Truth

Perhaps turning his new temporary multi-bunk quarters inside-out hadn’t been the wisest of ideas. The hollow raps started in again. “I’m working on it, already!” Bach shouted so as to be heard through the latched metal door while sifting through the wreck he’d made of the place… a surprising feat, really, given how little he’d originally thought the room had contained.

With every mattress tossed… with the contents of every unbolted drawer flung over the course of a wide arc… with every hanging uniform sent directly to the floor… well, now that he was being summoned, Bach couldn’t find his own tentative belongings. The engineer jumpsuit they’d found for him looked much like everything else now piled on the floor.

Bach ignored the next few knocks that came… having just found the suit. Much the same color as everything else, that it was a one-peice eventually gave it away. Hurriedly, he removed his outer layers and slipped into the jumpsuit. “Why the hell do they call these things jumpsuits, anyways?” he asked himself.

The conversation with the Rear Admiral hadn’t lasted all that long, but not a bit of what Bach had heard had pleased him whatsoever. Anders really hadn’t been in on any of it, from what he could gather beyond her having said as much. Still, she also seemed little upset by the fact that the Union seemed to have condoned actions that rightly should require every other union or nation on the face of the planet to declare immediate sanctions… if not outright war. No military anywhere was so much as allowed access to templates, much less to deal in the manufacture of entire strains of the little buggers bent on doing… what, exactly?

Bach both wanted to know… and didn’t. If they meant to rely on him for some kind of solution, then he couldn’t see avoiding knowing more than almost certainly would be good for his long-term health.

And then there was the matter of Mitsuki. He’d said nothing to the Rear Admiral about her but, in all likelihood, since Anders hadn’t already known about her… well, that likely meant that the young druid had made her way into the city without getting caught. Still… would she know to avoid the iridescent infection spreading across the battered cityscape? All in all, Bach had carried around a permanent nugget of nausea somewhere deep within him… over her… over finding himself legally constrained to cover up these damn sour illegal nanites of theirs.

With the city in ruins, the native wireless was essentially gone, and the ship itself wasn’t letting him tune in through its satellite connections… and if he succeeded at any attempt to wrangle control of his husk with short-range radio… well, they’d know something was up and home in on the thing right away.

“Gaww,” he half-cursed by way of whisper. Zipping the engineering suit all the way up so that it clenched snugly right ‘round his throat at the base of his skull, Bach was still far too angry to give a damn for the mess he’d made… and kicked the debris out of the way on his way to the door. “I’m coming,” he announced loudly as he reached for the latch.

The door opened with a metallic whine. Beyond stood Anders and another woman—probably in her mid-twenties, if he had to guess — who looked vaguely like Lady Kalitzakis. She had the same complexion and hair, anyways… and wore a jumpsuit of the same sort as his. In fact, they both were!

Rear Admiral Anders bowed her greying blonde head ever so slightly. “For the time being,” she said, “your names are Smith.” She smiled, probably amused with her having just stuck them with the most cliché of names. Without so much as looking at the younger woman, she said, “I’m so glad that you two had such a wonderful honeymoon in Maui.”

Bach may have blinked… the other ‘Smith’ certainly did, appearing distinctly mortified, if anything. “But,” was all she could get out.

“Don’t worry about it,” Anders interrupted. “We’re nearly to the inner line beyond which not even the frigates are allowed.” When Bach only stood in the doorway, the officer beckoned. “Come along already. You said you wanted a sample of the nanites, didn’t you?”

Bach nodded… he may not have said it in so many words, back in Anders’ quarters, but it was the simple truth of the matter.

“Fine enough,” she continued with what seemed to Bach a false casualness. “We’re only minutes away from a site at the edge of their expansion.” Having said that, Anders walked off and out of his line of sight.

The other ‘Smith’ stood waiting… perhaps for Bach to precede her down the hall. She certainly didn’t speak up when he did. Instead, with a quick and nervous glance, she shoved into his hands what looked to be a full mechanic’s helm of the sort not uncommon around his old warehouse… before it sunk, that is.

“Thanks,” Bach said to Lady ‘Smith,’ though he found it unlikely she took the word for being any more than that… an empty word. “Why don’t you just turn them off?” Bach asked Anders as he turned to follow after her.

