"I did," says Brock.
"In the loading dock?"
"I'm not sure how that happened. I did it late at night. Besides the loading dock needed a security check anyway."
"So why did you call it?" asks Fostriades.
"Well, I think it's pretty clear why," says Brock.
At this point Avon leaves the gunnery station, taking Alice with him. He has seen enough to determine that what is going to be discussed is legitimate private company business, and he doesn't really want Alice to overhear it.
"So," says Brock, "We can keep up the games, they're sort of fun, but... There's a question I want to bring up. There's an implicit rule about loyalty to the Imperium. My feelings have changed a bit -- I was never very loyal, but I've realized that I'm a lot more loyal to this area than I ever was to the Imperium. I'm loyal to the ship, of course, but let's say it came down to an issue of this area -- we'll call it Scorpionis for the meantime -- if they became the enemies of the Imperium, which side would we fall down on?"
The Captain is first to speak: "We wouldn't be in the area -- it would be dangerous."
"I don't know," says Fostriades, "There'd be an awful lot of profit in it. We might not be in the area because I think certainly that we not only feel divided loyalties, we'd certainly be perceived as having divided loyalties -- which makes it a lot more dangerous for us, as long as we're recognizable, and in this ship we're bound to be."
"Now which looks more like a bug?" says the Captain, "The Emperor, or the Butcher of Dulu?"
"Well," says Brock, "I wasn't in favor of being loyal to the Butcher. I assume that somewhere in this area there's some decent people."
"Lhule seems nice enough," says Fostriades.
"Right," continues Brock, "I mean, it's people like him who I'd be comfortable with."
"I don't think there's any particular likelihood of this happening," says Fostriades.
"The issue comes up because of our guests," explains Brock.
"Alice is the one who is making strange allegations about the Imperium having ambitions here," says Fostriades. "She has a paranoid fantasy that Imperial spies are everywhere and the Imperium is the big bad guy."
Avon now joins the meeting. He has left Alice in his cabin.
"Let's just assume that the spies are everywhere," says the Captain. "There's probably half a dozen spies here in this room. Now what do we do?"
"There ARE half a dozen spies in this room," says Brock, "I don't know how we get around that."
Avon interrupts. "I'm sorry I came in late, because I hadn't got up yet, and you said I didn't have to go... but I wonder if someone could quickly fill me in on what we were discussing."
Fostriades is counting spies. He can only find two and a half. He and the Captain dissolve into a muttered conversation.
Brock answers Avon: "We were discussing loyalty. What are you loyal to?"
"I'm loyal to the Imperium and my homeworld."
"What if the Imperium attacked the TradeMain Foundation?"
"Well, why would they do that? Have you been hearing something about this? Alice keeps asking about this. Is there something I should know?"
"This is the kind of paranoia that I'd like to work around," says Brock to the assembled company. "That's why we're having this discussion."
"But why would the Imperium do that?"
"Purely theoretical. They might. Who knows? The Imperium has been known to do that sort of thing."
"I'm sure they'd do that only if they had good reasons. Then I would say we'd support the Imperium, and protect Alice."
"Protect Alice? Well, at least I can see you have flexible loyalties."
Fostriades resumes counting spies. Adding Avon to his list makes four. "Alice has obviously got to you," he says.
"What do you mean, she's got to me?" asks Avon. "Look, what's a spy? Is it someone who's on the payroll specifically? Because if it's that, then we probably don't have more than three. If it's somebody who might report information to their homeworld, if they found out something that would be of importance, then any self-respecting person is a spy. I certainly am, and I would hope that Alice is for her world. It's a good trait to be loyal to your world. I wouldn't respect someone who wouldn't report interesting or dangerous information they found out to the proper authorities. So, what is a spy?"
"Don't say that too loud around Jack or Jill, or we're all dead," says the Captain. He continues, "What are the proper authorities?"
Brock takes control of the discussion again. "I have another topic I want brought up, since this one didn't go anywhere."
"So what was the point of this one?" asks Avon. "What were we going to decide, exactly?"
"I was pointing out that at least for me, my loyalties have shifted from the Imperium to this area. I like these people better."
"There are some pretty barbaric people here," says Avon, "Although Lhule, he's pretty cool."
"I think there's some pretty good people around here. Not that there aren't good people in the Imperium."
"Why don't we just figure out who we're loyal to if they attack each other? Why do we have to work out all these theoretical situations that probably aren't going to come to pass."
"The reason I raised it at all is we do have two, three, possibly more, Imperium agents on board, and the point is, one of the reasons we're not doing anything about them is that there's this theoretical loyalty to the Imperium."
"I do have to question whether or not I feel any loyalty to an organization that approves of the Jack and Jills of this world," says the Captain.
"Yeah," agrees Avon, "That is troublesome."
"The Emperor has to make use of what he can," says Fostriades, "the Jack and Jills are useful. We found this ship because it was on a mission for the Emperor, and we did all decide to continue its mission. When we get Jack and Jill back to Karin / Five Sisters I consider our obligation complete, discharged."
