2950-08-02 – Tales from the Inbox: A Turncoat’s Parley 

There was a skirmish in the Håkøya system outskirts this week, pitting a group of Fifth Fleet cruisers against an outrunner squadron of Tyrants. I’ll admit I haven’t the faintest idea why those cruisers were there, but it seems to have been a draw – all of our cruisers made it home, but some of them were pretty smashed up, and they report the total destruction of one of their opponents and possibly damage to two others. No word on whether our ships’ objective was completed, whatever it was. 

This being the first large-scale engagement since the change in command at Fifth Fleet headquarters, I will reach out to those involved to find out if there have been any changes to tactical doctrine, and whether those changes, if any, contributed to the result of the action. 

Ramiro got up, his thoughts whirling indiscriminately, and covered his agitation by heading toward the wall-mounted locker holding his clean shipboard uniforms. As the top drawer slid open, he became conscious that he was still holding his gun. Slowly, he set it on top of the neatly folded tunics. Knowing what was sleeping in the next compartment, he hated to part with it, but if the little man was what Livia had said, a handgun wouldn’t be nearly enough to take him down, and a confrontation would be counterproductive in any case. 

“Ramie, don’t-” 

“Don’t what?” Ramiro squared his shoulders and gripped the edges of the drawer until its sharp metal edges dug into his palms. “I’m going to talk to our passenger.” 

“Listen.” The bunk creaked as Livia stood up. “The thin line he is walking... You don’t understand. If you say the wrong thing, you’ll wind up dead before either of you know what’s happening.” 

“All the more reason for you to stay here, Liv.” Ramiro shook out a fresh tunic and ran his fingers over the Jen Daley shoulder patch. “The ship’s systems will let you make a distress call.” 

Though Ramiro expected her to protest, to try to stop him, Livia said nothing as he shrugged the tunic over his shoulders and pulled on the matching pants and boots. When he turned to the door, he found her leaning against the bulkhead next to it, still wearing only her sheer night-dress, one long leg crossed over the other. 

“What do you hope he’ll tell you?” Livia was looking down at the deck, and Ramiro thought it odd that she wouldn’t look him in the eyes. 

“I don’t know.” Ramiro shrugged, looking away from her to avoid the distraction she was openly presenting. “I won’t be long.” 

Livia nodded slowly, but made no further response. 

Ramiro, tugging his tunic into place, stepped up to the door and keyed it open. Though the corridor lighting outside was set to the same brightness as the shared crew cabin, the air beyond seemed shadowy and sinister, polluted by the presence of an Incarnation assassin. 

“Ramie...” Livia grabbed Ramiro’s wrist as he stepped through. “I’m sorry I got you into this.” 

Ramiro turned back to her. Glancing at the distress written on her face, he decided to assume that she was being genuine, or at least, that she was trying to be. “It probably had to be me.” He grimaced, disliking how true this was. If she really couldn’t say what had been done to her, then she probably didn’t know anyone else who could have puzzled out the truth. How long had she planned to arrange a situation to tip him off? Had it been her goal way back at Philadelphia, when she’d called him and offered to repair Jen Daley in exchange for helping with her latest scheme? 

Livia released his hand and stepped back. “Be careful.” 

As the door slid shut between them, Ramiro turned to look at her one more time. This time, he let his eyes wander a little bit, taking in a snapshot of her figure barely disguised by her deliberately chosen, provocative sleepwear. There was something in her stance and eyes in that instant that he hadn’t seen before – a wild, unashamed sorrow and worry which he was almost certain couldn’t be faked. It was a look that made him want to return quickly, just to put her at ease. 

Since the recently-remodeled main cabin was just across the corridor from their own, Ramiro was at the other door in seconds. He could have forced it open with a command override, but instead he tapped the door-chime panel. 

“Is there some emergency?” The thin, reedy voice of the mysterious Mr. A. responded almost instantly, as if he hadn’t been sleeping, or as if his various digital implants had purged his mind of all shreds of sleep at the sound. 

“Sorry to bother you at this hour. Care to join me in the lounge for a drink? I can’t sleep and I’ve something on my mind that might interest you.” 

The door slid open, and the almost frail-looking figure of the passenger loomed inside. He was already fully dressed, as if he’d expected the interruption. “Of course, Captain.” 

Though Ramiro was significantly taller and many kilos bulkier than Mr. A., he fought the urge to shrink back from the little man. After all, if he trusted Livia, the man was a disillusioned defector from the Incarnation’s zealotry, with no interest in shedding more blood on behalf of their supposedly glorious cause.  

