Ghosts

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Chapter 10 – “Revisiting the past”.

Drake Black’s ship docked up back at the Copperhead hangar. Grabbing his routine overnight travel bag, prepared in case the ship needed repairs whilst at his last destination, he vacated the craft leaving it to the docking crew to do routine maintenance and engineering checks. Junior awaited him with a pained look on his face.

‘I think you should come to my office. There’s something you need to see.’ The office door was closed with a wild swing of Junior’s hand, and the holo-screen was switched on.

‘The news, more specifically that Lynette de Cesare did an interview with Georgi Balev earlier today. It was torture to watch. We’re now public enemy number one.’

‘Weren’t we always?’

‘Nope, the Dead were.’

‘Right, so we’ve overtaken them in Balev’s eyes? No problem. We knew he hated us.’

‘Yer, but it seems his comments have poisoned public opinion. An attack in the Druid’s Rift killed a tragic amount of people.’

‘I heard that. The Dead are evil. We all knew that. It was wrong.’

‘That was us, according to Balev. And now the public think it was us,’ Junior Willenhall stated angrily.

‘Nobody believes that.’

‘Right now, everybody believes that. I’ve been told we have had to issue a public denial. This is the first time in years that we have had to go public on anything. We do not go public. There was enough concern there to raise a response. It’ll go out to all channels tonight. The PR machine will be active for once. We never did it. I doubt much will change. If people think we are killers why would they think we would not lie. We will declare facts and facts only and challenge the Balev statement. We will also cast doubts on Balev’s own credibility. I don’t know what will be said nor do I really want to. It is our job to ensure that our crew understand why we are doing this and that we are not telling lies about Balev. We all know he is scum and a lying snake, but the truth might be more revealing. I cannot say more, I can say you need to watch our report and side with it. That’s our job. That is our path today; on this mission we have been given. The people need someone like us.’

‘Yer, our people know that, Junior.’

‘Let’s keep it that way. We are not cold-blooded killers.’

‘Neither is Balev.’

‘Yer, we’ll see.’

‘The med centre needs more medicine. The Dead did a lot of damage. Assuming that they don’t decline it believing it was us that did the damage, we might do well by delivering more, if we have any?’

‘We don’t, but I know a man that does. And he is now priority three.’

‘Priority three? I don’t need to ask the higher priorities? So, what happens now?’

‘We attack CEOL, just CEOL. That’s my orders as always and that is what I will do. Attack, attack, attack and then do what we can with what we get. Use it, fence it, and redistribute it, the usual. It’s open season on CEOL and the Dead. Tell the pilots to expect trouble running into them when we haven’t planned on it. All ships must have new ID’s, and every pilot needs extra training to make sure they can respond to ID checks from anyone who asks. They need to know when to talk and what to say. Say as little as possible, be good and polite, and act like every other pilot across the void. Lastly, they need to know how to run, when to run, and when to lie low. We are not to lose a freighter and more importantly a pilot. That is priority one.’

Angelo da Silva coded the security clearance code into the door keypad. The code had been sent by Commander Zylinski. Upon entering the building a man in a blue suit strolled up to him from fifty yards away. The foyer of the building was all white with pristine white large floor tiles. At each end of the empty space a single door awaited, and a statue of a nobleman bowing down towards the front entrance rested in the centre of the room.

Angelo da Silva looked at the security man evaluating the threat. It didn’t take him more than seconds to see he was armed more than the usual security personal. Based on the known intel of the building Angelo da Silva was neither surprised nor concerned as he set about walking up to the statue to view it up close.

Made of a rare mineral he had never seen before the rock had a faint glistening quality to it, and pure whiteness even new statues failed to match. A marking indicated its maker but it was unknown to the man in black army fatigues. In the statue’s arms was a sword being laid to the ground on top of a book, possibly considered Angelo da Silva, parchment or scripture? The words were in old forgotten Latin; Angelo da Silva knew he could not immediately translate it.

‘Through the door please,’ a croaky voice directed pointing at the as yet unused door. Angelo da Silva followed the man’s direction into what appeared to be an empty corridor and a lone lift with four floor buttons on its panel. Before he could choose a floor the doors shut and a whirring signalled that the decision was not his.

The elevator rose sharply for several seconds. The door opened silently. Trained to do so, Angelo da Silva looked at the room in front of him searching for threats. An apartment stared back; a huge thirty foot wide window covered the wall directly opposite him, staring straight out into the space beyond. Decoratively and lushly furnished the apartment offered a charm that contrasted dramatically to the empty floor-space below it.

