The Systems Three
Applause erupted throughout the room as David Redman stepped down from the podium to greet his fellow colleagues. People swarmed around him, passing on their words of congratulations, encouragement and joy, while others greeted him with a warm handshake or a clap on the back. The media crews made their closing remarks, then packed up their equipment and hastily merged with the crowd, mingling with the other guests. The room was alive with chatter, laughter and the distinct sound of the opening of spirits. The event had the air of celebration reminiscent of a New Year’s party.
But the people in the room had good reason to, for David had just made history that night. Over the past week, he, and representatives of four other systems, worked out an agreement in a significant step towards peace and order. Military assets from Tioranin and Atbevete would be used alongside local forces to purge the systems of piracy, rebels and other major threats. Once finished, the other three systems would dissolve their current system of rule and replace it with a confederacy. In the end, Tioranin and Atbevete would no longer need to worry about raids near their borders, and the people of Teraed, Aerater and Rigeti would finally have the opportunity to flourish. The whole area would become safer with the reduced hostile presence and was a win-win situation for all.
Well, except for those currently in charge, of course. Most of them had fought, bled or murdered their way to the top and weren’t keen on relinquishing their power. They were prepared to go to great lengths to preserve this, even vowing to take it to the grave. But after the populace heard the details of the arrangement, the vast majority loudly showed their support and the representatives had little choice but to reluctantly agree. Everybody was watching, on every planet, system and galaxy, waiting for the outcome of this little experiment. Despite affecting billions of lives, this was barely a fraction of the universe. And yet, as David officially announced it that night, this marked the beginning of a new era, one with a promise of peace, stability and unity.
He couldn’t help but think about this as he made his way through the sea of politicians, reporters and military officials. He caught glimpses of faces and overheard familiar voices he’d gotten to know over the last week. He silently marveled at how they were able to combine their efforts and that everyone here now stood together.
“This is ridiculous!” someone shouted. Not quite everyone, it seemed.
The sharp protest interrupted David’s thoughts and he made his way over to the source. The crowd continued their business, unfazed by the sudden outburst.
“I don’t need to be – stalked by you two shits anymore! I don’t want your sorry-ass excuses, I want you to go screw off somewhere else!”
“Representative Harmon,” David said, “is there a problem?”
The representative turned, scowling, and upon seeing David, began scowling further.
“Damn right there is. These two tin-heads have been buzzing around me like flies for a week, ever since I touched down here. They wouldn’t let us out of their sight, not for a single damn second. What am I, a participant or a prisoner?”
David glanced at the representative’s entourage. Two muscular figures flanked her side, both draped in ragged cloth and battle-worn armour and stood a full head above the other occupants in the room. David recognized them as her own ‘security team’ from their meetings. The two giants’ hands absently hovered around their holsters, searching for a sidearm that wasn’t there, as all weapons were confiscated from visitors upon arrival. Beside them stood the only two GalCop officers outfitted in full riot gear, their palms resting lazily on the handles of their retracted shock batons. The officers turned their heads to scan the room, but behind their opaque visors, their eyes never strayed from the representative and her personal guard.
David put on what he hoped was a warm smile. “Miss Harmon, This is standard procedure. Every planetary official is given a personal escort. Even I have one, see?” he said, gesturing towards the figure standing stiffly at his side.
She harrumphed, unsatisfied. “Then why do you only have one while I get two of these pricks?” At this, a thug sneered and leaned in towards one of the officers.
“The only reason is because you insisted on bringing a larger…uh…” David hesitated, glancing at the thugs, “…party aboard.”
“Bullshit. I would’ve gotten the extra security even without my two men and you know it.”
“That’s not true –” he started, but she cut him off.
“None of you act like you even want me here, of course it’s true. I thought this was supposed to be an alliance between systems. I’m not seeing any of that trust yet.” The fire in her eyes subsided and was replaced by a cool hard gaze. “Y’know, maybe I don’t want to be a part of this after all. You obviously don’t trust me, why should I trust any of you? My people have done well enough on their own and we certainly don’t need any filthy Cooperatives on our planet!”
“Tara, please don’t – “
“Don’t ‘Tara’ me. I don’t need any of your crap. Keep your fleet out of my airspace or I’ll blow them out of the sky. Aerater is out.”
David was at a loss for words. As the sole, undisputed leader of the Aerater system, Tara was definitely one to cling onto power. She was the most difficult to sway and it took everything David had to convince her. Even then, he had a feeling it was the pressure put on by the other systems that finally made her agree. It seemed she was looking for any way out.
“This isn’t part of the deal, Harmon. You’re in this whether you like it or not.” David didn’t notice the man approach his side. He looked over to see Jeremy Ross, the Tioranin representative. “There’s no backing out now.”
Tara’s eyes darted between the two men and sensed the situation falling against her. The trio stood there, silent for an uncomfortably long time. The noise in the room continued on, its occupants oblivious to the exchange.
“Humph. Fine.” she finally said. “Let’s go, this party sucks anyways.” She stormed off, thugs by her side and the officers following closely behind. “Hear that assholes? I said we’re leaving. Now will you stop following me!?”
Once the doors sealed behind Tara and her escorts, David turned and broke into a smile.
“Jeremy, how’ve you been?”
“I’m good, I’m good,” he replied, returning a grin of his own. “Actually, no, I’m not. Tell you the truth, I’m exhausted. It’s been a long week.”
“It has.” David nodded in agreement. “Been an intense couple days, hasn’t it? We haven’t gotten the chance to talk freely since we started.”
“Yup. Busy, busy, busy.” Jeremy’s eyes drifted around the room, finally settling on the bar. “Look, I need a drink. Come with me.”
The two manoeuvered through the mass of people, with their escorts trailing nearby.
“Thanks for backing me up over there.” said David.
“Ah, it was nothing. Believe me, after you’ve been governing for a while, you’ll have to deal with other people who make Tara look tame. Besides, now that she’s part of the agreement, her days of being supreme leader are numbered. She can say whatever she wants, but the power will soon be with the people and they’ll be calling the shots.”
It was true. The people wanted change and they expected their leader to deliver.
“Honestly, even without Tara, this is still history in the making. I can’t believe you actually managed to pull it off.”