"You wouldn't consider leaving them at Karakus?" asks Brock.
"Look," says Avon, "We'd either better eliminate them or deliver them to where they want to go. We don't want them alive as enemies."
"I want to give our information as well, to a direct..." starts Fostriades.
"Absolutely not," says the Captain. "I don't want to be debriefed by anyone. There's the debriefings, and there's the debriefings that go on before the debriefings."
"My reason for loyalty to the Imperium," says Avon, "Is because I'm loyal to my homeworld. Fighting on the other side of a war, or whatever, or not giving information to the Imperium that could help it defend against possibly dangerous enemies, could bring danger to my homeworld."
"We have been assisting Scorpionis-cum-TradeMain, rather heavily," says Fostriades.
"And with an explicit understanding at the time we offered our assistance that we were going to give information to the Imperium," points out Avon. "We didn't ever say otherwise."
"It seems to me," says Chiang Ho, "That we have what are apparently fairly highly-placed operatives of the Emperor's, or perhaps not, but in any event they should be turned over to high Imperial authorities. If they are these valued agents who are on some vital mission, we will forever earn the gratitude of the most powerful office in the known universe, and if they were spies working against him, we will likewise be in gratitude of the Emperor."
"I'd like to turn them over, like, to the Emperor," says Avon, "And see whether he shoots them."
"We could turn them over to the viceroy of Karin / Five Sisters, whoever that is," says the Captain.
"The interesting thing..." starts Fostriades.
"They don't want to be turned over to any official authority," interrupts Avon, "Which makes me suspicious."
Fostriades continues, "...is that Jack and Jill don't operate in the IFSS, but Jack Jr., Jack's daughter, seems to be extremely highly connected with the IFSS. We're either restoring her long-lost loving parents to her, or alternatively we're throwing one big monkey-wrench into the whole IFSS, and maybe the whole Imperium."
"We might even be getting her killed, who knows?" says Avon. "They've been gone so long she probably joined the IFSS after they left. And they may kill her."
"She definitely did, she said so," says Fostriades, "But I personally think that in Karin / Five Sisters the balance of tactical advantage is very strongly with the IFSS, and not with two people who've just come in from the..."
"I'm all for placing them with the highest possible authority at Karin / Five Sisters," says the Captain. "I like that argument. But I am not going to stay around for a debriefing."
"The only thing that concerns me," says Fostriades, "Is that I would like to provide our information."
"We can probably jump out, if push comes to shove," says Avon, "And then we'd never need to go into Imperial space again."
"If we can spend a year running around in bug territory," says Brock, "We can certainly spend a year running around in the Imperium."
The Captain says, "We can probably get through to see the viceroy or whatever with our warrant and a claim of having found... um ... I liked the term you used, Chiang Ho, 'highly placed operatives of the Emperor' in need of debriefing and evaluation of loyalties."
Helen agrees. They could talk to the authorities and hand Jack and Jill over before they even have a chance to speak.
The Captain suggests that since they have a highly placed Naval authority on board... the Admiral, perhaps, could start looking into the background of the officials on Karin and find a suitable person.
"Archduke Norris," says Fostriades suddenly. "Take them to Archduke Norris, who knows about this. We told him about it before we took off. We need to get another message to him. The trouble is, we travel faster than the damn Xboats. We will be a month at Karakus, though, so we should be able to get a message sent to him from there. What we need is an agent of the Archduke at Karin / Five Sisters when we get there, and we need to speak to him. The point is, he's the closest thing we know of to a really highly placed personal agent of the Emperor in the Spinward Marches, and if anyone has a method of getting information to the Emperor directly, quickly and listened to, he would."
"Well," says Brock, "I have one more topic to bring up before we abandon the meeting. There was a period of time when I was considering retiring, and I thought that it would be useful to retire on Dulu. It might also be useful to set myself up in high standing on Dulu to avoid various troubles. So I began looking into the possibility of staging a coup on Dulu, with as few people as possible. I began exploring the avenue of using the computer and various persons on board. I formed a small group of co-conspirators: Joe, NoName, myself, Jack, and Jill."
Most of the crew are speechless. The Captain is not. "You included Jack and Jill in this?" he asks.
"This was before we knew that Jack and Jill were... dangerous. This was before we returned to Dulu. So, well, it looks like it kinda went down the drain at Dulu when I began understanding how dangerous Jack and Jill really were."
"They would have been excellent at assisting a coup, that's for sure" says Avon.
"Well, they were, in fact, very helpful" says Brock. "In fact, the coup would have worked very well. This was both talking to them and with a computer projection. Apparently our computer is very good at figuring out how to do this, as are Jack and Jill. The main reason I tell you all this, well there are two reasons: one, just by way of laying out the confessions here so it doesn't come back and bite me; and second is, during the period of time in which we were trying to find out who was safe as far as Jack and Jill were concerned, there was a point where Jack, Jill, I, and Rufus were in a room together. Well, something happened in that room that didn't leave the room until today. Jill has this ability to, well, all she did was touch Rufus, and Rufus, in effect, changed his mind. So I would be very careful around Jill at this point."
