Faces of the Enemy (Story, not a DiD)

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Faces of the Enemy (Story, not a DiD)

Post by JJRSC » Thu, 30. Jun 16, 20:25

Hello everyone. Here is another story I'm working on - inspired from playing TC. Hope you like it. Comments & feedback are welcome, I only ask they be tactful/appropriate. Thank you!

Faces of the Enemy

Merrick raced along the passageway. It was crowded, he bumped the occasional person as he brushed by them, muttering a brief “sorry” as he rushed by. He had endeavored to be discreet up this point, but now the urgency of his mission had reached a point where haste took precedent. He now had to hope the precautions he had taken would suffice to keep him from being found out.

The walkway was raised, with railings on the sides to keep anyone from falling over. It was about four humans (two Paranid or two and a half Split) wide, all pedestrian traffic moving the same direction. A few meters to the left was an identical walkway, all traffic on it moving the opposite direction, like one would find in any air or spaceport. The passageway had massive wraparound viewports that offered a stunning view of space outside, as it scrolled by while the station spun to simulate gravity.

Merrick paid no attention to the view. He raced toward the docking concourse. His only concern now was his objective.

As he entered the arrivals concourse, he began scanning the crowd frantically. It was crowded – two or three transports had just docked and the arrival terminal was flooded with beings… mostly Argon but there were members of every race present. The crowd was dense, he bumped and jostled numerous travelers and was bumped and jostled in return. He scanned the room with his eyes, trying desperately to find his quarry.

Then he saw her. She was slowly making her way from docking gantry 3, her eyes looking up at the message boards, obviously hoping to find a clue there to the quickest route out of the makeshift jungle of the arrivals complex. Even in the dim lighting her long blond hair shone like gold.
He made his way toward her slowly. Her back was to him now, she was lost in the overhead screens broadcasting arrival and departure information, station information, points of interest, retail outlets, bulletin board messages and so forth.

He was ten meters away now. She was still reading the displays overhead. He slipped his right hand into his coat pocket, lightly grasped the cold metal cube there.

She then turned. Her eyes picked him out instantly; her eyes widened. Her mouth opened to say something –

Before she could utter a word he had grabbed her. He placed his mouth on hers, wrapped his arms around her, kissed her deeply.

She responded, kissing back, pressing her body eagerly against his. He pulled away. They stared into each other’s eyes for a moment. “Hello,” he said softly.

“Hello!” she responded, smiling. “I thought we were trying to be discreet here…”

He grinned. “That was the plan. But, well, I just couldn’t help myself,” he answered, leaned forward for another kiss.

She beat him to it, leaning forward and kissing him hard. After a minute she pulled back and said, “Well, I guess I’ll let it go this once…”

“Really?” He said, feigning disappointment. Then he smiled. “You sure you don’t want to punish me? Just a little bit?”

Her eyes narrowed and she smiled back, her hands moving down his back. “Wellllll… now that you mention it…”

“C’mon, let’s get out of here…”

They hurried out of the concourse as quickly as the thinning crowd would let them.


She looked around the suite, impressed. “Very nice…” she remarked. She briefly glanced out the window, watched the planet below slide by as the station rotated. She had done enough traveling to know that rotating stations, like the Argon Trading Station they were aboard, had very few windows. Part of that was economical… for safety reasons, windows had to be made of transparent alloy of equal strength as the hull, so they couldn’t afford to put too many on the station. Also, because the station used centrifugal force to simulate gravity, most windows that looked outside would have to be in the floor, and windows in the floor wouldn’t really be worth the cost of adding them. So any wall mounted windows would have to be at either end of the rotating “drum” of the station. Which meant that hotel suites with actual windows were few and far between. And very expensive.

Merrick smirked. “Just closed a big deal in the sector next door. So I figured we could celebrate.”

She eyed him up and down, smiling. “I like the sound of that.” She began rubbing his chest. “Maybe any ships passing by… well… we could give them a little show…”

“Woman after my own heart,” Merrick whispered. He kissed her, reached into his jacket’s left breast pocket, pulled out a small chip-like device, handed it to her. “Here, this is your ticket for the cruise to Three Worlds. I had it put on this chit. Untraceable.”

Her smile widened as she took the chit. “Thank you.”

Merrick nodded toward the bathroom. “I’ll be right back.” She nodded, still smiling, as he entered the bathroom.

He closed the bathroom door and took out the box from his right hand pocket and set it on the counter. The diamond and majaglit earrings inside cost more than most people would make in a year. He set his jacket on a hook on the bathroom wall.

While Merrick was in the bathroom, she had picked up her purse and set the ticket chit in the pocket where she kept things she couldn’t afford to lose. She set it right next to her wedding ring, then zipped the pocket closed.

She looked up into the bedroom mirror and began fixing her hair. The reflection made her spin around.

Outside the window she saw the remains of a human body slowly slide by; it bumped into the window with a mild thud. The corpse, in the vacuum of space, was immensely bloated – it looked like an overripe seed that was about to burst. The right eye, frozen, hung limply on the optic nerve centimeters outside its socket.

Her scream was piercing.

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Post by JJRSC » Fri, 1. Jul 16, 20:49

Tamon punched the throttle. Unfortunately, a Goner Ranger only had a top speed of just over 84 m/s - and that was undamaged - so that wasn't going to help much to escape.

The two Novas and the Elite that attacked him had nearly finished with his fighter drones... one of the Novas had already broken off to pursue. If he could just get to the gate, he might be able to make it to one of the stations in Tears of Greed. Might. And if his attackers docked as well, he might have to deal with them in person; if this weren't just a routine attack - he doubted it was - it would probably come to that. But at least he could deal with that problem when he came to it. Better that than floating through the vacuum as a charred corpse.

He was well out of vidcom range of any friendly ship or station. He continued to send out a looped distress message – text, not voice - via the coretex. No response yet. The jumpgate was visible now, growing larger at a maddeningly slow pace. Tamon checked the tactical again - no drones left on the display - all three fighters had resumed the chase.

He checked the instrument panel again... the ship topped out at 79.1 mps. She was only slightly damaged but the volley that got though the shields had knocked out his jumpdrive. His ship was heavily shielded, but the Novas mounted Plasma Burst Generators and being caught between them at point blank range it didn't take long for his shields to buckle.

Fortunately, he had thought to pack a copious amount of fighter drones for this job. A dozen MK II fighter drones and fifteen Terran Keris drones were enough to distract his attackers and let him cut and run for the gate. Unfortunately for Tamon, they didn't last long against those PBGs. His shields had recharged a bit, but not much, and even at full strength wouldn't last long if his pursuers caught him.

He jammed the throttle to the limit again, knowing intellectually that it couldn't possibly make his ship fly any faster but hoping somehow that it might. A glance at the tactical showed his pursuers were closing.

He cursed himself again for letting his mind wander before... he had lost focus and that allowed these three to get close enough to surprise him. How could he have been so careless? Obviously the stress of the past few days was beginning to take its toll - he was exhausted; he wasn't thinking as clearly as he needed to.

He had been lucky the opening volley hadn't incinerated him right there. He hoped his luck wasn't running out.

