Ghosts

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Chapter 19 – “Hoarding war machines”.

The face in front of Angelo spoke professionally, deliberately so.

‘Angelo da Silva, it is Alison Wessex here. I appreciate we just spoke recently. My client, Marco Koivu needs you to consider another mission. Should it be suitable, you can start as and when you choose.’

Angelo nodded his head, listening to his company’s words. He failed to hide a laugh.

‘Cut the pleasantries, Wessex. We all know what has happened between us these last few days. Act normal.’

‘Angelo, this is my normal.’

‘Ok, act casual. It’s not like I need to keep your hands off me. It’s a video-call, remember.’

‘Like I couldn’t keep my hands off you face-to-face?’

‘Are you sure, Wessex?’

‘I miss you, Angelo,’ teased Alison Wessex, face poker-straight.

‘Do you?’

‘Yes.’ She smiled her smile.

Angelo looked up skywards.

‘That kiss… I can’t stop thinking about it.’ Longing eyes stared directly at Angelo da Silva across the screen.

‘You being serious?’

Wessex ignored him.

‘Neon One has come across another shipyard. We need someone to look into the region and do some recons work; a black-ops pro like you will find it a doddle.’

‘A doddle?’

‘Yes, easy as flying to, looking around, flying home.’

‘I was in the Neon One ship with your Drake Black that flew to a hospital, looked around and flew home. It was anything but easy.’

‘I thought you were a pro.’

‘You think too much, Wessex.’

‘I know, I’ve been thinking mostly about you. I can’t sleep at night.’ Wessex grinned, the smile charming and mellowing da Silva’s approach to her. He shook his head, cheerfully.

‘Send me the details Alison. And stop thinking about me. You said this was gonna be professional?’

‘I tried. You told me to be casual.’

‘I suppose I did.’

‘Talking of casual, I suppose casual sex is out of the question?’

‘Wessex! Behave.’

‘Suppose we did make it casual, though. Would that bother you?’

‘The question does.’

‘Spoil-sport! Okay, we need you to go see a shipyard. The post that builds the ships is in the same region as before, but it’s in yet another asteroid belt, the Vaconte belt.’

‘I’ve never heard of it.’

‘No surprise. It’s newly acquired.’

‘By whom?’

‘I cannot say, as it’s under investigation as part of that scandal the Government’s suffering.’

‘Oh, so CEOL?’

‘For once, I have been told not; one of the others.’

‘The big five corporations then.’

‘Also, I am told not.’

‘It has to be. Nobody else is under investigation.’

‘Also, I am told not.’

‘Are you serious?’

‘Yes, and stop asking me that!’

‘So, we have another company that has bought the contract for Vaconte asteroid sectors. Under investigation but not named by the press?’

‘I never said it was a company.’

‘So, you know who it is?’

‘Of course, I won’t say just yet. I need you to fly out there, go under-cover and do the same again, preferably from closer range this time.’

‘Why?’

‘It’s more useful to us, and the ships are… Different. They will be monitored.’

‘You mean guarded?’

‘Yes, monitored.’

‘Monitored by drones or active fighters?’

‘Pilots like you.’

‘Most pilots are not like me.’

‘I know, angel. I know. Pilots, like you.’ The word “angel” irritated Angelo who knew she was deliberately shortening his name for her own amusement.

‘I see. I think. If you’re being professional, I’m against some potent pilots.’

‘If I’m not I’m just flirting with you and the pilots are useless.’

‘I will prepare just in case you’re being professional.’

‘Darling, I do miss kissing you.’ The twisted smile appeared once more.

‘Wessex.’

‘You can’t blame a girl for trying.’

‘I can, I have, and I will.’

‘Are there others who you have blamed, then? Do I have competition? What ships are they travelling in? I have other pilots I can call upon, no questions asked.’

‘I bet you do. Are they Neon One?’

‘Oh, good God no, I never mix business with pleasure, unless business is called Angelo.’

‘You’re funny you,’ mocked da Silva calmly.

‘And you’re warming to me, Angelo.’

Angelo da Silva’s ship hurtled through the jumpgate arriving within the system beyond. His ship’s radar showed little to concern him but he knew from Alison Wessex’s warning that he would have problems as he approached the target asteroid belt.

