The gas giant hid secrets, long buried, or so they hoped. Tlan Garsh and Yzal Bey, the lead inspectors for the Exalted Gerent, who ruled this miserable portion of the galaxy, had come looking for the one who had betrayed him. They had followed a trail, intermittent and well-disguised, and the evidence had brought them here to this abandoned system, with only this massive gas giant left unharvested for resources by the Gerent’s Marauders.
For months and months, as the Marauders laid waste to the feeble forces of Sborz system, intending to enslave the population and extract what was usable from its planets and habitats, there had been problems. These had been tiny and insignificant, hardly worth reporting to the Exalted Gerent—though a failure to do so would, if discovered, result in a horrible and inventive punishment. The delays to the Marauders ultimate conquest of the system were minimal, but, all the same, however inconsequential the issue, it had to be resolved.
The Exalted Gerent did not countenance betrayal of any sort, and there could be no doubt that this was a betrayal of his mandate. Tlan and Yzal had established that to everyone’s satisfaction. Someone within the ranks of the Marauders, or worse—and this did not really bear thinking about, for the consequences would be dire for anyone even tangentially involved—within the Gerent’s inner circle. This was why Tlan and Yzal had been directed, by the Exalted Gerent himself, to find whoever it was who was daring to defy him and see justice done.
Their ship informed them that the system was empty as they passed out of the portal, the only remnant of the worlds that had once existed here. This was to be expected and neither one paid it any mind. Tlan directed the vessel toward the gas giant, the coordinates of which had been broadcast from ships within the Marauder fleet on each occasion when the double agent had sent information to their enemies. The coordinates, they had discovered, contained information packets, cleverly concealed, that revealed the position of the Marauder fleet, it’s planned movements, and its numbers, among other things.
The ship ran any number of scans of the gas giant and sent in a few probes. All revealed the same thing: this was gas giant, like any other gas giant. There was nothing remarkable about it.
Tlan looked at Yzal with a wordless question: What now?
Yzal shrugged. “It doesn’t make any sense. There’s nothing here. And I don’t see any connection to Sborz. Or the Marauders.”
“Some will have come from here,” Tlan said.
“But not from here. This was left untouched.”
“Why, I wonder?” Tlan said.
They both paused, waiting for the answer from the ship, but none was forthcoming.
Yzal raised an eyebrow. “Now that is interesting. There must be some minerals that could have been mined here.” At the words, the ship provided them with a breakdown of the gas giant’s particles, demonstrating that there were minerals of considerable value.
Tlan frowned. “It’s inexplicable that this would have been left.”
Yzal nodded. “No reason not to take the time, especially once the Marauders were done. So why not?”
“I think we need to look at this another way. It was obviously left for a reason. But that reason has been hidden. Why?”
Yzal did not look at Tlan, ordering the ship to take them within the giant. The ship stayed in the outer regions of the planet, passing through clouds of ammonia, but nothing further was revealed.
“Was there a habitat nearby?” Yzal said. The ship answered in the negative.
Tlan raised a hand in question. “Do you have access to all files on the planet?” The ship answered in the affirmative. “Let us see them.”
They spent an hour reading over what the ship showed them. Most of the files were taken from the archives the Marauders had stolen from the system’s intelligences. It revealed little of interest. There had been a number of surveys of the planet’s depths over the decades, one five years before the Marauders invaded, and there was exhaustive detail on every aspect of the planet’s makeup.
Yzal was about to tell the ship to review the rest and conduct an analysis of what was there for possible connections to the message packets, when Tlan said, “Stop. Go back to that last image.”
Dutifully the ship returned to the previous image, a three dimensional representation of certain convulsive cloud formations following a comet impact. One could see the point where various pieces of the comet had struck and the reverberations spreading out through the clouds. It was breathtaking and they both looked at it without speaking.
“I’ve seen this before,” Tlan said at last, interrupting their reverie.
“Where?” Yzal said sharply, looking over at the other inspector.
“I’m not sure. Somewhere. Do an analysis of the Marauder fleet,” Tlan said to the ship. “Is this found anywhere there?”
They received the answer a few short seconds later. The image was only available in the archives they were accessing at the moment.
“Would you have been looking at these files for some reason?” Yzal said, in a musing tone.
“No,” Tlan said, staring hard at Yzal. Tlan’s eyes widened slightly, for the barest fraction of a second, but Yzal noticed it.
“What is it?” Yzal said, on guard now.
“You. I saw it in your quarters. It wasn’t this, not exactly, but it was…”
“With the lights on your wall,” Tlan said, in wonder. “I almost didn’t see it.”
Both inspectors were silent, watching each other warily, waiting for one or the other to act. Neither moved, neither so much as breathed.
“What will you do?” Yzal said.
Tlan shrugged and put a hand, gentle and familiar on the other’s shoulder. There were tears in Yzal’s eyes and Tlan’s as well. They looked about, as though conscious of someone watching them, but there was only the ship, silent as always. Without a word from either of them it set in a course for the portal leaving the planet and the system behind.
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