“Well, I had lots of help. You gave me support, advice, taught me everything I know…”
“Look at you, you little suck-up.” Jeremy said jokingly. Arriving at the bar, they found two empty seats at the counter. “You give me too much credit.”
“It’s true, isn’t it?”
“Well, only a bit.” he said, waving down the bartender. “Alright, maybe some. I won’t take all the credit though, if that’s what you want. You’re on a roll.”
The bartender retuned with a bottle of liquor and placed it on the counter. Jeremy passed a couple credits to him and picked up the bottle.
“David Redman: the political rising star. You work your way up the top of Atbevete, negotiate away the local pirates, spearhead a five-system alliance and now started the largest joint operation in a huge leap towards peace. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but you have support from citizens across five entire systems.”
“Now, that,” replied David, “sounds like an awful lot of flattery.”
“But all this is definitely true. You’re a trailblazer. The youngest planetary leader and yet you’ve achieved more than any of us could possibly dream.” Jeremy took a sip. “I wonder what you’re going to do to top this one. Peace with the Thargoids? Ruler of the Universe?”
David chuckled. “No, nothing like that. I don’t have any plans for now, I just want to see this through first.”
“Fair enough. Here, let me get you something to drink.” He turned to flag the bartender down again.
“Ah, not this time, sorry.” David declined with a polite wave. “I should go. The first fleet jumps out tomorrow morning and I want to be there when it happens.”
“Next time then?”
“Next time, I promise.”
David got up to leave, escort in tow. Someone important looking immediately slid into his seat and began discussing with Jeremy what to do about a district’s aging public transport fleet. Baby stuff compared to the past week.
David moved briskly into the corridor, the sounds and noise of the festivities were muffled as the doors sealed shut behind them. The quiet, cool, dry air offered a stark contrast to the room they just left. He truly did feel drained and would like nothing more than to curl up on the floor to sleep right then and there. But around the hallway was the odd person hanging around the hall, some security patrols, and of course, his own guard.
“I almost forgot you were here.” David said aloud. He glanced back and saw the officer sizing up every single person in the hallway, checking for threats. They passed a GalCop security patrol and they stopped to salute at their passing officer.
“At ease, lieutenant,” said David, addressing his escort, “our work here is done. You can relax now.”
Lieutenant Taylor ignored him and kept scanning. “I appreciate the sentiment sir, but with all due respect, you’re not my superior. I don’t take orders from you.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to unwind? I can have something brought up for you.”
“Again, I appreciate the sentiment, but I’m on duty. Your safety is my current priority. I won’t be able to ‘unwind’ until you leave the station.”
“You guys are pretty strict about this stuff, huh?”
“It’s standard procedure, you said so yourself.” Taylor replied.
They continued down the corridor, people thinning out rapidly the further they went from the party. This section was quiet and still, the only item mildly active was the flashing light on a security camera. They turned down into one of the branching hallways that lead towards the guest suites, but were immediately stopped by a blast door.
“What the hell…” Taylor muttered. She brought up her ComPad and began checking the status of their area. “There’s no hull breaches… no fires… sensors aren’t picking up any biohazards… they don’t even think the blast door is closed. It’s been flagged by someone though, so our crew should be looking at it.”
“Aren’t alarms supposed to be triggered when a blast door is activated?” asked David.
“Yes.” Taylor reached for her GalCop ID. “This has never happened before.”
She pressed her card against the scanner. A series of messages appeared on the interface.
LIEUTENANT TAYLOR, J.
SECURITY CLEARANCE LEVEL: 5
REQUESTING SYSTEM OVERRIDE – CLEARANCE LEVEL 3 REQUIRED
REQUEST CONFIRMED – SECURITY CLEARANCE ACCEPTED
VOICE IDENTIFICATION REQUIRED
“Lieutenant Taylor, J. Override blast door.”
VOICE ID MATCH
The door was pulled back up like a thick, grey curtain and David and Lieutenant Taylor were left staring into inky blackness. The clean, white lights that illuminated the rest of the station were disabled beyond the blast door and the emergency lighting system was activated. Thin yellow strips outlined the corridor, highlighting the floor with a dull glow. Taylor turned on her flashlight and shone it into the darkness.
“I’m sure maintenance is working to sort this out. Stay close.” She walked into the dark corridor and David followed her lead. Something about this made Taylor uneasy. Station blackouts weren’t rare, in fact she’d even experienced a couple. But they were still fairly uncommon and she’d never been in an outage where blast doors were necessary. Something small was niggling at the back of her brain and her heartbeat rose to fill her ears. Her gut and mind was telling her to be on alert.
David absently followed her down the corridor. He felt intrigued at first, but the novelty wore off quick and now he was just bored. Taylor was very slowly probing the darkness, checking corners and checking them again. He was pretty confident that he knew how to get back to his quarters, but decided Taylor was the expert here and so let her, and her odd behaviour, continue. They stopped as Taylor crouched to examine something on the floor.
“Wait here.” she said, standing and breaking into a run.
“Lieutenant, what –” David stopped and noticed a puddle of thick gel. In the dim light, it looked like dark syrup. “…what is this?”
He dabbed two fingers in the puddle to try and identify what it was. It felt warm. Was it coolant? He didn’t know of any this dark. He rubbed it between his thumb and fingers and it was slightly sticky to the touch. It smeared his hand and he brought it up to his nose to smell. It had a faint metallic scent and immediately, he knew what it was. Even in the low light, he could see its reddish tinge.
“Lieutenant Taylor!” David got up and sprinted too, trying to catch up to the officer.
“Galactic Police! Freeze!” He heard her shout further down the hallway. “Hands in the air. Drop your weapon. I said DROP IT!”
David ran as fast as he could, following the sound of lieutenant Taylor’s voice. He entered a junction in the corridor and noticed the other hallways were sealed by more doors. Lieutenant Taylor was engaged in a fistfight with an assassin who was armed with a knife and clad completely in black clothing. Her flashlight lay on the ground, its light reflecting off the smooth walls and illuminating the whole junction. David saw four large bodies crumpled on the floor, each lay in a pool of blood. At the dueling duo’s feet lay Taylor’s shock baton, snapped in two and occasionally sparking, and her sidearm, which was sliced in half at some haphazard angle.
