"What am I missing?" Oleg reached for the button that would get him immediate contact with Ori Orbitals’ Head of Security . . . At the last second he changed the target button to his personal shuttle pilots’ pager.
"Yes, Mr. Ori. What can I do for you?" asked Wendy Razor as her face appeared in the desktop display.
"What is the status of my shuttle? I want to be able to leave this station at a moments notice." Oleg replied as he continued to watch the wall display.
"I topped off the fuel after the run over to the Chamberlain this morning. Everything is still hot and active." Her mouth twitched a bit, "I thought you’d probably want to check the ship after the visitors left."
Oleg gave an angry shrug, "You’d better believe it." He tapped his fingers on the desk. "Have a copilot onboard too." His attention was momentarily caught by the split screens behind the desk. Over two thousand civilians onboard. God what a nightmare if something happened. "I want troops aboard, in case there’s real trouble on the Chamberlain." As the pilot started to speak again Oleg punched the switch again and then hit the button he had aimed for first.
"Yes Mr. Ori? How may I help you this afternoon?" Paula Granger, Head of Oleg Ori Orbitals Security Department, asked as her face replaced that of the pilot.
"I may be wrong, and I hope I am, but I have a strong feeling that something isn’t right on the Chamberlain." Oleg replied as he touched some buttons to send the video feed from his wall screen to the big wall screen in the Security Control Room. "Why would the President’s security detachment suddenly turn down the help of trained people who know where the security systems are and how to use them? Doesn’t that make the warning bells start to ring in your head?"
"Frankly, sir, I was surprised when the directive came in from them. I asked for confirmation and got handed my head by some yahoo over in the UEG CI." Paula replied with a frown.
"I want your best team on my private shuttle ASAP. Set your second best team to watch the vidcamms for anything out of place. I don’t want anything to happen to that idiot on my turf." Oleg paused as a new thought struck him. "I’ll be in my quarters getting ready; if anything unusual happens—anything at all-call me there." Punching the disconnect button he headed out the door.
Once in his quarters, Oleg opened a panel in the wall that not even his most trusted security people knew about. Inside the cupboard was a small arsenal of weapons.
Oleg hesitated, then reached for the Clegman Whisper in the shoulder-holster. It was the least powerful weapon there, only the shatter rounds it was loaded with made it illegal. The devastating nature of its load would not be apparent until and unless he fired it.
From the drawers under the shelves Oleg pulled another item, highly illegal in civilian hands. A United Earth Special Forces skin suit. Specially made for the UESF, the skin suit could block eighty percent of stunner or disrupter energy, meaning that in order to stop or slow the wearer he or she had to be hit full on at least three or four times before any effect would be felt.
After carefully closing the small room, Oleg quickly changed skinsuits and pulled a black set of over-alls out of his closet. Once he had the overalls on he turned to the console beside the bed.
"Granger, what’s happening on the Chamberlain?" He pulled on the shoulder holster.
He stretched an arm out behind him for an ornately carved and gilded battle-axe. It had been a very expensive joke gift from one of his customers, a high tech alloy copy of a centuries old weapon. Oleg had fallen in love with it, and tracked down and bought the original, now hanging on the wall of his office and worth a small fortune, yet still as deadly as the day the smith sold it to its first owner. He turned the copy over in his hands. Runes etched into the bit and filled with gold and silver, spelt out the words ‘Oleg’s Blade’, copied exactly from the original. His favorite form of exercise was zero gravity hand-to-hand combat. With this axe he was nearly unbeatable. He pried the plastic safety covers from the edges.
"Mr. Ori," A nervous voice he didn’t recognize reported from the comm. "I’ve found a discrepancy in the records. The order to have all of the construction workers moved to one of the berthing bays aboard the Station, doesn’t appear to have been carried out. I’m double checking, but as far as I can tell, the order was amended to omit the ichimp workers. Apparently almost sixteen hundred ichimps are still aboard the Chamberlain. Umm, the change was signed by Adele Stuben."
Another pause. Or maybe it was just shock. Adele wouldn’t, not Adele!