Tamon checked the comm panel... the message was still sending. Mayday, Mayday... under attack in Bright Profit. Trying to escape to nearest station in Tears of Greed. Ship damaged. Package in transit, repeat, package in transit. Delivery doubtful, repeat delivery doubtful. Requesting assistance, please respond.

Tamon looked up. The gate loomed before him. He looked back. His pursuers were nearly in range. Then he saw it... the orange yellow fire blossom from the lead Nova, reaching out to just tickle his shields.
"Weapons impact, rear shields," the computer said. "Shields at 31 percent... 30 percent... 29 percent..."

Tamon began jinking with the strafe thrusters, trying to throw off the other pilot's aim. It was a next to useless tactic against an area of effect weapon like a PBG but what the hell else could he do? The second Nova was nearly in range. And that will end this little party real quick, he thought.

He turned to face the gate... then suddenly the gate beacons flashed on... the sequence showed there was a ship - or ships - coming through from the other side.

He allowed himself to hope it was help. Perhaps the Temple got his message and sent help? Goner ships weren't armed but perhaps they convinced an Argon Patrol to investigate? Or Company Security? Mercenaries? They had hired them before...

Deep down, Tamon knew that in all probability it was probably just another trader... no one coming to save him, probably no one who could save him even if they'd wanted to. It would have to be someone friendly to the Goners who had the firepower not only to take on and defeat three powerful fighters but also to do it before he himself was roasted in fiery plasma. Chances of that, viewed rationally, were slim.

But he still hoped. Desperately, stubbornly, irrationally, he hoped.

"... 18 percent... 17 percent..."

Then the ship came through.

Tamon's heart dropped like a stone.

It was another Nova. A single Nova. Dark, sinister, bearing down on his ship with alarming speed.

He had arrived, not to save Tamon, but to help his friends bag their prey.

Tamon noticed, now, how time was slowing down. How, now, in his final moments, the seconds seem to tick by interminably. He felt himself surrender to his fate... his feeling of despair gave way to peace that seemed to wash over him as he accepted the inevitable. Oddly, it almost seemed like a gift, this feeling of peace... of eternal calm. He was sorry he didn't complete his mission... especially after coming so close. He wondered if they would find the package in the remains - if it didn't perish in the detonation. He decided it really didn't matter.

"... 9 percent..."

Tamon blew out a breath... probably his last breath. His killer closed on him... Tamon noticed, with his heightened awareness, the ship beginning to slow down. To get the optimal shot, he thought.

Then the newcomer fired. An eruption of what seemed like thousands of tiny stars exploded out toward him.

He realized he should be dead by now.

Then Tamon realized the shots were going just over his ship... directly into the Nova right behind him. He realized three other things in rapid succession:

1. The ship was still slowing to maintain a bead on his main pursuer.

2. He had no idea what weapons it was firing. While he was no combat vet, he had still been all over the galaxy and he had never seen the glowing sparks the newcomer was showering his pursuer with.

3. He had no idea what kind of ship it was either. As it passed he saw that it wasn't a Nova, although it did bear some resemblance - it looked like an Argon design… actually resembling more an Elite. But it was a design he had never seen before.

The closest Nova exploded just as the newcomer passed. Too fast, thought Tamon, how did he take out a fully shielded heavy fighter so quickly? What the hell is that thing?

Next he saw the newcomer lob three missiles at the Elite, which broke off to evade.

The remaining Nova had just gotten into range of Tamon's Ranger and now had to choose whether to engage the newcomer or bring Tamon down. After a second of indecision, it broke off to engage its new adversary. He blasted away with his PBGs, but the newcomer was able to flip up over the cone of effect using the ship's agility and its strafe thrusters, suffering only a glancing blow to its shields. Tamon could see its shields were powerful and it appeared to be faster than the Nova.

A flash in the distance heralded the demise of the Elite. Tamon looked back at the scanner. Tempest missiles. Yep, that'll do it.

Tamon was nearly to the gate. He didn't know who his benefactor was, and frankly, wasn't sure he wanted to know. For all he knew, it was another shady character who wanted what he was carrying and would kill him for it as soon as he was done with the competition.

He checked his rear scanner and the TAC display. The Nova fired off two missiles that were promptly intercepted by the newcomer's rear turret. More acrobatics kept the Nova from scoring any more than a glancing hit on the newcomer's shields. Who the hell is flying that thing?

The newcomer settled in behind the Nova and began pouring fire into it. Tamon checked the Nova's status... the shields were unaffected but its hull integrity was dropping rapidly. Mass drivers, Tamon realized, now I know what they look like…

The TAC went dark as Tamon's Ranger slipped through the warp gate.

There was an ore mine looming right over the gate as he emerged in Tears of Greed. He thought about docking there but concluded that mines being what they were, he might find more trouble there than he was already in. The trading station was too far but there was a nostrop fac not far past the mine which looked like the best compromise. Once aboard he would contact the Temple directly.

The comm panel lit up. Someone was comming him. It was a voicecomm channel - which meant the sender was within 25 klicks. He checked his six. Right behind him, less than a klick away, was the mysterious M3 that saved him in the last sector. The one that had taken down two Novas and an Elite without even getting a scratch. Tamon scanned its shields. They were at 100%.

He was within comm range of both the mine and the nostrop fac. He was about to open a channel to both to call for help, but an impulse told him not to. He took the call from the pursuing fighter.

"Don't call for help," the voice began. "That’s the last thing you want to do right now."

"Okay. If you say so."

"I do. Calling for help now would bring attention that we - you and I - don't want."

"Again, if you say so," Tamon replied, "It’s not like I really have a choice right now, do I?" I wish I had a few more drones. “Who are you?”

The other pilot ignored the question. "I saved your life. In return, you owe me a favor. You will make good on that debt... someday soon." There was a pause. Then, "Is it intact?"

Tamon knew there was no point in playing dumb. "Yes," he muttered.

"Good. Now listen carefully..."

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Post by JJRSC » Sun, 10. Jul 16, 21:15

The dining area was crowded. Even so, no one noticed a small pistol being slowly withdrawn and pointed at its unsuspecting target.

She was concentrating on her meal, taking small bites out of an intellectual sense that she needed too, not out of hunger. She knew she had to eat something, she had hardly eaten anything in days – but she wasn’t hungry. She hadn’t been hungry in days.

Her dark brown eyes held a hint of sadness, one that she tried to hide but couldn’t quite. Her mouth formed a joyless line across her face – when she wasn’t chewing, that is. Altogether the look on her face was the one that people who were once idealists get when they have realized they can’t figure out how they got to this point in their life or why and have given up trying to figure it out.

The finger on the trigger tightened. Suddenly the stream erupted from the barrel into the woman’s face.

She looked up at her assailant while wiping the water off of her face with her napkin. “That will do, Maurice,” she said, annoyed at first, but too tired to remain annoyed long. “Elena,” she called to her sister in law, “would you please…”

“Maurice! That is enough out of you! You put that away this instant and behave or you will spend the rest of the day in your room!”

The young boy looked contrite for a moment, then with an almost silent giggle, raced off.

“Adrianna, I’m so sorry. You know how he is…”

“Yes, I know,” she took another bite of her meal. “Don’t you think you should go find him, before he goes and blows up the station or something?”

