Ghosts

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Chapter 21 - “Top hat, the iron and the dog”.

‘Benedict, what do you want me to do?’

The politician didn’t reply immediately, walked across the room impatiently, thinking to himself.

‘We can’t win, can we? Your pilot is right. If I tell you to make a move on Alison Wessex, we lose any connection to Neon One, and with it any control over the whole situation.’

‘Do we even have any control, Benedict?’

‘We have Alison Wessex under control. We can get to Neon One swiftly for now. At least, we can follow and watch her.’

‘They will be expecting that,’ Zylinski replied emotionlessly.

‘Then they won’t be surprised when we do watch her. As for Marco Koivu?’

‘We have no leads on him. He vanishes like a ghost. We can bug Wessex’s office. I will have that arranged.’

‘Will that not cause more problems?’

‘I doubt it. If they expect it, then we are just following their stereotype. They will likely be prepared for it and may give little away.’

‘Do that then. It’ll be me that gets the blame from Alison. She will assume that it was my idea. I’m happy with that.’

‘So, that’s settled, and the shipyard?’

‘We cannot do anything on it. Its legality is not subject to ratification as it is outside our jurisdiction, isn’t it? Your military ships are not allowed to do anything on it. So, we wait.’

‘So, we just wait on it? Wait for what exactly?’ Zylinski queried following the man as he roamed across the office.

‘I have no idea. To see if they are used for evil, I guess. It could just be Balev’s personal protection. It’s a possibility, isn’t it?’

‘Of course, he’d need protection, too.’

‘If we had answers we’d be done by now, instead we are left holding weak cards praying others hold weaker. Angelo da Silva has worked hard and is bringing some light to this shameful mess. I’d give him more time but the elections are due and with early election surveys and all of that coming up, I would like to hold better cards. More will be done once I’m voted in.’

‘You all hold cards, but it looks like Balev and Poole have been using theirs to build a house of cards, and it’s going to collapse.’

‘Not a great analogy. Collapse? How so?’

‘I have received confirmation, evidence of CEOL blackmail, and bribery. I may have to act on it.’

‘It does not surprise me of their deeds, but evidence? Who is the source?’

‘The usual sources, whistle-blowers mostly. Someone inside doesn’t like CEOL and it’s all in my hands. I have told Poole I will act on it within twenty-four hours.’

‘You told him?’ Valon enquired surprised.

‘I had to. It’s my duty to do so. He is in charge of us all, technically.’

‘So, he can tell Balev, who can hide the proof. All evidence washed out like a cloudy day losing sunshine?’

‘CEOL can’t hide from it. I have proof already. Anything else is just extra gravy.’

‘So, you have evidence on Balev?’

‘No, sadly not, that would be the gravy we seek. I can arrest to a certain level of his hierarchy. It’ll send a message out at the least.’

‘And what message is that?’

‘Don’t get caught?’ jested Zylinski.

‘Balev thinks he is above the law.’

‘Technically, with the sectors he has purchased, some of which are legal, he is above the law. Out of our jurisdiction, means he’s in a lawless society of one, the one that he rules alone. He more than anyone else, bought the outer sectors. Most other conglomerates kept purchases in our jurisdiction; it allows them to be protected by us, where possible. Out there, beyond our perimeter, the space belongs to anybody, to whoever hits the hardest. That is a risk but also brings greater short-term opportunities for the controlling groups. The minerals are stronger out there. We would expect CEOL to join our political system, and agree to the law in doing so once there is a requirement for it. The contract states that once expansion target levels are hit the political system is triggered giving equal rights to all.’

‘And that would make the shipyard seem logical from a CEOL perspective. He can fund his own battleships, he can rule with an iron fist, scare off any other companies nearby with his might, and dictate like a dictator desires.’ Benedict Valon scowled as he said the words, contempt revealing itself.

‘You can see why he may not want your taxes. He would pay a big price for your army, on top of the cost of making his own small army. If they entered our space, our jurisdiction, he would be liable to pay the tax. It would all just mean the man would have to keep his army outside our perimeter, not protecting his own fleet.’

‘He couldn’t do that. His market is here, in Halcyon’s regions. He has no market out there. And unless people relocated it’s not happening. He has no Faith-sized base to accommodate the people to justify it. He intends to send goods to Halcyon; he intends to protect them with ships. And he wants not to pay the tax.’

‘If you do not win the election, then he won’t pay the taxes.’

‘I can’t see how he can influence it enough. However that is why I want something on Neon One, or the Dead, anyone or thing that makes the people sit up and listen, to judge me on my principles. Our actions shall be mighty, Commander Zylinski. I want to give you the swords to strike with.’

Benedict Valon checked the time.

‘I have to go, let me know of any developments.’ Both men shook hands before Valon left the office.

The sun illuminated Alison Wessex’s office as Marco Koivu walked in. The agent sat at her desk, professionally looking through a raft of files on a holo-screen as she talked on a phone call. Moving towards a coffee-machine resting on a cabinet in-between two floor-to-ceiling bookcases, the man poured two coffees, putting milk and sugar in one and leaving the other black. Passing the white coffee to the agent, Marco Koivu sat down patiently, sipping at his coffee.

