Google+ The Bluestocking Firefly: July 2012
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Monday, July 30, 2012

University blues

Links to all parts of this story may now be found here.


“Goodbye,” she said.

“Oh,” he said, pausing just across the threshold. “You were wearing blue.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“When you graduated from the University. You may not remember. I’m certain you had many other things on your mind at the time.”

Amy blinked in surprise, and then said calmly, “I imagine one of your underlings watched the ceremony and reported the relevant details to you.”

“I watched from the balcony,” Brenner said. “It smells oddly of onion bagels.”

She stared at him. She distinctly remembered that balcony. A quantum physicist had once taken her up onto the balcony, hoping to get lucky, but the smell had sent Amy away the moment she’d stepped foot inside. She hated onions. “You had a seat on the stage.”

He shrugged, his back still to her. “You had made it clear in the preceding months that you wanted nothing to do with me. I didn’t think you wanted me in such close proximity, so I stayed away. But I couldn’t not be there.” A bell chimed across the courtyard and he added, “I really must go. Goodbye again, Annieka.”

And then he was gone, the doors quietly closing behind him.

Amy let out a deep breath she hadn’t even been aware she was holding and sank down into the chair her father had been sitting in. She stared across the hall, lost in thought, and wasn’t aware the door had opened and someone had entered until they entered her field of vision, blocking out the light from the window.

“I’m sorry to disturb your thoughts, Ms Brenner,” the Guardsman said, bowing his head slightly. “The Secretary has requested me to inform you that should you desire to remain in the Capital, I am to escort you to your chambers in the Residence Wing.”

Amy’s brows lifted. “I wasn’t aware I had chambers.”

“There is a standing order, courtesy of the Secretary, for a suite of rooms to be kept in readiness should you ever require the use of them, Ms Brenner.”

“What a colossal waste of time and space,” Amy said, pushing herself out of her chair. “However, seeing as I’m here and I could use a place to sleep, why don’t you show me to those rooms?”

The Guardsman gestured for her to exit the Hall ahead of him; he followed, securing the doors behind him. Amy trailed after him down the corridor, listening to her footsteps echoing off the stone walls.

“Why is it that the Residence Wing is located within the Parliament Building?” she asked abruptly.

“I’m sure I couldn’t say,” the Guardsman said, opening a door for her to go through. “I imagine that the statesmen and women prefer to be close to both their work and their families, and that it makes it convenient to have residences for visiting dignitaries.”

“Don’t most families of members of state reside in the city or on estates outside of the capital?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know that, Ms Brenner. If you like I could find that out for you.”

“It’s fine,” Amy said. “I already know the answer.”

“As you wish. Here we are.” The Guardsman stopped in front of a pair of double doors, much smaller and less grand than those of the Hall of Tributaries, but imposing nonetheless.

“Well,” Amy said as the doors swung open and the interior of the rooms was revealed, “my father has certainly never worked out my taste in decor.”

The rooms were decorated in early Commission rococo style. Amy trailed her fingers over a carved pink rosette and glanced back at the Guardsman standing in the doorway.

“If the rooms are not to your liking I am certain I can arrange for somewhere else,” he said stiffly.

She shrugged. “I’m hardly moving it. It’s fine.”

“Will you require anything further, Ms Brenner?”

“No, thank you,” Amy said. “You can go.”

He bowed. “Have a pleasant evening, ma’am.”

Amy waited until the door was closed and then stood still in the middle of the room, taking stock. The rococo decor made spotting the eyes difficult. The corner eye was the most obvious; it was intended to be spotted and encourage any residents to relax and not go looking for others. That there would be others, Amy was certain; firstly, because this was the Parliament Building of the capital city of C-Prime, and secondly, because this was the room apparently kept for her by her father. She would have had to have been a complete and utter fool to assume she wasn’t being watched by
someone.

It took her nearly an hour, but she was fairly confident she had worked out the location of each of the eyes in the suite, and the only reason it had taken so long was because there was no point in conducting an outright search; that would only have made it clear what she was doing. Instead, she had prowled about, exploring the rooms, opening cupboards, investigating the wardrobe — she had even rung for tea. Now, as she finished the last of the biscuits the cadet had brought her, she settled down for an apparent nap on the bed, having slid into a blind spot behind one of the eyes and reconfigured the room’s system to respond to her jury-rigged signal box, surreptitiously retrieved from her shoe and tucked into her shirt. Half an hour later, the camera was playing a looped recording of her sleeping and she was shimmying up through an uncomfortably tight air duct, headed for Chancellor Naisbitt’s council chambers.


Previous: Reasons for living 
Next: Air ducts

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Reasons for living

Links to the rest of this story may be found here.


“You and Cam are still my reason for living,” he said. “I’m not denying I’m driven by ambition; I have it in bushels, and it will never go away. I like power. It’s a heady feeling, knowing people will do what you tell them to do — that they have to.” He looked up, his eyes absently focusing on one of the Empire flags. “It has not escaped my notice, Annieka, that in all of your years at the University, in all of your travels, with all of the places you have been and things you have seen, you have never permitted yourself to become close to anyone. You have no friends; your colleagues are nothing more to you than means to an end. The only person you have ever cared about, aside from your mother and, once, I think, me, is Cam.”