Elena shook her head. “I suppose I should… but I can hardly keep up. I came out here to meet you so I could relax. Thanks to that boy I’m more exhausted than ever.”

Adrianna swallowed her small bite of food. “I guess I should feel lucky Tomas and I never had children.”

“Are you really going to leave him?”

“How can I? He would have to be around for me to leave him. How can I leave someone I hardly ever see?”

Elena shook her head again. “So you are going to leave him.”

“I can’t take this anymore. When we first met all the mystery was, well... exciting. It’s been five years and I still can’t even tell you what he does for a living!”

“He’s told you…”

Adrianna’s eyes narrowed as she answered. “He’s told me lots of things, Elena, and I don’t know that I believe a single word of any of them. You’re his sister… do you know anything about what he even does? Or why he’s always traveling…”

“He’s always been a very private-” Elena broke off as a shadow loomed over her. She looked up and saw a man standing there, tall, slim but athletic, the hairline beginning to recede, with eyes that were piercing but still held a glint of humor. He held a small water pistol in his left hand and Maurice, by his left arm, in his right. Water dripping off of his face and numerous spots on his shirt were a testimony to the quality of Maurice’s marksmanship.

The man smiled wanly as he spoke, “Do these, um, belong to you?”

Elena’s eyes widened and her mouth popped open. It took a moment to find her voice as she jumped out of her chair. Suddenly the words tumbled out of her mouth. “OhmygoodnessI’msosorryhenever-“

The man smiled reassuringly. “That’s okay, I’ll survive,” he gestured to an unused napkin on the table, “May I?”

Elena nodded vigorously. “Of course, please go ahead…”

The man began wiping his face, “You, know he’s not a bad shot,” he said lightly.

Elena turned to Maurice and, in a low voice, began scolding him and leading him out of the dining area and back to their rooms.

The man turned to face Adrianna. He paused for a moment, then said, “I’m sorry, do we know each other?”

“Should we?”

“I’m… um… well, I’m kind of asking you that. I feel like we’ve met… have we?“

“I don’t believe so. Would you like to?”

“’Like to what? To meet?”

“Yes, to meet. What did you think I was asking?” she retorted, slightly indignant.

“Wasn’t sure, exactly. That’s why I was asking.”

Adrianna sighed and shook her head. “Well, I’m terribly sorry, but I already know so many people that, until one of them dies, I couldn’t possibly meet anyone else.”

The man paused for a moment. “Well, if anyone should happen to go on the critical list, let me know,” he replied, turned to leave.

“My, you give up easily, don’t you,” Adriana scoffed.

He paused, then began pulling out a chair to sit. “May I?”

“Oh, you’re not leaving?” she asked.

“I suppose that’s up to you,” he answered.

“Are you asking my permission?”

“We’ve only just met. I don’t want to be impolite.” Before she could answer, he sat and asked, “So what brings you here?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Well you don’t live here on the station, do you?”

“No, I don’t. I’m from Sihnon, actually.”

“On Argon Prime?”

“Yes. You’ve been?”

“Once or twice. Beautiful city. Nothing like Argonia,” he answered matter-of-factly.

“Thank you. We take that as a complement in Sihnon.”

The man chuckled. “I imagine you do. So why did you come here?”

She paused for a moment, looked away. “I needed to get away.” There was a note of sadness in her voice that she couldn’t quite hide.

“I know,” was all he said. Suddenly his datapad buzzed. He took it out, looked at it, turned back to Adrianna. “I’m sorry, I do have to go. It was nice meeting you.”

“You also…”

“Say, would you mind if I looked you up in Sihnon? I’ll be on Argon Prime in the next couple of weeks…”

“I think that would be fine,” she replied. She held out her hand. “Adrianna Cassidy.”

He took her hand, shook it gently.

“Aren’t you going to kiss my hand?” she asked.

“That wouldn’t be too forward?”

She smiled. “Maybe you should wait until Sihnon.”

He grinned back. “Joshua Pierson. Pleasure meeting you.”

“Pleasure meeting you as well, Joshua.”

“See you soon.” He turned to leave.

“You’d better!” She replied.

Just as Pierson left, Elena returned to the table. “Maurice will remain in the day care area for the rest of the day.” She paused and watched Pierson leave. “You two have a nice talk?”

“I believe we did.” She noted the sour look on her sister-in-law’s face. “It was nothing like that. Besides,” she muttered, “I’m about to be divorced anyway.”

Then Adrianna’s datapad begin buzzing furiously – a ring tone that said it was an urgent message. She looked at the caller id. It said “ARGON FEDERATION PORT AUTHORITY POLICE”. What in the world could this be about? She wondered. She took the call. Less than a mizura later, her world turned completely upside down.

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Post by JJRSC » Sun, 10. Jul 16, 22:03

Adrianna sat stone still in the front row of the small church.

Tomas Cassidy’s casket was just a few meters away. It was little more than a brushed grey metal tube… one of the less expensive options.

Shortly after she identified Tomas’ body – or what was left of it – she checked hers and Tomas’ accounts to find that they had mostly been cleaned out. Only one small joint account still had any balance left and that was all the money Adrianna had in the universe. The other accounts had been hastily emptied but not closed, and had been collecting penalty fees, that she paid and further diminished what little savings she now had.

Elena sat next to her, equally shocked. “Did they tell you happened?” she whispered.

“He was found floating outside the trading station in Montalaar. I guess some girl saw him floating outside her hotel window.”

“Oh, my God.” Elena’s and Tomas’ parents were deceased, and they had another brother and sister but they could not make it to the service on such short notice. Her husband was traveling on business and she had left Maurice Jr. with friends.

There was less than a quarter of a stazura for “calling hours” before the service began. For the next eighteen mizuras, Adrianna and Elena sat alone in the church, saying nothing.

Then about 6 mizuras before the service a man entered the room. He was tall, rangy and moved like a predatory cat. His head was shaved bald and he wore wraparound sungoggles like the type some Argon and some Pirate spacers preferred. He hovered over the casket for a bit, then removed his sungoggles. He looked over the sealed canister, perhaps for a way to open it, then stopped, straightened and stared blankly at the middle of the casket again. Then he chuckled and turned to walk back to the seats.

Adrianna stared wide eyed at the newcomer. He noticed, stopped, and turned a menacing glare toward her.

Elena gently elbowed Adrianna once, with no effect. Then she elbowed her again, harder. “You’re staring!” she whispered. Adrianna awoke from her reverie and broke eye contact, staring at the ground. The man stalked by, uttering a guttural “heh” as he passed them.

Adrianna tracked him out of the corner of her eye as he passed, afraid to make eye contact again but also afraid to not know where the large man was.

She looked back at Tomas’ coffin and saw a Boron there. How it got there without her noticing sooner she couldn’t imagine. The creature wore a rebreather mask and an anti-grav harness and floated next to the casket. Then it took out a small device and began running it up and down the canister, about half a meter from the canister. My God, thought Adrianna, is it scanning Tomas’ coffin?

The Boron continued scanning for a few sezuras, then spun and flew past Adriannna and Elena, making a growling noise.

“Adrianna,” Elena whispered, “was that Boron growling?

