Children of Darkness: Chapter 10

Do you need to get caught up? Read Chapter 1 here

 

Marcus smiled at the attractive older woman he’d shared a cab with. She winked and handed him a slip of paper with her room number on it. He took it and the cab drove away. He may have given her the impression he’d pay her a visit later that night. When the cab disappeared around a corner he flicked the paper away and shuddered. He really needed some credits.

He looked up at the front of the casino. A huge hologram of a swirling galaxy danced around above the entrance. Sixty stories above, people with more money than he could imagine looked out over the city without a care. Lucky pricks.

The doors slid open when he approached. Inside they’d decorated everything in shades of crimson and gold. A pair of security guards eyed him. Marcus didn’t blame them, he stuck out from the well-dressed masses like a gangrenous thumb. To hell with them, he’d make Vlad’s delivery and they’d blast off.

An information kiosk directed him to the bar. He passed row after row of slot machines. Hundreds of sentients, mostly humans, fed coins into the machines. Marcus ignored them. He preferred poker, of course he never had much money to play with.

He found the bar at the far end of the ground floor. Like everything else it sported the crimson and gold design with polished wood mixed in for good measure. The bar had only two other patrons at the moment which suited Marcus. He sat on a stool at the end of the bar.

“What’ll you have?” the bartender asked.

“I’m waiting for someone.”

The bartender shrugged and wandered back to the middle of the bar. Marcus waited. He checked the time and waited some more. Finally, half an hour late, he spotted a slender Asian man with a dragon tattoo. The man caught his eye and made his way over.

His contact offered a small bow and asked, “Care for a Venetian Blast?”

“I’d prefer a Martian Slam,” Marcus said.

The man nodded and sat down beside him. The bartender started down to offer drinks. Marcus’s companion turned and looked at the bartender. The man froze. A moment later he headed toward the other end of the bar. “You have something for me?” He had a soft, almost feminine voice.

Marcus took the disk out of his pocket and slid it to him.

His contact studied it and tucked the disk into one of his pockets. “Did the old man tell you what was on it?”

“No, and I didn’t ask.”

“Wise. Do you have a name?”

Marcus nodded.

A ghost of a smile played at the corner of the other man’s mouth. “Wiser yet. Wisdom should be rewarded.”

He slid a velvet pouch to Marcus.

The man stood and Marcus joined him. “Thanks for the tip.”

The stranger bowed slightly and left.

When he’d gone Marcus sighed. Running errands for gangsters, Earth Force trying to kill him –  all he used to worry about was money for fuel and not starving. Hardly anybody wanted him dead. He pulled open the pouch. Inside rested a small silver sphere. Marcus closed the bag and slipped it into his pocket. He hoped it wasn’t a bomb. He groaned, life used to be simpler. Time to head back to the ship and help himself to a bottle of expensive scotch. 

* * *

Marcus looked up at the Star and smiled. The sight of his beautiful ship never failed to cheer him. He used his gauntlet to deactivate the defenses and lower the boarding ramp. He trotted up and headed to the cockpit.

“Hey, Solomon, anybody call about our cargo?”

No answer. Marcus poked his head in the cockpit. A light flashed on the console, but nobody was home. He was probably taking a nap. He went back to Solomon’s cabin. The door stood wide open and the room empty. Worried now, Marcus went back to the cockpit and pressed the flashing red light.

Three messages from people looking to buy booze. Marcus ran his fingers through his hair and paced. Solomon knew how desperate they were for money. He frowned. There was no sign of Iaka. No one had tripped the security system.

Clank.

Marcus turned. What the hell?

Clank. Clank. Clank.

Someone was running up the boarding ramp. Idiot! He hadn’t reset the defenses when he came in. Marcus grabbed a blaster and hid to the side of the cockpit door. Anybody stupid enough to board his ship without permission deserved what they got.

The steps were getting closer. Marcus raised his blaster. When Iaka’s head appeared in the doorway it startled him so much he almost fired. He sighed and lowered his weapon.

“I thought I told you to stay on the ship,” Marcus said. “Where’s Solomon?”

Iaka collapsed in the navigator’s chair. “He went with me to the Earth Force building.”

Marcus stared at her. “Are you out of your fucking mind?”

“I needed information and he wouldn’t let me go alone.” She sounded tired.

“Where. Is. Solomon?”

“Someone took him. Two people, actually. They stunned him and dumped him in the back of a hovercar.”

“Softhearted moron, all he needed to do was stay put and no one would have dared try and touch him. But no, you laid a guilt trip on him so he’d guide you through the city. Now some nasty people have my friend.”

“Don’t you want to know what I found out?” she asked.

“I don’t give a good goddamn what you found out, all I care about is rescuing Solomon before they kill him.”

