Quizibian got it right when he said that humanity to a man is bred for war. We are consistently sucked into internecine squabbles that will eventually be the end of us all. The bombing of Mimir is reflective of this behavior, but it’s only made more heinous by the fact that not only were millions of innocent people killed, but the knowledge of ten thousand generations was lost. Someone has to pay the price for that. It’s my job to find the son of a bitch and make him pay.
— Frederick Rose, Chief Commonwealth Inspector, circa 5222
20 Novem, 5249 PD
“Do we have confirmation on those reports yet?”
Padraig had been wearing the same clothes for the past forty-eight hours. He’d forgotten to eat, barely slept, and was running on a cheese danish he’d eaten eight hours ago and five cups of coffee in as much time. It was the beginning of the end, he could feel it in his bones. Ten years with theNewEarthCommonwealth’s Colonial Office had taught him more than a few things, chief amongst them when the congloms began to stop respecting the authority of other entities, it was a prelude to war—or worse. In this, he was hoping only for war, but suspecting worse, far worse.
“Coming across now, Padraig.” Miriam leaned closer to her screens, squinting at the tiny text of the bulletin scrolling across it. “It’s confirmed. An Argopian LCC trawler just made it into New Ardis and confirms that the Whispers have been bombed almost to bedrock. They’re not reporting any survivors.”
“None that we know of. Yet.”
Miriam looked over her shoulder and smiled at him weakly. “Right.” She turned back to the screen and resumed her checking, brow furrowed as she read on.
Padraig tried not to shake his head. He suspected that here in the Colonial Office, they already knew who was responsible for the bombing of the Whispers but couldn’t admit to knowing. The why, that was more tricky. He suspected it had more to do with E-557 than anyone else might believe. The Whispers was a trade hub, an all-but-neutral port of call. Yet it had been the first target in what was sure to be another bloody war.
He could feel it in his bones, like an old man could feel the coming rain in his gnarled, arthritic joints.
A hand fell lightly on his shoulder and he glanced to the side to see Amie standing at his elbow with a paper-wrapped sandwich in her hand. “You need to eat, Padraig. I’d tell you that you need to sleep, but you’re not going to until someone over all of our heads tells you do.” She pressed the sandwich into his hand before she slid quietly into the chair at the station next to Miriam’s and settled her headset on again. Amie, who probably had felt this coming, too, but maybe had seen something else. And Miriam, who was starting to understand, slowly but surely, exactly how high and deadly the stakes had become.
None of it was supposed to turn out this way.
It had all started when Mimir died.
“Sir? I’m getting some funny chatter over here.”
Padraig turned sharply toward one of the younger technicians who sat with a hand pressed against his earpiece as he frowned at a screen. “What is it?”
“Sir…it sounds like Mission Systems is responding to the attack at the Whispers by shutting down operations at their plant near Xingaou and getting ready to dismantle their orbital platforms at Tarsis.”
“What?” Padraig frowned. That didn’t make any sense. Unless… “Was anything nearing completion at Tarsis?”
“Uhm…let me look.” It took the sandy-haired young man a few long moments to sort through some file data. “Yes, sir. An older style battleship commissioned circa 5220.”
“By the Psychean Guard.”
“Yes, sir. How’d you know?”
Behind them, Miriam and Amie exchanged a look. Amie went back to her board with a slight frown. Miriam watched a moment longer before she went back to her work. Padraig shook his head.
“I have a sneaking suspicion that Mission Systems will be shifting more of its operations to the outer reaches of the homosphere.”
“Why would they do that, sir? I mean, I know they don’t do as much business as they used to before the Psychean Guard fell, but they still have a lot perfectly good operational areas and a lot of resources at their disposal here in the inner rings. Why would they head out to the fringes?”
Padraig patted the young man on the shoulder. “Because they can see the writing on the wall better than most.”
Padraig waved off the question and walked toward the screen that displayed the map of the homosphere, dotted with star systems that were color-coded by the conglomerate that held sway in each system. Some of those colors—the red of Chinasia Corp and the violet of the Eurydice Compact—covered far more territory than they had when he’d joined the Colonial Office as a much younger, much more idealistic man. He stared at the map for a few long moments before he glanced over his shoulder toward Miriam.
“Have they announced who’s going to be heading up the investigation into the attacks yet?”
Miriam shook her head slightly. “Not yet. Who do you think it’s going to be?”
Padraig turned back toward the screen and stared at it for a few long moments. “I don’t know,” he said quietly. “But I have the feeling that whoever it is will go the way of Frederick Rose.”
Miriam and Amie exchanged another look in silence. There had long been a conspiracy theory about Frederick Rose: that he’d actually found out who killed Mimir but been murdered before he could tell anyone who it was. Whether that was true or not didn’t matter.
The last time a claim filed with the Colonial Office had been grossly violated in this way had lead to the death of a Chief Commonwealth Inspector on top of the millions of lives lost on Mimir. There were already at least a quarter of a million dead at the Whispers. Whatever was brewing could be the death knell, the final toll of the bell for the human race.
“E-557 is sounding better,” Amie murmured to Miriam.
Miriam shook her head slightly. “I don’t think anywhere’s going to be safe soon, Amie. Least of all here or there.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Call it a hunch.” Miriam stared at their supervisor’s back for another few, long moments before she got back to work.