August 16th 2013
The words brought pain. Gates recoiled from them, retreating into a calm pool of nothing.
“Up the interrupter, he’s suffering.”
“Yes, ma’am,” a digital voice. Somehow, that was important, spurred him to think about his surroundings. Viscous gel-like fluid surrounded him: warm, yet cool, gentle, comforting.
A medbay. The thought came without alarm.
The pain eased. Gates floated, taking his time coming to his senses.
“Gates, can you hear me?” Details floated slowly to mind: a woman’s voice. Not one he recognized.
“Yes, I can,” voice weak.
“Good. Do you remember what happened?”
Images flooded the calm pool of consciousness, shattering it completely.
Gates snapped his eyes open. The glare of light was blinding, at first, but resolved to an attractive woman of indeterminate years standing beside him, arms crossed over a high-end civilian flight suit.
“Wher–” he started, licked his lips, and tried again, “Who are you?”
“To answer the first question: you’re on my ship.” She clicked her heels and presented her MobiGlas, “As to the second: I’m Agent Seabrook, Special Action. Vasser set me as your backstop Agent.”
Seabrook snapped her fingers, “Get your shit together, Agent, and focus: you were sent here by?”
He tensed. “Morgan. That motherf–” pain shut his mouth as he tried to rise from the medbay, gel sluicing from fresh-knit skin that marked his dark flesh like pink paint.
She put a hand out, “We’ll get to him, if he truly is responsible, now you’re tracking a bit better. Think a moment.”
Say this about my anger; it clears the mind of cobwebs quite nicely. Gates settled back into the grip of the medbay, just leaving his face above the gel. He took a few deep breaths, asked when he was calm enough: “I thought Vasser sent me in alone?”
“She did. I was ordered to keep to the background and well out of sight, which I did, at least until I was sure there wasn’t anyone else to pick up the pieces for the other side. Quite the gunfight. A gunfight you won, at least for certain values of winning.” Gates recognized the predator’s grin that spread across her face. He’d worn a similar expression often enough.
Gates winced as an image swam to mind: Beyond his shattered cockpit and crazed helmet glass — the pirate’s Aurora breaking apart under blasts of his sole remaining operational laser cannon.
“Thought I was dead.”
“You would have been, given a few more hours. You were a few hours from hammering into one of the moonlets. As it is, your 325 is all busted up and you’ve had some nerve damage in your extremities from vacuum-induced freezer-burns. Nothing the medbay can’t handle in a few more hours. I managed to stabilize your ship’s orbit, but it ain’t going anywhere any time soon.”
Gates grunted. “I’ll take it out of Morgan’s hide. After he tells me why.”
“I assume you’re talking about James Morgan?”
“Damn straight I am. You must have been closer than Vasser wanted, you know who I was talking to.”
“I know because, right after you left, Morgan showed up on the orbital platform where you had your repairs done, escorted by some serious-looking men.”
“You know the type: muscle that has to act all hard and over-attentive to their surroundings, just to scratch a living. They were not being terribly gentle with Morgan, either.”
Maybe, just maybe, Morgan didn’t willingly hand me over. Best not to hope too hard, that’s how they suck you into making mistakes.
“How do you know they didn’t make you?” he asked.
“I was there,” she glanced at the ship bulkheads, “getting maintenance done.”
A new suspicion bubbled: “How’d you know who he was?”
“Vasser wanted me familiar with you and your contacts, so she gave me your records.”
Lips twisting in a grin made sharper by the pain of damaged flesh, he asked: “The official one or Special Action’s?”
Her smile was bright, even touched her brown eyes. “Both. Quite the history.”
“I’m old, see. History is longer for me than for you.”
“Yeah, but we both know that’s not what I meant. I must say I hadn’t thought to meet a living legend, let alone save his ass from certain death.”
He glanced away. “Flattery will get you everywhere.”
“Even places I don’t want to go?” she replied, archly.
The medbay beeped in alarm as his chuckle tore open stretches of skin along his flanks. Wow, must have done a real number on my suit when the cockpit went, he thought through the pain.
