The Last Marshal

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Chapter 9

We went down to ground level, partly to see Macintosh’s body – or what was left of it. I saw a few police and medical vehicles gathered around, with cops and paramedics and a coroner gathered around a body. I walked up and identified myself, and they let me through. There he was, a body on the pavement. Lifeless. I was content, but certainly not happy. Amy stayed with me the whole time, asking questions and interviewing cops, like a good journalist does. The coroner had picked up the body and was loading it into his vehicle when I stopped him. “You mind if I check? I know it’s him, but I just want to make sure. I’ll sleep better.”

The coroner, a short balding man with a dark complexion, smiled up at me. “You’re the Marshal, aren’t you? The last one, huh? Yeah, sure. Take a look. The galaxy’s most notorious killer, all wrapped up.”

He pulled the bag open, and there I saw Macintosh, eyes open and his body looking like it had been crushed and then reformed one too many times. People don’t explode when they hit the ground. They generally stay in nice neat sacks of skin. But the insides are always just a liquefied mess, the impact turning bones and organs to a bloody soup. Satisfied, I told the coroner to close the bag again, and I made my way back to Amy. She was just finishing an interview with a police officer when I put my hand on her shoulder. She thanked the officer for his time, and turned to smile at me. It wasn’t a smile of barely contained frustration, or a mask to hide her sadness this time. It was real. It made her face light up and her voice couldn’t help but bubble with excitement.

“He’s dead. You got your man and I got the makings of a great story. Looks like we both came away winners, huh? So, when are we going to go after the guys who made the bomb?”

“That’s going to be tricky. We have to let the police with all their equipment identify it and trace its origins, if possible. But I’m just a Marshal without a target now. I won’t be allowed anywhere near the case.”

“Well, I can get what we need. And you should ask the Minister of Security to let you in on the case. Surely he has that kind of sway.”

I pondered it for a moment. “Yeah, he might. But if he asks why, what am I going to say? I’m looking into a possible connection to the man who pays your salary? He won’t like it, and without a good reason I won’t be allowed within a mile of this case.”

“Hmmm… You could try throwing your new found celebrity around. Tell them that you have a connection to the case, and that you want to work one more case before retiring.”

None of my options were very good. I wanted to get to the truth as fast as I could, but no one would let me near the case without good reason. And investigating a councilman who is by all respects an upstanding citizen is not one of them. I needed to bring him down, but I couldn’t just walk into his office and arrest him; he was too important, too powerful. I needed a damn good reason to investigate him. I was thinking about it when Amy, head hanging, offered me just what I needed.

“Here. I thought you might be able to use this. I captured some audio before Macintosh killed himself.”

I transferred the file to my PDA and played it. It was Macintosh’s confession that he set off the bomb, and that he was paid by someone to kill the Marshals. This would be just what I needed to get myself on the case, if the Minister was feeling at all generous. I thanked Amy, then pulled up the Minister’s ID and called him. He answered in an annoyed, hurrying tone. “What is it, Darrow? What do you want?”

I knew it wasn’t going be easy, but damn he was in a bad mood. “Sir, I have evidence that Macintosh was working with an anarchist group, and they’re the ones who blew up the terminal in the Exchange building.” I transferred the file to him, and waited while he listened to it.

“Darrow. This is not good. If he was working with someone else to finish off the Marshals, it must have been someone who really, really wanted them dead. I’m not talking a crime boss or something here; I’m talking about someone in a position of authority who thought the Marshals’ autonomy might get in the way. Someone who wanted control. I won’t say more over a comm link, unless you can get to a QE communicator nearby. There should be one in the Exchange building, which is now empty. Call me when you get to one.”

Knowing how paranoid the Minister could be, I knew he didn’t just tell anyone who could be listening where I would go. He was smarter than that, and he was counting on me to be smart. I thought of where the nearest QED comm station was that wasn’t in the Exchange. I pinpointed one using a basic guidebook program for New York City. One block east and three blocks north, in the Swiss Bank. Perfect. I just had to convince them I needed it. I started walking in that general direction; deliberate, but slow. If anyone was watching me, they’d be looking for suspicious behavior, and would follow me to the bank. I put my arm around Amy to guide her without looking like I was pulling her in a specific direction. Once I reached the bank I went inside and asked for the manager. The bank was a relatively small building; only about 120 stories tall and 200 meters across. It was a specialized building, specifically for the supremely wealthy of NYC to keep their vast physical fortunes. After a few minute wait the manager walked up and escorted me to their comm room. I locked the doors behind us, put up a security screen, and dialed in the Minister’s ID. Since QEC only worked between fixed points, the call still had to be routed through a few stations; but I made sure they were secure comm links before I said anything. “Hello, Minister. This is Darrow.”

