Cynwrig’s office wasn’t an office at all, by design. Once, it had been yet another lounge in the Capitol Palace, full of cushions and tea trays and plenty of space for the upper crust to sit around being useless. She’d taken the room as her own after the coup, after she’d executed the ruling party and claimed the palace for loyal citizens of Gan-De. She could’ve taken the high regent’s office, that ancestral seat that jutted from the front of the building, encased in bulletproof glass. The intent behind such a display had been that all could easily see their ruler working on their behalf, but the effect felt more to Cynwrig like making a pageant out of governance. As was the case with so many things, meaning was a matter of perspective.
Architectural subtext aside, the regent’s office hadn’t fit Cynwrig’s needs. The room was too small. Nobody could think properly when sitting still, with slow blood and idle bones. If Cynwrig were to strategize, if she were to do the work her rank required, she needed to move. She needed to pace.
Hence the former lounge, with its hard dance floors and easily customizable space. She had few furnishings in there. A desk, tables for map projections, chairs where her advisers sat. The closest thing the room had to decor was the frame of display cases arranged against the walls, each containing military garb and armor from a different era. But that display was intended for the room’s visitors, who needed to be reminded whose space they’d entered. All Cynwrig needed for herself was a clear, uncluttered path.
She walked the room now, boots falling softly, hands clasped behind her back, morning sky dawning as her mind raced. There was a puzzle at hand, and the pieces she’d collected tugged at each other, so close to connection. But try as she might, she could not see the shape they’d form. She was missing something vital, she knew, and the puzzle nagged at her relentlessly, demanding she turn the pieces again and again. With a sigh, she walked the room, retracing her path in two respects.
She focused back on Asala, and Ekrem’s brat. Cynwrig was no fool, and they were no diplomats. So then what, she’d wondered as she’d left the Altair, had sent them to Hypatia?
That answer had landed in her lap a few weeks later, in the form of an intelligence report. The Vela had gone missing. Her chief propagandists had urged her to make the information public, in order to shake the system’s faith in Khayyami policy. But Cynwrig had insisted they keep their knowledge to themselves. No point in tipping their hand to the Inners. They’d conduct their own search. They’d watch Khayyami movement carefully, to see what their delicate allies did while believing themselves to be safe in the dark.
So Gan-De watched. And found nothing.
Intelligence from Hypatia came back empty. Scout ships combing the fastest void routes traveled alone. Every spy stayed silent. True, it was possible that the Vela had simply suffered some disaster of mechanical make, but both the lack of debris and Cynwrig’s gut said otherwise. She trusted the latter as much as any report. A hunch could be the difference between life and death. She’d seen that play out more times than she could count.
Then, finally, after weeks of waiting: something.
A report had been delivered to her the night before—an ordinary, everyday briefing. A depressing array of agricultural woes. The latest public health statistics compiled by regional clinics. Some rabble from the Lace Islands protesting for the release of political prisoners, again, and being dealt with, again. The usual ins and outs of running a nation planet. But one security entry in particular caught her eye—the attempted landing of an unauthorized craft originating from Camp Ghala, status unknown. This on its own was not unheard of. Every few weeks, some desperate clannie got it in their head to make a run for the surface. Cynwrig understood that. She’d seen it in war—a soldier who’d snap under pressure, whose fight began to scream louder than flight, who’d run, gun blazing, straight into certain death. Fear and foolishness were close cousins. Thus, an unauthorized craft was not much cause for a pique in interest, were it not for that status unknown. This report had been the first time she’d seen anything other than threat neutralized. Every wall had a weakness, and she wasn’t about to dispatch her troops over one suicidal idiot, but she was curious to see where her border had momentarily failed.
The ship had come apart, the report read, in a manner that made the pieces impossible to track. The bafflement of the officer who’d written the report was easy to read between the formal lines, but where their author had found confusion, Cynwrig found...