Ramiro led the way forward to the lounge, where the dim night-period lighting brightened to standard illumination at his approach. Keying in the special code on his wrist computer, Ramiro caused the wall panels concealing the ship’s tiny liquor stash to open. With an entirely unnecessary flourish, he plucked a half-empty bottle from its cradle, tumbled it end over end between his hands, and lobbed it over his shoulder across the compartment toward his passenger. A satisfying smack told him that the little man had caught it. 

Plucking two of the break-proof glasses from the stash, Ramiro turned around and set both on one of the lounge’s tables. “Do you take your whiskey neat, or do you want me to mix something?” He gestured to the bottle Mr. A. was holding. “I remember a few recipes from my bartending days back on Madurai.” 

Mr. A. read the label on the bottle. “Real Earth whiskey? Surely out here this costs a small fortune. Neat will do.” Gingerly, he set it down next to the glasses and eased into one of the chairs.  

“It’s not too expensive if you know the right people.” Ramiro shrugged, picking up the bottle and pouring a generous amount into each. He’d acquired a half-dozen of them before departing Philadelphia months earlier, courtesy of a friend who dealt in exotic Earth goods. 

Mr. A. leaned down to pick up one of the glasses, swirling it gently. Ramiro noticed his unoccupied hand twitching faintly, as if ready to draw and use a concealed weapon. “What is it you wanted to talk about, Captain?” 

Ramiro put the bottle away, then picked up his own glass and took a seat, all too conscious that he’d left his gun behind. “My partner seems to have taken a great risk to meet your... transportation needs. We need not discuss why.” 

“Indeed not.” Mr. A. raised one eyebrow, his sharp eyes scrutinizing Ramiro’s face despite the deep bags that still shadowed them. “I am grateful beyond words for her assistance, and yours.” 

“We aim to please aboard this ship.” Ramiro sipped his whiskey gingerly, noticing that only after he’d done so that his passenger raised the glass to his own lips. “The freedom to travel the stars is something my partner and I take very seriously, both for ourselves and our customers.” 

Mr. A. nodded. “I can understand this outlook, and I don’t doubt you are quite protective of your freedom. And your partner’s. Miss Farran seems quite the free spirit.” 

Ramiro grunted his agreement. “She can be, when circumstances admit.” He took another sip, savoring the taste in case it was his last. “She’s been a bit quiet lately, and I think maybe it’s something you can help her with.” 

The little man tensed briefly, then relaxed, and downed his remaining whiskey in one great gulp. As he did, Ramiro breathed a sigh of relief. 

“Women problems are not my domain, Captain.” Mr. A. shrugged. “But perhaps if you remain on Allenden a day or two after we’ve landed, her spirits might improve. I hear it’s a very beautiful place.” 

2950-08-02 – Tales from the Inbox: A Turncoat’s Curse 

This week, we continue with the second account sent in by Ramiro W. relating to his brief career moving wealthy people from Maribel to safer locations. A number of you in the audience have sent in your claims to evidence that this story is a hoax – after all, Ramiro was always a pseudonym for someone who did not want to be publicly identified, and it would be easy to reproduce his correspondence style, or for him and his con-artist partner to fabricate a story for pure entertainment after we ran parts of the first one. 

I still suspect it’s mostly genuine for two reasons. One, the real Ramiro and Livia have not reached out to correct it, and two, it does not seem like a hagiographic falsehood they would invent, as this story does not benefit them in any way. 

Ramiro stared hard at Livia, focusing on the weight of the gun in his hand and not on the thin, nearly transparent nightgown she was wearing. Nothing she did was ever accidental, and he knew that extended to her choice of sleepwear. “How do you know he’s a defector?” 

Livia frowned and put a finger to her lips. “Keep your voice down. We sound-proofed these walls, but the things they’ve done to him, he can hear-” 

“Answer the question.” Ramiro did lower his voice to a stage-whisper, but he knew a stalling tactic when he saw it.  

“Our passenger did not tell me he’s a defector. How could he? They-” Again, Livia’s neck muscles twitched, and she winced. "He’s not... leaving with authorization. He’s off their map.” 

“How do you-” Ramiro paused and took a step back. With sudden clarity, he saw something that he’d been missing. “Damnation, Liv, you wanted me to figure this out on my own.” 

Livia nodded cautiously. “I did.” 

Ramiro leveled a trembling finger at her. “This is the sort of thing you can just tell me. We’ve been through enough that I’ll believe-” 

“Would if I could, Ramie dear. It’s-” Again, when she paused, Ramiro spotted the twitch in her neck. “It’s not... that simple.” 

Ramiro nodded wearily and sat down on his bunk. “It never is, with you.” 

Livia reached over and palmed the control to bring the compartment lights back up to their daytime level. “I wish it was.”  

Ramiro blinked and looked down to the deck as his pupils adjusted. As he did, he saw Livia’s shadow pass over his bare feet and heard her sit down next to him. 

