Ghosts

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Chapter 18 – “Breaking bones with whispers”.

Lynette de Cesare turned and pointed at the Government Palace dominating the view behind her.

‘So far my sources have provided me with the proof, some of which show that five companies, CEOL, Hirst-Wren, Zakin Holdings, Montalban Mining, and Astro-Mineral Company all paid certain members of the Government for contracts.’ Lynette de Cesare paused trying to remember the rest of her report.

‘The politicians can be named, all from Henry Poole’s Government, none so far from Valon’s shadow Government. The highest ranking official linked to this is Charles Chambers, the Minister of Mining overseeing the Astrological Exploration and Research Authority, who has been accused of conspiracy leading to the withholding of information from the public sector, illegal sales of sector asteroid, ice and cloud data, and pre-meditated agreements of the sales of sector contracts to the above named five universal companies.’

Lynette waited for Amir to confirm that the newsroom had shown the named Government officials in an on-screen graphic.

‘So far, none of the companies or the Government has responded to our request for comments but the announcement of the new batch of officials has shocked the locals and Poole’s Government.’

‘Now that the Government has admitted the problem and the legal restraints holding back media coverage has ended, where do you think the Government will go from here, Lynette?’

‘We knew the legal ties would soon end, and obviously after the initial story broke we were given the names of less high ranking ministers, but now we have confirmation that Chambers is one of the accused. The Government had tried through legal means to keep the news out of the media stream for as long as possible. Judge Jones, who adjudicated on the legal case, has decided that it would be a waste of public time, money and energy to continue to allow the legal constricts stopping us talking about the allegations. She has approved us to release further names, and Minister of Mining, Charles Chambers is the most senior official so far.’

‘Will Prime Minister Henry Poole be expecting more names to fall?’

‘I assume not. I have no further source documents naming anyone else, but Poole will now be tasked by Judge Jones to raise a public enquiry into these conspiracies and to name those who are also caught in the firing line of this deception.’

‘What reaction are we seeing from the locals? They recently protested the previous allegations. Are we expecting more violent protests?’

‘We have had demonstrations, all very civil, all keen on making their points known. Whereas previously companies had turned up in number, what we are seeing now seems to be just disappointed individuals who are here on their own merit.’

Lynette waited for her cameraman to track the camera focus back onto her and away from the crowd.

‘Commander Zylinski seems to have handled the events well thus far. He has placed armed Police near the Palace as you can see behind me, and a notice has been sent out to all mining companies in the sector to request for calm. In return, the mining companies seem to have responded well to this, assuming that violence would benefit nobody in the long run and could jeopardise the independent mining companies chances of being granted contracts further down the line - taking into account any investigation into these larger companies aiding the contract process in favour of smaller contractors.’

The newsroom failed to ask a follow-up question allowing Lynette de Cesare to continue. Her brown eyes flicked sideways whilst she decided what to mention next. She smiled for her own sake and not the camera.

‘However, the independent mining groups are demanding an early election. Whether Henry Poole would resist this or not remains to be seen, but we can only assume that he will decline the offer as it would not be in his interests to move the election forwards only several weeks when public trust in his party is at an all-time low. The time may not be much but it may be enough to sway public perception.’

‘Lynette, it has been speculated elsewhere that Poole might consider an earlier election within two to three weeks. Would an open announcement of a public enquiry into this scandal balance out the voters’ fears?’

‘I doubt that. It remains to be seen what his chances actually are, but my own reflection would lead me to expect Poole to either decline the early election offer, or more likely to resign from his post as Prime Minister allowing an early election to be decided by his replacement, whoever that would be.’

Lynnette waited for a response from the shocked newsroom. An answer eventually crept back.

‘You believe that Poole will be considering resigning from his post, this close to an election, and eight weeks from now?’

Lynette smiled.

‘I am not sure of any other options at his disposal. He personally will have those two paths to follow, leading to potentially different results. I must stress that the decision may not be his to make. His party may now be looking for a quick resolution to this story and wiping the slate clean will be a difficult job. Trying to repair the damage to public faith will be an uphill battle, and in the interests of the party it may be deemed better to move on with a new leader, a fresh start to draw more support for the elections.’

Lynnette closed out the news report in her usual friendly way, and turned to look at the group of miners slowly gathering in number as the day went on. The Military Police showed little concern with the groups clustered into four or five different fragments, all grouped up discussing the recent stories.

Lynette tried not to show her unease. As the day would pass by, and her channel spread her story, other channels would follow suit, leaving more reporters with more stories to tell, not all of whom would have her ethics nor the truth to tell.

‘Amir, it is going to be a feeding frenzy here soon.’

‘Should we stay or go?’

‘I hate being here, knowing what will happen. However, we have a duty to be here for when it does happen.’