Adrianna shook her head and whispered back, “I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going on here at all.” She chanced a glance back at the rear of the sanctuary, saw that the human and the boron had seated themselves – well, the boron was still floating – at the two far corners at the rear of the room. “Right now I just want to get out of here and go home and forget any of this ever happened.”

A mizura passed, then the room began to shake. What at first sounded like distant explosions Adrianna realized were footsteps of… what? They were approaching from behind, getting louder and faster. She froze, staring straight ahead, too frightened to turn and see what was making the noise.

Sezuras later, a huge Split stalked past. It stopped at the casket, stared at it, breathing rapidly. Adrianna had thought of them as somewhat stoic, if violent creatures. There was nothing stoic about this creature. Its torso bobbed up and down as it moved, its arms swinging wildly, as it thrashed about. It reminded Adrianna of an enraged gorilla. It snarled at the coffin, for a moment Adrianna thought the creature was going to try to tear the casket apart with its bare hands, but it turned, growling, and stalked back to the congregational seats. It picked the seat right in the middle of the chamber and sat in it.

The Vicar had delivered a brief service which was obviously a cookie-cutter eulogy he had used hundreds of times before. He had not asked Adrianna for any details about Tomas to use in the eulogy, he basically plugged in the proper names and stayed on script. It was delivered with mechanical efficiency. Adrianna hardly noticed.

After the service ended, the Vicar slipped quickly out of the sanctuary and back to his chambers.

“Is there anything else you need to settle with the Vicar?” Elena asked quietly.

Adrianna turned to Elena and whispered, “Let’s just get out of here. Anything we need to settle we can settle lat-”

Adrianna turned to see the human and the Split towering over her. The Split was breathing heavily still. The human, wearing the sungoggles again, slowly smiled. It reminded Adrianna of a deadly snake that was charming its prey.

“We ah so very sorry to heah about yoah loss,” the human drawled slowly. “Tomas was a good, dear friend for a long, long time.” He glanced black at the split, who was still breathing heavily and glaring at Adrianna, turned back to her, smiling. “Did he evah mention us to you? His good, deah, ol’ friends from the war?”

Adrianna shook her head.

The man chuckled again. “No, Tommy wouldn’t. That was Tommy all right. That was Tommy all over. Heh.”

“We still have some business with Tomas, Mrs. Cassidy,” came a voice from right in front of her. Startled, she turned back to see the boron floating right in front of her. One of its eyes was sea green. The other was white… a tiny pupil surrounded by white, then a dark ring, with no color in the iris at all. The two eyes didn’t quite look in the same direction. Adrianna couldn’t tell which was the lazy one… both eyes seemed to alternate looking directly at her. “Unfortunately, since he, expired-“

“A tragedy,” added the human. “Heh, heh.”

“- there are still questions that we need answered. Answers that Tomas owed to us. Still owes us, in fact.” That albino white eye of the boron felt like it was boring straight into her. It felt almost physically painful.

The human said, “So, as his widow, I hope you see that you, fo’ ahl intents and purposes, have, shall we say, inherited from yoah deceased husband the responsibility of answering these questions of ours. Unnerstan’?”

Adrianna shook her head, trying to speak but no words would come out. Finally she uttered, “No, I, I don’t know anything about-“

The human leaned in close. “Well, then, I guess you have some work to do then, don’t you?” He turned to the Split. “Wouldn’t you say, Clyde?”

The split uttered a low growl. Then it held out its left hand to her. But there was no hand. In its place there was a prosthetic claw. The claw had three talons, which she could see had been filed down to razor sharpness. Then the claw grasped the metal back of the empty chair next to her, squeezed and ripped right through the metal chair. He then grabbed another section of the chair back, twisted, and tore the back of the chair clean off. The split tossed the remains of the chair back on the floor.

The man laughed again and patted the split on the shoulder. They left.

Adrianna turned and saw the boron still floating there. “We’ll be in touch,” it said.

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Post by JJRSC » Fri, 15. Jul 16, 23:10

The vessel shook under the weapons impacts.

The helmsman of the CDV Griffon checked the shields and the damage level was negligible. “Evasive maneuvers,” he heard from behind him, “evasive starboard, z minus five thousand meters.”

“Aye sir.” The pilot made the adjustment, saw bright blue bolts from the Carrack ahead of them arch over the bow to the left.

“Forward guns,” the captain said from behind him.

“Aye sir,” the young woman at weapons replied. “Locked, sir.”

“Fire at will,” answered the captain. Bright blue bolts from the Griffon’s own guns erupted from its bow, answering the Carrack’s fire. They were closing rapidly on the Carrack now, less than a kilometer away. The pirate vessel filled their screens, veering quickly to their right to avoid a collision. “Evasive to port, z-minus ten thousand.”

“Aye sir,” the helmsman answered. The Griffon deftly slid away from the enemy vessel, avoiding collision. Like ancient jousters, the two vessels broke off to circle back around and make another run at each other.

“Target status?” the captain asked.

“Quarry One coming about to re-engage, shields at seventy-four percent. Quarries Two and Three” she said referring to the other two pirate carracks in the enemy force, “incoming, max speed.”

“Estimate time to intercept?” the captain asked.

“Ninety-one seconds, sir.”

“Thank you. Enemy fighters?”

“Two squadrons, closing… ETA thirty seconds.”

“Are we in flak range of any of the Quarries?”

“No, sir.”

“Excellent. Break off Quarry One, launch fighter screen.”

“Aye, sir,” replied the engineer, in the back of the bridge. “White Wing launching.”

The Griffon class frigate was the Federal Argon Navy’s attempt to provide a credible anti-fighter capability without endangering pilots. In order to prosecute offensive actions against Kha’ak forces and their fighters – armed with extremely accurate kyon beam weapons, the Federation Admiralty wanted a drone system far more advanced than currently existed. The drones would be more along the lines of automated Xenon or Terraformer fighters instead of classic fighter drones, although those would be used as well. These automated fighters would be used to spearhead attacks against Kha’ak fighters and their deadly beam weapons, without having to worry about heavy personnel losses. Once the drones engaged the Kha’ak, traditional, piloted fighters would be deployed to finish off the enemy fighters.

The Griffon was originally supposed to be the primary delivery system for the new drone fighter craft. But as development problems with the new drones went on and the costs of Operation Final Fury rose, Federal Argon Shipyards finally pulled the plug on the drone program. The testbed for the delivery system, the Griffon, was converted into a more traditional kind of Frigate in the Argon doctrine of being, like the Cerberus, a support and anti-fighter platform.

As an improvement over the Cerberus, the Griffon was an impressive development. Jonferson Space Dynamics developed a brand new drive system that made the Griffon one of the fastest, most agile Frigate-class starships in the Galaxy – only two M7 designs were faster. Also, radical miniaturization technology from both Jonferco and OTAS (Optimized Technology, Armaments and Shielding) resulted in the most robust powergrid of any frigate in the Commonwealth, on a ship that was not much larger than a corvette. The Griffon could fire its flak batteries non-stop for far longer than any of its rival ships and improved avionics and accuracy meant that it outstripped even the Cerberus, long famed as a flak platform, as a lethal deterrent to enemy fighters. It was well-shielded too; only the Terran and Paranid designs were better protected.

