The Last Marshal

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Chapter 6

We left Luna colony on a shuttle bound for Earth, where we knew Macintosh – or Taylor – would be headed. On the shuttle I pulled up the files I’d downloaded onto my PDA. I read my classified file first. “Ryan Darrow. Classification: TOP SECRET. Personal Data: Born June 16, 2278 on Titan Colony (decommissioned). Parents: John and Carla Darrow. No siblings. Parents studied microorganisms of Titan until 2286, when they boarded and captured by pirates. When no ransom was issued, both parents were shot and killed. Moved to Earth to live at an orphanage in San Martelos until he was 14, when he joined a local militia group. At 19 he joined the military and was selected for Marine Special Operations. Served in the military with distinction until his discharge for psychological reasons in 2300 (special note: he was diagnosed with obsessive behavior leading to a breakdown in squad morale.) Joined the Coalition Marshal Service in 2301. Serving with the Marshals for 5 years. Secure Notes: Besides obsessive behavior, exhibits high intelligence and significant physical skill in military hand-to-hand and weapons usage. Darrow is the last surviving Marshal, a curious development. Though significant investigation has not produced any evidence of foul play, many deaths surrounding other Marshals – especially among the retired members – are considered suspicious. Further investigation is warranted, though none has been authorized. Advise monitoring Marshal Darrow to gain insight into the nature of Marshal deaths. Councilman Devereux, the chairman of the Security Budget and Oversight Committee, has not authorized any funds for further investigation into death of retired Marshals. Marshal Darrow is not to be notified; any change in behavior may render observation useless. END REPORT.”

I slumped down in my seat and closed my eyes. I didn’t know what to make of it, that’s for sure. All the Marshals, dead? How? This is insane. And Councilman Devereux didn’t want me told? Does he really hate me that much? I pulled up the Councilman’s file.

“Jean Devereux. Classification: TOP SECRET. Personal data: Born August 26, 2256 in Metro D.C. Parents: Claude and Rose Devereux. One sibling, older brother Maurice Devereux. Married to Jacqueline James. Two children: John and Amy Devereux, twins born June 16 2279 in Metro D.C. Served in the Coalition Navy for 4 years upon graduation from the University of Texas. Ran for U.S. Senate in 2281 and became a Senator for the State of Maryland. After serving one and a half terms he was appointed to a seat on the Coalition Council by President Jackson, where he has served for 16 years as a council member, both as a junior and a senior council member. He currently chairs the Coalition Security Budget and Oversight Committee. Secure Notes: due to his ambitious nature, he has gained power quickly, rising through the political ranks. he’s a dangerous man, often using his position for personal gain. His influence in the security budget and oversight committee has given him leverage over both the secret services and intern security concerns. Many attribute the decline of the marshal service to his policies; he has long been an outspoken critic of the Marshal service and its fairly autonomous nature. He strongly believes in a powerful centralized government and the removal of territorial and colonial governments in order to increase order. Such views, while not incredibly unpopular, are still the minority in government. Advise caution when dealing with CM Devereux. Suspicious circumstances following the deaths of the retired Marshals are attributed to him by certain members of the intelligence community. Though there is no evidence to support this claim, it cannot be ignored. Possible links to home grown terrorism and various anarchist groups suspected, but nothing can be proven. END REPORT.”
I sat back in my seat and took a breath. Damn, this guy really does have it out for me. Poor Amy. Amy, sitting beside me, looked shocked and terrified. Had she read it while I was looking through it? Damn it, I have to be more careful. “Hey. What’s wrong?”