Angelo set his ship computer to do a long distance radar search, and the ship sent several drones out into the asteroid belt, the mammoth ore rocks dwarfing the tiny one foot spherical drones. It wasn’t long before he got the information he sought.

Four hundred kilometres away from him industriously operated a set of five shipyards. The sight in front of da Silva, despite previous revelations, shocked him. Before he could analyse the enormous ships being built Angelo noticed the active ships that loomed protectively circling the shipyards. With swiftness he activated a ship menu and his finger nestled over a button, ready to activate it once his ship was closer to the asteroid belt.

Traversing a further one hundred kilometres, he looked once more at the button that read, “Cloak mode”, clicked it, and waited for the ship’s cloaking mechanics to kick in. It wasn’t long before his ship had dropped its emission readings and mirrored the world around it, blackness and stars shimmering on the ship’s surface.

His ship moved slowly towards the asteroid belt, closing in on the shipyard. As it did so he requested a more detailed analysis of the local expanse, evaluating the odds of war. The computer detailed six enemy ships, two light fighters, and four heavy fighters. Too far away to ascertain neither ship weaponry nor cargo, the odds of winning a fight were slim if the heavy ships had a full range of armaments.

With his cloaking system in place, no battle would be needed as long as distance was kept between the guardian ships and his own. Angelo sent his ship closer towards the furthest shipyard, knowing it was the furthest one from the six custodians.

Knowing that any communication out from his ship to anyone, including Alison Wessex, would create emissions that might be noticed by keen security, Angelo dismissed the option of reporting in. He set his ship computer to start filming his view and to record the drones’ feedback as they approached the nearest shipyard. Angelo recorded his thoughts to send to Wessex along with the video footage.

’That looks battleship size. Going by the look of that cockpit it looks like it may be a logistics ship. That is far too large a cockpit for a small, standard crew. Heavy logistics? Who would need that much warfare engineering outside of the military. If this is a military shipyard, Wessex, you have some explaining to do as I may need to fight for my life to escape here, and I and Zylinski will not be happy at military ships being attacked.

‘The first shipyard’s production is about sixty percent complete; the others are less ready but not by much. Missing are the thrusters amongst other lesser parts, and the turrets are not fitted but that makes sense. A more detailed analysis is unavailable as I’d need to board and that is not about to happen.’

Angelo’s ship edged closer to the other shipyards and his sensor drones bled back data slowly, issuing forth a steady stream of size and interior mapping charts of the shipyard and the ships their engineering drones were building.

‘What we seem to have is a support team of two logistics ships, one heavy repair battleship, and two standard battleships. Based on cockpit size and the drone bays, that’s a rough guess. Interior space on the ship could be for anything though.’ Angelo stopped, pausing to make a decision.

‘I’m not sure of what technical knowledge you personally have of ships, I will assume very little, but what worries me, Alison, is that they seem to be based on the standard military format, minute originality, with drone bays at the base of the ship ready to deploy through these hatches.’
Angelo sent a marker on the map of the nearest battleship analysis chart showing where he believed the drone bay would be based.

‘Comparing the interior space directly above those hatches, you can see the differing options for use. At first glance externally the ships would look the same but each one is built different inside. Like candy, they all have different flavourings.’

Angelo da Silva paused monitoring the security ships.

‘The smaller the drone bay the more likely it is a basic battleship and the one with the smallest bay has more turret segments all waiting for the firepower to be added. Fewer missiles but more turrets. In a missile battleship the standard missile launchers would be closer to the cargo bay so that re-loading is easier, especially in an extended battle, more space for storage and the mechanics involved in re-loading. Your average battleship will have a bigger bay for missiles, less drone space, and more turrets.’

Angelo looked at the radar concerned by the guardian ships patrolling the sector.

‘Another thing to remember, repair ships need the largest drone bay, mainly to send out repair drones, their only purpose to be in the fight. The largest drone bay ship is this one, here. That’s got a standard sized cockpit, larger drone bay and an average cargo hold. It’s not there for fighting, unless they plan to use it directly with just attack drones. I’ve seen the Devil’s Militia previously use such “Aggressive Drone Attack” ships before. It was successful but highly expensive and is normally not an option for that reason alone. It’s also got the thickest hull. It’s expecting to be hit hard and prolonged. It will be a primary target. Left in the battle too long and the battle is already lost. However, a repair ship isn’t expecting to repair its own hull. That would defeat its purpose. So they build them stronger.’