The only weakness, if one wanted to call it that, was a forward bank of only four Concussion Impulse Generators, rendering it, at first glance, to be less than effective against enemy capital ships. However, a good captain and helm could use the ship’s agility and small profile to evade enemy fire, while eventually wearing the target down with its four CIGs. Typhoon missiles, (which the Griffon had many of) along with Hornets and a handful of Firestorm Torpedoes helped bolster the ship’s firepower as well. These factors, along with a fighter wing of nine ships, meant the Griffon, with the right people at the helm, could decimate any foe.

Cost overruns eventually ended the Griffon as a successor to the Cerberus as well. The program was scrapped, all that remained was the single prototype. The prototype was eventually awarded to, of all people, a Terran, for his heroic role in the completion of Operation Final Fury and the victory over the Kha’ak. There was some consternation in the Federation Parliament over awarding one of their most advanced designs to a Terran (relations with Earth at this time were anything but cordial), but based on that Terran’s long history of service toward the Argon people (not the least of which were his many sorties into Black Hole Sun sector in an ATF Corvette to destroy attacking Qs) along with his heroism in Operation Final Fury, it was decided to give him the Griffon for winning the war that the Griffon had been designed to fight.

Griffon began accelerating away from the pursuing Carracks. The two dozen Pirate fighters, however, were gaining. They bore down on the fleeing frigate and its fighter screen – only nine fighters.

At first glance, it appeared to be a bloodbath in the making… especially with three Carracks – prolific flak platforms in their own right – bringing up the rear. If the fighters or the Griffon turned to engage the Pirate fighters, the Carracks would catch up shortly thereafter; it would be game over for the Griffon and her fighters.

There were other factors at play that would change the balance of power in this scenario. The first simply goes back to money. The life of a pirate is often one, even in the most successful gangs, where income is not a steady stream. As a result, many of the fighters were not top of the line M3s but a mixture of light and medium fighters, many of which were not fully equipped or upgraded. It was not an armada of Blastclaws or Eclipses, but a mixture that ranged from formidable and dangerous Novas, Mambas, the occasional Blastclaw, to the more common Kite, Pike and Harrier.

Even more telling, due largely to the same monetary restrictions, was the fact that many of the pilots could not afford to buy many or very good missiles; many that they had had been used already in their attack on installations in the sector.

The Griffon and her ships were part of a very wealthy and successful mercenary company and so not only were all ships fully tuned and upgraded, but all of the fighters carried holds full of anti-fighter missiles… namely the Poltergeist. While most effective against M4 class ships, they were effective enough in numbers to bring down the heavier M3s… and since they automatically acquired new targets if the original one was destroyed, the Terran Pilots didn’t have use too much discretion where they fired their missiles… few would be wasted regardless.

The Terran pilots flew Scimitar and Cutlass class heavy fighters… completely upgraded and fully armed, including 25 Poltergeists apiece. They had all been USC veterans and had been trained much more rigorously than their Pirate counterparts. While some of the Pirate pilots had a great deal of experience in combat over the years… they were more the exception than the rule. The Terran pilots were also highly experienced, having flown many mercenary missions in Commonwealth space before today.

The Terran pilots calmly watched the enemy close the gap – they were flying 124 m/s alongside the Griffon – then, on the squad leader’s order, quickly turned to face the enemy at range of 12 klicks. Then they quickly locked up their targets and let loose a fusillade of poltergeist missiles – 9 fighters firing 25 missiles apiece, splitting into 8 warheads each – forming a glowing, pulsating cloud of 1800 warheads closing on the approaching pirates.

Griffon now slowed to just over 100 m/s. Her fighter wing broke off after firing their missiles to rejoin her. Whatever enemy ships survived the initial missile barrage would fight the Scimitars and Cutlasses at close range well within flak range of the Griffon. Griffon would not fire on any enemy that was closely engaged with her fighters so as not to risk friendly fire incidents but any enemy not directly and closely engaged was fair game. This would be a risky tactic unless both Griffon’s gunners and the fighter pilots were well acquainted with each other’s tactics. They were; they had done this dozens of times.

Griffon also slowed to allow the Carracks to begin catching up. She had two main objectives in this fight. The first, along with her fighter wing, was enemy fighter suppression and elimination. The second was as a decoy… to distract the enemy capitals from the actual centerpiece of the attack on this Pirate Armada; to get them completely focused on the Griffon and keep their focus right there.

The Truelight Seeker was nominally classified as an M6 Corvette, but like the more famous Hyperion Vanguard corvette, that description was accurate yet still not exactly true. Some experts argued the Hyperion – a masterpiece of starship engineering in its own right – should still be classified as a frigate, as the original prototype was designed, not a corvette. The Truelight Seeker provided a similar conundrum: just what the hell was it? Was it a corvette? A transport? A TP? Its owner would simply say, “It’s the Truelight Seeker, that’s all you need to know.”

In fact, its owner had used it in over a dozen roles… it could be modified inside to match the opulence of any VIP Transport (although since it was not officially classified as such he could not legally use it for VIP Transport jobs for clients), a mobile business/conference center, freight transport, a scientific research vessel, he had even hosted state dinners aboard the ship. It had been a gift from the Goners for saving their leadership from what was then a sprawling and hostile criminal syndicate on the eastern end of the Galaxy and its owner, being somewhat sentimental, was always looking for new ways to use this unique gift.

Its performance was impressive. It was one of the faster corvettes and only the ATF Vidar could out-turn it (well perhaps the Xenon P could, but he didn’t plan to – and didn’t care to - ever own one of those.) Its shields, however, were weak even for a lighter corvette and its hull was not built to take much punishment.

When used in a combat role, however, it could mount nearly any weapon in existence in its forward bank of six gunports. Its generators couldn’t handle a capital weapon like a photon pulse cannon or ion cannon for very long but when armed with Teladi Capital Grade Heavy Railguns – colloquially known as “Gauss Cannon” – it became a diminutive vessel of vast destructive power. With its agility to avoid fire and its firepower even carriers and destroyers could find themselves in real danger from the Seeker.

So now, with its owner at the controls, the Truelight Seeker slowly drifted from her parallel course toward the three Carracks. She would show on their screens as a small, lightly shielded corvette – or perhaps a transport – that hardly presented any threat.

He turned the Seeker toward the lumbering Carracks, facing their full side profile – ten klicks and closing. He checked his TAC display and saw the enemy fighters rapidly dropping off the display as a huge cloud of poltergeist missiles began devouring the small ships like an enormous, space-borne carnivore.

He saw the Carracks were pushing their engines to the limit, trying to get to the Griffon to help their comrades. Even though they were criminals and the their sense of morals and ethics was less developed than most, they still likely held some sense of camaraderie with their fellow pilots and felt the obligation to help protect them and the expectation they would be protected in return. So they were rushing to help as fast as they could go. They also, probably, were smarting about having been obviously outfoxed… that they were so eager for the kill they got over confident and let their forces get separated – they let their faster fighters leave the capital ships – where they could be more easily dealt with by an inferior force; divided and conquered. They would likely be angered by this, perhaps guilty, certainly distracted… so focused on atoning for their error - that had already cost some of their comrades their lives – that they would be blind to anything and everything except the Griffon and her escorts.

Blind to a small, unidentified ship that was unmistakably on an intercept course.

