Children of Darkness: Chapter 9

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

 

New Vegas filled the view screen. Marcus glanced over at Solomon. His hands shook. Marcus sighed and hoped Solomon could keep it together for however long they’d need to finish their business on the planet.

The spaceport nearest the casino where he had to meet Vlad’s contact sat on the night side of the planet. Not that it made much difference. With the light from the holograms advertising the casinos night became day. The colony mirrored its Earth counterpart only on a larger scale. While Las Vegas was a city dedicated to pleasure, New Vegas was an entire planet dedicated to it. Casinos, hotels, brothels, and restaurants catering to hundreds of different life forms dotted the planet. Marcus often heard it said if you couldn’t buy it on New Vegas, you couldn’t buy it anywhere. He smiled, what a great place.

When they got closer, the automated landing system guided them in. While the computer flew the ship he listed their remaining liquor on a merchant forum. It wouldn’t take long for someone to jump on the deal he offered. The landing gear touched the ground just as he finished posting his merchandise, then he powered down the engines and set the external defenses.

When he finished shutting down the ship Marcus said, “All right, I’m going to find Vlad’s contact. You two wait here. If anyone calls about the cargo tell them it’s available for immediate pickup.”

Iaka got to her feet. “I want to go with you.”

“No, the last thing I need to do is spook this guy by bringing someone with me.”

“You need someone to watch your back.”

“No, just wait here and stay out of trouble.”

Marcus grabbed his gauntlet and stalked out of the cockpit. He looked back at the closed door. Couldn’t the woman do anything without an argument? He continued out of the ship and on toward the main terminal. He hoped to catch a cab. Or better yet find someone to share a cab with since he didn’t have any money to hire his own.

* * *

Iaka walked in a little circle in the cockpit muttering to herself. Goddamn know-it-all pilot. Why wouldn’t he let her help? At least he could listen without getting pissed off all the time. She rounded on Solomon. “He’s stubborn, just plain stubborn. An Earth Force agent might shoot him in the back. Why wouldn’t he let me go with him?”

“This place was built with secret meetings in mind.” Solomon patted the chair next to him. Iaka sat down and tried to relax. Solomon couldn’t help it if his friend acted like a jerk. “The businesses sprang up to give the people waiting to meet something to do. After a while the tourists showed up which gave the people sneaking around cover.”

“I don’t understand.”

“There aren’t many laws on New Vegas,” Solomon said. “The big one is no killing. Lethal weapons aren’t even allowed off your ship. If you break this law you get banished from New Vegas for life and the organization you work for gets banished for fifty years.”

“So?” Iaka asked. “What if they hire an assassin to do it?”

“First, no one knows we’re on planet and second, both the major assassin guilds have agents here that contract for business.”

“So they wouldn’t want to risk getting banished,” Iaka said. “With the criminal activity on this planet I’m surprised the planetary governments don’t get together and raid the place.”

“Marcus was right, you don’t have a clue.” Solomon smiled at her. “The governments are the biggest crooks on the planet. They’ve all got small offices here.”

“Wait,” Iaka said. “Earth Force has an office here?”

“Sure, but only about a dozen agents work out of it and they spend their time spying on the other governments. They shouldn’t have enough time to bother Marcus.”

“What?” She had a plan now but it felt sketchy even to her.

“I said Marcus shouldn’t have to worry about Earth Force.”

“Oh, that’s not what I was thinking. I thought if I hacked into planetary communications I could backtrack to the Earth Force computer.”

“That’s not a bad idea, but it won’t work.”

“Why not?” She crossed her arms and stared at him.

“Each government has its own hyperspace relay to prevent that sort of thing.”

“Oh.” Maybe she wasn’t cut out to be a spy. “You know an awful lot about how things work here.”

“Sure, I told you I was born here.” A slow smile spread across his face. “Mom danced at one of the clubs, among other things, and Dad was a pro gambler. She said Dad was here for a week-long poker tournament. He stayed just long enough to lose in the first round and knock her up. She sort of looked after me until I started walking and talking a little. After that I was pretty much on my own.”

“God, that’s horrible,” Iaka said.

“It wasn’t so bad. One of Mom’s other boyfriends was a bright computer geek, like me.” Solomon’s smile grew as he remembered. “He was shy, but he liked kids. He made sure I got fed and when I grew older he taught me computers. Johnny was the closest thing I had to a dad. He died of black rot when I was sixteen. Mom died of it two months later. I’m not sure how the rest of her boyfriends made out.”

Iaka stared. What a terrible childhood, yet somehow Solomon turned out a decent enough person. How he managed it defied imagining. “I’m sorry.” It sounded lame but nothing else came to mind.

“Don’t be,” Solomon said. “I once heard a holoevangelist say that the sum of your experiences make you who you are. He said a lot of other stupid crap too but that’s what I remember. Anyway, I like who I am so my screwed-up childhood must have done me some good.”

Iaka stood. “I’ve got an idea but I don’t think you’re going to like it.” And she felt sure Marcus wouldn’t like it. “Do you know where the Earth Force relay is?”

“Sure, it’s on the roof of their building.”

“Is it heavily guarded?”

“Oh no.” Solomon held out his hands as if to ward off the bad idea. “We’re not leaving the ship. Those casino guys have a long memory. I’m not giving them another shot at me.”

