The Last Marshal

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Chapter 3

I awoke once again, the sound of metal scraping against metal. This sleeping compartment didn’t have a view port, but a traveler like me would never mistake the sound of Luna’s docking clamps. Old, nearly as old as space travel; installed when travel outside the solar system was a ways off still. As Earth’s spaceports slowly came under the control of industry and private enterprises, Luna became the main passenger port for travel to Earth. A 12 hour shuttle ride would have you at any major city on Earth, and since taxi services had long ago taken to the skies, finding a ride was easy. Our goal, I imagined, was not Earth itself, but Luna. Luna was an old colony, the first in the solar system not on or around Earth. Buried deep in the surface, where radiation couldn’t get to it, the colony houses 19 million people, and is constantly expanding. The citizens of Luna are not as desperate as the poor and unlucky of Earth, but that doesn’t mean much. Ever since the colony stopped it’s massive Helium-3 mining operation, service had become the main industry. Service for the ships coming into Luna port, and service for the myriad stations surrounding Earth. It was much easier for a craft from Luna to reach Earth orbit than one from the planet itself; flight through Earth’s atmosphere was a nightmare. I knew that this is where Macintosh would go first. His ultimate goal was Earth; of that I was sure. But I knew he’d need a new identity or two, as well as clearance to get into the better areas of Earth. His targets, his victims weren’t the poor; they were too easy. He’d go for the rich, the well-protected, and the paranoid. There was a challenge in those targets, a chance of death. He didn’t kill unless he knew he might die doing it. Sick. I wish someone had been lucky enough. Hell, I wish I’d been lucky enough. But the world doesn’t work that way. So I hunted, making my way to my quarry slowly as he got ever closer to his. I had a serious disadvantage; he knew I was coming for him, and was always watching over his shoulder; his victims never knew their last days were come and gone. They couldn’t know what sort of pure violence was following them.

I roused Amy and used the molecular shower to clean myself and my clothes. I got dressed, the fabric’s surface reminding me of my failure as it fell over my new scars. I winced when I moved my arm; the pain was back with a vengeance. I popped two of the pills the good doctor had given me, then ensured that Amy was ready to go. She sat up in the bed, eyes glossy as she stared at the warm blue wall of the cabin. I asked her what was wrong, and all I got was “I don’t know if I can do this.”

“Well, I told you not to come didn’t I? What, did you think it was just your physical health I was worried about?” I asked.

“I know what you said, and I’d make the choice again if necessary. But I don’t know if who I was then will be very happy with what I’ll be when I’m done. Will I be able to look myself in the mirror?”

I sat back on the bed beside her, putting my arm around her shoulder. Her eyes regained their color before shooting that terrible gaze in my direction. She stood up quickly, throwing my arm off her shoulder. “I don’t want your pity, you know. I’m not the weak little princess you imagine I am. I’m just thinking. No need to coddle me. Pig...” She stormed out with a limp, heading toward the exit. I shook my head. I am a trained detective and an interstellar hunter of men, trained to understand the very worst that humanity has to offer. But women? Who knows. Even the telepaths of Argos Sigma couldn’t figure out humans, let alone women. Their first encounter with a human vessel led to their ambassador going insane and being committed, and ever since then every encounter with humanity has been with a device meant to block out human thoughts. The long running joke is that the XO of that ship must have been a woman, and that it was her thoughts the telepath had tried to decipher. Poor bastard.

After giving her the appropriate amount of time, I left the ship, walking into the main starport of Luna Colony. The starport was ancient; a series of docking stations connected to a large dome on Luna’s surface. A long elevator transported the locals down to their colony and back, taking several minutes per trip. I walked out of the spaceport building into the domed city proper; it was quite a sight. The dome itself was relatively new, constructed out of transparent aluminum and glass. It blocked out 99% of the Sun’s harmful radiation, but let light through enough to give a spectacular view of Earth. I brought my eyes back down to the street, looking for any sign of where Amy went, until I saw it. A shopping center designed for tourists and people on their way to Earth. The history of the Earth’s only natural moon made it a popular tourist destination year-round; Earth’s schools regularly made trips to the moon to look at the landing site of the Apollo 11 lander, and see the first human footprints. Now, walking on the surface of the moon anywhere near the site was strictly forbidden, and was subject to a serious fine and possible imprisonment if deliberate. To facilitate, walkways above the surface were built in order to allow people to study the site without disturbing it.

