Deck 12, Onyx Station, Paladin System
Verdok ran his tongue across the back of his teeth. Having a human mouth always took getting used to. Their teeth were so flat and seemingly useless. At least this body was strong and agile; he couldn’t stand impersonating weak humans.
He raised his hand and knocked at the door, listening intently to the shuffling that erupted from the other side. The person he was calling on probably wasn’t expecting any visitors.
Multiple locks clinked on the other side before the door slid back, though only as far as the chain would allow. A green eye partly framed by a bushy gray eyebrow blinked back at him. The person startled, jumping back and fumbling with the chain. The door finally flew open, and a woman stood staring, her mouth wide.
“General Reynolds!” she exclaimed, bowing low as she extended a hand, like she was so surprised she didn’t know how to greet the honored guest.
“Annaliese Vincent,” Verdok said in a warm voice. “I hope I’m not disturbing you too early.”
Annaliese threw her gaze down to the flowery dressing gown she was wearing. She clutched it self-consciously. “Disturbing me? Not at all. But did I miss a note about a meeting?”
Verdok shook his head. “Something has come up, and I’m seeking your help with a project. Can I come in?”
“Of course, General.” Annaliese stood back, opening the door wide.
Verdok strode into the spacious apartment, his eyes intent.
“I’m happy to help on a consulting basis, as I’ve done in the past,” Annaliese began.
Verdok slid the briefcase he’d been carrying onto a side table, unbuckling the latches. “Actually, I was hoping you’d take a classified project.”
“But I’m retired, and my security access has expired,” the old scientist said, hurrying over and looking up at the General.
“I realize that, but…” He fixed a calculating expression on his face before saying, “I suspect that we might have a security breach in R&D. Until I’ve had time to investigate it further, I need someone I can trust.”
“Me?” Annaliese asked, pressing her hands to her chest. “I’m honored. I’ll take the project.”
Verdok nodded, lifting the case to reveal the two pieces of the Tangle Thief he’d stolen. “Are you familiar with this piece of technology?”
“That’s one of Dr. Hatcherik and Dr. Sung’s projects. I read about it,” Annaliese said.
“That’s correct,” Verdok affirmed. “And for obvious reasons, I can’t grant you access to the research data. However, I have every confidence that you can fix the device, based on your previous knowledge of the project and your skill set.”
“Fix it?” Annaliese asked.
Verdok picked up the two pieces of the Tangle Thief and handed them to the scientist. “Yes, unfortunately they were damaged in transport. I need you to not only repair the devices, but upgrade them.”
“Upgrade them?” Apprehension covered the old woman’s face. “The project was shut down because it was deemed too dangerous to pursue.”
“Correct,” Verdok stated. “But things have changed, and we need it operational. This is a matter of galactic security.”
Annaliese bristled with fear as she looked the pieces over. “I’m happy to help. This sounds serious.”
“It is. I can’t give you any more details, but it’s crucial that the device works to transport large objects.”
“That will take testing.”
Verdok nodded. “I assumed as much.”
“But what about the tears it leaves behind? The radiation leaks?”
“That’s not our concern presently.”
The scientist didn’t question this, she simply ran her eyes over the receiver, studying it. Maybe under other circumstance she would, but not when being told this by the General. He was considered the supreme source of truth and to be respected and followed. Verdok had learned this much studying the Federation.
“I also need you to unlink the device so that it can’t be connected to any other Tangle Thief clients. Otherwise, our enemies could track down this device with their own.”
Annaliese’s eyes widened. Verdok really had her attention. “I’ll make that my first priority,” she said.
“Splendid.” Verdok strode back for the door, giving the scientist one last look. “I’ll be in touch. For security purposes, you shouldn’t attempt to contact me.”
She nodded obediently. “Of course. I’ll get right to work and wait to hear from you, General Reynolds.”
“Very good,” Verdok said, a satisfied smile on his face.