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Chapter 16 – “We are where we are”.

‘Balev! What have you done?’ steamed Henry Poole as the video call was accepted.

‘What do you mean, what have I done? I have done nothing. I presume you are referring to that damned infernal Neon One trash. Do you believe a word of it?’ Georgi Balev, already angry, deflected the anger back.

‘The facts are evident. It’s not like it wasn’t your own hardware. Your team have admitted as much.’

‘Yes and my team have given the story, the truth. If you and the other simpletons want to listen and trust in Neon One and the lies of the media, how can I help you see the light? I can’t.’

‘You will have to! I am the highest Governmental official that you have to respond to. If I ask, you need to answer, or it will be made into a public enquiry.’

‘Don’t threaten me. You’re in power for now, but for how long?’

‘I am the only one you can trust. Would you like to discuss this issue and similar issues to Benedict Valon? You do like him, don’t you, Valon and his tax that you love so much? I want answers, Georgi.’

‘We all do. Also, as for Valon, in the fight for elections, good P.R is a must. How do you know that this is not Valon’s work? Shames us both, and unless you are hiding something, Prime Minister, neither you nor I know why we are in this position.’

‘So Valon is to blame?’

‘Yes, he is to blame? Would he not stoop to any means to get power? Wouldn’t you?’

‘Certainly not.’

‘I don’t believe you. Most of all, you don’t believe yourself. We need to stick together, not hurl insults and blame around like children’s toys out of a pram. Neon One would love to cause more mayhem. That is what is happening. How do we know that they never provided other pirate factions hardware?’ Balev let his word sink in.

‘They would love to cause more death and carnage. They are pirates who follow no law. CEOL follow laws, we pay our taxes, we are a legitimate body employing how many of your potential electors,’ raged Balev, angrily gripping at a crystal glass of whisky.

‘Sort your own shit out, Poole and stop blaming everyone else. You’re election is going belly up and you now want to lose your rag over a petty robbery of our technology? The Dead are scum. What they use will be whatever they can steal, or manufacture. So, the likelihood of them getting hold of CEOL produce, the leading manufacture of ship hardware system-wide, is a certainty, a fact of our difficult life, so you going all high and mighty, blaming me for such nonsense is just bad politics.’

‘I will win this election, but this tomfoolery is not helping me, nor CEOL. How did they get hold of that hardware? I am not buying that it was a hack. The hack would let them re-create the product but why would they add the prototype barcodes that you love to add? They wouldn’t waste their time? Was it stolen from that ultra-secure research centre? Another unlikely; your security would notice a missing grain of dirt off the floor, or during transit? Billions worth of prototypes travelling unprotected? It is not likely,’ Poole spoke, more calm now, but still unsure of the truth.

‘What do you want me to say? You assume I have the answer to give. I do not have an answer to give you.’

‘Even if you did, would you give it to me?’ sneered Poole.

‘Why would you assume that, Poole?’

‘A lifetime in politics teaches a man to know the truth, the truth to one is a lie to another, the spoken truth of a politician or businessman is also another truth not being told.’

‘Poetic. It does not hide the fact that I can say any damn thing I want and you cannot prove, nor do anything you want. No investigation can explain how they got it, as the truth is not there to be spoken, unless you know the Dead personally, which I know you don’t. Do what you want, Poole. I am a busy man. I have to go,’ Balev terminated the call still angry, leaving Henry Poole contemplating tetchily his next move.

Alison Wessex accepted the inbound call. Angelo da Silva seemed distracted as the call connection was made.

‘So, we have both seen the Neon One news story?’ Alison Wessex spoke first.

‘Yes. How did they get hold of the details that I passed you?’

‘It’s a long story.’

‘I have time to waste.’

‘This is neither the time nor the place.’

‘Where is the time and place?’ Angelo asked irked by the sudden secrecy of Alison Wessex.

‘My client would like to see you personally, Angelo, informally.’

‘As for your client, will I find out who they are?’

‘Possibly, but it’s not my call to make. I just represent them.’

‘So, when and where will I find out?’

