Jan 06, 2022
17 mins read
What can we say? Sometimes there are scenes that don't make it into the book.
Maybe the scene didn't gel with the rest of the story, or went off on a plot tangent too far. Maybe the scene stopped the action, or was confusing. And maybe, just maybe, the scene left the beta readers tilting their heads and wondering how a sapient being could ever have typed that sentence?
We have some of all of those, and as huge fans of blooper reels, we will be gathering the best of our worst to share with the members of our crew.
We hope you enjoy reading these bits of imperfection (at least, more than we enjoyed writing them).
THE PROLOGUE THAT WASN'T
Starting off easy with a scene that was meant to open The Libra Gambit. There's nothing inherently wrong with the scene, other than it's a bunch of talking heads (only one of which we've met before), and far from any action, and is basically exposition to remind everyone what happened in the last book.
Okay, so, there's a lot wrong with this scene. Still, it was fun to write.
Universal System Date 16.21.74
At 1424 ship time, Colonel Liam Michael Doyle strode through the level two corridor of his command vessel, the CFS Harpocretes.
The ship’s monikor was said to have been taken from an ancient Terran god of secrets, which Doyle thought appropriate, given his position as director of the Confederation’s deeply classified Zodiac Division.
He thought it even more appropriate that most of the operatives in Zodiac had immediately taken to referring to the ship as the Harpo. Less because it was easier to spit out than that of the Greek god, but because Harpo—a member of the slightly less ancient comedic family known as the Marx Brothers—never spoke, but kept his thoughts tucked tight under a curly blond wig while his brothers cracked wise.
Doyle, a keeper of secrets surrounded by wise-crackers, could relate.
Now, as he approached the ship’s conference room, he ran a hand over his clean-shaved scalp and wondered which of the wise-crackers in his employ had resulted in his being summoned to a meeting of the ConFed Security Oversights.
His credits were on Agent Flechette who, while very good at her job, did not shy away from making messes.
Since the only way to find out was to get on with it, he didn’t slow his pace as he neared the conference room, but swept onward as the sensor marked his presence and the door slid open.
Once inside the slate-gray interior, he took a silent inventory of those already assembled.
To his left hulked Admiral Grygg, Oversight of the ConFed Military Joint Chiefs.
She was, as always, in full uniform—including the skin-masking veil adopted by all members of the Cherrii military as a means of preventing anyone reading their emotional state.
To Grygg’s left sat the willowy figure of Ran Tal, the Eiolan who bore the title of ConFed Criminal Justice Oversight. One long hand lay languidly on the table, where the ebony surface brought out the deep blue undertones of her skin.
Doyle’s eyes skipped to the seemingly empty chair to her left to spy Dr. Praxim Voll, the economist who had the unenviable job of managing the budgets of the ConFederation’s multiple security-related arms.
Voll was also a member of the Lambdol species, and a stubborn one at that, meaning he refused to adjust his seating to standard ConFed furniture.
This meant the Oversight’s silver-threaded mane of hair barely topped the edge of the table, making him appear little more than a child when compared to the taller species surrounding him.
Doyle suspected Voll’s refusal had less to do with pride and more with suckering his peers into underestimating him.
Since there was no way to determine Voll’s motives, Doyle shifted his gaze to Takaaki Ikedo, Council ConFederation Intelligence Oversight, and Doyle’s direct superior.
Ikedo was, as it happend, one aof the few sentients in the Known that Doyle considered a friend.
Which was why, on spying Taki’s chin dipping a fraction of a centimeter, Doyle knew to be on his guard.
“Director Doyle,” Ran Tal raised her right hand in a languid gesture before flicking her fingers out and immediately pulling them back into a fist.
It was a greeting reserved for matters of business; if this had been a social occasion, her fingers would have remained extended.