Something akin to an ‘eep’ behind him brought Bach’s attention ‘round for just a moment. The other ‘Smith’ looked out at him with frightened looking eyes even as she moved to don her own helm. Between that and how high up these jumpsuits clasped around the neck… well, they’d serve well for anonymity. At least, Bach felt certain that that was the idea here. Still… what did his quote-unquote ‘wife’ have to be so nervous about? Was she in the same boat he was? Dragged into probably the worst nightmare a nano-device engineer such as himself had been strictly educated never to let happen? Okay, Bach thought to himself, maybe he should be following her example.

Bach didn’t quite find the time to wonder just who it was she was… or whether or not she actually was an engineer like himself… before the Rear Admiral turned her head in reply to his question. “What?” When she saw that he hadn’t taken the hint and donned his own helmet, Anders turned sideways just long enough to jab a worn-looking finger in its general direction. “It’s best for everyone if no one knows anyone.”

Bach huffed out an exasperated sigh… and again caught a muffed ‘eep’ from the woman walking close behind him. Maybe she simply had the hiccups… whatever. He lifted his helmet and let it settle around his head. The aerogel insulation automatically reshaped in order to give him a snug fit.

Resisting the gut instinct to look back again at the younger woman, he chose instead to preface his recent question. “Legal nanites can’t survive more than a few hours outside of their jurisdiction or without a constant supply of fuel. They also can’t replenish or expand their numbers on their own. Even so,” he continued, “they still come with a kill-switch. Given the nature of the…” Bach paused, uncertain of what to call this illegal strain spreading across the ruins of Boston. “I don’t know what the hell your buggers are meant to do, but… but as dangerous as they are, there must be a kill sequence built into them.”

“They’re not my,” the Rear Admiral drawled out, “buggers. This facility, so far as I can tell, has been up for years before I was ever brought in… and I was not brought in under any pretense of technical capacity whatsoever. I just move and I just shake and that’s it.” She didn’t look back once the whole time she said this… though, once again, Lady ‘Smith’ squeaked from inside her helm.

“What of their governor?”

Anders glanced back at Bach for a moment, then rounded a corner. Once he’d followed back into view, she asked, “Their what?”

Bach allowed himself to roll his eyes, protected from her by the solid transparent keratin visor on his helm. “Gov’nor is a device that coordinates the activities of a posse of nanos. Don’t tell me these can operate without one of those, too.” After all the goddamn violations Bach had heard about in the last hour, yet another would come of no surprise at all. This was madness.

“I wouldn’t know about that,” was all Anders had by way of reply.

“Well, who would know?” Bach was losing his patience… and, once again, upon hearing the other ‘Smith’ verbally recoil… or hiccup… or whatever the hell was wrong with her, Bach turned back again. “Do you know?”

The feminine form, entirely encased in hydrophobic cloth and keratin helmet, looked just about read to bolt. “I know what a governor is,” she said, voice strongly in contradiction to her body language, “but not about theirs… or if they have one.”

“So you’re not in on this,” Bach had to ask.

She shook her head, but it was Anders up ahead who was next to reply. “Everyone who was, as you say, in on this… they were in the facility at the time your precious climate change hit.” After a moment, she added, “And let’s not talk about it until we’re down on the ground where it’s just us and one or two trustworthy bodyguards… okay?”

“I guess,” Bach dithered just as the other ‘Smith’ half-coughed and half-eeped. Bach turned ‘round to catch her outstretched hand. “What?” He asked.

At hearing his question, Rear Admiral Anders slowed, stopped, and turned around. Her hands went straight to her hips as she forestalled any further passage through the narrow halls. “Yes… what?”

The other ‘Smith’ wilted under Anders’ helmed gaze, but spoke nevertheless. “Change of plans,” she stuttered out nervously. “There’s a commotion in the city, I’ve been told… one of your frigates has been… uhhh… it’s on its way to one of our points of interest. An agricultural tower nearer the bay.”

The Rear Admiral’s hands shot high, grazing the low ceiling with a soft thump. “The hell you say!” She shouted. “I’m in command out here… when was I going to be told about this?”

The younger woman wilted even further, if such a thing were possible. “Sorry,” she all but breathed out, almost inaudibly. “I was only just contacted about it before you brought me to his door,” she said, pointing a quivering glove toward Bach as if with accusation.

“Whatever,” the Rear Admiral said, visibly deflating as she turned back toward the way she’d been leading them. “We’ll get you on your damn ship.”

