Sister Time John Ringo & Julie Cochrane

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Chapter Five

Monday 10/18/54

It was a large office, for the moon. It had the standard black enamel desk with laptop and PDA, the ergonomic chair, and a pair of squashy armchairs upholstered in superior-quality leathex. Those were standard features for any managing analyst's office. Then there were the small touches that indicated that the office's occupant had the approval of the Grandfather, and his trusted aides, as a promising candidate for promotion—no small thing in an organization whose upper leadership tended to have the resources to avail themselves of the rejuvenation process. Discreetly, of course.

On one side of the room a carved, decorative screen kept unlikely company with an old-fashioned, framed, photo-quality print of a prewar surfer catching a wave at a place few remembered as Malibu Beach. Underneath the picture, a small fountain sat on a low table, gurgling peacefully. On another wall, a conventional work of a blossoming branch painted on parchment rested in a frame that matched the carved screen. A braided ficus, a species renowned for its tolerance of low gravity, sat in a large pot in one corner. A small potted plant sat on one end of the desk, partially screening a holocube of a spectacular blonde and two little girls from direct view through the open doorway. Of all the decor in the room, only the wall color had not been the occupant's choice. A shade the office manager called pale peach and the occupant called pink had been hard-coded throughout the suite of offices. Well, he hadn't chosen the carpet, either, but as it was an inoffensive light brownish color, he seldom noticed it.

Named Manuel Guerrera by his mother, and, later, James Stewart by himself, Yan Kato was an extraordinarily ordinary looking man. He was neither too tall nor too short. His hair was spiked enough to be proper, but not enough to draw attention. His features, while clearly Asian, did not lend themselves to identification with any known ethnic group. As his name suggested a mixed ancestry, that was unremarkable, too. In the aftermath of the war's turmoil, there were millions like him. As he was, in fact, Latino, the surgeons had considered his skin tone and texture too difficult to match to any specific pure ancestry.

At the moment, Yan—who still thought of himself privately as simply "Stewart"—was not looking at his office decor, but was instead facing the personal holotank behind his desk on which he had called up a display of star systems, travel times, and trade routes. He had been in the office, doped on provigil-C, for the entire nine hours he'd been back on station. He had been awake and running analyses on his buckley, with occasional carefully camouflaged data downloads, since leaving his hotel in Charleston some fifty-three hours before. He checked his results five times to make absolutely sure he'd accounted for as much as possible and provided for maximum local flexibility to accommodate unforeseen contingencies. Finally, he sent the orders to dispatch the Tong's single fast courier ship, which he technically had no authority to commandeer, along the prescribed route and sent an explanatory memorandum, eyes only, to the Grandfather. The courier was moderately expensive to maintain near a major jump point out from Earth. It was prohibitively expensive to dispatch anywhere, because of the fuel expenditures involved in making a warp jump and the resultant servicing of a vessel that was nearly scrap—all the Tong could afford. Mostly it sat, its bored crew collecting dust, ignored by the Darhel as a worthless, unreliable wreck unloaded on gullible humans as a vanity ship. Stewart would be answering some hard questions for his temerity in using it. Not just for one hyper jump, but for four. Dulain, to Prall, to Diess, resupply at Diess base, and then back to the Sol System. The first three systems with Epetar cargos would get a courier visit—just long enough to pop out of hyperspace, tight beam the heavily coded instructions to a communications satellite under cover of a general communications packet, and receive acknowledgment of receipt. The nice thing about the Galactic Communications System, or lack thereof, was that so many Darhel groups would have encrypted traffic of so many redundant messages going somewhere that everybody who received routine communications would assume that someone else's message had been important enough to charter a courier. This would spur much spying, but only against each other.

The only explanation the memo to the head of the Tong included was that there was an explanation, of course, and that it was a matter of the utmost discretion. Stewart never pumped his wife for information. For one thing, most of it would be irrelevant to what he did now. For another, he loathed traitors and would not have married Cally if he had believed for even a moment that she could be turned against her people. But the Bane Sidhe tended to attract good operational minds, not good businesspeople. He was sure she had no idea how much she had let slip by naming the size of her windfall. He wouldn't have asked if he had even for a moment suspected the crucial information he'd been able to derive from it. But done was done. Knowing the percentage commission, the value of trade goods, and knowing the approximate discount you lost off the market price fencing stolen goods even if you were a good negotiator—on matters of price, his wife was likely a poor one—there was really only one thing she could have stolen. She also had to have really gotten scalped on the deal. It was unusual for a Darhel to have that much code-key wealth on hand. Class Nine Code Keys were the ultimate form of negotiable wealth, usually only traded between Darhel Clan-Corps. You couldn't just use them; they were the master keys to make the master keys to make the keys that created nannites.