“Oversight Tal.” Doyle dipped his head, grateful ConFed courtesy didn’t require more. If every meeting involved every species returning every other species’ salutations, they’d never get past the how d’you do’s. “And what can I do for the CF Sec Oversight Committee today?”
“It’s more what you—or rather, one of your teams—has already done that concerns us,” Voll said in the mellifluous voice Doyle knew the economist weilded like a rapier.
“One of my teams?” he asked, angling his head down to meet as much of the solemn gaze as he could.
“If you can call a gang of rabble rousers a team,” Grygg muttered, the comment setting her pigment-concealing veil to fluttering.
“We are referring to the Ócala affair,” Ran Tal inserted smoothly.
The comment had Doyle’s eyebrows rising so high he could feel his scalp wrinkling. “You mean the affair that ended with the arrest of the chief of the Black Rose Sishterhood?”
“The action also included the immolation of an Ócalan business,” Voll pointed out. “Along with a shootout in one of its famed nightclubs, all before culminating in the deployment of a ConFed Marshal Tac team that decimated a third Ócalan property.”
“With respect,” Doyle focused on the econominst, “my guys might have been rough on the local real estate, but I’d say that’s a small price to pay for preventing a dangerous alliance between the Black Rose and Draconis crime syndicates, not to mention stopping a series of torture killings.” He glanced around the room. “Last I checked, our job was to stop the bad guys.”
“It is,” Taki said. “And I, for one, couldn’t be happier at the outcome. Well, maybe a little happier,” he said, then gave Doyle an apologetic glance. “It would have been good to see Gavin Booth put down.”
“Can’t argue with that,” Doyle acknowledged, thinking of the bloodthirsty lowlife who’d escaped during the raid on the Ócalan hotspot known as The Gallery. In his mind, Booth’s disappearance was the only blot in the mission report.
“Nor should you,” Admiral Grygg groused. “Given that the disposal of Booth and his partner, Sims Al-Kar, was Agent Slater’s objective.” Her eyes, a blazing citrine, fixed on Doyle. “His mission brief did not include intervening in the alliance between the Black Rose and Draconis syndicates.”
“It did not,” Doyle agreed. “But every member of the Zodiac Division understands that missions are fluid. Slater’s objective altered on stumbling into the Sisterhood’s plans.”
“Except,” Ran Tal offered, “according to your own after-action reports, Mr. Slater didn’t stumble into the Sisterhood, so much as trip over Mr. Finn’s mission to apprehend the cyber-terrorist known as Gemini.”
“Which, as my after-action report also states, he did. With Slater’s assistance.”
“Granted.” Voll’s head dipped, momentarily hiding his eyes from the rest of those gathered. “But at what cost? And I do not speak only monetarily,” he added.
Doyle felt his innards go cold, and let that coldness reflect in his expression. “Meaning what, precisely?”
Taki took a breath, but Grygg beat him to it.
“Meaning,” the admiral replied, crossing her arms on the surface in front of her, “the operation compromised your agents, and in doing so, all of Zodiac, and by extension, every other branch of ConFed Security.”
Doyle’s teeth clenched. “How do you figure that?”
“Do you really need to ask?” Grygg’s voice was neutral but underneath that veil, Doyle would put hard credits she was turning the deep purple that was the Cherrii indication of scorn. “You dropped thirty Inter-System Marshals in the dead center of Slater and Finn’s off-book operation.”
“Add to that, your men had, by this point, infiltrated the Black Rose Sisterhood,” Voll pointed out. “A syndicate formed of and by the Rasalkans, a species known for the telempathic gifts.”
“Which should make it clear to any sapient with a single myopic eye that at least one of the Rasalkans will have deduced Slater is more than a disgraced-soldier turned jammer,” Grygg said.
“Or Finn other than an ex-marshal with a substance abuse problem,” Ran Tal concluded.
