Operation Starfold 21

“What . . . is going on?”

SSI Director Morales looked at the holo showing readouts of current events, and he did not like what he saw.

All political prisoners were accounted for. They had been duly executed as per Order 1151. All that is, except for those in the reeducation camp on Patmos.

It seemed a Republican spaceship crash landed there and subsequently disrupted the order from taking place.

It was an isolated region, with little in the way of communications, but satellite data clearly indicated the two SSI employees there were killed in the line of duty.

Subsequently, the Army sent in a unit to extract the enemy forces from the island.

The Army . . . who was in control of that? Billings? Technically, Billings was in control of everything.

Anyway, the Army had sent some people over to Patmos to take care of things. Evidently MARS was not cutting it.

But, StarCen seemed to be evasive concerning events that were occurring over there.

If Morales understood correctly, the Army had just failed with their objective. The report showing this was currently obscured, though. He had trouble getting it to show on the screen.

Tetrarch Billings’s holo appeared suddenly in his office. Morales looked up in surprise. Billings sat in his own palatial leather chair. A perfect representation of the man stared at Morales across the desk.

Billings was one of the few people who could make a direct call like that to the Director of SSI Sporades. Morales scowled at the holo in irritation. Then he struggled to maintain control of his face along with the inflection in his voice.

“Tetrarch Billings. What a surprise. I was just asking StarCen about what’s going on, at Patmos. Are we having a bit of trouble over there?”

“That’s why I’m calling, Armando. We have a situation. Since the reeducation camp on that island is your bailiwick, I thought I’d talk to you about it directly.”

“I’m afraid it’ll have to be the other way around, sir. With all due respect, you’ll have to tell me something. I don’t know what’s going on.”

“It seems my orders were corrupted somehow. That’s what I’m calling about.”

“Your orders, sir? Corrupted?”

“Yes. I wanted to send 2,000 troops from Corfu to take the island back from the Marines that crashed there. Somehow, that turned into 200 soldiers. Even worse, they were our newest units. All of them were either killed or captured, just now. They were outnumbered, outgunned, and outsmarted.”

Morales again struggled to carefully control his face. He felt a combination of worry and schadenfreude.

He controlled his tone, too, and said, “That’s terrible, sir.”

“Indeed. I’m beginning to think there’s a hacker on the loose. Or at least, someone who can alter orders and other things. Also, it appears the satellite over Patmos jumped into maintenance mode as soon as our people arrived.”

Morales’s eyes squinted in annoyance at this news. Losing a satellite at a critical moment could be devastating.

He had a dawning realization that flooded his thoughts, and his eyes grew increasingly wider. Could Billings suspect him, or SSI of being behind the hacks?

Billings said, “Can you tell me anything about this, Armando? Help an old man out. Who could be responsible for flipping the tables on us like that?”

Morales heard the slight hint of accusation in the Tetrarch’s tone, but he ignored it. Instead, he turned to the holo on his desk and made a motion with his hand.

A picture of a large female with very short hair sitting on a park bench appeared. She had her eyes closed while her head drooped. She appeared to be meditating. Every so often her lips moved, as if she were speaking to herself.

He said, “I think this particular individual holds a lot the answers we are looking for, sir.”

“Who is that?”

“Doesn’t matter what the records show, we think they were faked. The latest entry on her is from a few weeks ago. But before that, nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“Nothing. And we would have never noticed if we weren’t looking. I think it’s a sign her records are false.”

“How can that be possible? StarCen’s registry is . . .”

Billings’s voice trailed off. He felt decidedly uncomfortable with the direction this conversation was heading.

Morales said, “We think this gal and at least one associate are hiding out in the AWD. When we find her, we’ll probably also find your hacker, sir. We certainly intend to find out who she really is.”

“Good, good. When are you planning to look for her?”

“I have a team moving in now, sir. As we speak.”

“You lost your last team that went in there.”

Morales winced. He could not help it. The story of the failed ten-man team sent into the AWD was not information he wished the Tetrarch had. But, the cat was out of the bag on that one.

Billings took a personal interest in the news generated by the Rostin Beacon. He read the uncensored report their woman on the scene filed before Morales squelched it.

How a reporter got there and recorded everything was a mystery. And Morales hated mysteries.

He kept a close eye on her, one Ashley Washington. But so far, she had proven to be a sound League citizen, following policy and taking orders, censoring stories according to the Tetrarch’s and SSI’s wishes.

She was still put on a list, though. Everything she did would fall under additional scrutiny from this point forward.

Out loud he said, “That’s correct, sir. This team is much, much larger than before. I have every agent available on it. We have about 50 people closing in on her position as we speak.”

Billings nodded in satisfaction.

Morales smiled. He had a plan of action, and was following through with it. That was something, at least.

A warning chime sounded in the air above the desks of both men.

StarCen’s high-pitched voice came down from the ceiling.

“The Diego Fleet is in the solar system. We are under attack.”

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