“C’mon, Liz, you’ve been at it for two days straight now! Let it go, and let’s go grab a beer.” The annoyed and frowning Alioth Independents security officer said to his colleague.
“Hush!” The woman said. “I think I’ve got it.”
“There were cameras hooked up in that brokerage; not the whole area, but parts of it. Someone did a good job in scrambling and erasing the systems, but there’s always a trail…there!”
“What is that?”
“It’s part of a recording apparently. Dated two days ago.”
“Can barely make out anything.”
“Yeah.” The woman said disappointingly. “Data was erased good, this is the best I can do. Let me see if I can scrub the audio track.”
“….capture and bring…”
“That DeMarr?” The man asked his colleague.
“Sure sounds like him.” The woman nodded.
“…portant that …harmed. You’ll bring your quarry to…”
“Give me it in a riddle Mr. Lara!”
“Who’s that?” The man asked.
“No idea. Picture is unclear, but my bet is he’s that creepy merc. Let me see if I can clean up the track a bit more.”
“…why can’t you just take orders like a normal…rson Agent O…”
“I wor… …er when my mind gets to…”
“sigh very well then, bring your quarry to…the ancient English storyteller who circles the wife of thunder. And just in the off chance your brain isn’t registering this I mean that you are to come to…”
“Damn.” The woman cursed as the picture cut into static.
“Is there more?”
“No.” Liz shook her head “That’s it. Well it’s better than nothing I guess, better call the brass.”
“Very well then, bring your quarry to…the ancient English storyteller who circles the wife of thunder. And just in the off chance your brain isn’t registering this I mean that you are to come to…”
“Oh that’s an easy one, Mr Demarr.” Agent One had interrupted the smuggler. “Acquiring the package at short notice will be more difficult, but I’m sure it can be done if you don’t mind exactly how.”
“I pay you for results, not excuses.” The balding face in the hologram had told him, then the projection winked out.
That had been three days ago, not a lot of time to plan at all, but the mission was clear - kidnap Anthony Wantz, a billionaire from Sol who was married to a prominent federal politician. Agent One had no idea why DeMarr wanted the guy, but it turned out the Agent had his own reasons for wanting the rich businessman to fall: among his many interests he was a major shareholder in Harris Security Corporation, the federal corporation which had turned Agent One into what he was at its lab buried inside a military installation in the Smethells 56 system.
Agent One preferred to work alone whenever possible, as every extra person involved increased the risk of being tracked down and captured significantly higher, but this time he’d had to enlist some aid. When Wantz’ luxury yacht, escorted by two armed Federal Gunships from his own private security force, had dropped into the Sobek system a small force of hired mercenaries from the Sobek Boys anarchist group had been waiting. The fight hadn’t taken long, and Agent One had watched the destruction from nearby. Then he’d simply moved in and scooped up Wantz’ escape pod, a modified version that was essentially a jettison-able safe room. The pod’s emergency beacon would have shown up on the plots of anyone near enough for a few minutes, but that couldn’t be helped - his own Chieftain had already been fitted with a jammer to block the signal. Let DeMarr figure out how to wrestle the billionaire from his shell, the Agent thought. The fat little smuggler had annoyed him by treating him like any common flunky, and he spent a few idle seconds contemplating removing the man’s eyes with a plastic spoon. A comms message snapped him back to the business at hand.
“We’ve scooped the gold," The Sobek Boys wing leader stated. "Nice doing business.”
Agent One engaged his frameshift drive. He’d of course intended to make a jump to a decoy system, as he knew at least one of the anarchists had to have a wake scanner, but he changed his mind and plotted a direct route. “The wife of thunder,” indeed, he thought to himself. It was only a matter of time before someone figured out which system Wantz had been taken to, probably by interrogating or bribing one of the Sobek Boys, and the link to himself. From there it was an easy process of elimination as only one station could accommodate his own small warship and DeMarr’s preferred big beast of a starship. He figured it would take two to four days. Once he got paid he planned to be long gone. DeMarr? He could take his own precautions.