The assassin was swiping wildly at the lieutenant with the blade, but so far, wasn’t able to connect. Taylor only had her GalCop uniform on, and the lightweight, unarmoured material meant she was agile and could react quickly to the incoming blade. Suddenly, she went on the offensive, punching and kicking, but the assailant seemed to block them all with ease. One final blow landed on the assassin’s helmeted head and he staggered backwards with a grunt, losing his grip on the knife. It sailed through the air, clattering at David’s feet. Lieutenant Taylor rushed in to continue her assault, but this time the assassin was ready. He grabbed her as she got close and spun around, using their combined momentum to slam Taylor head-first into the wall. She collapsed to the floor, unconscious.
Satisfied, the assassin turned to pick up the knife to finish the job, but instead he found its tip pointed at his face.
“Looking for this?” David asked.
The assassin didn’t say a word. He looked around, searching for a way to gain the advantage. David saw this and quickly lashed out, shallowly cutting into the assassin’s arm. It wasn’t fatal, but the man tried to cover the wound with a black-gloved hand.
“Who are you? What do you want?” David demanded.
The assassin said nothing.
David dropped the knife and tackled the assassin, pinning him to the floor under his knees. The assassin struggled and squirmed, but couldn’t escape.
“Who are you?” David repeated, louder this time.
He reached out, removed the dark helmet and threw it aside. The assassin’s mess of hair puffed out, no longer confined by the helmet. David absently noticed the unkept mass as he reached for the Lieutenant’s torch and shone it at the attacker, who squinted in the bright light. He almost dropped it when he recognized the face before him.
Suddenly the lights flickered back to life. The doors opened and a dozen GalCop officers burst into the room, weapons armed.
“Freeze! Get up, both of you. What’s going on here?”
Tara faced David and gave him a strong shove.
“What the hell are you doing, Redman? You crazy, murderous, son of a bitch!” She turned to the officer. “This bastard tried to kill me! He killed my escorts!”
David looked at the bodies once again. The two giants were motionless on the ground, and the two riot officers lay nearby in a similar position. All four of them were bleeding from thin slits from their armour, no doubt punctured by the knife. Taylor was being attended to by a couple officers.
“We have an officer down, two more KIA.” one of them said. “Send paramedics to my location.”
“She’s lying,” said David. “Lieutenant Taylor and I found everything like this.” He gestured around the room. Pointing to Tara, he stated, “She’s responsible.”
“Like hell I am. Don’t try to pin this on me.”
“Miss Harmon, calm yourself.” The officer said. “An officer will escort you to our facilities downstairs.”
“Well, at least now it’s official: I’m a prisoner on this godforsaken hunk of metal.” Tara followed the officers out of the area.
“She’s a handful, isn’t she?” The officer asked when she was gone.
“Dunno how you were able to work with her for a whole week. I just want to lock her up and be done with it already.”
“So you believe me?” David asked.
“Well, it’s your word against hers. But it doesn’t really matter what I think, we have everything we need. Surveillance footage too. We’ll sort this out soon enough.”
David saw a security camera tucked away in a corner, its light blinking steadily. The paramedics lifted Taylor onto a stretcher and sped to the hospital. The officers were busy surveying the junction. One of them picked up the knife with a gloved hand and dropped it in a bag labeled ‘EVIDENCE’, while others took scanning equipment and began analyzing blood samples, or taking snapshots of the scene. David followed the officer to a lift and descended into the depths of the station.
David was awoken by a gentle shake on his shoulder.
“Hey, wake up.”
He looked up, dazed. Someone stood in front of him, ComPad tucked under one arm. David looked around and nearly panicked when he realized he wasn’t in his quarters, but his memories slowly returned. He remembered being brought down to one of the empty rooms and was left alone with the promise that someone would come by soon to talk about what just happened. The place was very empty, only a table, two chairs and a mirror provided any variation from the dull grey box. An hour passed, and with no sign that anyone was coming, he got comfortable and slept. David checked his ComPad. That was about 6 hours ago. He looked at the person in front of him and saw the name ‘Girard’ stitched onto the GalCop uniform.
“Sorry, I –” David yawned. “I didn’t hear you come in.”
“That’s alright.” Girard grabbed the other chair and sat down opposite to David. He started swiping through his ComPad, searching for files. “So, how are you feeling? Ready to talk about last night?”
“I am. But – can we speed this up? There’s someplace I’d like to be.”
Girard looked up and put the device on the table.
“Alright. I’ll get straight to the point.” Girard chewed his lips, staring at David.
“Why did you try to murder Tara Harmon?”
David’s jaw went slack.
Girard picked up the pad and quickly opened a file, then turned the screen towards David. “Here’s you and Lieutenant Taylor outside the corridor. We can’t see into the corridor from this angle, but we know what’s there. From where you stand, you have a direct line of sight on Harmon and her guards. We believe that this is when you decide to kill her. You walk into the corridor and…”
In the recording, David and Lieutenant Taylor disappeared into the corridor. Immediately after, everything went black.
“What? What happened?” asked David.
“I was hoping you could tell us.”
“I – I don’t know what happened to the camera. We didn’t know what was in the corridor because the blast door was down.”
“Mr. Redman, don’t treat us like fools, everyone knows blast doors sound an alarm when triggered.”
David didn’t say more, so Girard continued.
“Here, let me show you something else. These two recordings are aligned to the nanosecond.”
He played the previous recording beside a new one, this one showing Tara and company walking down the corridor. Unfortunately, the camera was angled down and didn’t capture the entire hallway, so there was no proof the blast doors were down behind them. They came to a stop in front of the camera and Tara turned, obviously agitated about something. She pointed at or past the GalCop guards and then both recordings simultaneously cut out to black.
“She saw you moving in. You disrupted the cameras and hoped to kill Tara Harmon. But, you overestimated yourself and couldn’t take on all of them at once. Then when the feeds came back, we caught you red-handed.”
“I never affected the cameras.” David stated weakly.
Girard walked over to his side.
“Hold up your arms.” he said and David stood in a ‘T’ pose.
Girard rifled through his pockets and found what he was looking for. He dropped the object noisily on the table.
“Electronics disruptor,” Girard explained, “untraceable, relatively simple to manufacture. After spending a week here, you definitely would’ve known which signals would affect our cameras.”
