All the usual caveats… 🙂
Fargo had gotten a rush order for the fabber at the palace after the needle gun attack on site three. Four days later, Boykin picked up McDougal along with his gear, along with the newly manufactured repulsor modules. They went to each site with Mac modifying the sonics to allow them to enter and exit between two units, and emplacing the repulsors. They checked them with rocks, and he tuned each one to ensure they were high enough to prevent anyone shooting down into the sites from the nearest rooftops. All of the troops wanted to know what was happening with the search for the killer, but Fargo couldn’t give them any more details than what he’d passed earlier. Every Ghorka was less than happy, and there was a lot of under the breath grumbling, but nothing he could hear well enough to call anyone out on. He reiterated that both the GalPat Det and planet security were poring through databases to try to get a match, but without success.
Jiri called him to the side at site four, “Fargo, I’m not sure how much longer I can keep the guys from going hunting on their own. They’re pretty sure they can shake some answers out of the people out here.”
He sighed, “Do the best you can. If somebody goes out, at least give me a heads up, that way if the shit hits the impeller, I can try to save their dumb asses.”
“Will do. But you know as well as I do the geeks have already hacked the local systems and are digging through them on their own.”
“I’m hoping to hear back from Captain Jace. I sent it up to him too. Maybe Liz can pull something out. She’s an intel type.
“Let’s hope so. Where are you headed next?”
“Back to the Palace. I’ve got a meeting with the senior TBT rep. He’s offered to give us back door access to their systems. Problem is, I don’t have anyone that can actually execute on that.”
“What about GalPat?”
Fargo looked at him, “Would you give them access?”
Jiri wouldn’t meet his eyes for a second, “No, I guess not. I…”
“I’m going to see if I can get Liz hooked in. Maybe…” He glanced over to see Boykin signaling him, “Looks like we’re ready. Check in at seventeen like normal. As soon as I have something, I’ll get it out.”
Jiri nodded as he turned away and headed for the shuttle’s ramp.
Fargo stared at the emails on his datacomp and snarled, “This isn’t going to end well.” Jace had sent them encrypted to his personal account rather that his official account and Fargo knew if these had gotten in the system, there would have been hell to pay.
The first said that when he searched the world’s database, it finally popped out a 96% correlation with one Smallwell, Eric a div ago. All of the other correlations were less than 40%, and most were even lower. Jace had started a worm running in Endine’s TBT system, looking for any mail, vid, audio, or stills from any system on the planet. He also ran a check on all of the Ferret uploads from Nicole, and found three audio correlations over 65 days of data, and also found vid correlations from the Canyon feeder site’s data. That was enough for Jace to decide to act.
His email said he had carefully crafted an innocuous seeming message that apparently issued from the GalPat detachment’s own system, advising the Endine director and chief of security that a ‘watch’ should be placed for Smallwell, Eric, with a detain if found. He said he had inserted the proper documentation and enhanced photo into the GalPat det’s system, and tagged it to send right at the end of the shift in three divs with a detain and question warrant.
Basically, the second said there were at least two plots ongoing, based on the recordings from the Ferrets Nicole had emplaced. In one that Jace had attached, the person identified as Eric Smallwell had bragged to the other five young people at the table how he’d killed Shanni and Lev from behind, and maybe this would motivate the rebels to get more aggressive. He had also laughed that they would never catch him, and if they did, he’d get off.
The other plot Jace had identified was much more nebulous, and involved a much older group of men, most of whom were first families, according to Jace. Perez, Archer, Smallwell, Hartsorn, and Eggleston were apparently all large landholders and raised the majority of food stuffs and protein animals for the world. Their conversation was elliptic, even in the supposedly private room, and hinted at what could be a takeover of the world, if Jace’s analysis was right. Apparently only the Smallwell and Archer families were involved in both plots, which was rather interesting. He’d also said not to pass anything to the GalPat det, it was being addressed via a different avenue, so he must be sending it as a RIG dataset to HQ GalPat. That was scary, if the local GalPat det wasn’t to be trusted.