Malcolm’s mind slowly withdrew from a deep dreamless sleep. He turned on his side and reached for Kay, but all he felt were synthetic cotton sheets. He opened his eyes which confirmed her absence, but before he could wonder where she was, his nose answered the question. After donning a robe, he found her in their suite’s kitchenette making his favorite breakfast - eggs, bacon, hash browned potatoes, and toast with a glass of orange juice on the side. Galnet was playing through the suite's entertainment system.
Fazia Silva, one of the three candidates in the Alliance presidential race, has been found dead. She is believed to have been murdered.
Inspector Erin Sangster of Alliance Interpol informed the media:
“Ms Silva’s body was found in a room at Hume Orbital, where she was staying during her presidential campaign. Medical teams detected traces of poison, making this a suspected homicide.”
There has already been speculation that this was a political killing, motivated by Silva’s proposed changes to Alliance financial policy. The entrepreneur also had fierce rivals in the business world.
Her sister Tashmira Silva, who has been overseeing the Silva corporate empire, stated:
“Our family is devastated – we can’t believe that Fazia has been taken from us. I will honour her by continuing to run the companies that she made so successful.”
Condolences have been delivered by Prime Minister Edmund Mahon and both of Ms Silva’s election rivals, Gibson Kincaid and Elijah Beck. President Kincaid said:
“This tragedy constitutes a direct attack on our democracy. The Alliance’s enemies will do anything they can to destabilise us, including murder. If we are to fight back, we will need strong leadership.”
He wrapped his arms around her as she turned over the bacon.
“Morning sleepy head.”
“Morning,” he replied. The scent of her hair fighting the breakfast for real estate in his nostrils. "It sounds like living in Alliance space isn't much different than Federal or Imperial. What time is it?”
“Ten,” She replied. He backed away from her as his mind attempted to recall all the things he had planned to do that day.
“Crap! We gotta go. We should be halfway to Awawar by now. I have to file a formal complaint against Uniting Quamadi. But before I do that I have to organize all the evidence we found. We still don’t know who attacked us, but I figure Capt. Reynoso and Alliance Interpol can handle it from here. We still have two system economies we need to stabilize. And then there’s…” Kay turned and put a finger on his lips.
“All of that is why I let you sleep in. You’ve been going non-stop for almost two weeks. You won’t accomplish anything if you collapse from exhaustion.” She gave him a quick kiss before returning to her cooking. “Capt. Reynoso has been kind enough to put us up for a couple days while he tries to figure out where DeMarr and that psycho merc went, the least we can do is actually refresh ourselves. After you’ve eaten, and I mean chew your food not inhale it, had a hot shower, and thanked our host for his hospitality, then we will head back to Awawar.”
"Hospitality?! We spent the first night in an Interpol interrogation room. We might as well be prisoners!"
Kay glanced at him over her shoulder, a look that suggested he sit down and shut-up. He walked to a nearby chair without another word.
It was noon by the time they made their way back to the loading docks. Malcolm was ready to leave at eleven, but the station security chief insisted on seeing them off personally.
“Thanks again for bringing this to our attention Commanders. I have one of my best forensics officers analyzing the security footage as we speak. DeMarr won’t get far.” Malcolm lowered the entry ramp of their Krait MK II and began pre-flight procedures. “If he doesn’t give us too much trouble when we apprehend him, we’ll let you know. We will need your testimony at his trial.” Kay shook the Captain’s outstretched hand.
“Thanks again for your hospitality Captain. I hope he struggles. Malcolm wasn’t very fond of Ron Lara, but I’m sure he’ll agree with me, no one deserves to be skinned like that.” The Captain gave a wry smile as they started to go their separate ways.
"Captain Reynoso, wait!” Malcolm came running down the cargo ramp. “Tell us everything you know about that security footage now!” His expression was manic and his hands trembled as they gripped the officer’s arms. Kay stared in shock.
“Malcolm!” she exclaimed. “What in the world is wrong with you?” Reynoso calmly gazed at the frantic pilot.
