Gulvarian Breach – The Net Tightens (Story Nine)

He was forced into turning a blind eye to a smuggling ship’s change of course.

But the authorities know something happened and are crawling all over him.

Bad enough… but if they find out who he really is he’s not going to see the end of the day!

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(c) 2024 Simon Goodson.
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Gulvarian Breach - The Net Tightens Book Cover

The Net Tightens

Davies felt on edge as he entered the command centre and took up his post, as he had for the past two weeks. There was still no hint of a problem, no suggestion that anyone knew what he’d done… what he’d been forced to do.

Logically, he knew there shouldn’t be. Too many pieces would need to be put together. First that two ships heading in to land with a convoy had diverted and landed somewhere they shouldn’t. Then the fact the event wasn’t recorded by any of the monitoring systems that should have alerted when it happened. Even then, it would be impossible to tell whether the information had been tampered with before it reached the command centre or once it had arrived. The whole point of what Davies had done, together with Sorvac, was to purge any related records from the system.

However, even a suspicion that Davies had been involved could cause him problems. He had barely four weeks to go until he retired from the navy, but any suggestion of misconduct would keep him caught in limbo, not able to retire until it was resolved and so unable to live the life he was so looking forward to.

He wouldn’t have even considered doing what he’d done if Sorvac hadn’t found something to blackmail him with, but that would be no defence. And that was as nothing compared to what would happen if what he’d been blackmailed over came out.

Sorvac, and those he worked for, had thought they’d just found a quirk of timing from the past. One which would cast enough of a shadow to interfere with Davies’ retirement plans if it came out. Thankfully they hadn’t realised it was no coincidence and that they’d stumbled on who he used to be. If the navy found out and confirmed that truth then not being able to retire would be the least of Davies worries. Being executed would be a far more immediate concern!

The only positive from the whole blackmail affair was the lack of a money trail linking him to the events. He hadn’t accepted any payment, instead insisting the money go to a charity focused on caring for the families of those killed while in service. But still, every day he came to work he expected to find someone waiting to interrogate him. Every day that failed to happen left him more on edge, not less.

Despite his fears, the day passed as the others had, and at the end of his shift Davies headed home for yet another night of restless sleep.


The next day Davies made his way to work feeling as anxious as usual, but this day things were different. As he walked through the security doors and into the command post he found a full tactical squad spaced around the large room. Their weapons weren’t raised, but they watched everything intently.

Davies’ heartbeat immediately hammered through his veins, but he forced himself to look confused as he took in the scene. He spotted several senior officers he’d never seen before, all wearing the uniform of military intelligence.

Despite the spike of fear he was puzzled. Why military intelligence? He’d been expecting internal investigations. What would military intelligence have to do with the scheme Davies had been dragged into? Or with his past life, for that matter?

Davies forced himself to move, his legs feeling leaden, and went to his station. No one objected, so he carried on, nodding to the junior officer who’d been covering the post for the previous shift. Davies realised he couldn’t even remember the man’s name at that moment.

“All quiet?” Davies asked, the near-ritual handover phrase everyone used.

“Nothing exciting,” replied the man.

He stood, allowing Davies to take the seat. As Davies settled down the junior officer took the chance to whisper, head close.

“They interviewed all of us. They’ve already started with one of your shift who arrived early. They…”

“Hey!” shouted one of the troopers. “You’re finished. Get going.”

The officer shot the trooper a frightened look, then scuttled away, leaving Davies wondering what else he’d been about to say. Davies pulled up the information he needed for the day, only seeing it with half his mind. He was too busy worrying just what was going on. From where he sat he could see the door to the meeting room, but it was firmly closed and there was no hint of what was going on within.

Twenty minutes later, the door finally opened and Ratchan emerged, ashen faced and struggling to walk. He was one of the younger members currently on the same shift as Davies, and judging by the fact he was allowed to return to his workstation the intelligence officers had decided he’d done nothing requiring immediate discipline. Even so, he looked as if he would have admitted to anything just to have got out of the room.

Davies waited, quietly doing his job while trying to get a feel for just what was going on around him. Whoever had been carrying out the interview didn’t emerge from the meeting room, but the officers around the control room kept on the move. Sometimes they watched people working, other times they pulled up information themselves using one of the spare screens.

Despite trying to be aware of what was going on, Davies nearly jumped out of his seat as a large hand clamped down on his shoulder.

“You’re next,” said a sergeant. The leader of the tactical squad, the highest ranking member of the interrogation team not wearing an intelligence uniform.

“I just need to hand off these two approaching ships,” said Davies.

“That’s fine. But make it fast.”

Davies did, and then he was walking to… no… then he was being escorted to the meeting room. The sergeant gestured for Davies to enter, but didn’t follow him in. Instead he closed the door firmly, sealing Davies in.

The room only had one occupant, a colonel. Someone so senior being there was another bad sign. The navy was taking things seriously.

The Colonel was nearly as old as Davies, but still toned and looking as if he could undertake a combat mission at any moment. When he spoke his voice was deep and commanding.

“Take a seat. This will take some time.”

Davies took the chair across the desk from the colonel. Between them on the desk was a device with a screen facing the colonel. The Colonel reached out and made some adjustments to it, then spoke again.

He started by stating Davies’ name, rank, and service number. Then he said due to the nature of the questioning Davies would not be allowed any legal representation. That rammed home just how serious the situation was.

Davies realised the colonel had not given his own name, or indeed any information. For a minute, maybe two, the colonel said nothing more. He sat in silence, studying Davies. Finally he nodded.

“Davies,” said the colonel. “You’re close to retirement. Very close.”

“Yes, sir.”

