by Kurt Pankau
Eswar's handset went off in church, because of course it did.
Caleb gave him a frosty look. "You said you were going to turn it off," he whispered.
"I thought I did," said Eswar, not that anything was ever truly off anymore. He reached
into his jacket and pulled out the handset. It was definitely ringing. The caller's name was
blocked, but it was coming in on an encrypted channel. That meant government. That would also
explain how they were able to override the off switch.
"I'm sorry, I have to take this," he whispered, rising, only to realize that everyone was
staring. Even the ministroid had paused its homily. It was a small church, only about forty people
in attendance. Eswar tried to slip out of the pew quietly, but instead caught his foot at the corner
and nearly fell to the floor. He avoided all eye contact as he hurried toward the South entrance.
He could hear the ministroid starting back up as he exited.
". . . fathom the mysteries of Galadus, the Scion of Time and Space . . ."
"Who is this?" Eswar asked. "I'm in church."
"Sorry to disturb," said a woman's voice. "This is Commodore Bridge from Naval
Infosec. Is this Dr. Narayan?"
"It's just Eswar," he said. "This isn't a good time; I'm in church."
"There's an emerging situation that I need to get your opinion on. Are you secure?"
Emerging situation was Navy-speak for emergency, so he flashed the privacy filter on his
handset. The bubble would keep out any prying ears, not that there were likely to be any. If
anyone walked by, they would think his head looked a little fuzzy. "I am now," he said.
"Have you been watching the news?" asked Commodore Bridge.
"No, because I've been in church," said Eswar, since the woman clearly hadn't heard him
say it the first two times.
"Two days ago we took control of the planet Keloss Beta. There were minimal casualties
on our side, except for one platoon which lost forty-three marines."
Bad luck for them, thought Eswar. "Forty-three men is basically the entire platoon," he
"It was the entire platoon," said Bridge. "Plus their XO."
Eswar closed his eyes. An entire platoon? "I'm sorry to hear that," he said. "That really is
"It certainly is," said Bridge.
Eswar hesitated, not wanting to sound crass. "So . . . I'm not sure what this has to do with
me," he said.
"I'd like you to speak to their BND support unit."
"Oh, that's fine," said Eswar. "I've got openings Tuesday and Wednesday. What kind of
travel are we talking about?"
"Actually, I was hoping you could help me out right now," said Bridge.
For a post-mortem? Eswar sighed. "Okay," he said. "Just give me an hour."
"I don't have an hour."
"Well, I'm sorry," said Eswar. "This is really not a good time for me."
"Yes, I know, you're in church. You've said so three times. Talk to the AI for a minute. If
nothing strikes you as unusual, you'll be back in your pew before the Benediction."
"Fine," said Eswar, wanting nothing so much as to just get it over with. "Patch me
There was a click.