I was in a bind; I couldn’t leave for either planet, as both of them were far outside my 3 day limit. It would take almost 3 weeks to get to Ludd Prime, same as Threed. I needed leads here, on Earth, or else I’d never get to find out where the anarchists were. The bombing was this morning; they could be on their way to the other end of the galaxy by now. I needed something here and now. I just couldn’t think of anything. I sat down on a bench, and considered my options. For one, give up. I hated that idea, and there’s no way my brain would let me. Second, go straight to Jean Devereux and beat the truth out of him. Appealing, though it would be fruitless and I’d end up on death row. Or third, fly to Ludd or Threed anyway, and just hope I had enough money to finish the investigation. Or count on Amy’s vast fortune. Not a good idea; I didn’t want her father tracking us and our investigation. I was just about to suggest we figure out another lead here on Earth when Amy had an idea. “I got a hold of that guy you needed. Someone to sift through your data. Well, he did. And guess what he found?”
I was stunned. I hadn’t even given her the data. “Well, since I didn’t give you the data to give him, I’m guessing nothing.”
She just laughed like I was a naïve little child. “He accessed the data anyway. Listen. He said he found proof that the Lieutenant Minister is receiving payoffs from the Russian mob. He compiled it all into a file. Here.”
I looked over the information on my HUD, and it was perfect. Undeniable proof. Video and audio recordings, as well as communiqués. Just what I’d need. “Wow. This is awesome, Amy. Tell him thanks. I think I just figured out how to extend my investigation a few more weeks.”
Amy put on a mischievous smile with that devilish twinkle in her eye. “I know. Let’s go make him squirm.”
We hopped on a shuttle bound for the UTC Headquarters in Iceland. It only took us minutes to get there, and when we landed I called up the acting Minister. No need to give him too much notice. “Hello, acting Minister. Sorry, I just couldn’t come up with anything useful in my investigation. I’m on my way in now to give you my report.”
He tried to look sympathetic, but his glee at the idea of getting rid of a huge thorn in his side was written all over his face. “That’s unfortunate. Come on in, Darrow, and I’ll start the paperwork for your retirement.”
“I’ll be there as soon as I can.” I hung on him, leaving him smiling and plotting his next move after he gets rid of me. I wasn’t going to give him much time to think. We arrived at the main entrance to the Ministry Building, a 400 story megascraper of monolithic design and function. The Security office main level was on 162, but I just punched in 170, the level that houses the Minister’s office. We were just passing 160 when the elevator stopped and the doors opened onto 165. Two large men and a relatively normal sized woman stepped in. She was about five and half feet tall, had the body and the platinum hair of a supermodel, and walked like her whole body was one muscle wrapped around a wire frame. Every step showed how lethal she could be in close quarters if she wanted to. I was more afraid of her than I was of the two burly gorillas she had with her. She pressed the button for 167, but hit the stop button when the doors closed, then turned to me and smiled, showing more tooth than a hungry shark.
“Hello, Mr. Darrow. Do you know who I am?”
I just laughed. “No, I don’t believe I know who you are. Why, is it important?”
“Well, if you know who I am it is. Because that would imply a serious security leak. But since you don’t, it’s not important. I am the head of the Internal Coalition Security Service. You’ve probably never heard of us, or have heard rumors. But I promise you not all of them are true.”
“You were the ones who wrote those heavily classified notes on me and Jean Devereux, weren’t you?”
She feigned surprise, but her delight was barely concealed. “Of course. You would never have read those notes if we did not want you to. It was our intention to show them to you. Enlightening, weren’t they? I do hope you were pleased with what you found.”
“What I found was that all of my comrades were killed, and no one bothered to warn me. Oh, and the fact that this lovely lady’s father is probably the head of the whole damn conspiracy. So yeah. I was pleased as goddamn punch, thanks.”
Amy snickered behind me. “Well, this is a juicy story. I do believe it’ll make headlines should I live long enough to publish it.”
The woman smiled again. “Ms. Devereux, if you have the conviction to write a story that will tear apart not only your father’s life but your whole family’s, I would like you to do it when the time comes. Just please, leave our name out of it.”