Angelo da Silva paused to direct his attention back to the area nearby. He sent his drones closer to a logistic ship’s shipyard.

‘The logistics ships have the most interest for me; we have two of them and that means that the owners plan on learning something prior to an attack. They are usually deployed in a “sit and wait” capacity used deeply undercover, gathering data and statistics. Mostly, they are used to plan for battles. They light up the battlefield in advance, painting a picture of the enemy strategy, placement and armaments. Think of exactly what I’m doing now but in a tougher environment and in a hardier ship.’ Angelo sent some more ship markers onto the data readings in front of him, detailing radar placements for the ships.

‘You can expect them to fight off three or four heavy fighters easily and repair in time before more enemies return, and they are faster moving than standard battleships, faster analysis networks and tougher to take down. They are definitely the ones that concern me. The military would use them to stake out the Dead for example. If this is one of Zylinski’s bases, you better not be planning to attack it. If it’s not one of Zylinski’s, then who the hell’s is it?’

‘Two last thoughts. Firstly, five basic battleships would not come cheap. If my projections of use are correct, these five would be a huge investment that Zylinski would likely not have in one lump sum to spend. He’d build one at a time. Even if he had the budget, he would not invest it in two logistic ships. He’d not have any need for them until he found several Dead bases to spy on.’

Angelo recalled his drones and headed his cloaked ship away from the shipyards and back towards the jumpgate, taking a wide berth from the nearby fighters.

‘Finally, utilising a repair battleship such as that one and not a standard repair support ship? That’s a crazy option to take into a basic fight. It would be like shooting fish in a barrel. Why pay so much for an over-powered vessel to use in a basic fight?’

Angelo da Silva considered something taking several minutes to ponder as his ship left the shipyards behind in its wake.

‘How many ships could the repair battleship patch up and how long would it last in battle? The answer is a very long time in the fight, and with a lot of repair drones, as in fifty, this would mean it could stay and repair ten heavy fighters at any point in time depending on like for like enemies, for up to fifteen minutes, maybe longer if the climate was favourable. I can tell you something else; a quarter of an hour is a long time in a deep-black fire-fight.’

‘I’ll speculate that it’s a warship. Not a battleship; a warship. Whoever is building it has dark intentions or at the least is preparing for a war. Once again, it’s me that wants data from you. Who owns this shipyard, Alison Wessex? The Dead? Neon One? Zylinski? I won’t be doing any more work until I know. It’d be unethical for me to do so.’

Prior to jumping back through the gate to safer climes, Angelo da Silva compiled a data package and sent it over to Alison Wessex, communication relays sending the message on its journey, awaiting for a confirmation receipt being sent back upon his exit from the jump.

Setting his ship’s auto-pilot to active and ready to send his craft back towards the Halcyon system, and towards the Faith Space Station, Angelo da Silva re-read the data he had sent out to the agent. Considering his mission targets and the information he had sent back, he re-assured himself that the goal had been met sufficiently.

Angelo sat side-tracked by his thoughts for several more minutes, thinking of the agent’s and Neon One’s unknown objectives, until an irritated bark from his dog warned him that it was feeding time.

Angelo da Silva stood up, stretched, and strolled back to the ship’s canteen. Unimpressed, da Silva’s pet ambled along behind him eager to start his feeding frenzy.

‘You got the readings, then? Have you worked your way through it?’ Angelo stood as if to attention, not planning to settle down in Alison Wessex’s office.

‘I have Angelo. It’s been sent over to Marco. He will respond to it.’

‘I want to know who owns that belt, Alison.’

‘I’m sure that you do. Suppose the belt is not owned by the same people who own the shipyard?’

‘Not likely, surely?’

‘Suppose that whoever owns the belt is unaware of the shipyard? If the Dead wanted to build there, they would not ask for permission.’

‘Sugar-coating the situation won’t help anyone. Answers, Alison, A.S.A.P.’