‘For when what does happen?’ Amir Rai asked.

‘The violence.’

‘The violence? You think it will go that way?’

‘I’d put my career on it. Breaking bones with whispers. Some factions and news stories will ensure violence happens. It makes for addictive news and will suit certain parties.’

‘Political parties?’ Amir asked distrustfully looking directly at Lynette’s eyes.

‘Many different ones, and maybe political ones too.’

‘The only other political party in play is Valon’s. Nobody else has a chance at winning. Would he stoop so low as to cause public harm?’

‘He’s a politician. He’ll do what it takes to get his seat in power.’

‘So, we stay.’

‘Sadly, for now, yes, and for once let’s pray that I am wrong.’

Henry Poole sat at the large office table looking down at the reports on the table’s holo-screen. He shook his head, stood up and walked slowly out of the office, through a set of glass patio doors and on to the balcony. He sighed deeply, a sigh that changed into a loud, cough emanating from his chest.

Overlooking the gardens that swept out from the Government Palace underneath him, the man considered his age briefly before turning his attention back to his assistant. Sweat emanated from his aid’s armpits unashamedly as he shifted more heavy data files into the office.

‘Is that all we have?’

‘Yes, the rest have been purged.’

‘A shame that. We move on anyway.’

The aid nodded quietly.

‘You may leave me now. Hold all my calls unless they have code-seven clearance.’ More nodding followed. The sound of the heavy steel office door closing automatically broke a brief silence.

‘What little things I do,’ mumbled Poole to himself.
In the silence Poole read through the data files, stress driving him on, focused on finding a solution to his problems.

Several hours passed and with little answers found, a thirst overwhelmed Poole. He stood up and walked over to the bar of drinks beside his desk. A drink was swept down with desire.

‘What little things I do kill me inside.’

The words shot out of Poole’s mouth, grinding even more at his frustration. With slow hands he made a call from his phone. There was no reply, so he a left short, simple message.

‘Georgi, that message you sent me. I will have to accept the offer. It is time to move things forward. Never look back I have been told. It is time for change. Make it happen.’

Angelo da Silva ambled back towards his ship, playfully teasing his dog with a stick. The dog jumped up athletically at the stick, holding on for several seconds as da Silva lifted the stick and the dog upwards, before the dog’s grip failed and he landed back on all fours.

‘Angelo? Can I have a word?’

‘Alison Wessex. What are you doing on Faith?’

‘Business; a research project.’

‘For that client?’

‘I do have others, you know?’ Wessex smiled a pearly white smile.

‘That doesn’t answer my question?’

‘No, Angelo, honey, they are not the client for whom I am visiting the Faith Space Station,’ Alison Wessex spoke calmly but was slightly irked by Angelo’s question.

‘And me?’

‘I am here for that client that you refer to.’

‘Come inside the ship.’

Angelo da Silva led the way inside, throwing the stick on-board first, his dog chasing and growling as he picked the stick up in a slobbering mouth and dashing around the interior.

Angelo led the way to the cockpit.

‘So, you want a drink?’

‘I’m okay, Angelo, I’ve just had one. And to be honest, I’m too snobby for ship coffee.’

‘It’s an acquired taste, I will grant you that.’

‘I will assume it is then an enforced taste. Posh food and drink is rare out in the deep black.’

‘It’s hard to get a decent steak out there, that’s for sure. So why are you here, Wessex?’ da Silva spoke hastily.

Ignoring his demeanour, Alison Wessex spoke politely.

‘At the club, I did not think you got all of the answers that you sought.’

‘I got a few that I wasn’t looking for.’

‘Me and you, do you mean?’ Alison looked at the pilot picking up on his hint.

‘Yes.’

‘I suppose it was inappropriate. I am not going to apologise.’

‘Nobody asked you to.’

‘Good. I enjoyed it. I would like it to continue.’ Wessex approached Angelo da Silva placing her hands around his waist.

‘I have enough problems with this mission to even consider complicating things even more with you.’

‘Is that a no, Angelo?’ The wicked smile beamed back, bringing forth memories of the club.

Angelo declined to comment immediately, looking into the woman’s eyes. He smiled, gently brushing her hands off his waist and walked back towards the cockpit chairs.

‘Why me?’

‘A simple but human attraction?’

‘Not a Neon One attachment?’

‘I attach myself to many things, most of which I choose to attach myself to. My alignment to Neon One is always, and I mean always, separate to my love life. Marco has neither desire nor power to enforce who I am attached to,’ Wessex slowly walked back over to Angelo da Silva.

‘I am not asking for any other reason than my own personal ones. If you aren’t interested then that’s fine. My heart will have to go on.’ The wicked smile emanated towards da Silva.

