Troy stared at the message on his workdeck, brow taut with suspicion. The summons itself sounded benign, appearing no more than an invitation to discuss Triumvirate progress. But something about it, something he couldn’t lay his finger on, implied more. Maybe it was only the fact the appointed time was but moments away.
Hopefully it was no more than his festering concerns. In spite of his role in deleting Laitselec his promotion was far from secure. He could still be replaced with another Integrated RG. And there was also the fact the TG had kept Brightstar around. He was making undeniable progress, identifying natural resources and outlining plans for environmental manipulation. Whether he could be trusted, however, was another story. As far as Troy was concerned the answer was absolutely not, given the man’s history.
With it unwise to postpone his arrival, for political survival if nothing else, Troy left his office for sublevel nine. When he got there Spoigan’s vast chamber was nearly full, RGs from the Territories party to Integration thicker than he’d ever seen before. No wonder the benign summons; its distribution had been wide.
Integration’s anthem was barely audible beyond the din until Spoigan rose above them on a hydraulic platform behind his workdeck. An expectant hush fell across the crowd. Troy glanced at the tall man beside him, noting the multiple reflections from the chandelier overhead that glinted from his hairless pate. He recognized him as Eulon Argo, the Eta TG, a neighboring but as-yet not Integrated territory with numerous well-developed resources. A solid trade agreement could strengthen their position, a fact which made him worth talking to as soon as Spoigan said his piece.
“Fellow Integrators,” Spoigan began. “I received word this morning that we have successfully completed the HIO audit. They have accepted our status as duly determined by Regional will. The governmental transition to Integrator rule can now begin without losing HIO support.” A din arose, jubilation rising, but Spoigan held up his hand in restraint. “However,” he stated as the rumbles grew silent. “That’s not all. That is but one small part of our victory. As you can see, our comrade to the east has joined us today, likewise bearing good news. Before this day has passed his territory will likewise be officially Integrated.”
He paused, allowing the implications to settle. “That not only brings us to the threshold of world domination but with their substantial resources we’ll no longer require HIO support, giving us free rein as far as uncooperative and potentially rebellious regions are concerned.”
Troy’s jaw dropped along with everyone else’s who was unfamiliar with recent developments. The addition of the fourth territory brought their numbers to the requisite two thirds which clinched their hold on the planet. Furthermore, no longer needing assistance from HIO freed them to conquer the remainder by any means necessary.
“This clearly brings us to another phase of Integration. Our shackles have been removed, gentlemen, and we may proceed with our plans at will. In celebration, I’d like to introduce our new emblem.” He keyed a remote and an image materialized just below the chandelier. Its center, previously reserved for the individual crests of Integrated territories, had been replaced by a massive “I” enclosed within a transparent silver sphere. The letter pulsed in prism-like splendor, a blazing statement of multiple absorbed identities. In addition a heavy black border lined with crimson rimmed the letter’s edges, symbolism of dictatorial law and rigid enforcement clear.
“You’ll notice the banner is now complete,” Spoigan stated. “We can commence immediate transition from civilian to military rule, for which I invite you to join me in celebration.”
An eerie quiet followed as the import of the news precipitated. Then a spontaneous cheer arose, building to a near-deafening roar as each attendee shared the satisfaction of victory at last within reach.
As the subsequent festivities gained momentum Troy realized Spoigan was trying to get his attention. When their eyes met the man gestured toward his private briefing room. Troy acknowledged with a nod then worked his way through the press to Spoigan’s antechamber, glad-handing fellow RGs along the way. Once he arrived the TG closed the door, silencing the celebratory clamor beyond.
“There’s a bit more you’ll be interested in that I’m not ready to release publicly,” Spoigan said, activating the scrambler then sitting down at a massive conference table as Troy positioned himself on the opposite side.
“Not long ago we, uh, detained a premier research team incoming from Esheron,” the TG stated, not bothering to restrain his dark smile. “Convincing them to join us was easily accomplished. As a result of their work a major technological breakthrough has occurred. The theoretical model for a psicomm bandpass filter has been confirmed. “
Troy could hardly believe his ears, satisfaction soaring as Spoigan continued. “This will not only allow individual encephalographic access but positive identification of those with a mindset hostile to our cause. We now know what we need, just have to find it. As luck would have it, this also shows tremendous promise as the transport medium we need to convert lasoclear energy into a strategic tool that can penetrate any conceivable physical barrier. With that our victory, not only on this planet, but within the entire galaxy, is assured. ”
“You realize, of course, what this means,” Troy said, mind sharply focused on the spoils that had fallen to his hands. His TG didn’t answer. “If psicomm and energy transmission are within grasp,” he went on. “Brightstar is now expendable.”
Spoigan’s features shifted with an unconvinced frown. “We’re close but not there yet,” he stated. “We only know what we need and assume that such a substance exists. If our current exploration methods don’t bring success, finding it may still require tomography. Meanwhile we’re trying to develop it in the lab, but with the quantities we’d need that could be too slow and costly in the long term.”
Troy folded his arms. “So you still think Brightstar is the only one that can help us?”
“He has the best background.”
“But we don’t actually know whether he’s on to this technology or not.”
“Not conclusively,” Spoigan admitted. “We have our suspicions.”
“What if he develops it first?”
The TG sighed. “He could use it against us.”
“If we’re that close to encephalographic access, especially narrowing it down by mindset as well as mindprint, what do we need him for?” Troy asked. “This makes tomographic sideband emissions for mind control obsolete.”
“Not entirely,” Spoigan argued. “We still need it for exploration.”
“There are other methods of exploration. The S3 network uses magnetometer and infrared data all the time.”
Spoigan’s gaze was still and cold. “So what are you trying to say, Troy?”
“I’m only stating the obvious. Brightstar is now expendable. Our own research team is on the threshold of developing the ultimate weapon. If they know what we’re looking for we have other resources at our disposal to find it. Indeed, all that may be necessary is to sift through S3 data on Nifeir. By your own admission Brightstar could destroy us. Delay in his disposal could mean defeat.”
Spoigan’s look softened, ever so slightly. “I suppose you’re right.”
“So he’s mine,” Troy stated.
After a long pause Spoigan gave the answer he’d been waiting for. “Okay. He’s yours. But with certain conditions.”
“His guilt must be convincingly established to both sides,” the TG said, eyes narrowed and finger raised, whether in threat or admonition he couldn’t tell. “There are several within the Triumvirate who consider his terralogical skills a tremendous asset. And furthermore, unsatisfactory evidence could result in panic amongst Neutrals and Clique members which would sap needed resources to suppress.”
“Don’t worry,” Troy replied. “It’ll be taken care of in a, shall I say appropriate, manner.”
Spoigan snorted. “It’d better be. I don’t want you directly involved, understand? Epsilon can’t be held responsible. Our reputation must be guarded, as a member of the Triumvirate.”
“I would think that eliminating renegades would enhance our reputation.”
“The winds of fate, Troy. One never knows, so caution is advised.”
Gradually the fires of deep satisfaction only possible after long and painful delay rushed upon him. How his goal would be accomplished wasn’t clear but this time he knew there would be no escape. And thus convinced, he departed, a suitable scheme rapidly evolving as he searched the crowd for Argo.
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