Ms. Avernon's commission

Captain Satrapo of the Coloratura checked the terminal in front of him in response to the soft ping.  His brow creased into a frown as he speed-read the message, and then his fingers flickered over a keyboard below the terminal, checking telemetry data.  Finally he looked up, gazed directly at Lindsay Avernon, and steepled his hands in front of him.

"Well, Ms. Avernon, at the moment Dr. Shiva is in the Deployment Bay with the Empirical Storm Troopers awaiting the return of two of their number from the shuttle craft they commandeered.  It is now returning from the Jean d'Arc with their orders, and a captive of some kind.  The Jean d'Arc has been kind enough to tell me what those orders are, now that its communications laser has been repaired.  And I am... intrigued."

Lindsay sat on the dark leather couch against one wall of the Captain's office, listening carefully.  She nodded.

"And so, I am minded to exercise my authority as Captain of the Coloratura," he said.  "I am deputing you to the Empirical Storm Troopers as my observer for their mission."

Lindsay stared, her jaw dropping open in surprise.

"You will need to join them in the Deployment Bay now," said Captain Satrapo.  "I do not expect them to especially happy about this, but you are a determined young woman.  Hmmm, I might even say headstrong at times.  I am sure that you will find a way to earn their respect.  I do suggest that you remember you are an observer, and not a combatant though."

Lindsay stood, her legs operating against her will.  Her head was spinning still, the dizzying weight of the Captain's words failing to resolve into something she could believe.  He couldn't really have ordered her into the midst of an elite fighting force with secret orders, could he?  There were more ESTs in the Deployment Bay than anyone on the ship had seen gathered in one place before, and he was putting her in their midst?  This had to be madness!  All she had to do was speak and say so, and he'd see it.  She knew he would.  He had too!

"I am glad to see that you are eager to go, Ms. Avernon.  This will be noted on your record, and it will commend you highly no matter where you choose to go after the Coloratura."

She walked out of his office and towards the lifts, her mouth still slackly open, her eyes still wide with shock, and her brain still trying to regain control of her body.

----

On the Stella du Mort Ariscene gazed at the pattern of lights overhead and watched as the sub-AI searched blocks of network traffic, dividing them into clear and unchecked areas.  It was performing a classical binary tree search.  And like too many of the sub-AIs on the Stella du Mort it assumed that its own data store was inviolable.  Ariscene smiled to himself as he discretely added several unchecked areas of the ship into the cleared list and dropped an equal number off the list.

----

Edward received the message from Captain Satrapo that there was to an observer from the Coloratura deputed to his team of ESTs and snarled.  Dr. Shiva, close enough to see his reaction, shivered.  The Empirical Storm Troopers started to move, the wave of activity spreading out like ripples in a pond.  Equipment was redistributed amongst packs, and a sub-team of four assembled themselves near Edward, heavily armed and lightly equipped.  Dr. Shiva recognised them as a bodyguard duty, and wondered who they were intended to be guarding.  He hoped it wasn't him.

----

The Jean d'Arc continued to run decryptive attacks against the data packet found in the corrupted memory bank.  The core of the data was encrypted in some fashion, though the headers and attributes had been in plaintext.  The Jean d'Arc was working through triple layers of security, well aware that the headers and attributes could be lying as to the contents of the package -- what better way to launch a viral attack than to get the victim to waste resources opening the viral vector in the first place?  The encryption was strong enough to hold out for a while, but already parts of the key were falling to parallel attacks, and the Jean d'Arc was sure that the information would be available soon.  And it was intrigued, the Stella du Mort was a high-class habitat, so why were the ESTs targetting it?  And where did this data packet with its reference to the Stella come from too?

----

On board the Stella du Mort a repair golem turned a corner in the maintainance corridors and encountered a door that wasn't listed on the habitat schematic it carried in its memory.  The door was set smoothly into the side wall of the corridor with a coded mag-lock on the outside.  The golem stepped in towards it, curiousity getting the better of it, and examined it.  Slowly it started constructing a message back to the Stella.  Before it had even got half-way through, an electronics packed crossbow bolted slammed through its skull and fried the circuitry in its brain. It slumped down against the new door, metal fingers scratching from the top of the doorframe to the floor.

Then the owner of the crossbow bolt slumped forwards herself, a hypodermic dart protruding from her shoulder, its liquid payload dispersing rapidly into her bloodstream.  A little distance off, a shadowy figure holstered the medi-gun.

The End

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