“The disgrace you’re referring to is arguable,” Doyle said to Grygg. “As any sapient with a single myopic eye could see the fix was in on his conviction. And as for Finn…” He turned now to Ran Tal. “Yes, he is a recovering alchoholic, one who has had no rebounds since he fell off the wagon seven years ago, and before anyone comments on that particular stumble, ask yourselves how stable you’d be after a stint in a Judon POW station.”
“Whatever Slater’s motivation, his attack on Colonel Rikert was the act of a being incapable of reason. The corps has no use of such animals.”
Doyle hissed, but a glance from Taki kept him from stuffing his foot up the general’s opinionated ass.
“And while I appreciate what Mr. Finn has suffered,” Ran Tal picked up the argument, “I would note that his seven years of sobriety didn’t prevent him missing the fact that his own partner, Marshal Aliombe, was the cyber-criminal code named Gemini.”
“He didn’t miss it for long.”
“No, but Finn’s attempt to bring Seth Aliombe to justice was a spectacular failure, leaving one marshal dead and Finn with a broken spine,” Voll insrted, proving he followed more than just the money. “It seems clear, at least to most of this committee, that both Slater and Finn are unstable elements, and unstable elements are known to blow up in their handlers’ faces.”
Doyle’s eyes narrowed. “Is that meant to be a warning?”
“More a caution,” Taki said, finally making himself known. “Though I also fall on Director Doyle’s side, regarding Ócala, that the wins were worth the risks taken.
“Hardly a surprise you’d take his side,” Grygg complained. “Seeing as Zodiac Division is your brainchild.”
“Not mine alone,” Taki said, before Doyle could respond. “And given the upheavals of the war, and the post-war scrabbles for power both in and outside the ConFederation, the president, and all of you I might add, were more than happy to create a new, unorthodox branch of intelligence specifically charged to counter the new order threats rising from those upheavals.”
“That was before we knew ‘unorthodox’ meant hiring on the dregs of the military and law enforcement divisions,” Grygg said.
“Not to mention the criminals,” Ran Tal pointed out with obvious distaste.
“I like to think of it as recycling talent,” Doyle told her.
“You think this is a joke?”
Doyle glared at Grygg. “Hardly a joke, but given Zodiac Division’s mission statement—essentially supplying a black ops force meant to curtail internal and external threats to the ConFederation—let’s just say it’d damn difficult getting Johnny Squarejaw and Patty Principle to sign on. Lucky for Zodiac, this Oversight committee, and the President, there are any number of washed-out soldiers, disgraced cops and, yes,” he glanced at Ran Tal, “out and out criminals with the necessary skills available. And whether they’re in it for goddess, planet, and Dad’s xhchi pie, or just the chance of life outside a cell, the results are the same.”
“Service without honor,” Grygg muttered.
“Honor doesn’t bring down syndicates,” Doyle replied. “But Slater and Finn did, during the Ócala operation. And they cultivated a valuable asset while they were at it.”
“The asset,” Taki jumped on the bone Doyle threw him. “You’d be referring to the Rasalkan, Jessyn Breeshandra?”
“One and the same.” Doyle nodded at the table in general. “It was with her assistance, and that of her employer, Fayla Szado, that Slater and Finn were able to inflitrate the Rose/Draconis summit.”
“An interesting ploy,” Grygg offered. “But given how the upheaval in the Black Rose syndicate benefited House Szado, perhaps it was she and Breeshandra who were using Slater and Finn?”
“Especially given the Rasalkan psionic gifts,” Ran Tal added. “Isn’t it possible that, while Finn and Slater were cultivating Breeshandra, she and her employer were also cultivating them?”
“I’d be surprised if they weren’t,” Doyle replied. “But that’s part of the job. There’s always a certain amount of give and take when an operative develops a relationship with an asset. In this case, Slater and Finn took more than they gave.”
“And should that change?” Grygg challenged.
Doyle met her challenging glare. “It won’t.”
“But, for the sake of argument, if it did?” Voll asked.
Doyle turned to the Lambdol. “Then Zodiac Division would clean up its mess,” he said.
