What has Princess Olivia been up to?
The soft murmur of voices cut off as I entered the conference room. Eleven pairs of eyes followed me to the seat at the head of the table. I sat, keeping my back straight and folded my hands on the table before me. A quick glance showed everyone’s attention was on me. I expected no less from the department heads of the Royal Intelligence Agency.
“Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to meet with me,” I said.
We all knew they’d had no choice — when the crown Princess and soon-to-be mother of a royal heir requests a meeting with you, you attend that meeting. So, why bother with the thanks? It showed these men and women I understood the disruption I caused by calling this meeting. It served as reassurance that I would not lightly intrude upon their business.
“For that reason, I’ll come straight to the point and keep this meeting as brief as possible.” That comment drew pleased smiles and a few nods of thanks. I touched a button on the data pad before me. “Please examine the images and vids in the folder I just sent to you.”
Viewing the contents of the folder, the expressions of the men changed from bored attentiveness to alert interest. The women displayed interest, as well, but theirs was more of a ‘how does she do it’ level of interest. I’d expected these reactions and planned my presentation accordingly.
“The woman in those vids is Tilly Smythe-Warrington. She is the great-granddaughter of a minor noble in a minor house on a minor planet. Miss Smythe-Warrington’s grandmother married a commoner, as did her mother. As you can see from the vids, Miss Smythe-Warrington is quite comfortable among the elite of Xapreathean society, including a month-long dalliance with Prince William a year ago.”
The eleven pairs of eyes looked everywhere but at me after that admission. Why men and women who are privy to some of the deepest and darkest secrets in the Star Kingdom found my admission uncomfortable is beyond me.
I rapped my knuckles on the table, drawing startled glances from the department heads. “William’s sexual escapades prior to my arrival in his life do not concern me. Tilly Smythe-Warrington, however, does concern me. According to my sources, she is an extraordinarily accomplished thief who has broken into innumerable highly secured offices and residences. She has done this without once drawing any attention to herself.”
A man at the far end of the table spoke up, “Do you suspect her in a theft from the Palace, Your Highness? I assume you wish us to find her. Is that why?”
I shook my head, “No, this has nothing to do with any of her thefts. It has much to do with this woman.”
I tapped another button on my data pad, sending another folder to the department heads. They examined the single image it held with nothing more than clinical interest. From the men’s expressions, it was obvious they would rather return to viewing Tilly’s vids. The women were no more interested.
“I want you to find Tilly Smythe-Warrington because I want you to find the woman in the image before you. As much as I would like to provide you with something better than a computer-generated image, this is the best we have.”
That admission sparked some interest among the department heads. In our heavily monitored society, it is almost unheard of to rely solely upon computer-generated images.
“The image was created based upon descriptions from a single person.” I saw no reason to tell them William was that person. “While I hope one of your departments can find actual vids of this woman — her name is Jana, we have no last name for her — I do not hold much hope that they will. We already have several vids that should provide clear views of Jana’s face. They do not. Some kind of interference distorted each of those vids.”
“Are you saying this Jana is protected by a team of slicers who erase evidence of her passing?” a woman asked.
“No, Jana is the slicer.”
“And she has completely covered her tracks? By herself?” the same woman asked. “No slicer is that good.”
I didn’t blame the woman for doubting that a single person could hide from the machinery of state this thoroughly. If William hadn’t told me everything Jana did during my kidnapping, I probably wouldn’t believe it, either.
“According to the experts I’ve consulted, there is definitely one slicer capable of this kind of work. That slicer uses the name Fox. I’m afraid that’s all we know about that slicer — or, it’s all we knew about the slicer. It seems obvious that Jana and Fox are the same person.”
“What if they’re not? What if we go looking for Fox and don’t find Jana?”
“That is why you have the file for Miss Warrington-Smythe. By all accounts, they are close friends. If you find one, you will find the other.”
The same woman who had spoken earlier said, “My resources are tied up on other matters, Your Highness. We’re performing those tasks at the behest of Queen Charlotte and, no offense, but I cannot pull them away from those tasks on your word. I will, of course, put them on this search of yours as soon as they complete the Queen’s work.”
I’d expected pushback and came prepared. “That’s quite proper and I respect my position below Queen Charlotte in the royal chain of command.”
Once again, I sent a file to the department heads. Eyes widened as they read the orders Queen Charlotte had signed at my request.
“As you can see, Her Majesty is fully supportive of my search. May I assume you will bend all of your resources towards finding Tilly and Jana?”
Murmurs of assent came from the eleven men and women before me.
Standing, I said, “I believe Jana is the most dangerous person in the galaxy. Find her quickly. When you do, take her into custody as soon as possible. Interdepartmental cooperation will be properly rewarded. Interdepartmental competition — or, worse, sabotage — will be severely punished. Am I clear?”
All eleven heads nodded.
Without another word, I left the room.
With Jana’s worst fear realized – the RIA bending all its resources to find her – can she hope to avoid capture? Find out more in Chapter 22, coming Wednesday.