“It looks like you’ll be having quite a comfortable retirement. More comfortable than most people would expect, considering you didn’t reach a senior rank.”

Davies felt some slight relief, but he was still cautious. This was a topic that was safe for him, and reinforced that he had been right not to accept any money from Sorvac.

“Only because I’ve been very careful with my money, sir. I have records going all the way back. I can show exactly where all the money came from, and that it all came from my salary.”

“There’s no need for that. We’ve already been through your accounts and established exactly that. I have to commend you, I try to be careful with my money, but with the costs of raising my children I think I’d be lucky to retire on half the money you have in the bank.”

“But you will have your children, sir. I don’t. It’s something I regret, but I didn’t want to settle down with the wrong person and the right one never came along.”

“Very wise. All in all, you have lived a careful and conscientious life. And yes, we are aware of all your donations to the charity supporting the families of those fallen in service. It may sound a little trite, but in some ways you do have a family. Or many. The amount you have given will have made a great difference to many young children, and while they will never know quite who helped them out, there are now a few of us who do.”

“It always felt important to me, sir. Too many of us die, and the money given to their families… I don’t wish to speak out of turn, sir, but it isn’t enough.”

“I agree. It should be more, especially for those leaving young families behind. Now, you’ve done so much for so many people, and you have led an exemplary career. So why did you do it?”

“Why did I lead that career?”

“No. Why did you, two weeks ago, do what you did?”

“Sir… I don’t know what you mean.”

“Two weeks ago. Two weeks ago yesterday, to be precise. Why did you do it?”

Part of Davies was panicking, but another part, the one which had allowed him to hide his history before joining the navy and for decades after, came to his rescue. The colonel wasn’t giving specifics. He wasn’t asking why Davies had allowed the two ships to slip through undetected. He wasn’t even giving an exact time. He was fishing.

“Sorry, sir, I really don’t know what you mean.”

“Of course you do. Don’t piss me around, Davies. If you come clean now, if you tell me everything, there’s a chance there will be extra information I didn’t know. If that’s the case it will count in your favour at your court-martial.”

“Court-martial? Sir, I really don’t understand. I didn’t do anything!”

“Fine. We’ll do it the hard way. We already know exactly what you did, and who helped you. They did the smart thing. They came clean immediately. They’ll be demoted and disciplined, but they won’t face a court martial. If you cooperate with us fully I can get you a dishonourable discharge. That will affect your pension, of course, but you and I both know that won’t be a problem for you.

“The alternative… well, you can forget about retiring. Ever. Your funds will be seized. No house on the beach. No easy retirement. You’ll probably end up slaving in a mine until you drop dead at an early age.”

Now Davies knew the colonel was fishing. Sorvac was the only one who knew about Davies’ involvement. Sorvac and those he worked for. If either of those had spilled the beans the questions would be far more precise, and they wouldn’t just be asking about one event. Not that Davies had ever helped Sorvac before, but he knew Sorvac’s history of wrongdoing.

And, of course, Sorvac had a habit of living well beyond his means. Dammit. The Colonel would know all about that. But that was something to worry about later. What Davies needed was to turn on every bit of skill he had to avoid giving the colonel any hint he had done something wrong, because the colonel was certainly not ready to give up yet!


Twenty minutes later and Davies was quite enjoying himself. Not that he was letting it show in any way, he made sure he seemed shaken and concerned. Exactly as an innocent man would be.

Even his physiological tells, which he was certain were being monitored by the device on the table, would tell that story. During the time between faking the death of his previous persona, the notorious and bloodthirsty pirate Jasper Cairak, and joining the navy eighteen months later, he’d taught himself hundreds of tricks to achieve this. He hadn’t had to use them in a long time, but he found they were coming back easily. Once again he felt the buzz of controlling an interview without letting on that he was.

In some ways there was even more was riding on this interrogation than the interviews when he’d been young and wanting to sign up with the navy. In others, there was less. Even if he was caught now, even if he gave away enough information to let them know he’d been involved in hiding the fact the two ships had slipped away from the convoy, he would not give any details about what he did, about Sorvac, or about those behind Sorvac. Not that he had any details on those people anyway.

No, they would be safe because they had identified the coincidental timing between his joining the navy and the notorious pirate being killed. They thought it was a coincidence, but had known any suspicion would be enough to delay his retirement. They had no idea what they threatened him with was actually the truth.

If they had… well, if they had he doubted they would have messed with him at all. But either way, that was a far worse secret than what he had done recently.

When he’d decided to join the navy he’d been grilled on his life and exploits to that point. That had been far more dangerous for him, but he’d become disillusioned with the killer he’d developed into. The burning hatred had guttered out and he’d had to face the fact that while some of those he’d killed had certainly deserved it, far more innocents had perished at his hands along the way.

Many of those innocents had been crew on the naval ships he’d destroyed. People simply following orders, going where they were told, and doing what they had to. Not even taking any actions that could be considered immoral or illegal. But because they’d been on the same ships as those Davies had felt did deserve to die those innocents had perished too.

He’d wrestled with his conscience for a long time after faking his death. Having changed wasn’t enough. It didn’t make up for the harm he’d done to so many. He needed to do more.

Finally, he decided he should join the navy himself. Not as punishment or penance, but to get into a position where he could protect people like the innocents who’d died at his hands. He didn’t want to become a captain, or a commander or a colonel for that matter. He worked hard to reach a position where he could look out for those lower down the chain of command, those whose needs were easily overlooked by more senior officers.

Whatever happened now, he’d achieved what he set out to do. For many years he’d made the lives of those at the bottom of the navy hierarchy easier and better. Between that and the charity donations his slate was…

Well, nowhere near wiped clean. Nothing he did could possibly balance his past actions. But he’d done what he could, and through his actions he’d found peace.