“What is your name, by the way?” I asked.
She just brushed her hair behind her ear and kept going as if I hadn’t asked. “Now, you’re about to go blackmail the Minister of Security into letting you keep going with this case, as far as you can. Noble, but a terrible idea. He’s definitely in bed with Devereux. He’ll just have you killed. You need to report that you found nothing, and that you just want to retire. Otherwise you won’t even get on your flight.”
I pondered for a minute, letting it sink in. “So, you want me to give up? Let him get away with murder, terrorism, and sedition? I don’t think I can do that.”
Amy shook her head. “Me neither. My father needs justice, one way or the other. I’m not letting him off that easy.”
“You idiots... do you want to die?” She shook her head in frustration. “I’m just trying to keep you two alive, but I see that’s not going to be easy. So how about this. You bring your evidence against Johnson, and ensure that he doesn’t want to tell Devereux. Make it in his best interest. If you can do that, you might survive. Johnson is a weasel, and he won’t have you killed without Devereux’s blessing. Just make sure Devereux never finds out. If he does, you’re both dead.”
The elevator opened again, and the woman and her bodyguards stepped out. “Be careful, Marshal. There are worse things in the world than dying.” And with that, the elevator closed again and went to 170. I stood in the elevator, wondering how I was going to convince Johnson not to bring it up to Devereux. When the doors opened again, we were on the Minister’s level and I shook my head. I wasn’t going to simply tell him not to tell Devereux.
“That guy who grabbed the information and sifted through it. Who is he?” I asked Amy.
“A hacker I did a profile on several months back. Real talented, but a troublemaker.”
“How much of a troublemaker?”
Amy winked at me. “Oh, I’m sure you’ll see.”
We got to Johnson’s office – a giant wooden door stood between us and him. It would cost most of the people living in New York City their fortune just for that one door. The garishness of it, the sheer ridiculousness, made me laugh for a moment. I didn’t think much of a man who would pay to have this door installed. He was obviously corrupt as hell, and needed to be taken down a notch. I heaved the heavy door open and we walked inside, straight to Johnson’s secretary.
“I have to speak to the Minister; it’s very important. It’s regarding a matter he asked me to look into. A little... side job.”
The assistant didn’t even skip a beat. “Sir, he’s in a teleconference right now, but if you’ll wait just a few minutes, I’m sure he’ll be done. In the meantime, enjoy a drink, on the Minister.”
With that, he pointed over to a table with several bottles of alcohol I swore would cost as much as my yearly salary. A bottle of Scotch, from before the launching of the first starship, and a few wines made by the last winery on Earth, in Napa valley. Most wines were made on Mars, where monolithic climate-controlled buildings allowed for perfect control of every variable necessary for the perfect wine. Somehow, the wines still didn’t come out as well as the old Earth based wines did, though. Strange, how all the technical knowledge in the world is worth less than a thousand years of tradition and experimentation. I poured myself a couple fingers of bourbon, which ironically was not only no longer made in Kentucky, but was also not made on Earth. It was potent; at least 110 proof, but tasty as hell. He knew his liquor, apparently. Amy poured herself a glass of the most expensive red wine he had.
“No use letting him have all the good stuff,” she said with a grin.
Sitting there, looking out the giant window at the megatropolis of NYC and the garish embellishments, the symbols of greed and narcissism, I wanted nothing more than to throw Johnson out the window. Everything he did, everything he stood for, it all contributed to the problems the city faced. I hated him. Men like him dragged the human race down, made us less than we could be. Instead of working toward the betterment of mankind, all he could do was work toward lining his own pockets, and the pockets of those who got him the position. Screw em all, I say. Profiting on death, suffering and poverty is sick, and men who who do it even worse. When the secretary told us we could go in, I was prepared to give Johnson a very large, very angry piece of my mind. Once inside his office, I couldn’t do it. Not with what I saw.