Paula Granger’s voice abruptly took over. "I see that the change was entered into the computer remotely from the Chamberlain Control Room. No one actually talked to her." Pause, "She was logged on board the Chamberlain at that time."
"I knew it! I knew I couldn’t trust anyone! Even her!" Picking up his personal mini-computer terminal that would keep him in constant contact with the security office and all other Oleg Ori Orbitals offices on the station, Oleg headed out the door to the shuttle bay where his personal shuttle was parked. Anyone who saw his face tried to meld with the nearest wall rather than risk attracting his attention. Once through the airlock, Oleg moved to the boarding ramp of his shuttle. Ignoring the long line of the OOO Security troops that were waiting to board he clicked up the boarding ramp and into his small office behind the pilots compartment. He plugged his small comp into the onboard net, and called up his main control program.
"Send a message to the head of the UEG Presidents Security Detail on the Chamberlain. Tell that idiot to arrest Adele Stuben, if she is aboard, and to keep the President off the Chamberlain until more security arrives and they have cleared the Chamberlain of all the Oleg Ori employees now aboard her." Oleg spoke calmly and in a clear voice, as the main computer sometimes failed to respond if he was showing signs of stress. The Tech Reps from the computer manufacturer claimed that when he was stressed his voiceprint didn’t match the one in the computers recognition file.
"Computer remove Adele Stuben’s access to all company files and property. Also revoke the access of all the company employees now presently on the Chamberlain as well."
"Mr. Ori, I was unable to contact the Head of the Presidents Security Detail on the Chamberlain. There is a Priority One United Earth Government Lock-Out on all Communication with the Chamberlain that doesn’t originate from the UEG." The computer’s pleasant voice did nothing to help Oleg’s rising blood pressure. "Adele Stuben and the crew are now locked out of every Oleg Ori Company file and building with the exception of those files aboard the Chamberlain. Will you be requiring anything else?"
Oleg opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He was so mad that his mind couldn’t formulate any words.
"Mr. Ori, will you require anything else?" Inquired the computer a second time.
He swallowed. "Yes, get me the Office of the Presidential Security Detachment. Make it a top priority call. I don’t want to end up talking to someone who can’t contact the Presidents detail on the Chamberlain, or who would be afraid to try."
"Mr. Ori, Office of United Earth Government Special Presidential Security Detachment is on line." The computer announced as a key lit up on his comp. "Video and Audio."
Oleg pressed the key and a startled face appeared on the console display. "Sir, this is a secure channel reserved for use of the UEG Security Department. I will have to ask you to clear this channel or you will be served with a heavy fine. As it is there will be a full investigation into how you gained access to today’s encryption key." The man was obviously low in the pecking order at UEG security.
Oleg growled, "I need to talk to the man who is in charge there, I have reason to believe the President is in danger."
"Sir, You are in violation of the UEG Security Act of 2020." The man replied as if he was talking to a mental defective. "If you have any information that concerns the safety of the President you can contact the nearest UEG Security Office and they will judge the urgency of any threat that you wish to report. The safety of the President is our top priority and I assure you that your local office will treat your information with all seriousness. Now I order you to clear this line for more important business." The screen went blank as the man in the UEG office disconnected.
Oleg barely kept himself from smashing the comp in frustration. "Computer, place a call to the private phone line of the Head of UEG Planetary Security. Cut in if the line is busy."
"Hello, HELLO, Martha, Martha? Damn!" A female voice spoke from the console. "Harry! Someone just cut me off. If it’s one of your buddies trying to get a golf game together, you’re going to regret it!" There was the sound of a handset hitting a table top none too gently.
"Hello, Harry Telfona speaking." A man’s voice came clearly from the console a moment later. "What’s so important that you had to break into my wife’s commcall to her sister?"
"Mr. Telfona. This is Oleg Ori, of Oleg Ori Orbitals. I have reason to believe that the President will be in danger if he boards the UEES Chamberlain." The vid part of the comm channel sprang to life. Telfona was a tough looking man of forty. "Someone changed the crew assignments for today, without clearing the changes through my office or yours. All of the ichimps that work for Oleg Ori Orbitals are onboard the Chamberlain, contrary to the UEG Security plans sent to my office from your office. The person that changed those orders also helped scatter the onboard security teams. She may have made it impossible for them to reach critical areas of the Chamberlain if anything should happen." Oleg paused to allow the other time grapple with the news he had just received. "I would suggest that you get in touch with your men on the Chamberlain or those on the President’s shuttle and make sure they don’t let the President board the Chamberlain."
