Natasha opened the door and waved Juan inside, impatiently. He carried a laundry basket. Once in the room, she closed the door and motioned for him to follow her into the bedroom.

Juan could not help but appreciate the lithe SSI agent’s figure. Suddenly, he thought, this assignment seemed a lot less boring.

But in the bedroom, on the bed, he realized her asset outclassed him. Not only did the man have information the agent needed, he was a better looking guy. Juan’s face fell, and he found himself hating the lucky dog.

Seemingly oblivious to Juan’s scheming on how he could get Collin Todd out of the picture, Natasha moved the pillows away so that Collin lay fully prone on the bed.

She said, “Set up the cranial scanner here and let’s get to work.”

Juan nodded, turning to business at the tone of her voice. This was not a time for trifles. They had a job to do.

He set the laundry basket down and retrieved the portable cranial scanner. It had a radius about the width of an old-fashioned basketball hoop. Plastic encircled it, rising up from a flat base. Everything on the outside was plastic too, all eggshell-white.

Juan set up the scanner on the bed and pulled it over Collin’s head while Natasha lifted his neck up a bit. Then Juan retrieved a small pocket computer about the size of a business card from his shirt pocket and connected it to the cranial scanner.

The pocket computer turned on and a holoscreen appeared above it, floating in the air. A virtual keyboard appeared, although most commands could be given by voice. It could even be hooked up mentally, too, although Juan was not sure he trusted the neural net for the large amount of sensitive data they would be transmitting.

Simple is good, Juan thought. Even though the QWERTY keyboard dated back to the 19th century, he could still control this decidedly modern piece of equipment by using one, or at least a virtual representation of one floating in the air nearby. And the lack of voice commands, hopefully, would not raise suspicions of the local AI.

He began by performing a standard brainchip search. This was the traditional role of cranial scanners, a method employed by customs and security branches across the galaxy.

“You won’t find anything,” Natasha said. “He has to go through one of these every day when leaving work.”

“Just, uh . . . testing the calibration on the unit,” Juan said.

In fact, he had no idea the man was subjected to scans regularly. But, it really was a standard procedure. Moving on, he switched the unit over to memory scan mode.

He said, “This is the latest model from R&D. We should be able to snag all memories that are fresh, going back several months. After that, it won’t be as synchronous. The older the memories, the more fragmented they become.”

Natasha watched the holoscreen as images streamed into it. Some of the more recent ones showed her in flagrante. Her ears reddened a little since Juan was watching, but really she had no compunctions or concerns about anybody in the League seeing his memories with her. What she had done, she had done for the League. Living, loving, lying, killing . . . all was for SSI and the war effort. Winning the war was all that mattered. The ends justified the means, no matter how messy the means were.

Juan Comal cleared his throat nervously as a particularly graphic scene flashed by.

He said, “The computer will organize them. We can sort by time and place. We’ll be wanting to see everything from his work, of course.”

She nodded but said nothing. What was done was done, and she had little to hide. She reflected back to something she had read somewhere. It was an ancient Hebrew proverb: The adulteress licks her lips and says, “I have done nothing wrong.”

As proverbs typically go, it had several layers of meanings. From the adulteress’s point of view, there was nothing at all wrong with adultery. Otherwise, why would she do it? That was the surface level, though. It was the layers underneath that bothered her at times like this. Sure, the adulteress thought there was nothing wrong, but how did the man’s wife feel about it? And of course she would think there was nothing wrong with adultery, but of course it was wrong . . .

She set aside her ruminations as pictures of Todd’s workspace started flooding the holo. Todd was not married anyway, she thought to herself.

“Here we go,” Comal said.

Schematics of the Condor-class ship flashed by. A visit by workers on the completed vessel seemed especially promising.

“Oh, that’s excellent,” Natasha said as they watched corridors blur by and what looked like a tour of the bridge.

Several minutes passed as more and more images flowed into the pocket computer’s memory.

Natasha said, “Wait. Go back. Can you pause it or something? I want to see that again.”

Juan nodded and adjusted the keyboard, then made a twirling hand motion over the holo. The images scrolled backwards for several moments.

“There. Stop. What is that?”

“Wait, I’ll go back several more minutes. It looks he’s watching a proof of concept recording.”

They went to the beginning of the presentation Collin had watched several months ago. Letters floated in the air before him.

“Top Secret. Condor Weapons Project.”

Juan played the memory in real time and they watched the holo just as Collin had seen it back then.

Natasha’s blood ran cold. Next to her, Juan said, “Oh . . . Wow . . .”

Natasha said, “No wonder he clammed up on me.”

She directed Juan to continue the scan, retrieving all possible memories from her asset. The entire process took them well into the evening.

Comal finished around midnight. He packed the cranial scanner back in the laundry basket.

Natasha held her hand out for the pocket computer. He gave it over, reluctantly.

“I can get this info back to SSI, you know,” he said.

She shook her head. She said, “He’s my asset and his information is my responsibility. I’ll get it to the League.”

“Alright. Just . . . be careful.”

She smiled at him. Juan Comal was a junior employee stuck in an almost useless cover job on a backwater planet. And he had the gall to tell a senior field agent to be careful! But it never paid to insult the help or lower level employees, so she bit her tongue and did not relay the litany of sharp rebukes she could have spouted off.

All she said was, “Of course.”


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