Thrall and Elven waited patiently. He had changed into black business pants and shoes, and a blood-red shirt, open at the neck. Elven realized early in her assignment that Thrall preferred the color red. He often wore it, especially when meeting with others. She suspected he intended to signal power, even to his daughter.
For her part, Elven had showered and changed into her naval uniform, wearing the tight blue suit denoting her official rank.
She had heard that Noreen Steele was personally bringing in the Tetrarch’s daughter. She had graduated from the Academy at the same time as Steele, but had not seen her since.
They waited in the courtyard. Elven stood at ease, willing to endure long moments of silence with the Tetrarch. She had given up trying to make small talk with the man her first week of working for him. If he did not wish to converse, which was usually the case, he would simply glare at her after any conversational gambit.
No one could say Elven was not a fast learner. And she had learned the Tetrarch did not favor small talk.
Julius Thrall looked off in the distance, watching a seagull catch an air current, spiraling upwards.
Thrall said, “What is the latest intelligence report on my daughter?”
That question, at least, Elven had prepared to answer. So much of this job involved anticipating and meeting his expectations, she thought.
“State Security and Intelligence has the Petra Roe ambassador on Lute in their back pocket. They signaled to him, asking to bring her in. He failed. He reported back that she joined the pirate company that captured Aquamarine.”
Thrall grunted. He knew this part.
Continuing, Elven said “She accompanied the same ship on the way back out a few days later. The Navy set a honey trap at Pegasi Station, featuring the Excelsior.”
Thrall smirked at this. He said, “The Republic put a million credit bounty on that ship.”
Elven nodded. Excelsior’s prowess in battle was fast becoming the stuff of legend. She had taken out quite a number of Republican ships, and seemed to survive on luck and the skill of her Captain, a brilliant woman named Benson. If Benson survived, a promotion to Commodore was no doubt in her immediate future.
Elven said, “Expedient and Polaris were waiting, and sprang the trap on the two pirate ships who showed up for Excelsior. Expedient did not make it, she went down while engaged with the other ship.”
Thrall’s nostrils flared at this. Elven had learned this was the tell when something angered him. What she could not discern was whether the loss of the ship or the fact it occurred so near to his daughter bothered him. Probably both, she thought.
“State Security had an infiltrator onboard the ship your daughter was on.”
Admitting this was not pleasant. The Navy and SSI were rivals before the start of the war. As Elven saw it, the Navy was very straightforward in their intelligence gathering, usually via electronic means with StarCen’s assistance. State Security and Intelligence was more “humint” focused, relying on sleeper cells and spies planted deep inside enemy territory. They were rather unsavory individuals, as far as the Navy was concerned. This made Elven’s next comment unpleasant to state, but it had to be mentioned.
“He helped us in the recovery of your daughter.”
It was tough to admit, she thought. But, without that SSI agent onboard the pirate ship, the Navy would have had a much harder time safely extracting Jillian Thrall. Elven had no doubt the Marines could have done the job, but it would have been much more difficult. And the chances of Jillian’s survival would have been lower. As it happened, the SSI agent made her recovery look easy.
She said, “They left a ‘belly-buster’ bomb onboard after extracting her. That ship and everyone on it with the exception of your daughter, the spy, and one other SSI asset, have all been destroyed.”
“What’s the status of the other asset?”
Elven’s eyebrows shot up. She had not anticipated that question.
“I’m not sure, sir. SSI has not been very forthcoming. I can make additional inquiries if you like.”
Thrall grunted again. He said, “Don’t bother.”
Elven’s ears reddened. Had she goofed? She made a mental note to inquire about the asset anyway. If there was information Thrall needed to know, and that the Navy needed to know, she would find it.
Thrall said, “I presume Jillian had a physical? Any diseases? Is she pregnant?”
“No, sir. I’m happy to report your daughter is in good health. StarCen can show you the ship physician’s report if you’d like.”
And, best of all, the report would indicate she had not been molested during her time on Lute. This tidbit surprised Elven. She knew little about pirates, but she had no doubt they were base scoundrels willing to take advantage of helpless women at the drop of a hat. The fact that Jillian was returning without a mark on her, inside or out, was nothing short of a minor miracle.
Few things were unfixable in this day and age. If Jillian had a disease, that could be cured, most likely. But rape . . . The Tetrarch would not have been happy had his daughter been raped.
Thrall grunted again, a little less unpleasantly this time. He gave no other outward expressions.
StarCen’s high pitched voice rang out in the courtyard.
“Incoming teleportation. Please stand clear of the area.”
A holographic circle appeared in the air at waist level. A second later, two women popped into existence and the circle faded away.
Jillian walked forward, confidently leaving her escort behind. She never broke eye contact with her father, ignoring Elven. Elven looked at Steele, who returned her glance. Steele’s eyes sparkled and she nodded slightly. Elven returned the nod.
Jillian stopped in front of her father and he stared down at her for a while. For several seconds, no one said anything.
Finally, Jillian broke the silence. She said, “Hello, Father.”
Elven watched his face. Sure enough, his nostrils flared.
Out loud, he said, “Your room is ready for you.”
Jillian turned and walked around him to the door, leaving Thrall with the two Naval officers outside. All three watched the Tetrarch’s daughter sent up to her room like a child, walking away without another word.