The Colonel worked his way through a final torrent of insults, questions, accusations, and outright intimidation as he stood towering over where Davies sat. Davies continued to give the reactions an innocent man would, being sure to vary them, and not to appear too perfectly the victim. Finally, the colonel stepped back.

“Alright, Davies, that concludes the first interview. Don’t for a moment think you’ve got away with it, or that there won’t be more questions to come. You’ll still be much better off if you come clean.”

“I can’t admit to something I didn’t do, sir,” said Davies.

“That’s what they all say.” The Colonel shook his head. “Go on, get out of here.”

Davies stood, then left the room, certain he looked nearly as pale as the youngster before him had, but far more settled inside. He’d survived the first challenge, and there was no reason he couldn’t survive the next.

Almost none. There was still one weak point. Sorvac. Davies knew there was no way he could speak to Sorvac, not without giving away there was something to hide, and what could he say anyway? All Davies could hope was that when Sorvac was taken down, as he surely would be, that he’d do the decent thing and not take Davies with him. How likely that was, Davies really didn’t know.

He walked out of the office, looked around the bridge, saw that Sorvac wasn’t there. Sorvac was never particularly punctual, but he was never normally more than fifteen or twenty minutes late. Sorvac was well overdue now, and still there was no sign of him. Did that mean the intelligence officers had captured him already? Or did it mean something else entirely?


Davies settled back into his station and got on with his job, but questions burnt their way across his mind. Where was Sorvac? Had he already been rooted out by the intelligence officers? Had they caught him? And if so, would he crack?

Over the next few hours the rest of those working the shift were called into the office and interviewed by the colonel. All of them returned looking harassed and, in most cases, ashen faced. But all were allowed to return to their normal tasks. That suggested to Davies that none of them had done anything wrong… or none had admitted to anything at least.

Davies wasn’t sure who else Sorvac had roped into his schemes, but he had some suspicions and at least three of those had been interviewed and allowed back out. That seemed strange, the ability to fool the various monitoring devices wasn’t something he’d have expected anyone else to have.

Except… now Davies thought about it, all the colonel’s questions had related to the last two or three weeks. He was pretty certain Sorvac didn’t run operations more often than every six or eight weeks. Had the questioning been so specific it hadn’t tripped up those who’d been involved with Sorvac’s schemes at other times?

Davies had been too busy worrying about Sorvac before, but it was damned strange. It suggested their interest wasn’t in the smuggling that had been happening for years but in something else that happened recently. Something Davies might have been involved in. He had a nasty feeling it was something to do with the ships he’d had the sensors turn a blind eye to.

That still meant Sorvac would be key to the investigation… but even now hadn’t turned up. Davies was becoming certain he wouldn’t… one way or another.

Once the last of those on the shift returned from being interviewed, the officers in the main area moved close to each other and held a whispered conversation. Davies couldn’t be certain, but he had the impression they were discussing Sorvac, and where he was.

Finally one of them, the most senior, turned and walked to the room holding the colonel. Davies didn’t dare let them think he was paying too much attention, but the officer’s body language gave the impression he’d rather have been doing almost anything else at that moment.

So Sorvac probably wasn’t in custody. Which meant he’d known something was coming. Davies had last seen Sorvac three days before. Sorvac had been off duty for the next two days. He often disappeared at those times, enjoying the proceeds from his illicit activities. If he’d been tipped off he might have gotten a three day lead over the colonel’s investigation.

Or those Sorvac worked for might have been the ones who were tipped off and decided Sorvac was the weak link. Davies hoped Sorvac had been tipped off and had made a run for it. With his resources and contacts Sorvac had a good chance to start again somewhere else.

Sorvac disappearing, for either of those reasons, would be the best thing that could happen for Davies. With no evidence and no one around to expose him, Davies might just come out of the mess unharmed. He just had to hold his nerve… and hope that Sorvac was never found.


The officer returned from visiting the colonel and spoke briefly to the other officers who then started to move around the room, pausing to observe those who were working. Sometimes they paused for a few moments, sometimes for much longer.

It was such a transparent ploy Davies almost smiled. It might also work. Not on him, but on anyone else with a guilty conscience. That was fine. For him at least. Not for them, obviously. But only Sorvac could link Davies to the wrongdoing.

That pattern continued as the morning wore on towards lunchtime. Normally the group would take lunch in three shifts, meaning they were never down to less than two-thirds strength. Not today. Shortly before it was time for the first break the senior officer moved to the centre of the room.

“Listen up!” he shouted. “No one leaves for lunch today. Food will be provided, and you can rest at your stations. No accessing personal systems, either.”

That last part was a pointless statement. The room was shielded against non-authorised connections. If they couldn’t leave the room then their personal systems couldn’t connect.

None of Davies’ colleagues said anything, but several glances were exchanged. He took it in his stride. Whatever would happen would happen. The Colonel clearly hadn’t gotten the information he wanted. It seemed likely another round of questioning would begin in the afternoon.

Everyone who worked in the centre were navy personnel. In theory the colonel could keep them confined for days, weeks even, without falling foul of any laws. Davies hoped that wouldn’t happen. He wanted to continue preparing for his imminent retirement… assuming, of course, he got away with everything.

He was part of the first group to eat, which gave him time to think about events without being distracted by his job. One thing was becoming crystal clear, whatever this was about it wasn’t smuggling run-of-the-mill items. No, the resources being put into this and how seriously the intelligence officers were behaving meant something else must have happened. Something with major repercussions.

There had been nothing on the newscasts and he hadn’t heard any rumours, so it was something major but news of it had been completely contained. That didn’t reassure him at all.


