Ghosts

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Chapter 4 – “Bad blood”.

Lynette de Cesare motioned for the camera to confirm it was sending the live feeds over to the studio.

‘Well, what we know at present is that five people have resigned from Parliament for various offences ranging from tax evasion to Governmental fraud, and more may follow. They have not admitted anything, just stating that it is in the interests of the public and the Government to resign whilst the investigations are ongoing.’

‘Lynette, can you name the names?’ A voice queried in her earpiece.

‘Legal law will stay in place for six more hours, and this effectively stops us giving them out until nineteen hundred hours, System Central Time. This is also subject to further legal arguments delaying it further. Until then, there will be an exclusion zone, around the Parliament Palace on the Faith Space Station, limiting the area to Police only, and then onwards only media access for twenty-four hours, at the least.’

‘What is the feeling of the people in that region, Lynette?’

‘I have spoken to a lot of people, here and on Halcyon, and the emotions are what one would expect, they are strong, passionate, some are angry that the corruption has been covered up for months. Others feel that they have been betrayed and are struggling to trust the Government for a resolution.’

‘Why do you think that the people have reacted so strongly?’

‘The Halcyon system is an undisturbed, under-developed region of known space, lost in the far outskirts of mankind’s reach, and shrouded by gas nebulas and a copious amount of verdant mineable asteroid fields. Work is, for once, plentiful; an industry thriving due to these mineral resources and the economy is growing.’ The reporter stopped to consider how to phrase the next part of her answer.

‘However, the people feel that working conditions worsen despite profits rising. Long, poorly paid hours replaced the early gold-rush years as companies founded themselves within the dust fields in the region. And now with the rise in aggressive regional piracy threatening lives, the public are concerned that Parliament has ignored their concerns, favoured illegal big company handouts, at the expense of the people.’

Having answered the question Lynette de Cesare mentally reminded herself of pre-prepared answers.

‘Has Parliament offered any statement on these allegations and issues?’

‘Not at present, and nothing can be expected until names of ministers involved are released. It’s troubling times out here as financial budgets tighten and anger rises.’

‘Will we see a new local cabinet of ministers formed?’

‘There seems to be two sides forming and of course we would all like to know how high up it goes. Benedict Valon, the Shadow Prime Minister has already spoken of his disappointment at what has been reported. When asked if he would seek a forced early election should the Prime Minister resign, Valon replied, “Yes, I would be proud to do so”. This indication by Valon of his intent to rival the powers in charge has led to calls for the resignation of Henry Poole by some.’

‘Valon is indeed an interesting candidate for election, Lynette.’

‘Yes, and Valon has stated that the people need listening to, not ignoring and that large companies in the region have too much control of Parliamentary regulations. He has called for reform and it’s likely to happen one way or another.’

‘How has Benedict Valon reacted to the Independent Miners’ Union’s call for Parliament to do more to stop piracy?’ The voice in Lynette’s earpiece asked calmly.

‘Positively, Valon has raised their plight before and is a huge advocate of an increased Military Police budget to prevent this pirate scourge. The Prime Minister Henry Poole has always destroyed this dream of Valon’s by claiming that funds are not available for such a vast expansion of their military fleet of ships,’ Lynette de Cesare replied with wild hand movements.

‘CEOL’s Georgi Balev has argued that funds could only be raised by tax increases and that CEOL would be highly against paying them. This is also something that Benedict Valon has pitched at high ranking officials in Parliament, much to CEOL’s dismay. Other companies have followed CEOL, causing a hotbed of arguments and fiery debates, none of which is helping the situation.’

‘What of the people, Lynette? What do they want?’

‘What the people here need and want are solutions and brave ministers to make them, not corruption and scandals.’

Behind Lynette de Cesare a surge of water rocketed up out of the ground as the Halcyon Lillypad garden fountain’s played. She had chosen to take a private shuttle to prepare to film her reports from the Governmental Palace once it re-opened to the media, however further legal rulings had prevented it.

‘Lynette, how does Balev expect Military Police to reduce crime outside of local, protected regions of space if funds are not raised via taxes? As you are aware CEOL are the strongest leaders in the Anti-Piracy Pact, and have pledged to end Piracy via Parliament.’

Lynette de Cesare pondered her answer, feigning a slight time delay in the video and sound feed.

‘It’s doubtful that a profit-obsessed organisation such as CEOL would put their own money into it, especially if Balev has told Parliament that he wishes to not pay the proposed Anti-Piracy Tax, which would mean paying extra tax on every trade vessel owned by the companies concerned. As CEOL owns over a thousand trading haulers and almost two hundred fighters to protect them that are owned, controlled or hired, Balev wants to avoid extra costs. Prime Minister Poole agrees. This is debated by Benedict Valon and makes the scandal showdown more of an important issue.’

