The fire tore through the panic room with a ravening that surprised even veteran investigators. Initial reports speculated use of military grade accelerants or even a plasma based incendiary device. Advanced forensics from Khadijah dismissed these theories as unwarranted conjecture and found no basis in physical evidence or chemical analysis to substantiate anything besides a conventional burn. But it was too late. The rumor that the Silk Lord Zev Behar had been killed by VoodooTech napalm on Zumorroda Island smoldered across Bourak in hushed tones from corner coffee houses to the season's most exclusive cocktail parties. An attack on a resident of Zumorroda is an attack on Qaid Fahesh himself. Within hours of the fire, a special commando team of his Dashat security company had apprehended an PanOceanian Atek working on Behar's medical staff. Overnight the name Bayani Ilao became infamous, caused a diplomatic row, and became a byword for cover up. The story was too neat. So pat that Ilao had patsy written all over him. One of the wealthiest Silk Lords, paranoid about security, in poor health, rumored to have connections with every power player from the Kum gangs of Gabqar and the dreaded Nomad Black Hand, was dead due to incomprehensible negligence by a nurse. No one bought it. Naila Arash sat across from the Nomad Commercial Delegation’s cultural attaché in Dar El Funduq. The room was cool and comfortable, despite the glare from the mid-day sun. A scrawl of circuitry patterned like a flowing arabesque lined the walls. The attaché was a cool number with gray-green eyes that could be soft and sharp when they needed to watch and needed to see. He was dressed in a crisp white blazer with swirling neofibers patterning his lapels like a kaleidoscope. Despite his relaxed affectation, it was obvious that the attaché was more comfortable in epaulets, barking orders and commanding the fates of brigades and battalions. She could hear his ease of command when he ordered his zondbot to bring a second portion of fasji and solh in corocoro sauce with a side salad of maerki greens. A dangerous meal for a dangerous man. “It’s been alleged that the late Behar Bey gave evidence that allowed the Muhafiz to break up a Silk smuggling ring run by the Rylsky Organization on Zulqibar station. They’re a powerful mafia of the Struktura on Tunguska. That’s strong motive for revenge against the Silk Lord, don’t you think, Colonel?” The remote was patterned after a small deer, antlers and all, with big doe eyes and articulated hooves for hands. It brought a second set of plates and placed them down in front of Naila with perfect subservience. Like all Nomad designed remotes, it had a sort of chibi quality to its proportions that were disarming–but she had no doubt those antlers were sharpened for more than just decoration. “Try the maerki salad first,” Colonel Antonin Zelenski dabbed the corner of his lip with a napkin, “A mild dose will induce a wonderful synesthesia. Have you ever tasted color, Ms. Arash? It’s quite delicate.” The Colonel had no problem being polite when cornered with a hard question. He had two combi rifles and a heavy pistol trained on her. The Securitate bodyguards wore thin smiles and heavy sunglasses, their fingers massaging the triggers of their weapons. Were it not for their steady breathing, they might as well have been statues. A distant Interventor ensured that her comlog was bricked and her cybernetic eye implants weren’t capable of recording the conversation. Off the record or deep background had been Zelenski’s terms. He wasn’t open to negotiating. Naila didn’t eat a single bite. “Would you like to make any comment, official or unofficial, about potential Tunguskan submondo involvement in Zev Behar’s death? You’re from Tunguska, aren’t you Colonel?” Zelenski speared a large bit of purple fasji with his knife and ate it off the tip of the blade with obvious relish. He took a long time to chew and swallow. “Blame the foreigner first, that’s how reporters start.” Naila’s cheeks flushed. She blinked twice reflexively, a signal for her geist, Nur, to begin recording with her eye implants only for an error message to flash in augmented reality. An old habit since she lost her first set of eyes at Ghezirah. Zelenski had commented on how good the cybernetics were when they met. Imperceptible but for the thin white scar that slanted from Naila's left eyebrow across the bridge of her nose to the right cheek. It seemed he had taken some time to look her up on the Arachnesphere as his guards forced her into a chair and searched her for weapons and recording devices. An obvious power play against the journalist who had invoked Madame Lu’s name recklessly. His opening move in their chess match. “It’s quite natural, I suppose,” Zelenski continued, “Many of our publications blame ALEPH first and only bother with the facts afterwards, however inconvenient to the narrative they may be. A hazard of the business. Bias. Suspicion. Paranoia.” “He was involved with Tunguska based Submondo,” Naila insisted, “And other Nomad interests. One of the last times the Behar Bey left Bourak was to do business at the previous Krug.” Zelenski waved his hand, as if the simple gesture might change truth and history. But Black Hand operatives like him were known to spin narrative whole cloth and craft public opinion with only the slightest of insinuations. “Zev Behar was no enemy of ours. No friend either.” He shrugged, “And while the legitimate business interests of the Rylsky control some shares in the Tunguska Holding Corporation, their activities off ship are beyond our purview and jurisdiction. That is–not our interest.” He stabbed the air lightly with his knife to send home the point. “If I were you,” he mused, “I would spend more time wondering how Mr. Behar’s supposed friends are coping with his demise. After all, it wasn’t Behar’s Silk the Rylsky were smuggling. It was Halim Sleiman who was profiting from Silk sold outside the consortium’s caps. Something to think about on your way home.” Thus ended their off the record interview. Colonel Zelenski’s bodyguards were not particularly gentle about showing Naila out.