“Caring about people makes you vulnerable,” Amy said, her voice strained.

His eyes dropped from the ceiling to his daughter’s face. “And who do you think taught you that?”

She didn’t answer.

“You and I are more alike than I think you would ever care to admit, Annieka,” Brenner said, folding his hands across his stomach. “I can accept that.” A smile flitted across his face. “After all, as you yourself have noted, I have done nothing if not to protect you. But,” he said, leaning forward, “you have made my point for me. You have spent your life eschewing personal relationships because as long as you aren’t connected to anyone you can’t get hurt. The only person you truly love is your brother, and no one would ever dare touch him to get to you because of me.” He rose, picking up his robes from the chair. “Unlike you, however, I have no one to protect me.”

“You’re telling me that the limitations of your power are dictated by your affections for me and Cam?” Amy said in disbelief.

Brenner shrugged. “Disbelieve all you like, Annieka. But when my children are threatened, I will do anything asked of me. Including — ” He stopped.

Amy lifted her gaze to her father’s face. “Including what?”

He walked around the table and towards the door. Just as he reached them, he said, facing away from her, “I cannot admit complicity to anything, Annieka. But I am not quite the monster you think I am.” Reaching inside his sleeve, he added, “The eyes will be back online momentarily. Should you intend to remain in the capital for longer than is your usual bent, I would be happy to speak with you again.”

“Maybe we could do dinner,” Amy said sarcastically.

“I would like that,” he said, startling her. “I’m afraid I have to go now. The Chancellor will be waiting for me.” He glanced over his shoulder as the doors opened. “Goodbye, Annieka.”


Previous: Power and choice 
Next: University blues

Thursday, July 26, 2012

El

Prologue the First

May 1762

“I have to go,” Edward said, brushing Sarah’s cheek with his thumb.

She managed a tremulous smile. “I know. I just wasn’t expecting it to be so soon.”

“Unfortunately, I haven’t any control over international politics,” he said apologetically. “When the King needs me, I have to go. You know that. And you know it’s not just me.”

Sarah nodded quickly. “Oh, I know,” she said. “Emma’s distraught that Lord Murray is leaving just now as well, although at least he’s told her where the King is sending him.”

“Sarah, I can’t,” he said, looking pained. “Findlay’s assignment is as much diplomatic as it is magical. Mine is not.”

She looked up at him and said, “Have you spoken to my father yet?”

He took a deep breath. “No,” he said, and pressed her hands between his. “I will. As soon as I come back. And I promise, we
will be married.”

“I hope so,” she said. “I can’t help but feel sometimes that you’re not nearly as committed to me as you are to — ” She stopped.

Edward was silent. “Sarah,” he said at last, “as I have explained to you, sorcerers are difficult in matters of love. We can’t help it. And you know I have my duty to King and country.”

“Yes, but — ”

“Here,” he said, pulling a ring from his finger and putting it into her hand. “Take this.”

She curled her fingers around it. “What is its significance?”

“It’s very old and imbued with very powerful magic,” he replied. “No, don’t laugh; I know it doesn’t look like much, but it tells the wearer when they’ve met the person they’re meant to be with.” At her disbelieving look, he added, “It measures true love.”

“That’s nonsense,” she scoffed.

“Put it on,” he said. “It will grow warm if I’m the one you’re meant to be with, you’ll see.”

Dubious, Sarah looked down at the ring in her palm and then slipped it onto her finger.

“Well?” Edward asked expectantly.

“It’s warm,” she said, surprised.

“I told you it would be,” he said, smiling.

“Does it ever tell someone that they’ve met the person they’re meant to be with, but tell the other person something different?”

“I wouldn’t know,” Edward said, his eyes sliding away from hers. “Sarah, I’m sorry, but I have to go. I’ll come to you as soon as I’m back. I promise.” He pressed a light kiss to her lips and rose. As he crossed to the door Sarah spoke, halting him with his fingers on the handle.

“Was it warm when you wore it around me?”

He didn’t look at her as he said, “I’ll be back for you as soon as I can, Sarah.” And then he was gone.

Sarah sat and twisted the ring on her finger, a sad expression in her eyes.


Prologue the Second

February 1778

A carriage emblazoned with the St. Claire family crest rolled down Cottage Street, pulled by a pair of matched bays. The streets, much less crowded by late afternoon than they would have been in the morning, cleared before the path of the horses; conveyances from Kensington might not be a daily sight in Eastbourne, but everyone knew to scatter. Those who were slow to move caught a taste of the coachman’s whip and quickened their pace off the road.

And then, unexpectedly, the carriage stopped in the middle of the street, attracting the attention of anyone who had not previously been observing the carriage, at least surreptitiously. The curtain over the window was twitched aside and a woman peered out, her face anxious, as the coachman swung down off the box and spoke.

“Lady St. Claire’s daughter, Lady Rebecca St. Claire, went missing this mornin’ while the ladies was visitin’ Royal Brompton Orphanage,” he announced loudly to the listening throng. “Lady St. Claire is offerin’ a goodly amount for the
safe” he paused to run his eyes over the crowd “return of her daughter.”

