Ghosts

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Chapter 3 – “Darn politics”.

Lynette de Cesare cast her gaze towards the camera. Behind her the throng of people flowed along the busy station shopping route.

Businessmen decked in fine suits fused with tourists and shoppers all gazing at the reporter. She ignored them with aplomb, counted to five then started talking into her microphone.

‘People often wonder what our Governments do for us, for them, for you. We cast aspersions on their ethics, their morals, their motivations, based on fear and paranoia,’ she spoke aloud before pausing for breath.

‘Today, Halcyon and the Faith Space Station portray a citizenship rocked by such doubts, questions raised of whom the elected people care for most. Fuelled by gossip and mystery, reports are now emerging of ministerial malpractice, governmental fraud and law-breaking. At present, at least five ministers have been caught up in the scandal rocking Faith.’ Lynette de Cesare further paused, this time for dramatic effect.

‘The people want names. The people want answers. Most of all our people demand justice. The former two are likely, the latter, in the eyes of the public, the populace, is not. All eyes are on the Halcyon parliament, furious and fiery. Some names are rumoured, truth hidden like Halcyon’s ocean pearls, and with legal injunction orders enforcing silence from the media, answers are on hold. We have them, and rest assured, I, Lynette de Cesare will be first to deliver the truth, as always.’

The reporter stopped her story, the camera crew relaxed and they re-ran the video feed.

‘Was that okay? I’m not happy with it.’

‘Lynette, you are never happy.’

‘I know that. I’m a perfectionist, just re-run it for me.’

Taking the recording back to the start, Lynette de Cesare knew instantly that it would be re-filmed.

‘Are we shuffling the deck?’ a voice asked.

‘Like a pack of cards. Seven are out, for certain,’ the reply came back in the dark, as the wind brushed over the man’s body, blowing his clothes.

‘As high up as you?’

‘Not likely, but we are talking it over. People are ready to explode. Unlikely, but even I may be sacrificed depending on the media.’

‘It’s what CEOL and the others want?’

‘What CEOL want?’ The second man laughed aggressively. ‘They want status quo, but the only change being of more power and money, routed into their loving grasp. It’s what the public demand that is a concern.’

‘Am I safe?’

‘Are any of us safe? We are all going to die someday, politically too. You… You should be okay. Possible cuts to your team. No promotions for you, my son.’

‘Never expected any. I’m lucky to keep my job. I am grateful for that much.’

‘For now, but more heads will roll. What is done is done, however. Some of us will be sacrificial lambs.’

‘Some are innocent...’

‘From this deed, yes, but politics is a minefield. Ticking away is our own time-bomb.’

The wind kicked up again.

‘It’s late, we should head home. We will have a long day tomorrow,’ Henry Poole stated, turning to leave, he swung his head back to offer one final warning.

‘Remember the protocol. No comments.’

‘Seems every day is long nowadays.’

‘You could always quit your post,’ Poole mocked unpleasantly before he slapped the other man on his back heavily.

‘Look, like I said, what is done is done. We move forwards. I have more to lose than you, yet I smile. See my smile?’

‘Yes, it would make a serial killer think twice, Henry Poole,’ the response shot back.

‘In Parliament, we’re all screwed up little people with God complexes, and I, Henry Poole am God of Gods, king of kings, the Prime Minister, for tonight at least.’

Two fighters flanked two large commercial haulers as their twelve engines burned fiery blue behind them. The fighters, armed with lethal firepower had been sent to guard the haulers whose cargo value outweighed the cost of all four crafts. The unarmed cargo vessels’ sole defence was entrusted to the wingmen.

Approaching a jumpgate, the convoy iterated their ID’s to the Military Police fighters, barricading the colossal cold metal gate, its lights blinking in the emptiness.

The military response was short and sweet.

‘Verified, have a safe journey. Nearest Military Police carrier is the Thor C.S outside of the Natione region, just near the CEOL H-Five asteroid belt.’

The fellowship entered the gate, a fighter at the fore and one at the aft, all ships matching speed.

The crews held tight as they were flung across space. They left jumpgate space and started once more on their route, starlight shining off the cold, grey steel.

‘Another gate coming up, a mini-gateway, accessing Natione. We should then be nearing a base soon enough. We will stop off there to re-supply, any reservations?’

’I think these ‘rats have,’ the second fighter replied.

‘What?’ glancing back at his scanners. ‘They must have been waiting for someone to jump through.’

‘I think our guests want the cargo. Let’s give them the fighters’ cargo.’

‘I believe they want the haulers’ cargo.’

‘Still, it’s good to be charitable.’

‘Haulers, keep on to the gate. We will take on the enemy,’ signalled the lead fighter turning off towards the inbound pirates.

