2950-04-19 – Tales from the Inbox: The Assassin Connection
Unfortunately, I have been unable to schedule an interview with anyone from Admiral Zahariev’s staff since the fleet’s departure from Håkøya. I can at least confirm that the fleet’s fast elements have finished their evacuation of the outlying settlements of the Håkøya system.
I’m also told that there’s going to be an investigation into the outcome of the most recent battles. I doubt, however, that anything will come of it. Fifth Fleet did everything it could to thwart The Incarnation there as it did at Berkant, and the number of damaged and destroyed enemy cruisers speaks to the steep price they paid for this victory.
This week's entry is a continuation of last week's (Tales from the Inbox: The Assassin Collector). Captain Ibsen's account goes on in great detail but this is as far as I intend to follow it for the moment. Perhaps in the future we will revisit it in further installments.
Grand Hierophant Toloni rested his scepter of office against the bulkhead and eased himself into a chair at one end of the long wardroom table. He had of course taken the chair at the head of the room, placing the huge blooming tree and crossbeam Penderite emblem on that wall directly behind him. “Now, Sister Ibsen. What is it you say you found?”
Sandra Ibsen sent a command from her slate to the table’s central projector, glancing around the otherwise empty wardroom. “I think the assassination attempts are connected, Your Eminence.”
“In that they have all failed?” Toloni rearranged his white robes and leaned forward, resting one elbow on the table. “Or that they are all perpetrated by young people with daemoniaical ideation?”
Sandra shook her head. “Well, more than those things. Look at this.” She pressed a button, and five faces appeared on the screen – the five failed assassins who now occupied Holy Tabernacle’s brig. “The expensive weapon you got off the last one was a custom piece I could easily trace. Turns out it was bought secondhand on Maribel in December.”
“Maribel? That’s nearly on the other side of the Reach. Mr. Neely told me he’s a Hopesway native.” Toloni frowned. The old pontiff had interviewed his would-be killer personally, of course; he always did. So far, Sandra knew, they’d never found any way in which the assassins had lied to Toloni. They might tell any other interrogator nearly anything, but to the Hierophant himself, they either told the truth or said nothing.
“That checks out.” Sandra nodded and tapped the controls on her slate, and the header of an official dossier appeared next to one of the faces. “Turns out Neely is a small-time Annuska smuggler, a middleman with a supplier in the outer system. At least, that’s what he was. He went datasphere dark about ten months ago, and until he took a shot at you, local authorities thought he might be dead.”
Toloni frowned. As the head of a religious sect which prided itself on its total indifference to technology, especially datasphere-connected technology, he prided himself on his technological illiteracy, but he still had to know that the average citizen of the Reach just didn’t go ten months without making even a ripple in the datasphere.
Sandra, as the captain of Holy Tabernacle, of course couldn’t be so illiterate; she had to make sure the ship moved seamlessly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction without any physical or diplomatic incidents. She made sure the technology-avoiding Penderites aboard the ship were identifiable by each planetary administration on which they landed, and made arrangements for the Hierophant’s travel needs on visits to the Penderite communities of those worlds.
Eventually, Toloni raised a finger. “If Mr. Neely was not seen in computer records for ten months, how do you have record of the purchase on Maribel?”
Sandra nodded. Toloni, as usual, had noticed a key contradiction. “The weapon was purchased on Maribel in December by one Delilah Brahms-Walton, who has a very active datasphere footprint. She seems not to have ever left that world.” With a tap on her controls, Sandra added Brahms-Walton's image to the display, with a dotted line to Neely. “If this woman hasn’t left Maribel, though, how does she know the assassins from Vorkuta and Philadelphia?”
Another tap displayed a series of images in which Brahms-Walton appeared highlighted in red, and two other men appeared in yellow. After a few seconds, Sandra sent the command to draw a solid line from the woman to the men appearing in those stills: Begum, the assassin from Philadephia, and Nyberg, the one from Vorkuta.
“Are you sure these are the same men?”
Sandra nodded. “Facial recognition is a perfect match. These pictures are stamped as having been recorded on October 25. I have a customs footprint for Begum entering the Maribel jurisdiction in October and departing in November. Nothing yet for Nyberg, but he was definitely back on Vorkuta in mid-November.”
Toloni shook his head. “If three of the five are connected to this woman on Maribel. What of the other two?”
Sandra shook her head. “The other two were both off their homeworlds in October but that’s all I’ve got so far. Could be they got to Maribel the same way Nyberg did to be in those images.”
The Hierophant sat back in his chair, saying nothing for several seconds. Sandra suspected he was praying and asking God for guidance, and wondered not for the first time what sort of response he was getting.
Toloni finally spoke, his voice slow and deliberate. “Have you sent this to the system authorities?”
“Yes, and forwarded it to Maribel and the other four systems where you were attacked. But I think we should enhance security all the same.” She pointed to the most recent of the group photos. “There are eight other men and two other women in that picture with Brahms-Walton and two of your assassins. One of them is going to get lucky, or they’ll start teaming up. Your guards are very capable, but without advanced technology-”
“My sister, if we must bow to the ways of the world, what does that say of our faith?” Toloni stood and reached for his staff. “If it is God’s will that one of them succeed, then we cannot stop them. The Order has always done without these tools, and I will not change that.”
Sandra sighed and nodded. She’d expected this response even though she had hoped and prayed for another. “I understand, Your Eminence. But I do wish you’d be careful all the same.”
Toloni smiled distantly. “We all take risks, Sister Ibsen. Do continue to investigate as long as you feel it helpful, and let me know if you learn who is behind these difficulties.”
“I will.” Standing as well, Sandra led the way to the door, beyond which the Grand Hierophant’s guards were waiting. “Perhaps I may even ask our guests about their friend on Maribel.”