Children of Darkness: Chapter 12
Do you need to get caught up? Read Chapter 1 here
Adam Wright paced in his Mars office, wearing a path in the fine carpet. In his right hand he held a crumpled printout of a transmission from the New Vegas office. How had everything gone so wrong?
He dropped into his chair and read the message for the fifth time. It didn’t get any better. “Fugitives escaped custody, whereabouts unknown. Reward money stolen. Please advise.” An Agent Smith signed the message. Two million credits gone and nothing to show for it. If Adam had any say in the matter Smith would end up guarding an asteroid mine, he didn’t deserve a quick execution.
Adam forwarded the message to the director as soon as he read it. He didn’t look forward to the old man’s response. It wouldn’t be pleasant. Twice they’d slipped through his fingers. He crumpled the message and threw it across the room. Damn it! He just needed one break.
The console on his desk beeped. Adam swallowed the lump in his throat. That would be the old man. He reached over and flipped the switch. He watched his hand shake and made a fist. It wasn’t his fault this time. The old man couldn’t blame him.
The wrinkled face filled the screen. “Another failure.”
“Very disappointing, Adam.”
“I’m very sorry, sir.”
“Yes, you are. No more intermediaries, Adam. I want you to deal with this personally. Keep me informed.” The screen went blank.
Deal with it personally? Adam shuddered. He hated hyperspace travel. On the other hand he did like breathing so he’d have to cope. He needed to go to New Vegas and see what this idiot Smith had to say. Maybe he could catch a break and get a clue where the fugitives were headed.
Adam touched the intercom on his desk. “Have my transport prepped for takeoff.”
“What destination should I give the captain?”
* * *
The Rogue Star streaked through hyperspace. She had a full tank of fuel and they were on their way to the Galactic Council. Marcus leaned back and put his boots up on the galley table. Soon this whole mess would get cleared up or at least handed off to someone else. Either suited him fine. He had enough credits that he could pick and choose the jobs he took instead of hustling for every credit to keep from starving. For the first time in a while it looked like things might go his way.
The timer on the heating unit rang rousing Marcus from his daydream. “Food’s ready!”
His two companions arrived a few moments later and sat around the table. Solomon’s face had swollen and his eye almost closed. Marcus set a steaming bowl of vegetable soup down in front of each of them. They ate in silence for a few bites.
“So what did you find out?” Marcus asked.
“Less than I’d hoped.” She looked at Solomon a second then looked away. “The only interesting thing was a number of calls between Omni and the office of the director of intergalactic affairs.”
“You think the director’s involved?” Marcus asked.
Iaka swallowed another bite of soup. “It makes sense. I can’t imagine the old man not knowing about something this big. The problem is I can’t prove anything. A record of phone calls is circumstantial at best.”
“Who is this director?” Solomon asked.
“Oliver MacDonald, he’s the second-most-powerful man in the Earth government. He’s in charge of all matters that don’t happen on Earth. He reports only to the president. Truth is he’s outlasted four presidents and rumor is the current president doesn’t take a nap without his approval.”
“Damn. How come I’ve never heard of him?” Solomon asked.
“He stays out of sight. He must be over one hundred years old. Anyway, he’s not an immediate problem.”
“No, getting the council to listen to you is,” Marcus said. “What happens when we arrive?”
“I’ll petition the council and they’ll decide when or if they’ll hear our case. When our turn comes up, I’ll present the evidence I’ve collected. Earth’s representative will have a chance to offer a rebuttal. When both sides have spoken, they’ll deliberate and decide what must be done.”
“Sound simple enough,” Marcus said. He didn’t imagine for a second it would happen that way but what the hell, he’d roll with it for now. “What about us?”
“If the council wishes to hear your testimony you’ll be called to speak. If not, you’ll just have to wait.”
“We’ve been putting off some maintenance,” Solomon said. “We could work on it.”
Marcus nodded. “Great. What could go wrong?”
* * *
Adam Wright’s ship touched down at the spaceport on New Vegas. An agency hovercar waited for him just outside the terminal. The driver opened the door as he approached. Agent Smith, the ranking agent assigned to the planet, sat in the back of the car waiting for him.
“Hello, sir,” Smith said. “I trust the jump went well?”
Adam climbed in and sat beside him. He scowled. If this fool thought polite conversation would save him, he had another think coming. “Skip the pleasantries, Smith.”
Smith licked his lips. “Yes, sir. Let’s go, driver.”
The trip to the Earth Force building only took a few minutes. They got out of the car, walked up the steps, and through the door. Once in the soundproof building Adam said, “Well, let’s hear it.”