The screen flashed on, and a haggard, angry face popped on the screen. It definitely wasn’t the Minister. I barely recognized Lieutenant Minister Johnson for a second, then as he centered the camera on his face I knew right away. The Minister was nowhere to be seen. “Oh, Darrow. Hello. What do you want?”

“I want to talk to the Minister of Security, if that’s alright with you.”

“No, it’s not. Listen, we just had a few security personnel come in and arrest the Minister for treason and espionage against the Coalition. He had the skills and the resources, that’s for sure. I’m just shocked it was him that did it.”

Judging by his face, shock was the last thing on his mind. He was annoyed, but satisfied and feeling quite good about himself. If that Russian bastard was right, this guy was as dirty as they come. And there’s a good chance he’s working directly with Jean Devereux. How’d they make up dirt on the Minister so fast? It’s not like he’s a dirty politician. He’s been the Security Minister for 15 years, and has overseen hundreds of police and Secret Service operations. They obviously fabricated enough to warrant an arrest, but still… That’s brazen. Devereux is trying to centralize his power. It’s why he dismantled the Marshals, and why he had the Minister arrested. And there’s no way the new acting Minister would allow me to investigate this bombing. He wanted me as far away as possible.

“Darrow, your man is dead. You need to make your report directly to me in person, then we can sort out your retirement. You don’t need to worry about this anarchist group; the Secret Service is handling it.”

“Sir, the Secret Service don’t know what I know, and they don’t know this case like I do. Give me a week to do all the digging I can, then I’ll report in. But I want to make sure this is handled properly so we don’t have another terrorist attack on our hands.”

Johnson looked frustrated, but he knew me. He knew I’d do everything I could, and he’d rather have me acting under his supervision than on my own. “Sorry, Darrow, but I can only give you three days. Then I want you at my desk, telling me everything. Three days, Darrow. No more.”

“Thank you, sir. You won’t regret it.” Well, he probably would. But I couldn’t have him knowing that. Besides, I still needed someone to sift through all the data from that Luna mobster’s hideout. I needed proof of Johnson’s corruption, and I would have an easier time getting it as a Marshal than as a civilian. I ended the call and left the bank. I didn’t know anyone in New York, especially not someone who could sift through petabytes of data in a few minutes. I turned to Amy and asked her. “Do you know anyone who could go through all the data I recovered at the mob’s hideout on Luna? I need proof that they were tied to Johnson directly, but I’ve got nothing. I need someone who can look through it quickly.”

Amy thought hard for a moment, her eyes getting that distant stare they have when she’s lost in thought. “Yeah, I might know a guy. A real pain in the neck, but he’s got the skills. I’ll give him a call.”

“Thanks. I need to start investigating this anarchist group. I’ve got a year’s worth of work to do and only three days to do it in. I need to find the lead forensic analyst on this case, and see what he was able to find.”

We walked back to the crime scene to talk to the officer in charge. He was a detective, a rotund man by the name of Steve Gorrin. Usually a detective in the nicest area of a rich city wouldn’t know much about crime, but Gorrin was alright. He worked his way up in the outer districts, dealing with addicts, crime bosses and murderers all day. He knew criminals almost as well as I did, and he was itching to get his hands on whoever killed a dozen people in his precinct. Amy said that based on her interview she did with him, he was sharp as a tack. I needed someone like that to help me. “Detective Gorrin?”

Gorrin looked up, and got a real annoyed look on his face when he saw me. “Yeah? Oh, hey. You’re that Marshal guy, right? The one who killed David Macintosh?”

“I am. And now I’m looking into his associates, the ones who planted the bomb. I think they’re the same group that’s been causing trouble everywhere. There have been two bombings on Earth in the last week, and several more all over the galaxy. We need to find them, quick.”

He turned back to look at the rubble that had fallen to the ground. There were lab techs climbing all over it, testing the surfaces for residue and remains of the victims. “The body count’s officially at fifteen, but there’s still nearly a dozen people unaccounted for. You were there, right? You saw the bomb go off?”

I flashed back to the last thing I saw before I turned away: a device, no larger than a small suitcase, attached to one of the walls. I remember seeing a woman’s eyes go wide as she realized what was happening, then seeing her and 20 more people get vaporized in a split second. I would be dead too if it weren’t for Amy recognizing what it was, and my coat helping to absorb the blast. “Yeah, I was there. I saw at least twenty people get blown to dust. It was a binary explosive; people like that love them. Plenty of destruction, and damned hard to trace. I’d be able to tell your guys just what it looked like if I had a reference.”