‘Angelo, patience, I’m not the one who can give that information, so I will act professional and say there is red tape which needs to be followed. It’d be prudent of me. Marco Koivu will be in touch.’

‘No point me debating this. Don’t waste my time. I’m done helping, Alison. Marco Koivu needs to give me some answers, because every day the Dead is out there is a day that Neon One is closer to being hunted by Zylinski. Tell him that much. I need answers to give him. The only ones I have are Neon One, you and Marco Koivu. Give me a reason not to call the troops in. For all I know this could be a delaying tactic. It won’t work. The troops are waiting on Zylinski, have no doubt about that.’

‘I will tell him, truthfully, Angelo.’

‘I’m finding everyone has a different truth to tell and each truth is shrouded with doubt. Get him to tell me the answers by tomorrow, Alison.’

‘I’ve had the chat with Angelo.’

‘Good. What did our Mr da Silva say, Alison?’

‘He never said too much, to be honest. You have in your possession his data. We discussed a few things, but the most important one is his demand to know who owns the shipyard.’

‘Demand?’ Marco Koivu said slowly.

‘To be fair to him, he has more on us than on any other faction. As he said to me, and he is correct, if Commander Zylinski asks him for names, he only has ours to give,’ stated Alison Wessex bluntly. She waited for an answer from Marco Koivu, knowing that little would change.

Marco Koivu sighed.

‘We both know that it belongs to Georgi Balev.’

‘So, should I just tell him that?’

Marco Koivu held his right index finger up in the air, alerting Wessex to give him time to think.’

‘I’d hate for him to jump the gun on anything, but I suppose that the news corps’ may report it at some point. Some of the press are shrewder than we give them credit for. Might as well be us who tells him. It’d look like we were deliberately avoiding telling him, withholding the information. It’d be a show of respect to be open and honest. Let him know we believe it to be Balev’s. As you know, he purchased the rights separate to CEOL. Most will assume it is for the same purposes as normal. We are not most. You can let him come to his own assumptions though.’

‘Anything else I should inform him?’

‘Thank him. Oh, and yes, it would be prudent for him to see what we do at Copperhead.’

‘Are you sure that’s wise?’

‘He isn’t exactly going to track the station. My team will arrange the transport. They will make sure he isn’t bugged or followed. We will keep him in private quarters until they dock. Once they arrive, Junior and Drake will show him around and ensure that he understands all that we do. I have heard that he and Drake got on well.’

‘What would be your motivation for allowing him to dock?’

‘It is mostly to show our warts as well as our good. Show him that we are all nice and sweet and a man like da Silva will look with discerning, paranoid eyes. He will be looking, very keenly too, for something that isn’t there. He knows what we do. He will not expect us to be all steal from CEOL, give to the poor. We are so much more than that and he needs to see it.’

‘All of it?’

‘Should we hide any workflows?’

‘Yes! We should at least assume he will go to Zylinski and send the military our way.’

‘He might anyway. It’s also Zylinski’s call, not his. Trust is a two-way street and we need to show him who Neon One is.’

‘And your team?’

‘We cannot show him that.’

‘The projects?’

‘Some he can see. I will let Junior know which ones. Most of the projects on site at Copperhead are simple manufacturing processes. He won’t see much else.’

‘A few CEOL crafts will dock.’

‘Yes, he knows we take their heavy gear,’ Marco Koivu admitted bluntly.

‘We have nothing to hide at Copperhead?’

‘No, Copperhead was once legend.’

‘It still is,’ Alison Wessex spoke proudly.

‘To those who know of it now.’ Marco Koivu spoke nonchalantly.

‘It’s rare, mythical, that is why certain people know of it.’

‘Zylinski knows of it,’ Marco Koivu added calmly.

‘Commander Zylinski?’

‘Yes. When I docked up in Cursed he tried to grill me on it.’

‘Did he get far?’

‘Half an inch?’

‘I assumed as much,’ replied Wessex withholding a smile.

‘He is wise.’

‘Experience will show. The legend of Copperhead is still there. Its mystique, its rarity, people who have heard the name know of the mystique.’

‘It’s just legend to them,’ bluntly stated Marco Koivu.

‘I suppose.’