The rest of the trip up to the cruiser’s deck consisted of a couple more turns, one short flight of stairs, and several more thin hatch doorways. The first closed doorway Anders encountered was the also the last, leading out upon the deck. Just beyond stood yet another figure in a mechanic’s jumpsuit, already hidden behind a safety helm identical to theirs. He saluted right away, and in so doing revealed a sidearm holstered somewhat behind the side of his back. Bach thought he must be the aforementioned guard.

“As you were,” Anders told him. “Just one of you?”

“Aye, Lady Rear Admiral,” the guard replied.

“That’ll be fine,” Anders said dismissively. “Are we inside the perimeter?”

“Aye.”

“Are all non-essentials in their quarters?”

After a question like that, Bach let his previous anger turn into concern. Perhaps he’d come to understand whatever it was that had his so-called wife on the verge of panic.

“Aye,” the guard replied like an echo.

“Excellent, then.” Anders moved toward the side of the ship while the guard stepped backwards, giving way. As she passed him, however, she slowed to add, “A frigate will be coming alongside shortly. Please be ready with the plank.”

“Aye,” he repeated for the third time before bounding off toward a recess in the railing not too far to the aft of where the rest stood.

Pushing onward a few steps ahead of him, Anders grasped upon the railing and leaned slightly over the edge. Sidling up, Bach did much the same, taking in the mess below.

Though there seemed to be a strange lack of mud and seawead clogging up the streets, there sure was a hell of a lot of sand… not to mention bent metal, cars crushed like old tin cans, piles of fallen brickwork.

Beyond all these things that Bach, prior to a week ago, would never have guessed he’d see in his lifetime, there was something else. A chromatic rainbow sheen spread across much of the ruinous cityscape… thick here, patchy there. Hell… a nearby acutely tilted building, coated in thin but undulating reflections of every color imaginable, looked to be half-molten about its sunken base. Not yet eaten, per se… but Bach knew that that was exactly what was happening down there.

“It’s foundation was probably on landfill,” the Real Admiral observed, watching the same building as they passed. “So it sunk, I guess. There’s a lot more like it… though some collapsed entirely.”

“Yeah,” Bach breathed out. At that time he felt more than saw the other ‘Smith’ pull up about as far from him on his left as Anders stood to his right.

“God,” was all she said.

“Yeah,” Bach said again as he glanced her way. “That sheen’s going to be the expanding posse,” he added while pointing. When the younger woman did not reply, he just came right out asked, “You also a template engineer?”

The other ‘Smith’ shook her head without speaking.

“You don’t need to know what her purpose here is,” Anders bit off. Then her tone changed completely, as if she’d not just spoken with thinly veiled venom. “By the way,” she said, “how best do we get your sample, Sir Smith?”

After a moment’s flustered irritation, Bach focused himself upon the question… and had to ask one of his own. “Do we know what material was used for their containment prior to… uhh… prior to the tsunami?”

“Don’t know,” Anders replied from behind the helm she’d only just slipped over her head… making her the last to do so. Now there stood, alone so far as Bach could see, four mechanics unidentifiable save that two were male, two were female, and one wore a naval issue sidearm of one sort or another.

“Well, that’s problematic,” Bach shot back. “If we guess wrong, then I wouldn’t even want to guess what kind of trouble we could get into. Falling into a vat of legal recyclers would case serious skin irritation in seconds… and potentially overwhelm the best defenses a person’s wetware could throw up against those that get inside. Get the person out quickly, and they’ll be okay since legals can’t reproduce or live long without pre-ordained fuel material that would not generally include human flesh. Can any of us say the same about what’s down there?”

“From what little I know of it,” Anders replied after a few moments, “the stuff is downright viral.”

“Right… so.” Bach had to pause for thought… and two things eventually came to him. “This ship must have some mediware ampules, yes?” Bach turned to watch as the shorter feminine figure, in turn, looked toward him.

“Naturally,” the Rear Admiral answered from behind her helm. “It’s a combat ship. You’ll collect a sample using…”

Bach cut her off this time… and, again, the other ‘Smith’ chirped out her fearful-sounding surprise. “No no no,” he began. “But I do think I can use them to analyze the sample… find out what the buggers’ rulesets are. I dunno how I would manage to find a solution without access to that information.”

“I see,” Anders replied, seemingly little offended with his interruption. She then pointed to the guard. “I can handle the plank should the other ship come soon,” she said. “Please get Sir Smith here some medics, if you please.”