‘Balev and Poole seem to be sharing the battle and hoping for the spoils of war, so to speak, Lynette’

‘If Prime Minister Poole resigns or is forced out, Balev will have lost his strongest comrade opposing the Anti-Piracy Tax bill, and Benedict Valon will push the tax through if he is made Prime Minister.’

’The tax, nicknamed by Balev as the ‘Nasty tax for the highest corporate earners,’ is mildly popular with the Independent Miners’ Union. Why is this?’

‘They have little to lose if it goes through as it’s a small fee for the small companies. On the opposing hand, they will have everything lost if they lose their ships and ore, with their livelihoods at threat.’

‘Lynette de Cesare thanks for talking to us from Halcyon. It’ll be interesting to see how this story turns out,’ the host in the newsroom advised Lynette de Cesare, who was soon removing her earpiece and preparing to pack up the equipment once more.

Benedict Valon sat in his office, alone and calm. A tall tanned, elegant man in his forties, Valon had risen through Government ranks through a strong, work ethic, dedicated social networking and a bold, confident, re-assuring smile. He rested at the top of the pyramid, primed, he anticipated, to win the local Halcyon elections, and to be named Prime Minister.
Valon drummed his fingers noisily on the desk as he waited for a call to be put through to him by his PA.

‘Commander Zylinski, how are things?’ he eventually asked as the call came through.

‘I’m good, Benedict, and yourself?’

‘I am stressed and nervous, as you’d expect, Commander.’

‘Sure, I won’t ask as I know you can’t say why you’re stressed. So, how can I help you?’

‘I’ll be brief, my friend, as we are both extra busy at present. Pirates, tell me more.’

‘You know it all, surely? There are several factions attacking miners, traders, and Military Police fighters. Lots of unhappy people.’

‘Would it be feasible, Commander, if I were to ask you to investigate it deeply and report it back to me?’ Benedict Valon requested confidently with a smile.

‘Of course, will this be an official or unofficial investigation?’

‘The official reports I can see. They have been going on for a long time without many answers. So, let’s say unofficial. Tell me, the truth commander. Reports seldom ever do, and if I were to replace the under-fire Henry Poole, then I would look to start actions against piracy.’

‘Fine, can I give my tuppence-worth?’

‘It depends, Commander Zylinski, on what it is.’

‘The base is over-stretched with insufficient ships as it is. We need funding for more flying-steel and we can’t do more than we already are.’

‘I am aware of that. We would have to find solutions. First though, we find the problems. Listen, Commander Zylinski, I have an urgent meeting in Parliamentary Palace now, so I have to say goodbye for now. Can I trust you to start operation freedom?’

‘Benedict, if you give me three weeks, I’ll give you answers!’

‘Two weeks, and then we can look at how much more time is needed! Thank you for your help, Commander Zylinski, and good day for now.’ Benedict Valon hung up the call and collected his suit jacket and hat from a coat rack and left his office. His PA passed him several unopened letters before the front door shut behind him.

Commander Zylinski sat at his desk in the centre of the office. Resting lazily on a long black office sofa was a man in a black tee shirt and cargo pants. The man, jet black hair spiked an inch high had deep-black-inked tattoos all up in his arms telling a dark disturbed story of death, torture and passion, their owner never talked of the tattoos nor the long scars that hid beneath them. Left to moments of calm contemplation the meanings were an overlooked reminder of a violent war from yesteryear.

An old dog-tag hung around the tattooed soul’s neck, a thick strong neck of a powerful athlete, olive skin lean over bruising muscle.

Zylinski picked up a thin folder of military files. He stood up slowly and marched a dossier over to the sofa, handing it over to his guest. One more copy stayed in Zylinski’s grip.

‘Angelo da Silva, former military pilot, thirty-two years old, trained in the Barrera-Idrissa Military Academy at sixteen. Graduated a year early at seventeen, having passed flight training, fleet tactical awareness and pretty much every dog-fighting technique there is, all early, and all with aplomb. Psychiatric mental assessment pinned you in the top one percent of the database, all of whom would be considered far more advanced than the average civilian.’

Zylinski looked at the man for a few quiet seconds.

’You also had advanced M.S.A training specialising in undercover operations and persuasion. Commander Zylinski stopped talking suddenly, looking once again away from the dossier and up at the man.

‘I refuse to comment, Commander.’ The man spoke gruffly, with boredom feeling that he was required to speak.

