet of you. And I love the new biosculpt! Let me look at you!” She stood back for a moment, palpably surveying her older sister’s perfectly-sculpted face, shoulders, and torso.

Partel would never grind her teeth, expensively enhanced and even more expensively preserved, but she had no hesitation at all in putting her little sister in her place. “What do you call that divine little thingie around your neck, sweetheart? Is it the latest rage among the lunatic fringe?” A wonderfully ambiguous insult, that, since “lunatic fringe” had been a fashionable general-use slang term for the small elite of boardsman and upper echelon executives living on Moonstation. Well, three or four years ago, it had been fashionable. Now it was morphing into a derogatory reference among upper crust youth who considered anyplace further from the capital than the Vardry Cluster as beyond civilization altogether.

Mirget caught herself before uttering the satisfyingly cutting response hovering on her tongue. She was here to get something out of her sister, and if she let Partel provoke her into a politely honeyed slanging match (which Partel, never the brightest of the Tarvine offspring, would inevitably lose,) she’d have no chance of parking her children with their cousins over the Long Vacation. Since it was vital to Wilan and Savret’s future to be able to form social connections in prestigious Chart Deb, she couldn’t afford the luxury of annihilating her snotty big sister.

She smiled again, a demure, slightly mischievous smile that could charm the gloves off a senior prelate. She knew that the floating wisp of fabric, with its invisible suspensor fiber and subtle iridescence, showed off her slender neck and throat to great advantage, even if it was outdated by two years or more. “Embarrassed to be seen with your country cousin?” she asked, playfully arch. It set her teeth on edge, but her sister relaxed, secure in her superiority. “Oh, hardly that, darling. Maybe after lunch we should go shopping, though. I’ve found the most clever designer in Wals Rellatat, he really is a marvel. If you can afford it?”

It was likely she couldn’t, since the shopping arcade of Wals Rellatat catered exclusively to the wealthiest upper crust boardsman brides and daughters, and doubtless this was one more way of rubbing in the fact that Partel’s quarterly clothing allowance probably exceeded Mirget’s entire yearly household budget. Still, the Kostak finance accounts were getting satisfyingly larger every year, and the savings account Mirget hoarded from remittance to remittance was growing with them. And there was annual Cultural Affairs Gala coming up. As a committee chair, she’d be expected to show up in something spectacular. She did a couple of mental calculations—including the fees for Wilan and Savret’s highly exclusive private boarding schools—and decided she could probably swing it. “Aren’t you dear! I’d love to.”

She turned her attention to the menu that appeared in front of her, projected against the white tablecloth. “So what’s good here?” Mirget further appealed to big sister’s experience and expertise.

“Oh, they have a fabulous selection of baby vegetables sautéed in Tersican glaze. And the duerzin Marcal—that’s a mixed stew of saltwater crustaceans. They have their own saltwater growing vats here, and fresh herbs.” Partel gestured to the sinuous containers that formed an elegant pattern on the larger terrace below them. The outer containers were planted with flowers and small shrubs, the inner ones with elegantly-trimmed herbs.

“Mmmm… that does sound good,” Mirget agreed. She hated seafood. Partel signaled a server and gave the order—cocktails, prime course, rising course, center course, refresher, coda and sweet, with complementary wines and between-course sorbets. The selections from the ladies’ side of the menu were always dainty compared to the men’s more robust choices for the usual seven-course (informal) or nine-course (semi-formal) midday meals.

When the server had left their cocktails before them, Partel turned a little to look out over the kress lawn. A threesome was just coming up on the fourth marker, their gilies racking the floats in the launchers and stepping back. A tall, lean figure with a shock of unruly-looking dark hair and immaculate kress whites leaned over to calibrate the first launcher, while the other two watched. There was something familiar about the springy line of spine and the set of his head. Mirget narrowed her eyes. “Is that…?”

“Yes, darling, Lorstan Kleksal. Flest and Ordik Malmig are with him.” Partel glanced sidelong at her sister. “Didn’t you used to have rather a crush on him?”

Mirget chuckled, with no sign of the effort it cost her. “Darling, didn’t everyone? He was the catch of my Presentation Year. Rather a starched-chemise, but that gorgeous hair! Whoever did he end up with?”

Partel’s eyes widened. “You mean you didn’t know? But I would have thought surely you’d been invited to the wedding! You and Rindel were such friends!”

“Rindel? Rindel Scafras?” Why that sly, little… 3D hell, but that one hurt. Mirget and Rindel had indeed been best friends, back then, and Rindel had been the only one she’d confided her youthful passion to. Rindel had been so exquisitely sympathetic, too, when Mirget had learned of her betrothal to Tam Kostak, the undistinguished junior scion of an undistinguished minor sept of the Kostaks—a mere exec, and slated for a mediocre civil service career.

“No, I didn’t hear from her. But then I wouldn’t expect to, really. She’d have known I couldn’t spare the time for a trip downside just for a wedding. So what’s Lorstan up to, these days?” Mirget’s voice was so naturally casual, Partel decided there was no further potential for inflicting pain. “Not much, really. He’s been appointed to junior seats on Glaymis Bek Financial board and Dar Nexan board, as well as a family seat at Kleksal Brokerage.”