Fauna from different regions spread around the room, covering the three available walls in a kaleidoscope of varying shades of green, the left-sided wall of fauna interrupted by a twenty foot wide fish tank embedded directly into the wall.

Dark green chesterfield chairs sat in a cluster of five, heirlooms passed down generation to generation, from rich to rich. The cracked leather showed little sign of wear and tear, quality that had lasted or had rarely been tested. The man sitting in the furthest one, facing Angelo da Silva was instantly recognisable to him.

Benedict Valon stood up, reached down to a large decanter of whisky and spoke softly.

‘I know the answer, but I will offer it anyway, would you like a drink?’

‘No.’

‘My friend Commander Zylinski arranged for you to see me regarding our pirate curse?’

‘That he did. I’m here to ask for all the records you yourself have on the Dead, Neon One and any other insurgents that we know of. You may have something others don’t. Anything you provide would be great. It’s not exactly easy to find out where to start never mind where to go with the investigation,’ prompted Angelo da Silva.

‘Ahh, who knows where it will end up, though? All sorts of doors may open. I will of course get all the information I can to you. Most of it is publicly available via Government offices due to the Anti-Piracy Tax reform I have submitted for approval. It is heavy reading, several hundred pages or so, but it will give you an insight into the Dead and the others along with a strong headache.’

‘I know more than most and more than I ever thought I needed to on the Dead.’

‘Fought them?’

‘Them and almost every other one, Neon One and a few others are the rare exceptions. Neon One don’t come to fight. They don’t play fair.’

‘Oh, and the Dead do then?’

‘They do yes. If they attack my ship, it’s only fair that they allow me to cane them with missiles.’

‘I see. I suppose that is fair of them. I can’t say many people care for them.’

‘They are like drugged-up rats with rabies.’

‘Nice description of that lot.’

‘Do you honestly think your tax will change the game?’

‘A fighting chance is all the public ask. It will give them that at least.’

‘How do you think the Dead view that tax?’

‘You would be better informed than me.’

‘They wouldn’t give a flying… Fig,’ Angelo da Silva responded changing his sentence at the end in light of his company.

‘I assumed so. It doesn’t concern them if they live or die in a fight. Some sort of martyrdom?’

‘More madness; martyrs believe in their cause, values ethics, and religion, or something.’

‘The Dead have no cause?’

‘They are not martyrs.’

‘My sources told me that you went undercover once, with the Dead? Or the Devil’s Militia?’

‘The words raised an eyebrow on the soldier’s tanned poker-face.’

“Ahah,” thought the politician.

‘Both. It’s not official. Black ops and I have no desire to discuss it.’ The response was more firm than rude.

‘I assure you, I have clearance to all your records, even the psychological report. Zylinski chose you for a reason.’

‘I knew that already.’

‘A man of few words is a wiser man than I. Forgive me but it is my nature and my job to talk much. A pain sometimes but one a politician endures, in my case for the love of the people.’

‘In Poole’s case?’

‘Ego? Greed? Power? Who cares? The man is a fool. Back to you, you undertook a potentially lethal role in the Devil’s Militia investigation years back fuelled by hatred of them.’

Knowing the subject was off-limits to Angelo da Silva, Valon continued. ‘We have something in common. We both lost someone to them. Hell, those bastards took lives of plenty of good folk, not just you and me. Whether we act for revenge or for the protection of others, we act, unlike Poole. You were traumatised by the under-cover stint with the Devil’s Militia, providing valuable resources that prevented massive losses in the war and the time of the bombings, almost acting like a first line of defence, a warning mechanism. It troubled you. The loss of your wife and kids; that too troubled you just like my losses troubled me.’

Angelo da Silva stayed silent, poker-face in place once more, as the politician spoke from memory.

‘You helped unearth their prime home-base, stole a ship, returned home. Months later and as your fine work brought a conclusion closer you consequently fought in the war. Taking out two dozen Devil’s Militia ships, most highly-trained pilots took out a dozen at most. Only three other pilots managed more than the dozen. Two of them died in the line of duty that day. When awarded the highest medal of honours you refused them. Few records show why, but some cite a belief in yourself that you could have done more, a hatred of something dark that happened or you, possibly allowed to happen? I wonder why a man of great pride, honour, war-heroics would be heard to say that he was not honourable.’

No reaction showed on da Silva’s face, the soldier just sat upright in the chesterfield chair, black uniform on posh green leather.