“I’m coming with you. It’s my fault he’s in this mess and I’ve got to try and make it right.”

He considered stunning her and locking her in the spare room but she might be useful. “All right, let’s go.”

* * *

Solomon’s head throbbed. A bright light shone down in his face. He blinked, trying to clear his vision. He tried to move his hands to shield his eyes but they wouldn’t budge. Steel manacles held his feet and hands to the table.

He groaned. Just stay on the ship, he didn’t have to do anything else. Simple, you’d think, but no, he had to go play hero. He looked left and right but only saw blank gray walls, nothing that gave him any idea where they brought him. It didn’t matter, he had a good idea who had grabbed him.

As if on cue, a door opened in the far wall. More lights came on revealing more of the empty room. In walked the emaciated form of Erik Kane. A mop of strawberry-blond hair hung across his pockmarked face. He wore a silk, navy blue suit.

Erik stopped beside Solomon’s head and looked down at him. “We meet at last, Mr. Keys. You cost my company a great deal of credits and I’ve put a substantial bounty on your head, yet you still foolishly returned. I can’t help wondering why.”

No good lie came to Solomon so he kept silent.

“Perhaps this has something to do with it.” Erik held up a printout of an Earth Force alert. It showed his face beside Marcus and Iaka. “I’ve contacted Earth Force. It seems they value your flabby hide at two million credits. It won’t cover all you cost me, but it’s better than nothing.”

“Good for you, Scarecrow,” Solomon said. 

Erik scowled. “I considered foregoing the credits for a chance to kill you myself, but business before pleasure as they say. I take comfort in knowing Earth Force will do the job for me.”

The skinny little man slapped Solomon across the face.

Solomon smiled. “Is that the best you can do?”

Erik held up his bony arm. “Yes, I suppose it is.”

He snapped his fingers and in walked a six-foot wall of muscle, a near human probably evolved on a high-gravity world.

Oh shit.

* * *

Marcus and Iaka stood across the street from the Blue Lion casino. It stood seventy stories tall and had a huge hologram of its namesake in the air above it. Whoever grabbed Solomon must have brought him here to collect the bounty.

“Doesn’t look like they’re hurting too bad despite what Solomon stole,” Iaka said.

“Are you kidding? Seventy million’s just a rounding error in their quarterly report. It’s the fact that someone dared rip them off that’s got them so pissed.” A black hovercar with the Earth Force shield emblazoned on the door pulled up in front of the casino. Marcus nudged Iaka. “Check it out.”

“I saw them.” A man in a black suit got out and headed toward the door. “He must be here for Solomon.”

Marcus nodded. “We’d best step on it.”

“Any thoughts on how we’ll find him?”

“Well, most of the building is gambling rooms so I figure he’s either in the penthouse where the owner lives or the basement. We’ll just have to look around until we find him.”

“That’s it? Just look around, that’s your plan?”

Maybe it wasn’t the best plan but the way she said it just pissed him off all over again. “You got a better idea?”

“Maybe,” Iaka said. “This place must have a security system. If I can jack in maybe I can track where they took Solomon.”

“That might work. We’ll split up when we go in. If you find the control room come get me. Don’t try and take them alone.”

“Will do,” she said.

Thank god she didn’t plan to argue. “Let’s go. Right through the front door just like regular patrons.”

They crossed the street and merged with the flow of guests headed in to blow their pay. Two men wearing tuxedos held the doors as people streamed through. Inside Marcus went left and Iaka right.

Marcus worked his way around the edge of a huge entry room. The cage was on the far right wall. At the rear of the entry room was a slot hall. It seemed as good a place as any so Marcus worked his way through the crowd, keeping his eyes peeled for anything interesting.

After fifteen minutes of searching his head pounded. Coins clanked and buzzers sounded. A shrill, obnoxious siren went off when someone won a jackpot. People who asked him why he liked it in space had never visited a casino.

Halfway down one of he didn’t know how many rows he spotted a five-credit token on the ground. He picked it up and found an appropriate machine. He popped the coin in and yanked the handle. Three holograms appeared and changed shape so fast they became a blur. The first settled on a diamond. He checked the front of the machine. Diamonds were good. The second settled on a diamond. Shit, the last thing he needed was to win a jackpot and draw attention to himself. The final hologram settled on a heart and he lost someone’s money.

Out of the corner of his eye he spotted a young woman wearing a dark blue jumpsuit with a blue lion patch on the shoulder. Casino security, perfect, she’d lead him right to the security room. She moved away and he followed her, just close enough to keep her in sight.

She wove her way through the crowd with practiced ease and headed toward the far left wall. Not much further, he could feel it. A half-drunk man ran into him and he took his eye off her for a moment. When he looked back she’d vanished.