“Two vials,” Bach interjected before adding, “please.”

The guard nodded and made for the same doorway from which Bach and the others had emerged a few minutes before.

“So how do you think you can get your sample, then?” Anders asked following the loud latch of the door.

“Well,” Bach answered. “Small as they are, nano-machines aren’t really any different than most any natural organism with limited strength and moving parts. A good concussion will kill them just as easily… maybe some explosives as long as there isn’t much fire after the fact. I’d need something left over to study, after all.”

“What? We can just fire a shock round into their general vicinity and it’ll kill them?” Anders sounded less than convinced.

“Most, yes,” Bach returned. “Given a while, though, those that survive will spread once again. If worse comes to worst…” he continued. “I mean, I still have no idea what it is I am supposed to be able to do about all this… but if all else fails, you can always vaporize the city. That ought to do the trick.”

Anders exhaled a single insincere laugh. “That’ll be hard to explain,” she said. “Just a moment,” she added before speaking as if to the air. “Captain Narayan?”

Hardly a moment later, the avatar of a uniformed man with grey hair appeared on the deck. Without local connectivity or access to the ship’s throughput to the rest of the world, Bach had nearly fallen into the old habit of wholly ignoring the wireless… hell, he’d nearly forgotten that he’d left his wetware tuned in at all. As such, the appearance of the ship’s proper captain startled him, if only long enough for a single blink.

“Rear Admiral?” The captain’s avatar saluted.

“Captain,” Anders began. “Are you aware that we will be in rendezvous with one of the quarantine frigates?”

“Aye, Lady Rear Admiral.”

At this, Anders grumbled to herself… but said nothing more about it. “Fine. In the meantime, I’m told that a strong concussive impact will disable or destroy enough of the nanites to allow our revered Sir Engineer to safely collect enough to study. Can you arrange for a shell and find a good place to fire it?”

“Aye, Lady Anders.”

“Come to think of it,” she added, “pick some old fuel depot or something similar… so that any traces of the explosion could pass for being a natural result of the disaster.”

“Aye. Anything more?”

When Anders looked to Bach, he only shook his head. That all sounded well enough… but then something occurred to him. “Wait… there is something!”

“Hmm?”

When both figures, real and virtual, turned to look at him, Bach almost lost the thought he’d had. Still… “When we first came trying to find a way into Boston,” he said, “it wasn’t just because we had volunteers. We didn’t know about your quarantine, of course, but I did pick up a short-range radio marker from one of my authorized templates that was swept away on the evening of the tsunami. Unless it’s been recycled,” he allowed, “then it will almost certainly still be down there somewhere.”

Even as he admitted all this, he opened himself up to the faint signal. It was still out there… though given his position alone, he’d not be able to guess at much more than its rough distance.

“Yes,” he added. “Yeah, I can feel that it is still out there.” He could not help but wonder, though, what this meant for Mitsuki. Has she not found it yet? Has she not been able to reach it? Bach tried not to think about it. At the very least, this meant that it had not yet had its casing recycled and consumed by the illegal infection surrounding them.

“One moment, Captain,” Anders said aside to the figment officer. “What are you saying, Sir Kah… Sir Smith?” Her heavily gloved hands went to her hips.

“Well… well, I can’t say for sure, but it may come in useful to me. Of the templates we’ve recovered, it is still possible that it is any one of the three strains of nanite we had templates for. Still… at the very least, I’d like to recover it before it gets consumed.”

Sensing movement, Bach glanced sideways as he finished. The other ‘Smith’ had sidled up beside him, perhaps at arms length, her own crossed tightly under her chest. She didn’t say anything, though… so Bach finished this thought.

“The security case will automatically sync up with any local open protocols, though… so, if you make your ship a receiving hub, I should be able to just talk to it… ask it where it is.”

Without being able to see her face, Bach couldn’t quite interpret the pause the Rear Admiral gave by way of reply… but reply she eventually did. “That’s well enough,” she said. She returned her attention to the captain’s avatar again. “Sir Narayan, if you will?”

“Aye, Lady Rear Admiral.”

“But,” she added, physically asking for his continued attention with an outstretched glove. “Just to be safe, disconnect the vee-sat, if you will.” Though she may not have intoned as much, Bach knew full well she meant to ensure that he did not have access to the outside world. It may make professional sense… but that didn’t leave him any less irritated.

