Base restrooms, Gaitune-67
Molly couldn’t stop her eyes from streaming. Her hands over her mouth, she tried to stifle the sobs. She leaned back against the wall of the restroom stall and put her hands to her head. It was throbbing.
It’s okay. We’re going to find him.
You can’t know that. What does the evidence say?
Molly sobbed again, thankful that she could have this conversation in her head and not have to speak the words. That would make it too real.
We don’t have enough data to conclude that he’s dead. And until we have the data pulled from Scamp, we won’t have a clue about what happened. Be patient. Don’t write him off so soon. Scamp only returned twenty minutes ago.
Molly didn’t respond. Her mind just couldn’t engage in conversation. She could barely see through her eyes, she had cried so hard.
I have to go. They’re waiting.
You’ve got a few more minutes. They’ll understand. They’re processing for themselves, too. They’ve never seen a ship return without a crew, either.
You mean they’re also crying.
No. But they’re worried and trying to wrap their heads around what might have happened.
They’re all in the conference room?
Okay. I’ve got to move.
Molly wiped her face with her hands and grabbed some tissue to dry them. She fumbled with the lock on the door and headed out to the basins. She hardly dared look at herself in the mirror. There was no way she would be able to fix the swollen eyes before walking in to face her team and give them their orders.
She opened the faucet and watched the water for a moment. Then she looked up.
It’s not that bad.
Not that bad? What do you know? You’re an AI.
I’ve been monitoring your body the whole time we’ve been connected. With cold water, you can reduce the swelling to acceptable levels. I’d suggest dabbing with a wet towel, though.
If she hadn’t been so distraught, she might have smiled at the notion of her AI giving her tactical beauty advice. She splashed water on her face and looked at herself again, pulling a blonde strand back from her face and hooking it behind her ear.
That’s going to have to do.
Well then, your subjects await.
Molly grabbed a paper towel and dried her face and hands before dropping the towel in the trash and heading out.
Turning left out of the corridor, she strode confidently up to the conference room and walked straight in. She did a quick assessment of who was present.
“Where’s Brock?” she asked.
Crash answered. “He’s already working on Scamp. He’s pulling every scrap of data to find out where he was and what happened.”
“Okay.” She closed the door and strode around to the head of the table. She didn’t sit though. “Here’s the plan. As soon as we have the coordinates, we’re going after Sean.”
She turned to Crash, who was sitting bolt upright awaiting instructions. “Crash, help Brock. Do whatever he needs to get us that data and get us airborne in The Empress.”
Molly turned to look at Joel and Jack on the left-hand side of the table. “You two are on supplies. Which includes weapons. Lots of them.”
Joel almost smiled. If the situation hadn’t been so tense, Molly suspected briefly that he would have punched the air.
Boys and guns, she thought, mentally rolling her eyes.
“Pieter and Oz,” she continued swiftly. “Start working on the data as Brock pulls it. Paige, you’re running point for this investigation. Let the general know Scamp is back, and see if there is anything else the Federation can tell us based on the data Pieter gathers.”
Paige raised her hand and spoke fast. “What about telling Giles and Arlene?”
Molly paused only long enough to draw breath. “Oz will take care of that. Maya you’re on food supplies. But then I need you and Paige to work from here when we leave. Any questions?”
Pieter raised his hand awkwardly. “What about Bourne?”
Molly’s brow furrowed. “What’s he doing?”
“Still binge-watching the archives,” Pieter said judgmentally.
Molly thought for a moment. “Is he likely to do anything else until we get back?”
Oz’s voice connected over the intercom for the conference room. “Unlikely, if past behavior is an indicator of future.”
“Fine,” Molly concluded. “Let’s leave him be. Anything else?” Molly’s gaze flicked around the room.
Everyone was silent. They knew what they had to do.
“Okay. Wheels up in two hours. Dismissed.”
No one spoke as they pushed back on the anti-grav chairs and filed hurriedly out of the conference room. Molly stayed out of their way for a minute while they vacated.
What do you want to tell Giles and Arlene?
That Scamp came back, and we’re going after his last known location. But Giles isn’t coming. He needs to stay here and look after things at the University.
And when he argues?
Tell him I’m putting my foot down.
Okay. On it.
Molly followed her team out of the doors and into the base corridors. She also had work to do before they left, and two hours was almost no time to get her head in gear.
Bates Residence, Estaria
The house was quiet. Philip knew it would be hours before Carol got home. Even on a regular week, she’d be the last one in the office. But he knew from her patterns and mood that this had been no regular week.
Their operative code kept them from discussing agency business at home. Carol insisted it was better for their relationship anyway. Philip wasn’t convinced. But that was what he had signed up for during his exit interview, knowing full well his wife would remain inside the fold when he stepped out.
No disclosure and therefore no lies, he reminded himself.
He paused, knowing full well what it would mean if he was discovered. Part of him didn’t care. Part of him was more concerned about protecting his daughter. He’d replayed the conversation he and Carol had had in the parking lot that day after seeing Molly… and Sean. No way had his wife really let it go, despite her protests that she had nearly been rumbled and had learned her lesson.
Carol didn’t learn lessons.
She just adapted.
He glanced over at the window for one final check. It was still daylight. And no sign of her car.
