2950-01-25 - Tales from the Service: Victorious over the Bureau
The post-Incarnation-departure situation here at Berkant has provoked quite a bit of datasphere curiosity. Admiral Zahariev’s staff has not issued a major media release since their announcement of the Incarnation fleet’s withdrawal, leaving most observers to speculate wildly as to what “Nate” was actually doing here.
While I cannot offer any answers, the Admiral’s people have allowed me to spend a few days on the surface of Hallman in recent weeks, following in the footsteps of the ground troops and the investigative teams who have been picking their way through the remains of the Incarnation base there.
Despite all the fears of the local Marine commanders, the extensive planet-side installations on Hallman were all but deserted when the Marines arrived. The only personnel still here were a few hundred construction technicians and a few dozen guards, and these few retreated into a local cave network as soon as the Marines landed in force. Only a few of these have been killed or captured since, but they have caused little trouble to Confederated troops.
The facility itself was definitely intended to be a fortress, though it remains incomplete. According to the Naval Intelligence analysts I’ve spoken with who have analyzed its layout, it was probably intended to house enough surface-launch missile batteries to repel all but the heaviest fleet assaults, but none of the equipment or personnel meant to occupy the bunkers, magazines, revetments, and watchtowers of these battery sites arrived by the time of the Incarnation withdrawal.
All of these answers to the question of what the groundside facility is do not however explain what the Incarnation was doing here. They couldn’t have expected to complete, staff, and equip a fortress like this even in twice the time they were in-system, and it seems quite unlike them to start an undertaking of this magnitude with no real hope of having the time to complete it. My analyst contacts have indicated that this might indicate dissension in the previously monolithic Incarnation military institution, where one faction kicked off the Berkant expedition and another sabotaged its next stages (whatever they might have been) by starving it of necessary supplies or ships.
Most likely, the leader of the construction unit stranded here could shed more light on the situation, but this officer (the equivalent of a captain) is still hiding in the caverns below the facility with the rest of his personnel. Only a few stragglers from this group have been captured or killed so far.
I am trying to get an interview with one of the captives taken here, but in the meantime, here is the final snippet I culled from the account of the Bureau of Counter-Intelligence agent who bears the pseudonym Duana.
Once the prisoner had been loaded into the rear cabin of one of the Bureau’s unmarked prisoner-transport aircars, Duana dismissed the guards, preferring to do the ignominious deed herself. That such a determined malefactor as K.B. Cole was going to go free still didn’t sit well with her, but the Director’s word was law to anyone who wanted to keep their job as a Bureau field agent.
The cameras in the rear compartment showed Cole struggling to remove the black bag over his head as Duana got into the pilot’s seat. If the big man was disappointed by the simple grey and black polymer of the padded bench and cabin walls, he didn’t show it; he merely stretched out as far as his confines and restraints would allow.
Duana requested takeoff clearance from the annex flight control system, then flicked on the intercom. “Don’t get too comfortable back there, Mr. Cole. We’ll be in motion shortly.”
The man opened his eyes, and Duana couldn’t help but shiver as those cold orbs locked onto the camera lens. “It’s not your fault, you know.”
“What’s that?” Duana saw the indicator on the board go green, so she twisted the controls to lift the aircar off its landing pad. After waiting a moment for the landing gear to retract, she brought the nose up and locked it on an intercept course for the nearest arterial airway.
“That all our talks didn’t go where you wanted them to.” Cole tried to look out one of the windows, but the opaque material prevented all but the most diffuse light from entering. “You really are quite persuasive, though perhaps not as frightening as you would like to believe.”
Duana scowled; she shouldn’t have cared about the miscreant’s opinion, but for some reason, she found that she did. “Our mistake was trying to treat you like the rest. I should have just sent you back to Kahler.”
At the mention of the prison colony where he’d spent several years, Cole’s muscles tensed, and his calm demeanor darkened. “Perhaps you should have. It would have been better for your professional reputation, hmm?”
Duana briefly wondered what clue had led the man to this accurate assessment, glad Cole couldn’t see her. “You know how hindsight is. Maybe next time.”
Cole smiled. “There will not be a next time. Of that, I am quite certain.”
Duana wondered if his certainty stemmed from his desire to avoid doing anything worthy of Bureau attention in the future, or from his desire to avoid being caught the next time. Either way, she somehow doubted that the BCI file on K.B. Cole would be shut for long when she left him standing by the side of the street in the evening gloom.
The aircar merged into the main traffic airway, and Duana left its controls on automatic while she scanned the city map for a good place to leave her departing prisoner. In the end, she settled on leaving him exactly where she’d found him. The club that her team had pulled Cole from had long since repaired its damaged wall and resumed normal operations, and perhaps leaving Cole near such a convenient source of harmless dissipations, she could delay the hatching of his next scheme.
“It has been quite the interesting stay, you know.” Cole broke the lengthening silence. “I really think all the time alone with my thoughts between our talks has done me good.”
Duana didn’t know what to make of this observation, but did know that Cole and other high-intellect Ladeonists loved to plant seeds of doubt and suspicion, hoping that these would keep slower-thinking opponents busy. “Well, I’m glad you enjoyed yourself.” Duana pulled the aircar out of the airway and took it down toward the smoky haze covering the city’s seedy southern sprawl.
Cole chuckled. “By the way, where are you going to drop me?”
“Right where we found you. We’re not a taxi service, after all.”
“You’re not going to drop me in the river or some inconvenient place?”
Technically, Duana could have done just that – and she had done in the past for lesser captives being released – but she had decided it wasn’t worth the risk of irritating a man like Cole. “That sounds like a waste of both of our time.”
As the aircar weaved between the buildings, descending toward street level, Cole sat up straight and tried to stretch his shoulders as much as possible within the limits set by his restraints. Duana’s hand hovered over the restraint release control until she felt the landing gear begin to deploy, then she pressed it.
As the cuffs fell from Cole’s wrists and ankles, Duana keyed the intercom again. “Exit on the right, Mr. Cole. And do stay out of trouble.”
“I hope to do so, Miss.”
The aircar touched down with a bump, and Cole reached for the door controls, only to find the door swinging up and out of his way of its own accord.
As soon as he’d clambered out, Duana pulled the aircar back into the air, ignoring the piqued whine of the alarm as the car closed the door once more. A quick glance at the rear camera showed Cole standing on the street, watching her departure until the sooty haze swallowed him up. Duana hoped that was the last she or any BCI operative ever saw of K.B. Cole, but she doubted that her agency would be quite so lucky.