He was surprised she'd been able to fence them at all. He assumed it was through some remaining link to the other Bane Sidhe group. Come to think of it, the difficulty explained the pathetically low price she got.

She was a lot smarter than she'd pretended to be under her cover as Captain Sinda Makepeace when they first met, but Cally had, through no fault of her own, attended schools that placed a low priority on market economics, and had nothing like his own early environmental exposure to the realities of commerce. He had been a gang leader—a financially and socially successful one—before he and his men had gotten drafted into the war. His formative experiences had made the Tong a very good fit, once the United States Constitution that he'd once sworn to preserve, protect, and defend had, despite his best efforts, become a meaningless piece of paper. His wife's grandfather, also the father of his old CO, Iron Mike O'Neal, was a canny old smuggler. Passing that skill set on, along with the keen eye that allowed one to assess the worth of almost anything at a glance, had not been Papa O'Neal's priority in the beautiful assassin's formative years. Reclusive and deadly, she had been his perfect warrior child: cute as a puppy, with a bite like a cobra.

Unsurprisingly for a cute puppy, his wife had grown up to be one icy bitch. Together, they'd woken and thawed each other's hearts seven years ago on Titan Base. He loved her, he knew she loved him—but he never quite forgot the deadly killer concealed behind those beautiful, cornflower-blue eyes. Top operator, yes. Experienced at fencing stolen goods, no.

The only thing that matched her probable area of operations, the necessary portability, and the time period, would have been the price of a cargo of trade ships, ready to leave Titan Base. By the timing, it had to be the cargo slated for the Epetar Group—which fit with Manager Pardal's presence on Earth. Without the high-level nanogenerator code keys that served as real-money currency among the Darhel groups, the Epetar Group would not be able to pay for its shipments. Rather than arriving at a planet to attempt to pick up a cargo with no money, something the factor who owned the cargo would never allow, Epetar's freighters would wait until currency arrived by fast boat and then depart. Making them late for every port on their circuit.

At 0800 local, when the rest of the home office staff arrived, he would take his PDA with a carefully produced analysis on the screen with him and "forget" it at the water cooler. With any luck, the man in the cubicle next to it, a known Darhel plant for the Gistar Group, would pick it up and see the file. The man was stupid, and slack in his electronic hygiene. Stewart had already put a small tag on him to detect and copy his transmissions up the chain to his masters. The Tong valued more than Stewart's business talents. His years in Fleet Strike Counterintelligence after the war and before meeting his wife and becoming officially dead, had substantially enhanced the Tong's internal security. Half a dozen identified spies were now reporting primarily what the leadership chose to let them see.

Reporting this kind of material to a huge, hardball, corporate entity via a Tong plant would have been suicidal, if he'd been dealing with humans. Humans would put their heads together and notice that the Tong had had the information and had connections with the factors screwing Epetar along its trade routes. The trails were covered, but human intuition just might connect the dots. It paid to know the alien mind. Putting the pieces together, even long after the fact, would require having someone who had all the pieces. Which would mean someone at Gistar would have to share the information about how they knew of Epetar's loss. Sharing did not make up a major part of the Darhel personality. Humans from a rival corporation, in the same situation, would almost certainly look into it. Gistar couldn't care two beans about Epetar's losses, unless the existence of outside involvement was very blatant. The Darhel were not stupid. They were very, very smart. Probably smarter than humans. But they weren't invulnerable, if you could keep the left hand from knowing what the right hand was doing.

If Kim reported Epetar's misfortune to his bosses at Gistar, Stewart would know. If the man somehow missed the opportunity to peruse Stewart's PDA—and he'd carefully made sure anything else important was well locked down—he'd have to find some other way to feed him the information. The faster it got to Gistar, the better. It was crucial that the other Darhel group be in a position to snap up Epetar's cargoes. He'd chosen Gistar out of several Darhel groups with operations in the Sol System because it seemed to have the best cash flow and the best distribution of ships, for his purposes. Gistar routinely stocked portions of its cash reserves on board the commercial couriers that waited on site at most major jump points, ready to be dispatched with urgent information—for a steep fee. Any outgoing Gistar freighter could, again for a fee, rendezvous with a courier ship prior to jump and pick up code key currency to remedy misfortunes or take advantage of opportunities. Gistar had a freighter load of monazite sands, molybdenum, and various asteroid extracts bound from the Sol System to Adenast, with its major space dock facility and building slips. They had a courier load of Tchpth scientists bound on a return trip to Barwhon after installing some rather exotic equipment in their asteroid extraction facilities.