Within ten minutes of the final shift finishing their lunch, the interviews started again. This time Davies was the first to be called in.

The Colonel’s questions began much the same way, but Davies could tell he was going through the motions now. He wanted to ask about something new, he just wasn’t getting to it straight away. It only took a few minutes for the new direction to emerge.

“Tell me,” said the colonel. “How long has Sorvac been breaking the law?”

“Sorvac? Breaking the law? I don’t know what you mean. Which law?”

“You must have noticed how he spends money. Far more money than he should have at his disposal. Have you ever wondered where he got it from?”

“He always said he came from a rich family, that it had been left to him. He wouldn’t be the first officer I’ve known who’s in that position but stays in the navy. Not all of us are in this for the money. A lot are, despite the wages being nothing to write home about, but there’s always a few who are lucky enough that money isn’t a problem.”

“That’s a rather convenient explanation. You never checked it out?”

“Why would I? I work with him, I’m not his superior. I’m sure if there were any concerns they’d have been raised and checked out.”

“Strangely, it seems that there never have been any, despite his lavish lifestyle. None that were ever formally recorded. But you can’t tell me you were never jealous. You worked so hard to save your money for retirement, yet you saw him frittering it away like it didn’t matter. You can’t tell me you were never tempted to check where he got it all from? Or even just looked into who his family were?”

Davies actually found himself laughing. Judging by the expression on the colonel’s face that didn’t go down too well.

“I’m sorry, Colonel, but are you kidding? Why on earth would I waste my time doing that? I’ve got far better things to do with my time. We’re not all overly suspicious like you intelligence types.

“Besides, it’s not likely I’d be able to find anything even if he was crooked, is it? If he had that sort of money to splash around, I’m sure that any digging I could do would simply turn up nothing but what he wanted to be found.”

“According to our records you drink with him from time to time. Sometimes you drink a lot together. He’s never let anything slip? Never said anything that didn’t seem right?”

“What do you mean your records? Why would you have information like that?”

“Why does it matter? Do you have a guilty conscience of some sort?”

“No! I’m just… well, I can’t say I’m shocked you monitor us that closely. I’ve been in the navy too long. Even if it does sound like a waste of time and effort. Yes, I have got drunk with Sorvac from time to time, and with plenty of others I work with here. And no, I can’t think of anything any of them has said that seemed particularly off the usual subjects of fights, who’s sleeping with who, or near the end of the night everyone’s near-death experiences. Pretty much everyone I’ve ever served with has had a good few of those. I certainly have.”

“Next you’ll be telling me you don’t have advanced anti-bugging technology spread throughout your quarters.”

“What? No! Of course not!”

“Sorvac does.”

“What? Why would he have that?”

“You tell me. You’re the one who’s sat in those quarters drinking with him.”

“We’ve drunk in my quarters, as well, and I certainly don’t have that sort of thing.” Davies narrowed his eyes. “But you know that, don’t you? If you’ve found them in Sorvac’s quarters then you’ve checked mine too. Everyone’s, in fact.”

The colonel just nodded once.

“Just what the hell is this all about, Colonel? Maybe if you actually give me some information I might be able to help you. At the moment I can’t think of anything I’ve done which you’d be interested in. Not Sorvac either. And you’ve already trampled over any mirage of personal rights I thought I had.”

The colonel sighed and settled back in the chair. For the first time, Davies noticed how tired the officer looked. More than tired. Shattered. It had been impossible to see while hidden behind the hard-nosed colonel act. Then again, maybe this was the act. An attempt to get sympathy.

“All right,” said the colonel. “This information goes no further than this room or I can guarantee that you will not be retiring for at least another twenty years. I’m only telling you this because you have an exemplary record and I think you’re too close to retirement to have been stupid enough to get involved in anything. I could order you not to repeat this, but I’m going to ask you to give your word.”

As he said that, the colonel reached over and turned off the device in front of him. Davies wasn’t convinced it was really off, but it was a significant gesture anyway.

Davies paused for a moment, then nodded solemnly.

“You have my word. No one else will hear this from me.”

He meant it too. He certainly wasn’t planning on talking about any of this to anyone else anyway, but he sensed what he was about to hear would be knowledge it was even more important he keep to himself.

“There’s a lot I can’t tell you,” said the colonel. “Hell, I’m pretty sure there’s a lot I haven’t been told. That should tell you how serious this is. What I can tell you is that fifteen days ago there was a serious event down on the planet. I can’t tell you any more details about that, other than to say it was a breach event.”

That meant nothing to Davies. The military had all sorts of names for different types of events, but this one didn’t ring any bells.

The Colonel smiled slightly. “That’s not a term you will have heard, and it’s not one you should ever repeat. It means something major has gone down. Something of huge significance. The problem is, we don’t know what it was.

“That’s what I’ve been told, at least, but I can read between the lines. Something of tremendous concern has been detected. Nobody knows quite where it occurred on the planet, or even the exact time, but it was serious enough that I was dragged off of leave and everyone up to the planetary admiral is extremely worried.”

“And you think it might involve something arriving or leaving the planet,” said Davies. “That’s why you’re focusing on us. You think we might know something. Or have been involved somehow.”

“I can’t answer that. I would say it is a reasonable guess given the information you have, but that information is incomplete. I wish I could give you more to go on. I wish I could ask more precise questions. You know as much as I can tell you now.”

He fell silent and Davies sat thinking. He really didn’t know much more than before, other than that whatever this was it was even more serious than he’d first imagined.

His thoughts went back to that day two weeks before, when he’d helped block the sensor signals when two ships had broken away from their convoy. It was possible the timing was a coincidence, but he didn’t believe in coincidences like that. Which meant he had been involved in whatever it was.