‘I sometimes wonder would it be bad if that legend was more renowned,’ the man spoke the words with great consideration, a frustration showing on his face.

‘You want Angelo to spread the rumours?’

‘No, we will soon be doomed to celebrity.’

‘How so?’

‘Future events, the planning is in place. We are doing everything we can to hit our own schedule, however.’

‘I’m a bit lost. Future events? Are you planning something?’

‘Others are.’

‘Who?’ Alison Wessex’s question was answered with silence.

‘What else can we do from my side?’ Wessex asked eventually.

‘Distract Zylinski.’

Angelo boarded the ship, led onwards by two men, tall and athletic. The men took him to a basic room and told him brusquely that they were to be his private quarters. Neither Neon One man said anything else to him; silent but neither dismissive nor menacing.

‘We have to do a risk check before take-off.’

‘Frisk me for bugs. Get me changed to new clothes, the usual crap?’

‘Sort of, we’ll return your clothes once they are checked. It’s routine.’

‘Fine. E.T.A for leaving?’

‘Fifty minutes. Arrival will be whenever we arrive.’

‘Makes sense not telling me.’

The men left the room and left Angelo alone. Wasting little time, da Silva undressed then put on the spare clothing, a simple jumpsuit, provided by his hosts. Folding his clothes up smartly, Angelo knelt down to the ground, positioned himself effortlessly before starting a set of press-ups, his fingertips the focal point of his weight. He was next visited twenty minutes later. After that the ship started its journey.

‘Angelo da Silva, I assume they treated you well?’

‘As expected.’

Drake Black escorted the man out of his private quarters and off the ship.

‘I won’t embarrass myself by giving a watered down show of our home. This is Copperhead. It’s the original Copperhead, where we made the steel and the ships. Effectively, no ships are built here anymore. We now focus this base on the influx of our pirate activity, exactly as the media will have you believe we do. Goods are taken off the ships, hostage pilots shuttled back home to safe zones on passenger shuttles where the pilots can get back to normality.’

‘Very civil of you,’ mocked Angelo da Silva.

‘Angelo, this is Junior Willenhall. He manages this base. Copperhead, as you’ll see, runs to his words.’

‘Not Marco Koivu?’

‘Micro-managed by me as Marco Koivu has his hands full as it is.’ Junior Willenhall reached out a hand. Angelo shook it, not sure whether to bother.

‘Walk with me. How much do you know of Copperhead?’

‘Not much, nobody does. Tough to fight against and long since lost to time.’

‘To most, that would be the case. What if it were found?’

‘By whom?’

‘By everyone.’

‘Not much would change. Longer fights, but no less fights.’

‘Maybe I’m a dreamer but I have often considered that the perfect armour would make fights pointless. Would anyone spend hours in a one vee one battle?’

‘I would.’ Angelo’s answer raised an eyebrow on Junior Willenhall. ‘I see your point though. However, Junior, assuming technology reached that point, there would always be someone who would make even more destructive forces to breach that kind of steel.’

‘Who would bother?’

‘CEOL? Any number of companies would like the cash.’

‘Thanks for answering. That gives you an idea as to why CEOL are one of our main targets. We are here to halt “whatever drives them to create that which fuels the Dead”. Without CEOL creating ammo, peace would come sooner.’

‘Your kind of peace may not be everyone else’s.’

‘It’s closer than Balev’s.’

‘Look at that Pilot. Do you think it’s closer than Balev’s?’ Angelo said pointing out a hostage ship’s stressed pilot.

‘Not right now, no. We will make him see when we send him home after a proper meal, shower and everything else. We look after him. Balev’s goal is money, and he will destroy that pilot to get it. Our goal is to take Balev’s money, his power, and that pilot there is unharmed in the process. Stressed but unharmed. We would eliminate his stress if we could.’

‘Noble words backed up by the usual hyperbole that I keep hearing.’

‘Angelo, it’s always going to be that way. How can we get you to understand and trust us? We can’t,’ Drake Black chipped in honestly.

‘So, why am I here?’

‘You are looking for the evil of the region. This is Georgi Balev’s evil enemy, this is as evil empire as we get.’

‘I doubt that. This Marco Koivu is someone I would prefer not to trust.’

‘Any evil he may do is minor compared to the Dead.’