Both destinations would give ample opportunity for Gistar to divert a ship and load it with sufficient currency to purchase high-margin cargos. Both ships were far enough from the jump point for Kim to tightbeam them the motherload of information he was about to brilliantly stumble over, but close enough to it to ensure that all ships that would be involved in Stewart's little dance would be close to their respective jump points and therefore would move very, very quickly to reach their commercial targets.

The hapless Epetar crews would arrive at planet after planet to find no waiting goods. They would then be in position to make deals they thought would minimize their losses, all the while being systematically and subtly skinned. Stewart's grin was feral. Ain't payback a bitch?

It would all look so closely timed as to have been planned in advance by Gistar—drawing suspicion away from the organization that had such a firm hold on the loyalties of his wife. Stewart didn't give a flying fuck about the Bane Sidhe, but providing cover for his wife—and by extension his kids—was something else. He'd never want her to turn traitor on them, but God dammit he wished she'd just quit the fucking job. They wouldn't dare touch her if she was in the custody of the Tong, as his wife. They needed the organizational relationship too much, and she'd be no threat to them, anyway. It wasn't like they didn't have other dormant assets. The Tong's patronage certainly covered him from misunderstandings with the Bane Sidhe, if they were to become aware of his identity and continued survival today. Cally O'Neal Stewart would become just one more female operative on the inactive list. She didn't see it that way, which did maybe say a few things about where he rated on her list of priorities.

If, somehow, his analysis of the Darhel situation was wrong, in any major particular, he would probably find himself beginning a new job on the graveyard shift of the bar that served the station's dock workers. If he was right, as he was almost certain he was, he was about to make the organization a great deal of money. More importantly, he was about to enable the organization to subtly and thoroughly screw a Darhel business group while keeping it totally ignorant of the fact that it was being royally and deliberately fucked. The money would please his superiors. The honor restored, by avenging a very personal debt the Tong owed to the Darhel, would mean infinitely more. The Tong had been scrupulously careful never to speak of their knowledge of the events in the war, and how much they had pieced together of the part the Darhel played in it, anywhere where an electronic eye or ear might overhear it. They had quite meticulously avoided ever putting anything at all in writing, much less onto any electronic device. They had quite deliberately played fat, dumb and happy. And they had waited. Finally, there was an opportunity. It was worth a bit of risk to potentially avenge the deaths of billions of their people. Hell, it was worth the risk to avenge China alone.

The Tong had not originally been his people, of course. But when Stewart joined something, he joined.

Tuesday 10/19/54

Cally had to fight to stay awake on the drive into Charleston Tuesday morning. Granpa had been infernally cheerful when he woke her up at six. Unfortunately, strong coffee tasted wonderful, but might as well have been water for all the good the caffeine did her. Her nannites scavenged it and destroyed it almost before it hit her bloodstream. Provigil-C worked, but not if she wanted to sleep on the plane, and boy, did she want to sleep on the plane. There was too much to do once she got into base. She'd never have time to recover. She really ought to go through her pitch for Michelle's mission before she had to present it. There were a lot of things she ought to do. And she did them. Usually. Mostly. Sort of. Granpa had been a bad influence.

Keiran had the small, gray jet ready to preflight when they arrived—it had taken all of Granpa's persuasion to keep Lucille from sporting at least red stripes and her name.

Their company ID's, under a very sincere front corporation, allowed them to enter the charter gate at any time of the day or night without further screening. Despite the official "terrorism" that DAG existed to combat, nobody was hijacking or blowing up airplanes anymore. Why try that kind of political action? All you had to do if you didn't like living under an existing government was punch out a case or so of sten guns, stock up on ammo, and take off for parts unknown. Oh, there were political malcontents, of course. They just had a dearth of the personality types willing to go out and die for them. Cally never thought of the Bane Sidhe as terrorists, and would have argued vehemently that they were not. After all, they never, ever tried to be noticed, and they never, ever tried to frighten anyone at all. Oh, they sought political change. But very subtly, and with a careful eye towards the long haul. Personally, she was more impatient. It was one of the reasons she had chosen her particular profession. That, and some unusually high scores on the basic occupational specialization aptitude profile. Tactical patience came easily. Strategic patience was harder for her. It was only Aelool's assurance that endgame was ninety percent probable, for better or worse, within her own grandchildren's generation that made it possible for her to keep going, year in and year out.