‘Alison, you’re a beautiful woman chasing after the wrong man. I have my mission and my duty will not allow you or anyone else to stop it. You might as well chase someone else.’

‘We’ll see. What answers would you like, Angelo?’

‘Neon One.’

‘We told you pretty much all we can tell you. We act as we do for our own sakes and for others, as you have found out. We are only the enemy of our enemies, which doesn’t reveal much but not everyone are the enemy.’

‘The military?’

‘We don’t attack them. Why would we bother? It would just make matters worse.’

‘Marco Koivu said he does the dirty work for Neon One. What did he mean?’

‘I think you already know.’

‘Like attacking the enemies?’

‘Yes. We don’t deny we target certain factions. We don’t deny our actions and most of all Marco decides the targets. It’s a burden he carries alone.’

‘Why?’

‘I assume it’s so he can keep the pressure to himself. It’s a nasty duty and one that alienates him from the world. Commander Zylinski will understand the duty of power and its ills. Marco enjoys that alienation.’

‘Does he feed off it?’

‘He never shows it, just… Sadness, an inner conflict.’

‘He’s aware that you and others see that inner conflict?’

‘How could he not. It’s his burden. He chose that path.’

‘How did you meet?’

‘I was a victim of piracy.’

‘The Devil’s Militia? Or the Dead?’

‘Neon One.’

‘How so?’

‘I was on a merchant ship working for CEOL. Marco was still actively venturing out with the fleets back then and I was a hostage.’

‘And you still are?’

’God, no, I was treated well. I was curious, I suppose. CEOL treated me and others badly. I wanted out; I wanted something to believe in. I was lost, stuck wanting more from life. I had more to give to the world and I decided once I saw Copperhead to help them.

‘Copperhead?’ Angelo asked swiftly.

‘I will arrange all the Copperhead answers that we can give to you. I will not say anymore, so don’t ask. It is something you will see soon enough. As for my journey, Marco decided that my skills were best used elsewhere. I had knowledge of CEOL’s processes, and their assets, but also, I had a posh highest grade, elite university doctorate that looked too good for Neon One. That was years ago. How could they make use of such a fact? Well, Alison Wessex is the answer to that question.’

‘A pseudonym?’

‘No. the name is on the doctorate and draws people in.’

‘It doesn’t wow me.’

‘Pilots like knowing it is there for a simple reason. Employers trust it as a show of quality, whether it’s true or not, and that means better clients. Great pilots demand the best pay, given by the better clients. It’s a viscous circle that starts and ends with me.’

‘A weapon aimed at honey-trapping clients with her words and the skilled professionals with her beautiful face?’

Alison Wessex smiled at his words.

‘What else can I tell you but the truth? I bring resources and companies together. What they do together is their business.’

‘Have you worked with Marco Koivu all that time?’

‘I support his work. I believe that the corruption is too much and needs re-balancing.’

‘Most people in Halcyon agree.’

‘Nothing is being done about it, so Neon One…’

‘Blows things up for fun and games?’

‘You still believe we are evil terrorists?’

‘I still think Marco Koivu is. Neon One might not be all as innocent as you make out.’

‘Define innocent?’

‘How about someone who hasn’t blown anyone up.’

‘Are you innocent then, Angelo da Silva?’

‘The scars on my body tell you the answer.’

‘I find them interesting.’

‘You would. Why did Valon send you to me? You have said that he knew you worked for Neon One. It’s funny that he knew to send me your way.’

‘If you want some truth, we met years ago at the university. We got on well. We were the poor folk at a rich person’s university. We bonded. It is hard for him to understand my reasons for giving everything up for Neon One, even giving his own distrust of CEOL. He has little or no ties to me, directly. How could he? It’d be career suicide for one so talented and driven. His past and mine are linked, yes, nobody can hide that. He doesn’t try to hide it nor should he, we have zero contact. Neon One’s sins are not his. He is a good man in a political game.’

‘How did he find out about you and Neon One?’

‘I once told him, before he rose to where he is, of my newly-found connections. He forgave me and said we cannot talk anymore. He understands the revolutionary mind-set. Some may say that he is a revolutionist himself.’

Angelo da Silva’s eyebrows raised at the words.

‘He admires those of a similar ilk. It was one of our key subjects at university. A revolution is not a bad thing. Sometimes it is needed. Sometimes they are done the wrong way. By following the Government route he is doing it the way he and most believe is right. Marco would disagree. By not talking to me further, Valon did what he had to do. I understood. He understood. I am Neon One. That is my choice, my sin, my scar to bear.’

For the first time in minutes, since the ship had been boarded a silence broke out.

‘Do you like Valon, Angelo?’ Alison Wessex said mildly changing the subject.

‘I don’t know him to like him. He’s a politician.’

‘He sent you off to get answers, from me.’

