December 10th 2012
Yellow lightning pulsed deep in the thick storm clouds. Rain turned the red dirt into slick mud. Hidden in the dark depths of the massive canyon, we waited. We ate stittle-bugs. The cold sank into our bones.
She was close. That was all I needed. All the light and warmth in the world was here, in my arms.
* * * * *
My head bounced against a window. Real world again. The raindrops on the plastic turned the lights of massive buildings into streaks as they passed outside. It took me a second but it all came back: Hannigan, the plan, the bomb, the Advocacy Agent.
I tested the shackles on my hands and feet, hoping for enough leeway to work with. No good, I was bound tight. The Advocacy Agent was up front, piloting, already looking at me in the rear-view.
“For a second there, I was really worried I lost you.” She said. From her utterly dispassionate delivery, I could tell she meant every word. This was the first good look I got at her since the Covalex Shipping Hub. Her crisp spotless clothes and calm demeanor screamed prepared, professional.
“I’ll bet.” I sat up but my head hated me for it.
“So, the infamous Kid Crimson…”
“Never heard of him.” My automatic response. She looked at me in the mirror, disappointed.
“Really? You’re going with that? I feel like most of you guys can’t wait to get caught. Just so you can finally gush about how notorious you are. Hurricane Wilcox was just like that…well, until I shot him.”
My mind tumbled. I had heard of her. Name was Raina Quell. She had quite a reputation as an uncompromising agent who punched out a couple serious players. Apparently after she pinched Hurricane, he had some of his boys try to break him out. She tore it up with all of them and was the only survivor. She took note of my silence.
“So I guess I don’t need to introduce myself.” She said.
“You’ve been on me since Covalex?”
“What do you mean?” She looked at me quizzically.
“Were you there looking for me?”
“I was following a tip about a cargo of slaves. That led me to you. You ran. I hunted you down.” She didn’t know about the drunk who originally transported the slaves. So the tip came after I boosted the cargo. That cloaked assassin fed me to her. Why? To force me to run?
“I don’t suppose I could convince you that I was set up.”
“I would but I’ve fallen for that one too many times before.” She watched me for several moments. I settled back in the seat and looked at the city pass. “I checked your ship. Where’d you deliver the slaves?”
“I set them free.”
“They’re in Magnus. Defrosted on the Arshop Mining Installation. Check for yourself.” I looked right at her. Didn’t flinch. She didn’t have anything on me. Maybe Evasion of an Advocacy Agent. But most of my old crimes were sorted.
“You knew I was on your tail and knew it would be too hot travelling with slaves so you dumped the evidence.”
“I don’t traffick slaves. I came here for whoever does.”
“That what the LR-620 was for?” I hate redundant questions so I kept quiet. She waited. “Who?”
I saw the TU campus in the distance. The commencement was already underway. There goes that plan.
“You ever hear of a man named Caro?” That got her attention.
“Got intel from one of the slaves, tracked it back here, and worked up the ladder. That was the name at the top.”
“Caro’s here?” She said, still guarding her expectations. I weighed telling her. At the absolute best, maybe she’d believe me. More than likely, all I’d be doing is confessing to the attempted assassination of a UEE Senator. I opted to hedge my bets and shut up. She was on the hook though and kept pushing, “Who is he?”
Outside, we passed the UEE Official Landing Yard. Presumably where her ship was. I looked at her. “Wait, where are you taking me?”
“Local Police for processing then back to an Advocacy station.”
“You can’t take me to local cops.” I said. A little urgency crept into my voice. This was bad. Really bad.
“It’s protocol. Deal with it.” Quell thought I was rattled at the prospect of jail.
“Look, the second you put me in the system, Caro will send a team of hitters to wipe me out.”
“You’re talking about secure Advocacy channels. Caro’s connected but he’s not all-powerful.”
“Think about it. How has he been able to elude capture, even identification, all this time?”