“That’s – I don’t know where that came from. It must’ve been planted on me!” David struggled to think. When could someone have done this? During the party, that would be the easiest time, when he was surrounded by people. But why?
Girard opened more files onto the screen and a 3D model of a knife slowly rotated around.
“This was the knife used in the attack. The blood samples we found on the blade and your fingers matches the DNA of the four victims and Tara Harmon. Here on the handle –” Girard tapped the virtual handle. “– are your fingerprints.”
“I…I picked it up when the attack – Tara dropped it. I wanted to protect myself.”
“Do you know what this is?” The officer asked, pointing at the blade. “This is a highly compounded, reinforced synthetic material, basically super-tough plastic. It goes by the name of Polymite and it’s illegal in Cooperative space. Polymite is five times stronger than steel and undetectable with conventional scanners. Put enough force behind it and it can carve through a ship’s hull. Just having a gram of this stuff is enough for an arrest, but you’ve gone ahead and crafted a knife with it.”
“No. No, no, no, it’s not mine. I told you, I picked it up from the ground.”
“Polymite is very expensive,” Girard continued, “due to being hard to manufacture and, well, illegal. It would be hard for a normal person to get their hands on some…but for someone with your resources, I’m sure it wasn’t too difficult.”
“This is wrong, it’s not mine, I promise! You have to believe me officer, I’m being framed.”
“Hmm. Okay. Maybe try a response I haven’t heard a gazillion times.”
David slumped back in his chair and cupped his face in his hands, racking his brain for an answer. There must’ve been something. Something they missed.
“The helmet!” blurted David. “There was a helmet on the floor. Tara was wearing it when she attacked her guards and I took it off. Look at the inside, I’m sure there’s a hair, or something you can analyze that’ll link it to her.”
Girard opened a list of items and slowly scrolled to the bottom. Reaching the end, he looped back to the top and scrolled to the bottom again. He shook his head.
“We never found a helmet at the scene.” He checked his list once more. “Even if we did, it’s just a helmet. There’s no proof Miss Harmon wore one last night.”
David had another piece of ammunition. He was surprised he hadn’t thought of it earlier.
“Talk to Lieutenant Taylor. Get her side of the story. She was there with me. She didn’t see Tara, but she can prove the blast doors were down and the guards were already dead before I arrived.”
Girard didn’t say anything, but he let out a long breath.
“Did you talk to her?” asked David.
“Lieutenant Taylor is…” he paused, searching for a word. “…unavailable…for questioning.”
“Why? What happened to her? Is she okay?”
“I’m not at liberty to say.”
Before David could respond, Girard spun around to face the mirror. He stared at it for several seconds, then returned to face David, scratching his earpiece.
“It seems you have the right to know.” Girard opened a new set of files on his ComPad and selected the one he was looking for.
“Last night, Lieutenant Taylor suffered a blunt force trauma to the head, rendering her unconscious. Paramedics arrived at the scene shortly after the injury and they delivered her to the station medical facility under critical condition. Doctors performed preliminary scans, which indicated to several fractured vertebrae, shattered skull and severe internal bleeding. She was transferred to ER shortly after.” Girard paused. “Five hours after her injury, Lieutenant Taylor’s vitals flatlined. Doctors began resuscitation, but, despite their best efforts, were unable to revive the patient.”
David slumped forward in his chair, letting it all sink in. Taylor died, she passed away barely an hour ago. He felt empty and defeated, but wasn’t sure why exactly. It was either because the lieutenant was dead, or the fact that the lieutenant was his last chance to clear his name and that was gone. He sat there, with a blank stare on his face. Worst of all, they probably thought he killed her too. He didn’t know what to do.
Girard pocketed his ComPad and stood to leave. “Well, if that’s all, then I’ve got to get going. An officer will be here shortly to escort you to your real cell.” He opened the door, but then stopped and faced David. “That place you wanted to be at, I hope it wasn’t too important. You’re going to be here for a long time.”
David was left alone with his thoughts. Somehow, he needed to fix this mess, set the record straight. But he had no idea how. Everything was stacked against him and only one person’s account would contradict all that. The truth, it seemed, had died along with Lieutenant Taylor.
“You’re lucky to be alive.”
Lieutenant Taylor stepped into her CO’s office, the door closing behind her.
“Or at least, that’s what the doctors tell me.” continued Commander Olson. “If you hit that wall at any other angle, your neck would’ve snapped like a twig.”
“Lucky me.” said Taylor. She walked slowly over to the desk, in fear of stumbling and causing another injury. Her head felt fuzzy, likely from the stimulants the doctors gave her to pull her out of unconsciousness. She was having trouble finding her balance too, a side effect of such a rude awakening and something the doctors promised would go away after an hour or so.
“Medical recommends twenty-four hours of rest before returning to active duty.” He put down the report. “I want to play this safe. Take the week off, lieutenant. I want you at your best.”
“I appreciate it sir. But I was hoping you could tell me how David Redman is doing.”
A pause. “And why is that?”
“Nobody else has, and you tasked his safety as my priority.”
“Well, I can assure you Mr. Redman is very safe. But he’s gotten himself in a rather uncomfortable position.”
“Look, all you need to know is that Mr. Redman is no longer our responsibility. Pretend he was never here.”
Taylor thought about this, trying to imagine what sort of mess David could’ve gotten himself into.
“So is this why you called me here? Just to tell me to take a leave?”
“Well partly,” Olson admitted, “I also wanted to give you a heads-up. Internal Affairs requested that you to stop by their office.”
“Why? I didn’t do anything wrong, did I?”
“We found four bodies in that hallway, lieutenant. You’re a very capable fighter and some people are starting to wonder if you were responsible for any of them.” He shifted to a lighter tone. “You know the drill, if an officer is suspected of murder, it’s off to IA. They’ll want to review your file, go over a few things, but your record is spotless, so I’m sure there won’t be any trouble. Until they’re finished though, your file is under evaluation and your status as a GalCop officer is being suspended.”
“So I guess that week off isn’t a choice.”
Olson shook his head.
“Does this have anything to do with Mr. Redman’s situation?”
He groaned. “I told you to forget about him, lieutenant.”
