Being summoned,to Lady A’s office was never a casual matter. Marya Kuznyetza had to pass an ID and weapons checkpoint before she was even allowed into the gravtube taking her down to the lowest basement level. There she passed a human-supervised iriscope check and a weapons detector scan. Then she had to walk alone down a brightly lit L-shaped corridor with cameras watching her every step of the way. The walls were gray and completely bare except for the innocuous-looking small projections she assumed were beamers pointed directly at her.
As she turned right at the far end of the hallway she came abruptly to the heavy gray magnisteel door that was the final barrier to Lady A’s office. There were some people—ones who’d made serious mistakes on their assignments—who had gone through this door and never been seen again, though admittedly such cases were rare. Lady A normally dealt with faulty subordinates in a more efficient manner, letting others on her staff do the dirty work. More often a visit to Lady A meant a tongue-lashing for some slip-up, some operation that went less smoothly than planned even if it was ultimately successful. Most of Lady A’s plans did go smoothly, but she was a perfectionist and didn’t tolerate even minor faults in her hirelings.
Even at best, being called to this office merely meant another hard, demanding job from a taskmaster who was never satisfied. There was still much to do if the conspiracy was to topple the Sokolov dynasty from the imperial throne, and Lady A could never quite understand why her inferiors didn’t measure up to her own impeccable standards.
For all these reasons, Marya Kuznyetza was understandably nervous as she stood before the ponderous gray door. As far as she knew she’d done nothing wrong—but innocence wasn’t always an alibi in Lady A’s court. The woman who ran this vast, galaxy-wide conspiracy had been in a foul mood for the last six months, ever since the failure of Operation Annihilate. All plans had been put into abeyance while the conspiracy was evaluated from top to bottom and its goals reassessed. Things were now starting to move again—but Marya Kuznyetza didn’t know what place she would fill in the new organization, and that bothered her.