“You tell me.” She said. I got no choice. Here goes nothing.
“Senator Hannigan is Caro.”
“Okay.” Quell said and turned ahead.
“I’m sure you are.”
“Look, take me anywhere; Advocacy HQ, your ship, the septic pits, I don’t care. I’ll tell you everything I know. But if they know you’ve got me, I’m a dead man.”
She looked back at me for a second then disregarded me as just another criminal trying to weasel out of punishment.
“I comm’d the station the second I shackled you.”
Twenty minutes later, Quell pulled into the local Police station and dragged me out of the back. With both my hands and feet bound, I was as good as dead if someone made a play.
I scanned for anything suspicious until she pushed me into the small station. There were three cops on duty inside. They looked bored, like they haven’t chased somebody down in the past decade or two. Quell parked me by the counter. The Desk Sergeant ignored me and stared at her.
“Help you, honey?”
Quell glared at him. It took the cop about thirty seconds to fold.
“What can I do for you, agent?”
“I need him processed and a comm-station.”
The desk sergeant hustled around to grab me. The door opened. A tall grim-looking hulk in a soaked long-coat stepped inside. Except for the occasional squeak of his shoe. He didn’t make a sound. In short, trouble.
“Special Agent Quell.” The hulk said.
“Yeah?” Raina eyed him warily. Apparently her instincts were firing like mine. The hulk stared at me. He might have been at the landing yard tussle.
“I’ve got orders to commandeer your prisoner.” He flashed an Advocacy ID.
“Under whose authority?” She laughed.
“I’m afraid that’s classified.” He said, never breaking his gaze from me, until Quell stepped into his line of sight.
“Right. Who’s your superior?” Quell said, never backing down. The hulk ignored her. His hand started to move. Quell was one step ahead. Her pistol was up in a flash. I had to hand it to her, the woman’s got speed.
“Easy there, sport, if those hands disappear from sight, I will ventilate you. Copy?” Her voice didn’t waiver. The hulk grinned and put his hands up. “Sergeant, you mind grabbing our friend’s ID for me?”
The desk sergeant hesitated, obviously angry at being brought into this. He slowly moved toward the hulk and reached inside his coat. The hulk just kept grinning, his eyes now locked on Quell. I glanced out the front window. Through the sheets of rain, I saw two forms advancing. They aimed.
I pushed Quell to the ground half a second before a couple dozen rounds shredded the windows. The other two cops danced from the rounds punching through their bodies. The hulk didn’t even flinch. He snatched the desk sergeant and snapped his neck. Quell elbowed me in the throat, probably thinking that I was trying to escape.
The hulk pulled a scattergun from the folds of his coat and flicked off the safety. Quell was quicker on the draw, she pumped four rounds into his chest. He didn’t go down and raised his rifle. She double-tapped his head. He got the idea and died.
“Uncuff me.” I managed to say through the coughs, “I can help.”
“You must be out of your mind.” She reloaded. Outside, the hitters continued perforating the building. From the sound of the battery cycling, it sounded like MaxOx P4’s, basically rapid-fire, energy-based room-brooms. Which meant that they weren’t going to run out of rounds anytime soon.
Quell crawled over to the dead desk sergeant and grabbed the hulk’s ID. She dragged me toward the back. All around us, shots kicked up papers, punched through screens, and shredded a lamp.
We ducked into the back hall where there were a couple empty holding cells. Quell kept moving. Someone started shooting through the back door. We separated, each pressing against a wall. A hitter with another P4 kicked the door open. He was surprised to see the barrel of Quell’s gun. She put him down and grabbed his weapon as she passed.
We kept low and moved through the ships, hovers, and cars of the impound lot in the back. The hitters out front stopped shooting up the place. We heard them enter the station. We had a moment of quiet before we slipped away.
“You believe me now?” I whispered. She glanced at me. I almost swore she was annoyed.
“Let’s call it a conditional yes.”
I’ll take that.