“You can’t ask... him.” Livia leaned over until her head was resting on Ramiro’s shoulder, and he glanced up enough to see that her loose night-shirt hung low and gave him a nearly uninterrupted view of the amply-curved body beneath it. “With that many computers in his head, he’s... Not himself. Treading very carefully.” 

Ramiro nodded. “You’re saying if we trigger something automatic, it doesn’t matter what he wants.” He’d heard spaceport-bar horror stories about the sorts of things that Incarnation science could do to the human body and mind, of course; everyone had. “Some program might take over.” 

Livia made a vague sound of agreement, one hand kneading the hem of the thin coverlet. 

Ramiro did his best to have a good look at her without letting his eyes wander anywhere untoward. Livia’s invasion of his personal space was no doubt as intentional as everything else she did, and the ability to make a bold move and seeming shy and bashful at the same time was part of what made her such a dangerous con artist. The only times before she’d ever play-acted affection for him were times when she wanted something.

“I wish you could trust me.” Livia’s voice dropped almost to a whisper. “There might be rewards for us both.” 

“I don’t want... rewards.” Ramiro shook his head. He wasn’t sure what she meant by that word, but he did know that it would be wise not to want whatever she was offering, even if he wasn’t yet sure. “And I’m not helping you betray anything to Nate, no matter what they have over you.” 

Livia looked up, a few strands of dark hair falling in front of her suddenly-intense eyes. “Sometimes, Ramie, you can be so dense.” 

Ramiro shrugged. “Spell it out for me.” 

“Wish I could.” Livia shifted closer and craned her face up, arching one eyebrow. “But that’s not in the program.” 

Ramiro blinked, then stood up, his hand tightening on the gun he still hadn’t put away. Livia, who had been leaning on him, fell back on his bunk with an amused expression, making no attempt to steady herself. 

“You have it too.” Ramiro tapped the butt of the gun to his temple. “Nate put a chip in your head to keep you in line.” 

Livia didn’t answer. She didn’t even nod. The brief flicker of relief on her face was enough to confirm his conclusion. 

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.” 

2950-07-19 – Tales from the Service: The View from Headquarters, Part 7 

Though it has taken far longer than anticipated, I was able to arrange an interview with Colonel Nerea McKee, the newly-arrived representative of the Confederated Marines on Admiral Venturi’s staff.  

Those closely following this conflict may recall the interservice issues seen after the loss of Margaux and its garrison; as you will see, Colonel McKee certainly seems to have no interest in propagating this needless drama. She arrived at Maribel only two days before sitting for this interview, and so we shall see if her actions match her words once she finishes getting situated in coming weeks. 

Colonel McKee’s prior posting was to the staff of Marine Commandant Matsushita, and she has also been the chief administrator of the infamous Camp Cactus. 

As is usual for interviews conducted by this embed team, the audio recording can be found on the Cosmic Background datasphere hub.   

D.L.C. - Duncan Chaudhri is a junior editor and wartime head field reporter for Cosmic Background.      

N.T.B. - Nojus Brand is a long-time explorer, datasphere personality, and wartime field reporter for Cosmic Background.     

M.I.K. - Captain Martin Kovac is the Naval Intelligence attaché to Admiral Venturi, a post which he has assumed only in the past few weeks. Previously, he served as the Naval Intelligence liaison with the theater commander for Sovereign Security Solutions. 

N.A.M. - Colonel Nerea McKee is the representative of the Confederated Marines on Admiral Venturi’s staff, and a former subordinate of Marine Commandant Matsushita. 


[D.L.C.] - Good morning, Captain Kovac and Colonel McKee. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Given the changing situation, it couldn’t have been easy to find the time. 

[N.A.M.] - No trouble at all, Mr. Chaudhri. I’ve been following your coverage from the Core Worlds for many months, and couldn’t miss an opportunity to meet you in person. 

[N.T.B.] - Will you be less eager after a few tough questions? 

[N.A.M.] - It won’t be any trouble, Mr. Brand. I’ll confess I found your habit of pressing Captain Kirke-Moore in these interviews quite interesting, and I hope I’ll stand the pressure almost as well as he did. 

[D.L.C.] - Perhaps we should start there, then. Admiral Zahariev and Captain Kirke-Moore departed without a word; do you think that their departure represents an improvement in Fifth Fleet’s fortunes? 

[N.A.M.] - I don’t- 

[M.I.K.] - In answering this question, Colonel McKee can of course speak only for her own perspective, and not for either the Navy or the Marines. It is the Navy’s position that Admiral Zahariev executed his duty to the best of his ability, and that the situation would have been far worse by now had any lesser officer been in charge. 

[N.T.B.] - Is that a direct quote from last week’s official statement? 

[M.I.K.] - No. 