‘When, the time, I assume that you are on the Faith Space Station, so tonight, Ten p.m. The place will be a club called The Dust Clouds.’

‘I’ve heard of it.’

‘That is good,’ Alison Wessex replied offering a sweet smile. She took in the handsome face of the pilot who still seemed distracted, irritated by something to his left.

‘When I said I’ve heard of it, it doesn’t mean I approve of it.’

‘No, you live in a monastery. I assume that the Dust Clouds would be too raucous for you.’

‘That and then some,’ Angelo da Silva broke out of his irritable facial expression and smiled for a brief second.

‘I’ll be there. Who am I looking for?’

‘You can meet me there, to begin with. After that, I will take you through to my client.’

‘That sounds okay.’ The lack of spirit in Angelo’s words failed to break the optimism of his company.

‘Angelo, the client you will meet, is not just highly important to myself, ergo somebody I really don’t want you to screw with, but also incredibly important to your own quest. If you really want some answers, then my client has them. Like them or not, the answers will seem closer after tonight.’

‘Are you sure of that?’

‘Yes, why would I not be?’

Angelo smiled once more, even more so when his own reaction caused the attractive face of Alison Wessex to show surprise.

‘Some answers are hidden to us all. This client seems to have passed on to Neon One information, or at least someone has got the information from you, me or Zylinski. I have only discussed this with you two. I can trust the Commander. But can I trust you and your client?’

The pretty face smiled once more as she considered a response.

‘Angelo, let me tell you this much, what you want to know, we can tell you most of it. Possibly even the answer of whom to trust. It’ll be interesting for us both, I’m sure. You, you are a talent, Angelo, brooding and toughened, but still a talented pilot. Most of all, you are the right man for Zylinski’s job. Nobody else would have got this far. Nobody, none of my clients could have, and I entrust items valued in the millions to them. I would not use them for this mission, although I have used them for the likes of Benedict Valon, who has a few favourites. Essentially, not many can take on the Dead and live, never mind be willing to do so.’

‘And I am?’

‘We both know that you are. You can be gruff and angry, but deep down; it’s obvious to see that you care for the war on terror more than most people. You have a reason to care more than most people. And it’s an attractive quality, something that impresses those that view you, that see what you offer.’

‘You mean your clients?’

‘I suppose, yes. Myself too. I assume others, like Zylinski.’

‘I am a retired military man. I don’t need the work. I do what I do for my own sake.’

‘As I said, you are not scared of the Dead, and have more reason to take them on than the mercenaries I recruit.’

‘It’s not bravery or a lack of fear.’

‘No, Angelo, it is drive, a passion, something that as painful as it is, you cannot stop doing as the greater picture, the success, the results drive you on.’

‘Whatever you want to call it, you cannot get me to do any more work for you once this task of Commander Zylinski’s is done.’

‘I already assumed that much. If it were Dead related…’

‘Even then, I work for the military.’

‘If it were Dead related and issued by Zylinski you would. I may still need to deal with requests from Commander Zylinski and Valon, should he win the election. I may be fortunate to see you more after this. I wish so, I really do.’

Angelo ignored the comments, unwilling to acknowledge the agent’s interest.

‘I rarely take up work nowadays, even for the military.’

‘Any Dead related work interests you. We both know it. Your work against them is not yet done.’

‘My work is one man versus many Dead. I cannot do it all. You will have to find others to help you.’

‘We can just see what happens tonight. You may change your mind.’

‘You don’t know how stubborn my mind is,’ Angelo da Silva replied sternly. ‘If you’re trying to charm me, it isn’t working,’ he gruffly added.

‘I don’t believe it is. Also, I am not trying to charm you to just do some work for me.’

Alison Wessex held the pilots gaze as he took her words in. The pilot waited several long seconds prior to making a last comment, still holding her gaze.

‘Ten at the Dust Clouds, your client had better be there.’

Within seconds of Angelo da Silva hanging up, Alison Wessex switched her attention to another call, this one a lot shorter.

‘He will be there. He’s interested, don’t spoil your chance.’

‘This is our chance and not just my chance.’