Johnson was at his desk, sitting there hands on the comm button in front of him. I saw the holoprojectors where the other council members had been displayed moments ago. But most of all what I saw was the red spatter all over the desk, and the tiny hole in the window behind him. Sniper. I yelled at Amy to hit the deck as the realization hit her face. She dropped, but not quite fast enough. The bullet hit her square in the shoulder, causing her body to twitch violently and her face to go white. I grabbed her and pulled her behind the desk, inspecting the wound. Bullets don’t have exit wounds anymore; haven’t for a long time. We’re too smart. Through-and-through wounds aren’t as bad; they’re not always deadly. All bullets these days just bounce around inside the body, often found on the other side of the body when the autopsy’s done. I checked her vitals, and only found a weak pulse. Her breathing was labored as hell. She wouldn’t last long without medical attention. A cracking sound as bullets punched through the glass and hit the wall let me know the sniper was still there, and still vigilant. He could fire a hundred rounds without reloading, and I didn’t have the time to wait. I checked the distance: three meters to the door, and no cover. The desk was two feet thick at the sides; solid oak with mahogany overlay. Not quite bulletproof, but damn close. Problem was, I couldn’t move it in an hour, and I couldn’t leave cover without getting a bullet myself. The secretary was useless; he took the second bullet through the other window. My comm wasn’t working either; probably being jammed. Damn it! She wasn’t going to make it at this rate. Her pulse had slowed to a dozen bpm, at most. I grabbed the stasis med out of my pocket; 10cc of portable hibernation on the go. It wouldn’t fix her, but it would stop her body from being damaged by hypoxia and hopefully prevent brain damage. It was far from perfect; more than 10 minutes in stasis and her brain might start breaking down. Her breathing slowed to a halt, and she had no discernible pulse. Good for now. I reconsidered my options, but there wasn’t much. He had slowed down his fire to a round every 10 seconds, and I knew he had plenty of ammo left. I came up with an idea, but it wasn’t much. He wouldn’t be stupid enough to go for misdirection, not for long. My personal comm might be jammed, but the hardlines wouldn’t be. I peered over the desk as much as I dared, and located the comm switch. I kicked the chair next to me over to the wall opposite the door, then reached up and pressed the call button. A second later, Devereux popped out of the holoprojector next to me, looking bewildered. I pushed the holoprojector beyond the desk, grabbed Amy, and ran toward the door. The sniper, momentarily confused, started shooting at the hologram of Devereux. Damn I was lucky it was him. Anyone else wouldn’t have fooled the sniper. I remembered the other big window in the waiting room, and stopped at the door. Again, another thick wooden door. Solid as a rock. It’d do for now. I looked around the room, trying to work out how to cross a giant room with a sniper essentially right outside. Why hadn’t the security system gone into lock down with all the bullets flying around? Most likely turned off by the same guy jamming my comms. Then again, all these buildings had fire suppression systems that sealed off the room. I wouldn’t be able to get out the door, but I could certainly stop him from shooting me. I lit up my last cigarette, then threw it into my glass of bourbon from earlier. It burst into flames, setting off the room’s thermal sensors and bring the steel shutters crashing down around me. Finally, some peace and quiet. Next the fire suppression system would suck the air out of the room in order to starve the fire. Not so good. I needed out, but now the only exit was sealed by a metal shutter. I felt my lungs start to burn as the air started rapidly thinning. My head started swimming, and I knew I wouldn’t last too long in a vacuum. I noticed the burning glass of alcohol, and reached over to put it out. It burned my hand as I cupped it over the glass, but within a few seconds the fire was out. Immediately the air started rushing back into the room as the suppression system detected that there wasn’t a fire. Immediately, as designed to allow emergency rescuers immediate access, the door slid open and I pulled Amy onto my shoulders as I ran out.
Once downstairs I was met by the EMTs who had been dispatched to deal with any injured or sick from the fire. They saw Amy, and grabbed her out of my arms, carefully placing her limp body on a stretcher. The stretcher, a hover cart with padding and medical equipment attached, lifted off the ground and toward their ambulance shuttle. I followed quickly behind, explaining the situation. “She was shot in the shoulder. Bullet didn’t come out, so I put a bandage over it and gave her stasis meds. That was about 7 minutes ago.”