Alison Wessex ended the call, took a drink of coffee and turned her attention to her guest.

‘I’m all yours.’

‘I will be brief. I plan to get back to Heart of Oak as soon as possible.’

‘Good. I have some visitors today, more pilots.’

‘Nice to hear. About that shipyard, it’s done with.’

‘Gone?’

‘Yes.’

‘Us?’

‘Of course.’

‘When?’

‘Yesterday.’

‘Why?’

Marco Koivu tired of the quick-fire responses, knowing Wessex was teasing him.

‘It was a problem, something that needed taking out of the equation sooner rather than later.’

‘I agree but still, it was a bit pre-emptive.’

‘I had a disagreement with Balev’s tactics. It got ugly.’

‘You’ve lost me.’

‘I had to help out a hauler, the Dead attacked him. I took them out. Knowing what we know about Georgi Balev, I was angry, and my anger found a target, so I visited him. Not far from here, across the bridge. It was messy. He was in the hotel. I warned him.’

‘He won’t listen.’

‘No, he cares more for the damage to his face than the warning. He will be pissed. His guards took most of the pain, but he will be pissed.’

‘You just went in there and took it to him?’

‘Why not?’

‘Why not indeed? Oh, wait; it’s just not the done thing.’

‘Etiquette was the last thing on my mind. We know his game. We know where he is intending this to go and the means he is using. Why shouldn’t he be warned to stop? Is Zylinski warning him?’

‘Zylinski doesn’t know everything. Should we not just tell him?’

‘Would it change anything? We all know the Dead are going to carry on their little games no matter what Zylinski knows. If I told him, he’d just laugh and ask for proof.’

‘You have it to give.’

‘It… Incriminates our own people. Our sleepers, they need not be involved.’

‘So, this is just you versus Balev.’

‘Hasn’t it always been?’

‘Marco Koivu, don’t you harm the pilots I send you. I am warning you. You warned Balev, and I will warn you. Our people are not to be thrown into some conflict, some mutual hatred between you two going back years.’

‘I know I am right on this. You will see.’

‘I have to let you know that for the record, I have reservations on where this is going to lead. Be careful.’

‘The shipyards are the biggest indication of where this is leading. I never started this. I am just preparing, reacting. I will look after our people. It’ll be Balev who threatens their lives not me, Alison.’

‘And our projects?’

‘The one you want to know about, Project Piranha-fish, it is almost completed.’

‘Almost?’

‘Yes, they are usable, ninety-nine percent ready. We may need to test them in the correct environment but yes, ready.’

‘So, what happens from here?’

‘I will send them out for testing.’

‘At Copperhead?’

‘No, my team at Darkwood will prepare them under supervision.’

‘Do we have a timescale for the testing?’ Alison Wessex spoke, before chewing her upper lip for a second, and then sighing.

‘No, we will wait for a response from Balev. The election will be the key to his plans.’

‘Poole’s losing it, isn’t he?’

‘I would speculate that it’s gone from him now, too little time to remedy the damage. The Dead have been quiet for a bit, a few days, which may suit certain agendas. They may also be preparing something big. I would assume it will be after the election but they always catch everyone by surprise.’

‘Talking about surprises, Lynette de Cesare spoke about CEOL’s latest purchases?’ Wessex intimated, surprised by the man’s reaction.

‘What sector?’

‘Nope, not what sector. What companies.’

‘Companies?’

‘Yes, it seems that Georgi Balev has bought a few smaller mining companies, mostly outer-rim ice mining and haulage firms. Balev must have rattled you for you not to know that. Five of them were bought. This has been planned for a while. The fees are staggering. I’m actually surprised he had offered more than their worth, not less.’

‘I have been distracted. That will suit Balev, even if hitting his face was one of the distractions. Sometimes greed has a grand plan of its own. It may not make sense until all the variables are known, Alison. If he’s bought them then it is part of his plan. What firms?’

‘Odex Haulage is the largest name, with fifty haulers. They had been contracted to CEOL. No big leap to see them bought out. And two ice miners and a basic-mineral mining firm. The ice miners are interesting. Outer-rim has little ice of value. Most of the valuable elements are found around the Natione area.’

‘He wants ice to supply water if he builds more mining stations, maybe something larger, a station in the outer-rim, near the shipyards. If Benedict Valon loses the election, CEOL may be considering ramping up their manufacturing and sales of ships.’

‘Would they be test shipyards?’

‘I’d assume not solely for test purposes. My information hints that they are strategic resources in themselves. But yes, if they manufacture spare ships, certain companies will buy them. It all needs Poole to win and no Anti-Piracy tax.’

‘What happens if Poole loses?’

‘Balev will wait for Valon to make his political changes.’

‘What else, can he do?’

‘I won’t say, Alison. You know of Project Piranha-fish. I am ready. Before, after. Neon One is ready.’

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