‘You were a vital pawn in the war against the Devil’s Militia pirate group, who are now no more, only the splinter group known just as the Dead are left.’

‘No comment.’

‘You don’t need to comment. This here is the file other soldiers do not have, black op’s pilot, undercover expert, soldier.’

The tattooed warrior stayed lazily slumped, a face perfect for poker shrouding his emotions.

‘After the war, you took a position aboard Faith Space Station. No one knows why you chose Faith, and not the academies and military bases you began at. Personally, I believe that you like blowing those Dead ships across the big black space.’

‘No comment.’

Zylinski noted the lack of reaction from the soldier.

‘I’ve called upon you for all of the stated qualifications and hates. You, Angelo are the man for my mission. You can get the answers where most people find firewalls and I assume that you’d like to end the Dead’s reign of terror.’

‘All good soldiers would.’

‘Most can’t do it,’ Zylinski answered back bluntly.

‘And I can?’

‘You can remove the stars from the skies, Angelo. I’m just giving you the chance to prove it.’

‘So, you give me a ship and want me to go on a one-man rampage killing all in a hail of bullets and rockets? No can do.’

‘I want you to use diplomacy. Government wants answers, CEOL and others do, I do too, and I guess that you do. Before we can fight a war, we need intel. Get us that and I’ll get you as big a ship you want with a bay full of torpedoes,’ Zylinski said with determination.

‘I’ve been given two weeks to get as much data as we can. Here’s the dossier, let me know today if you accept the duty.’

‘I do, so leave me to start the mission, Commander.’

‘Good, Angelo, you can go and keep me informed. The sooner we end piracy, the better.’

Angelo da Silva leafed through the dossier given to him by Commander Zylinski.

‘Let’s start at the CEOL attack reports,’ he said to his yawning dog, Pluto. The dog ignored him and rolled onto its back.

Angelo da Silva fired off an email requesting private details from a senior contact within CEOL, details provided within the dossier. The response was cautious, advising that da Silva’s credentials were to be confirmed by Commander Zylinski’s office.

An hour later a second email replied to him, detailing an answer to his questions.

“Attacks on CEOL ships and their escorts occurred in the Natione region on four occasions and three times in the New Foundland gas fields, two fatalities occurred and we lost seven ships, all in the week,” Angelo read out aloud.

“The latter is the area we are most concerned about as the new nearby jumpgate will soon be active and we will be opening up a new mining region, the Lief-Jung asteroid fields. This will happen in two weeks or thereabouts and we will need it to be a pirate free-zone,” the email detailed. Angelo da Silva read on, taking notes on the new CEOL investment plans.
A line of text half way down the long email raised an eyebrow and made Angelo stop to re-read it. He did this several times, before writing the text down on his view-screen computer.
The text cursor blinked sequentially back at him as he took his hands off the keyboard.

“This ore-field will have a massive impact on the manufacture of new CEOL fighters, infiltrators and carriers, and is a priority in our strategic and deliberate control of the region,” Angelo’s words echoed in the apartment as his neck and shoulders tensed up.

He typed seven letters on to the computer screen.

‘Control?’ he questioned.

‘Control?’ he repeated.

‘Prime Minister Poole? Angelo da Silva. I’m doing a report for Commander Zylinski regarding the pirates in the region. Can I have a word with you?’

The man had approached him without a care in the world, or fear of the burly security staff that overlooked Poole’s journeys. Angelo da Silva handed over ID to one of the close protection officers.

‘The ID checks out, Sir.’

‘Okay, my son, you have less than five minutes. Walk with me to my shuttle. Firstly, you can tell Zylinski that I know this is Benedict Valon’s doing. That fool is doing the Devil’s work for him and you are too.’

‘I will. Tell me about the new Lief-Jung asteroid fields.’

‘You want to know about the new CEOL asteroid field? I don’t have much data on it, just the usual Governmental reports that are still due to be completed. It’s new. It’ll be ready in several months. Planning permission should be granted.’

‘It’s not already approved?’

‘No, hence my saying that it will take several months.’

‘Will CEOL be able to open the jumpgate without planning?’

‘Off the record, all of this, I assume? I cannot give an opinion or information out without the full details. No, the gates are not allowed to open without permissions, and will take, as I said several long, intensive months of analysis and checks. I am telling you this as it’s in my interest to do so. Besides, it’s not privileged information. The planning is on the public register and any trained chimp or clown can find it.’

Poole stopped to sign a document his assistant passed to him.

‘This is my ride, Mr da Silva. I and the Government thank you for your time and interest in regional politics. Good day,’ Henry Poole stated hurriedly.