“You read that, didn’t you? If half that’s true, my father isn’t the man I knew. This man, the one in this file is the real one. It’s still hard to accept. I knew him as a kind and gentle father, always doting on his family. But... I mean, I didn’t even know I had a twin! What kind of father keeps things like that from his kids? That’s so fucked up! And ties to ‘home grown terrorism?’ seriously? I need answers from him, that’s for sure.”
I knew how she felt. I just learned that everything I suffered, everything that’s happened to me, it’s all because of one man. A man who lives by his own rules and doesn’t have much compunction when it comes to killing. Sound familiar? Now I know where I recognized him from. Is that what I’ll be like when I’m that age? Full of malice and completely without morals? No. Hell no. I have time. I can change. I won’t become him. Not if I can help it. What about Amy? Does she see it as easily as I do? I wish she wouldn’t, but she’s smart. She’ll make the connection. I just hope I can convince her I’m not him. Yeah, me and my knuckles I broke beating a man to death. Really convincing. “Amy, I know you see it as well as I do: me and your father. We’re too much alike. But I don’t ever want to be that man. I don’t want to kill without hesitation. I need a conscience, but mine’s all fucked up. I need your help. I need to know that you won’t give up on me.”
She turned and smiled; a smile full of hope and solemn concern all at once. “Ryan, if even half this stuff is true, then you’re already a better man than my father is. I watched you fight through incredible pain to help a woman you didn’t know. You gave away a fortune to a family without a second thought. I agree that you could take you violence down a notch or two, but that’s something you can fix when you’re done fighting. For now, let’s just survive your last mission. Ok?”
I just smiled and threw my hands up. I was definitely the more pessimistic of the two of us. She immediately saw the best in me, in the world; I can’t help but see the darkness, the depravity that permeates everything and twists the good into something unrecognizable. We were raised in two very different worlds, and those worlds are all we see anymore. Can that ever change? Could I see the world she sees?
We arrived at the New York star port and immediately I knew something had happened. Security was running everywhere; people were being hurried through checkpoints and nearly shoved out of the doors while military personnel set up cordons. Pure chaos. Macintosh was an artist, fear and death his medium, chaos his brush. He knew how to create a scene in his absence and revel in it. Judging by the fresh terror on the security guard’s face, he wasn’t far ahead of us. This was just to slow us down. Damn it. I grabbed Amy by the hand and led her toward the exit. I didn’t need her seeing what had happened. I caught a glimpse of the bodies as I left; two women, barely out of their twenties, carved with surgical precision and cold detachment. They suffered before they died, but no one had seen it; he must have done it somewhere else and brought the bodies there. Sick bastard. I tried to push the anger down, store it for later when I could use it; it would only cloud my judgment without an outlet. We looked around for any sign of Macintosh; his was the kind of sickness that gave him a macabre fascination with his own work. I think he just got his rocks off on seeing what he had done. Either way, he would stick around. At least until he saw me. We had precious few seconds to locate him before he ran, and the crowd made that impossible. We needed a view. I ran for a hover bike nearby, overriding its altitude controls with what limited authority my title still held, and took off. I reached about 30 feet in the air, the maximum safe altitude before I reached the sky lanes, before searching the ground. I saw a few dozen people walking away from the scene, but I couldn’t pinpoint Macintosh. I’d need access to the security cameras in the area for that, so I went down to the nearest hard link station to access the security cameras, but even with powerful facial recognition it would take a while. Amy found me again and we stood there powerless, waiting for the computer to get a hit. After an eternity of silence the computer beeped, indicating it had found something. Macintosh’s face appeared in front of me along with a red dot on the overlay of New York City. I transferred the data to my PDA and used the HUD interface to show his location overlaid on my vision. Nearly everyone had a PDA, and all come with an interface tech to make control of the computer easy to use on the move. I preferred the least invasive, a simple implant in the cortex tied into the visual center that can create a high definition image and read neural signals as controls. Macintosh’s last location appeared as a red dot on my vision, about the size of a pin but growing. That’s how I knew we were getting closer. Since I had created a secure hard link with the security system to verify my credentials, I now received updates from the cameras directly. I saw the red dot jump around as he left the view of one camera and entered the view of another; he was moving, but slowly. Deliberately. We had no such limitations.

I had alerted local law enforcement the instant I knew where he was, but in a city of 50 million it was damn near impossible to get anyone to respond. I did receive assistance, though, in the form of a police drone. It quickly found Macintosh, and sent me video of him walking through the city as fast as he could without drawing attention. He knew we were on to him, and his only hope now was to duck into a building where the drone couldn’t chase. But one check of the drone’s model number and I smiled. It was a multifunction drone, and could navigate inside a building as easily as he could. He quickly ducked into an alleyway, hoping to escape the drone’s line of sight. It didn’t matter. I was mere meters behind him now, gasping for breath as I drew every ounce of my strength to chase him down. I turned the corner ten seconds after he did, but the drone was already there; problem was, Macintosh wasn’t. He had disappeared right in front of the camera. I reviewed the video to double check, but there was no mistaking. He was gone.