“How old’s the girl?” someone called.

“What’s the chit look like, then?” another asked.

The coachman fingered his whip, and the questioners fell silent. “The Lady Rebecca is twelve years old. She’s got reddish hair and was wearin’ a pink dress when she disappeared this mornin’. She’s skinny, with freckles. Mind you all — if you catch sight of ’er, she ain’t to be harmed. Bring ’er ’ome to No. 3 Kensington Hill.”

With that, he remounted the box, flicked out the whip to move aside those who had re-entered the road, and started up the horses as a wave of discussion broke over Cottage Street.

Edward Elliot Russell, more commonly known simply as El, sidled out of the alley where he’d been listening to the coachman, a frown on his thin face. He nabbed a half-eaten meat pie from the corner of Sal’s booth, earning a rap across his knuckles for his trouble when she caught him out of the corner of her eye.

“Off with you, El,” she said, not unkindly. “I’ve sent one home to your Ma already today.” When he opened his mouth to protest, she raised her stick threateningly. “You ain’t so big I can’t cane you, boy.”

El slouched away and hunkered down on the steps to St Francis’s Church on the corner, nibbling the flaky edges of the pie and thinking about the St. Claire carriage. Rebecca St. Claire, her what had gone missing, was only three years younger than him, poor kid. No matter of his, though, and certainly not something he intended to get caught up in. He wasn’t saying he and his Ma couldn’t use the offered reward money, but his Ma’s policy had always been it was better not to get mixed up with the toffs, so that was El’s policy too.

Sighing as he popped the last bite of pie into his mouth, El pushed himself to his feet and thrust his hands into his pockets, wiggling a finger through the hole in the bottom of the right-hand one. He’d have to remember to ask Ma to mend that for him. Thinking about the crumbs stuck between his teeth, he turned the corner from Cottage onto Rathbone and smacked into someone considerably smaller than himself. The girl gasped and recoiled away from him; El spat out the last of his mouthful in surprise.

“Well, that was disgusting,” the girl said, recovering admirably. For a moment El had been certain she was either going to bolt or dissolve into hysterics.



El, part 2

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Power and choice

Links to the rest of this story may be found here.


He considered her for a moment. “I have rather less power than you imagine,” he said at last.

“Bullshit,” Amy said. “Everyone knows you’re the real power; Naisbitt is just a figurehead.”

Smiling slightly, he said, “While that is, in some respects, very true, I am hardly all-powerful.” He hesitated, and then continued, choosing his words carefully. “I am — possessed of a great deal of power to do a great many things, it is true. However, there are — certain things — that I am not at liberty to do, or to object to, for a variety of reasons.”

“And why is that?”

“Annieka, I made a succession of choices that ultimately placed me in this position. Those choices resulted in an exorbitant amount of power, perhaps more power than any one man should ever possess — ”

“Definitely more power than one man should ever possess,” Amy said.

Brenner shrugged. “Regardless. Those choices gained me power, prominence, the ability to do
almost anything I please. But those choices also have lost me a great deal. Like your mother.”

Amy choked. “You
killed my mother. You made a choice to kill my mother. How the hell does that come anywhere close to your choices making you lose her?”

“I lost your mother as a result of the choices I made long before she died.”

“Before you killed her.”

He acquiesced with a slight movement of his hand. “As you wish.” His face inscrutable, he continued, “Your mother intended to leave Idylla and take you and Cam with her, which you may or may not be aware of depending on if you were the child in the closet or if the child in the closet chose to divulge that information to you.”

“I’m not going to tell you whether it was me or Cam that day, so don’t bother trying to get it out of me.”

“You get your poker face from me, Annieka. Don’t forget that. You would have made an excellent politician.”

“Is it any wonder I ran in the opposite direction as fast as I could?”

“I loved your mother dearly, Annieka, but I couldn’t let her leave. And more than that, I couldn’t let her take you and Cam away from me. The two of you were the only reason I kept coming home in the evenings. You were my reason for living.”

“That’s very sweet,” Amy said, sarcasm dripping from each word, “but what’s your point?”

“If I cared for you as little as you and Cam seem to think,” he said patiently, “why do you think I continue to protect you? Why do you think I continue to clean up Cam’s frequent messes when you send them my way? And don’t think I don’t know about the ones you don’t tell me about — why do you think so many of them have gone away so easily?”

Amy stared at him. “What’s your point?” she repeated, her mouth suddenly dry.


Previous: Thinking about the Waratah again 
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Thinking about the Waratah again

Links to the rest of this story may be found here.

Ignoring him, Amy continued, “If it’s not an academic, it means it’s someone else, and I doubt it’s a regular citizen — last I checked standard curriculum in elementary and secondary schools didn’t include sections on the Empire.” She looked up at him. “I suspect it’s either someone in the government or an upper-level member of the military, although why either of them would be interested in the Empire is beyond me. Perhaps you could tell me what’s in all those missing and redacted files?”

“Haven’t a clue,” he said, his expression blank.