“I don’t have anything to add to my first report, sir. Our techs have checked every system but they report nothing unusual.”
Morons. Adam doubted the lot of them could find their asses with both hands and a star chart. “Fine. I’ll need access to all your records, as well as any communications sent or received during the fugitives’ time on the planet.”
“Of course, sir. We have an office set up with a terminal for you to use.”
“Good.” They walked through an empty lobby and down a short hall to the door of his temporary office. “Where’s your hyperspace relay?”
“On the roof, sir.”
“I’ll need to examine that too.”
“The door to the roof is locked, but I can have a guard let you out anytime you wish.”
Adam opened the door, stepped inside, and slammed it behind him, leaving Smith alone in the hall.
* * *
Adam spent the next day running diagnostics on all the data stored on the servers. If Kazumi or Keys tampered with anything he’d find it. Twelve hours staring at a monitor and he had nothing to show for it. Nothing, no damage, no corrupted files. How could anyone, no matter how good, break into the system, and leave no sign? More importantly why would they want to? The New Vegas servers held nothing that could interest Kazumi.
He stood up and heard his knees pop. He needed some fresh air, and then a few hours’ sleep. Adam went to find Smith. As long as he was going outside he might as well check the hyperspace relay.
After five minutes’ looking he couldn’t find Smith. Irritated, he grabbed the first agent he came across, a young woman looking like she just graduated from high school. “Where’s Agent Smith?”
“He’s out of the office on business, sir.”
“Of course he is. I need someone to let me up on the roof.”
“There’s a guard room next to the roof access. The duty officer can let you out.”
“Thank you.” He let the young woman get back to her work.
Adam trotted up the three flights of steps. It felt good to get his blood pumping after so much time at his desk. It didn’t take him long to find the guard room. It was right beside a staircase ending in a locked hatch, just like the girl said. He looked inside and saw the duty officer leaning back in his chair, feet up on the control panel, sound asleep.
He entered the room without a sound and looked down at the sleeping man. How did Earth Force function with so many incompetents on the payroll? Perhaps they’d gathered them all up and sent them to New Vegas. Time for this one to get a lesson on the importance of vigilance. Adam lashed out with his right foot, kicking the officer’s chair out from under him.
He fell in a tangle of arms and legs, flopping around, and snorting for a few seconds. He managed to get his bearings and scramble up off the floor. “That was a hard way to wake a fellow up.” The officer’s lopsided smile faded when he saw the look on Adam’s face.
“If that’s the worst thing I do to you while I’m on this miserable planet you may consider yourself fortunate.”
The officer’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he tried to swallow. “Yes, sir.”
“May I assume you’re the idiot in charge of monitoring the roof access?”
“Good. Go open the hatch so I can have a look around.”
“I’ll have to see your ID, sir.” The officer flinched like a dog that had gotten kicked once too often.
Adam smiled. A glimmer of professional behavior at last. If he could stay awake this one might have potential. He reached into his pocket, pulled out his ID card, and showed it to the officer.
“This way, sir.”
The officer swiped a key card through the lock and pushed the hatch open. He went through first and Adam followed him out onto the roof, the sun just clearing the horizon, the streets below quiet. Adam strolled over to the relay, taking a deep breath of the cool morning air. It wouldn’t take long for the heat and humidity to settle in and anyone who could would retreat to an air conditioned room.
He bent down beside the relay and examined the control box. The side panel looked loose. He tapped it and the panel fell off.
“How often do you come up here?”
“One of the techs comes up for annual maintenance, otherwise no one comes up here.”
“What about defenses?”
“Defenses? We’re on the third story of the building.”
“Clearly that was insufficient in this case. Never mind, just get someone up here to fix the panel.”
Adam left the roof without throwing the fool off. He considered that a victory. Back in his office he contacted the director. It took a few seconds to establish the connection from this distance. When the familiar face appeared in the screen, Adam brought him up to speed.
“This is bad, Adam. How much information could they have accessed from the relay?”
“If Agent Kazumi accessed it directly with her implant, given enough time, she could access most of the network. There’s no way to know for certain.”
“Very well. We must assume the worst. Go to Alpha 114 and prepare a full-scale evacuation. Scorched Earth Plan Omega, understood?”
Adam nodded. “Yes, sir.”
The director severed the link.
* * *
Marcus drew a card and tossed the queen of diamonds on the galley table. He needed to invest in some entertainment equipment. Five days in hyperspace and they’d been reduced to playing gin rummy to pass the time. He would have preferred poker but Iaka didn’t have any money so what’s the point? He glanced over at her studying her hand. Maybe he should have suggested strip poker. That would have been interesting.