“Thank you, sir. Now, let us take care of her.”
I still followed, not leaving Amy’s side for a minute, until I remembered the sniper. He probably followed me down, and might just be crazy enough to take a few shots at us down here in the open. “Hey! We need to get into your shuttle. The guy who did this is a good shot, and he’s still around. He might take a few more shots if he gets the chance!”
Unfortunately for the EMT, I had realized too late. His body bucked as the bullet hit him center mass, passing quickly through his sternum and bouncing around in his ribcage like a pinball from hell. I grabbed the stretcher and ran for the shuttle, telling the other EMT behind it to get in. He went white when he saw his partner on the ground, but nodded quickly and jumped in the pilot seat. Shuttles had to be rated for bird strikes and debris at several thousand miles an hour, so a bullet wouldn’t break the solid wall. But I was still ten feet from it. A bullet pinged off the corner of the stretcher, missing Amy’s head by inches. The next one found its mark, or at least part of it. I felt it hit my leg, and immediately lost control. I stumbled, shoving the stretcher the last few feet before hitting the ground. I tucked into a roll, curling up and hitting the ground with as much momentum as I could. I landed head-first and kept rolling until I was behind the shuttle door. Bullets continued to ping off the doors, with one stray bit of shrapnel careening into the interior of the ambulance and embedding itself in the side of my head. Luckily for me it wasn’t moving very quickly, so I wasn’t in any immediate danger from the impact; the wound on my leg, however, required more immediate attention. I turned to the front of the vehicle and yelled at the driver to take off, and take off he did. Within seconds we were moving several hundred kph above the city on our way to the hospital; no way was I going to make it to Ludd Prime or Threed by my deadline now. I needed to know what went wrong, and why they’d want Devereux dead; it was obvious by the sniper’s shots at the hologram that he had expected Devereux, and not a Marshal with a reporter sidekick.
Two minutes later we arrived at the hospital; the roof opened to reveal a hanger inside. We wouldn’t have to worry about an assassin here; hospitals were some of the most secure locations on the planet, and St. Mary’s was damn near impenetrable since it had been a military command center before being decommissioned. Three feet of reinforced plastecrete and steel plating protected it against everything from missile strikes to orbital mass driver and directed energy weapon attacks. A team of doctors burst through the hangar door to pull Amy from the ambulance and take her inside. I was able to hobble out and sit on the end of the hover-stretcher, since my leg had stopped working. The bullet only hit the meat on the outside of my calf, so it was easy for me to remove, but to patch up the wound required doctors with special equipment. Once inside I noticed the bustle of the emergency department; doctors running from one room to the next, through decontamination fields and into quarantine zones. Modern medicine was a miracle compared to the early 21st century, when surgery was performed usually by cutting someone open to remove a tumor, failing organ, or seal up an artery. Now with special radiation and X-ray treatments, most things could be done without damaging the body at all, instead sealing off and breaking down the faulty liver or kidney through chemical and radiological exposure, and using targeted stem cells and nano-meds to grow new organs. Limbs could be replaced with either cybernetic replacements for quick cures or the growth of a whole new limb through simple bio-printing of materials. I had already had one hand replaced with a superior bio-metallic construct covered with a nano-mesh that replicated the feel, look, and function of human skin. As soon as they had done their basic inspection, the doctors brought Amy into a surgical chamber filled with nanotech and robotic devices, and began working on her shoulder. First thing first, they pumped the stasis meds out of her system, allowing her to breathe and her heart to start pumping blood back into her shoulder. Within a minute they had sealed off the open wound with nanoskin, a replacement for human skin that bonded to her normal skin better even than my nano-mesh hand. Then they injected a series of nano-meds; some to break the bullet down to allow her system to flush it, and others to repair the damaged muscle and cardiovascular tissue. It felt unpleasant, I’m sure, but what little I saw of her was returning to a normal color, and her vitals started returning to normal. All I got was a shot of nano-meds and painkillers to help reduce the nerve activity in the region. Instead of blocking pathways between nerves and the brain like some older painkillers, modern painkillers were nanites that bonded to the nerves themselves and regulated electrical flow so that my body was fooled into thinking it was back to normal. They also injected a few chemical paralytics to prevent me from using the limb while it was healing; a fact that annoyed the hell out of me. I needed to get back out as soon as I could, and figure out what happened to the acting Minister. Within an hour my leg had fully healed, and Amy was in a bed resting. I had only been sitting in the chair next to her for a few minutes when I nodded off.