“You do, however, have access to that information. Hence why I asked for your help.”

“I see,” he said. “Seeing as I can retrieve the ident swipes of every individual from here to Trepara as well as every authorised access to the digital records and I can order traces on every attempted hack into the digital records — going back decades, if you feel so decadent.”

“Having a father who’s the power behind the throne has its uses.”

“Hmm,” Brenner said. “Annieka, I must confess to a certain amount of concern regarding your desire to hunt down this individual, or indeed these individuals. What precisely do you hope to accomplish?”

“Tell me something, Dad,” she said, avoiding the question. “What does the Commission intend to do about the outliers?”

“I’m not certain there is much to be done,” he replied. “No one knows where this thing has come from, which makes it difficult to take action against it. I believe there is hope that it may simply run its course and die out.”

“And if there were an existing anti-viral that would work effectively against those infected? And a vaccine to protect those not yet infected?” She trailed her fingers across the edge of his robe and looked back at him. “What would the Commission do then?”

He eyed her warily. “I’m not certain what point there is in speculating about this, Annieka. We both know that neither of these things exist.”

“Do we?” she inquired mildly. “I certainly am sure of no such thing.”

“Perhaps there is something you’d care to share with me?” He paused, and then added pointedly, “In a manner that does not, perhaps, accuse me of something of which I have no knowledge?”

“Rather interestingly,” Amy said conversationally, “the disease that the Commission’s experts have had such difficulties identifying is called Warner’s Disease. It was eradicated approximately two hundred years ago.” She glanced at him, and then continued, “I ran across it — not the actual thing, of course, but references to it — in my research. It used to be a severe problem in outlying areas of the Empire before their scientists developed an antiviral and a vaccine to combat it.”

“What I find interesting is your apparent ability to identify a disease that has baffled our best doctors,” Brenner said. “Particularly as it is one that you claim has been extinct for two hundred years.”

“I did mention live samples were retained on research vessels and in laboratories for experimental purposes, didn’t I? No? Ah.” She smiled at him. “There’s a funny thing about space — if you’re out there long enough, you find all sorts of things.” Plucking a flower from the vase on the table, she twirled it between her fingers and continued speaking. “This job I’ve been consulting on is a salvage job. Interesting one, though, seeing as they’ve managed to find themselves an Empire-era ship, Apollo-class, and what’s more, she’s not a derelict but an intact research vessel, only the second one ever discovered as far as I’m aware. What’s more — are you paying attention, Dad?”

“You have my full attention,” he said, sinking into a chair and steepling his fingers in front of him. “Please, do continue.”

“What’s more, the
Waratah was sealed after the death of her entire crew and became a tomb ship. Now, what do you suppose caused the death of an eighty-odd person crew?”

“I have a feeling you’re going to tell me whether I want to know or not.”

“One of their scientists rather unfortunately infected himself with Warner’s Disease while working with it. The crew never worked out what it was that was ravaging the ship, but he’d clearly documented working with the sample in the days before he was admitted to the medical bay.”

“Does this story have a point?” Brenner asked, sounding bored.

Amy shot him an annoyed look. “I’m getting there.”

“Could you possibly move it along? I have a meeting in fifteen minutes.”

“So much for catching up with your daughter,” she muttered.

“Annieka, if you would visit more often — and perhaps provide me with some advance notice — I would be able to dedicate considerably more time to you when you’re here. As it is, you have an unfortunate habit of dropping in unannounced, usually on some sort of crusade, and as I’m sure you’re aware I am, in fact, a rather busy man. As much as I might like to do so, I cannot simply cancel every appointment I have scheduled.”

“No,” Amy said. “You never have.”

“You were saying,” he prompted.

“My point,” she ground out, “is that the
Waratah’s manifest clearly lists samples of Warner’s Disease as present on board the ship, which is confirmed by the scientist’s notes in which he discusses his experiments in the days before the epidemic swept through the ship. That means it was definitely there before the crew died. Both antiviral and vaccine are also listed on the ship’s manifest. All three were missing when we arrived, and the ship’s seal, which would have gone into effect when the last member of the crew died, was broken.”

“Perhaps a member of the crew departed and took the samples with them before the ship was sealed,” Brenner suggested.

Amy shook her head. “All members of the crew were accounted for when we arrived.”

“A non-crew member, travelling with the ship?”

“None listed in the logs.”

“Perhaps another Empire ship happened along after the tragedy, entered, realised what had occurred, and took the samples in case of another occurrence?”

“The timing is wrong.” Amy began shredding the flower’s petals one by one. “If the seal had been broken during the time of the Empire, the bodies would have been significantly more decomposed than the state in which we found them. As it was, they only showed minimal amounts of decomposition. The seal was only broken in the last couple of months.”

“I see.”

“Someone from now broke into the
Waratah,” Amy said, very deliberately. “Someone from now stole the samples of Warner’s Disease from that ship, and with it took the samples of the antiviral and vaccine. And that someone used those samples of Warner’s Disease to inflict a plague upon the populations of the outlying planets, millions of unsuspecting people with absolutely no defences against the disease. And that same someone has kept very, very quiet both about the origin of the disease and about the fact that there’s treatment for it.”