‘Well, all of our chances, then; stop being difficult, you’re as bad as the pilot.’

‘Difficult is what I do best. It’s why I exist the way I do.’

‘You like to exist as a nomad?’

‘Best thing for me, unseen. I’ll be leaving for Heart of Oak, this nomad’s current home, later this evening so if he fails to arrive, it’s his chance gone.’

‘Commander Zylinski thanks for calling me back. How is our project going?’

‘The plan is going as good as can be expected, and that contact you provided, Alison Wessex, she seems to have helped my pilot, da Silva to find some path to follow. It’s only a small path but we shall see where it takes him.’

‘Good. Commander, I do have to say that I was disappointed in you and Angelo, never mind my contact at not telling me about this CEOL hardware. Having to find out over the news was a bit below par. Hearing it from those at Neon One was more upsetting. I won’t ask how Neon One got the information; pirates will always find a way.’

Zylinski stayed silent, choosing tact over attack, the politician’s words annoying him slightly.

‘I also am not sure how to approach the situation. What do we do now, Commander?’

‘Priority one would be to stay on target for the objective, and that is the Dead. The CEOL story will most likely take us down a separate path, maybe one that is a viable task, but definitely not our priority.’

‘So, Angelo came across the shipyard. Do we think we should investigate it further, maybe even take it out of the equation?’

‘It could be a legitimate enterprise. It will be hard to link it to pirates or to anyone if it’s a remote area run by machines. There may not be anybody there running it. Technology makes things so easy…’

‘And for us, so complicated?’ Valon interrupted with his question.

‘In this case, yes. Who owns it? Angelo could take down security drones all day but if he cannot find branding then we cannot just destroy the base assuming it’s Dead, Neon One or any other faction.’ The Commander tapped his fingers at his chin as he pondered the situation.

‘Are there not any registers of companies building within that region?’ Valon enquired swiftly moving the debate on.

‘No, unfortunately it’s a free sector, no contracts have been issued out by Poole’s departments, and it is a lifeless system with little of worth. Anyone can build there without permits. Too much hassle for Poole’s Government, as you will recall.’

‘Yes, I now recall. So, it could be anyone? I suppose Angelo may need to go in and check it out. I will speak to Alison Wessex directly and see what her source has planned. It may not be worthwhile sending him there, but that area needs tagging and I want to know who is building what there.’ Valon made a mental note, plans should he win the election.

‘Would this not be better done through Poole’s people? Is it not a legal or political issue to challenge and ask for the information?’ Zylinski questioned.

‘If I went through Poole’s people, my God’s man, they would take forever. I could fly there myself and do it faster than they could decide not to do an investigation.’ A scowl appeared across Valon’s face as he said the words.

‘We are a little bit stuck then, aren’t we?’

‘We have options, like Wessex and her source. She may know more than we do. Will she talk though?’ considered Valon wryly.

‘Angelo is meeting Wessex and her contact later on. It seems that he may make a bit of a breakthrough.’

‘Will they bring him to the Dead, Neon One or any other faction though? Commander, the priority as you said, is finding, and eliminating the piracy.’

‘The challenge is not destroying them, but finding the factions. They seem to be so hidden; it’s an impossible mission trying to track them down. Angelo is doing the impossible, bit by bit.’

‘How close are we to finding any of them?’

‘If that shipyard is as we believe, a pirate production line, then, that shows how far he is getting. Personally, Alison Wessex’s source, her client likely has so much information that we do not have access to. We’re the Military Police and we don’t know what they seem to know,’ Commander Zylinski spoke with frustration.

‘That is because you are following the law of the land. It seems that Wessex’s sources are not all as tied to the law as you and I. It’s just yet another form of politics. The good are always trying to do good deeds, even when it isn’t the best option. We fight a constant struggle, doing things the hard way for the sake of ethics and our personal morals.’

‘Would you change that?’

‘Myself? If it got the job done, maybe.’ The answer shocked Zylinski, expecting an honest answer, but a different answer.

‘The job that needs doing, is it Parliamentary?’