I woke up only five hours later, but Amy had already been awake for a while and was recording something into a pad with intense concentration written all over her face. I stared at her for a moment, surprised that a woman with her upbringing had become so accustomed to violence, death, and the darker side of the world. She obviously felt my eyes burning a hole through her head, and snapped her head up to look at me, annoyed. “What? Is there something with my face? They told me it was fine...”
I just smiled and replied, “No, there’s nothing wrong. Just glad you’re ok. I’m still shocked that you are coping so well, considering.”
She put the pad down next to her, looked out the thick transparent aluminum window, and sighed. “I’m not, Ryan. I’m not doing very well at all.” She lifted her hand, and there was a slight tremor in her fingers. She dropped it again to the bed. “I’m scared. All the time. Even here, in one of the most secure places on Earth, and I’m scared. But I’m more afraid of what would happen if I didn’t see this through. How could I live with myself if I didn’t do everything I could to stop my father? I’m sure when this is all over, I’ll need some serious help. I’ll probably have to go through years of therapy and work before I’m anywhere near ok again, but I need to do this. So don’t second guess me, ’cause I don’t need the help in that department.”
I reached out and grabbed her hand between mine, and looked in her eyes. “Hey. Listen. I’m not surprised that you’re freaking out. No one in their right mind would be ok with this. I’m glad you’re here; I sure as hell couldn’t do it all myself. And I promise that when this is all over, I’ll help however I can. And hell, you’re the strongest person I know; not many could still function after what you’ve been through. And I promise, your father will face the justice he deserves. For now, just rest. I’m going to go back and see what’s happened since the acting Minister’s assassination.”
She looked at me with a weak smile that hardened into her usual steely determination. “If you think you’re going after my father without me, you’re dumber than you look. He’s going to pay for what happened. But why do you think someone wanted him dead?”
I thought about it for a minute. It didn’t make sense. If he was the one pulling all the strings, why did he have Johnson killed? And why would the sniper take a shot at him? “It doesn’t make sense. He wouldn’t install a puppet to the position only to have him killed. The new Security Minister will likely be a man he has no control over; maybe that’s it. Maybe someone is competing with your father for control; all I know is that there’s someone out there who who wants him dead, and that’s bad. He needs justice, not a bullet. At least, not unless he shoots first. Now I guess I have to save him before I bring him in...”
“Well, don’t go running off without me. Not now. I’m going to see this through, dammit, even if it kills me. Which it very well might.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it. But for now, I need to look into what’s going on. You won’t be able to leave this bed for a while, and I want to go check on the Security Minister’s assassination. See if they’ve replaced him yet.”
I got up, shaking the tingling remnants of the paralytic from my leg, and started for the exit. I stopped in the hallway to ask a doctor how long she’d need to be hospitalized, to which he simply replied “We’ll see.” I left the hospital, where I was greeted by the woman from the Secret Services; she pulled me back inside into the waiting room and sat me down. “You need to stay here for now. I’ve been able to obscure your hospital records from the Security Service records, but it won’t work to have you running around the city now. They have a warrant out for your arrest.”
That was not exactly comforting news. “Well, damn, what did I do?”
She smiled in a such a way that reminded me quickly of just how deadly she was. She may have been a gorgeous woman in a very slimming pantsuit, but underneath it all she was a coiled snake, and I was one wrong move away from being dinner. “They want to blame you for the assassination of the acting Security Minister, for starters. And Devereux has called for your head on a damn pike. He’s the chair of the Security oversight committee, and he’s out for blood.”
“So, why are you helping me, then?”