When it eased, she was smiling at him, “Really, though, it makes for interesting reading, your history. The last bit, especially: did you really dismantle Doctor Pantroski’s entire operation in one night?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Your SAC at the time, she didn’t appreciate it.”
“No, she did not. I had reason to suspect Pantroski of killing a couple of Advocacy agents.”
“Oda didn’t think what I had was enough. I disagreed. Turns out I was right.”
“And Oda nearly had you run out of the Advocacy for it.”
“Nearly. Been closer a few times.”
“Me too, with Oda at the helm,” another flash of that predatory grin. “Oda’s all about making Oda look good to the Director. Brought me up on charges, once: claimed some ‘irregularities’ in one of my investigations.” She shrugged. “All I did was make the rapist slaver scum’s face ‘irregular.’ I had to try and keep him from doing … what he did … to anyone else …” Having worn them himself, Gates easily recognized the expressions crawling across Seabrook’s face as she related her tale: disgust at what the pirate had done, discomfort with her own response, followed by the calm surety that those actions had been completely necessary. Gates knew from long experience that the appearance of certainty was easier to maintain during the day. During the long hours of the night, sleep let the guard down, let the nightmares run free.
Gripped with a sudden urge to change the subject, he asked, “You didn’t happen to see the techs that sabotaged my pods, did you?”
“You know if Morgan is still there?”
“He’s not.” Gates’ disappointment must have shone through, because she quickly went on: “I managed to tag the cutter he was shipped out on. He’s in-system, on Corel II. Or rather, in orbit around it on another orbital, this one owned by a Anselm Holding LLC.”
“Should that company name mean something to me?”
“The same company owns Nemonautics.”
“The company that facilitated the sabotage of my ship. Sounds suspicious.”
She cocked a brow.
“I’m wary of easily-drawn conclusions.”
“So am I, that’s why I ran a few checks while you were recovering. As the company is privately held, there’s very little information available, but they sprang into being three years back, buying up a bunch of shipping companies and several orbital maintenance facilities, all without any kind of financing on the books.”
“Absolutely, though I can’t say who for.”
“What kind of orbital is it?”
“Harmony Maintenance and Transhipment, much like the one in orbit around Nemo.”
“Any other corporations leasing space?”
She glanced at her MobiGlas. “No.”
He nodded and hit the inside edge of the medbay, gel sluicing around his fingers, “How long do I have to be in here?”
“A few more hours should see you well-cooked enough for very light duty.”
“Good. Then all we need is another ship.”
Gates hadn’t even realized he’d made the decision about Seabrook until she called him on it. He looked her in the eye. “Yes. I need your help, Agent Seabrook.”
Seabrook returned his gaze for a long moment, clearly weighing the situation. “All right. For what?”
“We’re going in after Morgan. Either we spring him if he’s being held against his will or, if he’s not, we take him for questioning.”
She pointed at the medbay, ”You’re not going to be fully healed any time soon. Can’t see how you’ll get aboard without tripping alarms.”
“I won’t be boarding, you will. If they twig to you, they’ll expect you to extract to the ship you arrived on. That’s why I’ll be aboard another ship, ready to run in and extract you both, should it come to that.”
He just looked at her.
Seabrook looked away, pained. “Stupid question, I know.”
“So, know where we can get a third-rate ship on the quick, cheap, and down-low?”
“Might be I know a guy, yes.”
Gates smiled and changed the subject, “How long you been Advocacy?”
“Nearly twenty, why?”
“I didn’t get to read your file, remember? And while SA is made up of harder-working agents than the rest of the Advocacy, it might help me plan if I know some of the specifics of your background.”
“I’ve been SA for seven years.”
“Ah, that explains why we never met.”
She nodded, “I arrived right after you were sent to work under Oda. Special Action needed a data jockey with field experience. I think the SACs did it as a one-for-one transfer when they shifted us.”
Data jockey, now that both explains a lot and could come in quite handy.
“Careerist bureaucrats do like to keep things tidy,” he said, to keep a verbal hand in the conversation.
She snorted, “But Oda got more than she bargained for with with you, eh?”
“That she did. Let’s hope that Morgan, or any people holding him, do the same.”