“I don’t know anything. I gave the footage to forensics. But even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you anything until after you’ve released me and explained yourself.” Malcolm’s temper flared. Instead of releasing the officer, his grip tightened as he invaded his personal space.
“If you stand between us and that crazy merc, his actions will seem like child’s play by the time I’m through. You, your family, your personnel, and anyone else associated…”
“Malcolm!” Kay barked again. Her voice was like a slap in the face. He blinked twice, then slowly released the security officer who held a blaster pointed at his gut. “Just tell him what’s wrong.” He turned away from the officer toward his wife. The frantic rage that drove him just moments before melted into shameful anguish. His voice broke as he spoke the words.
“I just read a message from your mother. Your father is missing. I think DeMarr sent that sadistic merc to kidnap him. Those skin peelers have your father.”
The three of them went back to Reynoso’s office. Victor Reynoso was a simple man who lived by a simple creed ‘Justice’. It was apparent in his office. If it didn’t aid him in serving justice in some way, as far as he was concerned, it didn’t exist. No diplomas on the wall. No glass case full of awards. Just an office with furniture, a couple file cabinets, the Alliance crest on the wall behind his head, and a couple pictures of his family. Despite her grief, Kay took some comfort in the fact a huge mahogany desk separated Malcolm and the Captain.
"Are you sure you don't know anything else Commander?" The captain asked. "I mean Lara was removed from YOUR prison and Mr Wantz is YOUR father-in-law. The only common thread here is you."
"I promise you Captain, I'm as confused as you are. Lara was removed at the expense of many innocent lives. I've never met DeMarr, but when I do it won't be pleasant."
"And what about you ma'am, you have any run ins with DeMarr or this Agent One fellow in your early days as a Huntress?" Kay just looked at the official before her. It was a look similar to the one she gave her husband that morning only magnified. He quickly turned his attention to his office comm unit.
“Denise, send Lieutenant Morgan into my office.”
“Right away Captain.” A long awkward silence later, a young blonde woman wearing a grey suit and a pair of black glasses entered the office.
“You asked to see me Captain?” He didn’t acknowledge her question as he got down to business.
“What have you learned from the Tech Brokerage security footage I gave you?” The young intelligence officer glanced at the two strangers before answering her superior.
“Not much sir. The suspects did a number on the recording.”
“I’m not in the mood for twenty questions Lieutenant. Do you know where DeMarr and his goon went or not?”
“Sir, you have guests. Give me five minutes and I’ll give you a full debrief when you’re done here.”
“Did I ask you to wait until I was done here?”
“My guests are Mr. and Mrs. Goodwin. They were the ones who brought the criminals to our attention in the first place. So please stop wasting our time and tell us what you know.”
“Apologies sir. As I said, the suspects did a number on the recording. However I was able to recover a decent bit of it. From that our office was able to positively identify Lannius DeMarr. He is heard speaking with an unidentified gentleman.” Malcolm brought up the footage he brought with him.
“He didn’t look anything like this guy did he?”
“At a glance I would say yes Commander, but I can’t say for sure. The video was severely damaged. The majority of what we deduced we deduced from the audio track.”
“Well don’t keep us guessing, what did they say?”
“Here, I’ll let you hear for yourself.” Elizabeth pulled out a data slate and cued up an audio track on the Captain’s sound system.
‘…portant that …harmed. You’ll bring your quarry…the ancient English storyteller who circles the wife of thunder…’ The sound byte ended.
“Well we know now who the quarry is,” Kay stated. Malcolm reached over and held her hand.
“I think the first part ordered he not be harmed.” He gave a weak smile to back his weak, uncertain, attempt at comfort. No one in the room was sure exactly what they just heard, and he knew it.
“That gobbledygook about storytellers and thunder,” Reynoso asked. “What’s that all about?”
“We’re not certain yet sir. We have a team of Alliance historians looking into it. They were able to cross reference a couple of systems that seem to correlate to the statements made, but we haven’t been able to confirm our findings yet.”
“Well throw out what you got maybe we can crack the nut.”