‘Five of them, we need to fight strong.’

‘Roger that.’

‘Looks like a standard fleet of four light fighters, rust buckets, and a tidy heavy fighter. Let’s rock and roll.’

The rival ships exchanged laser fire, piercing across each others bows. Several hundred kilometres away the two haulers pushed silently on towards the jumpgate, hoping first to make it there without any physical damage and second, to have two friendly, healthy fighters with them when they got there.

They watched the fight on their monitors as long range scanners and sensors showed the clash unfold. Shields fluctuated, dipping low then gradually rising higher as the battle swung like a pendulum favouring one side then the next.

The pirates swarmed around the CEOL fighters, orbiting at a distance allowing them to flank the opposition, weaponry at optimal range. Lasers pulsed, beams drilling closer and closer to breaking down enemy shields, trajectory software tracking each spin, body-roll and speed change the ships made to avoid being hit.

CEOL-manufactured friend or foe missiles screamed out of their missile launchers, chasing down a nearby fighter. The rusted ship rocked sideways as two of the missiles punched strong and deep on the target, smashing through its shields and battering the metal base. Fire blistered the inside of the ship.

The CEOL fighters combined their fire onto the stricken pirate. The hull breach lasted mere seconds; the crew had barely time to use their escape pods and were caught up in the explosion.

‘One down,’ said an emotionless voice as its owner checked the status of the haulers.

‘Are you two okay?’ he asked. The cargo carriers both responded positively.

The pirates continued their attack, smashing at the fighters’ shields with lasers, strong and colourful, but equally vindictive. Shields sparked, pulsed and finally one of the CEOL fighter shields relinquished its resignation, over-whelmed by sheer force. Like piranhas the pirates concerted their firepower onto the craft.

The CEOL pilot, desperate to repair new damage to his armour and hull, waited for his shields to come back online at a small but much-needed twenty percent volume.

The pilot launched several more missiles aimed at the weakest of the pirates, as lasers grinded into his metal armour. The missiles all hit home, the pirate ship, wounded severely, was left defenceless. The pirate bailed his ship, aware that the structure could not withstand the onslaught.
Having narrowed the odds down the CEOL fighters’ strategy rested on their own far superior shields. With a constant blistering of defences, fast turrets sent out a barrage of laser streams out at the CEOL ships.

The pirates refused to allow the suffering, weaker CEOL fighter’s shields to get above failing level. The shield reactivated, failed, and reactivated and then failed in a continuous loop of breakdown as the lasers over-powered the recharge rate of the ship’s defence. Steel buckled slowly, ripped, seared, and scarred as the piranhas bit hard.

‘My armour’s gonna be breached. I’m gonna have to get out of the battle until my shield repairs. You okay to cover me?’

‘Should be fine for a bit…’ the second pilot replied. A cloud of debris exploded in his rear view monitor. The ship targeted behind him imploded with fury.

’We will be fine now, especially as another one of them ‘rats has gone boom! You get safe and stay away from here.’

‘Roger that.’ The ship spun away and took off towards the jumpgate and the watching, waiting haulers, leaving behind the skirmish raging behind his punished ship.

‘Bring it on, baby!’ a voice roared out in his cockpit as his wingman continued his assault on the remnants of the pirate fleet, now down to only two ships.

‘Hold tight, I just need a few minutes of zero-punishment to reactivate the shields, if you can give me that?’ the first pilot spoke back.

He glanced at his monitor as each minute passed. His own shields had risen as fast as his colleagues had dropped.

‘Hold on buddy, hold on!’ he prayed silently, kicking his reverse boosters into life.

The battle, fuelled by greed and pride entertained the local stars, and with a resurgent second CEOL fighter to aid its wingman the pirates soon were on the back foot.

The pirate heavy fighter was the first of the remaining enemies to fall, missiles and laser fire blitzing through the hardened defences.

The last pirate fled, speed enough to ensure escape mixed well with the lack of need to chase it by the CEOL defenders.

‘Let’s get that band of haulers home,’ the lead pilot ordered.

‘Roger that. And us too!’

The CEOL ships caught up with the freighters and entered the jumpgate. Their journey onwards was a safer one.

Lynette de Cesare sat aboard her ship enthusiastically dragging her left hand across a holo-screen. In her right hand she rolled an old metal pen between her fingers.

‘Why do you still use pen and paper, Lynette?’ her personal assistant Amir Rai enquired as he entered her office aboard the news ship, the place she lovingly considered her home from home.

‘I like the feel of it. Pens feel… Timeless. Technology has its uses obviously, but it’s nice to keep hold of the past. I get to control what I do, and some people still appreciate hand-written letters,’ Lynette de Cesare replied, pondering a question of her own.