Fargo shook his head, I already don’t trust them, why am I even thinking that. Are these two plots connected? If so how… if not… Are they at cross purposes? Third generation wanting what? To go back to the pre power days? Do all these landholders have their own power generation? They must, considering the size of their holdings. Nuclear? Probably, since they only date back ninety something years…
Grayson walked in yawning, “You ready for chow, boss?”
“Is it that time already?”
“Eighteen, straight up. It’s some kind of noodle dish. Spicy noodles and mystery meat. The warrant took one sniff and went to the salad.” Grayson belched, “Ohhh, gonna pay for that later tonight.”
Fargo shook his head, “Okay, here’s the latest. All sites quiet at sixteen, three had a few rock throwers earlier, but they bounced. Four had a delegation from Archer come up and want to apologize for Shanni and Lev’s deaths. According to Jiri, they were the business leaders and owners of the restaurant. He was polite, and turned them away without allowing them inside the perimeter. Nothing from one and two.”
“So you’re saying tonight is either going to be boring as shit, or it’s going to blow up in my face, right?”
“Not going to jinx you. What will be, will be. Remember, put the forward to my comp on at all balls, when you secure the watch.”
“Yowza, boss. Have a good night.”
Nicole clocked out, chatting with Raymondo and the other staff as they walked to the corner. When they turned away from the others, he finally said, “You were prowling like a damn cat tonight. What’s going on?”
Nicole shrugged, “Not sure. I just feel antsy. I’ve been here almost three months, I think it’s about time for me to move on. I do have a real job to go back to, and this sabbatical has been almost six months long. The only decent wine on the planet is from Abruzzi, and I’m not sure they could produce enough to make it worth Star Lines time to order it.”
Raymondo nodded in the pale light coming off the street lamps, “You’ve been pushing it pretty hard, and I’m hearing their sales have gone up about twenty percent. Perez isn’t happy with that or with you. He talked again to night to Mr. DuMaurier about firing you.” Otto overheard it. But Otto is liking the chance to play with more Italian cooking too. I swear his heritage must be more Italian than German.”
Nicole laughed, “One more reason for me to look at leaving, sooner rather than later. With Otto, anyone from Old Earth is a polyglot by now, simply due to travel over the last what, five hundred years? Much less when you throw in the genie mods.”
“Point. But still, the name and physical characteristics…”
“But who knows what genie’d DNA went into his family when? Granted his coloring and build are Central Euro, not Mediterranean Euro if Italian was the primary. Maybe there’s an Italian grandmother somewhere in the family tree.”
At the next corner, they parted ways and Nicole hitched her backpack up to a more comfortable position as she walked slowly toward the Women’s Hotel. A half block later, as the crossed the mouth of the last alley, she heard movement and started to run, until she was struck by a charge from a stun pistol. She slumped to the ground, unconscious, scraping the side of her face and one arm on the rough surface of the sidewalk.
A grav car slid to a halt as two men lifted her limp body into the back of the car, with one retrieving the backpack and throwing it in on top of her, and slamming the hatch just before the car sped away.
Two hundred miles above them, the satellite Captain Jace had placed in geosync orbit picked up the voltage change across Nicole’s wrist comp and pinged an alert to the Hyderabad. Jace took one look at the feed, did a pingback for vitals, and waited impatiently for almost a seg before it came back, indicating probable unconsciousness and movement.
Fargo was regretting the noodle choice as he rolled over in the bunk, trying to decide if a trip to the fresher was worth it. Suddenly his wrist comp and data comp both blared an emergency alert tone, yanking him out of his misery. He jerked upright, slapping at the wrist comp even as he reached for the data comp. He read the alert and pinged both Grayson and Boykin with emergency pings, SR SGT LEVESQUE TAKEN RESP TO SHUTTLE FOR IMMED TRACK/RECOVER.
Pulling on his shipsuit, he debated notifying the GalPat det, but the earlier warning stopped him, We take care of our own. We’ll get her back, one way or another. Five segs later, he waited impatiently as Boykin ran a fast preflight and Grayson trotted through the aft hatch, “What the fuck, Captain?”