She shook her head. “Because as much as I hate the man, Devereux is untouchable from the inside. We can’t do a damn thing, and even being the Secret Service we don’t have a lot of freedom of movement when the Minister of Security is in the morgue and a new Minister hasn’t been chosen. You are the only one who can reach Devereux, and whoever killed the Minister.”
“Well, it wasn’t Devereux’s idea. Either that or the man has more personality issues than I thought. I used a holocall to distract the shooter, who saw Devereux pop out from behind a door and took a few shots at him. It’s the only reason I was able to escape. Whoever wanted the Minister dead wants Devereux dead just as much.”
Her near perfect facade cracked for just a second, but I saw a hint of shock there that I never thought I’d see. “Hmm. Well, it seems that we have two targets to deal with, then. Now we just need to figure out how to clear your name. The report from the scene said that the bullet that killed the Minister was from a sidearm, not a rifle, and that it had to have been from nearly point blank range. Not to mention the glass was perfectly intact.”
“What? There were bullet holes all through it, as well as in the walls and floor. There’s no way... unless someone got there first and cleaned up. What about the assistant? The bullet went through the side of his head, and his desk is right next to the window. He’d have pieces of glass jammed in his skull.”
This time she didn’t even attempt to hide her confusion. “What do you mean? The Minister’s assistant was never there. His desk was empty when we arrived on scene, and the assistant was found on level 112, the cafeteria, eating lunch.”
I shook my head, then pulled a cigarette out of my pocket. Even these “environmentally friendly” e-cigs I got from the hospital gift shop were better than nothing. I pressed on the cigarette and vapor started pouring out and down my throat. Clean, smooth, and not nearly as good. But it would keep my head clear for now. “Well that’s not right. Me and Amy saw the assistant get killed. Hell, I got some of his blood on my coat.” I pointed to where the spatter from the exit wound had hit my high collar. She looked at it, amused but annoyed, and tried getting some of it off.
“Well, it’s dried on. And if it is the assistant’s blood, then we’ve got a bigger problem on our hands. Let me get a swab and some re-hydration solution from the nurse so I can test it.”
She left me sitting in a chair, wondering where I could go now that I was a wanted man. I was used to being on the proper side of the law, not a criminal. It certainly made me wonder. She returned with a small swab and a vial filled with a special solution for re-hydrating blood, semen, saliva, whatever you needed. Once she got the sample she shook the vial, which agitated the solution and turned it red as the blood re-hydrated. She then put a drop onto a small device attached to her PDA, which was a fairly complex computer wrapped around her arm. She controlled it with a flick of her fingers, and within seconds the DNA from the blood sample was compared to the DNA on file for the Minister’s assistant. They were completely different. What that meant still confused me, but then I saw why when she pulled up a picture of the assistant. The man we met outside Johnson’s office was not the Minister’s assistant. The DNA did match a certain member of the Coalition’s personal protective services, a Mr. Howard Collins. Collins was the head of security for the Security Committee offices in the Council building. What was he doing in Johnson’s office?
She clearly thought the same thing I did, because she looked puzzled at the screen and shook her head. “Well, the least we can do is try to figure out what the hell he was doing there. We don’t even need to leave the city to do that; the Council building is only a few kilometers from here.”
“Well, you can. I’m not exactly walking into the Council building as a wanted man.”
She smiled again, something that by this time was making me seriously uneasy. Damn woman was going to kill me, or get me killed. She’s worse than Amy, I thought. “Don’t you worry about that. We’ll get you in. Just follow me.” And with that she stood, walked out the front door, and waved me outside. I followed, wary of what she had planned, but took a deep breath when I saw her get into a diplomatic vehicle parked out front. The only way into the Council was to be in a diplomatic vehicle; even though the idea of diplomats was made obsolete when the world united under the Coalition flag, vehicles for people of very special dispensation or status were allowed more freedom of movement, and were given diplomatic status. With the right name attached, we could fly right into the Council hangar and none of its guards would bat an eye. Handy. I stepped in behind her, then froze when I saw who was seated opposite me. Devereux looked at me with a wicked grin, and I could swear his canine teeth had been sharpened. I relaxed just enough that I could go for my gun without too much difficulty, but that was about it. I knew better than to get into a firefight inside a vehicle, though, so I just looked him in the eye and said “Hello, Councilor.”
