Children of Darkness: Chapter 4

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Iaka rested her eyes as she rode the train to the Earth Force building. She’d traded her borrowed coveralls for a new outfit. Nothing fancy, just simple black slacks, blue tunic, and a pair of black running shoes. She smiled; she’d eschewed socks and a bra to make sure she had enough credits for the train ride. Iaka now had one credit to her name. She glanced at the clock on the wall. Not much longer and she’d arrive at the Mars division of Earth Force, where this screwed-up mission began.

She’d worked on Mars for two years before she got called in on the Omni investigation. Iaka wondered if any of her friends still lived in her old neighborhood, a few maybe. Her bottom lip trembled when the reality of the lost years settled on her. Her parents must think she died. Once she finished her debriefing she’d call and tell them she survived. She felt the train slow to a stop.

The train platform sat a quarter mile from the Earth Force building. The structure loomed over one of the many small parks that dotted the domed city. It didn’t take up much space, maybe five thousand square feet, but it had a fountain surrounded by a few benches. She used to take her lunch break beside the fountain every day. It reminded her of the little garden her mother kept behind their Los Angeles home.

She tore her eyes away from the park and turned toward the cold granite face of Earth Force Mars Headquarters, twenty stories of indifferent steel and stone. Long ago someone laser-etched the Earth Force shield surrounded by six stars into the granite above the main entrance. She remembered how excited she felt the first time she walked through those doors. It seemed a lifetime ago.

The door slid open as she approached and she walked into the lobby. She smiled at the familiar sight of agents hurrying from here to there, the rustle of paper as orders got handed out or reports turned in. Hard to imagine the regs still required hard copies of all internal communication.

In the eye of the storm sat the receptionist, a six-armed alien named Lar Kang. Lar had worked there forever. Iaka doubted the office could function without him. She made her way to the reception desk and rapped her knuckles twice on the stone top, smiling when the receptionist looked up.

“Hello, Lar.”

“You don’t have an appointment, do you?” He made this sound like an insult to his family honor.

“No, I’ve been on an extended mission and I need to report to my CO.”

“Oh, you’re an agent.” One of his hands flipped a switch and a section of the desktop slid back revealing a keypad. “Type in your access code and I can clear you to go in.”

She held her breath and punched in her code. A moment later the screen turned red and flashed “invalid code.” 

“Damn it,” she muttered. The rejection didn’t surprise her. They probably listed her as dead years ago. Nothing had gone right on this mission. Why would the debriefing?

Seeing her trouble Lar asked, “How long did your mission last?”

“Five years.”

He nodded. “If the code isn’t used at least once a year the computer deletes it. I need your name and your CO’s name.”

“Thanks. My name is Iaka Kazumi. Before I left my immediate superior was David Shea.”

Lar picked up a headset and punched a few buttons. He relayed her name and ID number. After a few moments he disconnected. “You’re cleared to head up.” He took a small badge from under the table and handed it to her. “Wear this and no one will give you a hard time.”

She clipped the badge to her shirt. “Thanks.” That didn’t take long. Nothing went that fast in this office. Iaka shivered and tried to set aside the fear in her gut. She walked to the elevators along the back wall and used her badge to access one. Iaka stepped inside, tapped six, and rode up in silence. Shouldn’t an elevator have music playing in the background? What should she say? Just the facts then answer his questions, she couldn’t go far wrong with that plan.

The door slid open on the sixth floor and she stepped out. She turned right, walked past two doors, and stopped in front of the third. She knocked.

“Come in,” an unfamiliar voice said.

She didn’t know the short, bald man behind the desk. He had the build of a weightlifter, almost as broad in the shoulders as he stood tall, and he wore an Earth Force captain’s badge on the pocket of his suit jacket. “Agent Kazumi?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Adam Wright.” He held out his hand and she shook it. He had a firm grip; most men held her hand like they thought it might break. “I took over for Captain Shea two years ago when he retired. Please sit down.”

Iaka sat. She couldn’t believe David retired. She always figured he’d die behind his desk. “May I ask why Captain Shea retired?”

“I believe he wanted to spend more time with his family.” Captain Wright offered a bland smile.

