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Pressure suitManDanin Security Intelligence Bureau (SIB) sector headquarters in the Accra subsector was located on Tsavo (1125). Almost all acts of intelligence gathering and coordination of the ‘cold’ and proxy wars along the border with the Crucis Union were overseen there. The planets of Daboya (1321), Narok (1122) and Tamale (1323) continued to be zones where both sides tested each other in providing ‘advisers’ to the local forces in endless bushfire wars and revolutions all of which were orchestrated to try to bring the planets on to one side or the other.

Away from the neutral worlds, the heavily policed border worlds of Sba (1523), Adrar (1624), Aoulef (1728) and particularly Guerzim (1626) were of continuing interest to the ManDanin Co-Dominion. They were the planets from which the aggressive Nar launched their invasion attempts a century ago. All indications were that the Nar leadership and people, even though currently held in check by their membership of the Crucis Union federation, still harboured expansionist dreams and chaffed at the defeat Co-Dominion forces had inflicted on them.

Airspace over the Nar border worlds was aggressively policed; unauthorised shipping was impounded, but there had not been any exchange of fire between Nar vessels and Co-Dominion traders for decades. System Defence boats and Customs vessels always searched the ManDanin ships thoroughly: smuggling equipment in and data out was exceedingly difficult. Because the airspace over the former starport on Guerzim was electronically shielded, only limited information could be gathered in the conventional way. Spies on the ground and even public broadcasts provided a lot of information, but questions still remained. For example, had the Nar rebuilt the Class A starport that had been glassed during the last war?

Out here, beyond the borders of the Third Imperium, actual Imperial law counted for very little. The reality was however that Humaniti sensibilities were still very strong, especially since nearly every polity out here had some cultural memory of their migrations during the Long Night. Therefore, even though the prohibitions against psychics were not enshrined in law, most civilisations shunned research along these lines. In such an environment, research was limited to shadowy Psionics Institutes funded and operating in secret.

One such facility was located on Lodwar (0926). The outwardly modest facility was set up to mimic an engineering research outpost but was equipped with the best technology available to explore psychic potential in both humans and danin of all castes. The program had mixed success, producing many disappointments and charlatans. But an extreme minority of results were encouraging. Miss Mole (codename) was one of these success stories. Born almost blind, she displayed from an early age an ability to ‘see’ at great distances, often with astonishing accuracy. Her clairvoyance brought her to the attentions of the facility on Lodwar, where she was trained for intelligence gathering work.

It was with these considerations in mind that the Sector Chief of the SIB on Tsavo, known in offical communications as Master Hedgehog, authorised a daring mission.

A ship was prepared, outwardly resembling a trader but with many stealth features. The majority of interior space was filled with gigantic engines and fuel tanks. What was left of cargo space was filled with a KuV-401 (Crucis Union identification: Rabbit) atmosphere reconnaissance plane. Minimal space was allowed for the two man ship’s crew, and the pilot of the spy plane. And finally a platoon of marines was included, though not expected to be awakened, in the worst case scenario of needing to fight their way out.

The ship, temporarily named the Anxious Sandstorm, was to make a circuitous approach to Guerzim refuelling in open space from waiting tankers. It would arrive in the target system from a non standard entrance window and immediately go dark. IFF transponders were to be shut down; energy emissions of all kinds to be damped; the crew in cold sleep, and the Anxious Sandstorm would tumble as if it were no more than a common asteroid on a gentle six month curve towards the planet Guerzim. With its external configuration and minimal energy signature it would appear no larger than a small ground car.

Once in an inconspicuous orbit the robotic systems would wake the crew. Miss Mole would be helped into the gel tank of the KuV-401 where she would be protected from the G-forces coming, and the plane would be launched. After screaming in at a steep angle the KiV would level out and streak over the target zone at a leisurely Mach 5+, where the clairvoyant Miss Mole, now narcotised with Slo-Mo to stretch her time perspective, would reach through the electronic shielding of the Nar facilities and narrate her experiences.

After a single pass that would take in most of the continent the KuV-401 would accelerate up and out of the atmosphere to dock with the waiting Anxious Sandstorm. By the time planetary defences had registered that an unauthorised hypersonic flight was occurring the plane would already be over the horizon and climbing away. And in the time taken to rout pursuit ships toward the raider, the Anxious Sandstorm would already be powering out system under a constant 6-G’s. The use of a psychic in an active spy mission was a first for the SIB. Not only was it hoped it would yield great results, it was also a potentially explosive diplomatic disaster if ever revealed due to the general prohibition against exactly that kind of thing.

It was an audacious plan with many moving pieces, each of which had dozens of failure possibilities. The catastrophe, when it befell, took participants on both sides of the conflict by surprise.