I looked everywhere, but found nothing. After five minutes of searching I kicked a trash can in frustration. Amy walked up and put her hand on my shoulder, but it wasn’t very comforting. I had let him get away. I set the city’s security software to be extra sensitive; I didn’t want some technical glitch throwing away an opportunity. I sat down in the street, defeated. I knew he could avoid ever being seen again, if he wanted to. This was a city filled with people who knew how to make someone disappear. Not to mention he apparently had some optical camouflage tech, likely “borrowed” from the military. from the military. Just great. I knew Amy wouldn’t much approve, but I pulled out a cigarette and lit it. I felt the smoke burn as it poured down my throat; a welcome feeling of warmth in a cold world; something I could count on, no matter what. Maybe I can count on more. Amy’s not totally useless, and she seems to have something. Maybe happiness is the key; fake it, and I might be able to get through this job. Right. She’s interesting, but not exactly suited for this work. This work is bloody and dark, and never kind; murder claims many lives, not just the victims. Hell, they get off easy. They get to leave. I don’t know if there’s a life beyond, but whatever is there is a hell of a lot better than here. Oblivion, or suffering? Not exactly a win-win. I dragged the last of the cigarette, feeling the last burn like a bittersweet goodbye. Amy looked at me with her trademark disdain; I didn’t care. I knew what would come next; Macintosh would claim another victim, another soul who didn’t deserve it. And I can’t do a damn thing. So yeah, I’ll smoke if I damn well please. My head in my hands, I just started thinking as hard as I could. Figuring out how he would work. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a particular pattern. He seems to enjoy picking his target at whatever location he found suitable. The pathologist said that it was a trait of a pure psychopath that made him so erratic; many serial killers picked their targets carefully, considered every part of their life and usually picked otherwise insignificant aspects of their victims lives to focus on and obsess about. Macintosh killed for the pure pleasure of it, and didn’t care who it was. Maybe someone who looked at him funny, or someone who was out walking on a nice day. It didn’t matter to him. He just killed when he needed to – or worse – wanted to. He deserved to die.

I felt a hand on my shoulder, and looked up to see Amy standing over me, looking worried as ever. I forced a smile and stood up, shaking off my jacket and fixing my hat. She reached over and wiped some dirt of my sleeve, then grabbed it in both hands and wouldn’t let go.

“Promise me something.”

I rubbed my forehead. I hated having to promise things that I probably couldn’t do. So many people want so many things. I can’t do it all. Hell, I can’t do half of what they think I can. But if she wanted a promise, maybe she’d be realistic. Hah. “What’s that? Save the Coalition? Bring someone back to life? Give you the secrets of the universe? Sorry. I’m fresh out of miracles. But if you need a few credits and some whiskey, I’ve got just what you need.”

She looked at the ground, considered her response, and said, “No. I won’t ask you to anything you can’t do. And God knows I don’t have time to go through that whole list. Just promise me you won’t lose your soul. Promise me that you’ll still be the same guy who rescued me a week ago. That is a man I’m proud of knowing; not the depressed defeatist that can’t even go a day without a cigarette. This guy is a sniveling punk and I want to hit him. So just quit. Quit your whining, and your self-pity. Because it’s worse than useless. It’s holding you back.”

I straightened up, surprised to hear her say it, even though I knew it was true. “You’re right. I’m being completely selfish. Macintosh is going to kill someone else if we don’t stop him. I guess I’m just not as smart as you,” I said with a smile. She was right, but I wasn’t going to say it. When she smiled with satisfaction, knowing she’d won that round, I leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. She hugged my arm, putting her arm through mine and dragging me back to the main street and the trail of a killer.

We didn’t know where to go from there; we knew he had just turned invisible, and probably could at will. The military made some top of the line camouflage hardware, but they apparently couldn’t keep a very good hold of it. We could hope Macintosh didn’t have a replacement for the specialized batteries that the military used; total camouflage was still a fairly new technology for personnel, and even the high-capacity, nano-cell batteries the military produced weren’t perfect. They had high energy density, but the power needs of that suit would drain those batteries in a few hours of constant use. He would have to go visible soon. And when he appeared out of nowhere, someone might see him. There aren’t many places in New York where somebody could just appear and not draw attention to himself, especially not when I had every camera in the city looking for him.

It had just started raining when we made it to the nearest hotel inside the city. We both knew people in New York; me, a few military buddies and one old friend from the militia; her, a few “confidential sources” and an old family friend. Anyone who knew her father was likely to be a dangerous guy, but I’d take help from anyone to get to Macintosh. Except maybe Jean Devereux...