Iaka kept her face impassive. David got divorced ten years ago and they had no kids. His parents died years before that and he had no siblings. He didn’t have a family to spend more time with. 

Captain Wright fished a camera out of his desk drawer and plugged it into his computer. When he finished adjusting it he said, “All right, state your name and rank and tell us where you’ve been these past five years.”

When Iaka finished her report Captain Wright said, “Well, that was shorter than I expected. What do the freighters know about your mission?”

“I didn’t tell them anything, sir.” Not a complete answer, but still true.

“Good. Where can we find the destroyer?”

Iaka blinked. “I have no idea, sir. They never said, just that they intended to sell it for scrap.”

“I see. Remind me again what the men’s names were.”

“Marcus Drake and Solomon Keys.”

He typed their names into the computer. “Well, well. We have a file on both of them. Drake got into a little trouble as a kid and we questioned him several times about suspected smuggling. No arrests, unfortunately. Keys is the more interesting of the two. It seems we tried to recruit him a couple years ago.”

Iaka stared, dumbfounded. Earth Force tried to recruit Solomon? She couldn’t imagine anyone less cut out to be an agent.

Captain Wright smiled at her reaction. “I know he doesn’t look the part, but he’s a level-seven hacker.”

“How many levels are there?”

“Seven. Solomon Keys is a genius hacker. He’s also anti-social, anti-authority, and not at all interested in working for the government.”

“He seemed like a regular, shy guy.”

“Well, I believe we’re finished here. Go to the lab and get your implant wiped then we’ll get you transferred to the biology lab.” He stood. “Good to have you back, Agent.”

“Thank you, sir.” She wanted to ask about the Omni case, but she knew a dismissal when she heard one.

She’d visited the tech lab on the third floor plenty of times and after five years nothing much had changed. Four stainless steel tables dominated the room. Disassembled machines of various sorts covered a pair of the tables. Metal cabinets lined two of the walls. On the back wall a small monitor sat dark and lifeless on a small wooden table.

Iaka didn’t know how long they’d keep her waiting so she walked over to the monitor and flipped it on. An image of two guards appeared on the screen. They leaned against the wall and passed a flask back and forth. She smiled, a bored tech had hacked into the security system.

The whole building had cameras watching so Iaka switched between them using a little knob on the bottom of the screen hoping to find something more interesting than two guards drinking on duty. She’d almost given up when she came across Captain Wright’s office. She frowned. No tech should have access to the captain’s system from here. Whoever had done it either needed a promotion or a severe reprimand. The captain faced the camera and looked like he had someone on the hypernet link.

She couldn’t see to whom he spoke. Curiosity got the best of her and she activated the lip reading program in her implant, one of a score of useful programs the techs installed before she left.

“I know she was supposed to be dead,” Captain Wright said.

Her breath caught in her throat. They couldn’t mean her. They must want another woman dead. Captain Wright listened as the other person spoke. Damn it, who’s he talking to? 

“Those fools at Omni said they’d taken care of it,” Captain Wright said. “There’s another problem. Two others may know what we’re doing. Yes, we can arrest them and eliminate them quietly. I’ve already dealt with the girl.”

Iaka flipped off the monitor. She needed to go, before someone “dealt” with her, and warn Marcus and Solomon. 

Iaka took a couple steps toward the door then it opened and a yawning tech in a white lab coat came in. “Hello, sorry to keep you waiting.” He nodded toward one of the empty tables. “If you’ll take a seat I’ll get started.”

“I was just headed to the ladies room.”

“Can’t you hold it? I’m running late and I’ve got a department head waiting for me to fix his hypernet connection. This’ll only take a few minutes.”

He stood between her and the door so she’d play along for the moment. Iaka sat on the table he indicated.

“Thanks.” He took a syringe out of his coat pocket. “I’ll give you a local and we can get started.”

Her heart raced as a blast of adrenaline surged through her. The erasure process didn’t hurt, and she didn’t need a local.

She jumped off the table. “I don’t think I can hold it.”

He stayed between her and the door. His eyes went cold. “This would have been so much easier if you’d just played along.” He pressed the plunger on the syringe and a drop of clear liquid oozed out the tip. Poison. He held the syringe like a small knife.