‘You joined a monastery within three months. Two planets down the roster from Halcyon, a quiet place to find a God.’

‘I never lost him,’ interrupted Angelo da Silva calmly. After a few seconds of silence, Benedict Valon took his queue to continue.

‘Your point has been taken on-board. Two years later, the Devil’s Militia no more and with the emergence of a new threat, the Dead, you resurfaced around the same time as the first six months of Dead attacks. A broken arm, a broken ribcage, a punctured lung and deep scars unhidden even now,’ he pointed at the pilot’s tattooed arms.

‘A face bruised and beaten and knife wounds going deep into the knee and elsewhere, stumbling off-board your ship, electronic files stuffed into what looks exactly like the same outfit you wear today, minus the blood. A lot of blood was lost and it’s a miracle you survived; great soldiers have succumbed to less. It was the first time anyone of us saw the tattoo that read “I am Dead”, Mr da Silva.’ Benedict Valon registered the further lack of reaction, looking at his guest’s eyes, before continuing.

‘Words heard but never a body was seen with those inked words. This station you had somehow piloted to, in a beaten ship, blazing fire spreading throughout the interior. Zylinski allowed you to land. Nobody else would have. A dangerous problem is a ship on fire in a docking bay. Attacked we now know by Dead ships who almost took you out to meet your God. You were tortured prior to the flight to what a doctor said was close to death.’ Valon paused to consider how to continue with a sensitive gravity.

‘How did you make it out alive? How did you pilot a rundown ship across that space to this base, almost unconscious? Bleeding to death and with Dead ships hunting you like an animal?’ Knowing the words would not get a response, Valon continued.

‘I wish we had more like you.’ The head dropped solemnly alerting Valon to an internal reaction from the soldier.

‘Tortured close to death, you landed the ship, crawled to the door, collapsed onto the floor in a pool of blood. Several pints of blood, I cannot use the saying close to death enough as it is a vital component of the story. It is not for dramatic purpose nor would either of us use it for such a stale statement. Stranger things have happened, and human strength is hidden until that human is tested by their God.’ Little movement in da Silva’s eyes showed yet more lack of emotion.

‘The documents you passed to Zylinski allowed him to take out what was proven by your intel to be a third of the Dead ships, the remnants of the Devil’s Militia, in one fell swoop. With a base to attack the military did so, and the result was a triumph if rather tragic with the loss of twenty ships and twice as many much-loved crewmembers. It has been suggested that the battle has saved the lives of thousands, and we have seen most recently the Dead attacks in the Druid’s Rift system alone the losses in the last few days. We lost many lives in the battle taken by the Devil’s Militia and the aftermath that were sacrificed for the greater cause, for the people unable to defend themselves - heroes, like yourself who gave their all in battle.’

Angelo’s eyes shut for a second. Valon considered briefly if it meant anything but knew with his guest it was more likely an act of boredom than anything else.

‘Upon return from medical treatment, forced of course to miss out on the attack on the Dead base, which somehow I guess you would have been eager to engage in, you have become a part-time soldier. Crudely some might say a mercenary but that would be rather nasty a term considering your truly heroic actions for the public’s safety. You still live in a monastery, but are involved still in black-op excursions, investigations and have helped not just this base but other stations, organisations and Governments where needed. You will be glad to know that that is all I have on you. So, my first true question is, who did you work for when you went undercover a second time at the Dead base? Knowing the Devil’s Militia and the Dead, you risked it all, were found to be a spy or something, and you were tortured. But who sent you?’

‘I acted alone.’

‘How so?’

‘How so? I don’t see that as a viable response to, “I acted alone”, Mr Valon.’

‘I am not trying to antagonise you, Angelo. I am indeed a friend. I am just curious. Mainly because as a man who acted alone, you might know more than I can already give. The information you might have on the Dead might be better than the Government’s own research.’ No response. Valon was at least hoping to get a smile or head movement that was da Silva’s equivalent to a haughty know-it-all laugh.

‘Zylinski sent me.’ Angelo said slowly. ‘However you, me, the Government, Zylinski, we are after the same people, the same person.’

‘Person?’

‘Yes. We just need proof.’

‘Proof of what, Angelo?’

‘Of involvement, of the leader’s goals, anything really. We will know it when we do. Someone is the puppet-master. The evil of the Dead, they, they can get worse than they are now. The tax will not stop them. How could it.’ Angelo da Silva looked downwards at the floor.

‘There are very little things that I can tell you, Angelo. I will tell you all about the things not on the public databases. There are others like you. First I have to tell you my story.’

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