“Hey. Ryan. What is it?” Amy was looking at me, concern in her eyes.

“Well, I’d like to know what the hell’s going on. This guy has connections for a serial killer. He’s got military technology that even the black market dealers have a hard time getting their hands on. He gets new identities and loads of credits whenever he needs them, and his name is hardly common knowledge even though he’s one of the most prolific killers in recent history. This guy’s either supremely lucky, or he’s got some serious help. An accomplice with some connections himself. And I can only think of one name that fits that profile.”

Amy looked confused for a minute, and then it came to her. “No. My father may be many things, but I don’t think he’s working with a serial killer. No way. That’s a whole different level of sick. I know what you think of my father, and I sure as hell am not going to defend him, but this is different. You need proof. Let’s find Macintosh and we’ll get all the answers we need from him. If it’s my father, he’ll answer for it. And he’ll pay. But not until we know what’s going on, and not until we’ve got concrete evidence to present the UTC Attorneys. They won’t arrest a councilman on suspicion. So come on, let’s find Macintosh.”

I rubbed my eyes, thinking of who might have the information I need. Thomas? No, he’s run as far from the military as he can. Maybe Kelley? He’s a lifer; he might have the connections to find out where the missing tech came from and who took it. Ok. Kelley first. “I’ve got an idea of someone I can contact. He’s a colonel, an R&D liaison for SOCOM. He should be able to track the gear that’s missing.”

She pondered for a second, and replied. “Sure. I can get in touch with a few people here. People who may know where Macintosh will go, or how he got the resources he has. I’ll ask around. But it’s the middle of the night. We need to sleep and tackle it in the morning. Come on.” She dragged me inside the nearest hotel to the front desk. “Hi, I’m Amy Devereux, and this is my associate. We need a room for the night, two bed suite. Oh, and we’re going to need some extra security, if it can be arranged.”

The man at the front desk responded immediately to her name. The daughter of America’s senior councilman was a high profile client indeed. He probably thought I was a bodyguard or something. Whatever. We got what we needed: a suite with a heavy door and security bolts, and damn near bomb-proof windows made of half-inch transparent aluminum and crystal lattice. We’d be fine in case Macintosh decided to come after us in the middle of the night. I slipped out of my clothes and climbed into bed. I heard Amy say something about first thing in the morning we had to blah blah blah... I was unconscious before my head hit the pillow. I couldn’t sleep, not knowing Macintosh was walking around stalking a victim, or just killing someone for the hell of it. I sat in bed, staring out the window. There were way too many buildings for moonlight to get through to the window, but I still stared at the blackness, hoping for a sliver of moonlight to illuminate the world, let me see what she saw. I got nothing. Just the lights from the city, neon colors of red and blue and green. I looked around the room, my eyes adjusting to the darkness. Amy’s bed was empty, like it had never been slept in. I hopped out of bed and grabbed my shirt off the chair, when I nearly tripped over Amy’s body on the floor. I reached down to see if she was alright when she reached up and grabbed my arm.

“Hey. What are you doing down there?” I asked.

“I can’t sleep on the bed. I paid for it with the money my dad set aside for me, and every time I went to lie down I saw blood. The blood of your parents, I think. The thought of that money giving me a comfortable night sleep disgusted me, so I slept on the floor instead. I’d sleep on the street if I thought it would help. I still can’t sleep in here, though. Too many voices. Too much pain. It’s like the room is saturated with the blood and tears of everyone my father hurt, and the ones whose lives he ruined.” She started sobbing quietly; as quietly as she could and as openly as her pride let her. I pulled her up to her feet, pulled on the shirt, and helped her into her bed.

“Listen. That’s my burden. Those memories are mine, not yours. You have good memories of your father; memories of a man who loved and cherished you. A man who made sure you never wanted for anything. He may not have been a great man, but he was a good father to you. Cling to those memories, and don’t let anyone tell you different. Now, go to sleep before I have to make you.”

In the fading light from the city going into “night time,” I saw a smile cross her face as she lay down and closed her eyes. For the second time in a day I kissed her forehead, and then pulled the blankets up to her shoulders. I went back to bed, and lay there until I heard her start snoring. Damn, that woman can snore. The last thing I remember was thinking that she wasn’t so terrible a person, and that she wasn’t always optimistic. So if she could overcome her natural distrust and unforgiving nature, why couldn’t I?

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