2950-01-18 – Tales from the Service: Cut Loose from the Bureau

“This is ridiculous.” Duana tossed the doc-pad back onto the desk. “He pulled thirty segments of military secrets, and nearly sold them to Nate. Now you’re going to just let him go free?” 

The Director shook his head. “Mr. Cole is no longer a threat to Confederated security. We can take to a magistrate, especially after your, err... preferred methods to bring him in scared away several potential witnesses.” 

Duana scowled. “What we did at that nest of degenerates was send a message.” 

“Indeed. And that message came at the cost of convicting Cole, since he’s not willing to incriminate himself or roll over on his Incarnation contact. We may only hope that it was worth it.” 

Duana, recognized the rebuke, blanked her face and nodded sharply, though inside she bristled. He wasn’t the one risking his life walking into scum-warrens looking for the worst elements of society’s dark underbelly, the kind so corrupted of body and mind that they would side with the Incarnation’s grim, technologically-enforced conformity. The Director sat in his office high in the Bureau’s local headquarters, seeing to his teams’ logistics and administration needs that, while important, promised far less peril. If he had ever been a field operative, it had been decades ago, long before the Incarnation’s cybernetically-enhanced super-spies and their legion of Ladeonist lackeys had come onto the scene. 

“At least give me another few days with him. I can make him talk.” 

“You have had him prisoner for eight local days. That’s one longer than we are allowed to hold anyone by law already. Cut him loose. Send someone to follow him and make sure he stays out of trouble for a few days if you absolutely must.” 

Duana opened her mouth to protest that the first of those “days” was the thirty-seven minutes between time of capture and local midnight, but shut it again without saying anything. Local law, and thus the Director, did not care about these details. That Cole had refused to cooperate under a whole week’s interrogation was embarrassing enough, especially since Duana had a reputation for breaking or doubling most of her prisoners in forty-eight hours or less, and Cole’s resilience was already beginning to eat away at her undisputed top-operative spot in the Bureau’s local pecking order. 

At last, Duana gritted her teeth and nodded again, picking back up the doc-pad. “Understood. I’ll put him back on the street.” 

With a wave, the Director dismissed Duana. As she left his office, she glared at the primly-suited men in the anteroom who would probably be the boss’s next appointment. They had the look of political messengers, not anti-espionage operatives, and she could only conclude that they were from the planetary administration, bearing yet another spurious complaint about the Bureau. Perhaps, she grimly mused, they’d have more complaints if the Bureau were to simply pack up and leave the world to the saboteurs, insurgents, Ladeonist terror cells, and psychotic opportunists that her “message” at the nightclub had reached. 

At the cell block, Duana’s glare stifled the good-humored grin of the duty officer. The duration and lack of success of her interrogation of K.B. Cole had long since become a whispered joke among the guards, and normally she would not have minded the banter. Now, though, having to admit defeat, she was in no mood for humor. 

“Get me some restraints and call me an aircar.” Duana handed the Director’s doc-pad to the duty officer. “We’re cutting Cole loose.” 

“Loose? Isn’t he dangerous?” The man picked up the device and flicked through its text briefly. 

“Extremely. But he’s becoming a waste of Bureau resources.” This was easier to say than that she’d failed to break him for so long that he was becoming a legal and political liability. “He’s a true believer, but at least he’s smart enough to lie low for a while before trying anything again.” 

The officer tossed Duana a case containing hand and foot restraints, then put a hand to his earpiece to summon an aircar from the annex’s motor pool. Duana didn’t bother to wait; she flagged down two of the other guards and marched into the cell block to Cole’s cell. After making sure the guards had weapons drawn, she killed the gravitic shear-barrier and walked inside. 

“Is that you again, Miss?” Cole’s voice was calm, though a bit muffled from the sack covering his head. He was allowed to remove it only three times per day, and never when Duana or the other field agents were present, but that never seemed to disorient or distress him. “You’re wearing different shoes.” 

Duana scowled; she hadn’t bothered to change into the interrogation heels that clicked so resoundingly against the metal plating floor in the cell block. “Wouldn’t want to get those dirty, would I?” 

“There’s no dirt in here unless you brought it, love.” Cole rolled his shoulders. “Where are we going?” 

