“You’re a computer expert, right?”
Pauli looked around at Lady Ariadna and her twenty-one year old niece, Katyusha. “Yep. Need help? You’ve come to the right place.”
The Lady blushed, “I . . . probably ought to ask Axel, but he’s all in a tangle over . . . everything. The thing is, Katyusha is pregnant and I need to manufacture a husband who has just died, leaveing his grieving widow to raise hid child alone.”
She threw her hands in the air. “Easy enough, socially, but even a rudimentary check will . . . find nothing . . .”
“Ah!” Pauli swung around to his computer. “You have come to the right place. All that mess with the Stuttgartans, I got quite good at false identities to hide Lord Axel’s money and property, which came in handy when the Executioners took aim at him . . .
He spun his chair around. “So . . . have you picked out a name for this fictional husband?”
The two women exchanged glances.
Katyusha swallowed. “Marcus Anatoli Smirnov.”
“All right. Umm, how about we make him, oh, eighty-nine years old. Forced into retirement and decided to move here because it was cheaper than Regulus. Then he married a young woman without resources—cheaper than buying a trained elder care servant, you know.”
Katyusha swallowed. “Oh my. I . . . was thinking there’d be a traffic accident . . .”
“Nah, died in bed leaving a pregnant widow attracts minimal notice. With a traffic accident one experts insurance and laws suits and such.” Pauli tapped away at his computer. “And, if you want, a ‘Widow’s Trust’ created by the widow’s aunt’s husband or some such, but you’ll have to fund it yourselves, I don’t do electronic counterfeiting.”
“Hmm, you know, all of you got smuggled in through the Research Portal. It would be dead easy to add Lady Katyusha’s husband to a list of everyone and get you all officially and legally here.” Pauli bit his lip. “And Lord Axel’s returning to Regulus in a few days . . . I’ll try to go with him and I can create an proper ID and everything over there, while perhaps you could find a nice place for an old geezer and his young wife here?”
He looked back and found them both staring at him.
“Err, sorry. I sort of let my imagination off the leash. What do you think?”
Katyusha gulped. “I can’t afford . . . anything. I mean Daddy set up an account that pays me an allowance, but not enough to live separately with a fictional husband!”
Pauli eyed the girl, woman. Two years older than me and not trained to do anything but run a household, I’ll bet. “What do you want to do with your life?”
“Do . . . I had planned, up till three years ago, to fend off suitors until my boyfriend was through medical school, then help him in any way that was needed. I was studying, not in school, but . . . bookkeeping, nursing, managing a medical facility . . .”
Lady Ariadna’s brows rose. “Katyusha! I had no idea!”
“Toli failed his Challenge. So . . . I’ve sort of moped around since then, pretending to be all perky and looking for a husband.” She stared at the wall, blinking away tears. “And now I’ve gotten myself in trouble . . . and for the sake of the baby, I’m going to be lying about all sorts of things. But I’m not sure I ought to go beyond a polite lie.”
Pauli nodded. “Is Marcus Anatoli Smirnov your old boyfriend . . . fiancé?”
“Well. How about I just build a shell, that will pass a simple inspection?”
She nodded. “Yes. Thank you.” More blinking of damp tears, then she turned and walked out.
Lady Ariadna stood. “Oh, dear. I . . .”
Pauli shrugged. “Don’t worry. I’ll get her a shallow cover and . . . she’ll name the baby after her old boyfriend and get on with life.”
“Thank you.” She hustled out after her niece.
Pauli stared at his computer, and tried to decide if he should laugh or cry. Because I think her old boyfriend survived not passing his challenge and got Cyborged. Which is a horror harder to get over than death. And . . . I am pretty sure Six-twelve is the daddy-to-be and he is now in the hands of the only man who could actually help him.
I wonder if we can manage a “Happily Ever After” from this big mess?
Axel wasn’t the only Mentalist to run with the Squads in the morning. Edik and Sergey were young, but they’d done well under pressure in their first field assignment. Sure was the only other experienced man who ran with the Cyborgs a few times a week.
The Inquisitor was here this morning as they came panting in from the run. He generally assumed they knew the drill and trusted them to stay in shape. But today he’d come in early. Pavlovsky didn’t appear to appreciate his presence.
Grigory gave him a friendly smile. “I have the advantage of having the squads in the barracks. So before the rest of your Mentalists show up, would you like to see some target practice?”
Pavlovsky glowered at him. “The security of the portals should be my responsibility.”