“You think I’m responsible,” Brenner said.

“You’re definitely my first choice,” Amy said. Her lip curled. “I can’t think of anyone else despicable to think of doing this.”

His jaw worked. “I am desolated you think so poorly of me, Annieka,” he said at last.

“Whoever did this had to have access to the
Waratah’s files, in any case, in order to be aware that the Waratah even contained something like Warner’s Disease,” Amy said. “And in order to have knowledge of the Waratah’s discovery, that person has either been tracking chatter — and that’s a wide net both to cast and track — or else is taking in the reports of a spy network. I’m betting both, although I know with some certainty that there is a spy on the Sophia.” She met her father’s eyes. “You’re the only person I know who is capable of doing this with ease.”

“Hmm.”

“Would you like to tell me what game you’re playing?”


Previous: Research, archival retrieval, hacking...the usual academic stuff... 
Next: Power and choice

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Research, archival retrieval, hacking...the usual academic stuff...

Links to the rest of this story may be found here.


“Who has access to the database containing the information and records regarding the Empire and its ships?”

“I don’t know off-hand, although I imagine it’s not an exceptionally large amount of the population,” Brenner said. “As much because no one is interested as for security reasons. As I said, this really isn’t my area, Annieka. If you’re really interested in this you’d really be much better off asking one of the Corps’s technical analysts. Lieutenant Heyden, for instance, would be able to find the information you’re looking for far more quickly than I’ll be able to.”

“Humour me,” Amy said.

“Very well. If you’ll allow me…” He gestured to the jotter. Amy nodded, so he picked it up and entered a command, muttering under his breath. “I apologise,” he said, not looking up. “A new system was recently implemented on the old equipment and on some handsets the system is…temperamental.”

“Your old flyer was like that after you upgraded her to the Azekah system,” Amy said absently, staring out the window. Brenner looked up, startled. “I suppose some things never change.”

Brenner opened his mouth, hesitated, and then shut it without saying anything, returning his attention to the jotter. “Hmm,” he said after a moment. “As I imagine you recall, Empire history is a required entry-level course at the University. Anyone who attends acquires at least a rudimentary knowledge about the Empire, which includes at least some information about its ships. Perhaps the person or persons you’re looking for found their information there.”

“That’s only basics, though,” Amy objected. “Names and dates, mostly. Someone might have got the
Waratah’s make, model, and year of commission out of that class but there’s no way in hell someone would have learned how to breach her access ports from McNeil’s class. His lectures are nowhere near detailed enough.”

Brenner skimmed through a few sentences, and then suggested, “There are electives — you must have taken them.”

Amy shook her head. “Those are taught remotely by my mentor Doctor Henrick Jameson, who is the only other expert on Empire studies currently living, and he’s stingy with his facts. Only gives out enough information for the courses to qualify as upper-level classes; he’s territorial and isn’t particularly keen on the idea that a mere University student might intrude on his territory. And since he is the only qualified expert — McNeil doesn’t count, his material is all provided by Jameson anyway — anyone wanting to pursue further Empire studies has to get his approval. I’m sure you remember how the system works; as I recall you had a hand in setting out the regulations. I had a hell of a time getting him to take me on as his grad student — did a lot of footwork myself and presented an almost thesis-length proposal of the material I’d considered to him before he’d accept me.”

“I wasn’t aware that it was so important to you.”

She was silent for a moment, and then said, “It’s important to me because it seems to me that the lack of available information about our history smacks suspiciously of a cover-up on the part of the Commission.” She glanced sideways at her father, who was regarding her with an unreadable expression on her face. “Progress is made as much through learning from our past as it is from mankind’s ability to evolve as we plod along from century to century. I have seen remarkable things as I’ve excavated Empire-era ships and artefacts, technology we could have learned from, that could have advanced our own technology, history that could have told us a great deal about how we got to where we are now and warned us about where we’re going — but all of those things disappear from sight rather than going into laboratories for study or museums for everyone to see and learn from, where they belong. When I look at our current level of technology compared to that used by the Empire two hundred and fifty years ago, I find it appalling to see how far we’ve fallen.” She lifted her chin and met her father’s eyes. “We continue to live in Empire-era buildings, because our own building technologies have not come up with anything better; they’re producing cheap pre-fab materials because they’re broke and because they’ve sacked their innovations departments. Most of the people living under the Commission’s rule are still using ships that are twenty years old or more, patched together with pieces of ships that might be even older, because there simply aren’t any new ships coming off the line — except for pleasure cruisers, and we all know who’s buying those. Even the Commission’s own ships are years old, fraying at the seams and patched like an old quilt, with software patches and faulty upgrades. You haven’t upgraded your uniforms in years.” Looking up at the ceiling, at the flags of the Empire, she said quietly, “The Commission is riding for a fall, Dad. The end is coming. The end always comes. The Empire was a flourishing, expansive community of dozens of planets with far fewer problems than the Commission currently possesses — and it came to an end. The Commission could learn from studying the history of the Empire rather than burying it, but by ignoring our past you’re just hastening the coming end. And I will stand here and laugh when your world crumbles around you.”