He was not a particularly burly man; he stood maybe six feet and was as thin as a rail. But the gaunt face and deep set eyes hid more secrets than most corporate databases. “Hello, Marshal. I thought I’d talk to you before we reach the Council. So, what do you think of my little ruse? She was ever so good, I think.” I looked back over at the woman who had led me into the trap, and she was no longer a slender, wiry supermodel. She was a mousy little thing with extra weight all over her body and a few more years in her eyes.
“Hmmm... so you figured it out, did you? Who was helping me stay under the radar?”
Devereux just laughed with derision. “You don’t need to stay under the radar. There is no warrant for your arrest, but the part about the missing assistant is fairly accurate. We know it was him, whoever he was, that allowed our shooter to kill the Minister. We just needed to know who it was, and we knew that you had that information. Sorry for the ruse. So, how would you like to find the man responsible for the Minister’s untimely demise and the bombing of various Coalition targets all around the galaxy?”
I narrowed my eyes, as if squinting could allow me to suddenly see through layer after layer of deception and carefully crafted facade. “You mean you? That wouldn’t take too long. Just sit there and arrest you, and it’ll all be over.”
Devereux took offense to my accusation, as accurate as it may have been. Whether it was feigned or not was yet to be seen. “I had nothing to do with the bombings here or in the rest of the galaxy. I am just a Councilor with a few friends, that’s all. Fewer, these days.” As he looked out the window, I knew what he’d meant. He had lost control. The “friends” that he had hired decided that they didn’t like him anymore. Anarchists who don’t like power hungry politicians. Who would have guess that one?
“So, you financed and provided for an anarchistic group of killers and bombers, and now you’re pissed that they decided they didn’t want to work for you? Really?”
Devereux feigned innocence, but his facade was wearing thin. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Marshal, but surely you don’t think that I’m responsible for the bombings? I have never supported anyone with anything but the Coalition’s best interests in mind. If you don’t believe me, fine; but I want this group, whoever it is, brought to justice. And I think you’re just the man to do it, Marshal.”
“Oh, and why’s that? If I had your resources and influence, I’d pick someone slightly less inclined to kill me.”
Devereux just laughed. “Oh Marshal. You won’t kill me. Your sense of justice won’t allow it. Your love for the rule of law won’t let you kill me in cold blood. And I don’t plan on giving you cause, trust me. Find this group, and silence them forever. Do it, and I’ll gladly let you retire in peace and with a hefty retirement fund. Otherwise, I can make your life significantly less pleasant. So, what do you say?”
“Your daughter would kill me if she knew the deal I’m agreeing to, but I’ll do it. It’s not like I haven’t made a deal with the devil before.”
Devereux laughed again, but this time his eyes remained expressionless. “Alright Marshal. I will give you the support you need. Just tell what you need to get it done.”
I considered it for a moment, then shrugged. “A fast private craft, preferably armed, to get me to Ludd Prime, a few thousand credits, and a UTC order of intent, allowing me passage wherever I need it.”
Devereux thought about it carefully, but eventually acquiesced. “Alright, you shall have it. We have diplomatic craft that will suit your purpose, and I will extend your operations fund. It will take me a few hours to get your pass, will that be alright?”
“As long as I have it before I get where I need to go, I’m golden. Also, your daughter is going to need access to all the places I go. What can I say? She’s smitten.” I added the last part just to gauge his reaction, and I was not disappointed. He was upset that his daughter was being put in harm’s way, but he knew that if he barred her access, she’d be furious with him. Still, he was not happy about that idea.
“Whatever. Just get it done; and don’t you dare put my daughter in harm’s way.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it, sir. She just can’t pass up a good story, what can I say.”
And with that the door opened and I stepped out, annoyed but in fairly good spirits. Sure, I’d probably have to deal with him some day down the road, but for now he was out of my way and I could focus on the bombers. I wanted him taken down, but he was powerful, and I needed any evidence the bombers might have of their connection. And besides, he was only a power hungry autocrat. The bombers were evil, violent men who cared nothing for human life or property. They were much more dangerous at the moment.
