It's the day of departure for the Christmas Carriers' Convoy. Tay and I fly the Orca to Karbon and check in at Budrys Installation. It's fairly quiet; not many of the registered participants have arrived yet.
We have some time to kill so we visit the surface of Karbon 3 and enjoy its 0.9g pull.
"How about I take out the SRV—do some scouting?" Tay suggests.
"Sure," I say, checking the system map, "and if you can find niobium and yttrium, that can only help."
While she's out I review the case. I realise that I don't actually know much about Tay, so I dig into her personnel records using the level 4 security credentials that Amaryllis Dood has granted me. I skim through the early years: mother a miner, father a haulier; she showed great promise as a student, graduating cum laude
from the Neptune Academy. After a year as an intern in the Dood Graduate Programme, her talent was noted and she was moved to the Fast Track Scheme; her employment by the Dood Corporation began in earnest.
To give Fast Track personnel a wide range of experiences, they were rotated on a six-monthly cycle through a selection of businesses. I can see the assessments of her performance that each line-manager has given her. The Current Estimated Potential rating attached to each report shows an upward trajectory, suggesting that Tay will go far in the Dood Corporation.
Then I see that early in 3302, Tay drops out of the scheme; there are negative reports from Human Resources; I see the results of psychometric tests and a schedule of visits to a therapist; I can't see the confidential reports submitted by the therapist, but there are disciplinary measures for insubordination and poor time keeping. Finally, I see a medical report recommending a paid leave of absence for rest and recuperation.
It's not lost on me that this coincides with the time that Tay told me she had undergone weapons training. Some people find target practice relaxing, so I try not to read too much into this.
After a break of three months, Tay returned to a position close to the centre of Dood operations but in a role with less responsibility and a lower salary. That's it—end of file.
I look out of the cockpit and see the SRV returning, a carefree Tay bouncing merrily over the surface. I'm glad she seems happier now than she has been.
"I found gold," she says excitedly over the comms. "It'd be cool to take it from the surface of Karbon 3 and drop it off at Phoenix Harbour."
"And we won't have to buy any at Budrys," I add. You'd never know we had a half-billion budget for this trip.
When Tay's back on board, I remind her that we don't yet have any passengers for the trip.
"Oh, that's in hand," she says. "They'll arrive at Budrys before we leave."
"Who are they?" I ask. Other commanders can do as they please, but this one likes to know whom he's got on board.
"Just a couple of colleagues from work," she says. "You'll meet them shortly."
We fly back to Budrys Installation and this time there are a few more pilots making their final preparations. I see Chankk Saotome in his Type-10, loaded to the gunwales with festive rare goods. At the other extreme is the Sidewinder of Arthas Starknight. Famous explorer Rojo Habe is here in his Anaconda. I don't judge any of these pilots to be linked to the case, so I'll watch and wait as the others arrive.
Parked up in bay 10, I hear the clunk of heavy boots on the companionway, mingled incongruously with lighthearted laughter and conversation. Tay leads the way onto the bridge and introduces our passengers.
"This is Mai and this is Jaquelyn," she says, in a breezier mood than I've seen her.
I shake hands. My first impression is that these are clones of Tay, and that suggests they will make a powerful peer group on board. I may need to assert my authority—if they allow it.
"What takes you to Colonia?" I ask them both.
"We love to travel," Jaquelyn says.
"And we have leave that we must take before the new year," Mai adds.
It sounds a little rehearsed to me, but I let that go. Having passengers on board completes our cover story of travelling to Centralis as a tour guide. Few people know our real purpose.