No Estimated Time of Return

Corinth, 4 months later…

A grizzled Scout veteran sits behind a desk in an office. There is a knock at the door.

"Come," he calls. Arion enters and stands to attention – or, at least, what passes for that in the Corinthian Scout Service.

"You sent for me, sir?"

"Yes. Sit." The veteran flicks the graphics on his desktop to one side and gives Arion his full attention.

"I want to discuss your next assignment with you," Arion’s superior begins.

"Next assignment? I’ve mustered out, sir."

"I’m activating your reserve status and assigning you to Intelligence. Don’t give me that look; you still get to fly around the Galaxy sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong."

"Except now you tell me where that is."

"Exactly."

"And where is it, sir?"

The veteran gestures to scale a starmap projection off his desk and onto the wall.

"Here," he says. "The Celestial Empire. They’re been making expansionist noises recently, and we don’t know enough about them. Between the Gimirri and what you’ve told us about the Imagoes… Well, let’s just say I want to know how much more bad news is coming our way." He sighs.

"It’s hard to see how we can avoid banding the Cluster together into an empire, if only for mutual defence. It’ll take blood spilt before we can make that work, and then both our planets could wind up controlled by these guys."

"Better that than bug food, sir."

"I suppose. Anyway, that’s not your problem. Your problem is to find out what’s going on over there, and get the news back to us."

"May I keep the Dolphin and my current crew, sir?"

"In a sense – you’ll travel as a free trader, and a Corinthian scout doesn’t fit that picture. We’re transferring the AI core and the name to a different hull. Coriander will handle the trading, you’ll handle the ship, you’ll both gather intelligence. I imagine you’ve worked out by now that Dmitri is one of ours; his mission will be to set up a network and safe houses, and feed your reports back to us, so you’ll drop him off on Halfway and leave him to dig in. You’ll commence by infiltrating the Combine, which will give you a good reason to wander around. Any questions?"

"No sir."

"Very good. I’ll have the details sent to your comm. Dismissed."

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