[N.T.B.] - Are you just paraphrasing- 

[N.A.M.] - My opinion is that Admiral Zahariev and Captain Kirke-Moore, and all the other departing members of their staff, did their jobs well. They were the right people for the job at the time. As tragic as Margaux was, as frustrating as it seemed to be to watch world after world fall, they did not fail to engage the enemy many times, and they inflicted numerous losses while preserving the fleet’s offensive firepower. They made mistakes, as anyone would have, but their mistakes did not result in the loss of the fleet or its base. I think history will see them favorably, though perhaps not until after the histories are written. 

[D.L.C.] - That is hardly the opinion most of our audience expects you to hold. 

[N.A.M.] - I would expect so. I too have heard the rumors about the Commandant offering her resignation after Margaux – they came as news to me, and I was on her staff at the time. There were some heated conferences, to be sure, but nothing as drastic as the media prefers to believe. What disagreements between the Admiralty and the Marines were created by that tragedy have largely been addressed by changes to the doctrine of both services. 

[N.T.B.] - What about the F.D.A.? 

[M.I.K.] - In answering this question- 

[N.T.B.] - Just her opinion, yeah, yeah, we know. 

[N.A.M.] - I have yet to meet with my associate from the Frontier Defense Army, so I have no opinion whatsoever. I would expect that their level of unhappiness with the Navy is also overblown, but only because I’ve seen the media’s sensationalism related to my own service. 

[D.L.C.] - Did you know that the F.D.A. has primarily been moving its forces on mercenary and contractor ships since Margaux? 

[N.A.M.] - I am aware of this, yes. Since they had no transports assigned directly to them in Naval service until Henriikka Langenberg arrived at Maribel only five days ago, this doesn’t necessarily mean what the media wants it to. There simply aren’t enough troop transports in Fifth Fleet to meet the needs of the F.D.A., current or projected, and most of those are permanently assigned to Marine units. It would take an entire armada of Naval transports to move them to the systems their generals want to reinforce, so their budget to hire outside transportation is quite large. 

[N.T.B.] - You said that the generals are making the final decisions about F.D.A. deployments? 

[N.A.M.] - They may be a young service, but they are still an independent service, and they have the final say. As far as I can tell their deployments are generally consistent with all Naval and Marine plans for defense and offense. 

[M.I.K.] - The F.D.A. has a number of very good Intelligence officers working as liaisons to their headquarters and to each of their field commands.  

[N.T.B.] - And their mercenary hirelings as well, I’d imagine. 

[M.I.K.] - The largest auxiliary and contractor organizations merit their own liaisons, yes. It is no secret that I was one of these liaisons until last month, Mr. Brand. 

[N.T.B.] - Forgive me for distrusting anything Sovereign touches, Captain. 

[M.I.K.] - While I understand your distaste for particular organizations, I am aware of no serious unresolved complaints against the mercenary outfits assisting Fifth Fleet. Sovereign is paid well, but their fee is less than the cost of lacking their assistance. 

[N.T.B.] - Perhaps because they might take payment from the other side if we didn’t pay them first? 

[M.I.K.] - You do not know them very well, if you think that is a serious concern. 

[N.A.M.] - I’ll confess I don’t understand the dislike for Sovereign, except that they are the largest and wealthiest mercenary company in existence. 

[D.L.C.] - Returning to topics closer to your own experience, Colonel McKee, do you anticipate a shakeup of the Confederated Marine command chain here on the Frontier? So far, I haven’t seen many generals or colonels being replaced. 

[N.A.M.] - I don’t control the staffing of the independent Marine units in this theater, but I shouldn’t expect many to be reassigned and replaced. Unlike the Navy, the Marines tend to promote replacements directly upwards from lower ranks, and we trust our officers to know when age or other factors render them incapable of further leadership. 

[M.I.K.] - This is not to say that the Marine officers involved in recent battles are being held blameless for ground-side defeats, just that the Marines have a different tradition than the Navy. 

[N.A.M.] - Yes, of course, that is correct. We are also a smaller service with few rear-area high-ranking officers to rotate into field command on short notice; replacements need to be trained, and that takes time. 

[M.I.K.] - Unfortunately, I must cut this interview short; I’m being told we both have a high-priority staff conference session to attend within the hour. 

[D.L.C.] - Before you go, Colonel, is there anything you want to tell our audience? 

[N.A.M.] - Only this: the situation is not so dire as your media – yes, even this outfit – is sometimes suggesting. It might be simpler if things were so disastrous as all that, but in war, simplicity is a luxury we can do without. The Marines stand ready to take back what was lost, and we hope that by the grace of God that time will come very soon. 

[D.L.C.] - Thank you. And thank you Captain for coming as well. Hopefully we’ll have you back soon. 

[M.I.K.] - Of course. You know how to reach me when you think there is cause for us to talk again, Mr. Chaudhri.