He had been a solider for over twenty years, yet still, somewhere in the back of his mind, he reflected on the cruelty of using another’s – even a criminal’s – concern for his comrades to lure him into a trap and destroy him. A split second later he reasoned that it wasn’t his fault these people decided to become pirates and it sure as hell wasn’t his idea that they decided to attack a heavily populated commercial sector and begin shelling orbital installations housing hundreds or even thousands of innocent people; people who only want to do their jobs, collect their checks and just get through the day without being spilled into the vacuum of space. But that’s what these criminals were intent on doing and that’s what he was here to prevent. At all costs.

A gun sight now appeared on the Seeker’s hud, meaning the target was now in firing range. The main computer’s female voice confirmed the target was now in range. He squeezed the trigger and glowing, incandescent slugs streaked out of the magnetic rails toward the target.

The Carrack-class frigate perhaps has a few things in common with the Truelight Seeker… it’s quite agile for a vessel its size, packs a wallop with a large variety of usable weapons and is also conspicuously under-shielded. The Seeker’s heavy slugs, meant to destroy battleships, cut through its shields and hull like a hot knife through soft butter. The first target hadn’t even known what had hit it before it burst apart into a blazing fireball.

Seeker’s pilot switched targets quickly, wasting no time. Six streams of glowing shells converged on another Carrack. Again, it had barley registered the destruction of the first frigate and was now getting pounded by the heavy guns of the Seeker. The pilot watched as the shields of the target dropped precipitously.

Then there was a flash. The enemy was now firing back. This was not unexpected, and as the Truelight Seeker was an extremely agile ship, its pilot had littletrouble evading incoming CIG fire, even flak.

Enemy’s shields were down… hull dropping…

Then everything went white. Explosions roared in his ears and the ship shook violently, if he hadn’t been strapped tight into his seat he’d have been thrown across the cockpit by the impacts.

He whipped the Seeker around to disengage, hitting the “strafe” thrusters to help evade the incoming fire. How had the target zeroed him? Then, as the glare faded, he saw, off to port – the third carrack closing. It had closed the distance faster than he had expected and his shields were almost gone.

He pushed the yoke over and dove away, hitting the Spilt-built afterburner. He still had a few e-cells in the cargo bay, so the burner wouldn’t eat away at his shields – yet. When the computer told him he had left firing range he turned the ship around and headed for the second Carrack. The afterburner had shut off and was now cooling down. He saw the third Carrack closing. Not this time pal, he thought. One free shot is all you get.

He dove away from the wounded Carrack, evading the other’s fire. He flew on, away from his target, watching its shields slowly regenerate, while its companion pursued him, lobbing CIG and HEPT fire at his vessel. He kept one eye on the rear scanner to evade the incoming energy bolts and one eye on the tac display counting the distance between him, his pursuer and his target. Just another half klick…

Again he wracked the Truelight Seeker around in a wicked left hand turn, crossing the bow of the pursuing Carrack, waiting for it to open fire, dead to rights at nearly point blank range. A blinding wall of blue fire erupted from the Pirate cruiser, just as he hit the afterburner. The Seeker lurched forward, violently, out of the line of fire of its pursuer. Seconds later, its crippled target was in range. Its shields were back up to 51%, but its speed was only 11m/s. Gauss shells erupted from the Seeker’s barrels. The target did not last long.

He continued on, opening some room between the Truelight Seeker and the last Carrack… to give his shields a little more time to recharge before he engaged again. Eight klicks away he turned to engage again – shields at 48% - but he wasn’t planning on getting hit much this time around.

Then, he saw, in perfect synchronicity, a barrage of typhoon and handful of hornet missiles strike the enemy frigate, followed half a second later by a single firestorm torpedo, turning the reeling ship into a miniature sun. A second later the sun was gone and so was the enemy.

Sam Cullough set back in the command/pilot chair of the Truelight Seeker. He thumbed the comm. “That was some nice shooting, Griffon. Thanks for the assist.”

Captain Adam Canfield grinned while he answered his boss’ praise. “Our pleasure, Seeker. We figured you had him, but why bother wasting time?”

“Fair enough, Captain Canfield. How is White Wing?”

“All pilots present and accounted for, sir.”

Cullough closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He took another breath and allowed himself to enjoy the moment. He hated losing people. Hated it more than anything. White wing had been around for a long time and had done a lot of fighting. And they were all still with him… at least for today.

“Sir, do you need some jump fuel? You look at little light, we’ll beam a few cells over-“

The comm alert buzzed on the Seeker's control panel. “Adam, that’s Braks, I have to take this. Great job today. Tell your people great job, tell your pilots great job.”

“Aye sir. Thank you sir. Griffon out.”

Cullough took the incoming call. “This is Cullough.”

The face of Mikal Braks, his contact and Chief Operations Officer for Optimized Technology, Armaments and Shielding appeared on the screen. “Well I don’t think anyone could have lived through that! Very well done today, Mr. Cullough. We’re going to have to find you tougher jobs in the future!”

“You can give us easier jobs if you want.”

“Hmmph. Well if you were flying a Skiron instead of that Goner contraption-“

“Hey, don’t start on my Goner contraption-“

“-you might find these jobs even easier…”

“Ah. I see. And how many gauss cannon does a Skiron mount?”

Braks stopped for a moment. “Well… I mean… it has… did you say Gauss Cannon?”

Cullough smirked. “That’s what I thought.” Cullough paused a moment. “Is this a secure channel?”

Braks’ expression darkened. “Somewhat. What is it?”

Cullough knew to be vague. “Have you found…”

Braks shook his head. “No.”

“Understood. Cullough out.” Cullough set course for the local solar power plant. He shook his head.

Goddammit, he thought.

Posts: 101
Joined: Mon, 16. Dec 13, 01:36

Post by JJRSC » Sun, 31. Dec 17, 20:49

“Please sit down, Mrs. Cassidy,” the man said through a mouthful of food, gesturing to a chair. He put the sandwich in his other hand down and tapped a few keys on his computer.

Adrianna sat in the chair, pensive, wide eyes recording every move the man made. He fiddled with his computer for a bit, swallowed his mouthful of sandwich and turned back to her.

The man smiled. “Agent Cornell, Argon Federation Secret Service. Pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Cassidy, although I completely understand if the feeling isn’t entirely mutual.” He paused for a moment. “I understand the past few days have been quite difficult for you. I am sorry for your loss and I’m sorry to have to call you in here under these circumstances.”

“That’s all right, Agent… I’m sorry, what did you say your name was again?” She looked down, embarrassed. “I’m rather distracted…”

Agent Cornell smiled warmly. “That’s all right, Mrs. Cassidy. Anyone would be. It’s Agent Cornell.”

“Of course, Agent Cornell. I apologize.” Adrianna was nervous. On one hand, she hoped fervently that the Argon Secret Service was reaching out to protect her from the strange individuals that had threatened her at Tomas’s funeral. On the other, she also feared the Secret Service called her in because they were investigating something that Tomas had been involved in… which after the past few days, seemed all too likely. It was agonizing not knowing… waiting to find out why she was here, but she couldn’t bring herself to ask.

