Barghest III – Chapter 12

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Shell Game

Year 2156, Day 138, Hour 2200

Excerpt from the Sol Coalition Field Manual for Special Operations (Roger’s New Rules of Engagement), Section Two: Gathering Intelligence

Utilize your surroundings and appearance to conceal your movements and intention…Deception is the foundation of all great military maneuvers.

He took a sip of water before answering the incoming video call. The woman on the other end was older, her hair white and professionally styled, and wasted no time on pleasantries.

SIS is making a move and they intend to use Clara to do it. I hope you are in a position to take care of matters.”

Yes, Ma’am. Her security detail has been assigned just as you desired.”

She raised an eyebrow. “I did see that the documentation of compliance had been filed with Administration. Some…interesting choices were made. I do hope that my granddaughter will come out of future situations better than she did on RB14-7.”

Sweat beaded on the back of his neck. That mission had not gone as planned and Clara herself had been a part of the problem. “Ma’am-” he tried to explain his failure, but she interrupted him.

Or VK10-48.”

I wasn’t positioned at the time to-”

Enough excuses.” Blue eyes narrowed across light years and he felt the cut of her gaze as if it were a physical thing. “You have been given an opportunity – many opportunities – with only one small requirement attached. One. Is it beyond your capabilities to meet my expectations?”

He swallowed. “No. Ma’am.”

For a long moment, she continued to stare at him. Then suddenly she relaxed back into a chair and brought a delicate tea cup into view and took a sip.

You understand I am not disappointed in you, young man. I, of course, understand that Clara can be difficult to ride herd on. A strong, willful individual. I would prefer that will not be broken prematurely, but her survival is more important. Should it come to that.” She took another sip of tea and he nodded, cautiously. “Although,” she continued, “I will be most disappointed if that girl does not live through the machinations of the SIS. Most disappointed.”

Is there anything you can do?” He dared to hope that the entire situation might be revised before he would have to act openly.

Do not presume,” she said calmly. “You have your orders. And, young man,” she paused again, smiling sharply, “I do not have to remind you what can happen if I am disappointed.”

No, Ma’am.”

It was several minutes after the communication was ended before he could turn his loathing into something productive. Thankfully, there were others that he could aim his ire at.

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