He sat down at the family terminal. Though the EI had been stripped out a long time ago, well before they’d moved to this property, certain things did remain. Like the agency-grade firewall and military-grade defense arrays. They weren’t stupid. They needed to protect their XtraNET connection. Plus, there were certain things they needed access to at all times, especially now Carol was head of the agency.
He woke the holoscreen and started picking his way through the security protocols. Technically, he wouldn’t have clearance. But he knew his wife well, and guessing her passwords had historically been a breeze.
The grandfather clock ticked pointedly in the hallway, pretending as though everything was just as peaceful as usual. But the hint of the seconds going past niggled in the back of Philip’s mind. He took a deep breath and entered the last protocol.
Yes! Still got it! He smiled to himself.
He ferreted through the most likely files. Anything under something inane like “Archive” was a likely candidate. He quickly found old case files mixed in with current ops. Most of them didn’t interest him. Just the usual stuff he used to deal with as an operative: politicians, unusual trading activity, statistically anomalous spikes in data or energy in core threat areas…
None of it was what he needed.
He kept rummaging, opening files methodically and eyeballing them as fast as he could.
Then he found a text file. It was labeled “Notes”. His brain honed in. The file contained a couple of strings of numbers. They looked like the right kind of length for them to be access codes for a network tap.
He quickly memorized the strings. If these were what he thought they were, they would allow him to tap into whatever the live sting was on the network that connected directly up to the target. He’d have to be careful. Her techs would be able to see him access it, and the action would be time stamped, too. There would be logs. Detailed logs. But it would potentially give him the last bit of proof he needed when he finally found out what she was up to.
He started to close the holoscreens down, but then something caught his eye.
There was a link to her internal calendar. He poked it, and it opened up on another screen. He took a quick look, two weeks back and two weeks forward, mentally checking that against what he knew of her movements. She’d been late a number of times this week. Last night, she’d said she had a department meeting. But there was nothing in the calendar. Otherwise, it was convincingly populated.
He closed his eyes, checking he’d memorized it all correctly, then closed the holo. Shutting down the terminal, he wandered back to the kitchen, gathering his thoughts.
Snack and then thinking time, he told himself.
Several hours later, the Sark had gone down.
Dinner time had come and gone.
All that remained was a dish that was ready to be relegated to the fridge for when Carol returned.
Philip sat reading in his favorite armchair in the living room when he heard the car pull up in the driveway.
There was the familiar clatter at the door and then in the hallway as Carol made her way inside.
“You’re pretty damn noisy for a spook!” her husband called playfully.
Her heels clipped across the floor and into the living space. She brought the scent of the night air in with her. “Well, it’s a good thing I wasn’t sneaking around then,” she retorted.
She appeared in the doorway, looking just as exhausted as every other day for weeks.
Philip smiled. “What’ve you been up to?”
She unceremoniously plonked her purse down on the chair by the door. “Just working late.”
Carol paused. “You know I can’t answer that.” She looked at him quizzically.
Philip got up, still smiling, and walked into the open-plan kitchen. “You know I know better than to just let it go.” He picked up the bottle of wine and reached for a couple of glasses, which he placed gently on the counter.
Carol approached the counter, drawn in by the idea of the alcohol hitting her system. “Yes, your tenacity is one of the reasons I married you. It’s late.” She looked around the kitchen for clues. “Have you eaten?”
“Yes, but I saved you some. How about I heat it up and pour you a glass,” he poured the wine, “and you can tell me all about your day?”
Carol eyed him suspiciously. She had been married to a spy for nearly thirty years. “Sounds good. Let me just go and get out of this atmosuit, and then we can relax.”
She wandered out, feeling his gaze on her back.
Dinner passed with very little probing. Carol wondered if maybe Philip realized that he was breaching protocol and had decided to back off.
Or maybe he just forgot that he had been suspicious? She smiled to herself as she gently drifted off to sleep in the soft bedclothes and half-light from the city beyond the bedroom window.
Philip waited until her breathing had settled to a slower rate and then made his move.
Carefully and slowly, he slipped out from between the bed covers and padded around the room. He reached her bedside table and lifted her holo from the charging pad. It lit up, but he moved it so that the light wouldn’t disturb his wife.
Slowly, he moved out into the hallway. The bathroom would normally have been a better option but too noisy. The dark quiet of the landing served him better.
He flicked straight through to the screens he needed. Flicking through the latest progress reports that had come in since she left the office.
From what he could make out, it was a Dark Net Op, or DNO. They had a whole team who handled this particular type of operation. The reports were stacked with probe responses and hypotheses. There weren’t any real interpretations of what their data was telling them, but it seemed that perhaps they were trying to figure out the owners and users of certain Estarian-based servers, under massive encryption and cyber security protocols.
Nothing unusual in itself.
He breathed, trying to slow his thinking for clarity. He wasn’t going to figure it all out tonight. But this was at least another piece of the puzzle. Maybe.
He closed the holoscreens and tapped the button to set them back to unread so they wouldn’t be deleted off the server before she could see them. That would be a red flag if there was anything in there that the rest of the team referenced later.
And this was a long game.
As quietly as he could, he padded back into the bedroom and replaced the holo. Just as he was walking around to his side of the bed, he felt her stir. Instinctively, he headed straight for the bathroom door and then closed it a little more loudly than he would have otherwise.
She muttered something.
“Sorry,” he whispered across the room to her. She rolled over, and he clambered back into bed next to her.