Martin Evans looked like a bureaucrat to Jeter. He was even shorter than the stocky agent. Thin, mid-40s, a strip of hair down the middle of his balding head, and a perpetual scowl on his face completed the look of a desk slave, one who rarely saw the light of day.

Jeter sat in the head of SSI’s Clarion office in Stockton, staring impassively at his nominal boss. This man was in charge of Jeter at least while he remained on this planet or one of the other three in this part of the League.

What irked Jeter more than anything was this number-crunching, data monitoring bean counter got to call all the shots while men and women of action put their lives on the line out there for the League.

Jeter hated kiss-ups, and refused to kowtow to the brass back at HQ. Evans looked like he had not seen the sun in a year or more. Jeter would be never be intimidated by the likes of this little man, no matter how much sway he held here in his Stockton office.

Out there, where people put their lives on the line for the League, those people earned Jeter’s respect. Some considered spies dishonorable, but not Jeter. They were doing something. But this pipsqueak? Jeter would bite his tongue while in the office, but his respect for Evans, a man who would never be able to infiltrate a pirate company on Lute, could not be any lower.

“So,” Evans said. “You lost our asset.”

Jeter shifted his legs in the seat, uneasily.

He said, “I assisted Raquel Kirkland and supplied her with every necessary consideration for the elimination of the target, Director Evans. With one hour to debarkation, I placed her in position so she could make her move. I have not seen nor heard from her since.”

Evans nodded, and rubbed his eyes. Jeter thought the little man looked very tired.

Evans said, “The Petra Roe Ambassador on Lute is one of ours. He reported that the Tetrarch’s daughter willingly consorted with the enemy. In his words, she refused to accompany him back to Clarion by way of Petra Roe, and informed him of her desire to join the piratical company she came in with.”

Jeter nodded and said, “I can attest she followed through with her comments to the Ambassador. A short while later she was elected into the company, and then accompanied us on our trip to Pegasi.”

Evans stood suddenly and walked two steps to the window wall. He gazed out at the city below, with its aerial and ground traffic.

It was not a real window, Jeter knew. The SSI Building had no windows. This was merely a holoscreen hooked up to a live feed. It looked like a real window, though. The fidelity was incredibly lifelike. And expensive.

That thought led Jeter to wonder how much Evans made in a year. The little booger is probably skimming off funds from at least two dozen operations, Jeter decided.

Evans interrupted Jeter’s thoughts. He said, “The Navy, of course, worked contrary to our purposes. They were tasked with saving Jillian Thrall, if at all possible. Apparently, the Tetrarch cannot fathom the thought of his own daughter committing treason. So, he ordered the Navy boys and girls on a rescue mission.”

Jeter said, “It worked, too. Pretty brilliant. I did not see that honey trap coming. It’s too bad they lost a destroyer in the process.”

Evans snorted. He said, “How many lives could have been saved had you simply taken her out when you had the chance?”

Jeter rolled his eyes. He thought, the nerve of this guy.

“Director, I had zero opportunities to eliminate her before or during the voyage to Pegasi. She was kept under watch the entire time. I was only able to secure the asset after the Marines showed up. Then the Navy was intent on saving Jillian Thrall, and kept her secured in an area I had no authorization for. I infiltrated the pirates, not the Navy.

“I convinced, or at I least I thought I convinced, the asset that she should follow our directive and fulfill the objective. She was much better suited for the task at that point in time, because she could get into places I could not. Unfortunately, once I sent her on her way, she . . . disappeared.”

Evans turned from the holoscreen window and sighed.

He said, “You know that I have no love for the Tetrarch.”

Jeter nodded. Everybody knew Evans and Thrall hated each other.

Evans said, “But I have not taken the decision to eliminate his daughter lightly. Treasonous actions call for an appropriate response. And the penalty is death, regardless of what family one belongs to. Members of the ruling class are not immune from justice.”

Evans sat back down at his desk and hunched forward in his chair. Jeter shifted uncomfortably again as the little man’s beady eyes bore into his own. The intensity of the Director’s stare made Jeter gulp. Thoughts of how little outside action this bureaucrat saw fled from his mind under the glare of those intense eyes.

“My directive,” Evans said, “stands.”


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