The burly man’s perceptiveness had long since ceased to surprise Duana. “For a ride. If you’re a good boy, you might not even get out until the end.” She opened the case and approached Cole’s sturdy metal chair, verifying that all his existing restraints were still intact before getting within arm’s reach. 

“Haven’t I always been a model guest?” The note of triumph in the man’s voice told Duana he suspected he was going to be released. Undoubtedly, he’d detected in her tone some of the defeat she felt. 

Duana flicked the restraint cuffs onto Cole’s wrists and ankles, where they automatically tightened. Though not physically linked by a chain or cable, the restraints would prevent him from moving his hands or feet more than thirty centimeters apart or moving any of his limbs quickly enough to land a blow. Still, she stepped back and drew her stun-wand before disengaging his chair restraints; Cole outweighed her by almost three to one, and she didn’t want to give him any openings. 

As the cuffs bolted to the chair clicked open, Cole stood slowly, flexing his limbs and rolling his still-bagged head from side to side. “You know, I’m going to miss this place a little bit.” He took one hesitant step, hobbled by the restraints. “But really, I’m going to miss our little talks.” 

Duana stepped backwards into the doorway, where the two guards she’d left there flanked her. “Is that so.” 

Cole, following Duana’s voice, walked slowly forward. Though she couldn’t see his face, she was certain he was smiling. “Maybe you don’t know it now, but so will you.” 


Nojus here. As the dust here at Berkant continues to settle, this week we continue to provide passages from the account sent to us by Naval Intelligence about the activities of its subsidiary agency. Despite us warning our contacts that the audience reaction to these entries has been mixed at best (in terms of positive reactions to the described activities of the Bureau), they have urged us to keep publishing selections from the extensive documents they’ve given us. 

Duncan and I have discussed why Naval Intelligence would push us to keep publishing stories that paint Bureau operatives as gung-ho and barely constrained by legal niceties, if at all. We don’t have any good theories, except perhaps that this is, just like Duana’s raid, a way to send a message to a certain crowd. If that’s the case, then whatever that message is, it’s probably not a friendly one. 

2950-01-11 – Tales from the Service: Guest of the Bureau 

Nojus here. Duncan and I are well, which most of you know, since there wasn’t much of a fight at Hallman three days ago. Nate’s ships formed up as if to give Fifth Fleet a proper fight, then more or less scattered and ran. Fifth Fleet destroyers running ahead of the main fleet body caught a couple of haulers they were using to carry supplies, but none of their cruisers or large support ships were placed in any real danger.  

With the last of the Incarnation ships in the system being a few lurkers poking around the edges of the stellar grav shadow, it seems the threat to Berkant is pretty much dealt with. What the bastards expected to accomplish here is still a mystery, but whatever it is, I rather doubt things went according to their plan. 

As for Hallman itself, the Incarnation seems to have done extensive building work on the surface, but from orbit it all appears deserted, with no-one answering broadcasts. Admiral Zahariev has not authorized a landing party yet, suspecting a trap, and does not even trust the place enough to leave major fleet units in orbit around the moon. 

Despite the anticlimax, everyone here aboard Saint-Lô is in high spirits, and I can’t say I blame them; this is the first time Nate has been prevented from conquering a Frontier world. 

As per Duncan’s instructions (which were likely governed by Naval Intelligence requests), we’ll be continuing with another section from Duana’s account, whose odd provenance was discussed last week. I’m not sure how Naval Intelligence wants the public to think of its subsidiary bureau’s methods by the release of this material, but I will say from the feedback we’re getting that this is not exactly going to paint the Bureau of Counter-Intelligence in happy pastels. 

“Good evening, Mr. Cole.” 

The man with the bag over his head jerked upright, his muscles straining against the bonds that tied him to his chair and the bolts that affixed the chair to the deck.  

Duana smiled. Unlike many Ladeonist radicals, K.B. Cole had only the power of human muscles at his disposal, so neither the bonds nor the bolts were in any danger. To be sure, Cole’s large frame and bulging arms were quite impressive, but the limits of human biology still fell far short of tearing steel. 

