2950-07-26 – Tales from the Inbox: A Turncoat’s Penance 

This week, we return to the interrupted description of events given by Ramiro W. Obviously, Naval Intelligence has been over this material, but their approval to publish it does not mean that it is factual. I am aware of no public information corroborating this story, and if there really was a leak of the severity described, or if a defector was really involved, I doubt they’d let me publish it so readily. 

[N.T.B. - I am not so sure. I can certainly think of reasons Intelligence would want a story like this to be told, true or not.] 

Ramiro stumbled on the file that had Livia so worked up just before shutting off his tablet for the night. No lights glowed on the other side of the thin privacy divider bisecting Jen Daley’s small secondary cabin, but he knew she was still awake all the same, listening. He did his best to give her nothing to go on. 

The mixed-media file, protected by Livia’s master encryption key, was named only with a twelve-digit number, and buried in a sub-reference folder for one of her small, half-hearted early ideas for a con. Despite this, it bore clear marks of being regularly accessed, as often as twice per week, and it contained more data than any simple addendum would merit. It had last been accessed only hours before they left Maribel. 

Careful not to take an audible deep breath, Ramiro checked the autopilot status and security feeds, then opened the file. At first, he saw only a scrolling mass of text and numbers, occasionally interrupted by inset images. No pattern emerged; it was a mess of disconnected shipping records, industrial production estimates, technological specifications, personnel dossiers, and other data from a hundred sources. 

Though certain that this was the file Livia had been concerned about him reading, Ramiro could make no headway with the flood of information, save that all of it seemed to detail economic activity in the Galactic West. Whatever this was, it was something she regularly accessed, reviewed, and updated. Perhaps it was the big score she was working on, but this seemed unlikely. 

When the first set of ship schematics scrolled past his eyes, Ramiro froze and held his breath. Carefully, he dragged the file backwards until the schematic re-appeared. In the image of that sleek, elegant frigate, a vessel that was, according to the document, being fitted out at a Philadelphia orbital station for the Confederated Navy, he saw the real shape of what Livia had compiled. 

Realizing that he was looking at contraband information that could get him thrown into a BCI lockbox and forgotten, especially given the scrutiny around ships departing Maribel, Ramiro whisked the schematic away, only for his eyes to fall on high-fidelity images of titanic ship-frames being assembled in an orbital dock. The images were horrific proof that Livia Farran did not only use her wiles for her own profit. 

“I didn’t want to do it. God, Ramie, I didn’t.” 

At Livia’s words, Ramiro started and almost dropped his slate reader. He had no idea how she’d guessed that he’d found her file. 

“It seemed so harmless at first. Corporate production figures, that sort of thing.” Livia went on, her words coming out in a rush. “They paid so much for so little, and it seemed so harmless. Now they pay nothing, but...” 

“You’re in too deep.” Ramiro blanked his tablet screen and stood up, making his way to the end of the privacy screen more by feel than by sight in the darkness. “Who are they?” 

Livia sat up in bed, a bluish light from her wrist unit casting her face in ghoulish contrast and showing how sheer her loose sleepwear was. “Who else?” 

Ramiro stared blankly for a moment, then he realized what she was referring to, and his heart fell. “Nate.” Had he really been working with a traitor this whole time? Had their close-call swindling the Ladeonist insurgents on Bettendorf been arranged just to throw suspicion off a prized agent? 

Livia scowled. “Dammit, Ramie. Don’t look at me like that. I’m not a-” 

“You’re selling Confederated secrets to the enemy in wartime.” Ramiro shook his slate reader. “How else am I supposed to take it?” 

Livia’s shoulders dropped. “I handed it off before we left Maribel. It’s done. They’ll give me a month, maybe six weeks, before they make another demand.” 

“Is that why you were so interested in getting me to run this passenger circuit? Because you needed to contact your handler?” 

Livia shrugged. “Couldn’t send it. BCI monitors the hypercast network.” 

“What do they have over you, Liv?” Ramiro entered her side of the compartment and sat on the foot of the bed. “They’re not paying you anymore, so why keep working for them?” 

“I can’t...” The muscles in Livia’s neck twitched. “I wish I could tell you. It’s not... Damn. Can’t even...” , She shook her head helplessly. 

“Look, that can wait until we get rid of your passenger.” Ramiro hurried back to his bunk and drew his handgun. “He’s one of Nate’s own, isn’t he? One of those half-machine freaks?” 

Livia followed, shivering in the cool air without the benefit of her bunk’s blanket. “Yes. BCI was setting up to grab him. But even-” 

“Stay here. I’m going to see how well he spacewalks.” 

Livia threw herself between Ramiro and the door, shaking her head. “No, you don’t understand. And I can’t... He's not... Ramie, he’s my way to level the damned scales. Don’t you get it?” 

“No.” Ramiro lowered his gun slowly. “Liv, I don’t care if it’s bad for you later, I’m not putting an enemy agent down in the Allenden system.” 

Livia reached out and put a hand on Ramiro’s chest. “I wouldn’t ask you to. The poor bastard’s been trying to switch sides for nearly a month.”