“Sure. Talk to the lead tech. He’s the one in the green jumpsuit over there. He’ll be able to run you through some pictures, maybe identify the device they used. In the meantime, please do whatever you need to help out. We need a lot more help if we’re going to stop these bastards before they kill more people.”

“I’ll do that detective, don’t worry. I’m being retired soon, and I don’t want to leave the job half finished.”

Gorrin raised an eyebrow. “‘Being retired’? What the hell does that mean? You don’t have a choice in the matter? I heard they got rid of the Marshals, but you had to have a say in whether you quit.”

“Not really. They just told me that I had to finish the case I was working on and then I’d be forcibly retired. I’d have my pick of jobs in any security field when I was out… blah blah blah. All I know is that I’m being forced out of my chosen profession because someone doesn’t like that I work semi-autonomously. Politics. But right now I’ve got a job to do. I’ll talk to you if I come up with something.”

I shook his hand and ran to the tech guys’ tent. The lead tech seemed to be deep in thought when I caught up with him, but he snapped out of it when I approached him. “Hey, doc. I’m Marshal Darrow and this is Amy Devereux. We’re looking into the bombing, and we were wondering what you could tell us about the explosives used. Also, we were both present when the bomb exploded, and got a decent look at it. Some kind of binary explosive; the device was the size of a small comm relay.”

He looked surprised and happy all of a sudden. “A binary compound you say? Then it makes sense… The residue we found on the debris is indicative of a very basic thermite mixture and some kind of propellant. The resulting blast would melt through almost anything; not surprising given the amount and state of debris left on the ground. Unfortunately, thermite is very easy to make and even easier to transport. It won’t go off unless you heat it to an incredible temperature. The propellant appears to be military grade explosives from the early 23rd century. It can only be found on the black market, and it was almost all disposed of when the military switched to smart-cell nanoclusters for their explosives. The only helpful thing I can tell you is that the explosive was almost definitely from Earth. Explosives from that time were notoriously bad in a reduced gravity environment, since they separated and became more volatile. Unless they used a pressurized container, which would almost certainly show up in a customs check, they couldn’t take it on a ship. Unless of course they had a powerful enough ship with high-end gravity plates… But those are so hard to come by outside the military or megacorporations’ private transports. I’d be willing to bet money that it was purchased here.”

“Thanks, doc. You’ve been very helpful. I’ll try to see what I can track down about black market dealers in the area. I’m sure I can get one of them to cough up a name or two.”

“Good luck Marshal. Wouldn’t want the last Marshal alive to end up dead, now would we? Be careful out there.”

I left the tent with Amy, looking around at the city before me that was so foreign and yet so much like home. Murders and other violent crimes were not exactly common in NYC proper, but so called “white collar” crimes were the norm. Backstabbing, corporate espionage, and fraud were all too common. The sins were different, but the city was no more a beacon of hope than the slums. The strong oppressed the weak, no matter where you went. Just because someone has billions of credits doesn’t mean they’re suddenly less a victim than someone with nothing. They just have different weaknesses. I went back to detective Gorrin, who looked about ready to kill someone. “Detective. I think I may have a lead, but I don’t know how far I’ll be able to take it.” I pulled out a cigarette and offered him one, and he gladly took it. I lit it up, then lit my own. Amy looked annoyed, but less so than usual. “The tech was able to determine the propellant. Black market explosives, hard to come by without a lot of money and connections. You know anyone that can help?”

“Yeah, a sniveling little weasel of a man, goes by the alias Ferret. Always says he can find anything. I’ve used him a few times in the past, when I need to find something that isn’t strictly on the normal circuit of information, if you know what I mean. He’s smart, but he spends all his time with junkies and gamblers. You can find him outside the gate, in the Rockwood district. There’s an old casino there, the Lonely Hearts Club. Real original, I know. Owner wouldn’t know inspiration if it kicked him in his stones.”

I laughed and put out the cigarette, tossing the remains into my portable ashtray. Or tin can. Whatever it was, it’s an ashtray now. I looked down at it, the reminder of the slums where I used to live. It had old Brazilian Portuguese on it, from the days when Earth still had hundreds of languages in common use. It was as old as anything I’ve ever seen, but it works fine. The cities don’t take too kindly to smoking, even though all the danger has been taken out of them. Unclean, they call it. I call that irony.

