Fitz-Porter lived on the northeast side of the city, only the greenway separated him from outer road and the Somerset estate. His townhouse was laid out exactly like Mark’s. The front door was unlocked. Fitz-Porter and Harry walked right in. Fitz-Porter led the way down the hall to the living room.
“Make yourself comfortable while I change out of this work suit,” Fitz-Porter said as he made a sweeping gesture towards the room and turned back to the stairs. The room was filled with various kinds of chairs, floor cushions and couches as if Fitz-Porter was used to entertaining a lot of people. Harry sat down on the nearest couch and looked around.
The room was bright and the walls were decorated with all kinds of images of people in bird-like suits. Harry stood up and walked around looking at the various images. Most were men in flying suits. There were others that looked like award ceremonies. Along the opposite wall, Harry came across an image of Fitz-Porter and Quincey’s wife toasting each other. There were several other people in the image. One of them was now laying dead at Huntington’s feet.
“That was just before her accident,” Fitz-Porter said from the doorway.
Harry wondered how long he had been standing there. “Quincey tells me that you’ve been very supportive of her,” Harry said.
“It could have been me with the smashed skull,” Fitz-Porter said. “You don’t know how really lucky she was,” he added walking over to the image and taking it down from the wall. “When she flared out and dislocated her shoulder, her helmet could have split and allowed the atmosphere to poison her. At it was, her blindness was caused by the damage her skull sustained inside her helmet.”
“She seems like a very nice person,” Harry said.
“I tried to talk her out of it,” Fitz-Porter said. “She didn’t have the upper body strength needed to spread her wings pulling that many Gs.”
“So far, you’re the only one who’s done it, aren’t you,” Harry said.
“Three times,” Fitz-Porter said. “Three times lucky and then I retired. I had no intention of ending up like her and that’s what would have happened sooner or later. If I had stayed in the competition, everyone would have expected it from me.”
Harry walked around the room looking at the images. “You posed with fliers from each mine.”
“We competed with each other. It was like our own very elite club. No one not willing to risk it all need apply.”
“Is that why you did it?” Harry asked.
“Started smuggling with your buddies,” Harry said.
“In a way,” Fitz-Porter said. “After the Peregrine was nearly killed, we realized that there was no future for us in the long run. Sure, we were worshiped by the crowd, but once we stopped flying... what then? We saw it happen with Peregrine. She almost had to leave the planet, but then Quincey stepped in and married her and the men at the mine voted to allow her to stay. Despite the vote, if it hadn’t been for Quincey’s intervention, she would be living a wealthy blind existence off-world somewhere.”
“Quincey has that much power?”
“No, but Steve Somerset did and Quincey was his right hand man. No one, not even the mine owners would buck him. That’s the kind of power we wanted. We weren’t going to get it here, so we started smuggling the red-ore off the planet so we could buy into one of our own. Is it so wrong to want to stay on top?”
“But you had to kill to do it,” Harry said.
“Self-preservation,” Fitz-Porter said. “That idiot Chapman went back and found the crewman converting the sleeping quarters into storage space. Everything would have been all right if he hadn’t opened his mouth. He told me. He told you. And we had to stop him before he told anyone else. Anyone he told would have known that the red-ore was never stored in the passenger compartments. The ship couldn’t dump it if they were being chased. Anyone who had been on this planet for a couple of months would have realized that something wasn’t right. Look how fast you figured it out.”
“You can’t count me in that number. I would never have known anything was wrong if Mark hadn’t steered me in that direction.”
“If it wasn’t you, it would have been someone else,” Fitz-Porter said. “How did you figure it was me?”
“The unlocked door at Mark’s place,” Harry said.
“Everyone leaves their door unlocked on Magnum-4,” Fitz-Porter said.
“Mark was too new,” Harry said. “He wasn’t used to leaving his door unlocked. He told me he locked it out of habit. However, he would have opened it to someone he knew. Mark only told two people about the room on the STAR being converted: you and me. He’d have unlocked the door to you. All you had to do was follow him down the hall, kill him and then leave. When you left, you left the door unlocked... you didn’t think twice about it... standard practice for all those living here... not standard for Mark.”
“If you only hadn’t woken up,” Fitz-Porter said. He lunged at Harry and grappled with him.
Harry fought back. Fitz-Porter was all arms. He didn’t throw one punch. Instead he tied Harry up like some kind of wrestler. He pinned Harry’s arms to his side. Harry struggled to free them, but Fitz-Porter was incredibly strong. Fitz-Porter began to squeeze, and Harry suddenly found he couldn’t breathe. Harry began to panic. His mind flashed on the Peregrine’s comment about Fitz-Porter’s supremely well-developed pectoral muscles. They allowed him to pull off the Iron Eagle when all others failed, and now, they were keeping Harry from taking a breath.
Harry head-butted Fitz-Porter once then twice. Fitz-Porter’s nose erupted in a fountain of blood. For a moment his grip slipped. Harry got his right arm free. Fitz-Porter re-grappled with Harry and locked his arms around Harry’s chest again and squeezed. Harry couldn’t breathe. He hammered his free fist into Fitz-Porter’s face again and again. Each time, Fitz-Porter’s head snapped back, but he did not release the pressure of his deadly hug. Harry looked into Fitz-Porter’s eyes. The man was enjoying it.
The pressure in Harry’s head began to build. He felt as if it were heating up and expanding. Only there was no place for it go. His skin was holding it in. His eyes bulged. He started to see red. Not the red of the planet, but a blood red that distorted all the colors in his field of vision. The last thing that Harry saw was Quincey standing in the doorway holding some kind of weapon. He heard a crackle and saw a light arc from Quincey’s weapon towards Fitz-Porter’s back. Suddenly Harry’s body went stiff. His jaw clenched and locked. In the second before he passed out, a fleeting thought flashed through his mind. Not again!