Angelo da Silva stopped, turned about and walked back the way he came.

‘Now to see Benedict Valon. He should be more forthcoming,’ he mused silently.

Several fighters tore through a closely-packed asteroid field. Rocks bounced off the shields as the crafts rocketed along.

Guns opened fire sending a stream of green and white laser beams through space, blitzing through asteroid rocks. Their targets shifted position, engine boosters pushing the ships forward hoping to avoid the laser fire.

Seared metal flamed angrily as the lasers collided. Red lights furiously flashed inside a cockpit, ignored by the pilot who knew of the dangers.

‘All hail the Dead!’ a broadcasted message, issued in a robotic and echoed tone. The boomed statement was to be repeated throughout the quick battle. It was a much-feared warning. Laser streams criss-crossed roughly between the asteroids as the ships dog-fought aggressively. The defending transport ships, CEOL ID plates welded to the side, veered left and right, stranded without fighter wingmen of their own, desperately outnumbered two to six and heavily-outgunned.

The assault, cruel and vicious, was soon to end as the CEOL haulers were notified of the nearest military crafts several hours journey away, a reply to a desperate plea. Two life-pods ejected out of the haulers, vacating the ships to wait like ghost ships for pirates to claim.

A speaker in each of the life-pods communication network broke the lonely silence with the sound every pilot dreaded most.

‘All hail the Dead. You and your life-pods are now our assets. You are now Dead.’

A frustrated, scared scream roared out lost inside of one of the pods.

‘What you say does not make an ounce of sense. CEOL need permission to do what you’re saying. It hasn’t been granted,’ Benedict Valon stated, failing to hide his surprise.

‘Tell that to CEOL. They seem to disagree. Either permission has been given for CEOL to start their operations in that region or CEOL don’t care, plain and simple.’

‘They better care, or else,’ Benedict Valon announced with much annoyance. He scratched his chin before he asked the question that had been running through his head.

‘How far away is this sector from its nearest military base, and also where was the nearest pirate attack?’

’I’m not sure. The nearest physical base is this one. There is a deep space Military Police carrier which provides support and supplies, also a few small research bases scattered around. CEOL do have issues with ‘rats but not in that region.’

‘Do pirates patrol that sector?’

‘Yes, just seems that CEOL have not just yet been attacked there. There are very few pirate hunters out there seeking glory or vengeance as most go where the money is, and it isn’t that area. It’s funny CEOL have been so lucky out there.’

‘Yes, it is extremely fortunate of them to have not been attacked.’

‘If only everyone was so fortunate. The last attacks in that area were only on ships whose value is greatly outdone by that of the CEOL vessels travelling nearby,’ da Silva stated bluntly.

The phone call’s static view-screen selected by Valon lost him for a few seconds as the politician wandered absently around his office as he pondered the news.

‘Sir?’ da Silva asked worried that Valon had gone.

The politician returned.

‘I must go, Mr da Silva, thanks for your hard work so far. Keep me informed, hmm,’ Benedict Valon stated urgently before closing the call.

Valon turned his attention to a TV screen, on it Lynette de Cesare stood in front of the local CEOL building aboard the Faith Space Station.

‘Georgi Balev has once more issued a statement attacking the Government’s stance on piracy in the region,’ Lynette de Cesare said before pausing for breathe.

Valon smiled, taking into memory the words Lynette de Cesare spoke.

‘Balev has said that, “The soft stance of the Prime Minister, Henry Poole along with shadow Government’s Benedict Valon’s weak leadership of his own party, has left CEOL in a no-win situation. We, ourselves, either fight harder and cut costs, wages and staff to afford more support fighters or we have more piracy related deaths”. The statement gave a strong indication of CEOL’s future plans,’ the reporter stated.

Benedict Valon laughed as he watched on.

‘Good, old Georgi Balev, a liar to the last,’ he chortled.

The TV continued the news show with Lynette de Cesare continuing her statements.

‘The angry and passionate multi-billionaire and founder of CEOL has said that in order to raise the hundred million pounds of new support fleets he would need to lose up to two thousand staff and make huge cuts to supplier costs. This has an impact on local, small businesses and the independent mining community who supply CEOL with raw ore, minerals and gases for production. CEOL have said that the saved cost of this would be around a hundred million. Money that the mining community can ill-afford to lose.’

‘So, CEOL are playing their cards. Not yet showing them fully, though, the dirty crook,’ an angered Valon said to himself, switching the TV off.

‘Two thousand jobs lost and that’s not even including the miners outsourced to those damn sharks? Henry Poole, you just lost your job,’ Valon further deliberated aloud with a chuckle.

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