It was a very conventional path for someone of Lorstan’s background, surprisingly unspectacular considering his flamboyant youth. “Really. Is he still chamba-racing, and big-game hunting?”

Partel laughed. “Oh, no, darling, not chamba racing. The Dar Nexan board is insured by Quem Guaranty Company; they’d never countenance one of their juniors hopping onto a souped-up airbike and playing chicken with the dome forcefields. I don’t know about the hunting, though. I heard he travels south regularly, so maybe he goes to—what is it called? You know, that ranch in Martabal Bwes…”

“Govey Xenon Preserve?”

“Yes, there. Anyway, he mostly confines himself to kress these days. He was Club Champion this year, and won the Open tournament at Kos Pentrad. Didn’t you hear?”

“I don’t really keep up with downside sporting news. I probably should.”

“Yes, darling, you should. One of these days it will come very convenient, you know.”

“I hardly think so,” Mirget said diffidently, picking up a prong and impaling a delicate baby carrot. brown-scored and shining from the grilling glaze. “This is my first trip downside in… what, six years?”

“Yes, but won’t Savret be ready for her presentation next year or the year after? You’re not going to bring her out on Moonstation, are you?”

Mirget shrugged. “I may have to. Tam’s got a plus chance of getting appointed to replace Kosep Radik when he retires next year, and if he gets tied down in Pykalt, I’ll have to be upside during the presentation season. The Senior Coordinator has to do a lot of entertaining, you know.”

Partel’s beautifully-sculpted brows rose. “Senior Coordinator! Really? My, my, you have been busy, haven’t you, sis?”

Yes, she had, but Mirget just smiled. “I think a lot of people underestimated Tam. He’s headed for a board seat, one of these days, you know.”

Partel swallowed a morsel of baby squash and eyed her sister with respect. “Well, if anyone can make it happen, you’ll manage, I’m sure. But it won’t happen in time to help Savret, will it?”

Mirget pushed her plate away. “Partel, you’ve never been upside, have you? Except for transferring at Pykalt Interstellar port for your honeymoon trip?”

Her sister nodded.

“So you have no idea what Moonstation is like, these days. It’s growing incredibly fast, and it’s the nexus for the whole Insystem Region. We have more than twenty boardsman family compounds or manorhouses in Pykalt, and a dozen more in Gitwen, Ruv Denal, and Fornalt. Pykalt and Birval Pleasuredome are on the itinerary of every major arts ensemble, holovid celeb, sporting exhibitor, and rising CivAd hopeful. Last year the Livkad district in Pykal opened more major exhibits than Kos Centrum. The last three Democratic Companies chartered have all been chartered in our District. They’ve started the dome for a new Cathedral that will be bigger than anything downside except Glorious Revelations.”

The server whisked a napkin over her used plate and wafted it away, replacing it with a paper-thin porcelain bowl on a gold-rimmed saucer garnished with fresh orchid blossoms. Tiny real shrimps floated in a clear broth. She picked up her spoon.

“I know I need to keep up our connections here, but if Savret has to be presented at home, it won’t be a total disaster. Last year Nelret Parkel spent the Season in Pykalt, for Bridesakes, and you know how much social influence she has!” She took a spoonful of soup, savored the tangy-sweet broth for a moment before swallowing. “But you’re right, it would be better if she could be presented here.”

Partel nodded. “And what about Wilan? Don’t you want him to spend his Drones Year downside?”

That was one thing Mirget would never compromise. “Absolutely, if I can find a way to swing it. I think I can get him an invite from Evlit Dembrig for some part of the year, since he and Qev Dembrig are so close. He’s got other friends, too, if he can just spend more social time here, but…” She shook her head in frustration. “I can’t park him on Mykep again, with his bride expecting her first.”

“Well, darling…” Partel said slowly.

Mirget tried not to let the sudden tension show as she gracefully sipped another spoonful of broth. Was this it? Holy Bride send luck…

“We had planned to take the boys to the Vardry Cluster this long vac, but then Flest got this Chagarth Fabrik board appointment, and he’ll have to be south for most of the time, so that won’t work. Perhaps you could send Wilan—and Savret, too, if she has no other plans—to us at Kos Vanus?”

Yes! Mirget set her spoon down so that if the relief flooding through her made her tremble, she wouldn’t spill her soup. “Kos Vanus? Really? What a wonderful idea, Party! I’m sure they’d adore it. Thank you so much.”

“Not at all, darling. You’re working so hard, it’s the least I can do. After all, Vanus Major is right on the edge of Devlit Wild, and the young people seem to love to spend time there, at the moment. The kids’ friends are always trooping in and out. We’re set up for it, so it’s hardly an effort. I’d be delighted, really.”

It wasn’t hard, after that, for Mirget to rationalize a teeny bit of overspending on the exquisite lirasilk gown Partel and her pet designer talked her into.

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