Telfona, was looking aside at another screen, frowning. "The President should already be on board, if they’ve kept to the time table."
Oleg quickly pulled up the wall monitors, and accessed the Chamberlain camms, "Bring up views of the Docking Bay and the podium in Center. Damn, yes, he’s already speaking!" He told Telfona. "Zoom on the podium and scan." He stared at the screen with predatory intensity. "That idiot Marlin’s there, but Stuben’s not. Computer, rapid scan all views, search for match with," He called up a file on his mini comp, and isolated a picture of Stuben, "This individual."
Telfona had been speaking off screen, now his image shrunk to one side and a woman’s face formed on the other side. "Mr. Ori, I am Director Updike of Terran Space Investigations. Am I correctly informed that the woman known to you as Adele Stuben is aboard the Chamberlain?"
"Known to me? Who the hell do you think she is? She was on board as of," Oleg frowned at the chronometer in the corner of the screen, "Forty-five minutes ago." He checked the wall monitor as it overprinted ‘no matches found’ on the view of the President. "My security system cannot find her on board now."
"Thank you, Mr. Ori." Updike nodded, "We will take this matter from here. Do not attempt to approach the Chamberlain, the security shuttles will be put on red alert, and they will fire on all unauthorized craft in the zone." Her picture blipped out.
Oleg glared at Telfona, "Who does she think Adele is? Mata Hari?"
Telfona returned a razor sharp smile, "Yes." He hit the disconnect.
Oleg stared at the blank for a shocked moment. "I meant that as a joke." He whispered. Mata Hari. No Such Underground. The London Double Heist. The Santiago Inferno. The Beijing Invisible Rebellion. "I’m going to kill her." His voice strengthened. "I will not let her get away with this." His eyes returned to the screen. "WHERE ARE YOU AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING! YOU BITCH, YOU DOUBLE CROSSING BITCH. HOW DARE YOU DO THIS TO ME!" On the screen, one of the guards standing behind the President wobbled, and fell over.
She clenched her toes to turn on the mags, and started the climb down. Even given the need for haste, she used the tie off cords, alternating them as she worked down to the edge of the forward section. Fortunately the edge only over hung the main framework by a hundred meters. Anchoring rings were sparse, and the magnetic pads on her hands and feet were barely adequate to hold her against the spin. Once she gained the frame, movement was much easier. As soon as she worked her way around to the inside of the frame, she could just slide—carefully—down the tram rail all the way to Engineering.
Commander Marlin surveyed his domain with satisfaction. The twelve press shuttles were clamped like limpets to the locks on either side of the docking bay. The Presidential shuttle, with an empty slot on either side of it, was clamped on the middle slot. The President had given him an acknowledging nod for the center stage entrance, and was now being escorted through the press of bodies (Good Grief, why do reporters want to shake his hand?).The ‘phone in his ear was giving nothing but good news. The first arrivals had, of course, grabbed the prime spots in front, the next wave had tried to spread out around the ship, but been herded along to the center. The last batch had remained in the docking bay to try and get good vid coverage of his arrival.
"This bunch won’t even fit into the center," hissed Pat Camel in his ear. As the new second-in-command, Camel had ridden up with the President.
"Lucky them," Marlin hissed back.
"Wrong," Camel was grinning. "Somehow, his speech writer missed the shuttle. The President has been ‘fixing’ his speech, all the way here."
"Oh, no," moaned the Commander. "Have you ever heard what he can do to a speech?"
"Yep." His eyes were gleaming, "and this one is going to be a beaut." Marlin shuddered, and started shoving through the crowd. Over the loud speakers, the President was being introduced. After a bit of rustling, the President’s well known, well trained actor’s voice rolled out, at un-ignorable volume.
"Citizens and non citizens of the World, lend me your ears!"
Marlin buried his face in his hands. This was going to be bad.