I walked toward the shopping center; a garish, dark-grey building with bands of multicolor lighting around the entrances and all the edges of the walls. Certainly a carry over from the style of the late 22nd Century. I walked inside, expecting the interior to be very similar; it wasn’t. In fact, the interior of the building was quite modern; expensive imported materials like wood and Earth stone. The stores were filled with the most eclectic mix of styles; popular colors and patterns from Earth, Mars, and the outer colonies all made an appearance. They clearly knew their business. I walked toward the shop most likely to contain my companion: a footwear store. She clearly needed new shoes, as her high heels weren’t exactly suited for running and climbing and walking long distances. I approached just as she exited the store, bags in hand. Bags. Plural. Great. What was she going to do with all those? I had always traveled light, wearing the same sturdy clothes everywhere I went. Modern nanofibers and advanced materials made washing clothes, while usually pointless, as easy as cleaning one’s hands. Going months without washing sometimes made the cheaper fabrics turn a slightly more brown color, but one could have a wardrobe that went years without need for washing or replacement. She walked up, a grin on her face, and handed me half the bags. I took them, peeking inside to see what she’d bought. Several changes of clothing, all made for durability and functionality over style. The boots were combat boots, with some... feminine style. Not what I was expecting. She knew it too, judging by the smirk on her face. I smiled, shook my head, and asked her where she expected to put it all.

“I’ve paid to have what I won’t wear right away transported to a storage locker at the spaceport, then transported to whatever ship I leave on. Don’t worry, we won’t be lugging it all around. So, where to now? I think I have an acquaintance in the colony who can get us in touch with an identity forger.”

I knew I liked having her around. As a reporter, her contacts were invaluable, and her deep pockets helped too. Not that I’d ever tell her something like that. She doesn’t much like me talking about those days anymore. “Ok. We’ll start there. I doubt he’ll be around for long. He’ll go straight to Earth once he has what he needs, then he’ll be invisible. We can’t let him get that far.”

“Why don’t you just shut down all transportation to Earth?”

I tried not to let my bewilderment show. Was she really that naive? “I don’t have that kind of power anymore. Sorta the last of my kind, remember? Not many know what a Marshal is anymore. They think we’re just legends from the early days of space travel. Even if I showed them my credentials they’d probably just assume their bad fakes. Anyway, the number of ships going to and from Earth every day makes that kind of operation impossible. He could sneak on any number of private vessels or take any number of legitimate transports. Hell, he could package himself as precious cargo and ride a cargo ship to Earth. We won’t be able to stop him that way. We just have to learn his new identity before he can disappear again.”

Amy turned to me with a mischievous sparkle in her eyes, a look that I was growing ever more concerned about the more she used it. “That won’t happen. The best man for the job doesn’t ever meet face to face, for that very reason. And no one else in the colony can do what Macintosh is going to need. He needs a high level clearance to get him into the rich districts; he can only get that through Martin. The flip side of that is that we won’t be able to get to Martin, either. Not directly. So coercing him into giving us the information won’t happen. And he’s a pro, so him willingly giving up a client isn’t likely to happen, either.”

This was going to make things more difficult. I’m persuasive in person; over a good old-fashioned video communicator? Not so much. I’d need to be in the same room to get the information we wanted. So, it may be up to Amy this time. Not a prospect I was happy with. I turned to her and asked “So, you think you can convince him? I’m not going to get very far without being able to – how shall we say – touch him.”

Amy pondered this fact, chewing on her finger as she seemed to like to do when lost in thought. “I think I can convince him, if I promise him I’m only using him as a confidential source for a story. He’ll go for it, but I can’t be seen within a mile of you. Sorry, but he’s smart. He knows a lawman when he sees one.”

“Ok. I’ll back off when we get down there. But if you think I’m leaving you all alone down there, you’re crazy. The people may not be as bad as the Perseid Beta types, but they’re dangerous all the same.”

She got that same look on her face, the one that told me I was being a sexist again and that she was going to push back. Then something miraculous happened. Her face softened into a conciliatory smile, and she just sighed. “Ok, big boy. You can come down. Just don’t be seen, got it? You certainly are dressed for the part.”

I looked down at my clothes, and shrugged. Jeans, a brown nanofiber trench coat, Leather boots, and a ridiculous old Stetson. Yeah, I’d fit in with the cast-offs of Luna. I looked around for the store I really wanted, but didn’t see anything. Not a lot of need for rifles on the moon, I guess. Well, not on the surface. I’d have to get it “downtown.” I smiled. “What can I say? It never goes out of style.”

She laughed out loud; so loud people stopped and stared at her for a moment like she was a monkey at the zoo, screeching for attention. She put her head down. “Not for a Wild West attraction at the museum, no. For a person born in the last century, you’re a little out of touch.”

“I don’t have a rich daddy to buy my clothes, sorry. I had to work for what I’ve got. Anyway, this hat is all I have left of my family; it was my dad’s from when he had worked on a ranch in his younger days. But no, it’s cool. Mock me all you want.”