Though she couldn’t see Cole’s face, Duana could easily guess the things that were going through his mind. He probably remembered little of his abrupt extraction from the club; most likely, the last thing he remembered was being serviced by one of the establishment’s resident women of ill repute. Every moment she left him in silence, he was piecing more of the picture together.  

“Sorry, miss.” The voice muffled by the man’s head-sack trembled with an almost effeminate tone at odds with K.B. Cole’s size. “Are you t-talking to me?” 

The act was good, and it might even have been convincing, had Duana’s associates not already identified K.B. Cole from archived biometric data filed during one of his stints in a Galactic West penal colony. That the screening interviewer at the local Naval design bureau had been fooled by his gentle-giant idiot savant act was almost forgivable, given that Cole was a borderline genius with several psychopathic traits and driven by the impossible utopian fables of Adris Ladeon. 

Unfortunately for Cole, though he was a human male, and Duana knew how to deal with those, Ladeonist radicals or otherwise. “Come now. I’ve been following your activities for some time now, and I must say, you know how to impress a girl.” 

“I’m n-not sure I-” 

“Mr. Cole, we have you on the whole scheme.” Duana stepped away from the door, letting her favorite pair of interrogation heels click on the metal floor of the holding cell. “It was really quite impressive. Do you know how rarely anyone gets a full day’s head-start on us?” 

Something in the big man’s posture changed; his shoulders rose a little, and his back straightened. When he spoke again, it wasn’t with the timorous gentle-giant voice. Cole’s new tone was a low, pleasant baritone oddly similar to that used by narrators and paramours in romance holo-dramas. “I was hoping it would be thirty-six hours at least.” 

This too was an act, Duana recognized, but it was one she could work with. Ladeonists, as a creed with no sense of universal truth and a well-earned social stigma, often found themselves moving through the rest of Reach society by slipping from one assumed character to another. Someone like Cole had probably long since forgotten who he really was, so it was a waste of time trying to make him drop the act entirely. 

“If there wasn’t a war on, it would have been.” Duana paced around the bound man, spiraling closer. “But if there wasn’t a war on, where would you find an enemy agent to sell those plans to?” 

“If it wasn’t me, it would have been someone else. You can’t stop what’s coming.” 

Duana had heard the theme of inevitability, of history leading inexorably toward the future dreamed of the Ladeonists, far too many times from far less competent people, to believe a bit of it. If humankind had a foreordained destiny, it wasn’t to turn to Ladeonism, but she was only too happy to seem sympathetic if it got Cole to talk.  

“Of course I can’t change history. I’m just one little spider sitting in the middle of one little web. But do you know what I can change? What happens to the flies that get themselves caught. If you’re right, it doesn’t matter one bit whether you tell me what I want, except that it makes the rest of your life a lot better.” 

Cole’s bagged head turned left and right as he tried to face Duana, who was now directly behind him. “Better how?” 

“Longer, for one. A lot longer.” Duana reached out and put one hand on the big man’s forearm. He flinched away from the touch, and Duana didn’t doubt that if he could free his hands, he’d have snapped her neck without a second thought. “I can think of a few other ways, if you can keep up your end of the bargain. 

Cole remained silent for several seconds. A man as smart as he was could certainly tell that Duana was only manipulating him, but he could probably also guess at the miserable and short future that waited for an uncooperative Ladeonist agent in her custody. At length, he sighed. “Tell me what you want to know, take the sack off my head, and I’ll consider it.” 

Duana chuckled, using that throaty tone she’d found highly distracting to most men. “Do your considering first. I’ll be back later.” With that, she walked past him to the doorway leading out of the cell. 


Duana snapped her fingers, and the rest of Cole’s shouted question was lost as a soundproof gravitic shear-barrier leapt into existence in the archway behind her. Just as easily as she had separated herself from the man, she put him out of her mind. After all, he’d be right where she had left him in the morning. 

2950-01-04 – Tales from the Service: A Plugged Leak

This week, Fifth Fleet is finally in motion here in Berkant. After a major attack on the picket line on the last day of the year was defeated, Admiral Zahariev ordered the fleet to form up for a push away from Berkant toward occupied Hallman. 

