The light was blinding, she was boiling up in the clothes they had forced on her. Her palms were sweaty. Her feet ached. The earbud fizzed and shrieked as the sound desk was activated. A metallic voice counted slowly backwards.
The camerakrayce waved at her, and she smiled at the recorder array, broadcasting her image in ten different frequencies and languages across the Four Systems. The canned voice of the announcer boomed across the studio.
“This is Hobonews, bringing you the latest in crack journalism from all four corners of the Four Systems. And this is your host, Yar Osall.”
She greeted the wall of recording equipment cheerily, and then went on to tell her viewers about a riot in downtown Quonruscha to protest new export tariffs, the capture of a serial killer by the Hoboville Sheriff’s Office, the invention of a new pharmapill by Corvis Industries, and the recent engagement of two people who were famous for having lots of money and not having to do any work. Then came her big moment, hopefully the one they would remember.
“It is with a heavy heart that I am announcing that this will be my last night as host of Hobonews. After twenty-five years and many wonderful memories it is time to say goodbye. My grandfather Kar founded this network to deliver principled reporting and quality programming. I will retain my seat on the Board to ensure that we deliver on this promise. For now, it is my pleasure to introduce my replacement.”
The new host took a seat, young (of course), handsome and with a face that spoke of ambition. She had been vetted thoroughly, and Yar was reasonably sure that Hobonews wouldn’t become a corporate mouthpiece overnight, although that was the way everything was going these days. They both faced the screen and nodded in sync. “Goodnight, and good luck”.
The announcer’s voice bid farewell to Yar Osall, and delivered the astry report. It was somewhat eerie when you knew that the announcer himself – a little-known actor – had died drunk and penniless in a New Boston slum a month before. The Hoboville News Network owned the rights to his voice, though, and so the announcements went on.
There were questions afterwards about what she would do next, which she deflected. She hummed and smiled when they talked about a long vacation or a graceful retirement. She didn’t want to lie in the studio where Grandpa Kar had established his legacy. She gave the young new host a few words of wisdom about integrity and poise, and hugs all round. Then it was done, and she was out.
As she had done for twenty-five years, she walked straight from the studio to Airlock Sixteen, where her shuttle waited. This took her from Hoboville to the Osall Habitat, established by her grandfather after his groundbreaking documentary had made him a very wealthy man. As she sailed through the intervening space, Yar looked out at Hoboville. That mad conglomeration of space station, wildcat colony and emblem of freedom. She would miss it, but exciting times were ahead of her.
Growing up she had worshipped her grandfather. He had been there for it all, the accession of Owan Tari, the death of the Mad Doctor Lomo, the message from the Eyclasa. When she became a reporter herself, she realised how much of his success was simply being in the right place at the right time. And how much of his exposé was obtained using dubious methods. The Hoboville News Network itself was founded based on a clever piece of blackmail.
Anyway that was behind her now, she would be an apology at Board meetings and no more. Let her niece and nephew sort it out between them, and the inevitable decline would set in. Yar Osall had bigger fish to fry.
Back at the Habitat, she stepped from the Dock onto a rolling turqoise lawn, laid at ridiculous expense. It curved up and away on either side, carpeting the entire inside frame of station which orbited Hoboville. It was a species cultivated by the Krayce to grow in a special mesh and integrate into life support systems. Taking off her shoes, she ran across the lawn just like she did decades ago as a child, to her home, where the surgeon was waiting.
Everything was in readiness, and the procedure only took a few hours. When she woke up in her own bed Doctor Yaro was sitting by the bed, filling out paperwork. He smiled when he saw she was awake. “Welcome back, Yar. I’d like you to read from this card please.”
She took it and read out the simple statements. Or at least she tried to. “My name is Yar Osall, I am fifty-two standard years old. My mother’s name was-” There it was, not a jarring sensation, more like gently pressing up against a wall in her own mind. The card said “Miri Iktar”, while her mother’s name was Vilma. She couldn’t say the words. She beamed across at Yaro. “Looks like it works fine, Doc!”
Doctor Yaro nodded. “The implant will need supplements to power itself, and it may start to decay after eight months, but until it does your ability to lie should be completely suppressed. I’ll bet you wish you had it installed years ago.” She laughed, “Are you kidding me? I wouldn’t have lasted five minutes as a news anchor with this thing in my head. And that’s the truth!”
It took a few days for her to recuperate, and she was quite impatient by the time she finally got the call. She met them at the Dock. They were rough-looking sorts, as she had expected. Their captain was a thug named Lef Bole, a woman with a scarred face and greying hair. Bole motioned for two of her crew to take Yar’s baggage, and then grunted, “Won’t have much call for this amount of finery in the deep dark reaches, Ms Osall.”
It was all a careful charade of course, laid on for any of the Osall family or their retainers to think that Yar Osall had finally done what she had threatened for years and taken up with a crew of roughnecks to travel the outer reaches of the Four Systems. The ship she would embark on today – the Efreet – was chartered to a shell identity which fronted a shadow organisation which led back through blindspots and falsehoods to the Hoboville Diplomatic Corps. Captain Lef Bole was high in the organisation, and she had approached Yar several months earlier about this mission. To Yar, it had seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime, a chance to live up to the family legend.
The Efreet was on a mission to Irif space. Several years earlier the joint investigation into the events aboard the Gandhi had terminated, bogged down in misunderstanding and arguments over jurisdiction. With the truce, the opportunity to reopen the matter was ripe. But Irif mistrusted humanity as liars and cheats, and the Tarn as chosen intermediaries between the two species were hardly ones to foster a speedy or direct inquest. So every member of the crew of the Efreet had undergone the same procedure (recommended by scientists among the Irif actually) to suppress the ability to lie. Once they were out of Hoboville space, the last appointed deceivers among the crew would depart and the Efreet would make the long journey to the Irif Dominion, free of falsehood.
Once she was settled in her quarters, Yar spread out the documentation of the case. The crew of the Gandhi had been slaughtered, as had the Irif crew sent to search the colony ship. It was clear there was some third entity at work. What was more, there were other incidents which had dogged Four Systems-Irif relations since the war, murders or sabotages with the same hallmarks and methods. Someone or something wanted war. She would have the chance to find out who. Looking out her porthole, she saw nothing, the vastness of interstellar space. Somewhere out there was her story, she just had to be there when it broke.