But if he came clean what good would it do? All the information about the ships had been wiped. He wouldn’t even be able to point out which of the ships had deviated from its expected course, and certainly not where it ended up.

It was possible they’d be able to cross-check the landing records and find which two ships hadn’t arrived where they should have, but that wouldn’t give any information about where they’d gone or what they’d had on board. Besides, Sorvac’s associates would almost certainly have had those records doctored too.

“I trusted you,” said the colonel. “Now I need you to trust me. Was there anything about that day? Anything unusual? Anything that stands out?”

Davies sat there frowning, trying to decide how much information to give. However serious this problem was, he didn’t think the information he could provide would make any difference.

If he’d known something which would help he thought he might just have given it, but what little he had would just mean throwing away his retirement for no reason. Finally he sighed deeply and nodded. There was one thing.

“It’s not much,” he said. “But Sorvac switched his shifts around. He wouldn’t normally have been working that day so he must have done a swap. I remember thinking it was a bit odd because it meant he had one day off, then worked the day you’re asking about, then had another day off. But it’s the sort of thing people do from time to time. I probably wouldn’t have even remembered if you hadn’t already been asking about Sorvac.”

“I see. And there was nothing else you can think of? Nothing he did that day?”

“No. It was a normal day. I’d guess we had a few solo ships and a few convoys coming and going. We generally have. I only remember the days we have something that was really unusual. Days with no convoys, or no solo ships, or a lot more of either than usual.”

“After all the questioning this morning you could have gone back and checked the records, to try and understand what was going on.”

“I was tempted, but would you have done that in my shoes? It seemed like a sure way to make myself look guilty! Besides, if there was anything in those records you’d already have found it.”

The Colonel smiled slightly.

“Spoken like someone who’s been part of the navy for decades. No, I wouldn’t have looked it up either. Dammit, though, I was counting on you to remember something we’d missed.”

“I’m not trying to tell you your job, but wouldn’t asking Sorvac be the obvious next step?”

“It would, if anyone knew where to find him. He completely dropped off the grid two hours after finishing his last shift. We haven’t been able to find a trace of him, and hiding from us takes some doing. So either he’s long gone, and so well beyond our ability to find him easily, or he’s dead and his body will never turn up.”

Davies didn’t have to feign shock at the blunt answer. It matched his own thoughts, but hearing the colonel say it rammed it home.

“That’s… damn it, Sorvac was always a bit brash and he certainly enjoyed spending his money, but surely if he was up to no good he wouldn’t have acted that way. Wouldn’t he know people would become suspicious?”

“Someone did. In fact we think three people did, over time. One of them died in an air crash shortly after asking his questions. Another asked questions about Sorvac, but then suddenly seemed to decide everything was above board and ended the lines of enquiry. He retired a year later.

“Turned out he retired with far more money than he should have had at his disposal, on a planet a long way from here. We have people tracking him down, but I have a suspicion even if we find him he’ll know little more than we do. My guess is he was paid to look the other way, not to help.”

“And the third?”

“Your current commanding officer. He also seems to have been receiving money from unofficial sources at regular intervals. He’d also developed a very nasty drug habit, but only in the last week. In his inexperience he took a massive overdose two days ago. Even if he survives, there won’t be enough of his brain left them to answer any questions.”

“Bloody hell! That’s… there’s no way he got into drugs! We couldn’t ever get him to even have a beer when we went out.”

“Exactly. He was silenced, and none too subtly. Anyone else who was involved with Sorvac needs to watch their back as well. Whatever is happening here, someone is cleaning up the loose ends, and they aren’t too fussy about their methods.”

“It’s not something I have to worry about, thankfully,” lied Davies. “But Sorvac might have convinced some of the younger members of the team. If they’re in danger can’t you give them protection?”

“Ha! As if we had the time or resources to do that right now. No, we can’t do that. I’m going to make it very clear before the end of the shift that anyone who has been involved in Sorvac’s schemes is likely to meet an untimely death rather soon.

“If they want to survive they need to come clean. Being in military custody might not be a barrel of laughs, but at least they have a chance of living beyond the end of the week. If they come clean and help us that’ll work in their favour, too. This is more important than anything they might have done. Now… can you think of anyone in particular we should speak to?”

Davies made a show of considering his answer, then shook his head.

“No. Sorry, I can’t. I wish I could, assuming any were. It might keep them safe from whoever Sorvac worked with. But I really don’t know.”

“Alright. If you do think of anyone, if anything comes back to you at all, make sure you let us know straight away.”

“Yes, sir!”

The Colonel’s words were clearly a dismissal, so Davies took the chance to get up and headed back to his station where he was quickly back into his work, though he struggled to focus on it at all. He had a lot of thinking to do, and quite possibly not much time to do it in.


As the afternoon stretched on, the colonel interviewed everyone on the shift again, still no one was dragged away. They were grilled then they returned to their stations.

As the shift neared its end, but still before those on the next shift arrived, the colonel finally emerged from his room and spoke to them all. He spent a good ten minutes, but really he just kept saying the same few things in different ways.

They’d better not even dream of breathing a word of what they’d been asked to anyone else. If they knew anything which they hadn’t told the colonel there was still time to put that right, but not much. And they would need to be much more vigilant in their roles over the coming days and weeks.

The next shift arrived shortly after, and from the knowing looks on their faces it was clear they’d already encountered the colonel and those with him. Once again, no conversations were allowed, other than the brief handovers at each station.

Then Davies and the others were given clearance to leave, but only one at a time. The Colonel clearly didn’t want them comparing notes.

