Intermezzo

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"Are you telling me he managed to disguise himself as a trader and go through the Gate?"

"Technically, no, but for all practical purposes I'm afraid so, Clayton. He made some clerks at Migration and Commission for Belt Trading very wealthy."

Both men walked along a riding lane in southern France, beautifully shaded by the canopy of trees above them but, most importantly, not within earshot of anyone.

Clayton wore his usual black suit as if he believed his office required him to stay, if not invisible, then at least as unobtrusive as possible. The man at his side wore the red uniform of a high ranking naval officer.

"And this is confirmed, without a doubt?"

"Yes, he even biosigned his autograph for a fan working at the launch port."

Clayton winced at the news. "Then it's too late to deny it. How long can we keep the newscasters out?"

"Normally I'd say half a year, but you know how bad he hurt FHC when he sold out to Red News."

Clayton nodded and sighed. "Yes, I know. There's something dirty behind that story, but we can't prove anything. Christina Ulfsdotir probably has murder on her mind. If she can get back at Wallman with her dwindling resources she'll do so?"

"Yes, I'm afraid that's the case," the taller of the two men confirmed.

Clayton stopped, reversed his steps and sat down on a stone bench they had passed earlier and leaned against the tree trunk behind it. He felt very tired right now. "Two months before she acts then?"

"At most. Six weeks more likely. They'll make surface another three months after that."

"Erwin, we have an agreement with them."

Clayton knew Rear Admiral Erwin Radovic didn't have to be told who them was. He'd known when to keep his mouth shut as a young lieutenant and since eight years he was part of the first diplomatic corps the Terran Federation had really needed for over five centuries.

"But they never demanded that we only send traders there. That's a decision we made."

"That's a decision we made because we know what makes the newscasters tick," Clayton retorted sharply. "They'll never be able to hold to the agreement we made about knowledge, and you know what happens if we're blamed for breaking that deal."

Erwin slumped. "So, what are you going to do?"

"I'll send in a group to bring him home before we have an entire news team lose on that planet."

"You mean to strip Theta 47?"

"No, I'll take one group from Gatekeeper."

"We have a translator there?"

"No. I'll provide them with a recorded message."

"Can't we just stop her from going through the gate?"

"No, the government can't be seen to break the laws. There's nothing forbidding anyone from traveling there as long as they can guarantee their way back."

"What?"

"It gets worse. On the other side anything goes. Formally it's not Federation space. Only the implied threat of losing all major contracts have kept corporations out."

Erwin sat down beside Clayton. The day had begun with bad news, and Clayton knew he was rapidly making it worse for the young admiral. If humanity was blamed for breaking the deal they would close the Gate.

"It's a dirty thing to do to a man who's lost as much as he's done," Erwin said.

"I know," Clayton muttered. "But he was the only one with the guts to make use of my report after our insanity." Clayton sighed. " Damn! I'll never be able to prove it, but if Arthur Wallman hadn't run his Otherworld Disclosed we could still have suffered a bloody military coup. He had the guts and after what happened to him, I don't dare to have him running around on Otherworld." Clayton stared unhappily into the air. "Especially not after what happened to him," he whispered.

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