“Are you quite finished?” Brenner inquired.

“With that,” Amy said. “I still need you to answer a few questions for me.”

“You’ve said quite enough for me to arrest, try, and convict you for treason,” he observed mildly, eyes on her face. He gestured upwards at the eye-in-the-sky.

A smile touched the corners of her mouth. “I don’t think you’ll do anything to me, Dad,” she said. “You’ve never done anything but protect me, despite your loyalty to the Commission. The eyes in this room aren’t active. You deactivated them when you first came in. Although I have no doubt you carry your own personal eye somewhere on you for insurance purposes that no one knows about but you.”

“You continue to surprise me.”

“God forbid.” She sighed. “Back to the point at hand. I’m looking for anyone who would have access to the information that wouldn’t be available in courses taught at the University. When I wrote my dissertation, I had to get special permission to access the database records and archives, which were flagged as restricted as well as being located in a high security compound; my ident was double logged alongside the Guardsman responsible for swiping me in and out every day. There were dozens of files missing, and dozens more with information redacted — on the part of the Commission or that of the Empire, I don’t know. The computer systems are ancient but heavily protected; hacking in is hard.” She paused, meeting her father’s quirked eyebrow with a defiant gaze. “Quite aside from Doctor Jameson’s renowned stinginess with sharing information, there’s a reason I’m easily the foremost expert on the Empire; most people can’t be arsed going through the hassle of dealing with the extra security to research it.”

“Out of curiosity,” Brenner said mildly, “did that happen to be a confession to hacking into secure government systems?”

Amy smiled slightly. “Of course not. Even if I had a habit of hacking into secure government systems — which, as I’m sure you know, is not something I’d ever do — I think we can agree that you taught me better than to admit to it.”

“Considering you’ve already made known to me a number of incendiary thoughts, I think that might be the least of your worries.” He sighed. “Seeing as you seem to have better knowledge of this particular area than I do, may I inquire as to why you asked me for information?”

“I only know who signed off on my permission forms, at University and then later on,” Amy said, smoothing invisible wrinkles in her shirt. “That means I know specific individuals stationed at the archives with access, none of whom ever evinced any particular interest in what I was doing. It also tells me that select students with special permission might have access to the same information I do, but I keep track of the people researching in my field, and aside from Jameson, who is getting on for ninety, is housebound, and lives on one of the outliers, and Pele Jacobs, who is nineteen and just entering his second year at the University, there aren’t any other individuals interested in the Empire to such a degree that they can be bothered dealing with the security.” The corner of her mouth twisted. “Also, any student or academic seeking access into the archives would have left a trail, and I would have noticed.”

“I see you’ve been keeping close tabs on the archives,” Brenner observed. “Clearly someone should have been keeping closer tabs on
you.”

Previous: Cadets, pilots, and ships 
Next: Thinking about the Waratah again

Friday, July 20, 2012

Cadets, pilots, and ships

Links to the rest of this story may be found here.


There was a pause as they stared at each other, Amy with narrowed eyes, Brenner with a slight smile playing around the corners of his mouth.

“Okay,” Amy said at last, when the silence had become uncomfortable. “Let’s talk about something else.”

“Anything you like,” he replied. “It’s certainly rare enough that I get a chance to catch up with my daughter.”

The door opened and a small woman in a cadet’s uniform entered, carrying a tray weighed down with a bone china tea service and a plate of sandwiches. The cups rattled as she set it down on the table and she blanched as she straightened. She turned to face Brenner, her body stiff, and saluted.

“Your tea, Secretary.” Try as she might, the cadet couldn’t keep her eyes from sliding to the left. Everyone knew the Secretary had a daughter. Everyone knew the Secretary’s daughter had gone off the map years ago and turned up sporadically — some said she was the only person anyone had ever seen openly defy the Secretary. Although, the cadet reflected, she didn’t know anyone who’d ever seen the Secretary’s daughter, much less anyone who could have ever seen her defy him…but still. Every cadet knew about Annieka Brenner, although hardly anyone knew what the Secretary’s daughter looked like; her Commissioner file had been hacked several years earlier and among the other information that had gone missing had been her most recent ident photo. All that was left was her student ident from her days at the Univeristy and a poor-quality eye-in-the-sky snap from the last time she’d visited C-Prime.

Amy noticed the cadet trying to surreptitiously watch her out of the corner of her eye and hid a smile. She remembered being a cadet, although no one had ever had the temerity to assign her to wait on her father. No, she’d been given Chancellor Naisbitt, because no one knew what else to do with her. That assignment had lasted an entire week before she’d been taken off waiting duties altogether. Naisbitt had not been amused by the fact she had problems holding her tongue when she was supposed to be learning to be silent.

“Was there anything else, Cadet?” Brenner inquired.

“No, Secretary,” the cadet said, trying to keep her eyes on the Secretary. The last thing she wanted to do was piss him off.

He smiled at her, but his eyes remained cold. “May I inquire as to why you are still standing here, then? My guest is not here for your gazing amusement.”