Cornell smiled again. “Mrs. Cassidy, I know you have had a rough time the past few days,” he glanced briefly at the door, then back to her, “would you like something to settle your nerves a bit? It’s perfectly understandable. If I were in your position, I’d have completely fallen apart at the seams by now.”

Adrianna smiled, chuckled lightly.

Cornell put his finger to his lips in the universal “shush” gesture. He touched a switch on his desk and a panel on the shelf behind his desk slid open. There were a half dozen small bottles inside. “I only use these for professional and counseling purposes,” he whispered, grinning. “Glass of wine? I have Malino, Balenét from Persephone, a Paranid Canascan Port – if you’re into that sort of thing – oh, and I just got this SynCognac from Om Ly, it’s supposed to be quite good.

“Just so you don’t feel alone, I’ll have a little Malino,” he said, pouring himself a small glass of red Argon wine. “Wine? Cognac? Paranid…stuff? I won’t judge.”

Adrianna laughed, in spite of herself. “No thank you, Agent Cornell. I do appreciate the offer, but I think I had better keep a clear head right now.”

“Fair enough, Mrs. Cassidy. Completely understandable.” He set his wine glass down, off to the left near the edge of the desk. “Now, to business,” he said, clearing his throat.

“Mrs. Cassidy, you may not be aware, but right now the Argon Federation faces more foes and potential conflicts then at any other time in its history. To the East, we have the Xenon, who have been pushed back over the years but are still present and are still a threat. To the South are our dear old friends the Paranid Empire, who have signed nearly as many treaties with us as they have broken. To the West, now, are the Yaki, who are taking advantage of the chaos wreaked by the Kha’ak to expand their sphere of influence any way they can. And, finally, up north, are our long lost ‘brethren’ from Earth who are becoming increasingly hostile to the Federation… nearly every day we receive another demand – bordering on threat - from the Terran Government.

“Right now, Mrs. Cassidy, we face an enemy - or potential enemy - on every front. And that means that Federation Secret Service must remain vigilant to any and all threats, foreign and domestic. And I have the ‘honor’ of supervising this entire quadrant… with a painfully small team of agents that are entirely overworked and hugely underfunded.”

Adiranna sat contritely and nodded sympathetically at every point the man made. She wondered if this speech hadn’t been rehearsed for his boss or some bureaucrat instead of her.

As if on cue, he got up from his desk and turned toward the window behind him. He gazed out the window as he resumed speaking. “Parliament Ministers on Argon Prime think that all an agent needs is a false ident and cyanide pill and he or she is in business. But I’m afraid it isn't that simple. And now the Federation risks infiltration from any number of hostile powers. Two of them are human, which makes spotting their agents automatically difficult, and another with the means to buy off plenty of Argon people whose loyalties might not be as strong as their greed.”

In spite of herself, Adrianna found herself sympathizing with Cornell. He seemed to her to be an earnest, dedicated man who was trying to do an impossible job against an impossible number of obstacles.

Cornell turned back from the window, fixed Adrianna with a weary stare.

“So as you can see, we have our hands full at every conceivable level… and we need all the help we can get. Whatever information you can give us, Mrs. Cassidy, to get to the bottom of this.”

“You mean Tomas’ murder?” she asked.

“Huh?” Cornell looked confused. “No. Well, yes… we need to solve that but… I mean, Mrs. Cassidy, I’m talking about the money.”

Adrianna felt a horrible sinking feeling. “Money?” she asked sheepishly.

Agent Cornell broke the silence. “Mrs. Cassidy, there’s no easy way to say this.” He paused for a moment. “Your husband was wanted by the Argon Federal Government.”

Adrianna let her face drop into her hands.

“Mrs. Cassidy?”

She looked up. Cornell studied her for a moment, then continued. “Had your husband ever told you about his time on Monk’s Field?”

Adrianna shook her head. Monk’s Field was one of a handful of developing planets – colonies - that had tried to secede from the Federation not long after the Kha’ak attack on Omicron Lyrae. The rebellion had been quickly crushed by Federation forces.

“Mrs. Cassidy, on Monk’s Field, your husband was involved with a mercenary company called Zarephath Legion. They fought mostly for the separatists, but more or less went wherever the money was. “Toward the end of the conflict a handful of Legion members, including your husband, managed to steal over sixteen million credits from the Argon Federal Government.”

Suddenly, a half dozen holos of fabricated idents scrolled by in the air in front of Adrianna. All of them had Tomas’s picture. “As you can see here, your late husband maintained numerous identities and was quite skilled in avoiding detection while he had been moving and laundering various assets through nearly a dozen different systems over the years. Because of this and the other threats we have had to deal with that I have mentioned earlier, we were unable to track your late husband down until now.”

Adrianna’s jaw dropped.

Cornell continued. “For the past fifteen years, we believe that your husband was in possession of sixteen million credits of government money… and we want it back.”

Cornell stared at Adrianna for a moment, she stared back. When it was apparent she was not going to add anything to the discussion, he continued. “Does any of this sound familiar to you, Mrs. Cassidy?”

She shook her head slowly, eyes wide.

“Mrs. Cassidy, I apologize for this, but where I’m going with this is… well…”

Adrianna swallowed.

“Mrs. Cassidy, with your husband dead, the first place we have to begin our search for that stolen money is you.”

“Me? What makes you think I have it?”

“You are his widow, Mrs. Cassidy. Naturally, the first place we’re going to look is you.”

Adrianna was about to ask if he thought she killed Tomas for the money, then decided against it. “Mr-“

Agent, please, Mrs. Cassidy,” he interrupted.

“Agent Cornell, believe me, if I had sixteen million credits, I’d know it!”

“Nevertheless, Mrs. Cassidy, we have reason to believe your late husband may have been trying to get that money back to you.”

She swallowed. This wasn’t going to be easy to say, but she had to say it. “Agent Cornell, my husband hardly told me anything about his life or his work, let alone sixteen million credits. Why in heaven’s name would he want to give me this money… if he actually had it? He has been hiding all of this from me for years!” When she finished the sentence she felt like her heart had been ripped once again from her chest. Suddenly she felt tired, very tired, and wanted more than anything to just go home and curl up in bed for the next jazura. But she didn’t have that option right now. Her husband had been murdered, she was broke, and three extremely shady and dangerous individuals had already threatened her… she could only assume this was the reason?

She was about to mention them when she realized Cornell was talking, taking her out of her reverie. “… we’re not entirely sure, Mrs. Cassidy. We only know that he was headed back to this sector and he had tried to reach you several times while in transit.

He paused, stared her down for a moment. “Whether you realize it or not, Mrs. Cassidy, you are involved. Whether you asked to be or not, whether you know about the enormous amount of money that is at stake here or not, you are involved. We want that money back. And we won’t be the only ones to come looking for it, I can tell you that right now.”

“I know,” Adrianna answered. “You’re not the first person to ask me about it.”

For the first time Adrianna could remember, someone was surprised that wasn’t her. Cornell blinked once and leaned forward, wide eyed. “Someone has asked you about the money? You didn’t say that before…”

“I didn’t have a chance before! Not until now!”

“Please remain calm, Mrs. Cassidy. What did they say about the money?”

“They didn’t mention it, actually… I don’t think. But they did say they knew Tomas from the war and that I had just ‘inherited all the questions’ they had for him. They didn’t say anything about money yet, but… but what else could they want?”