Davies was one of the last to be allowed to go. He decided to head straight for his quarters. It was only a ten-minute journey if he took one of the transits, but he chose to walk this time. Partly to give himself time to think, but mostly to get a feel for whether he was being followed.

He was. Two men wearing intelligence service uniforms followed him making no effort to hide their attention. They were almost laughably easy to spot, which was exactly why they were there.

There were two others, a man and a woman, who were far harder to pick out. They were also intelligence officers judging by their bearing, but Davies doubted that anyone else from his shift would even have noticed them. Except maybe Sorvac, but then Sorvac was probably arrogant enough not to have bothered learning how to spot if he was being followed.

For Davies, in his early life, knowing how to spot those who were following him had been a matter of life and death. With a start he realised it might well be again. For there were others following him.

One Davies thought might still be part of the intelligence service, but there were two others he was sure weren’t. And if they weren’t naval intelligence they were most likely related to Sorvac’s associates in some way.

The fact they were trailing Davies couldn’t be anything other than bad. Even if they meant him no harm, and that seemed damned unlikely, there was the chance they might be spotted by the intelligence officers. That would be bound to lead to questions, questions Davies did not want to answer. Ones which would almost certainly cause his retirement to be badly delayed if not replaced by decades in prison.


By the time he reached his quarters, Davies was certain the six short weeks to his retirement were going to feel more like a lifetime. And that was only if those trailing him stuck to just watching.

As soon as he went through his door he knew someone had been in his quarters, not that he’d had any doubts. Nothing seemed to have been moved, but there was a feel to the room which told him it wasn’t as he’d left it.

He was certain there would be Navy bugs monitoring his every action, but strangely that was a relief. The navy had swept his apartment and then monitored it, which meant Sorvac’s people couldn’t have placed anything nastily explosive to ensure his silence.

Six weeks. It might as well be six decades. Military intelligence would watch his every move now. Sorvac’s associates would be watching him too, and he was sure the covert navy attention would already have been enough to convince them he was a risk. They’d act fast. Davies suspected they wouldn’t let him make it into work the next day.

He couldn’t tell the colonel, or the navy in general, about the fact he was being watched by more than their own people. That might keep him from being targeted by the criminals, but it was also a guarantee he’d never be allowed to retire. Most likely he’d end up on charges even if they couldn’t prove he’d done anything.

Hell, from how serious the colonel had said things were, he’d probably be disappeared. Whisked away to a cell somewhere to have any and all information he knew dragged from him. And as for asking Sorvac’s associates to help him… that would be near instant suicide.

He couldn’t ask either group watching him for help, which meant by the start of his shift the next day he would be dead. The only unknown was how he would die.

The first thing he did was to change into casual clothes, carefully folding his uniform away. Then he put some food in the oven. It’s what he would normally do, so he did it. He chose food that would take a couple of hours to cook through properly. He had no intention of eating it, though. He couldn’t be completely certain Sorvac’s associates hadn’t had access to his quarters before the intelligence officers searched it. While the navy would have ensured there were be no nasty ticking surprises in a closet, there was no guarantee the food hadn’t been tampered with in some subtle way.

With that out of the way, Davies sat down and activated his terminal. He knew everything he did would be closely monitored, but that was fine. He wouldn’t be doing anything suspicious.

First, he brought up information on the three houses he was considering buying. He looked at each briefly, noting that one had reduced slightly in price, but did nothing more. He had to force himself not to shake his head. He knew now that he wouldn’t be living in any of those houses.

Then he brought up the news and allowed himself to run a search for anything significant which had happened two weeks before, around the time period the colonel was interested in. Not doing so would have been strange, but he wasn’t at all surprised that nothing jumped out. Whatever had happened was too serious to be in the public domain yet. It would probably remain secret until it became so large it couldn’t be contained.

Next, he returned to the current day’s news and slowly worked his way through several articles, paying them no attention at all. He was actually racking his memory, trying to recall things he’d set in place decades before. He’d always known there was a risk his past life would be uncovered, especially during the first few weeks and months after he’d signed up for the navy.

If that happened he’d wanted a way to extract himself safely. He’d set up several of those, then over the years he’d completely forgotten about them. Now, when he needed them unexpectedly, he realised he couldn’t remember all the details. And if he couldn’t jolt them loose then his future was going to be very, very short!


It took Davies nearly forty minutes to remember all the steps he needed. At least he hoped he’d remembered all the steps. If not it would be a toss up whether Sorvac’s associates or the colonel’s forces got him first.

He started by visiting several online sites in a row, none of them consisting of anything particularly interesting and all of them valid sites. That was critical to avoid suspicion. During the setup he’d chosen sites that had been there for many years and he’d thought would be likely to remain for a long time. To his relief, all of them were still up and running.

The sites didn’t have anything to do with his escape route directly, but visiting them in the right order left behind a trail. A trail which would be checked once he reached a later stage. Anyone who hadn’t visited those sites in exactly the right order would simply be disregarded at the next step.

Then he logged onto a bulletin board. This site was not directly under his control, either, but there was a payload attached to logging in. No monitoring would detect it. Whoever was watching his activities wouldn’t see anything unusual. But the process had started.

There were messages waiting for him on the bulletin board, as there always were. An independent process he’d setup decades earlier made sure of that. He ran through the messages, seeing a few offers to sell him the usual junk everyone received if their filters weren’t good enough.

There were also a few responses to enquiries he’d made. All fake. He hadn’t really made them, but that couldn’t be checked easily.

With that done, he went through some of his messages, cursing as one turned out to be junk which took him to a site offering particularly unusual sexual services. He left it again quickly, shaking his head at the images, but not before the site had automatically grabbed his contact details.