The cadet started and her eyes widened. “N—no, Secretary,” she managed. “If there is nothing else, sir, then I have duties I should return to.”

“I think that an excellent idea,” he replied. “I suggest, Cadet, that in your spare time you endeavour to practice keeping your eyes where they belong — unless you wish to wake up one morning find that they no longer belong to you.”

Swallowing, her face the colour of overcooked oatmeal, the cadet saluted sharply and left the hall as swiftly as possible without running.

“Was that necessary?” Amy said when the door had closed behind her.

“You were a cadet once. Her duties do not involve gawking at state guests; one is assigned to a member of state in order to learn about government, military matters, and, most importantly, discretion.” Brenner raised his eyebrows at her. “Something that, as I recall, you failed at spectacularly.”

“My discretion was not so much an issue, Dad, as was my inability to let Naisbitt go on unchecked,” Amy said calmly. “But quite frankly, I don’t give a shit if the whole of C-Prime knows I’m here. Your offices are virtually the only place in the universe where I answer to the name of Annieka Brenner.”

“Ah, yes, you did cast aside your connection with your exalted” his mouth twisted “father the moment you arrived at University. And abandoned your plans to study political science at the same time.”

“Those were never my plans,” Amy said. “You were the one who wanted me to have a military and political career.”

He regarded her with an unreadable expression for a moment, and then said, “Did I?”

Amy snorted. “From pilot upwards, as I recall. Just like your own
exalted trajectory.”

Brenner picked up the jotter on the table and skimmed through it. “According to the reports, you don’t seem to have lost your touch. Sounds like you were flying in circles around the Peleteth Guardship…and from Ashdown’s notes, he seems to think that the Dominia wouldn’t have caught you if you hadn’t wanted to be caught.” He carefully replaced the jotter in exactly its previous position and met her eyes. “That doesn’t much sound like someone who’s lost their taste for flying.”

“One time thing,” Amy said. “I don’t fly anymore.”

Brenner stared at his daughter. “You used to love flying.”

Amy looked away. “That was a long time ago.”

“You used to love it when I took you flying.”

“Stop it.”

“You’d sit on my lap, beg me to teach you, to let you fly on your own — ”

“I said stop it.” She rounded on him, and for a moment Brenner thought she might hit him. Then she let out a deep breath and said, “Do you remember those little ships I used to have?”

Confusion flickered across Brenner’s face at the abrupt change of topic. “Do you mean those little model ships you were obsessed with?”

“The Empire-era ships.”

“Yes,” he said. “As I recall, I gave you your first one. Mercury-class, wasn’t it? You must have only been about three or four. You were tiny when you were that young.”

Amy ignored him and walked over to the windows. “What do you know about Empire-era ships, Dad?” she asked, leaning on the windowsill and staring down at the gardens below.

The jotter beeped. Brenner picked it up and read the message on the screen, then replaced it on the table before answering. “Why are you asking me? It is your area of expertise, is it not? Your degree is in Empire studies, if I’m not mistaken.”

“Not that you would know,” Amy muttered under her breath, “seeing as you weren’t there.” Straightening up, she said in a normal voice, “I’m just curious. I’ve made a find, but it’s been compromised and there’s not many people with the knowledge to have compromised it.”

“And you think that I may have done so? Really, Annieka, did we not just have a conversation about making groundless accusations?”

“Oh, I’m not accusing you,” Amy said. “I was hoping you might be able to provide me with some information.” She smiled at him.

“What sort of information?”


Previous: Not a social call 
Next: Research, archival retrieval, hacking...the usual academic stuff...

Monday, July 16, 2012

Not a social call

Links to the rest of this story may be found here.


“I understand you stole a Sfera 21 from Michael Kettering,” he said, beginning to unbutton his robes. “I don’t suppose you were aware that his aunt, Eleanor Kettering, has been a persistent thorn in my side for the last three months and that if she were to catch wind of this little escapade of yours it would make my life exceedingly difficult.”

“Oh, please,” Amy said, the corner of her mouth twisting. “You and I both know that any difficulties Eleanor Kettering may or may not be giving you are moot, and you and I both know that she’ll never catch wind of my little ‘escapade’.” She raised her eyebrows at him. “Am I wrong?”

He smiled slightly and shrugged out of his robes. Folding them over his arms, he commented, “You certainly never seem to think so.” His eyes narrowed slightly, and then he said, “How have you been, Annieka?”

“Do you care?” she returned.

Brenner’s brows lifted slightly. “Of course. I’m always interested in what you and your brother choose to occupy yourselves with.”

“I’ve been busy.”

“Consulting, I presume.”

Amy shrugged. “Not much else for me to do.”

As he walked past her, Amy caught a whiff of engine oil and amber incense, the combination of smells devastatingly familiar even after so much time. She looked away as he draped his robes over a chair and turned to face her.

Brenner brushed his thumb across his lips, regarding her pensively. “That is no one’s fault but your own, Annieka.”