Her eyes darted from one end of the room to the other. She needed a weapon. She spotted it on the table behind him: a small, titanium hammer. That would do. Now she had to get past him. He circled left forcing her right and away from the door to keep the table between them. 

“What now?” he asked. “Are we going to run around this table all day?”

“Why don’t you drop that needle and I’ll kick your ass?”

He laughed. “I don’t have time to play today.” He lunged across the table at her, needle leading. She dodged aside and leapt toward the hammer. She grabbed it and swung just as he swung back at her. The hammer crunched into the back of his hand. Bone snapped and flesh tore. He dropped the syringe but lashed out with his other hand clipping her cheek and staggering her.

“Bitch!”

She shook her head to clear the stars. The assassin charged her. She swung the hammer again and caught him in the ribs. He grunted but didn’t stop. He bowled her over and the hammer went flying. The killer landed on top of her and grabbed her throat.

She pounded his ribs. He winced and squeezed harder. Her vision flashed in and out. She grabbed his broken hand and wrenched it. He screamed and let go of her. Iaka maintained her grip and pushed her thumb into the back of his hand and twisted. He fell to the ground beside her. Iaka rolled to her feet, coughing. She gasped, trying to force air into her burning lungs.

He looked up at her, hate burning in his eyes. Iaka snapped a front kick into his snarling face. He crumpled to the floor, unconscious. She bent over, hands on her knees, trying to catch her breath.

When her heart had slowed to something approaching normal she searched the lab and found the syringe. She looked at the man that had tried to kill her lying unconscious on the floor. Part of her wanted to jab him with the needle and see what happened. No, she wouldn’t murder him. Iaka squirted the poison out, bent the needle over, and threw it away. She needed to go.

Iaka ducked out into the hall and walked to the elevators like she hadn’t a care in the world. She pushed the call button and regathered her hair while she waited. When the door opened she stepped inside and pressed the button for the lobby.

As the doors closed someone shouted. “Wait, hold the doors.” She saw a man running toward the elevator. After a moment’s indecision she put her hand out to stop the doors.

“Thanks,” the gasping agent said. He punched the second-floor button. After the initial look he didn’t seem interested in her. Iaka relaxed. “I haven’t seen you before. Are you new?”

Iaka forced herself to smile. “No, I just got back from a field assignment. How about you?”

“I’ve been here five months. I work in encryption. What’s your department?”

“Xenobiology.”

He grimaced. “I’d hate to work with those weird things. Give me a nice air-conditioned office any day.” The bell sounded and the doors slid open. “Thanks again.” He stepped out and the doors shut before anyone else could get on.

She rode the rest of the way in blessed silence. She wondered how many guards awaited her arrival? Would they stun her or just blast her on the spot? The bell tolled and the doors slid open.

No guards, no blasters. She let out the breath she hadn’t realized she’d held and stepped off the elevator, so far so good. Iaka made it half way to the doors when Lar shouted, “Wait! Young lady, wait.”

She froze. Should she run for it? No, a dozen agents stood between her and the doors. She’d never make it. Got to play it cool. She walked to his desk. “Yes?”

“Your temporary badge, you forgot to turn it in.” He held out a hand.

She smiled, hoping he couldn’t tell how relieved she felt. “Sorry, it totally slipped my mind.” She dropped the badge into his hand.

Lar waved one of his other hands while the first slipped the badge back under his desk. “Don’t worry. Happens all the time. So you heading out again so soon?”

She sighed. “No rest for the wicked.”

Lar patted her on the shoulder. “Do be careful.”

“I intend to,” she said.

Iaka left the reception area and went out the main doors. Her whole body trembled. She’d made it this far, now she needed to get away from here. Where could she hide? Damn it! Marcus, they still wanted him and Solomon. She had to warn them. No, Captain Wright would expect that. She couldn’t go straight to them and the comms would be monitored, she needed a roundabout way to the spaceport. All her old friends worked for Earth Force so they were out. She’d have to do it on her own.

 

I hope you enjoyed reading Chapter 4. Click here to read Chapter 5

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