While this movement across the open system has not (as of this entry being submitted late on the second) yet resulted in a major fleet action, I can’t see how it can be avoided at this point. If the Incarnation fleet at Hallman does not run or come out to fight a maneuver battle by mid-day (fleet shipboard time) on the fourth, the day this post is being ingested into the feed distribution system, they’ll be forced to fight a defensive battle in orbit to protect their groundside installations. 

By all estimates Fifth Fleet has the numeric and tonnage advantage; almost none of the dozen-odd enemy cruisers observed retiring after being damaged in the numerous skirmishes here have been seen returning. 

While we are waiting to see what the result of Zahariev’s offensive will be, I am bringing you a unique account. Unlike most, which are sent to Cosmic Background and then fed to Naval Intelligence for review, this account comes directly from Naval Intelligence, and is about the activity of an agent of one of its subordinate organizations, the Bureau of Counter-Intelligence. In interests of full disclosure, they did not pressure me into editing it for the text feed; they submitted it last month with a request to treat it exactly like any other candidate for the Tales from the Inbox series. Their interest seems to be mainly to remind the public that the terror campaigns waged by Immortal agents like Horus are not the only variety of Incarnation espionage within the Confederated Worlds. 

Just to avoid the inevitable flood of questions to this effect, the name of the BCI agent used here is almost certainly a pseudonym, and though the submission claimed this took place on Madurai, I doubt highly that that is true.

[N.T.B. - If we’re not missing something – and I rather think we are – I expect Nate to run rather than fight here. Hallman hardly seems worth protecting, and at this point Berkant is nothing but a fortress.] 

Duana stared hard at the bouncer at the nightclub entrance as the man made a show of scrutinizing her holo-badge and credentials. Most likely, the oaf normally saw such things as forgeries created in a vain attempt to allow those not on the sleazy establishment’s curiously exclusive guest list to enjoy the party. 

The man's vain search for subtle signs of falsification increasingly creased his broad forehead, but Duana didn’t move a muscle, knowing even the least motion would be analyzed both by the guard and whoever was watching behind the cold eye of the security camera behind him. She had already cataloged the extensive list of illicit body-modifications which the club’s door-man kept concealed under his ill-fitting uniform, and her folded arms concealed one hand already beginning to work an electromagnetic stun-wand out of its hiding-place in her sleeve. 

“This ain’t real, sis.” The man flipped Duana’s badge back to her.  

She pretended to be surprised and deliberately failed to catch it, then stooped to pick it up. “I assure you, it is very real. This is a matter of the utmost-” 

The man half-turned away to focus on a slouched, shifty-eyed man approaching the club entrance. It was just enough of an opening for Duana to leap up and jam the shiny studs on the stun-wand into the side of his neck. With a surprised gurgle, the bouncer crumpled to the ground, all of his concealed cybernetics scrambled. For his sake, she hoped none of those newly defective components were hooked into the vital processes of his body; an EM wand could put a grown man on the floor for a few minutes, but against the cybernetically corrupted, it was a lethal weapon. 

As the slouching man fled down the shadowy street, Duana held her holo-badge up to the camera’s lens for several seconds, then held up the five splayed fingers of one hand. Slowly, she lowered one finger at a time. The door lock clicked open just as she reached two. Clearly, the club’s owner was not as dull as his help. It was no secret that those who obstructed Bureau of Counter-Intelligence investigations rarely stayed in business for long, especially when their business acted as a covert hub for the degenerate goings-on of the local counterhuman scene. 

In addition to a wall of thudding, discordant music, a slim young woman whose face was painted with bruise-like purple makeup slipped out of the door. Glancing nervously at the bouncer, she beckoned for Duana to follow her. Unlike the downed man, Duana’s analysis lenses didn’t detect any cybernetics installed in her body. True, her facial features bore the unmistakable signs of having been "improved” by a bargain-basement fleshsculpt procedure, but Duana didn’t have the time or the jurisdiction to worry about that. 

Duana followed her guide around the margins of a chaotic tangle of human and mostly-human revelry toward the club’s back office. Dim lighting shot with bright strobes, diaphanous curtains hanging from the rafters, and a haze of damp smoke made it hard to see any particular details, but Duana didn’t mind that double-edged sword; it also made it less likely that her quarry would notice her in time to escape. Of the few patrons close enough to look up and see her clearly, most quickly lost interest. One made a doomed, intoxicated come-hither gesture, but received only an exaggerated eye-roll in response. 