“My processing time is a whole week. It’s never been this bad since pre-space flight! What the hell has Redman done?”
“Lieutenant, stop it!” He leaned in and lowered his voice. “Listen, I am trying to protect you. I don’t want to hear anything about Redman again. Keep all of it to yourself. Enjoy your week, see the sights, or don’t, I don’t care, but believe me when I say: it’s in your best interests to forget everything related to David Redman. Am I clear?”
“Yes, sir.” Taylor said, but her mind thought otherwise.
Commander Olson leaned back in his chair. He opened his mouth to speak but his ComPad rung, interrupting him. He picked it up and pressed it against his ear.
“Hello…yes, sir………I know…but this is my best…......……no, no I can’t guarantee that……okay…yes…I understand.”
He hung up and put his ComPad away, glancing at Taylor as he did. He walked over to the door.
“It’s time for you to go, lieutenant. This way.” The door slid open and two officers stood outside.
“Officers Jameson and King will accompany you to Internal Affairs.”
The two officers snapped to attention at the sight of their superior and saluted. “Ma’am.” they said in unison.
Taylor followed them out of the Commander’s office, already noticing walking was much easier. While her body readjusted, her mind started to work. That small, niggling feeling was back. There was something about David Redman’s situation, something her CO didn’t want her to find out.
Commander Olson watched them leave, then selected a contact from his ComPad.
“Hello, recruitment? Could you forward me that list of potential candidates? I have a feeling we’re going to have an open spot very soon.”
“Are you letting someone go?” the person asked, trying to make small talk.
“Something like that. It wasn’t my decision.”
“Alright, Commander. The list should be in your inbox shortly.”
Taylor and the guards entered the lift and King pressed the button labeled IA. She already had an idea of how the next week was going to pass. She’d sift through a mass of information, researching any related information from the past few hours. No digital stone left unturned. The lift began to descend and gradually picking up speed. Soon they were rapidly passing floors. She vowed to find whatever secret Commander Olson was hiding.
Taylor’s thoughts snapped back to the present, her mind still chugging away. She heard the noise of course, it was faint, but wasn’t drowned out by the ambient sounds from the elevator. She knew it wasn’t the machinery, because it wasn’t a steady, repetitive sound, and it hadn’t come from outside. In fact, it sounded like it was right behind her.
She spun around incredibly fast and her elbow connected with Jameson’s outstretched arms, knocking a pistol out of his surprised hands. King drew his own weapon on Taylor and squeezed the trigger twice with practiced ease. She was quicker though and grabbed Jameson, using his larger figure to shield herself. The two shots slammed into Jameson and Taylor pushed his limp body aside and closed the distance to the last guard, easily doing so in the confined space. With one hand she pinned King’s arms to the wall and kept the gun pointed harmlessly to the side. With the other, she balled it into a fist and wound it back, repeatedly landing blow after blow across his face. King struggled to free himself from the onslaught and was firing wildly, the shots harmlessly scorching the elevator walls.
He jerked his knee up, and while it hit Taylor in the stomach, it wasn’t filled with enough power or at the right angle to have the winding effect he was hoping for. Still, her grip loosened a little and that was all he needed. He pushed her away and brought his pistol around to point it squarely at Taylor. But she was back again, grabbing the gun and twisted it around, his finger still stuck in the trigger guard. He screamed and his body twisted in pain and he slowly sunk to the floor. Taylor put one foot behind his then rested a palm on his helmet. In one motion, she slid her foot back and pushed down with her hand, sweeping King off his feet and slamming him on the elevator floor. He didn’t move.
Taylor breathed heavily, looking around the lift. They tried to kill her. She didn’t understand any of this, but she knew something was terribly, terribly wrong, and she wanted answers. She had a pretty good guess as to what this might be about, but needed to take drastic measures to be sure.
“Arriving at: Internal Affairs offices.” said the cheerful elevator voice.
Before the doors had the chance to open, Taylor jabbed the button labelled GalCop Armouries. She took both handguns and their holsters and strapped them to her sides. Their ID cards were hers too and she slipped them in her pocket. Forget about waiting for later to begin a week of data-sifting. This needed a more direct approach, and there’s no better time to start than right now.
“David Redman, what have you done?” she wondered aloud.
David heard another dull thump from behind the mirror. It started about a minute ago and showed no sign of stopping. It seemed that way anyways, it was hard to tell because the thuds were irregular and spread out along the length of the wall. He was still kicking himself for not realizing it was one-way until Giraud stared it down. He stood up and pressed an ear against it, listening for clues to the commotion in the adjacent room was about. It was no use. The walls were too thick and insulated, blocking out all noise except for the bass thumps.
And then it was over. He listened for five, ten and finally thirty seconds but silence filled the room.
“Huh.” he muttered.
The door to the room opened with a ‘whoosh’ and a heavily armed officer stood in its frame.
“I guess it’s time for me to go?” David asked. The officer walked into the room and was breathing heavily, as if just after a rigorous exercise. The door sealed afterwards.
He tried again. “Are you here to take me to my cell?”
“No,” the officer removed her helmet. “I’m here to get you out.” said Taylor.
David froze and his eyes widened in shock. He pointed at her.
“Wha – You…you’re supposed to be dead!” he finally blurted.
“Yeah, I know. Don’t remind me.”
“What happened to you? What’re you doing here, lieutenant?”
“It’s ex-lieutenant now. And it’s funny, I was about to ask you the exact same question.”
David slumped into the chair, the questioning with Girard rushing back.
“It’s Tara. She’s framing me for murders she committed, and so far, it looks like she’s about to get away with it too. She orchestrated this whole thing, I’m certain of it. Made evidence disappear and adjusted the other pieces to point towards me.” he sighed. “She really doesn’t want to let go of her rule. She’s going to let them lock me up and completely ruin my reputation.”
Taylor listened before saying, “What about the assassin? Who was that?”
“Tara. She killed her own guards and knocked you out in order to blame the whole thing on me.” he paused, trying to think. A hopeful expression spread on his face as he continued. “But now, I have a chance. Now that you’re here, you can tell them the truth, tell them what you saw. They wouldn’t believe me, but you carry authority and respect. I know they’ll listen to you.”