Amy and I walked down to the taxi stop and caught a taxi to the Northwest city gate. Rockwood was hardly the worst of the outer districts; its denizens were mostly the former middle-class, now just considered the “not good enough.” The taxi dropped us off at the main part of town, as far as he’d take us. Most of the city types were afraid of the outlying districts. Their parents told them horror stories about how the slums were basically a murdering spree on every corner, and dangerous junkies in every alleyway. It wasn’t true. The worst slums, the kind I grew up in, were bad. But even there, thanks to the San Martelos Militia, life was fairly safe. The militia didn’t take kindly to murderers, or rapists, or thieves. Since we couldn’t operate any prisons, most punishments were brutal and swift. Stealing? Forty lashes for that one. Rape? Castration followed by a beating, usually by the victim. Murder? Shot in the head. We didn’t tolerate killing. Brutal? Hell yes. But we didn’t have much of a choice, and it kept crime quite low where we operated. Not all slums are that bad; some, like Rockwood, were just filled with people who didn’t quite qualify for life in the city. They couldn’t afford the taxes. So they lived in the districts outside, and many preferred it. Life was simple, and quite liberating. Taxes were low, and only based on community need; food was grown in hydroponic gardens that filled skyscrapers; and most work was heavy manual labor, but no one complained. Many people even left to live in the city once they made enough money. Some, though, chose to stay behind even when they made enough money. James Harrison was the owner of the Lonely Hearts, and though he couldn’t name things worth a damn, he was a fairly competent business man. We found the Lonely Hearts fairly quickly; it was a garish building in a town without much excess; bright neon and colorful plants everywhere.

The building wasn’t quite like I expected. It was fairly modest, compared to the outside all dressed up in neon strips of rainbow colors and plants lining the walkways. The interior was filled with bright lights and muted tans and whites. Very simple, very clean. The waitresses were gorgeous; likely some of the most beautiful women the district had. The tables, all new, were made of metal and false woods; real wood was incredibly expensive in the city, let alone in the outlying areas. There were people everywhere, and not just the relatively wealthy. People of all kinds were playing poker, blackjack, and shooting craps. It was fascinating and optimistic at the same time. Amy seemed to love it; she ran around, looking at everything and everyone with a grin and a gleam in her eye. I looked around for Ferret, hoping to spot him at one of the tables, or at the bar. I saw a few people just standing around chatting, and more than a few looked my way as I walked in. I was the Marshal to them, the last of a long line of their worst enemies. I didn’t care. Not right then. There could have been a bloody brawl involving half a dozen men armed with knives, and unless I thought one was Ferret I doubt I would have done a damn thing. One thing you learn about violence as a militiaman: people are violent. People will hurt and kill people. You just had to know when to stop it and when to leave it be. I walked up to the bar and asked the bartender if he knew a guy name Ferret.

“N-n-no… Marshal… I don’t. Now please, leave me alone unless you want something to drink. I don’t know anything.”

When people say they don’t know something, especially when accompanied with eyes darting more than a hummingbird on sties, they know something. I didn’t really want to make the guy’s life more difficult, but I needed information. “Listen; I need a face to put to a name, and I need it now. People died today, and more are going to die if you don’t tell me what I want to know. I won’t make it difficult for you if you tell me, but I can bring you in for obstructing an investigation if you don’t tell me what I need to know.”

I could see the guy’s fight or flight mechanism kicking in, and I didn’t want any of it. I reached across the bar, grabbed the bartender, and pulled him back across. His body hit the floor with a loud thud and I put my knee into his chest. Everyone was watching now, seeing what would happen to the poor bastard. I leaned in real close, and whispered, “Now, just tell me where he is, and I won’t hurt you any more than I already have. No one has to know. Just tell me where he is.”

The bartender gave up struggling and went limp. “He’s by the poker table. High rollers. Brown jacket, bleach blond hair, and face only a mother could love. Now please, let me go.”

I pulled him to his feet and patted his shoulders, knocking off some dust as I did. He ran back to the bar and started nervously taking drink orders, making sure no one heard him rat out Ferret. I was a little worried he’d get beaten for talking, but I was more concerned with Ferret at the moment. Scanning the poker tables, I found Ferret sitting at the one with the richest looking people. He was smiling and laughing, the whole time keeping one eye on his surroundings. He was nervous, all the time it seemed. His pulse was visible from across the room. Stims. What an idiot. More than one stim use a week could have horrible side effects: paranoia, insomnia, itching, heart troubles, and a whole slew of immune problems. This guy looked like he had one of everything. Which made him incredibly dangerous if backed into a corner. I wanted to ask him a few things, not make him stroke out or start getting violent. Apparently Amy, who had been watching the whole time, saw what I saw. “I’ll play a few hands, loosen him up. See if I can get him to leave with me.”