“Spare me the lecture, Dad, it’s not why I’m here,” Amy said, tilting her head up and staring at the flag of Bretani. It had been one of the first planets of the old rule that had fallen to ruin under the Commission’s reign. History lessons usually brushed over the fall of Bretani and others like it, or placed the fault on the planets themselves rather than on the failure of the Commission to assume the responsibilities of a governing body of dozens of populated worlds. Bretani had been one of the first times Amy realised that history was more nebulous than anyone realised, dependent on who wrote the history books.

Her attention elsewhere, she didn’t hear what her father said; annoyed, she asked him to repeat himself.

“I said, why are you here? I presume this isn’t a social call.” A look Amy couldn’t identify flitted across his face. “You certainly haven’t expressed any desire for my company since the time you were about five.”

“Can’t imagine why that was,” Amy muttered, and then said, “Tell me about the quarantine, Dad.”

“Is that why you’re here? You always were a good Samaritan, Annieka, but I’m afraid there isn’t much you can do — ”

“I can find out where the hell you’ve put the vaccine and anti-viral for this damn thing.”

“Really, Annieka,” he said mildly, “what makes you think I’d have any idea where they might be? If they even exist at all. From what the doctors tell me, they’ve no idea what it is that’s hit the outliers. What makes you think there even
is a vaccine or an anti-viral?”

Amy folded her arms. “How stupid do you think I am, Dad?”

He blinked, and then said, “Stupid enough to blindly walk into my office and throw groundless accusations at me.” Smiling gently, he added, “You should never make accusations without proof, Annieka. I thought I taught you that.”


Previous: Hello, Dad 
Next: Cadets, pilots, and ships

Monday, July 9, 2012

Hello, Dad

Links to the rest of this story may be found here.


The Guardsman had stopped before a set of double doors made of solid wood. He waited silently until Ashdown and Amy finished their conversation, and then swiped his ident. The doors swung open.

“The Secretary is waiting for you, Ms Brenner.”

Ashdown looked down at Amy. “I leave you here, Annieka. Please remember what I said. And give my regards to your father.”

“I doubt there will be much in the way of exchanging of regards, but sure,” Amy said, and followed the Guardsman into the Hall of Tributaries.

“Annieka Brenner, sir,” the Guardsman announced, and then withdrew. The doors closed silently behind him.

The Hall of Tributaries took its name from the token flags that still hung from the ceiling, one for each planet that had constituted the Empire. They stretched into the distance, marching towards the far wall, which had once boasted a map displaying the reach of the Empire and that now displayed the flags of the Commissionate planets. The windows on the left-hand side overlooked the main courtyard; in the summer, when the old plate-glass was opened, the scents of the flowers wafted upwards. The smell of the city didn't penetrate this far into the building complex, although the hum of transports was inescapable.

Amy glanced around and suppressed a sigh. Typical. The hall was empty, which wasn’t surprising; her father had always liked to keep people on their toes. He might be expecting her, but that certainly didn’t mean he would be waiting for her. And he could be informed of her arrival just as easily sitting in an office on the other side of the building as he could by standing in front of the Guardsman who had announced her. The Hall of Tributaries was meant to intimidate, but she’d been here before, and in any case her father would have known by now that that particular tactic wouldn’t work on her. Noticing a window was open, she crossed to it and leaned out to look down at the courtyard.

“I’m particularly fond of the daisies,” said a familiar voice behind her.

Amy smiled slightly. “The irony is appreciated.” The last time she’d seen her father, she’d thrown a bunch of daisies at his head. She turned around.

Seamus Brenner, Secretary of Internal Affairs and, it was rumoured, the power behind much of the Commission, stood just inside the doors, his hands clasped behind his back. He was wearing robes of state and had clearly just come from a meeting. Judging from the formality of his attire, Amy guessed he’d been speaking to Chancellor Naisbitt.

“Hello, Annieka,” he said.

Amy met his eyes. “Hello, Dad.”


Previous: C-Prime 
Next: Not a social call

Thursday, July 5, 2012

C-Prime

Links to the rest of this story may be found here.


The halls of the Parliament Building were quiet. The building, old and beautiful, was left over from the days of the Empire; the stone was from quarries on one of the planet’s moons, long since stripped bare of anything usable. The click of boot heels against the smooth floor echoed around the arched ceilings as Amy and Captain Ashdown walked down the corridor. Their escort’s footsteps were conspicuously silent; Parliamentary Guardsmen were famous for serving their duty in stockinged feet.

“How long has it been since you last saw your father?” Ashdown asked.

Amy glanced sideways at him. “I can’t remember,” she lied.

“Is your brother well?”

“Is this an interrogation?”

Ashdown looked surprised. “You may have forgotten, Annieka, but your father and I were good friends throughout your childhood. I watched you and Cam grow up, and the behaviour I have seen you display troubles me. I — ”

“Oh, save the semblance of paternal concern,” Amy said sharply. “I don’t need it.”

Ashdown inclined his head. “As you wish, Annieka. But I encourage you to remember that although you may desire to distance yourself from those who wish to help you now, there may come a time in the future when you will need assistance.” He paused a few feet before a set of tall doors. “Running from your friends does not mean that you have gotten rid of us. We will still be here if you want or need us.”

Amy looked away.


Previous: Blank space 
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