As soon as the vehicle took off, I walked back inside and made my way up to the floor Amy was still on. As soon as I walked into the room she looked up, surprised to see me but happy enough that I was back already. “Hey! What are you doing back so soon? Did you find the new interim Minister?”
I shook my head. “No, I didn’t. I was found, actually. By your father.”
Just my acknowledgment of his existence seemed to put her on edge. “Oh? What’d he want? Your head on a stick?”
I sat down at the edge of the bed. “Yeah, you could say that. But first he wants me to hunt down the assassin and his little anarchist friends.”
“What?! He really said that? After he works with a group that bombs a terminal he seriously has the stones to ask you to help him? What the hell was he thinking?” She dropped the pad she was writing on and looked back outside. She had always been one for the old ways of doing things. Hell, she still used a pencil, even though it wasn’t made of simple wood and graphite any more. She loved the write the rough draft by hand. “He has some nerve. Who does he think he is?”
“I agreed to his deal.” I said, and had to duck to avoid a thrown cup from her bedside table.
“WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?! He’s an evil, sick, twisted, and corrupt wannabe dictator with a hard-on for killing people! The only thing keeping him from killing more people is that he has to maintain an image of self-respect! So why would you agree to work for him?!”
“I didn’t agree to work for him. I agreed to use him and his resources. If you want to go anywhere, we need money. I’m sure he won’t just hand it off to you, no questions asked; not after what you said about him on the record. And he needs me. That puts me in a unique position. Besides, I can use his own arrogance against him. He agreed to give me a ship-”
“Rigged to explode, no doubt...”
“-if I look for the group that did this. I know the ship will likely explode the instant I get into space; that’s why I plan on using it for distraction. He needs to think we’re going back to Centauri; he doesn’t know where the black market dealers are, so I’ll simply send the ship he gives me to Centauri Station; that way, he’ll think we’re poking around the station, and we can continue to Ludd Prime relatively unmolested in a different ship. I already have a guy with my passport ready to board the ship and go to Centauri, pretending to be me. Your father will be tracking that ship, no doubt, and will keep an eye on me. All we have to do is board another ship under different names, and we’ll be home free.”
She still looked pissed, but not as much. “Yeah, well, as soon as we use his money he’ll be able to track us. That won’t work.”
“It will if I use his money to buy untraceable physical collateral, then sell it to someone else. Sure, we’ll lose ten or fifteen percent off the top, but it’s his money, so who cares? That way we’ll have all the money we need in an untraceable account, like the ones used by black market dealers, and continue on our merry way.”
“Well, what if his ship explodes with your friend on it?”
“I doubt your father will try to make it explode; if he does, it’ll look really funny since I registered my name with his personal ship. He doesn’t want that kind of attention. And my buddy is pretty good at locating and disarming bombs, just in case your father is that foolish. Don’t worry, he’ll be fine. We just need him to act as a distraction for a few days in transit, then we’ll be home free.”
She swung her legs out of bed, and tried to stand up; her legs buckled almost immediately. I reached out and grabbed her under the arms before she could hit the ground, but her bad shoulder was still weak, and she cried out in pain. I quickly grabbed her around the waist and pulled her into bed, letting her rest against the pillows.
“Don’t try to move yet. You still have too much medication in your system. Besides, it’ll take me at least a day to get our things in order, and book discreet passage to the wrong end of the galaxy.” Since ships can’t land on Ludd prime, they built a rudimentary station on the planet’s first moon, a place for ships to dock and unload passengers. The passengers were then ferried via pods fired from the moon’s surface to Ludd Prime. It wasn’t the fastest way there, but it was the easiest and cheapest. Since anything launched toward Ludd Prime’s surface was irretrievable, and the people there didn’t take kindly to technology on the planet’s surface, the pods opened once in the atmosphere and dropped the passengers with parachutes while the shell broke up in the upper atmosphere. How a black market dealer was operating on a planet with such harsh conditions I couldn’t figure out. Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t easy.