"We've got to kill them," says Avon. "I'm sorry, but that's it. We've got to kill them."
"That sounds like psionics!" says Fostriades.
"At this point," says the Captain, "We can no longer say that Joe or NoName are still with us."
"Well, we could never really say that before," says Avon.
"If anyone is capable of resisting, then Joe and NoName probably could," says Fostriades. "If."
"Of all the people on this ship," says the Captain, "Joe and NoName probably would best understand psionics, because I bet the Black Things That Spit work that way. In fact, what do you say we freeze them and give them to the Black Things That Spit, or would that only make them more dangerous? Don't you think the Black Things That Spit would be a good reference to speak to about psionics?"
"That's deep in the Imperium, isn't it?" says Avon.
"Yes," says Fostriades, "But there are places in the Imperium that view psionics very nicely."
"It never seemed to me that the Black Things That Spit stuff was psionics," says Brock. "It's mental discipline, but that's not the same thing. What do we actually know about psionics? She had to actually touch him to do anything."
"Look, if she can do that," says Avon, "First of all we can't be sure we can trust what she said even under the truth drug. Secondly, if she actually gets access to the Emperor, goodness only knows what she could do."
"Or to the Archduke," observes Fostriades.
"The other thing is," says the Captain, "Let's get Rufus a complete medical examination by the doctor now, and see if the doctor can pick up anything."
"Wait a minute," says Fostriades, "All we have is the word of one man that any of this happened."
"What do you think, Doctor?" asks the Captain. "Would this psionic manipulation leave any physical or chemical signs?"
"It's an interesting field for study," Sir Bridgehead replies, "I've been working on a monitor for psionic activity. I don't quite have it working yet..."
"Could you tell whether someone had been psionically manipulated by any physical traces?"
"Would it show up if someone were subjected to standard mental tests?"
Helen points out that psionics tend to be range-dependent. "Aren't there some psionic shield helmets on this ship? I've used those things before."
"It seems to me," says Brock, "That Jack and Jill can't be any more dangerous than they were ten minutes ago."
"They're more dangerous after we leave them," says the Captain. "We've been assuming before that we could leave them in the care of the Archduke and that they would be fairly harmless."
"It's not that they're more dangerous," says Fostriades, "It's just that now we know that they're more dangerous than we thought they were."
"I can't imagine the Archduke is less capable of dealing with them than we are," says Brock, "In fact I think that taking them to the Archduke is still exactly the right thing to do."
"What I would like to do is take them to the Emperor," says Fostriades. "But the Emperor is a long way from anywhere, as far as I know. The only reasonable equivalent is taking them to the Archduke."
"All your reasons for not wanting to mess with them are still valid," says Brock.
"Killing them isn't that bad an alternative," says Avon.
"If they really have important information about the cockroaches," says Fostriades, "Killing them destroys it."
"It doesn't make the Imperium any worse off than it is now," says Avon, "And putting people like this where they could get to the Archduke and other important people."
"Brock," says the Captain, "Has Jill ever touched you? Why not?"
"I'm not very good-looking, all right?"
The Captain continues, "You guys were in the room, Jack and Jill, you, and Rufus... and they only bothered with Rufus?"
"Rufus was the bad guy. I was the good guy. Remember? It always helps to have somebody on the other side. I say we keep the plan as is, but just be cautious around Jill or Jack."
"Let's get their guards psionic shields, too," says the Captain.
"We need to talk to Rufus," says Fostriades, "See what he remembers."
"What happens if you put a psionic shield on someone who is under psionic suggestion?" asks the Captain. "I wonder whether the suggestions will endure without reinforcement, or whether they need to be periodically renewed? Why would some have to touch you to psionically...?"
"It might be the range," suggests Helen, "Not even the Zhodani have very many people who can plant suggestions. Are you sure they're not Zhodani spies? They don't look like them physically."
"They could have been children brought up with the Zhodani," suggests the Captain, "Or they could have sold out. In return for training, perhaps. I wonder how you could trick a Zhodani spy into revealing themselves... if there's something they would react to in a particular way."
"In the comics," says Helen, "The way you'd find out is to kick them in the kneecap and see what language they swore in."
"All we know," says Fostriades, "Is that thirty years ago the Emperor was convinced that Jack, at any rate, was his personal agent."
"Is it unreasonable that they would know Zhodani if they had not dealt with the Zhodani?" asks the Captain.
"They may have dealt legitimately with the Zhodani," says Fostriades, "They're Imperial agents. They probably know the Zhodani very well."
"Actually," says the Captain, "With psionics they probably know everything that's going on in this room right now. Let's get a monitor on Jack and Jill." Everything looks normal. They scan the records of the last hours or so, and that looks normal too.
"So," says the Captain to Brock, "You were going to take over a planet. Why didn't you take it over?"
"We moved on before I could use anything. Oh, and the Navy was there.
When we left the planet it was in the good hands of an elite few, and when
we got back it was in the hands of the Navy."