“Somebody grabbed the senior sergeant. Apparently stunned into unconsciousness. In some type of vehicle, almost to the port.”
“Where’s the GalPat response team?”
“Haven’t notified them, not going to.”
Grayson started to say something, then looked at Fargo. He shook his head, then said, “We take care of our own, right?”
He nodded as Boykin pounded up the ramp, “Close the ramp and strap in, autostart sequence is almost complete. As soon as I strap in, we’re lifting. Captain, feed me tracking data as soon as you get it.”
Grayson scrambled for the ramp controls as Fargo squirted the track data to her comps. They both flopped into seats and had just finished strapping in, when the G load hit as she took them vertical. She unloaded the G at 30,000 feet, causing their stomachs to try to come out of their throats, and Fargo glanced down at his comp, “Shit. Apparently dumped both her comps. Getting an intermittent track on her chip now. He yelled up to the cockpit, “WO, can you follow that track?”
She clicked the PA, “Not directly, but I’m trying to match it to radtrack, IFF, or IR on any skimmers, liteflyers, or shuttles heading in that direction. Three possibles. Stable for now. How do you want to proceed?”
Fargo realized he hadn’t thought that far ahead, and slumped, Shit. We never actually discussed this. What the… He glanced at Grayson and saw that he had the issue sidearm, and he was startled to realize that somewhere along the way, he’d also put his on. Pistols against what? What other… looking at the forward end of the bay, he saw three sets of armor racked. “One of those yours, Grayson?” He pointed at them.
“Yes, sir. The one on the right. Warrant Jiri’s is on the left, yours is in the middle.”
“I don’t know what we’re walking into, but pistols aren’t going to be my method of choice.”
“Didn’t the colonel say something about not using armor?”
“He did, but I don’t give a shit. I know you’ve done an airdrop before, feel up to another one?”
Grayson grinned, “A HALO, hell yes!”
“Let me go talk to the warrant. But I’d start suiting up.”
He got up and climbed into the cockpit, noting that Boykin had reconfigured one display to show three different views of sensors. Before he could ask, she glanced at him, “This is probably the vehicle. It’s approximating the chip track in both course and speed. The other two diverged a while back. According to the trackline, the only thing out this way is the Perez compound.” She pointed to her nav screen, and a blinking object, “Big enough field for a shuttle. At these speeds, be there in fifteen segs. How do you want to play this?”
“I’m thinking airdrop us in armor. From altitude. You could overwatch and take care of anything we don’t see.”
“Good enough. You’ll have to go off the ramp on my call. I’m darkship, emcon anyway, so at forty k, nobody will hear or see me. That would give you… a… call it four seg drop. If they are landing there, I can kick you out while they are on approach, and you’ll land about the same time they do.”
“Sounds like a plan. I’ll go suit up.”
“You’ve got nine segs then I open the hatch.”
Fargo bolted down the ladder and started stripping off his greys as he hit the deck. He saw Grayson already had his suit kneeled, and was in the process of climbing in, smiling from ear to ear. He finished stripping, threw his clothes, boots, and pistol belt into a storage compartment above the seats. Scrambling across the decking, he knelt his armor, hoping to hell there was an undersuit in it. If not, it was going to be a bit uncomfortable, to put it mildly.
Thankfully, there was an undersuit sitting on the pads. He quickly wiggled into it, then mounted the armor. Sliding in, he hit the hatch closure and felt the momentary disorientation as his mind and the AI connected. “Good evening, Captain.”
“Cindy, emergency BIT, combat drop in… four segs.”
“Captain that is not recommended.”
“Troop in danger, emergency drop required. Connect to ship’s AI, please.”
“Emergency BIT in progress, connecting.”
“You up, Grayson?”
“Yes, sir. Up and BIT good.”
“Five by. Skimmer is descending and slowing. IR shows a hot shuttle on the ground at the location. Estimated track for skimmer puts it landing adjacent to the shuttle.”
“Shit. What kind of shuttle?”
