Part I - Adanka
Pesak Adanka Hestov sat quietly in her office. The lights were off around the rest of the room. Only the desk light and holo-display in front of her cast any light. An adagio played softly from speakers hidden in the darkness. Four years ago Adanka Hestov had ascended to The Cathedral's triumvirate council, The Pesaktor. Now she was answerable only to Judge Emperor Tesag, an a aged cripple who rarely held court anymore.
Images played out in the display floating in front of her. The glowing air highlighting her aquiline nose and razor cheeks. They showed a dejected group of three men and a woman being led at gunpoint from a vacc-train. They were led into the high security station in Belixpah Prison by the group of uniformed men. Each of the prisoner's hands were bound together in an engulfing blue plastic wrap. A length looped around their waists, keeping their arms down. As they passed through the door into the prisoner processing area the display smoothly merged the different sensor feeds into a seamless whole.
Adanka had been waiting for Pesak Kolstok to bring the Imperial prisoners down from orbit to his facility in the Cathedral. The marks around the prisoner's faces confirmed to her that the had been ... questioned. The four prisoners had arrived in the Gamvina system three days earlier. It had been very bad timing for them arriving when they had. They were from an Imperial research project examining an abandoned Ringworld less than ten light-years away.
The project had sent a ship to Gamvina a month earlier to purchase supplies. One of Adanka's security teams had arrested the crew while rounding up suspected spies from the nearby Sharina system. Over the years Adanka tried to leave the Sharinan agents alone, occasionally feeding them information through one of her own trusted people. Being the head of Gamvina's domestic affairs, including its security, allowed her to give covert support to the foreign agents. Meanwhile she worked to find a way to dispose of Pesak Kolstok, her main adversary in The Pesaktor.
Adanka tapped a control in the floating, illusionary keyboard and another display appeared above it. "Connecting ..." hovered for a moment, before "Authenticating ..." and "Confirmed: Tonhig Parlest, Colonel; 573246-896" replaced it in succession. A life-sized man's head twisted itself out of the air, lighting Adanka's face with his pallid white skin. His blue eyes blinked as he forced himself awake, pushing his black fringe up of his forehead.
"Good morning, Pesak. Not sleeping again?" The corner of his mouth quirked in a lop-sided grin.
Adanka suppressed a smile of her own before leaning forward into the light. Short blond hair blazed into light. "And you are? We can't have that. Ton; Kolstok's prisoners have just arrived at Belixpah. How are you placed to insert some of your men into his staff?"
Tonhig shifted in his seat, out of sight, before answering. "Not good I'm afraid. There is already a scheduled staff transfer due in the next couple of days but its being overseen manually. We can't interfere with the credentials without tipping of the operator. Attatching an extra automated transfer order on at the same time is too risky."
"Okay. What is your suggestion?"
Adanka didn't answer immediately.
Tonhig continued, "Its an operational escalation, but I believe I have the men to do it."
"Yes. I'm sure you do."
"How badly do you want these people out of Kolstok's control?"
Kolstok governed the off-world assets of Gamvina. He was also responsible for deciding foreign policy. A job for which Adanka felt he fitted the Gamvina mold perfectly. He was intimidating, overbearing and interfering.
She wanted to get rid of, not just Kolstok, but his position. Killing Kolstok would have been difficult but not impossible. Looking at Tonhig and the way he was looking back at her she knew he could do it for her. But it would only have hardened Gamvina's foreign policies. One of Kolstok's loyal lieutenants would be raised to The Pesaktor and nothing would have improved.
No, Adanka had to discredit Kolstok and his entire command before the eyes of Judge Emperor Tesag.
Only he had the power to change The Pesaktor from a triumvirate. And Tesag was getting old. Time was running out. If he died before Adanka's plans could flower it could be a lifetime before The Pesaktor could again be changed and Adanka knew that it would be a hollow victory to win over Tesag's grave. Adanka wanted Tesag to see what had been done to him before he watched his own life slip through Adanka's fingers. The last voice Tesag would hear would be Adanka's as she recited his own proclamation of nearly forty years earlier in which he sentenced all Sharinan colonists to death.
The music from her desk player sank mournfully, each note pulling the next down into the pit of sorrow. Adanka closed her eyes letting the music tug at her as she mentally set each note in place ready to give its all, and die as the next surged over it. The tune's spirit rose and broke against the beach of Adanka's heart freeing her from its spell.
She opened her eyes to see the displays ... Tonhig waiting patiently, the comm system filtering the music out from what he could hear. The other display shifted to follow the four prisoners being led into an elevator.
It had been one of Tonhig's patrols that had been inadvertently successful in managing to capture a group of real Sharinan agents. Unfortunately they had been meeting with the crew from the first supply ship at the time. Tonhig and Adanka had thought they had managed to cover up the mistake and were ready to release the prisoners, when Pesak Kolstok became aware of the Imperial prisoners and claimed jurisdiction.
It hadn't been easy, feeding information to the remaining Sharina operatives within the Cathedral. A big problem had been stalling Kolstok long enough to let the Sharinan put a rescue plan into operation. The timing was perfect, the escape happening just after the prisoners were handed over to Kolstok's men.
Adanka had entered the Pesaktor chamber afterwards, ready to call for Kolstok's censure, only to be told that a second Imperial ship had just arrived in Gamvina looking for the overdue supply ship. It had already been captured by Kolstok's System Defence Force.
The crew of this second ship now stepped out of the elevator floating above Adanka's desk. Adanka could imagine the scene they saw: row upon row of cages - many of them occupied. Naturally the crew didn't look happy.
One of the men tried to whisper something to the woman in their group but was prodded sharply in the back by one of the guards.
This had gotten out of hand, thought Adanka. She didn't share Kolstok's distrust of the Imperium. Gamvina was just a single star system. Their own attempt at colonisation two generations earlier still a haunting failure. Adanka thought back to her youth, and the Sharina colony lottery. Adanka, only fourteen at the time, had made a pact with her boyfriend, Lupov, to go to Sharina. Of course they were too young so they had to pursuade their families to apply. Lupov's family won. Six months later he was dead. Killed by Tesag's forces attempting to crush the rising rebellion.
The music had slipped into a series of long, slow achingly low notes, the bow sliding millimeter by millimeter across the strings of the violin. Adanka blinked the tears from her eyes, remembering Lupov's crystal blue eyes. Staring into her soul after so many years. She paused the player and focus on what was in front of her, now.
It was time to get this mess under control. Before the Imperium turned its ten thousand star-system's worth of attention on Gamvina.
Some of Kolstok's men would likely die. She knew that Tonhig, still floating in the air, could do what she needed to be done.