Once she and Granpa had secured their bikes in the hangar, they stepped out onto the gray tarmac, under the heavy fall cloud cover. Kieran was in the cockpit preflighting Lucille, and Cally loaded her backpack onto the plane. From the boxes in back, she wasn't the only one supplementing income with a little tax-free transshipment of trade goods. She nodded approvingly, until she saw their pilot reach back over his shoulder to press something that looked suspiciously like a wad of bills into Granpa's hand.

"Granpa!" She knew she sounded shocked.

"What? Like you don't?" He didn't even turn around, pocketing the cash, hand coming back out with a well-worn tobacco pouch.

"You could have at least cut me in," she huffed.

"Oh. Sorry. Thought you were getting some unhealthy scruples in your old age," he said. "Besides, no offense, and I'm all for sharing the wealth, but what were you going to trade that I'm not already getting direct?"

"Well, for one thing, a few of the hospitals could certainly use some high grade opium. You know how bare bones they are for most drugs. They've got good enough lab guys to do most of the chemistry on site. We've got enough non-immunes that the base hospital wouldn't turn up their noses, either. Our guys could even do the final chemistry for whole shipments. Better to rope them in to do the reselling, anyway."

"And you'd have a source I don't know about? Tell me you're not involved in any way I'd disapprove of." He seldom took that flat tone with her.

"I have no part in profiting from putting a monkey on anyone's back, not even tangentially, if that's what you mean. Not anything you'd disapprove of, Granpa? You'd disapprove more if I wasn't." She smiled wryly.

He stared at her searchingly a moment before nodding. "We'll talk quantities later," he said. "And where the hell is Tommy?" He stepped to the door of the plane and looked out across the endless gray field as if he could make the other man appear by scowling.

Cally wasn't nearly that fussed about it. Tommy late meant more sacktime for her. She shifted enough boxes that she could recline her seat and got her sleep mask out of her thigh zip pocket. She could sleep without dark. She could sleep propped standing up if that was all she had time for. But she'd get the best use out of the available rest if she had dark. Besides, Granpa was alert enough for both of them. The last thing she heard before she drifted off was a grumpy harrumph from his general direction.

All too soon, he was nudging her awake, tapping her hand from a careful distance on the other side of the aisle.

"Hey, sleepy, time to wake up," he said.

She rubbed the sleep out of her eyes, glancing at the window. Not that it did any good, since someone had thoughtfully lowered the shade. She didn't feel the slightly hollow sensation of descent. "How far out are we?"

"A bit more than an hour," he said.

"What? I've only been asleep a half hour." She glared accusingly. "A bit more," she echoed grumpily, pulling the mask back down over her eyes.

"You got a cat nap. Quit bitching; time for business."

"Can't it wait?" she grumbled.

"Maybe for you it can," Tommy broke in, "but I've got three doctor's appointments and paperwork in personnel. Vitapetroni expects me pretty much as soon as we get off the plane."

"And I need my ducks in a row for Nathan. All right." She sighed, sitting up and yawning. "Anyone think to bring coffee?"

"Sure." Tommy poured a cup of coffee into a thermos cap and handed it over. The slightly sour aftertaste as she drank made her wish they could brew it on board. Unfortunately, the last coffee pot for the plane's machine had broken and from the prices on eBay you'd think the things were made of gold. Wendy had probably brewed this in a pan on the stove. She ignored the grounds in the bottom of the cup and finished the whole thing.

"So. Papa filled me in on the basic mission. Darhel-owned secret research facility, we pull a switch while the all-seeing high mucky-muck mentat is out of town. Broadly, what are the less obvious things that could go wrong? His schedule changes, difficulty getting people inside, all the standard stuff is a given." Tommy shrugged, pouring himself some of the aging brew.

"Well, first off the Darhel and the mentat are going to be worried directly about Michelle. If they weren't scared of her, they wouldn't be trying to kill her. She doesn't plan a direct attack, but how sure of that are they?" Cally offered.

