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Scene: The LSC targets Teancum

"Hey boss, why don't you come and take a look at this?" Paulin Illescas, lead Human Intelligence Collector for Department 8, looked up from her console at her assistant Francis Diotte. They were both old hands from Sol, she from the Central American Ministry of Public Safety and Francis from the Martian Gendarmerie. The dark room in which they worked was cold, in the traditional manner of working spaces filled with electronics from time immemorial. The five workstations of their department were arranged in a pentagon, each facing the hologram projector in the center that served as the room's main illumination. Seeing that he had grabbed her attention, Francis tapped a few keys and the projector brought up the pictures and bios of two individuals marked with the Deseret flag.   "As you're aware, I've been working on the heads of the Desereti delegation, Dayer Cluff and Tama Latu." Francis looked to Paulin for confirmation and she nodded slowly.   There were many delegations onboard Lee Starbase, but the Deseretis were special. Most delegations had been transported there (in style) on one of the LSC's courier vessels, but the Deseretis were one of the few star nations in the region who had access to hyperdrive capable ships. Not only that, but they even had (for the region) a respectable system defense force. Which meant that the LSC was interested in finding ways to compromise them.   Memory refreshed, Paulin arched an inquisitive eyebrow in Francis's direction. "And how's that going so far?" she asked.   "To be honest, not well." Seeing her frown, Francis typed a command on his console, bringing up surveillance footage clips featuring both Cluff and Latu. "We feel like we've gathered enough data to determine possible access points on each target but neither has chosen to accept rooms on the station. That limits our options, and the few agents we've sent in public have gotten the cold shoulder. Latu's a prig, but Cluff is almost worse. He seems aware of what we're trying to do and is just amused by the whole thing. In any case, we haven't been able to get to either one, and I don't think we will."   Paulin leaned back in her chair and frowned, watching a clip of Cluff pretending to be unable to hear the voluptuous blonde LSC agent trying to chat him up during a sumo match. Judging from the grin Cluff was trying (and failing) to suppress, it seemed that Francis' statement was on the mark. Rubbing the tip of her nose, she mulled the problem over before turning back to Francis.   "Any luck with their close contacts?", Paulin asked.   Francis shook his head. "None so far, at least none that matter. The heavy hitters in their delegation are also on guard and that's only increased over time, so we've had a harder time than usual. But I had the AI run a relationship net analysis and I think I found something we could use."   He typed in another command, causing the footage and bio info to fade, leaving just the images of Cluff and Latu. Lines grew out from them, each one linking to a new face, representing a member of the Desereti delegation they had regular contact with. From these, new lines branched out to images of their closest contacts, until a vast web had materialized on the screen.   "So, stay with me here. We've had no luck with Cluff or Latu, or even any of their direct subordinates. So I decided to ignore them completely. Instead, I had the AI look for the individuals with the highest number of connections, weighted by the value of those connections. And when I did THAT, I found this guy." The web shifted as it refocused on the image of a young Desereti male, with numerous lines branching out from it like the rays of a star. A name appeared under the image, Teancum Gardiner.   "From what we've been able to tell, Mr. Gardiner here is a low level analyst. He's listed on their ship manifest and he identified as an analyst when he went through customs, but he's not on any of their delegation department lists. We think he's kind of a loose string. And yet"---Francis typed in a command and most of the lines and images connected to Teancum's faded while others glowed a soft red--- "he seems to have uncommon access, regularly having conversations with delegation members at each hierarchal tier. Additionally, he has a room on the station and often wanders off by himself. I don't know if it will lead to anything, but I kinda want to tag this guy."   Paulin leaned back, pursing her lips as she examined the contact web line by line. Truth be told, while she was impressed by the analytical work, she was also unconvinced whether Francis' lead was going to amount to much. Human intelligence work, however, often involved compromising seemingly insignificant members of an organization. Her superiors had not set any deadlines on their collection, a state of affairs that endeared them greatly to her, meaning that if Francis wanted to take a longer path to his main objective he was free to do so. Besides, she thought as she looked at Teancum's bio, the target was relatively young. Even if he was junior now, there was always the chance that he would rise in importance later. In which case, she thought as she came to a decision, it made sense to compromise him when his guard was down and no one was paying attention.   "How do you want to do it?" Paulin asked.   Smiling widely, Francis keyed in a new command and the contact web faded away. Teancum's biographical data expanded to show categories of stimuli, with bars below each one showing the amount of engagement they generated. "We never thought to look at this guy before, so all we have right now was generated by the AI's passive surveillance since he got on station. We don't have any evidence yet of ideological wedge issues, and so far he hasn't dabbled into any substances that could lead to dependency."   "Any gambling?" Paulin asked, examining the bars of engagement statistics.   Francis shook his head. "Surveillance shows him pretty interested in some of the games, and the AI tried to steer him towards that. However, it seems that his interest was effectively neutered when he learned money was involved."   Paulin chuckled. "If he really is just a small time analyst, I wouldn't blame him. Probably much more than he thought he could afford." She paused, eyes squinting. "This data isn't sorted by highest engagement?"   "I just wanted to set the stage, boss." Francis tapped a button and the stimuli bars shifted, with the highest engagement categories now at the top. Paulin's eyes widened for a moment before laughing at the data on the screen.   "Looks like your boy has a roving eye!", she said. Francis smiled, bringing up surveillance footage featuring Teancum in different locations trying (and failing) to discretely glance at female staff.   "Oh, he's a very healthy young man. I'm surprised he hasn't sprained his neck turning around so often. Which, to be fair, is what the staff is there for."   Paulin grunted in agreement, watching footage of Teancum ordering a meal at one of the French-Vietnamese restaurants on the station's Upper Level. He stiffened as his waitress, dressed in a baby blue silk Ao Dai dress, finished writing his order and patted his shoulder with a brilliant smile. He followed her with his eyes as she walked back to the kitchen, talking a long gulp of his ice-water as she disappeared from sight. Most of the Lee Starbase's staff doubled as prostitutes, recruited from across the Sol system as it tore itself apart in war after Yellowstone. Of course, they hadn't known they were going to be prostitutes, expecting instead to be the many technical specialists needed to establish a new colony. Instead, upon arrival over Gould they had found the colony already well staffed and themselves handed over to a cadre of grim managers from "Human Resources" for retraining. Those who had survived were exceptionally cultured, breathtakingly sensual, and completely subservient. Perfect tools.   Paulin grinned as she watched Teancum maintaining a stiffly proper posture as his waitress returned with his food. As she set his meal down his eyes remained fixed on a flower arrangement on the wall across from him, a blatantly obvious attempt to not stare that only emphasized how aware he was of her physically. Finishing the task, the waitress once again smiled beatifically before walking away. The young man continued his thousand yard stare for another ten seconds, breathing slowly and deeply, before beginning to eat his meal.   "Anyway boss, I think we got a way in here. I was thinking of reaching out to Dorothy at HR and seeing if I could get Rylee assigned to work him."   Paulin winced, shaking her head quickly. "Francis, that would be like using a missile to crack an egg. She'd devour the poor bastard. Besides, if we used an asset like her it would draw too much attention. If you want this to work, the last thing we need is Cluff getting wind and ordering your boy off the station."   She leaned back, tapping out a beat on her leather armrests as she mulled the problem over. Francis kept silent, knowing that interrupting now would only frustrate her. He contented himself with refilling his cup from the office tea kettle while he waited, inhaling the soothing lavender. After a few seconds she sat up, typing in a command that brought up a new bio alongside Teancum's. She pointed at the holo confidently. "We'll put Rukiya on him."   Francis arched an eyebrow as he perused the personnel file. "Are you sure? Says here she's still Prey, not Predator."   Paulin grimaced as he spoke, reminded again how much she hated those monikers. "Predators" were those prostitutes that had graduated from Human Resources' training, not just tools but willing participants in the covert activities of the LSC. The position came with its own privileges, ranging from no longer being forced to pay the hundreds of fees that kept most staff in perpetual debt to the corporation, to being able to refuse customers they didn't want to take. "Prey" on the other hand had no such privileges, trapped in a cycle of indentured servitude that made them effectively slaves.   For those with good enough looks and the proper skillset, the transition was a no brainer. But competition was fierce. Only those individuals who had accumulated enough points by giving exceptional service could apply for the few select slots Human Resources opened each quarter. Worse still, applying and failing would reset an individual's points, forcing them to work their way back up from scratch. It was a cruel system, but there wasn't much Paulin could do about it. As much as the practice might disgust her, she was just as trapped as the prostitutes were. Those who spoke out against corporate policy, or even tried to leave, were rarely seen from again. Besides, when the choices available to her were roughing it on some backwoods neobarbarian planet or a stable, well paid job, Paulin knew what her choice would always be.   "That's a point in her favor, I think." Paulin said. "Anyone more skilled than her is either already assigned or too visible. Rukiya has had enough points to apply for a few quarters now, so she wouldn't have submitted her application if she wasn't confident she was ready. She's also well educated and phenotypically exotic to Deseretis while being just relaxed enough to not scare off these religious types." Paulin drummed her fingers on her desk as she gave Rukiya's profile one last examination. Satisfied, she turned back to Francis with a shrug.   "She wants a shot and I say we give it to her. What's the worst that could happen?"


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