I didn’t like the idea, but it was probably the best one we had. If I got within ten feet of him, he’d bolt through the back door – or worse, attack someone out of sheer mania. I turned to walk out, leaned in and whispered “Be careful. I can’t have you dying on me yet.”

She smiled, let her hair down, and walked as confidently as possible to the table. I was outside before the game even started, so I can’t say exactly what happened. Only that after ten or fifteen excruciating minutes did I see Amy walk out of the club with Ferret following like a puppy expecting a steak. When she got far enough away from the club, she stopped, and waited for me. Ferret nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw me, but he was more worried, I think, than fierce. I put my hands up in a show of peace, and just started talking. “You’re Ferret, right? I need your help with something, and I’m willing to pay handsomely for it.”

“What is it, Marshal? Or did you think I wouldn’t notice you?”

I laughed. Apparently I was famous. “I figured you would. A man like yourself can’t afford not knowing. That’s why I came to you first. I’m looking for someone. They bought something you can’t get on the open market. I was told you could help find out who they bought it from.”

Ferret considered this for a few seconds, then put his hand over his heart in a gesture of trustworthiness. “I will help you, because I am a businessman and an upstanding citizen. Just tell me what they bought and I’ll tell you who sold it. For a price, that is.”

Amy smiled and pulled out a pad. She typed some numbers into it, and showed it to Ferret, who looked like he had just found a gold mine. “How’s this?” She asked. “Forty percent up front, and sixty when you come through. If you figure out how to make it easier for us, I’ll throw in another ten percent.”

“Sure! I can tell you who sold it, where they are, and who they sold it to for the right price! I know everything. I’m a bit of an information broker. I deal almost exclusively in information. That’s why I hang out with gamblers, alcoholics and junkies. They know a lot, and have no self control. They’ll tell me anything. And the gamblers, man, they will bet anything if they think they can win.”

“Some radical anarchists, the ones behind the bombing this morning, bought some early 23rd Century military-grade explosives. The binary kind. We need to know who they are.”

Ferret looked like someone had just killed his dog. “Wow. That… that’s harder to get. There are only two sellers I know who have that, and they wouldn’t give it up for just anyone. They’re pricey as hell. But as far as who they sold it to, I don’t know. But I can tell you where they are. You won’t be happy about it, though. They don’t have... offices... here on Earth. One is on Threed, the jungle world, and the other is in the middle of nowhere. Like, Ludd Prime, nowhere. Don’t know why he wanted a desert planet, but I guess it’s secure. No one else would live there on purpose.”

“That’s impossible. These people, they would have had to buy it here. It’s damn near impossible to transport. Besides, how would he transport anything off Ludd?”

“These dealers know how to operate. They’d be able to make it safe to transport and near invisible. And I didn’t say their weapons were on Ludd, just the dealer. Something about using light pulses from the atmosphere to communicate with ships. I just don’t know which one sold it.”

Damn. That was going to make things damn near impossible. Ludd prime was a desert world in the outer rim of the galaxy, and it was certainly not an easy place to get to. It was named after the Luddites, a group of technophobic builders and artisans who thought that technology would do irreparable harm to the economy of the world and should be shunned. The people who live there aren’t actually Luddites, and the official name of the planet was T-317, but Ludd Prime stuck. The first planet in a three planet system, it has an unusually strongly ionized atmosphere that messes with most forms of electronics; since technology didn’t work well there, landing on Ludd was rare since taking off wasn’t a sure thing. The Luddites as they were known by the rest of the galaxy moved there to keep away from modern technology as much as possible, relying on older simple machines and human-powered techniques. Little has been heard of about the planet since. Threed was almost as remote. A jungle world, Threed has a population of around 10 billion inhabitants, with only about 500 humans. The jungle has several layers, with trees stretching nearly a thousand feet high, and very little ocean. The planet is about 75% land, with nearly 95% of that covered by jungle. The oceans only take up about 15%, with the rest being rivers and lakes. It is incredibly humid; never dropping below 90% saturation except during the relatively arid summers, when it can dip down to about 80%. The human population has been there for about 10 years; an expedition to open relations with and study the native species. Both planets were remote, troublesome, and incredibly dangerous. Though I underestimated just how dangerous they could be.

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