‘The job being the ending of piracy and Parliament being the tool to end piracy.’ Benedict Valon’s face stayed constant, eyes refusing to flicker, a perfect poker-face that offered little insight for Zylinski to analyse, the perfect body-language of a calm mind.

‘We all have difficult decisions to make; mine are to ensure I get into enough power to affect this war on terror. Poole’s is to try to stop me.’

‘And mine?’

‘You’re the man who sends the troops into battle, and that duty is yours alone. Only you have to decide to fight or retreat, to risk lives.’

‘Fortunately, we are not in a full scale war.’

‘You still lose lives in small skirmishes. What is a war if not for small battles? What you do, you do well. Poole may not appreciate the determination of the military might, but I do. All that counts is finding the means to end the terror, to bring peace to all.’

‘It won’t ever end, not in the purest form, but if we can split Neon One, the Dead or the other main players up, we will.’

Zylinski finished the call to Valon eager to press on with his heavy workload. During the call, a reflection had played on his mind, and he decided to email this thought over to Georgi Balev, bringing up the unused email address from his contact list. The email showed little respect for Balev.

“The public’s interest in this issue and my own personal concerns has led me to decide to take actions. Balev, I want to know how the Dead got hold of that hardware. You and I both know that the answers you previously gave to the media and Poole won’t satisfy me. As Commander of the Military Police, I want an answer, no B.S. I want the truth. You have to provide it; otherwise I will arrange an investigation, and an inspection of CEOL and the Research and Development department, including all security protocols that you have in place. You have one day to respond otherwise I will make a public statement and alert Henry Poole of my intentions.

I demand to know how the hardware was stolen, was it in transit, and if so what happened to the fighter support that went with the transit vessel. Also, you need to tell me how long this has been going on, and what other thefts have occurred. I cannot tolerate such poor security protocols that may affect the public in such a manner as this. Such incompetence has left the people of Halcyon and our regions in such a danger. As Commander of their military, I will act on their behalf as is my duty. Commander Filip Zylinski.”

Angelo da Silva approached the nightclub, neon lights painting its own personal corner of the Faith Space Station in kaleidoscopic colour. The words “Dust Clouds” were dimly lit up by small red pin lights, offering a foggy murkiness to the text. The black walls of the club offered little to warn of the club’s interior, a shroud of mystery left to the imagination. Five security personnel protected the entrance, refusing entry to those they saw fit to turn away.

A queue of casually dressed clubbers had formed much to da Silva’s chagrin. The row of trainers and tees, matching that of Angelo’s own outfit flowed half way back down the street.

As Angelo moved towards the queue he was approached by club security, for once not looking for troublemakers.

‘Are you Angelo da Silva?’ the woman asked politely.

‘I might be.’

‘I recognise the picture we were sent. You don’t need to queue up; if you’ll follow me we can get you in straight away.’

Angelo da Silva didn’t bother to reply, motioning with his hands for the woman to lead the way to the front.

The open doors rolled calm drum and bass beats outwards to those waiting, inviting them to make the wait outside.

The inside of the club was dark and smoky, dry ice casting a deliberate fog across the club. The club was split into four levels; the highest level was fifty feet above the ground, closed off to the public, a protracted white marble staircase leading up to even more active security personnel.
A long cloud shaped bar rested in the centre of the ground floor busily serving the liquor of choice to the people. Angelo, not expecting to stay long enough within the club to need the drink, ignored the hectic bar and walked around the club taking in the atmosphere, relaxed, chilled, yet buzzing with charismatic energy.

Looking around through the fog, Angelo da Silva failed to see his contact, Alison Wessex. He waited calmly at a quiet section of the bar, leaning back coolly against the white marble, with no other plan but to wait.

Around the floor, club dancers male and female danced on large podiums, professionals paid to facilitate a rhythm for those that needed one as the mellow drum and bass tones pumped out of the speakers.

Tight t-shirts blended with even tighter dresses as clubbers partied all around. Dancing shapes in the darkness were illuminated for brief seconds by strobe lights, kaleidoscopic colours pulsing outwards.