Iaka drew and discarded the ten of diamonds. “What’s on your mind?”
She had good instincts for sure. “Aside from the fact that one of us should have gone with diamonds, I’ve been thinking about what happened at the casino.”
“You’re not still mad?”
“No, I was thinking how right it felt when we were walking together, holding hands. When you kissed me my skin felt on fire. It wasn’t just a cover, was it?”
She set her cards down and looked into his eyes. “No, it wasn’t.”
Iaka leaned across the table. Marcus leaned forward, eyes closed. At last. He couldn’t get her out of his head. He could feel her breath across his lips as they got closer. Since they’d left New Vegas he’d wanted to kiss her again.
The intercom beeped.
NO! He tilted his head down until their foreheads touched. Solomon had the worst timing. He pulled away from her and went to the intercom. “What?”
“Two minutes to arrival.”
He released the switch, considered screaming, and settled for a groan. He felt Iaka approach. She wrapped her arms around his waist and leaned against his back. “Later.”
“Yeah, later.” He hit the intercom again. “We’ll be right there.”
When they entered the cockpit Solomon looked up from his console. “One minute.”
Marcus took his seat and cranked the shields to maximum. Iaka strapped into the extra chair behind him.
“Thirty seconds,” Solomon said.
They watched as the counter wound down from ten seconds. When it hit zero stars filled the view screen along with a huge asteroid, the home of the Galactic Council. Centuries ago, the Vencar hollowed out the asteroid, and fitted machines necessary to maintain an atmosphere. Two miles long and a mile wide the thousands of delegates and their assistants had plenty of room.
Half a dozen warships from as many planets patrolled the space around the asteroid. “Does one of those ships look familiar?” Marcus asked.
“Yeah,” Solomon said. “Little bit newer model but that one on the left is definitely an Earth Force destroyer.”
“Contact the council, fast,” Iaka said. “Let them know we want to talk.”
“I’m on it,” Solomon said.
The destroyer noticed them. It seemed the fake transponder didn’t do the trick. Marcus found himself staring down a third of a mile of steel and weapons. “Any thoughts?”
“Don’t do anything aggressive,” Iaka said. “We don’t want to give them an excuse to fire.”
An alarm sounded.
“They’ve got a weapon’s lock. I need to move or we’re going to get fried.”
Over the open comm channel came, “Earth Force destroyer stand down. That ship has permission to land.”
Marcus felt the knot between his shoulder blades relax. “That was too close.”
A cannon blast from the destroyer grazed the ship rocking them and nearly draining the shields. Marcus pushed his stick down, sending the Star into a steep dive. A second beam passed through the space they’d just vacated.
Marcus spun, banked and twisted the ship weaving a path through the blasts coming from the destroyer. “Anybody got a plan B?”
He looked at Solomon who had his eyes closed and a white-knuckled grip on his console. No help there. He didn’t dare look back at Iaka but her silence said all he needed to hear. The ship shook again as a missile detonated nearby. The shields held, but only just. One more blast and they were done.
A second alarm sounded. “What now?”
Solomon peeked at the control panel. “The asteroid is powering up its weapons.”
“How many?” Marcus asked.
“A lot.” Solomon closed his eyes again.
“Earth Force destroyer,” the transmission came through on the open channel again. “Power down your weapons or face immediate destruction. You will not be warned again.”
Marcus maintained his evasive maneuvers for a few seconds but found he didn’t have anything to evade. The captain of the Earth Force ship must have decided they meant it this time. A light flashed on the control panel.
“You can open your eyes, Solomon. It looks like we’re going to live and someone’s calling.”
Solomon tapped the flashing button. “This is the Rogue Star; go ahead.”
“This is asteroid control. We offer our most sincere apologies. The human delegation has received a severe reprimand. I’m sending docking coordinates now.”
The data entered the computer and Marcus activated the autopilot. He switched off the shields as a show of good faith, not that the meager power remaining would stop their heavy laser cannons anyway. They came to a stop in front of a set of heavy double doors. The doors slid open and a tractor beam pulled them in.
The docking bay was set up for just one ship. A full set of repair equipment lined the walls and three huge clamps hung from the ceiling to hold the ship in place. When the clamps had a firm grip, the doors slid shut and the bay pressurized. A loud beep sounded and a few seconds later someone rapped on the loading bay door.
“Welcoming committee?” Marcus asked.
“I suppose so,” Iaka said.
“Let’s not keep them waiting.” Marcus strapped on his gauntlet. “Grab a blaster, Solomon, and let’s go say hi.”