“Unknown. Depressurizing now, releasing clamps. Ramp in one seg.”
“Copy.” He slewed his view to see the clamps retract on Grayson’s armor. “You’re free, Grayson.”
“You too, sir. Lead on.”
He thought for a second, “Grayson I want you to go full stealth. I’m going to land no stealth directly in front of them. I’m going to free fall to minimum altitude then full braking.”
“Aye, aye, sir. I’ll land offset to your right as you face them.”
Fargo started slowly shuffling aft as the ramp cracked open and slowly went to full down. He got in position, called up the ship’s feed in his HUD, and felt Grayson come up next to him. “In position, WO.”
“Go in five, four, three, two, one, now!”
Fargo fell off the ramp, automatically swinging slightly right to make sure he separated from Grayson, visually verified the separation, and concentrated on the landing pad below him, saying a quick prayer, “Deity, keep Nicole safe, and let us rescue her without harm, if it be your will.”
Cindy said, “BIT complete. All systems nominal. Stealth?”
“Negative, Cindy. Deploy laser as soon as we land.”
“Will do. Full power?”
Two minutes later, Cindy said, “Switching to onboard cameras. Eighteen thousand feet to go. ETA one seg, thirty three.”
“WO, you got us?”
“Roger, high cover in place. High prob shuttle is Trader. And it’s hot. Skimmer ETA one seg.”
The seg felt like a div, until the armor finally kicked on the anti-grav, punishing Fargo with six Gs as it rapidly slowed the suit from about 170 miles per hour to ten feet per second. He saw Nicole being drug out of the skimmer by two men, with a small older man following them. He felt the laser deploy, and saw the carat pop on in his HUD as he concentrated on landing and staying upright. He saw the men looking up, and he assumed they heard the armor.
The old man grabbed Nicole around the throat, pulling something from his pocket, as the other two pulled weapons from under their jackets. The armor crashed down, splattering the rock that made up the landing pad, as he put the laser cursor on the man’s head. He keyed the external speaker. “Release the woman.”
The old man cackled, “You’re gonna be in so much trouble. Armor isn’t allowed. Besides, by the time you can get out of that, I can do anything I want with her. You move, I kill the puta.
Fargo projected, lightly touching Nicole’s mind. It seemed fuzzy for lack of a better term. “Nicole, can you hear me?”
“I… Ethan? Wha…”
“You’ve been stunned, I need you to drop, be a dead weight.”
He saw her sag, but the carat never moved from the man’s head as he triggered the laser. The head exploded and the body and Nicole slumped to the ground together.
“Nicole! Nic, answer me, oh Deity, please answer me.”
“M’cold. And wet. My… head…”
Grayson and Boykin both said, “Shuttle is lifting.”
Fargo glanced over, then back at the two men, now frozen with their hands halfway up, “Drop your weapons and prone out, now!”
They did so, and he said, “Grayson, clear the skimmer.”
Grayson walked over, rapped gently, well as gently as one could in armor, on the cockpit, and he heard Grayson order someone out. Another man came out trembling and with a wet spot in his crotch, as he went prone as soon as he was on the ground.
“Cover me, getting out.”
Just as he started to pop the hatch, he heard Boykin say calmly, “Shuttle is confirmed Trader. And it’s firing on me.”
Fargo smiled ferally, “Take it.”
He quickly dismounted, moved the weapons well away from the two men, and rushed to Nicole, gathering her in his arms.
She looked up at him muzzily, “Wha happened? Where?”
“You got stunned and kidnapped. We rescued you.”
“M’kay. Don’t feel so good. Tired. Thank you later.”
Fargo smiled softly, “You’re alive, that’s what counts. I didn’t lose you.”
“Not gonna happen.”
A boom interrupted him and he looked up to see an explosion and a trail of fire heading toward the horizon. He heard Grayson’s PA, “The warrant got the kill. She’ll ground in five. Give me a thumbs up if the chief is okay.”
Fargo gave him a thumbs up, and sat down, cradling Nicole until Boykin landed.