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“It’s proof,” Fontaine said decidedly. “Tankado dumped the ring. He wanted it as far from himself as possible‑so we’d never find it.”

“But, Director,” Susan argued, “it doesn’t make sense. If Tankado was unaware he’d been murdered, why would he give away the kill code?”

“I agree,” Jabba said. “The kid’s a rebel, but he’s a rebel with a conscience. Getting us to admit to TRANSLTR is one thing; revealing our classified databank is another.”

Fontaine stared, disbelieving. “You think Tankado wanted to stop this worm? You think his dying thoughts were for the poor NSA?”

“Tunnel‑block corroding!” a technician yelled. “Full vulnerability in fifteen minutes, maximum!”

“I’ll tell you what,” the director declared, taking control. “In fifteen minutes, every Third World country on the planet will learn how to build an intercontinental ballistic missile. If someone in this room thinks he’s got a better candidate for a kill code than this ring, I’m all ears.” The director waited. No one spoke. He returned his gaze to Jabba and locked eyes. “Tankado dumped that ring for a reason, Jabba. Whether he was trying to bury it, or whether he thought the fat guy would run to a pay phone and call us with the information, I really don’t care. But I’ve made the decision. We’re entering that quote. Now.”

Jabba took a long breath. He knew Fontaine was right‑there was no better option. They were running out of time. Jabba sat. “Okay . . . let’s do it.” He pulled himself to the keyboard. “Mr. Becker? The inscription, please. Nice and easy.”

David Becker read the inscription, and Jabba typed. When they were done, they double‑checked the spelling and omitted all the spaces. On the center panel of the view wall, near the top, were the letters:


“I don’t like it,” Susan muttered softly. “It’s not clean.”

Jabba hesitated, hovering over the ENTER key.

“Do it,” Fontaine commanded.

Jabba hit the key. Seconds later the whole room knew it was a mistake.