“That’s something, at least,” Grygg said.
“I’m not sure it matters anyway,” Taki said. “Given the Ócala matter is resolved, Slater and Finn, and their cy-tech, Mollin, will be receiving new assignments.”
“Actually,” Doyle shot his friend a glance, “since Finn needed time to recover from the GSW he took in the Ócalan raid, he and Mollin joined Slater aboard his ship for some R&R.”
Taki’s brows rose. “As I recall, Slater’s vessel isn’t the most generous in size.”
“You recall correctly.” Doyle grinned. “If they haven’t killed each other yet, I’m thinking of keeping them together as a unit.”
Taki smiled. “Let me know when Finn’s cleared for duty,” he replied. “Maybe we can put all three of them on the hunt for Booth. Meanwhile,” Taki looked around at the others, “personally, I’m satisified with Director Doyle’s assessment of the Ócala operation, and his people.”
“Agreed,” Ran Tal said after a glance at her peers. “Barring updates, I will allow Finn his shot at—repurposing.” She offered a thin smile.
“I am far from satisfied,” Grygg said. “But I am willing to allow Slater the time and rope necessary to hang himself—and Zodiac Division.”
“Glad to have your support,” Doyle said.
“Just try to avoid any undue expenses,” Voll cautioned, sending a quelling glance Grygg’s way. “You have no idea how difficult it is to hide a tactical raid in the line items, and the way GISE is sucking up funds, we may be selling lottery tickets to make up the shortfall before the end of this cycle.”
Doyle’s jaw tensed at the mention of the Genome Inspection and Clone Enforcement division; a bunch of assholes in uniform, as far as he was concerned. But all he said was, “Understood.”
He then stood quiet as first Voll, then Grygg, and finally Ran Tal flickered from view, leaving only the holographic representation of Takaaki Ikedo in the room with him.
“That was fun,” Doyle said, meeting Taki’s dark gaze.
“That was only the first salvo,” Taki shifted in the chair he occupied in his own conference room, back in Sol Sector.
“What do you mean?” Doyle asked, eyes narrowing.
“I mean, from the grumbles around the Decagon and the Presidential Palace, Grygg’s not the only one grumbling about Zodiac, or the idea of the ConFed Security Council sanctioning off-book operations into the seedy underbelly of the Known.”
“Even when those off-book operations save innocent lives?” Doyle asked. “Or their ungrateful hides?”
“Preaching to the choir,” Taki said, raising his hands.
Doyle winced in his turn. “Got any idea what got those grumbles started?”
“Not yet.” Taki’s head shook and he sighed. “Though given Voll’s comment about GISE, it could be the Gene police are looking to make a cash grab. Either way,” he continued, “promise you’ll keep a close eye on your people. Especially Slater and Finn. And,” he added, “try to cut back on the spending.”
“Flechette’s gonna hate that,” Doyle said.
“Tell her to close her eyes and buy off the rack,” Taki replied with a grin before he sobered once more. “And watch your back, Liam.”
“I always do,” Doyle replied, but by then Taki’s figure had also flickered into oblivion, leaving Doyle alone with a fresh set of concerns to regarding his division in general, and Slater and Finn, in particular.
It was those concerns that had him addressing the air around him as he headed to the door. “You with me, Cassie?”
<I’m always with your, Director Doyle> Cassie, the Harpo’s AI responded. <But not in a creepy way.>
“Says you,” Doyle replied. “I’d like you to deliver a message to the Gypsy Moth.”
<That would be Agent Slater’s ship, would it not?>
“That it would,” Doyle agreed. “Let Slater and his guests know I want them to come in from the cold.”
<I thought you wanted to see how well they got along?>
“Plans change.” Doyle shrugged and turned to leave the conference room. “Besides, Taki was right about the Moth. Pulling them in might be the best way to prevent Finn and Slater from murdering a fellow agent.”