This was the point at which the trail of sites he’d visited came into play. The junk mail was a plant. The site had carefully checked his past viewing history. If it hadn’t been exactly right he’d have been treated like any other visitor. But it had been right. A chain of events had been started.

A few minutes later he received an email from a seller on one of the earlier sites offering something to buy and giving the physical location to collect it from. He declined the offer, but the message had served its purpose. The location within wasn’t where he needed to go, but it gave the starting point which he could translate into where he really needed to be.

Now came the most dangerous part. Davies needed to get there. He had no doubts that as soon as he set foot outside his door he would be exposed to danger, but he had no choice. Not if he wanted to keep his freedom… and his life.

He grabbed his pistol, checking the gun carefully, then strapped it on. That wasn’t unusual. Wearing a weapon when out was practically required of officers. Even when they weren’t in uniform they were sometimes targets.

Next he opened a secure drawer, took the second pistol from where it normally rested, and strapped that on too. Having a spare gun was fairly normal for a naval officer. It wouldn’t have raised any alarm when his quarters were searched.

Wearing both guns at once certainly wasn’t normal, but it shouldn’t trigger too much concern, not considering the intense investigation the colonel was running. Showing a little paranoia would easily be written off.

Next, Davies took a long black jacket and slipped it on but left it undone. He was pleased with the way it hid both guns without making it harder to reach them.

He was ready. He moved to the front door without a backward glance, despite knowing one way or another he would never see the quarters again. There were memories there, and keepsakes he would like to have taken, but he’d spent more than enough of his life ready to run. He knew the important thing when you ran was not to slow down for anything.

He put his hand on the door and pulled one gun, though he kept it concealed within his jacket. He was fairly sure it wouldn’t be noticed by anyone observing him, and even if it was it still shouldn’t be enough to trigger the navy watchers to swoop on him. He was counting on the colonel’s people wanting to know what he knew if he was involved, but also wanting to know who he was involved with. That meant they would be happy to give him a little slack before they dragged him in.

Davies opened the door and stepped out, straight into a solidly built man wearing a delivery service uniform. Davies grabbed the man by the back of the neck and swung him around so his back was to the apartment entrance. He jammed his gun into the deliveryman’s stomach, angled upwards, then fired twice. The body fell back into Davies’ quarters, along with the parcel he’d been carrying. Davies slammed the door shut.

Now he was committed. He tried to convince himself he’d spotted the gun the deliveryman was holding under the parcel before pulling the trigger. In his heart he knew that wasn’t true. He’d acted on instinct. It had been the right choice, but he’d been acting on instinct. He hoped something had tipped him off that he wasn’t shooting an innocent man… but he couldn’t be sure.

So be it. That was the game he was playing now. He had to roll the dice, judge the odds, and hope he got each choice right. He was certain this had been one of Sorvac’s associates, not the navy, but the clock would be ticking now. The navy would know what had just happened through the bugs in his home.

Glancing both ways down the corridor he saw no one. That was just as well considering what he’d just done. He didn’t need to be dealing with law enforcement too. He kept hold of the gun but slipped it back out of sight within his jacket, then hurried away.


His abrupt exit from his quarters seemed to catch the intelligence officers off guard as no one immediately followed him. He had no doubt they would catch up with him soon, but the fact the food he’d put on was still cooking seemed to have convinced them he was hanging around for a while.

He walked quickly, leaving the corridors and entering the streets… though as part of the massive station, those too were enclosed. He made his way to the nearest transit stop. It was almost ready to leave, as he’d planned. He jumped on. The vehicle was almost empty, just a couple of kids at the back and the guard at the front whose only job was to prevent anyone trying to subvert the transit’s systems.

Sorvac’s associates were faster off the mark than the navy. Davies saw one he recognised from earlier running for the transit, but missing it by a matter of seconds. That was good, but Davies had no illusions of having enough of a head start to avoid trouble.

He only travelled two stops before jumping off and boarding another transit, heading in a different direction. This time he went three stops before getting off and walking.

He soon became aware of a police drone. It was well away from him and only appeared intermittently, but he had no doubt it was looking for him. Whether it was working for the military or Sorvac’s associates he couldn’t tell. Either was a possibility.

He hoped he could reach his destination without further violence, but he doubted it. Within a minute he was proved right. People appeared from several streets ahead and behind him. Three at least were military types, the others had a rougher look.

Davies dived into a side road to avoid them and found two of the criminal gang ahead of him. There was no way navy officers would look that scruffy.

The two had their backs to him and slipped back into a smaller alley just too slowly for him to miss them. He wondered if that was deliberate or they’d been sloppy. Either way, he needed to keep moving.

He’d only taken a few steps when he noticed two men coming the other way. This alley was getting a lot of traffic! The two paid him no attention, heads together and laughing, hands clasped, but he wasn’t fooled. The odds of them not being there for him seemed non-existent.

They drew closer, but were still twenty metres away when they reached the side-alley which the first two had disappeared down. One of the men pointed into the alley then slipped his arms round the other, pulling him in for a kiss as they disappeared into the alley.

Davies had to hide a smile. That was hardly subtle, but it seemed the colonel was still interested in where he was heading and who he might meet, and in preventing anything which might interfere with that.

When Davies reached the side alley he glanced down it, just once, and saw no one. Not the two supposed lovers, and not the two criminals. What he did see were plenty of places that people, and bodies, could be hidden. Fighting not to shake his head, he carried on.

He was halfway down the street when two men stepped out of a shadowed doorway barely thirty yards away. One held a machine gun, the other what looked like a sniper rifle. They both smiled as they lifted the weapons. Davies grinned back as he stepped sharply sideways, out of their view and into a lift.

