“Yes and no,” Vicky replied.
“How can it be both?” the admiral demanded. It was clear this morning was not going to his liking, so Vicky hurried to explain.
“Yes, Kris and her Nelly seemed able to stroll through our data banks with ease. However, Kris also admitted that she’d run into jamming of data links and other problems when dealing with certain factions from Greenfeld. I was left with the clear impression that our standard systems are vulnerable to Wardhaven technology, as my upgraded computer seemed to have demonstrated. However, some people have superior systems. Exactly who, even Kris does not know, but it scares both her and her Nelly.”
“Right, right, you mentioned that in your report to your father, the Emperor. I should have remembered that,” the admiral said. “I had assumed that the Navy’s security systems were not as vulnerable as the civil ones, but it appears that I am wrong.”
“It may well be,” Mr. Smith said, “that the vulnerabilities in your system are not a bug but an intended feature included by the developers.”
The admiral’s scowl was back. “I would hate to think that,” he muttered.
A deadly silence gathered around the admiral. Vicky glanced at her cold breakfast and decided she wasn’t hungry. Mr. Smith must have arrived at the same conclusion; his meal remained untouched.
The admiral apparently arrived at a decision and leaned forward in his chair. “Let us allow, for the moment, that the Grand Duchess’s computer has done Greenfeld a service, and that it should continue to hang around her lovely neck rather than from a gallows. That still does not answer my first question. What, Your Grace, do you now know that it was not intended for you to know?”
Vicky glanced at Mr. Smith. He was intently studying his eggs and bacon. Clearly, she was on her own. She took a deep breath, and began.
“I see that my granting a city charter to Sevastopol has borne good fruit, and that the Navy is taking full advantage of St. Petersburg’s recovered economic production. I also found it interesting that Admiral Balk saw fit to threaten to fire on the forces of my stepmother, and the Navy chose to promote him. Is he a friend of yours?”
“Yes, Ronny Balk is a friend of mine, and glad I was not to have had that hot potato dropped in my lap. He and his battlecruisers were sent to the least likely place for you to show up, and his bribe was noticeably smaller than mine.”
“My stepmom’s family bribed him? That must have gone down hard.”
“No doubt, but Navy intel failed to get a mouse into the discussion that led to the sudden largesse that fell upon us lucky ones. I see you spent your time well last night,” he said, casting a knowing eye at Mr. Smith.
“I went to bed early,” Vicky said, pointedly. “It had been a rough day, you may have noticed, and I was tired. I had also instructed my computer to do a search of the database for certain information and read them to me in my sleep, a trick Mr. Smith said it could do.”
“And did it find what you wanted?” asked the admiral.
“I asked it to identify the conspiracy in my dad’s Empire. The one other than my stepmother and her family’s.”
“And did you find it?” had much more than just alarm in it.
“Yes and no, sir.”
“Lieutenant, I would warn you not to become overly fond of that answer. Senior officers do not care for it from their juniors.”
Vicky allowed herself a smile. A very small one. “Yes, sir. I already had a strong impression from you that you felt that way. However, I can think of no other way to answer your question.”
She paused for a second to order her thoughts, well aware that what she said next might well decide for the admiral whether she arrived alive or dead. “There is no question, from the intel available to the Navy, that there is much dissatisfaction with my father’s, the Emperor’s, reign. Or more correctly, the reign of the Emperor and