Roaming hands drifted over the flirty from the keen, and Angelo’s body was soon just as touched, unseen pristine orange fingernails on slender fingers softly brushing at the man’s chest, the woman’s perfectly contoured orange dress matching her fingernails.

Eyes held his gaze and a familiar smile erupted with glee as they met. Warmth enveloped Angelo da Silva, one he never expected. Few words were said.

With aggressive hand movements the pilot was dragged, one hand gripping firmly on his black t-shirt, away from the bar towards a vacant space on the dance-floor. The familiar smile took on a wickedness that the man had failed to previously see.

Dancing around the more static Angelo da Silva, Alison Wessex showed soft graceful movements, occasionally touching her hands against his body and face. The pilot showed reserved interest, a face stern yet composed, a man unsure of how he should react.

The orange dress was soon enough pressed tight against him, as the normally controlled, professional Alison Wessex toyed with the man, blonde hair draped down her shoulders.
With persuasive movements the woman wrapped her arms around the man’s neck, holding once more his gaze. Coy and unwilling to respond Angelo da Silva kept his hands around her waist, tempted as he was to let them wander.

Other clubbers bounced and moved around the two slower moving figures unaware of the seduction taking place.

Alison Wessex slowly moved her head to da Silva’s strong shoulder, whispering into his right ear. Angelo’s hands gripped tighter on her curves, her waist grinding slowly against him.

With a sudden movement, she turned herself to face Angelo, their eyes locked. With a wicked smile she pulled him in to her, kissing him with fervent passion.

The pilot responded, giving in to his urges. Angelo da Silva’s hands were soon gripping her even tighter, sliding down the orange dress clinging to her body.

Their lustful actions lost to the other clubbers, hidden by a cloud of dry ice, the pair continued their embrace, until Angelo da Silva broke the moment up.

Overwhelmed by heat as well as lust, Alison Wessex led the pilot away from the dance floor and back to the bar, her wicked smile still showing hunger. Angelo’s modest actions showed a quelling desire towards the ardent beauty next to him.

Buying drinks the pair talked, Alison Wessex pressing her lips to Angelo’s ears teasing him some more with her words. The music drowned out her words to all but Angelo da Silva.

With amorosity she slid her hands against his, gripping his rough hands within her own. Angelo responded discreetly, talking polite yet distant back to her, acknowledging her interest yet still denying her his full attention. Alison Wessex’s attraction never waned.

Eventually, Angelo gave into the nagging question in his mind.

‘Where did all that come from?’

‘Why, did you not enjoy it?’ Alison Wessex teased with a grin.

‘I never said as much,’ Angelo da Silva said looking up and down the woman in the orange dress.

‘Not in so many words,’ Alison Wessex replied smiling.

‘You haven’t answered my question?’

‘Did I need to? Oh, ok, I wanted it. No other reason. We are adults, aren’t we?’

‘I suppose,’ Angelo da Silva replied awkwardly.

‘Why are you so defensive, Angelo?’

‘You should know how I act by now. I am always defensive.’

‘You are defensive even when you are out to play?’ Alison Wessex giggled back.

‘I wasn’t out to play, as you put it. I am here on duty,’ the professional words were shot back with a glare.

‘You never said no,’ Alison Wessex spoke warmly, unperturbed by Angelo’s abruptness.

‘We’re adults, aren’t we?’ mimicked da Silva back.

‘Yes, we are adults. I have admired you from afar and decided to see where it led. I am glad I did now. Aren’t you, Angelo?’

The lack of response failed to hide the answer. The pair were still talking, Angelo was still allowing her hands free roam of his body and he was still within close-contact with her; he needed not reply.

‘We can talk later, Angelo. I suppose my fun and games is now over. I enjoyed it though. You need to go up to the VIP section, up the stairs. The security will be waiting for you. They will know who to send you to go see. I will be up to visit in a while. I expect answers are waiting for you.’

‘I expect so too.’

‘Enjoy yourself.’

‘I’d tell you the same but you seem to have already decided to,’ replied Angelo da Silva sarcastically.

The wicked smile grinned back.

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