Edgar Munk leaned back in his leather office chair and sighed. The problem with a tetrarchy, he thought, was the vast distance and area it covered. Star League controlled 16 major planets—17 if you counted Epsilon Prime—and a host of less significant ones.
It was too much. Even with the most sophisticated artificial intelligence system ever developed, StarCen, it was still too much. He simply could not keep tabs on everybody.
It was hard enough monitoring social media, electronic communications, and eavesdropping on human speech. The multiple, multiple hours of data generated at all times of the day and night on all the planets covered by StarCen was impossible for humans to sort through all by themselves. Countless quantum-computing cycles were devoted to parsing the info, submitting it to algorithms, looking for signs of sedition and betrayal.
And then there was the other human intelligence that was gathered. SSI was modeled after the Ministerium für Staatssicherheitin the old Soviet-controlled East Germany. The organization had been better known as “Stasi.”
Stasi was organized before advanced computing, and combined the very worst elements of Nazi Germany and Russian-style communism. It used human intelligence as its primary tool of terror and control. Neighbors snitched on neighbors, family members on family members, everyone quick to point out the secrets of those closest to them before they themselves were fingered.
SSI developed tactics based on this grand predecessor. Any agent worth his or her salt studied the great intelligence agencies of the past including the KGB, the Stasi, and the Gestapo. These agencies were lauded by modern SSI, and any techniques that could be learned from their forefathers were considered sacrosanct by most agents.
But now, Munk decided, now they were just too big to keep tabs on everything. He had trouble monitoring his own people. Just the other month, his man at SSI Juventas ordered Tetrarch Thrall’s youngest daughter to be taken out, contravening all rules and decorum. Munk personally got on the line and apologized to Julius Thrall when he found out. The order had been rendered without Munk’s knowledge.
Thrall had been gracious in the call. Martin Evans was already gone by that time. The local police had ruled it a death by natural causes, but Munk knew that Raquel Kirkland could have taken him out. It fit her modus operandito cause heart attacks. She could have easily sneaked into his apartment via the wiring and enacted Thrall’s retribution.
In fact, if Edgar were a betting man, he would have placed all his money on that scenario hitting close to the truth. He knew from reports that one of Martin’s men tried and failed to bring Raquel in at the same time the Navy brought back Thrall’s daughter from a pirate ship. Raquel disappeared, and Martin Evans showed up dead. One did not have to be the proverbial rocket scientist to put two and two together.
The only thing Thrall wanted from him on that call was an assurance that Munk did not know anything about the whereabouts of his daughter. Evidently she disappeared again, shortly after coming home. How she could have vanished from one of the most heavily guarded and isolated sites on Clarion was a mystery to both men.
Munk assured the Tetrarch he had thoroughly reviewed the files, and his daughter was not retrieved by SSI during that rogue operation. In fact, SSI was a little confused about how their men were taken out. Not one member of the team survived.
Thrall graciously let bygones be bygone, although he hinted that Evans’s replacement would likely live longer if he or she did not share their predecessor’s animosity. Munk assured him an appropriately neutral party would be appointed to run SSI Clarion.
He breathed a bit easier after the call terminated. If there was one man Edgar Munk respected, even feared a bit, it was Julius Thrall. The Tetrarch would not hesitate to eliminate the head of SSI Epsilon if he thought he needed to, just as he no doubt eliminated the head of SSI Clarion when Evans crossed the line.
Munk also had no doubts that Raquel Kirkland was with Thrall again. Munk had been there when Thrall took her out of Raton Five, and he had seen how well they hit it off on the flight back home. Even though Munk trained Raquel and officially she was classified as an SSI asset, he knew where her heart was.
He took a deep sigh and returned to the problem at hand. The League was too big to control adequately. Seventeen major planets, and a bunch of minor ones. Billions upon billions of people.
Dividing things up into a tetrarchy had been a stroke of genius. Four planets were infinitely easier to manage. Epsilon could be at the center of things, a headquarters for organizations serving all quadrants.
But even so, even with a tetrarchy, managing state security for the League was proving a gargantuan task.
And here now, back on Epsilon Prime, he had university professors espousing such notions as constitutional representative democracy! The thought of such seditious teaching taking place at his alma mater was almost inconceivable to Munk.
He glanced down at the report Fernando had filed, and the request to terminate that the agent made at the very end. It was marked in code, “801.”
It would have to be termination, Munk thought. Dr. Milford had tenure, and he could not be fired for anything he said during lectures, no matter how politically incorrect. Eliminating sedition like this would involve cutting out the cancer completely.
Munk sighed again, deep and long this time. Then he said, “StarCen?”
The AI’s high-pitched voice came down from the ceiling.
She said, “Yes, Director Munk?”
“Inform Agent Fernando I approve his 801 request.”
“Yes, Director Munk.”
Fernando sat on a university park bench eating a hotdog from a food cart vendor. He wore a baseball cap, a style unchanged in centuries, and watched Dr. Milford at a safe distance. He also kept a mental eye on his neural connection to SSI HQ. He had filed his report and uploaded the holo an hour ago, almost as soon as class let out. No doubt his superiors kicked it upstairs since he included an 801 request.
Sometimes those requests generated additional investigations. Sometimes they resulted in an outside agent brought in to fulfill the directive. But sometimes, and this Fernando fervently hoped would be the case this time, sometimes the 801 request was approved on the spot.
The professor was oblivious to all the machinations and discussions concerning his fate, and followed his daily routine of eating a sack lunch in the park and feeding popcorn to the local variety of pigeons.
Fernando knew Milford’s routine, often following him to the park and back to his flat in the evenings. He watched the professor throw the last of his popcorn out while sitting at a bench about ten meters away. The older man smiled at the pigeons, happy to watch them scramble for kernels as they hit the ground.
A text message popped up in his mind’s eye: “801 approved.”
They saw it my way, Fernando thought with a smile.
He reached a hand up to the bill of his cap and activated a microswitch. A crosshair lined up in his inner eye, following his line of sight. He stared at the professor’s face and activated the neural connection linked to the tiny weapon in his cap.
A beam of energy shot from the hidden gun, following the agent’s crosshairs. It hit the professor’s forehead, silent and invisible. Fernando concentrated on the same spot for ten seconds, twenty.
The professor wiped sweat from his head. He stood up suddenly and swayed, apparently dizzy. Fernando kept staring at his forehead, maintaining the crosshairs’ location. The beam continued aiming at Milford’s face.
He collapsed, falling to the ground in a heap.
A woman nearby pushing a baby stroller stopped and looked at him.
“Are you alright? Sir, are you okay?”
She bent down to check on him, pressing the implant under her ear to dial 9-1-1.
Fernando stood, confident that the professor was not okay. The energy beam hidden within his cap had caused a cerebral hemorrhage, and nothing short of immediate medical attention would save him.
As he walked away he heard the young mother speaking frantically over her neural connection.
“Yes, I’m in the park, and this man just collapsed. He fell over on the ground. Yes, I’ll stay on the line. Can you see my optics? Yes. Yes.”
Fernando smiled as he left the area.
Rather than a college education, Fernando had spent his formative years under the tutelage of SSI instructors, learning how to infiltrate subversive groups and kill their leaders quietly. He remembered something his assassination instructor had mentioned when discussing professors.
The elimination of high-level targets was always a concern, and professors fell into that group. If they could be discredited, or run out of the institution, that would usually suffice. Anything to remove them from an influential position. But if they were safe from political threats, as tenured professors often were, other steps had to be taken.
What had the instructor said? Fernando quoted him from memory.
“If he has tenure, he meets the Reaper.”