Strangely, though, it was the other ‘Smith’ who claimed. “But,” she began with a raised if slightly muffled voice.

Rather than reply with words, the Rear Admiral just chopped a hand through the air… much like she had the evening before, when Bach had first encountered the woman. The motion certainly had its intended effect. “That’ll be all. Sir,” she then directed toward the figment Captain… what had she called him? Naryan? He’d already forgotten. “Prepare a shell, select a location… but wait until after we’ve secured his template before taking us there.”

Almost immediately after the ethereal officer saluted and vanished from view, the ship banked… not steeply, but enough to remind Bach of the ship’s motion. Perhaps a minute later, the Captain’s image reappeared. “We’ve cut the vee-sat, as you requested, Lady Rear Admiral. Ship’s now functioning both as a transmitter and receiver instead.”

Anders waved the man off as she turned back to face toward the veering scenery. “Thank you, Sir Captain.”

Almost as soon as the grey-haired man disappeared for a second time, the guard disguised as a mechanic reappeared through the deck door. Seeing as how Bach was the only other figure among them of obviously male build, he was not surprised when the unnamed guard made straight for him. A clenched right hand extended as he neared, and opened, palm upwards. Two vials filled with what looked like molten gold clicked together as they rolled back in forth in his wavering hand. “Here you go,” was all he said.

“Thanks,” Bach returned with a slight nod of the head… even as the guard turned and retreated to some distance from the others. Pocketing both ampules, he directed his attention to the Rear Admiral’s back. “May I reach out to my template?”

The suited and helmed figure of the older woman barely turned toward him at all. “Aye,” she answered. “Put down a marker icon when you find it.”

“Alright,” Bach agreed with just enough volume to be heard at all. Wasting no time, Bach hoped to God that these people hadn’t secretly found the means to eavesdrop on modern wireless protocols, after all. For Lady Hayato’s sake, he had to risk it.

Mind set on his intended task, Bach grabbed the rail for support and closed his eyes. He cast his awareness out across what felt like the wireless, limited as though it may be. So strange, it seemed, for the world to feel so small. Hell, the thought itself struck Bach as odd, given his general avoidance of the wireless throughout his adult life. Whatever the sensation, Bach pushed through it and sought the security briefcase that housed his nano-machine template.

At first, he found nothing… not even though he could still sense its weak radio pulse. The intellect embedded in the thing’s seal had few tasks to perform, and little power with which to perform them… so, had not Bach another idea in mind already, he might have grown impatient with the damn thing’s slow negotiations with the newly arrived wireless hub… rather, the cruiser itself.

Instead, Bach went in search of the mind of the lesser ceti husk that he’d unwillingly sent into the city with Mitsuki as its pilot. Most importantly, he wanted to snag the thing before it also automatically synced up with the naval aerocruiser… if it was out there at all.

And… there it was… and occupied at that. Mitsuki was out there, alive, and in full control of the husk. Careful to keep himself solely privy to the figments he conjured up, Bach stretched himself out across the still-intact visage of Boston… toward an American Telepresence beacon probably a good two kilometers away, more or less, near the base of what looked to have been a farm tower… a vertical garden. Out of raw curiosity, Bach allowed himself the thinnest half-open squint of a single eye so as to superimpose the pre-tsunami figment landscape upon the real. Surprisingly enough, the relatively young agricultural tower had fared better than many of its neighbors who inclined at various angles where they had not fallen altogether.

Whatever… that’s where the husk is. Shooting out across ethereal city, Bach latched upon the mind of his machine and sought the backdoor that husk engineers like himself always installed as a means of testing their in-use functionality. That Lady Hayato was already connected to the thing may have saved them both, but he couldn’t risk kicking her out of its mind… not when it would immediately try to sync with the nearest available wireless hub.

It took some doing, but after some initial resistance, Bach found his way in. If he had not been in this senselessly black place many times before, having tinkered together many husk prototypes, he might have felt as lost as he had his first time. Instead, he instantly became aware of another presence. “Lady Hayato?”

Though he could see nothing, hear nothing, or feel nothing… the formless wave of confusion that passed over him came as no surprise. Even in this net-layered day and age, people didn’t hear each other’s figment voices as if from inside their heads… no. It would always sound as if another person were in the room with them. It was no surprise to him that Mitsuki’s mind reeled with confusion… or that it took her some several moments to figure out how to reply. “Kavanagh?” Even in her mind, it seemed, she still clung to her childhood accent… what with her ‘v’ sounding more like a ‘b.’