Grigory shrugged. “By all means, take it over if you wish. The Fast Reaction Teams main reason for existence is to react to potential hostile portal opening, elsewhere. It just seems like a waste to have them sitting around idle while we pay for a whole customs setup for the Portals.”
“I meant that I should take over the Fast Reaction Teams. I don’t like this split authority.”
“Umm, well, the last two directors were easy to coordinate with . . . perhaps we should have some joint field exercises. Get all the mentalists working tightly with the squads, and see what we need by way of a command structure.”
“And then there are the security guards here. I will be bringing in a new Head of Security, and I’d like them to coordinate with the Teams as well. Artyom Plotnikov is an experienced military commander, and I want him in control of all our military capacity.”
Axel wasn’t the only one who suddenly stopped being amused by the “office politics.”
All the squad leaders stepped closer. Seventeen experienced Cyborgs, only five of them with the Military Leader Cyborg set up, but all good solid leaders, none the less.
“We don’t need a standing army.”
“Eighty-five Cyborgs. A hundred and five Security Guards. Twenty Mentalists.” Pavlovsky snorted. “This is not enough firepower to protect a World. We need soldiers.”
“Hmm.” Grigory nodded. “Good luck persuading the Council and the Research Center Director of that.”
“Those are local concerns. If the Bureaus want an army on the ground, they will have it, and they will have it up here.”
Axel cleared his throat. “Actually as a Sanctioned Research World the 300 will have to approve a military presence here. The Stuttgart agreement, by staying at under a thousand troops on a cooperative defense agreement was barely legal. And once it was clear that they’d exceeded the agreed on number of troops, was clearly illegal.”
Grigory nodded. “ I advised against the agreement and requested clarification from the Citadel. Which, circumstances being what they were, could not be answered expeditiously . . . if it was ever received.”
A snort from Pavlovsky. “A thousand troops would have saved you at lot of trouble.”
There might have been a few looks aimed Axel’s directions from the troops.
“Hard to say.” Grigory shrugged. “If we’d have had troops, they might not have started with the political maneuvering and slow infiltration.”
“Huh.” Pavlovsky glanced at the pad in his hand. “Well. I suppose I’ll start with your four and get you out of the way.”
The Inquisitor jerked a thumb and the squads broke off and headed around the corner.
“So, you four exercise with the squads do you? Execs I presume.” A faint shading of contempt in his tone. And a finger poked at Axel. “So you find me amusing?”
Axel shook his head. “I really don’t think insulting your subordinates is a good way to start out.”
“You think being called an Exec is an insult?”
“In your tone of voice, anything would be an insult.”
“Really, well, Nony. I want your full entire complete name.”
“Master Mentalist Doctor Lord Axel Ivan Vinogradov.”
“There’s no Vinogradovs on my list.”
“I’m paid out of the Research Center and am on a lot of the their exploration missions.”
“Oh. A Scientist. So that’s why you were so pissy about the idea of an actual military here.” The man contorted his face in what he imagined was a curled lip. “Well the last man I need here is a pacifist scientist. Go away and don’t come back.”
Axel shrugged and headed for the back of the portal bay.
“Stop!” A pointed finger toward the outside. “Get off the mesa.”
Axel sighed. “Director Pavlovsky, I am a researcher. You can only throw me off Teams, not the Massif.” He gave the man a nod, turned and walked away. Through the back door, hung a left and walked out the side door and over to the crowded ready room, where all the FRT squads were watching the big screen—showing the Portal Bay.
Murphy eased closer. “Good thing you’d already blown your anonymity, else half of us would have just fainted.”
Ape shook his head. “One minute, nine seconds. Honestly, Igor, nobody bet that low! Closest was Murphy! And he bet on three minutes.”
“Well, he has worked with me rather a lot. So how’s the betting going on Pavlovsky?”
Murphy spread his hands. “I’m out of the running. I figured you’d resort to violence, then quit. You Pacifist. Almost everyone else figures he’ll be working here for at least another week, and some fools think he can last a whole year.”
“Can’t rule out the possibility that he’ll improve.” Axel shrugged. “Not that even I will bet on that long shot.”
The Inquisitor snorted. “In the mean time most of you need to get out of the Ready Room. Team Three, you’re Ready for another hour, then Fifteen. Team Seven, head for Portal One. Team Twelve, Portal Two. The rest of you do some push ups, shoot holes in innocent paper. Check your assignments. Squad leaders? You are in charge until such a time as a Team Mentalist actually shows up.”
He looked around as the group broke up. “Igor, let’s have a little chat.”