‘Georgi Balev. What do you know of him?’ Lynette asked bringing up a file on the holo-screen.

‘Well, that is him!’ Amir replied pointing at a picture on the screen whilst smiling cheekily.

‘Seriously, humour me.’

‘Bad choice of words but okay, Balev owns sixty percent of CEOL, runs with an iron fist, and is fiery, driven, greedy and two-faced, but my, what a businessman. CEOL is in the top five universal conglomerates, shipping all from soil and seeds, minerals and ore, to guns for loud bang-bangs from this region to other sectors further afield. The man is the second richest man in this region based on reported assets. The richest man is Christian Cristobal. Little is known about Cristobal, but he inherited the money from a well-known quirky family. Who knows about Balev’s money? Inherited too, possibly? Balev himself is a generous benefactor of scientific research.’ Amir paused for breath before joking.

‘This is probably because he can easily buy the patents, far outbidding others. The man has his fingers on the pulse of humankind.’

‘Like a vampire?’ teased Lynette de Cesare.

‘More like a leech. Why?’

‘I think that he is up to something.’

‘That figures. Like what?’

‘I can’t say just yet. Sources are a bit iffy. I want to build a story on him if possible. It’s about time someone analysed CEOL and him.’

‘It’s a brave move to investigate someone with such connections.’

‘Possibly, he’s no worse than the Government and I looked into them, didn’t I?’

‘About that, how are we doing? Are the legal restrictions gone yet? Can we dish that dirt?’ Amir Rai asked smiling serenely.

‘Not yet. I do believe we have another legal extension, lawyer hocus-pocus and gobbledegook. Typical, but we have been here before and when life gives one some lemons…’

‘Make duck in lemon sauce?’

‘Preferably, yes. I need to study our renowned poor little rich man, Georgi Balev. How did he make his money? Was it just via CEOL?’

‘Made the name and built the brand himself. He’s a proud man because of it, too.’

‘Did CEOL start off small?’

‘You mean did he get all his money from CEOL? No. Bigger than that, expanded since of course but still started with lots of funds. He had big cash to fuel his energies.’

‘Funds from where I wonder?’

‘Nobody knows. It’s a big universe. Old money? Rich people stay quiet for so long, die, and an egotistical extrovert inherits the wealth and flashes the cash. That may be our Georgi Balev.’

‘It may not be our Georgi Balev. As you said it’s a big bad, world out there. Hungry poor men get rich quick when eyes are turned. And rich men get greedier when opportunity presents itself.’

‘Opportunities or the Devil?’

‘Both opportunities and the Devil, Amir, my lovely Amir. How are CEOL stocks doing, off the top of your head?’

‘You can see prices on the market data files.’

‘No, I mean, I can see the cost, however is that high or low compared to forecasted earnings, potential and growth?’

‘Beat’s me, Lynette. I majored in politics and minored in sports journalism, as you know. I don’t know economics much. I’d figure that it’s high but that’s only based on individual share numbers.’

‘I need to dig up more on him. I will ask our expert analysts.’

‘Well, if you need any help, you only have to ask, you got your team right here with you, ready and willing.’

‘Amir, petal, we need to concentrate on one scandal at a time, lovely, and the downfall of a local Government is a good place to start.’

‘Good, fine, just whilst we are being side-tracked by our thoughts of Georgi Balev, CEOL have made a statement an hour ago regarding more pirate attacks. It’s pretty aggressive and aimed directly at Neon One, accusing them of the attacks on several haulers in the Natione region. CEOL won the fight but ultimately the piracy is becoming worse.’

‘I never saw that statement, interesting.’

‘They want the Military Police to do more patrols, but most of all to take down Neon One permanently. It’s starting to get heated out in space.’

‘Figuratively speaking, I assume, Amir?’

‘I’d better do some more work. You can follow the news on the pirate attack if you want?’

‘Pretty bad news when the media’s top reporter is following the news, isn’t it Amir?’ jested Lynette de Cesare.

‘It’d be a story in itself. Sorry, but you knew what I meant.’

‘Of course I did, dearest’

Amir Rai shuffled out of the room leaving Lynette de Cesare to stare blankly at the screen. She started to scribble down notes on the pad of paper in front of her, her left hand frantically inking her notes onto the page. Once the page had been half-filled she stood up and walked over to a pin-board on the wall opposite her desk and pinned it on.

In the far corner of the room, a large expensive bed resided, red satin sheets decorating it. The bed caught her tired eyes, begging for attention. Lynette de Cesare pushed the thoughts to one side, promising herself to only delay sleep for another hour. The hour came and went, but the holo-screen was still working, data screens stacked up in use, along with an antique solid gold fountain pen and an expensive coffee-stained paper pad.

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