Cornell eyed her warily. “I don’t know, Mrs. Cassidy. It’s entirely possible your late husband was involved in other,” he paused for a moment, “… things. In fact, that wouldn’t surprise me at all.” He studied Adrianna for a moment. “Can you describe them? The men at your husband’s funeral? The ones who approached you?”

Adrianna relayed to Cornell all of the details of the encounter at her husband’s funeral. Cornell listened intently, then, when Adrianna was done, he said, “Mrs. Cassidy, can you tell me if these were the men – or beings – at your husband’s funeral?” He typed a few commands onto the keyboard and suddenly three holograms appeared hovering over the desk. They were of the man, the split and the boron that Adrianna “met” at the funeral.

Her eyes widened. “Yes! Yes that’s them! How did you - ”

“Other members of the Legion that we have on record as having worked with your late husband. They’re mercenaries. Over the years, they have worked for various criminal organizations, pirate gangs and rogue states. According to our records, they have been involved in racketeering, extortion, murder, narcotics trafficking, perhaps sentient trafficking, perhaps even domestic terrorism.” The picture of the human expanded and grew brighter. “Daron Gisler, formerly of the ANF, has been working as a mercenary since he mustered out of the fleet… right before the Monk’s Field rebellion. A stone cold killer.

“The next one, Hali Gu,” Cornell said, while the Boron’s picture grew larger and brighter, “Is a master hacker, lockpick, and techie. Can hack nearly any system, pick any lock or fly any vehicle. He is also a master – as many Boron are – of zero-g hand to hand – or tentacle – combat. Any preconceptions you may have of Boron being benign and congenial, well, you may as well just forget those right now.”

“Yes, he was at the funeral. Reminded me more of a rabid animal than a Boron.”

“Indeed, Mrs. Cassidy,” Cornell added lightly, “Once you get out in the black, well, you get to see all kinds of distortion. He’s not the first criminally inclined squid I’ve seen… but, like you said, he may be among the most, well, rabid.

“And the last of the trio is Lu T’ktt… although his colleagues often call him ‘Clyde.’ He’s the muscle. You may have noticed, he has a prosthesis in place of his left hand – lost in combat – that we understand has been significantly weaponized.”

Adrianna shuddered. “Yes it has. I can assure you of that.”

“Mrs. Cassidy, it appears that you may be in considerable danger. Those… beings… had that money stolen from them by your late husband and they want it back. I don’t think I have to tell you they will do anything – and by that I mean anything to you – to get it back.

“This is where you come in. If you can find that money and get it back to us – or tell us where it is, that would nearly close the book on this case for us. And when you find that money – and give it back to us – chances are we will have all of the evidence we need to arrest Gisler, Gu and T’kkt for the murder of your husband… and to clear you of any suspicion.”

Adrianna did a double-take. “Wait a minute,” she said incredulously, “clear me?

“That’s right, Mrs. Cassidy,” Cornell answered. “I’m afraid at the moment, you are the prime suspect in your husband’s murder.”

What?!? But what about them-”

“You are his widow… there are plenty of motives: the money, revenge - ”

“Revenge? Revenge for what?

“You said it yourself, Mrs. Cassidy. You hardly saw your husband anymore. You didn’t know what business he was in. You two had drifted apart – perhaps you suspected him of infidelity? I certainly would have in your place. In all the years I’ve been in this office, if I had a deci-cred for every time I saw adultery push someone to murder their spouse, well…” Cornell chuckled.

“But I was in Cloudbase Northwest when Tomas was killed! I was nowhere near - ”

“Oh, I’m not saying you did it yourself; tracked him to Montalaar, killed him with your bare hands, plucked one of his eyeballs out and tossed him out an airlock. He was a highly trained operative, I’m quite sure that would’ve been quite beyond your capabilities,” Cornell said with a smirk.

“But you could have hired someone to do that for you, perhaps even Gisler and company.”

Adrianna’s mouth hung open and her eyes were as wide as saucers. She could not believe she was hearing this but Cornell continued.

“We have looked at all of your accounts… you and your husband had quite a few, many more than most couples would need, arranged specifically so that tracing transactions would be very difficult. Perhaps your husband set them up that way – not surprising given his background – but perhaps you used that opacity for your benefit as well.

“It would not have been difficult for you to hire someone to kill your husband and transfer them the payment without it being tracked. Of course, now, we are watching you much more closely, so something like that wouldn’t work now…”

No it wouldn’t, Adrianna thought, because all those accounts are empty now...

Cornell continued, “So as you see, while Gisler and Co. may be suspects, you are the prime suspect here. And so, that being the case, my hands are tied.”

“Are you saying you can’t do anything to protect me from those… murderers?”

“Mrs. Cassidy, the evidence against them is nowhere near as strong as the evidence against you. And as you are under suspicion for murder and your husband was already wanted for numerous crimes, such as theft, laundering and possibly terrorism, I am not allowed to take you into protective custody. In fact, normally I would be compelled to place you under arrest pending the outcome of this investigation.”

Adrianna nearly jumped out of her seat. “What?!? You can’t be serious!” she shouted, her voice cracking with hysteria.

Cornell said nothing for a moment. He merely stared at her, without emotion. Then he said, evenly, “Please calm down, Mrs. Cassidy. Histrionics will only strengthen the case against you.”

“Please recall that I said normally that is what I would have to do. But, given the circumstances, I have been able to push back a little bit on your behalf. Any warrants regarding your case – including arrest warrants – have been left solely at my discretion. Which means I don’t have to bring you in right now, like I usually would. After we’re done here, you can go back home and start digging into whatever business your husband was in and where he may have hidden that money. Also, the more you can tell me before you leave, the more that will help your case.”

“So you’re just going to send me back out there with a bulls-eye on my back for any homicidal crook that wants a piece of the money I don’t even know Tomas had?”

“Mrs. Cassidy, please listen to me. If you continue to insist on seeing yourself as a victim here, you may well end up one, literally. What I’m doing is giving you a chance to clear your name. Normally, I’d be obligated to arrest you now on suspicion of murder and, possibly, treason. Given the Federal Security implications of this case – due to the association with a group of known expatriate mercenaries and a rebellion fifteen years ago – means this case would be treated very differently than a regular, run-of-the-mill civilian murder case would be.

“Just between you and me, I don’t think you killed your husband. Now, I’m taking a big risk on that feeling and I sure hope you don’t prove me wrong. But my hands are tied. I can’t take you into protective custody, only criminal custody, and believe me, you don’t want that. You would not be any safer there. The corrections facility you would be sent to pending your trial is not a nice place. Unpleasant things happen there… and let’s leave it at that. And I assure you, the cost of bail for a case like this would be well out of your reach.

“What you have here is an opportunity, Mrs. Cassidy. Use it wisely. Until we have that money… and proof of your innocence, there is nothing I can do to protect you. So the sooner you find it – and I’m sure it’s around somewhere close, you just have to look – the sooner I’ll be able to help you.

“So please, Mrs. Cassidy, don’t do this for me, or even for the Argon Federation. Do this for you.” Cornell paused a moment. “If you have any doubts, I hate to say this, but… please remember what happened to your husband.”

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