Ushered into the sound-dampened office at the back, Duana found a broad-shouldered, silver-haired man sitting behind a huge desk. She calmly set her holo-badge on that desk and waited for his eyes to return to her after examining it. 

“Got nothing to say to you or any other spook.” The club manager shook his head. “Come back with a magistrate’s warrant.” 

“Please.” Duana waved her still-active stun-wand around, and noted the way it made the man wince even before her analysis lenses identified several unknown cybernetic modules within his body. “Our style is more to come back with an extraction team, but you like your roof, so you won’t let that happen. I’m just looking for someone.” 


Duana tossed a miniature holo-projector onto the desk next to her badge, and it lit up to display the head and shoulders of a dumpy-looking young man. “He probably gave the name Adam Symons. Real name doesn’t matter.” 

Even before he spoke, the man’s reaction told Duana that he’d seen her quarry. “What for?” 

“There’s been a leak on a secret project. We just need to talk to him.” 

Whether the man believed this lie or not didn’t matter. He didn’t need to know that “Symons” was a Ladeonist ideologue named K.B. Cole who had penetrated Naval security systems and was only hours from delivering the full technological specifications of the battleship Maribel and dozens of other new warships to a local Incarnation sleeper agent.  

After a long pause, the club manager nodded. “He’s in one of our private rooms, with, ah... entertainment.” 

“Which one?” Duana didn’t envy the prostitute unlucky enough to be in the process of satisfying Cole when her associates interrupted the festivities. Prostitution, too, was illegal in the Core Worlds, but once again she had neither the time or jurisdiction to be concerned with it. 

“Upper floor, third from the stairs.” 

As soon as the picocameras woven into Duana’s coat picked up these words, she knew a dozen armed agents were in motion. Smiling and nodding her thanks, she reached out to collect her badge and projector, then sat down in the chair across the desk. 

After a few seconds, the manager seemed to conclude Duana was not going to leave. “Er, you said you wanted to talk to him?” 

Duana smiled. “Oh, sure. But you said he’s busy. You have the cameras... Tell me when he’s... quite finished.” 

After a minute of glancing between the screen in his desk and his guest, the man cleared his throat and seemed likely to object. He never got the chance. The distant thudding of the music was interrupted by the resounding, tooth-rattling boom of very rapid remodeling. Duana knew the string of shaped charges used to cut open the wall of the traitor’s room would have left a two-meter-wide hole and left anyone inside insensible, and that her compatriots had stormed in through the gap to black-bag everyone inside. 

“Sounds like he’s finished.” Duana set a cred-stick worth a few thousand of the bureau’s credits on the edge of the desk and stood, extending a hand to the grey-haired man as she did so. “Thank you for your cooperation, and sorry about the mess.” 

The man didn’t take the offered handshake, so Duana turned and left. She could feel his glare on his back all the way to the front door.  

2949-12-28 – Tales from the Service: Grand Designs on Margaux

Last week’s account of the arrival of the mercenary warship Sundiver at Sagittarius Gate, along with similar accounts sent to other publications, has generated a great deal of datasphere activity. Much of it seems to be of the fearmongering variety, I’m sorry to say. Given the less-than-wholesome reputation the Sovereign Security Solutions company has acquired since its founding, I can’t say I’m surprised by this. Sovereign’s secrecy and close ties with Hegemony intelligence agencies, however, don’t constitute evidence that the company is preparing to betray the Seventh Fleet. In fact, it’s quite the opposite; the Hegemony has expressed interest in sending a task force to the Coreward Frontier to fight against the Incarnation ever since learning about the ties between the Incarnation and Reach-native Ladeonists.

Unfortunately, since Sundiver is the product of a Ladeonist-era building program, and also part of the legends and prophecies the Ladeonists regularly reference its twin, the much more well-known Dawnglider, I can see where the overactive imaginations started generating conspiracies.

Fortunately for us all, Sovereign has never demonstrated any Ladeonist sympathies; its leadership is a mix of Confederated Navy and Hegemony Navy veterans. Even if the organization is as liberally salted with reformed brigands as the rumors claim, most pirates aren’t particularly Ladeonist-aligned either.