She was as surprised by this as I was. Not at the content of my statement, but the sound of pain and regret in my voice. I hadn’t really told anyone about my parent’s death. I looked at her and tried to apologize. I choked up a few times as I told her the story. “I was raised on Titan, back when it could support a colony and they wanted to know what the oceans were like. My parents were xenobiologists, and the oceans of Titan were an unexplored gold mine of bacteria and young life. They had been there 10 years when I was born, and after a few years we had to move to the Io colony because Titan had been declared off-limits. They studied passive readings taken from satellites, but no one was allowed to actually touch anything on the moon. They weren’t allowed to disturb what might have been the evolution of life on Titan. They eventually lost funding when the governments of Earth lost their interest in studying Titan. On a return voyage to Earth to try to raise funds from private corporations, their shuttle was boarded by pirates. The pirates had been plaguing the moons of Jupiter for a while, and the government of Earth decided they weren’t enough of a threat to deal with. At least, not to them. They didn’t care about us much. We were just outer colonies, a group of frontier types who weren’t worth their time. After a month of attempting ransom, I watched on the news as they shot my mother, then my father. I was seven. I was stuck on Io, a relatively unknown place with very few resources for an orphan. I inherited a small trust from my parents; just enough, it seemed, to get me to Earth and to an orphanage. Not a great one, though. I lived in the slums of San Marcelos for twelve years, fighting for everything. I had just enough money to keep myself off the streets and in the orphanage. The only thing I had left of my parents was this hat. And I had to fight to keep that, too. By 14 I had proved myself to a local militia dedicated to keeping the streets relatively safe for people in their territory. I worked with them until I was 19, when I entered the military. I was smart, almost as smart as my parents, and I knew how to handle myself. They entered me into the Coalition Marine Special Operations Command as an officer after putting me through their academy. I served on half a dozen planets, fighting in the Salkathi Wars of 2296 and helping to bring the insurrection of Calcutta to a peaceful conclusion. Then I quit to become a Marshal, knowing they were on the decline. Most of the Marshals at the time were older; it was a dying organization even as I joined. But they were still necessary. Still are, I think. But I never forgot. And I haven’t been back to Earth since I joined the military. Do you want to know who it was that declined the relatively small ransom for my parents? A councilman by the name of Devereux. Jean Devereux.”

Amy Just stood there, dumbfounded. Her mouth just hung open, a gateway to her thoughts. I saw a look of understanding and pain crossing her face. There was a look I was all too familiar with. I had seen it every time I looked in the mirror. Her beautiful emerald eyes seemed to turn to liquid and start running down her cheeks. She couldn’t control herself, not like she was used to. What I had told her stung, in a way I knew nothing else could have. I felt terrible; terrible for shattering the image of her father, and for drudging up the past. I was barely able to contain my anger and my pain. We both stood there, shaking. Her with regret and sadness; me with pain and anger. She sat on the nearest bench, putting her face in her hands, as if she could somehow keep her pain from leaking out. It wasn’t working. I sat next to her, my eyes empty and staring at nothing. Suddenly, she sat up and reached over to hold onto me. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know. I always heard terrible things, but mother always said they were just lies concocted by his opponents. He was always good to me, never once did he hit me or ever act out of anger. I couldn’t believe the stories. But now, it seems like it’s something I’ve always known. I’ve always known who my father was outside of work; but I always ignored what I knew to be true. I’m sorry. I didn’t know. How could you not tell me sooner?”

I forced my best fake smile, wiped my eye with a handkerchief, and replied, “I never wanted you to know that. I never wanted to be the person to shake your foundation like I just did. But I did. I told you because I felt hurt, and the darkest reaches of my mind decided to hurt you back. For that, I’m sorry. I can never undo what I just told you, and I can never restore your view of your father. But I hope you don’t hate me for it.”

She looked into my eyes, searching for a speck of sarcasm or deception; she found none. “What do you mean? Reporters may not be praised for their steadfast dedication to the truth, but I’ve always believed that it is my job to expose the worst of humanity, to bring light to the darkest places. And there I was, sitting next to the biggest lie of my life at the dinner table for 18 years, and I never saw it. I refused to see it, and in doing so I betrayed myself. No, it’s me that should apologize. I should have seen it sooner. Only my selfishness prevented that. And now through my ignorance I’ve caused you pain. When I see my father again, I’ll ask him. I’ll get the truth from him the best I can, and I’ll publish it for the world to see. Because as much as I want to believe that my father really is the man I grew up with, the kind man I remember, I trust you. I haven’t seen you lie to me yet, and there’s no mistaking that pain. No, he’ll answer to me. And maybe he’ll answer to those in power. I doubt it. The corruption on the council is legendary. But by God the worlds will know the truth.” The anger in her voice grew with ever word, until her every word shook with indignation and frustration. The Amy I had grown to know was not the Amy I thought I met just days before; this Amy was a tide of determination and dedication to the truth. Not the truth as it is spoon fed to the public, but the truth as it has been since the dawn of time. The truth that burns the darkness and allows no shadows. I was as likely to talk her out of it as a man screaming at the ocean to stop crashing against the shore. I stood up, grabbing her hand and squeezing it tight. She squeezed back, rising to her feet and tightening her other hand into a fist. I smiled and started moving toward the exit, and the elevator that would take us into the heart of the moon.

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