The two men started toward the cockpit door but Iaka grabbed Marcus by the arm. “Are you crazy? You can’t greet a representative of the Galactic council with weapons.”
“All right,” Marcus said. “You greet them and we’ll cover you. If everything goes smoothly, no one will ever know we had any weapons.”
“That’s a much better idea,” Iaka said.
She led the way back to the cargo hold. Marcus went to the right side of the door and Solomon went to the left. When they had taken their positions Marcus nodded and Iaka pushed the button to open the ramp. Marcus peeked out the door and saw a furry alien about seven feet tall in a purple robe. He didn’t immediately recognize the species but it looked unarmed.
“Welcome to the home of the Galactic Council,” the creature said in flawless Basic. “The members wish me to apologize again for the trouble outside. The offending ship has been sent beyond the council’s territory. In an effort to make up for this unfortunate incident, the council has agreed to hear your petition at the earliest possible time.”
Iaka bowed to the alien. “We are honored by the council’s generosity.”
“How many in your party?”
“Three,” Iaka said.
“Very good. I will show you to your suite. This way.” The alien turned to leave.
Solomon tucked his blaster out of sight and the three of them left the ship. Once everyone cleared the ramp Marcus closed it and activated all security systems. Friendly or not no one would be snooping around his ship.
They followed the furry alien out of the hangar into the twisting corridors of the asteroid. The inside was nicer than a hollowed-out rock had any right to be. Fine, dark wood paneling covered the walls and a plush carpet made a soft pad for them to walk on. Small stands and cases filled with antiques from a dozen cultures Marcus could identify and many more he couldn’t decorated the halls.
It took them five minutes at the alien’s sedate pace to reach a plain metal door. It slid open when they approached. “These are your quarters during your stay. If you need anything there is an intercom. When the council is ready I will come for you.”
Iaka bowed again. “We thank you for your kindness.”
“It is our pleasure.” The alien returned her bow. “Was your ship damaged in the battle?”
“Nothing major,” Marcus said. “The shields took the brunt of the blast.”
“If you would like, our technicians could take a look.”
Marcus smiled. Not a chance in hell. “That’s very generous, but Solomon and I can take care of it.”
“As you wish.” The alien bowed and backed out of the room.
When it had gone Iaka said, “Are you trying to insult them? Declining their help could be taken for a lack of trust.”
Marcus raised an eyebrow. “I’m completely lacking in trust. I didn’t have a huge supply to begin with and all the laser fire burned the rest away. Besides, we prefer to do our own repairs.”
Iaka frowned. “What’s so special about that stupid ship anyway?”
Stupid ship? “In case you’ve forgotten, that stupid ship has saved your ass twice. Besides, it has some delicate equipment on board.”
“Sorry.” Her lips curled up into a soft smile. “I do appreciate the rescues, but I’m sure their technicians could handle anything you’ve installed.”
Marcus winced and looked away. “Yeah, well, some of it is also slightly illegal, remnants of an ill-spent youth.”
“I should have known.” She yawned. “I’m going to bed.” She went into the left-hand bedroom and closed the door.
Marcus frowned at the closed door. It didn’t look like she wanted any company. What could he have done to upset her this time?
“What now?” Solomon asked.
“Now we sweep for bugs and get some sleep. If they don’t call us after breakfast we’ll start on the Star.”
Deeper in the asteroid, far from where Marcus searched for listening devices, a hyperspace relay activated. The wrinkled face of Oliver MacDonald appeared on the screen. “Well?”
Celine Solace felt her mouth go dry at the cold tone of her grandfather’s voice. “The woman and her companions arrived a little while ago. The destroyer was ready, but their shields were more powerful than anticipated and they survived the initial attack. The warship had to withdraw or the council would have obliterated it.”
A deep frown creased the ancient face. “They have proven more formidable than we expected. This matter must not come before the council. I’ve invested too much time in this project. Do whatever you must to stop the girl.”
The connection went dead and Celine stared at the black screen and considered the problem. As Earth’s chief representative she had considerable power. Her grandfather had been generous with her and she had never given him a reason to regret that generosity. Her lips curled into a cruel smile. That wasn’t about to change now. The troublemakers would be dealt with. Permanently.
I hope you enjoyed Chapter 12. Click here to read Chapter 13
Can’t wait that long?
You can buy Children of Darkness from my Payhip store here. https://payhip.com/b/wUCS
Don’t forget, Patrons get a 50% discount and first crack at all new books for free. Join now at http://www.patreon.com/jamesewisher