Also contrary to the worst fears of some datasphere commentators, Sundiver didn’t stay long. By the time of this writing on the twenty-sixth, it has already departed Sagittarius Gate, leaving a frigate and two supply vessels from its small flotilla behind. Most likely, it’s going to be doing something similar to the raids Trafalgar and other fast, long-range capital ships have been carrying out, but I suppose we’ll hear about that in a few weeks.

Over on the Coreward Frontier, other Sovereign units have been heavily committed this week in raids on Incarnation bases near the contested system of Berkant. A small flotilla led by the large destroyer Van Praag even sortied to Margaux, though they were driven away from the orbital infrastructure around that world before any real damage could be done. Though Sovereign personnel rarely if ever leak accounts of their activities to the media, this raid was a mixed force including the regular Navy fast frigate Chloe Hightower, whose Margaux-native second-in-command was only too happy to relay their account of the assault and rapid withdrawal. The most interesting part of that account is the following.

Tom Beckett cleared his throat as Hightower’s skipper paced past his station. “Sir, do you have a moment?”

Commander Marioni whirled on Tom, his bleary eyes showing every minute of the thirteen hours the ship had been set to battle-stations. Even though nothing had happened yet, the ship and its fellows were cruising through an enemy-held system, their full-power gravitic drives announcing their presence to any enemy ships nearby. Blinking, the skipper nodded his assent.

“Permission to follow a hunch, sir.” Tom pointed into the display, where the planet of Margaux was depicted by a cyanotic sphere on the system map. “I put one of the telescopes on the planet, and something’s not right.”

Marioni frowned. “You think this is a trap?”

“Oh, no, no.” Tom shook his head. He could hardly blame his commander for focusing on the mission so tightly. “I mean, something’s not right on the planet’s surface. Might be there’s something important down there worth a missile.”

“We’re four light-hours from the planet, and you think you can pick out ground targets with a standard ship’s telescope? Beckett, that’s nonsense.”

Tom winced. “That’s not-”

“Look, I told you to keep the scopes on the planet to look for any sign of Tyrants lying cold in tight orbits. We’re here to smash orbitals, not pick off ground targets.” Marioni pointed to the screen. “If you can follow your hunch while still doing that, you have my permission, but we’re not firing on the surface.”

Tom opened his mouth to reply, but the tightly-wound commander was already gone, pacing toward the front of the bridge. With a sigh, he lowered his head and opened the data-screen he’d been hoping to show the skipper. On it, Margaux showed in twin mirrored crescents, with insets showing maximum-magnification shots of the outermost limb, where the difference was most pronounced. For some reason, the atmosphere of the planet had changed enough to visibly change color between the first image and the second, and since one was taken when he’d last departed the system three T-years ago, and the other only minutes before, it seemed a fair bet the Incarnation occupation had something to do with it.

Ignoring Marioni’s disdain, Tom set the ship’s main computer to examining the spectrographic profile of Margaux’s atmosphere and called up what the databanks said the composition should be. Using the computer for such things during a battle alert was theoretically discouraged, but with no enemy ships on the board and hours left until the computer would be needed to plot firing solutions, it seemed likely this would go unnoticed. The skipper had, after all, technically given him permission to follow his hunch.

When the spectrographic analysis came back, Tom spotted the difference immediately. “Hellfire. Look at that.”

Marioni, hearing Tom’s muttered exclamation, was back in an instant. “What is it, Beckett? Enemy activity?”

“None yet.” Tom pointed to the pair of spectrographic readouts on his display. “It’s the planet, sir. Archive data says its atmosphere is this, but this is what it is today. See these extra lines? Those elements are in the soil down there, but not the air. The battle would have thrown some up, but it would have all settled months ago.”

Marioni was silent for a few seconds, probably working on how this was relevant to detecting the enemy ambush he clearly expected.

“It means they’re doing something on the surface big enough to churn up dust on a global scale. Something that might just be worth a missile, sir, if I can find it.”

Marioni stared at Tom for a moment, then nodded. “Do what you can, Beckett, and if you do find it, you have your missile.”