‘I keep hearing that too. Nobody seems to be taking me to the Dead either.’

‘I have spoken to Marco Koivu. He knows that. All I can advise is that like most pilots the Dead will come to you.’

‘So, if I was to say that Copperhead, Neon One, and the Dead are connected, I might be right?’

‘Not really, no. Neon One and the Dead are dubbed pirates. We are pirates. Different politics, but yes we are terrorists by definition, connected by deeds but not in any other way. We are not the Dead nor linked to the Dead. Copperhead the manufacturer no longer exists to the outside world of Neon One. We do not sell military-grade products to anyone. We create steel for ourselves.’

‘Why?’

‘So that I can have a fighting chance at getting the medicines through checkpoints.’

‘No legendary ships?’

‘Why bother? We have the technology, yet, it’s quicker and cheaper for us to modify borrowed CEOL ships with superior upgrades. Follow me through this door and you will see what we make.’

The three men ventured down a corridor into a large room, five hundred feet wide. The heat from the room had hit Angelo da Silva before he had entered the room.

‘The factory floor?’

‘Yes, the steelworks. We make the armour here. If you want to follow me, I’ll take you to your room, and a canteen. You can rest up and go anywhere you want within reason. Rather than lead you around ourselves, it’s up to you to have a look around and you can take as long as you want. I’ve provided a map of the station in your room. There will be very few rooms off limit. See what we make, speak to anyone within reason and get a look about, an idea of what we do here. See the evils of our own war. What more can I do?’ advised Junior Willenhall.

‘When you’re ready, Angelo, speak to anyone and ask to be taken to myself or Junior, and let us know if you want anything else or to be taken back to Faith,’ Drake added casually in his laid back manner offering up a hearty smile.

Angelo was shown the door of Junior Willenhall. Deciding to be polite, he knocked, was invited in and was soon as distracted as his host was with the news story in front of him.

‘Is that more violence on Faith?’ Angelo asked pointing at a holo-screen.

‘Yes, looks that way, Angelo. Your Zylinski has his work cut out for him. The miners are rioting.’

‘How long has it been?’

‘It started a couple of hours after you left for here. Riots are always a news story that the media love. I’ve seen bottles being thrown, Military Police in riot gear, and as of now it is a standoff. It all exploded fast from what I can tell. The news being the news they have spent hours talking about very little. Same faces, no new information.’

‘Excited miners get angry when screwed by the government.’

‘Drake said exactly the same.’

‘Glad I am here and not on Faith, Angelo.’

‘Do you not feel any guilt?’

‘Why would I, Angelo? I never screwed them, the Government did,’ Junior Willenhall stated back, eyes on the news.

‘You guys get them riled. You’re attacking ships, it don’t matter which ships. You, the Dead, you all take some blame for making this. The fear spreads like wildfire.’

‘Yes, of that I have guilt. Where we build peace fear lives. How can I stop that? Fear is inevitable.’

‘Just like your leader would say. Ain’t no sunshine for your guys? A war for peace is still a war.’

‘Nice line; a war is still a war, whatever the price and the reward, it is a war. Neon One does what it has to. Did you find what you sought here?’

‘Terrorists? Yes. I have an idea what Marco Koivu expected me to find.’

‘They are your questions to find answers for, and your answers to find. He anticipates you will find no answers. I assume that he trusts that you finding no answers will mean that you will leave us alone. We are not the Dead. You have us. Do what you will. Tell Zylinski. Look for the Dead some more. Look into CEOL. We have little more to neither discuss nor show you,’ Junior Willenhall spoke politely looking at the screen.

‘Time for me to go?’

‘You have had a day of looking around, meeting people and seeing what your eyes see. You decide. Stay, go. Wait and look some more. It is up to you, Angelo. You will not return, so be sure you have seen all you would like to see here.’

Leaving the Faith Space Station docking bay Angelo da Silva followed the steel stairwell towards Commander Zylinski’s office. He tensed his hands tight, before rapping his knuckles on the door. Advised to enter, he did so, and once inside noticed that the Commander was not alone.

‘Angelo da Silva, you have met Benedict Valon before.’

The two men exchanged formal greetings, before Zylinski spoke further.

