“I’ve never heard a word about this,” Raymond said, his eyes widening.
“On purpose. You have to read it.” She handed him another data stick.
Raymond finished his tour of the Senate Research Office, ignoring smirks from a few of the people he met, and returned to his office at a dignified walk, stopping as he almost always did for a sandwich-to-go so he could eat at his desk.
He had barely closed the Senator’s office door when Gertrude Kim held up a hand. “Senator wants to see you,” she said. “Not about your new girlfriend.”
Raymond looked around the office. No one else was there. He tapped his right index finger to his lips, three times. That was the code word for ultrasecret. “Cover story,” he said softly. “Nothing wrong with her,” he added.
Gertrude affected to look heartbroken. She returned his gesture, then pointed at the Senator’s Office door.
Senator de Witt smiled at him. “Is the romance advancing?” she asked.
“Cover story,” he answered.
“I need you to find out why our trade negotiations with the Republic, admittedly for the little trade we have, are going so slowly,” she said. “The Foreign Secretary keeps saying he is assured, by our Ambassador at Mogado, that all is well, but last time matters went much more quickly. Yes, it’s finished products, and not much of them, but the renewal date on our no-tariff agreement is approaching.”
“I’m afraid I already have the answer,” he said, “thanks to my not-girlfriend and a tip from outside. I still have to read it, and see what it actually says.”
“Let’s hear it from the beginning,” De Witt asked. “Even if you haven’t checked how accurate the rumor is.”
“Seldon Legion, Captain-General Mandeville, asked Gertrude if we could discretely check something in the Stellar Republic Congressional Record,” he began, “so we had a nameless visitor.”.
“SRCR is public record,” De Witt said, “everything the Republic sends us. Why ask us?”
“Yes, ma’am. Cut-outs were needed to protect sources, and to make sure you get the information,” Raymond continued. “Indeed, the main cutout did not appear to be Mandeville. He just made a phone call.”
“Starts to sound like comic opera,” De Witt observed. “Who can ask Mandeville to make a phone call? He’d put God on hold. Oh, wait. Never mind. Go on.”