Jim Seneca

Jim SenecaColonel Jim Seneca looked across his desk at Norio, who sat with his usual formal posture on the chair provided to him. The Jovian drummed his gloved fingers together as he waited for Seneca to speak. Seneca knew he wasn’t showing impatience, but did this as a constant form of therapy to keep his damaged hands limber. If anything, it showed Norio was relaxed. Seneca leaned back in his chair, also at ease, and smiled at the irony. In the days before the Jug Invasion, they might have tried to kill each other on sight. Now they were allies, and it didn’t bother him in the least that someone he formerly considered an enemy sat in his office as a friend. The world was changing, not always for the better, but at least with the occasional glimmer of hope for mankind.

“Drink?” Seneca asked as he stood.

“Thank you,” Norio replied. “Water, please.”

Seneca had never asked Norio how old he was, but figured him to be about fifty. The creases around his eyes and mouth suggested he spent much of that time in the sun. His hair was long but neat, with gray highlights around his temples. He had aged since coming to Celestial City seven years earlier, though not drastically so. As Seneca stood at his private bar, he imagined the Jovian sized him up about the same way. They were much alike, despite coming from different cultures. Both were soldiers. Both were getting older. Both had a lot on their minds.

Seneca gave Norio his glass, mixed a scotch and water for himself, then sat down again. “I received a report from the Upright Meadowlands the other day,” he started. “It seems a body was found near the Sunlo cliffs. Any idea how it got there?”

Norio nodded. “His name was Grigor. He came from New Mimas to bring me an update on the mining operation. He was murdered before I could speak to him, though I believe his presence there indicates the message was positive.”

“Did the killer know you were there, too?” Seneca asked.

“It is possible,” Norio replied, “There is no way to be sure, as he also died before I could speak to him.” He took a sip of water without elaborating.

Seneca could tell Norio wasn’t eager to share the details. “I need to know what happened.”

“He was a garden keeper. One I knew from my homeland.”

“That’s a damn problem,” Seneca said. “The jovians are up to their old tricks again. He would have been alone, at least?”

“Yes. The Guile does not allow his agents to work in concert with one another. To address your concern, I doubt this assassination was ordered ahead of time. Garden keepers generally observe enemy activities without interfering. This one appeared to have been in the region for some time, judging by the wear on his clothes. He would not have had time to report to The Guile for instructions.”

“Maybe another agent relayed the order?” Seneca asked.

“Again,” Norio reiterated, “agents do not work with one another. The Guile breeds mistrust among his subjects to prevent collaboration. It ensures he is the only person with overall knowledge of events, though it often leaves him with an incomplete picture in my judgment.”

“The agent must have seen something, then.”

“Indeed,” Norio replied. “If he saw what we were doing, he would have acted on his own volition, then reported his actions to The Guile afterward.”

“So you’re saying there’s no coordinated Jovian activity in the southern hemisphere?”

“Not based on the information I have, Colonel,” Norio replied. “He acted alone, and he got careless.”

“He will be missed eventually,” Seneca pointed out. “Someone will wonder what happened to him.”

“Garden keepers do not report on a set schedule, so it will be some time before they suspect a problem. I doubt they will ever find his body, so his disappearance will remain a mystery.”

Seneca took a drink. “Well, it’s not like this was the first spy we’ve seen over the years. Do you have anything else to report, then?”

“No,” Norio answered. “However, I will be leaving the city again tomorrow. I will be gone for about a month.” When Seneca scowled, he added, “personal business this time.”

“Your research project?”

“One of them, yes.”

“Very well,” Seneca said. He swirled his glass, tempted to ask more questions, but knowing that discretion was imperative. The less he knew about the details, the better prepared he’d be to plead ignorance if the Jovian got in trouble. “Good luck.”

After Norio left, Seneca walked to his window and looked across the city. Alex Vonn ran atop the city wall in the distance. The young man was smart, but chaotic. Losing both parents would have rattled any child, but Alex had been hardened to the extreme. His anti-social behavior and rebellious tendencies virtually erased his father’s good name from most people’s memories.

He looked at his glass, realizing he’d hardly touched his scotch. He poured it down the sink and put the glass away.

Someone knocked at his office door.

“Come in,” Seneca said.

Corporal Burt Manning, Seneca’s aide, entered. “The Sheers’ caravan just arrived, sir,” Manning said. “Letter for you from the Alliance Council.” He held up a large envelope and placed it on Seneca’s desk.

Seneca wished he hadn’t poured out his drink so soon. Council messages were never welcome on his desk. He sat down in his chair and eyed the envelope. “Another warning letter about overstepping my bounds, I suppose.”

“They’re the ones who generally do the overstepping. I mean, for an ally, they sure like to spend a lot of time telling us how to run our own affairs. I mean that as respectfully as possible, sir.”

Seneca smiled. “Relax, Burt. It’s probably just the usual missive, with the condescending tone, veiled threats, and so on. Nothing to be concerned about.”

“Right, sir.”

Seneca opened the letter. He leaned back in his chair, frowning as he read it.

“Can’t be worse than last time, could it, sir?”

“It is,” Seneca said, tossing the letter onto his desk. “They’re offering me a promotion.”

“Oh. That’s a bad thing?”

“It means they’re up to something,” Seneca said.

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