‘We need to keep this brief, as Valon and I have other engagements shortly. What have you learned?’

‘Little. That Neon One still make Copperhead steel to use as cladding on stolen CEOL ships. They make and take medicine to hospitals as an act of charity, some of it stolen or the raw ingredients are stolen they say from the greedy hands of CEOL. Lastly, their leader Marco Koivu is about as trustworthy as a thief in the night.’

Commander Zylinski considered the name of Marco Koivu.

‘I am not too sure how trustworthy he is. He is, uncooperative, at the least. He’s hiding something.’

‘So, you have been to the base and seen their actions. Do we now try to find their base?’ Benedict Valon asked before further drinking his coffee.

Zylinski considered the question, a crease appearing on his forehead. ‘We don’t know where they are. Angelo had no way to map the path to the base. They are efficient at covering their tracks.’

‘I would also advise that they are not the greatest danger. Who do you want us to find, Valon? The Dead or any pirate faction we can get our hands on?’ Angelo asked deliberately being awkward.

‘Who do I prefer? The Dead. Whom would I like? I like you to find anyone that helps the people. Forget about me, politics, the election, Balev and Poole. If we are doing this for the people, no matter how much it benefits me or anyone else, what would the people want as a minimum? The answer would be “take down whomever” we can.’

‘Even if Neon One are being co-operative, leading us towards the Dead?’

‘Are they? Or are they just deflecting blame onto everyone else to bide time?’ questioned Zylinski irritating da Silva.

‘You should know the answer, Benedict?’ scorched back a suddenly surly Angelo da Silva.

‘Angelo, watch yourself.’ The order from Zylinski failed to calm da Silva.

‘The ties that bind Valon to Neon One are still in place. I’m no fool.’

‘I’m a politician, I have no ties to Neon One. To Wessex, yes, we knew each other before she changed paths. That is her choice, not mine. I have nothing to do with them.’

‘And you have no contact with her? You neither support nor know of their actions?’

Valon showed no discomfort in Angelo da Silva’s questioning.

‘It would not be prudent of me to. Take down Neon One, I have no loyalties to Wessex, nor should I have. I am running for Prime Minister. To do so, one must be pure, to be honest. Being tied to Neon One would be sheer madness. I would not be where I am if I was connected. As I said, the people will want something to believe in, to ease their suffering. Neon One being brought to justice is that source.’

‘You yourself said you do not trust Marco Koivu, Angelo,’ Zylinski added.

‘Are they that bad? Marco Koivu aside? Or would you rather just do whatever you can for your own greed for power?’ fumed da Silva.

‘Last warning, da Silva.’

‘Or what? You take me off this mission, and get someone else to find the Dead? Good luck with that. You say taking out Neon One is what the people want. The people want firepower to protect them. All the reports we have seen of late show the Dead are doing the damage. I know the people care more about the Dead. We all know that. The only person who has intimated to me that they know how to find the Dead is Marco Koivu. I don’t trust him but if we bring them down, we may not ever find the Dead. I’ve done this shit before with the Devil’s Militia. I am telling you to wait on Neon One. If they are taken down, who am I supposed to get answers from? You move on them, and I will quit. If I cannot do this my way, then I go.’

‘Your way?’ Zylinski choked back.

‘You must trust me. If I have to party with killers to get to the Devil then I will. I say again, I don’t trust Marco Koivu. You can say all you like back but you gave me a thankless job in the expectation, and you can take this whatever way you want, in the expectation that you get elected based on the results of the people’s change in happiness. It would be a win-win for all, except for the fact that I have to find a needle in a haystack.’ Silence responded starkly to Angelo’s words.

‘You have to decide whether the people want any old rusty needle or the one that keeps stabbing them. If it’s any old needle then you can arrest Alison Wessex and get her to give up Koivu’s location, and Neon One. Good luck with getting that out of your old friend. Zylinski will await orders to move on the location and whilst his pilots and military stock is rolling away after Neon One, the Dead can carry on moving in on our turf with little to defend us. Let me know. I am going to my ship to rest up,’ da Silva ended his tired, angry rant staring directly at Valon.

Within seconds, Angelo da Silva had stormed out of the office leaving the two other men dumbstruck, unable to instantly react.

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