She was shaking with cold when she finally slid into the Engineering terminus. Her recycler had extended her air, but not otherwise insulated her from a trip that ordinarily would have required a full vacuum suit. Skin suits were emergency gear. The material was designed to lose body heat under normal space conditions. The lack of sunlight in the interior of the frame had resulted in overcooling. She worked the controls on the outside of the portal. A plate slid across above her, converting the enclosed space into an airlock. As the pressure rose, she felt her skinsuit ease back to its normal pliability. She peeled off the magpads and left them stuck on the wall. What little noise she made entering was covered by the amplified voice coming over the comm system.
"This Ship is the accomplishment of All Sapients, of All Species, of All Genders, of All Colors, of All Origins, of All Orientations, of All Abilities, of All Economic Conditions, of All Philosophies, of All…"
The ichimp saw her first, and started toward her, the human guard was in front of him, with his back turned. She slipped into overdrive, the corridor dimming slightly as the guard spun, reaching for his stunner. The ichimp closed up behind him and grabbed his arm. She removed the stunner from his spasming hand and dropped him with a shot to his midbody. The lights brightened and the world sped up.
"Thank you, Han. Bring him over here."
Chief Engineer Cocoa peered around the doorway. "Ah, there you are Adele, umm, May. I was starting to worry." She eyed the shivering woman, "You better warm up, while we get started."
"Y-Yeah," May stuttered, "We’ll get this guy locked up and be right with you."
"Only Once before have So Many owed So Much to So Few…"
"Commander Marlin?" Marlin could barely hear the page over the speech.
"We stand on the Brink of a Great Adventure."
"One that will give our Children the Stars."
"You have a priority communication from the Director of TSI on the scrambled channel, can you come to the control room to take it?" He could hear an echo of the speech over the ear bug and cringed. He slipped back out of the center, toward the docking bay.
"No, route it through to the President’s shuttle, I’ll take it there."
"Yes, sir." Was it his imagination, that the comm officer sounded wistful? Probably not.
"We are living in a Great Age. People can go to any Planet, to any Moon, to any…"
The President’s crew and a guard detachment were standing outside the shuttle. He acknowledged their salutes as he slipped by them. The noise cut out suddenly, as he keyed shut the hatch.
"Whew." He breathed in silence thankfully, settling into the comm station. "Marlin here, put that call through now."
The main screen lit to a split screen. On the left a rather strong, unfeminine woman frowned. To the right a craggy slab of a face glared out. The woman spoke. "Commander Marlin, I’m glad to get in touch with you. I only learned," her lips thinned with displeasure, "a few moments ago about Commander Dougy’s death. I trust he briefed you about the special security situation?"
"We will be able to lower the Taxes on our Citizens. And Non Citizens. We…"
"Can’t we shut that off?" Cocoa begged.
"No, we need to know when the gas starts to take effect." May flicked a glance to the vid screen. "The guards will keel over first."
"At least the ones that have been on board the longest."
"Yes, at the same time as the crew, hopefully before separation. I don’t think there’s anything Rock could do, but I’d rather have just our guys awake in the control room."
"…for the Average Consumer. The…"
"NSU!"Marlin stared at the woman in horror. "You think Mata Hari is going to assassinate the president? Why wasn’t I told!"
"We don’t know what she’s doing. We thought," the woman was frowning worse than ever, "That we had separated her from the President by excluding Oleg Ori Orbital employees from the Chamberlain. I’m surprised that Commander Dougy didn’t pass this information along."
I’m not, that SOB of a glory hound! "Do you have any idea just where Mata Hari is, right now?"
"Our agents have lost track of her. As of six hours ago she was on Ori station. We thought they had followed her onto a shuttle for Earth, but it wasn’t her." The woman looked livid, the man’s face hadn’t moved at all, that he could see. "She’s been using the name ‘Adele Stuben’ and is working as . . .Commander Marlin, are you alright?"
He felt faint, he felt sick, he felt . . . "Shit, what’s going on!" He was floating out of his seat. They couldn’t have stopped the rotation of the ship so quickly!
"Commander! We’re loose from our anchorage!" the frantic hail over his ear ‘phone answered all his questions.