Focusing his thoughts on the specific rather than the general, Kajic glanced at the message. Makaev, with an uncanny sense of timing, had summoned him.
His sensory input jumped from sensors scattered across the ship to the two task-specific cameras mounted on the bridge command dais. They swung to focus on the position Makaev usually occupied, but found it empty. Belatedly studying the summons in detail, he discovered her in the command module, a small niche used for privacy at the rear of the bridge.
Changing his position took less will than the blink of an eyelid. His hologram faded from the bridge and reappeared in the module, where Makaev stood watching him with her hands folded behind her back, her lips parted in a slight and narrow smile.
“News, sir.” Her voice was brisk and businesslike, a sharp contrast to the way his brain presently felt. The hormone delivery systems of his life support needed tuning again, he guessed. He nodded, gesturing for her to continue.
“Our mole in DAOC flight control reports that the shuttle has crash-landed in a region to the north of Port Parvati, under cover of mountains.”
He stared at her, momentarily disoriented.
“ What shuttle?” He quickly accessed the relevant data that had collected in his “memory” banks during his artificial slumber, waiting for him to find the opportunity to review it. There was nothing Makaev could tell him that wasn’t already there, but a lesson in respect and humility wouldn’t hurt the woman.
She inclined her head with an expression that approximated genuine bafflement. “I’m sorry, sir. I assumed you were observing—”
“You don’t assume anything, Commander,” he snapped, scowling. “I have been resting for the last three hours, and therefore disconnected from virtually all data input.”
“I had no idea—”
He interrupted her again. “Don’t play the fool with me, Commander.”
“Sir, I swear...” She faltered. Then, more surely: “All information regarding your bodily needs and/or states of mind is restricted, and no inferior officer may access your network without reasonable cause. Given the nature of this mission, the only acceptable cause would be that your actions had somehow threatened its success. Anything else would be regarded as mutiny.” She added, “Sir.”
Kajic studied her carefully. The expression on her face was one of concern, but he was suspicious of what lay underneath—of what intentions her thoughts kept hidden.
“I’m aware of the regulations, Commander,” he said distractedly. “Nevertheless, there is a back door in my life-support program. I found it in the mainframe two days ago.” He hesitated before voicing his suspicions. “ Someone has been monitoring me.”
The crease in her brow was slight and forced. “A back door? But who—? I mean, why would there be such a thing?”
“To spy on me, of course. To make sure I behave.” His image leaned closer to Makaev. “And please, Commander, if you must play the fool, then do it with more conviction.”
Makaev’s back straightened, and she met the stare of the hologram evenly and without flinching. “I have no knowledge of what you speak, sir,” she said. “Clearly the leak must have been placed there before we left Jralevsky Minor.”
Kajic allowed himself a wry grin. “Clearly.”
“Whoever is behind it must be somehow involved in the design of your program itself.”
“Or somebody opposed to it.” He shrugged. “One of the conservatives, perhaps.”
Kajic, although he had been deep in the surgical process at the time, was aware of the controversy the Andermahr Experiment had caused. While extremes of genetic modification remained illegal, the Ethnarch’s Military Presidium still had a keen interest in bettering its troops. The long-dead Ataman Ana Vereine —after whom the Marauder was named, and who had begun the research centuries ago—had desired captains who were as much a