While Jeanine tries to find a way to help Jana and friends, Olivia receives news of their escape from the RIA.
“We found them, Your Highness,” Lord Darren, head of the RIA’s Surveillance Department, said. “And then we lost them.
The man stood at attention before me, his eyes locked on a spot somewhere over my head. I studied his expression for a moment. It was calm, bland even, not the expression you’d expect from a man delivering bad news to the second most powerful woman in the galaxy. I’d have given a lot to know what was running through the mind behind that expression, but it didn’t really matter.
I raised one eyebrow. “How did you find them so quickly? I was given to understand this search could take weeks.”
“It was nothing more than simple luck, Your Highness. One of the young women studying the cam feeds is, in her off time, active in Xapreathean social circles. She visited the club where the fugitive was found the night before last. Miss Sontag was observant enough to recognize herself amongst the throngs shown in the feed from the club. She alerted the officer in charge, who contacted me.”
I nodded, “I hope you commended Miss Sontag?”
“I did, quite profusely.”
“Good. Please convey my approval as well. Also, forward her service file to me. I am always looking for good additions to my personal staff.”
“I shall do so immediately upon leaving, Your Highness.”
“Now, why were the fugitives not taken into custody, immediately?”
Lord Darren stiffened as if gathering his resolve. “That was my decision, Your Highness. The woman you seek — the slicer, Jana — was not among those visiting the club. It was Lady Smythe-Warrington and a petty criminal who has never before come to the attention of the RIA. I had them followed in the hopes they would lead us to the slicer, thus allowing the capture of both women at the same time.”
“Something you failed to do.”
“That is correct.”
He didn’t bluster. He didn’t make excuses. He didn’t pass the blame. As always, Mother chose her people well.
“Please, Lord Darren, explain how this happened.”
Without embellishment, he told me of the sophisticated alarm systems guarding all approaches to the apartment Tilly entered. He described the reinforced walls and, as his team later found out, the reinforced ceiling and floors. Those stymied his men until it was far too late to capture the fugitives.
“Whoever designed the escape tunnel even had explosives that collapsed the tunnel after they passed through it.” He wrapped up, “Full responsibility for this debacle lies with me and me alone, Your Highness. In all ways, my people performed their jobs in an exemplary manner. I underestimated our quarry and her allies—whoever they might be. My miscalculation allowed them to slip through our fingers.”
I considered his words for a moment. “Please have a full report sent to me as soon as possible. Better, have Miss… Sontag, wasn’t it? Yes, have the woman who set this in motion deliver the report personally. Assure her that I wish to meet and compliment her, nothing more.”
“I will see to it, personally.”
“Now, you may rest easy, as well, Lord Darren. Given the situation, I believe your decisions were logical and your orders were reasonable.”
“Thank you, Your Highness.”
“I have one other question before you leave.”
“I am, as always, at your service.”
“I suggested you look for converted Helldiver blockade runners—the same ship Drake Haral modified into his personal ship, the Rising Star. Did that search yield results?”
“Far too many results, Your Highness. I’m afraid there are eight hundred and sixty-three converted Helldivers scattered around Xapreathea’s many starports. My people are working diligently to winnow the list, but my resources are stretched thin at the moment.”
“Understood. If you had the budget to hire temporary staff, would that help or hinder?”
“Untrained staff would hinder, Your Highness. We have neither the time nor manpower to train them properly. Perhaps I could entice some retired personnel to rejoin my staff for the duration of this search though that would prove far more expensive than typical temporary staff.”
“I care only for results, Lord Darren. Money is no object. Pay what you believe is reasonable to attract the people you need. Feel free to offer bonuses to those already on your staff. Just find that woman.”
“It shall be as you command, Your Highness.”
I gave a slight nod. “That will be all.”
Lord Darren bowed and left my office.
In all honesty, my calm reaction to Lord Darren’s visit surprised me. There was a time—a time well within recent memory—when such a report would have left me in a cold fury. The former version of myself would have vented that fury upon the unfortunate person bearing the news. Today, such a reaction never crossed my mind nor did I have to repress it. I truly was calm.
In years past, my longtime mentor and assistant, Colin, would have complemented me on this reaction. Or, rather, my lack of reaction. Those days, like Colin, have passed. I still felt a pang of loss over him, made all the worse because his death came at my hand, but the pang also passed as other matters occupied my thoughts. Matters such as how I might turn this development to my advantage.
A thought occurred to me and I felt my lips curl into a smile. Without a second thought, I buzzed my assistant.
“Yes, Your Highness?” he asked.
“Place a subspace call for me, Samuel. I wish to speak with Her Grace, the Duchess of Neert and Gaunner.”
“I’ll call Lady Jeanine at once, Your Highness, and send for you when I connect with her.”
I cut the connection, leaned back in my chair, and let my smile stretch into a grin. At long last, it was my turn to ruin her day!
What does Olivia have to say to Jeanine? Where have Jana and her friends gone? Find out the answers to at least one of these questions in Chapter 26, coming Monday.