No! He went over to where he’d last seen her and touched the wall. There had to be a secret door or something. Six steps further along and the wall disappeared under his fingers. He looked down and saw half his hand stuck in the wall, a hologram. On the floor he saw a faint light from the projector. Bingo.

Marcus ducked inside and found a short hall with three doors at the end, one on the left and right and one straight ahead. The young lady must have gone into one of them. Satisfied, Marcus left the hidden area and went to find Iaka. He didn’t see her in the crowded room but he assumed she’d check the perimeter like he had. Marcus looked around for a landmark near the hidden room again. Almost directly across he spotted slot row marker sixty-four. He shouldn’t have any trouble finding that again.

He strolled away looking for Iaka. Everything in him screamed hurry but he couldn’t without drawing every eye in the place. He’d covered three-quarters of the back wall when he spotted her through the crowd. She strolled along, one hand brushing along the wall. He made a beeline for her. She spotted him and waved, playing the eager girlfriend. He smiled. Sometimes she surprised him with her instincts. If her instructors had spent more time training her she’d have made a top-flight agent.

They embraced and he whispered, “I found it.”

“Good.”

They held hands and started back toward the hidden room. He allowed himself a moment to enjoy the feel of her hand in his, soft but strong. He still wanted to swear every time he thought about how she took advantage of Solomon but this didn’t feel wrong either. Refocusing, Marcus checked the row markers. They just passed fifty, not much farther. They turned down row sixty-three. When they reached the end he spotted the faint glow at the base of the hologram. He leaned against the wall and pulled Iaka close.

“Do you see it?” he asked.

She nodded and smiled like he’d said something funny. She brushed her lips against his check. His skin burned where she’d kissed him. She whispered, “How do you want to play it?”

He took a moment to gather himself. Having her this close made it hard to concentrate in the best way. He looked over her head. A few people glanced at them but no one seemed interested. “As soon as those people get sick of looking at us I’ll roll right and we’ll slip through.”

He kept watch and enjoyed holding Iaka. When the last person looked away he said, “Now.”

They spun right and passed through the hologram. Marcus moved away from her and raised his gauntlet. All clear. “Which door?”

“Straight ahead, I’d guess.”

He agreed. “We’d better check the other two just to be safe. We wouldn’t want any surprises. We’ll start on the left side. You open the door and I’ll go in first. OK?”

She went over to the control panel and put her finger above the open button. Marcus nodded and she pushed it. The door popped into the ceiling and Marcus went through. He found a half-stocked maintenance room filled with tools and cleaning supplies. 

“Nobody home,” Marcus said. “Let’s try next door.”

They repeated the procedure and this time found bins of chips. Marcus almost helped himself to a handful but the RFID chips in them were inactive so he couldn’t trade them for cash.

“Third time’s the charm,” Iaka said.

They went to the last door but instead of a button they found a keypad. “Six-digit lock code. This could take a while,” Iaka said.

“Think again.” Marcus switched the weapon’s module to electromagnetic wave and blasted the keypad. It spat sparks and the door shot into the ceiling.

A quick tap switched the module back to stun and he lunged through the door. The two guards reached for their stun batons but Marcus shot first dropping them both twitching to the ground. They wouldn’t have to worry about those two for a while.

He turned and found Iaka looking for the proper cable to plug into her implant. She seemed to have everything under control so he checked on the guards. He found the girl he’d seen earlier and an older man, her boss most likely. They were armed with stun batons. He hoped the rest of the guards didn’t have any other weapons. The range of his gauntlet gave them a huge advantage.

Marcus turned and saw Iaka sit and reach around to plug a cable into her head. He shuddered when he heard it click into place. He didn’t even like needles, he couldn’t imagine shoving a cable jack into the back of his head. Iaka slumped in the chair and he thought for a moment something went wrong but the breathing seemed steady. She must have sent her consciousness to interact directly with the computer. Nothing to do now but wait. He plopped down into the second chair and searched for a place to plug in his gauntlet. It’d be a bitch if he ran out of juice in a fight.

The gauntlet had a ninety-five percent charge when Iaka’s eyes popped open. “I found him.”

He sat up straight and unplugged. “Where?”

“They brought him in a side door then took him to the basement.” He looked away when she reached back to pull the jack out of her head. “They don’t have cameras downstairs so I’m not exactly sure where he is. The Earth Force agent went downstairs as well. I assume to collect Solomon.”

“All right, now we just need a way down to the basement.”

“There’s an elevator in the kitchen.”

“Perfect, let’s go.”

 

I hope you enjoyed Chapter 10. Click here to read Chapter 11

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