“Yeah, it’s me,” he… well… emanated. That was the only way Bach could think of it. “I came into the husk through the testing port… and am roughly two kay away from you… in Boston. Our favorite frigate commander followed us all the way back to Maine the next morning… brought me back with him. They’ve asked for help cleaning up…” Bach wasn’t quite sure what to tell her, now that he thought about it.

“What? Cleaning up?”

Sour hell, Bach kept the thought to himself. He wanted nothing more than to broadcast his anger over the way the military… or whoever is responsible… the way they’d shattered all the most important of the nano-machine laws. But this was bigger than him. He might feel better for having told the truth… but what of the Union itself? How would it fare if it got out to the world that they had betrayed the Dubai conventions?

Bach allowed his living body to sigh. “There was an unfortunate sequence of spills in the city during the tsunami,” Bach broadcast to Mitsuki inside the tiny universe that was the husk’s mind… beginning his lie with a truth. This was all he could think to tell her. “City gut recyclers broke loose of their containers… and too near some soup, too. They’re recycling everything in their path, and haven’t used up even half their newfound fuel supply in the past week. So they pulled me in… to see if I could find a way to stop them before even more of the city is lost.”

“That explains a few things,” Mitsuki emanated back to him. “I saw a lot of rainbow reflections on my way in, and it seems to be spreading.” When she said no more on that, Bach hoped beyond hope that she wasn’t steeped enough in nanite science to know that even that much wouldn’t be their proper behavior even under the circumstance he’d laid out for her.

“That’s it,” he confirmed. “Have you got any on you?” Problem is, if she did know enough about recyclers, then she wouldn’t fear this illegal strain nearly as much as she would if she knew what they were.

“No,” she answered him succinctly.

Bach physically exhaled his relief… and then was startled somewhat but the sudden proximity of Rear Admiral Anders’ living voice. “Haven’t you found it yet?” her muffled but loud voice came to his ears as he imagined it might to a blind man.

Bach conferred the sensation of body language that said ‘wait a sec’ through the husk’s void of a mind. It didn’t matter that Mitsuki wouldn’t be able to see it… she’d sense it and get the message. To Anders, Bach spoke out of the side of his mouth. “The security case,” he said truthfully enough, “isn’t the most powerful of intellects. It’s still out there trying to tune into your ship.”

“How long can it possibly take?” she asked in response.

“In all honesty,” Bach returned, “there’s usually a thousand hubs in a city like this. The surrounding towers not only screw with line of sight, but their metallic skeletons likely throw up some interference to radio as well. It’ll take a minute.”

Anders huffed out her disgruntled response, but otherwise let it drop. Pressed as he felt in that moment, though, Bach curtailed much of what he meant to tell the young druid. “I can’t stay. Suffice it to say, though, the Union,” he embellished so as to make the story sound more plausible, “is trying to keep a lid on this so that people don’t start panicking about their own cities’ guts.”

“So?”

Damn… not the response Bach was hoping for. “So… their reasoning is good, it seems to me. Try to keep it quiet, if you can.” When she did not reply right away, Bach decided to press for a conclusion. “I told that Rear Admiral about the template, now that we’re in the city itself… and, besides… the recyclers are dangerous to you. Please just get out the way you came in as quickly as you can carefully accomplish. You… you haven’t found the template yet?” Buried in the husk’s mind as he was, he hadn’t sense yet of the outside etherscape.

“What? No… but I can’t leave yet.”

Huh? “Why not? It’s important!” Too late to take that back, Bach hoped she wouldn’t ask why. He hated lying for just this reason… there was no having to remember all the fragile details when it came to the truth, after all.

“Found survivors in one of the vertical gardens. Well… they found me. When I told them about the refugee tent cities surrounding the city… they got it in their minds to do something. They’ve radio-cast their location a while ago… gave an account of what they have to spare.”

At almost the same moment, Bach heard the Rear Admiral speak, “Aye, Captain?” Devoted as he was to the inside of the husk’s mind, he’d not be able to perceive the other man’s figment voice.

“Already?” After another imperceptible reply from the ship’s captain, she said “Yeah, very good.” After a moment, a shift in the timbre and volume of her voice told Bach she was now speaking directly to him again. “Frigate’s coming up along side,” she said.