“Why are you so worried?” she asked, trying to play down the risk. “You said it was against the law to kill people here.”

“I’m sorry. What I meant was it’s illegal to get caught. Kidnapping someone, killing them, and disintegrating the body is fine. As long as you don’t disturb the tourists no one cares.”

“Look, I need more information before I go speak to the council. This is my last, best chance to get it.” Iaka turned toward the door.

“Wait,” Solomon said. “You’ll never find the place by yourself. It’s not like they advertise. I’ll show you where to find it then you’re on your own.”

Iaka let out a sigh of relief. She’d felt sure Solomon wouldn’t let her go alone but now that he’d offered to go she relaxed. “Thanks, and don’t worry, I’m sure they’ve forgotten all about you.”

“Right,” Solomon muttered. He typed a short message into the computer then turned toward Iaka. “Ready?”

Iaka grinned. She’d pocketed a small multitool while he typed. At last she had a chance to do something besides run for her life. It felt good. “Let’s do it.”

* * *

Solomon sighed as they walked through the streets. He’d lost his mind. Why else would he leave the ship? The only safe place for him on the planet and he’d left. He made an easy mark walking down the street for all to see. The colored lights and holograms made shadows everywhere and Solomon imagined every one hid someone that meant him ill.

The one saving grace of this stupid project, Earth Force had built their office just a couple miles from the spaceport and well away from the casinos. Bums and hookers decorated the alleys. Solomon smiled. The place hadn’t changed.

After the fifth turn Iaka said, “Are you certain you know where we are?”

Solomon looked back at her. “Sure, we’re about half a mile away.”

“How can you tell? I was lost after the third turn.”

“The city planners laid the city out this way on purpose so you’d get lost and have to stop at one of the businesses, ask directions, and hopefully buy something.” Solomon smiled at her bewilderment. “Don’t feel bad. I spent most of my childhood running these alleys and I don’t even know them all.”

Solomon couldn’t believe he’d been gone for three years. The sights, the smells, everything seemed the same. He winced at the stench of rancid meat wafting out of an alley. Yeah, home sweet home.

He forced his mind to focus on the moment. One more block and they’d arrive. “After the next left you’ll see it across the street.”

“Finally.” Iaka picked up her pace.

Solomon held out his arm to slow her down. “Easy, the building isn’t going anywhere. Let’s take our time.”

They made a left and stopped in the shadows across from a plain concrete building with a cracked brick facing. A few windows on the first and second floor had lights glowing. On the roof rested a large dish. “There’s your hyperspace relay.”

She craned her neck to look. “Good, I don’t see any guards. If I can get up there I shouldn’t have any trouble getting into the system.”

“Great, how’re you going to manage that?”

She pointed at the fire escape on the building next door. “What if I climbed up then jumped across to the relay.”

“Nah, way too obvious. They’ll have the fire escape wired. Let’s take a look around back.”

They walked a circuitous route around to the back of the building. As they walked Iaka said, “There doesn’t seem to be any people out.”

“At this time of night in this part of the city you wouldn’t want to meet anyone likely to be out.” They approached the back of the building and Solomon snapped his fingers. The Earth Force building was just a few feet from a pawn shop. “Bingo, there’s your way up.”

Iaka looked at the buildings then back at him. “Where?”

Geez, she was the worst spy ever. “Get in between the buildings and brace your feet against one and your back against the other then inch your way up.”

She studied the walls again then looked back at him. “Have you lost your mind?”

“You got a better idea, let’s hear it. I don’t plan to spend a second more out here than I have to.”

“Fine.”

Iaka wedged herself between the buildings and worked her way toward the roof. Every time she lifted a foot he expected her to come crashing down and break a leg or her neck. She worked her way up the side of the building one slow, painful inch at a time. At last, after ten minutes, she pushed herself over the edge and on to the roof. He felt exhausted just watching her.

Solomon had his hand half raised in salute when something crunched behind him. He turned partway around.

* * *

Iaka lay on her back and tried to catch her breath. Why couldn’t they have the relay on the ground floor? When her heart slowed to something close to normal she got to her feet and went to the edge to show Solomon she’d survived. She looked down just in time to see a figure in a gray jacket slam a stun baton into his head. No! She choked off a scream. Any loud noises might draw unwelcome attention.

She watched, horrified, as a hovercar pulled up and a second person got out to help the first load Solomon into the trunk. The lid slammed and the car shot away. Iaka watched until the car disappeared around a corner. She caused this. She hadn’t believed in the danger and now Solomon…

No! Leave it for now. She still needed to hack the relay. She’d worry about Solomon afterward. Marcus would know where to find him and she’d do her best to help get him back, assuming he didn’t shoot her after she told him what happened.

Iaka moved away from the edge of the roof and over to the relay. At the base of the dish she found a sealed metal box. She removed one side with the multitool. Inside she found a tangle of cables and digital readouts. Iaka examined each cable until she found the one she wanted.

Reaching behind her head she lifted the small flap of skin that covered the input jack for her implant. She took a deep breath and plugged in the cable. Her eyes rolled up as she dove into the data stream.

 

I hope you enjoyed Chapter 9. Click here to read Chapter 10

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