Papa O'Neal spat thoughtfully into a paper towel, wadding it into an airsick bag. "I don't know how she'd attack if she did. Whether the mentat thinks he can handle it or not, my understanding is he's the only thing that could handle a direct attack and everybody would be worried about apocalypse anyway. You can't exactly plan for apocalypse. At least, I've mulled it over and I can't think of a way they could do it. They may be scared, but their whole play is a bet that she won't. If she goes ballistic on them, they'd have to worry just as much about her doing it when they try to call her debts. They've placed their bets, I don't think there's anything we can do about their own 'what if we're wrong' scenario for direct attack."

"They'll expect her to try to call in favors with Indowy clans to find it and steal it back. She's Indowy raised, and that's how they'd handle it. Especially since she's got few clan members of her own as far as they know—just Mike and her breeding group's kids. They'll obviously make sure Mike's on the far side of inhabited space," Tommy said.

"They have; I checked." Papa O'Neal nodded and put in, "They'll call in an aethal master. Get him to set up a situation board and block any moves with the Indowy. Since she's a master herself, they'll hire the best one they can find. We can only hope she's better than he is and has successfully camouflaged any connections she'll be using. That ball's in Michelle's court."

"Darhel. Aliens are alien. As it gets closer to her being in breach of contract, he may get antsy. If he gets nervous, he'll try to cover his own ass. To a Darhel, that will mean flashy moves to look like he went above and beyond in the event that something goes wrong. So what's he do? One thing is it's Earth and humans. Smart Darhel hire security when dealing with Earth and humans. He doesn't know how much they need, so he'll think more is better and expect his bosses to think the same, but he won't want to pay much for it. DAG."

"What? How do you get that?" It was Tommy who said it, but he and Papa were both looking at her as if she'd gone nuts.

"No, it makes sense if you think like an Elf. Great Lakes is right next door. DAG has figured prominently in three or four big box-office holodramas lately," she explained.

Tommy and Papa rolled their eyes. The shows in question had been more Hollywooded than anything Hollywood had turned out prewar. Really bad, and really popular.

"The point is they're glamorous right now. Flashy. The Darhel always have to have the best of the best of whatever Earth's got. Adding to the attraction, he probably doesn't have to pay his lackeys in the Joint Chiefs' office an extra buck to get them. Just bully the guys—they're already nice and compromised. He'll do it because he can, and he'll like it. It's an excuse to throw his weight around. What's the downside to him?"

"That's a hell of a longshot," Papa complained. "He may not even think of it. You can never be too paranoid. Okay, we'll cover it. Brief in one of the cousins just in case."

"He's more likely to bring in a second aethal master. Where a first won't get her, a second might," Tommy insisted.

"True. All we can do about it is remind her to be paranoid as hell and not get caught. Cally, that's your department."

"Got it. I'll take care of the briefing, too. We've got that family reunion coming up. I'm sure there will be someone I can pull off to the side. Are we done?"

"For now, unless any of us think of anything else." He spat once into the bag and grabbed a bottle of water. "I wouldn't turn down a cup of that coffee."

"I'm sleeping." Cally said emphatically. "Don't wake me until we're on the ground."

Father O'Reilly's office was a familiar and usually comfortable place, but today he looked more strained than she'd seen him since the first, tough weeks right after the Bane Sidhe split. Aelool was absent, attending a birth celebration for his newest clan members. It would take all day. It had become necessary for the health of the remaining Indowy to break the traditional prohibition against their highly prolific race establishing breeding groups on Earth. It had been done with trepidation on both sides and a hard upper population limit. Once the limits had been reached, the tentative plans were to proceed with some highly clandestine shipyards that had always been beyond the daring of the original organization. Human influence on the Indowy on this side of the split was so infinitesimal as not to be noticeable to most humans. Cally knew enough about the Indowy to realize the changes were at breakneck speed, for them, and to understand quite clearly why the Bane Sidhe split had been a total divorce. She also knew why the organization was so very careful to conceal the extent of the social changes from the Tchpth observers. Nothing could be concealed from the Himmit, of course, but just because they collected stories didn't always mean they told them.