He was still smiling seconds later as the lift started to ascend. Several bursts of weapons fire swept back and forth in front of him. Apparently the navy won, as one of their operatives came sprinting into view, shaking their head and shouting at him.

Davies simply smiled back. He was still smiling moments later as the bomb underneath the lift went off. It was powerful! So powerful it vaporised the entire lift, and Davies with it.


The aftermath of the explosion was chaotic and violent. The navy forces engaged the unknown group they strongly suspected were criminals, and ended up having to kill all but one of them.

The survivor was just a hired thug who denied knowing anything about the bomb or even who he worked for. His story didn’t change even during intensive interrogations. Some of those who’d died were identified, but just turned out to be more criminals with long histories of trouble but no clear links to a major player.

The Colonel was in the worst of all worlds. It was pretty clear now that Davies had been mixed up in something major, most likely with Sorvac, but now he’d missed the chance to interrogate Davies and learn more.

It was another major headache, yet that just made it one amongst many for the colonel. At least he didn’t have to deal with cleaning up the mess in terms of public relations. He really wasn’t suited to that task.

Instead, he had his team focused on backtracking through Davies’ recent life, trying to piece together everything that had happened over the past three weeks and who Davies had been involved with. And hoping that somewhere in there was the clue he needed. He didn’t know it yet, but he was going to be disappointed.


The story of the explosion made the news, of course. Or a heavily edited version did. In the official version, only one person had been involved, a slightly insane would-be terrorist who’d blown himself up with his own device. Very few real details were available, but the press loved the story and did their best to dig up, or in most cases invent, as much additional information as possible.

Hank sat in a rundown bar ten minutes’ walk from his river-side house, enjoying his beer. He watched the video showing the would-be terrorist, dressed in a long black jacket, stepping into the lift. Moments later came the explosion which destroyed the lift and vaporised the man inside it. The press had decided he must have had powerful explosives hidden under his jacket, though officials had neither confirmed nor denied that theory.

Hank only just avoided snorting at the ideas. He downed the rest of his drink, stood up and nodded to the bartender, then left the bar.

He started on the short walk to the house he owned by the river. Shack was the word most would use for it, though at its heart it was in better condition than it looked. It wasn’t an ideal location, not somewhere he would have chosen normally. The river was small, and the sea was a good ninety miles away even in a straight line, but it was a location no one would expect to find Davies given his previous interest in shoreline properties.

He shook his head as he walked. Terrorist indeed! He certainly hadn’t been that, and he hadn’t been carrying explosives under his jacket. He wasn’t that stupid.

He also hadn’t been standing in the lift, even though it had appeared that way to the agent rushing towards him with a desperate warning. No, what had been in the lift was a hologram.

Immediately after entering the lift, the floor had hinged away, dropping him down the vertical shaft and beyond a bombproof shield which had slammed shut over him. The impact at the bottom had knocked the breath out of him, despite the layers of padding cushioning his fall, but had done no serious damage.

The navy would never even suspect such a switch was possible. As for Sorvac’s associates, they might be a big thing in smuggling, but they didn’t come close to even knowing about the circles Davies had moved in back when he had been Jasper Cairak, the notorious pirate captain. Circles where, for an incredibly large deposit, you could make arrangements to disappear and start a new life should it prove necessary. Arrangements that would be honoured even decades later.

Of course, it hadn’t all been put in place after Davies flagged the need to escape the day before. It took months, probably years, to put it all in place. And it hadn’t been done just for Davies. When joining the navy, he’d never known for sure where he would be posted next, and so where he might have to disappear from.

No, he wasn’t the only person to move in those circles, to operate at that level. He wasn’t the only one who might suddenly need a fast exit. That’s where the organisation he’d paid so much money to came in.

They were the ones who had provided him with the encoded address to visit. They were the ones he’d entrusted his life to, for they could as easily have left him in the lift to die in the explosion as have him whisked away to safety. It wasn’t as if anyone would have come looking and accusing them of reneging on a promise.

But they had come through, and less than two hours later had smuggled him off the station, onto the planet, and on his way to his new life.

He had money. A lot of money. Far more than he’d saved during his long naval career. Money he’d put aside for if he ever had to make an escape. He’d then gone through four different intermediaries before choosing where to settle down.

It had taken him three days to arrange everything, but now he was Hank, the semi-reclusive retiree who had owned and lived in his house for more than four years, while only occasionally showing up in town.

No search would turn up anything else, and there was no trail which could be followed to link Davies to Hank. It wasn’t the retirement he’d planned, but it was far better than any of the other options he’d faced.

And, if he was honest, he was glad to be several hundred miles from the drylands now. The appeal of that area, even on the coast, had faded. He knew one of the ships he’d helped hide had set down in that area, and judging by the amount of attention the colonel and his superiors were putting into the investigation, Davies was more than happy to be far from any possible threat.

He’d done the right thing. Coming clean to the colonel about interfering with the systems wouldn’t have been to anyone’s advantage, and as for allowing Sorvac’s associates to end his life… well, that was right out.

The only thing he felt slightly guilty about was the gang would hunt down Sorvac’s other accomplices, but the colonel and his troops would most definitely be aware of that possibility now. It was highly likely they’d provide serious levels of protection for everyone who worked in the control room, and most likely confine them all to a nearby barracks when they were off shift.

Hank, as he now was, went back to his house, grabbed another beer from the fridge, and sank onto the sofa. He let out a deep sigh and took a long swig of the beer.

It was over. He was out of that mess. Whatever happened now would happen without him. He lifted his beer and smiled. He would certainly drink to that!

The End

More stories in this series…

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