“Maybe they would’ve. But not anymore.” Taylor said vaguely.
“What do you mean? What happened?” he pressed.
“They tried to kill me, David. My own officers. I wanted to find out what happened last night, but nobody would tell me anything. So I kept asking, demanding answers from my doctors, friends and CO, but she must have ears in GalCop and knew that I wasn’t going to stop. They stripped me of my rank, my badge and nearly shot me in the back. I can’t trust anyone here.” she hesitated, curious. “What did they tell you? Did they say anything about me?”
“They…they said that you had broken bones and internal bleeding when they found you. And you succumbed to your injuries an hour ago.”
She nodded. “I had to ask. I couldn’t find anything myself, it looked like they pulled my file from the records.”
David’s head was reeling as he realized what this meant. “If she can order hit on an officer and bury the details, outside of her own system, then she’s much more powerful than I imagined.”
The room was filled with a grim silence.
“So, what now?” asked Taylor.
“I don’t know. There’s nothing we can do here. If we want to clear our names, then we need to get Tara to confess.”
“From what you’ve told me, I’d rather blow her brains out than try to squeeze a confession out of her.”
“Well, if we’re going to do either, we have to find her first.”
“Easy. News stations are buzzing about the deal you made last night and I saw an interview on my way here with her in it. Tara’s gone, back on Aerater where GalCop can’t touch her. Not officially.” Taylor walked over to the door. “Come on, let’s go. Unless you want to get thrown in prison, of course.”
He got up and followed her out, but she stopped.
“Wait.” Taylor took the helmet and put it on David’s head. “I’m sure everyone’s heard some kind of report about you. As far as they’re concerned, you’re a criminal, and if anyone recognizes you it’s all over.”
Satisfied, Taylor took the lead and the two of them left the GalCop facilities and navigated their way to the hangar. They moved quickly, up lifts, down hallways, through corridors and crowds. Taylor kept checking their surroundings, keeping an eye on anyone who might’ve been following them. She led them around patrols and avoided eye contact with the patrolling officers. She wasn’t sure if they knew about her, but it didn’t hurt to be careful.
David suddenly realized he was wearing an official GalCop helmet over his regular civilian clothes and he shifted uncomfortably. He wasn’t sure if he stuck out more or less than if he wasn’t wearing it. Luckily, nobody seemed to notice as people’s faces were buried in their ComPads as they walked.
“We’re almost there.” They could see the open doors to the hangar at the end of the hallway.
Taylor swept the area, accidentally locking eyes with a passing officer. She immediately looked away. Curious, David looked back and saw the officer divert from his patrol route and proceeded to follow them. His hand flew to his earpiece and began speaking into it.
“Don’t look at him.” hissed Taylor.
They continued walking at a brisk pace.
“Hey!” said the officer. “You two, stop!”
The surrounding civilians looked around, flattening themselves against the wall to see who the officer was addressing. The ambient chatter came to an abrupt halt, leaving David and Taylor’s footsteps to echo throughout the corridor. At the end of the hall, three GalCop officers wielding rifles walked towards them, trying to cut them off. David turned to look and saw the first officer flanked by four more, and they too, cradled rifles.
“I said stop! Don’t go any further.”
On David’s visor, he saw an alert pop up. ‘Wanted: Redman, D. Status: Fugitive. Kill/Capture for 200 Cr.’ a picture of himself was below it. Seconds later, another filled his view. ‘Wanted: Taylor, J. Status: Fugitive. Kill/Capture for 750 Cr (200% bounty if captured). Warning: Subject is armed and should be treated as extremely dangerous at all times. Do not hesitate to terminate.’ It was accompanied with a mugshot-like image of her face.
Dozens of bounty hunters who carried GalCop bounty trackers received the same alerts and the walls shifted with activity. They murmured and whistled amongst themselves, staring and pointing at Taylor. Some reached behind their backs for smuggled weapons and others joined the officer’s ranks to back them up. The more cautious ones left the area completely, trying to avoid the imminent free-for-all.
“Taylor…” David started.
“Lieutenant Taylor!” shouted the officer, “Please, we don’t mean any harm. We just want to talk to you.”
“Shit.” muttered Taylor. “Shit, run.”
They broke into a sprint and Taylor reached behind her back, unclipping the weapon she ‘borrowed’ from the armoury. After making sure it was set to stun, she raised the Galactic Armaments ‘Enforcer’ submachine gun and jammed the stock into her shoulder. Her finger pulsed the trigger and she cut down the three officers ahead of them. There was a satisfying electric crackle as the shots hit her targets.
“Keep up.” she yelled at David.
The mass of officers and bounty hunters behind them followed in pursuit, firing at the two as they did. Rounds flew by, alarmingly close, impacting the floor and ceiling and showering David with sparks. Civilians panicked and screamed, running away in any direction to get away from the firefight. The helmet on David’s head was bouncing around with every step and he felt it was getting in the way, so he tore it off and dropped it mid-stride. A round hit Taylor and she almost face-planted into the ground. It was harmlessly absorbed by her stolen armour but tore through most of its layers. It couldn’t take many shots. She recovered quickly, continuing to run and turned to fire, blasting people in the crowd, but saw more join in from an adjacent hallway. The hangar was right in front of them now.
“Hit the blast doors!” ordered Taylor. She slid into the hangar first and dropped to the ground, facing the hallway she just came from. She fired at the approaching crowd and one by one they collapsed to the floor.
David ran in shortly after and rushed over to the control panel. He removed a plastic safety cover and smacked the button underneath, causing an alarm to wail and red lights flashed. The door made its way down at an agonizingly slow rate.
“Don’t let them escape!”
Everyone was focused on getting past the door, some hunters even attempting a cinema-esque action slide under it. But Taylor lay on the ground and had a perfect sight line under the narrowing gap. She shot in quick bursts and their pursuers were easily stopped in their tracks. Her SMG ejected its last round just as the blast doors closed with a thud. She picked herself up and tossed the weapon aside.
“Let’s go. That door won’t keep them forever.” She handed Jameson and King’s ID cards over to David. “Here. Find their Vipers and set the autopilot to launch them away, full speed in any direction.”
“Where are you going?” asked David.
“I’m getting us a real ride.” Taylor left to survey the rest of the hangar.