It made her nervous to see the father so clearly stressed. Anything that could upset him couldn't be good news for the organization. Usually, he wasn't a man given to fidgeting and had one of the best poker-faces of anyone she knew. It took more than a still expression to conceal dark circles under your eyes, though, and the usually immaculate clerical collar was wrinkled as if he hadn't been to bed and changed clothes in quite awhile. He had that look around the eyes that she couldn't quite put into words but had learned to associate with an active dose of Provigil-C. His thumb and forefinger were rubbing together as they must when he prayed the rosary, even though his hands were empty. She doubted he had even noticed he was doing it, which disturbed her even more. The weather in the artificial window reflected the cold, wet, stormy day above. Not the most pleasant day in the world. She herself would have preferred something more cheerful, but she didn't ask him to change it. It would have been rude. Normally she found the shushing sound of rain peaceful. Today it was just dismal. She took a deep breath and folded her hands in her lap, waiting for his comments on the mission profile displayed in front of him on his desk. He turned the display off and sighed, closing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose before looking up at her.

"When, exactly, is Michelle's contract with the Darhel overdue? I see nothing explicit in here about an inside man, and we'd need one. Does she have a man inside or doesn't she, and if not, what are your plans for how we would get a man inside, ourselves, before the whole endeavor becomes moot?"

"Her contract doesn't go into default until May, but she's not confident of being able to hold off a contract court, if the Epetar Group chooses to convene one, for more than about two Earth months." She pointed to the folder. "As you inferred from that, she does have someone inside, but his willingness to help us is limited to helping influence any hiring decisions in our man's favor."

"A hiring decision in our favor. Or, knowing who our applicant is, he could be setting a trap. He could get caught, himself, and give our man up. Of course, no operation is without risks." The priest propped his chin on steepled fingers for a moment.

"I understand that your sister wants this device, and I understand that she's willing to pay very well for its retrieval." His tone was pained, and she knew this wasn't good. "But nothing you've shown us so far gives us good enough assurance of team survival to make it worth the hazard. Also, there's no operational benefit to our organization. Thanks to your own efforts, we do have some financial breathing room. But for strictly financial supplementation, there are safer options. We have always reserved this level of risk for operations with a specific strategic goal. Unless you can show me how this qualifies, I'm afraid we're going to have to decline," he said.

It was not at all what Cally had expected Father O'Reilly to say, and she was temporarily at a loss for words.

"Cally, it's not that I'm indifferent to your family interest here, or the Clan O'Neal interests, for that matter. It's that now, more than ever before, we have to reserve major risks of trained assets to operations with major, long-term, strategic significance." He sighed. "I would love to be able to say yes. And I have heard enough from the Indowy to have a great deal of respect for Michelle O'Neal. I'll give you this much. If you can either bring her on board with the organization or show me why this operation has serious strategic implications that we have so far missed, we'll reconsider."

"Excuse me. External mind control of human beings doesn't have serious strategic implications? And as a pure business matter, on board or not, have you considered how much having a Michon Mentat owe us favors means to this organization?" Cally blinked in disbelief.

"It's strategic if they really have a working prototype. Just because Michelle thinks they do or are about to doesn't mean she's right. I know a lot about what someone with her capabilities can do, and I'm not questioning that it's impressive. I also know that her ability to spy on the immediate environs of another mentat, without alerting him and triggering exactly the kind of conflict she's trying to avoid, are limited. I need hard evidence. A schematic, a workable theory of function, information about the origin of the device, a man inside—hard evidence."

"All that? You don't want much. What if you're wrong?"

"Not all that, just enough of it to be going on more than fears and hunches—even hers. I have to calculate our risks. I can't do that without hard information. For something this big, I'm afraid Michelle's unsupported word, very good though that may be, isn't enough."

"The assessment of a Michon Mentat, to the point of being willing to actually get involved in something, isn't enough." Cally was still. Shit, Father O'Reilly is never this unreasonable. I don't think I'm going to get any more out of him than this. Not today. Fuck. Well, I'll just get more and try to catch him in a better mood.

"If it means that much to her and she's that sure, recruit her. That would be worth enough by itself to justify the risk. Cally, I'm sorry, but you're thinking like a human. I have to look at Michelle's request as if an Indowy of the same level had made it. And her motives and ends may not be our motives and ends," O'Reilly said.

"That makes no sense."

"Believe me, it does. This is academic, you know. She has to be basing her assessment on something. It's enough for her to risk, even herself. But it may not be enough for us to risk. You need to meet with her. It's time for her to show some of her cards." The priest looked pointedly at the door, clearly dismissing her.

What the fuck's eating him? I dunno, but I'd better find out.

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