The Road to the Stars - Chapter Eighteen

I don't want anyone to think that I advocate torture.

I don't.

On the other hand, the bastard was responsible for the deaths of dozens of my people, and I wasn't feeling particularly forgiving.

A hint merciful, maybe.

But not forgiving.


Chapter Eighteen


“Hello, Chris.”

The woman standing in the door, flanked by two very obvious attempts at muscle, was average height, with short, dark hair, freckles, and an elfin grin, which seemed rather incongruous.

“Who the hell are you? What am I doing here? I demand to be let go!”

“You do, do you?”

“You have no right to keep me here!”

“I’m afraid that’s a dispute you’ll have to take up with Legal,” said the woman. Her second guard entered and closed the door. It sounded rather more than somewhat solid. “I’m just here to ask you some questions.”

“I won’t answer them. I know my rights. You can’t ask me anything without my lawyer here.”

Her laugh fit her grin, light and cheerful and airy. “Oh, Chris, even if you weren’t in the wrong place, it’s far, far too late for that. Secure him.” The two guards moved forward and grabbed Chris’s arms, lifting him with the chair he was already in and dragging him easily to a table behind him. One held him tightly while the other removed the bindings, then they reversed the process when he was on the table. Then they tilted it, so his feet were just elevated above his head, and stepped back.

“Now, we can do this one of two ways, oh, hell, no clichés. No stupid choices. Chris, this is going to hurt, and then you’re going to tell me everything.”

*

“Come.”

Montana was in the Director’s office of OutLook, substantially remodeled after she’d inherited it from the previous occupant. It was much brighter, more inviting, and projected far less of the ‘I’m the boss, you’re the minion’ feel it used to possess. Her desk, for one thing, was smaller, with less space between her and her visitors.

“Director,” said the woman who entered.

“Ah, Stephanie. How did it go?”

“He talked.”

“I expected nothing less. Did he say anything, though?”

“Plenty. I’ll have a written report to you later today. Do you want the highlights now?”

“Please. Actually, wait a minute.” Cris tapped at her desk, opening a link to Diana. In a moment, Kendra’s holographic form appeared.

“Admiral, I’m here with Stephanie Lyle. She’s my lead Personnel Researcher.”

“Is that what you’re calling it? I like it.”

“Stephanie, Admiral Kendra Cassidy. She’s the boss, so anything you were going to tell me, she’s cleared. Go ahead.”

If she felt any trepidation at suddenly briefing the person Montana reported to, she didn’t show it.

“He was planted by the Artemis Intelligence Ministry with the intent of sabotaging Diana. He wasn’t told how, that was his choice. He had a sub-mission to recruit more operatives, and he contacted several people, but he hadn’t gotten farther than opening feelers. I have their names; all six are here.”

“What did he do?” asked Kendra with urgency.

“He said that he had rigged the missile systems to explode, and there were airlocks he had disabled.”

“Nothing else?”

“Nothing else. He had other ideas, which will be in my report, but he hadn’t gotten to them. He said his access on the station was too limited yet.”

“Cris, I’ll need a copy of that report. Anything in there, we’ll check.”

Montana looked at Stephanie. “You heard the Admiral. Anything else we need right now? Will he live?”

“Oh, he’ll live. Not happily ever after, though. And no, that was the essence of what he said. I’ll get right on the file.” She stood to leave, but Kendra stopped her.

“How confident are you in this information? Could he have been spoofing you?”

Stephanie’s smile was cruel. “I know when my visitors are telling me the truth. He may think he didn’t tell me everything, but he did. Director. Admiral.”

Once she left, Kendra said, “Where did you find her?”

“She was an agent, but she came on after you semi-retired. I knew that she had some talent in extracting information, so I gradually brought her out of the field and into the office once I was Director. She’s good at what she does. Uses her visitor’s own fears against them, and never actually touches them. It’s all VR once they’re strapped down.”

Kendra breathed a sigh of relief. “I didn’t think that was your style. I wouldn’t have minded much in Knepper’s case, but it’s still a relief.”

Montana smiled. “No, you don’t have to worry about that. What do you want me to do with him, and the people he named?”

“Once you have their names, shoot them to Mac, she’ll check out their accounts, and Kyran will get their quarters searched. I don’t expect we’re going to find anything, though. I want you to have them questioned as well by your expert, but make sure she’s gentle. I don’t want them more traumatized than they have to be.”

“Clear. And the others?”

“I’ll tell Mia to send a Wolf to fetch them back. Cris, what sort of assets do you have off-planet?”

“I was wondering when you’d get around to that.”

“You could’ve suggested it.”

“You weren’t ready to listen.”

“You might have a point.”

“As for assets, well, that’s a bit of an issue. The Union doesn’t take too many immigrants these days, they’re far more roboticized than Earth so they don’t need the same unskilled labor. There isn’t much tourism; a little, but tourists can’t just disappear.”

“Anything long-term? Or any horse-trading you can do with national intelligence agencies?”

“Nothing long-term. I can’t exactly assign an agent, you know? Not if they want to come back to Earth. I can get in touch with a few contacts, see what they have, but they’re going to want favors. How soon do you want this?”

“I guess we don’t need it immediately, if we can get Artemis to back off. But having some HumInt would be helpful, know what they’re thinking, what they’re planning.”

“Long-term, our best bet is recruiting from the inside. There are always disillusioned and disaffected people, ready to talk. I’ll start putting a plan together. Maybe we’ll pack a tour with nothing but agents, let their counterintelligence people try to separate the sheep from the goats then!”

Kendra said, “Don’t get cocky. These bastards play rough.”

“And I play rougher. I’ll keep you posted. Anything else?”

“Just, thanks again.”

“You, me, and a bottle. Don’t forget.”

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