It didn’t take long for her to find a suitable spacecraft. Not far from the control panel, was a refurbished Cobra Mk I. Its new owner struggled to enter the craft, the short and stocky figure clumsily tried to open the access ramp as she approached.
“Hello. I’m taking your ship.” she said bluntly, reaching for the activation card. “I’m in a rush.”
“Nuh-uh.” came the reply. “I didn’t empty my account just so that some entitled bitch could take away my precious steed.”
Taylor lashed out, kicking the figure in the back of the legs. His knees buckled and he collapsed onto all fours.
“And I don’t get paid enough to keep idiots like you safe every day.” Taylor picked up the card off the ground.
The figure got back up on his feet. “You have made a terrible mistake today. Do you know who I am?”
“No, and I really don’t care.” The ramp lowered and she stepped inside.
“I am Captain Rispin, the most feared bounty hunter in the galaxy!” he announced. “You will regret the moment you made me your enemy. For I, Captain Rispin, bounty hunter, will have my revenge!”
Taylor drew one of her pistols and fired directly at his feet.
“Ack! The ship’s yours! It’s all yours, take it! Please don’t hurt me.” He ran off screaming around the hangar.
David found the Cobra and walked inside. Taylor was at the controls, checking the systems.
“It’s done. The Vipers are set to launch.”
David looked around the tiny cockpit. “Not very spacious, is it?”
“Most ships aren’t built for comfort. If that’s what you want, you rent a shuttle, or buy your own frigate.”
The blast doors opened and GalCop officers poured into the hangar. The two Vipers shot forward, blasting off into space.
“Get down.” said Taylor, leaning back to hide from the officers. “Don’t let them see you.”
David lowered himself on the floor, not saying a word.
“Look, there they are!”
“Attention all GalCop personnel, we have unauthorized launch. Targets are Viper ships, occupants are considered hostile. Shoot to kill.”
They heard ships take off from the hangar, chasing after their decoys. After a while, Taylor peeked out of the windshield, examining the area.
Taylor grabbed the controls and waited as the computer asked for launch permission. It was granted, and she eased the ship out of the hangar, pushing the ship forward to its maximum speed. David sat in the second seat and switched his camera to the rear view, watching the spinning Coriolis station as they sped away. Next to the station was his own personal frigate, still flanked by its escorts, and the planet Tioranin sat in the background, the dull pink sphere filling his view. His mind began to wander, thinking back to when this whole mess began. How much had he missed? Did the first fleet warp safely? And the second? Third? Did they even leave? He had more questions. What did the other planets think of him? That he was some murderous political schemer? What about Jeremy? He hadn’t seen his friend since last night, but so much had changed since then.
Everything he’d worked towards was in jeopardy and his future was uncertain. Because of Tara Harmon, his life was shattered and he had no idea if he could ever piece it back together. When they encountered Tara again, it’ll be for the last time, he promised. They had a score to settle.
“Prepare for witchspace jump.” announced Taylor, interrupting his thoughts. “Drive locked on to Aerater coordinates.”
Fifteen seconds later, the ship was surrounded by waves of turquoise light and they were gone, leaving nothing but a dark blue portal in their wake.
David stretched his arms and legs, glad to be out of the cramped confines of the Cobra. Despite being equipped with a passenger berth, there was still no room to spread his arms inside. He inhaled deeply, taking in his first breath of fresh air in over a week. Looking up, he gaped at the alien trees that towered above, basking in the warm glow of the morning sun. They swayed gently back and forth in a light breeze.
Aerater was a fairly desolate place for the most part, but even the most dangerous place in the galaxy has at least one safe haven. Aerater was scattered with them, places forgotten or explored and then abandoned. The planet was in a constant state of turmoil as factions battled for enough power to challenge Tara’s rule. Unbound by countries or law, it was a chaotic tug-of-war that spanned the globe with no end in sight. Unfortunately, the lesser factions spent more time fighting each other than Tara’s forces and so she was able to rule with minimal resistance.
Every last centimetre of land was stripped of its resources long ago, forged into material to fuel the war machine. The people had no use for wood or non-agricultural plants, not when better supplies could be purchased without any of the effort. Because of this, the woods remained standing. But the path of war is a destructive one, and indiscriminate bombardments severely thinned out the forests. Toxins seeped their way into the soil and worked their way into the trees, slowly killing them from within. The only patches of forest left where far away from anything, without tactical advantage or above any precious materials.
Taylor exited the Cobra and looked around, getting her bearings.
“Uh, I don’t think you told me why we’re out here in the middle of nowhere.” said David.
“Harmon has most of the Eastern hemisphere under her control.” Taylor explained. “She rules from a citadel in the middle of her capital city, which was built around it. While it has spaceports, there’s a high chance someone will recognize us. I put the Cobra down here because it’s the nearest clearing I could find that can fit the ship. Security’s pretty beefy around the city walls and the entrances are always monitored, so if we’re going in, we can’t do it alone.”
She handed him a small remote with a single button as she passed.
“What’s this?” questioned David.
“It’s a transmitter to the ship’s autopilot. Press the button and the ship will fly to its positon. Where we’re going, things could get pretty hairy and we might need to leave at moment’s notice.” She walked off into the forest, swatting branches out of her path.
“Taylor, the city’s over there.” David pointed out into the wasteland.
“I know. But we’re going this way.”
David hesitated, but decided to follow Taylor into the wilderness.
“Their ship hasn’t moved at all. I think it’s safe to say they’re long gone.” The pilot stared at the display. It was dimly lit in the cockpit and the digital readouts were his main light source.
The Artemis’ Will was holding steady high above Aerater’s atmosphere. It had been staying like this for a few hours and was one of many hunter ships that were sent out through recent portals. They were hired immediately after scans of the GalCop Vipers showed no signs of life.
The man behind him nodded. “I just got word from the boss, we’re good to go.”
“Taking us in.” said the pilot.
The man left the cockpit and entered the main hold. “Alright ladies and gents, our operation’s been greenlit. Get ready for a manhunt!”
In the hold, a dozen figures reached for bags of equipment and picked up intimidating-looking rifles, coaxing as many clicks and sounds from them as possible.
