"Now that’s interesting," Lieutenant Commander Scotty Tremaine murmured.
"What is?" a soft Grayson accent asked.
The sandy-haired lieutenant commander took his eyes from his display and turned to look at the other officer in the compartment. Commander Solomon Marchant had been the executive officer of the Grayson heavy cruiser Jason Alvarez before they all wound up in Peep hands. Tremaine’s slot as Lady Harrington’s staff electronics officer had brought him into contact with her flagship’s exec on a regular basis, and Tremaine rather liked the black-haired commander. Unlike some of his fellow Graysons, Marchant was singularly free of any special awe for the Royal Manticoran Navy. He respected it, but the RMN had learned just as many lessons, proportionately speaking, from its experience with the GSN, and he knew it. He was also no man to suffer fools lightly, and he could jerk someone up short with the best of them, but he usually assumed you were an adult human being who knew what you were doing until you proved differently.
"I just picked up on something we’ve all overlooked before," Tremaine said, answering the commander’s question. Marchant quirked his right eyebrow, and Tremaine waved a hand at the computer display in front of him. "I should have noticed it sooner, but somehow it went right past me. And Jasper and Anson, I guess."
"So what is it?" Marchant asked with the merest trace of exaggerated patience, and Tremaine hid a mental smile. Everybody was going just a bit stir crazy with so little to do. The classic concept of castaways working diligently—if not desperately—to provide for their continued survival simply didn’t apply here. There was no way they could live off the land anyway, so there was no planting or hunting to do. And given the dire necessity of keeping their presence a secret, any avoidable activity which might attract attention was out of the question. Commodore McKeon’s patrols had explored the surrounding jungle in all directions for a good thirty klicks, but once that was done and the fiberoptic land lines for a net of undetectable remote passive sensors had been emplaced, their people had been told to stay close to home and keep under cover. Which meant that, aside from those fortunate souls like Senior Chief Linda Barstow, who had been Chief of the Bay in Prince Adrian’s Boat Bay Two and had taken over responsibility for maintenance on their shuttles, there was very little to keep a person’s brain working. In fact, commissioned officers were almost begging Barstow to let them help out with the grunt work just to avoid sitting around on their hands.
Lady Harrington recognized that, and she’d parceled out assignments in an effort to give everyone at least something to do. Some of it might be little better than make-work, but none of the people who had survived to escape from PNS Tepes were idiots, and it couldn’t hurt to have as many intelligent perspectives as possible on the raw data they were managing to acquire in dribs and drabs. Which was how Commander Marchant found himself playing fifth wheel and sounding board for Tremaine’s analysis sessions while Lieutenant Commander Metcalf and Lieutenant Commander DuChene did the same for Mayhew and Lethridge, respectively.
"Well," he said now, "it seems that there’s one prisoner camp here on Alpha that doesn’t have a number." Marchant leaned back in his chair with a questioning expression, and Tremaine smiled at him. "It’s got a name, instead: Camp Inferno. And it’s not exactly prime real estate. As a matter of fact, it’s the only camp on the entire planet that’s located directly on the equator."
"On the—?" Marchant stood and crossed to the map beside Tremaine’s work station to peer at the map he’d called up on his display. "I don’t see it," he said after a moment.
"That’s because this is our original map, and Inferno isn’t on it," Tremaine told him. "When Jasper and I generated the original, we used an old camp survey from Tepes’ files, and this one wasn’t listed. But yesterday Russ pulled a major telemetry download from the weather sats. It included weather maps for Alpha, with the camp sites indicated, including half a dozen that’re new since the file survey we used was last updated. Like these." He tapped a key and new red dots appeared on his display, one of them flashing brightly. "And lo and behold, there was this camp we hadn’t mapped sitting dead center on Alpha where it shouldn’t have been. So when I came on watch this afternoon, I started trying to chase it down. I thought at first that it was just another new camp, but then I found this—" he tapped more keys and the display changed again, transmuting into a terse StateSec internal memo "—in one of Tepes’ secure files on Hades, and it turns out it’s not a new camp at all. The survey just hadn’t mapped it—apparently for security reasons."
"I see." Marchant said, and smothered a smile, for Tremaine had added the last phrase in tones of profound disgust that he understood only too well. None of the Manticoran or Grayson castaways had yet been able to figure out what sort of reasoning (or substitute therefor) StateSec called upon when it decided when it was going to get security conscious and when it wasn’t, but the logic tree involved promised to be twistier than most.
The Grayson officer stooped to look over Tremaine’s shoulder, green eyes flicking over the memo, and then he inhaled sharply.
"I do see," he said in a very different tone. "And I think we should get Lady Harrington and Commodore McKeon in on this ASAP."