‘From you? Even more reason to distrust him. We live in a world where we are all looking for answers. I assume that Valon has some knowledge to give. Why else would I be sent to you?’

‘Have you got enough off me?’

‘Not enough, but knowing Neon One better helps. It’s not the answer I seek, nor a solution to the universe’s problem.’

‘Which is?’

‘How to stop them being targeted by Neon One, the Dead and your entire sort.’

‘My sort? I take it you still don’t trust us. That’s fine. We are not - and Marco can tell you when he next sees you - we are not trying to convert you, nor brainwash you into thinking we are do-gooders. We have said all along, we are what we are, terrorists to our enemies. What we are doing is showing the other side of the mirror image to you. It might look the same, a ship attacks a ship, but it’s a different picture from our side. You see pain and suffering. Our tactics are done for a reason; we told you that much and we are looking at you to see if you are worthy.’

‘To see if I am worthy of what?’ a suddenly miffed Angelo spun back.

‘Of knowing what we know?’

‘Which is?’

‘Not to be told to those Marco Koivu does not trust. He has his reasons and they will be revealed. Play the long game and you will find answers.’

‘I don’t have time for the long game. Valon knows that. He gave us a few weeks which are almost up. I have no Dead locations and just Neon One to give him.’

‘He doesn’t want us. Nor does he expect you to find the Dead.’

‘Did he tell you that?’

‘No, but he’s a politician. Always was. He wants more to give the public. The Dead gone, or found and a war on them started would be perfect, but this world is not perfect and he knows that as much as anyone.’

‘Ever since I met you and since you told me of your alliances, I find myself now asking, why would an intelligent woman like you, a brain worthy of so much more, be tied to Neon One?’

‘Because I am not Valon, politics isn’t for me and I can change things this way, slowly. Show me the political game and I will show you its faults, the failings of the players, and where the likes of the Devil’s Militia evolve from into the Dead.’

‘Are you saying that I failed when I did my duty towards the Devil’s Militia?’ Angelo’s face looked angry and shocked, surprising Alison Wessex.

‘Don’t hate me for saying this, but yes and no. You succeeded, bravely; I admire your courage so, so much. It made you humble, dedicated, a triumph for the military way. However, you are now tasked once more with hunting the same types of people. That shows that somewhere there is a failure.’

‘It’s a human failure, human traits gone wrong. I could not stop people from becoming killers. Who could?’

‘Me? Seriously though, the political game leads to the same cultures evolving in the same way, down the same path.’

‘I could only do so much.’ Angelo looked down at his arms, anger, emotion, tensing him up. He breathed anxiously.

‘Do you not wonder what Zylinski thinks of the path your colleagues and you were on? He knows nothing much has changed but evil itself. Evil is bolder now.’

‘The Dead…’

‘Yes, they are bolder,’ Alison Wessex spoke interrupting Angelo da Silva, taking a step toward the pilot and reaching her hands down to his forearms. He immediately felt the warmth of her touch on his muscles.

‘Why the tattoos? To cover the scars up?’

‘It’s not something I discuss.’

‘Always so defensive, Angelo. You don’t like me?’

‘I have never said that.’

‘Are you just as cold to everyone?’

‘Depends on who it is.’

‘Am I different then to most?’

‘I’m cold to most people I meet. Will that do?’

‘No. I want the warmer you.’

‘I keep hearing a phrase, “We all want something”. So, you should too.’

‘Brooding and complex, and mean…. To me! Am I that bad, Angelo?’

‘I don’t know you, and Alison, I am busy finding the Dead.’

‘You found Neon One, you’ll find the Dead. Would starting a relationship with me bother you because I work for Neon One, or because I am who I am?’

‘Can I not answer?’ Angelo’s response visibly annoyed Alison Wessex.

‘I want an answer, Angelo.’

‘I don’t have to provide one. What if it’s as simple as I don’t want anyone?’

‘That would be too simple. Do you find me attractive?’

‘Yes.’ The honesty surprised even Angelo himself.

Wessex smiled, sliding her right hand against Angelo’s waist before looking up deep into his eyes.

‘So, what is the problem? It is certainly not a lack of desire. You showed me enough in the nightclub. You kissed me with passion.’

‘If you want an answer, you need look no further than the scars. Ask others about them if you need to. Alison, let’s keep things professional.’

Alison Wessex sighed before answering.

‘If you ask me so, I will. For now.’

Alison Wessex looked deep into Angelo’s eyes, sighed a frustrated sigh as the man turned his attention away, before surprising him by kissing him on the left cheek.

‘Take care, Angelo. I will be, professionally, in contact with you soon.’

As she left the ship, Angelo’s dog growled at her before turning his attention back to chewing the stick by the ship’s exit door.

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