David and Taylor trekked through the forest for what seemed like hours. The vegetation seemed to have little to no variation and the current surroundings mixed with David’s memories. It certainly didn’t feel like they were getting anywhere. They approached the edge a somewhat cleared out area, it was flat and wide, about a square kilometer of space, and was punctuated by trees. All around, there were what appeared to be ruins of a settlement, long since abandoned.
David was confused. “What is this place? Why are we here?”
Taylor looked around, searching the treetops and the abandoned buildings. She was looking for something and seemed disappointed when she couldn’t find it. She proceeded into the ruins and David followed closely. They spent a lot of time moving through the rows of abandoned structures. Most of them were falling apart, chunks from the houses lay on the ground and very few of them still had roofs. What was still standing took on a green complexion as moss grew on top of the forgotten buildings.
After a while, Taylor gave up, coming to a stop in the middle of the ruins.
“I don’t know.” she said, nearly throwing her arms up in the air. “It’s been so long… I’m not sure if they’re even –”
“Okay, that’s enough.” A voice boomed though the forest, amplified electronically. “I could watch you bumble around the forest for hours, but we’ve got other stuff to do. I don’t know who you are, or how you knew where to find us, but I’m giving you one chance to leave, right now.”
David and Taylor scanned the clearing, trying to pinpoint the location of the sound.
A bolt whizzed by, barely missing. “That was your only warning shot. If you don’t go away, the next one’ll be right between your eyes.”
“Wait!” said Taylor. “We need your help.”
“I don’t think so. I see who you are. A GalCop officer and a planetary representative. You make an odd pair, but you’re not welcome here.”
“Actually, I do know you.” The voice continued. “You’ve been charged with murder and you’re that dangerous fugitive psycho. There’s a large bounty on your heads and I’m tempted to collect it.”
“Don’t, please, we need your help to take down Tara Harmon.” Taylor pleaded.
“What is this, a trick? Are you spies? We’ll kill you before you reveal our position. How did you know where to find us?”
“I was here, seven years ago,” she confessed, “during the raids.”
The voice didn’t respond right away. “Oh, so you’re Navy. What do you think you’re doing here? Back for more?”
“You’re Navy?” echoed David, surprised.
“I was.” responded Taylor. Was. Just like everything else these days. “We were trying to clear out rebel positions in a different peace effort with neighbouring worlds. We were spread thin, but Intel told us we could take this one.” She swallowed. “They were wrong.”
The voice kept talking. “Well, isn’t this interesting. First you try to wipe us out, now you want our help. You took a big risk, but coming here was a mistake. And it’ll be the last one you ever make.”
Throughout the clearing, dozens of weapons rustled as they were aimed from unseen locations. They were surrounded. David’s thumb nervously brushed the autopilot transmitter. The situation was very bad and this was probably a good time to run away. But would the ship even arrive before they’d be shot? He wasn’t sure.
“Hold your fire.” The voice ordered. It was a different person this time. “If you’re really here for Tara Harmon, then we have no reason to kill you. But if you’re lying, you’ll be dead before your body hits the floor.”
Suddenly the surroundings began to crawl, tree bark shifted and the boulders and tree stumps rose into standing positions. The rebels were amazingly well camouflaged and they circled the intruders, weapons raised. Unarmed ones climbed out of hidden rooms under the ruins and in an instant, the clearing was filled with people. They were all watching David and Taylor as the guards led them away.
The tracker team approached the clearing and observed the rebel position. It was a simple task, tracing their prey’s trail through the forest. They left behind a narrow path, easily identified in the undisturbed woods. Thanks to their top-of-the-line equipment, they were able to detect the infrared sensors around the perimeter and bypassed it without triggering an alarm.
Once they were at the clearing, the leader turned to his team. “Okay people, fan out. Everyone knows the mission, so go and find a good line of sight. Get in, get out, and don’t let anyone see you.”
The team nodded in acknowledgement and spread out, sticking behind the tree line. The leader wanted to wish his team well before they started.
“Take good shots.” he said.
They were brought to what used to be the main building, but only the perimeter of the structure remained. ‘Inside’ the remnants was a small, square table with chairs on each side. A man was there, sitting on one. He surveyed them as they took a seat.
“I’m the leader of the resistance here. Call me Rex.” David recognized the man’s voice as the second speaker. “That’s not my real name of course, but you’ll forgive me if you don’t exactly have my full confidence.”
“How long have you been hiding?” asked David.
“We’ve been here for over a decade, trying to knock dictators out of power so we can establish a proper government. We haven’t given up. We’ve lasted through multiple tyrants and the Navy raids. After that though, we faked our disappearance when people thought we were becoming too much of a problem. We’re big supporters of your peace deal and were frustrated when Tara didn’t stick to it. So, you want our help. I’m not against it, but you’ve come quite a ways from Tioranin and I want to know why you’re going after Tara. I heard broadcasts and reports, but I’ve come to learn there’s always two sides to a story. We can work something out, after, you explain to me what exactly is going on.”
And so they did. They told him everything that happened over the past day. Starting from the party to the argument, the assassin, David’s framing, Taylor’s betrayal and finally their escape.
When they finished, he took a long time to mull it over and said at last, “I’ll help you, because if you’re telling the truth, then this’ll be another angle we can use against Tara. At the very least, your story’s one more reason why she needs to be taken out of power. Not that we really needed another. However, you’ve come at a bad time. Recently we launched an attack against Tara’s citadel, trying to bring her rule to an end. Our forces were decimated. I lost a lot of good men and we still haven’t recovered, so I can’t help you with what you want right now. But I do know another way you can get it.”
David leaned forward, intrigued.
“Tara might have far-reaching tendrils, but in order to send commands of that magnitude through to another system, she’d have to go through some official channels. Every habited planet has a communications relay in orbit which keeps a record of all incoming and outgoing information. Your situation must’ve needed a lot of planning and coordination to pull off, so if she really is behind this, you’ll find a document about it in the relay’s database.”
“Thank you for your help.” said David.
Rex nodded. “Once you get the file, upload it to the galactic network. Put it everywhere you can, then once people know the truth, your names will be cleared and everyone will turn against Tara Harmon. She’ll be right where we want her.”
Last edited by my ammo crate on Thu Oct 29, 2015 9:26 pm, edited 3 times in total.