August 29th 2013
Gates waited in the underwater transit tube connecting Nemo Prime with the suburb Stroller called home. That house was too tough a nut to crack on short notice, so he and Seabrook had decided on taking Stroller here.
Gates gathered himself and leapt across the tube. He slid on landing, the maintenance stanchion slick with moisture. He barely managed to get his feet under him before a transit pod swept by.
“Close,” Seabrook opined.
“Yes,” Gates grated.
Gates set to work. Clearing ten years of seeping ooze was filthy work, but he had to be sure the modules were placed precisely.
He placed the last module and jumped back across. Another slip bounced him off the tube wall. He staggered, the pod nearly raking his back as it hummed past.
“All right, everything’s in place,” Gates said, hands panic-tight on the rungs.
“Going live in two.”
“Clearing.” Gates put hands and feet on the outside of the ladder, letting his weight drive a rapid descent, retrieval line hissing out from his harness at the shoulders. He stopped at the next maintenance platform, leaning back against the sweating tube wall.
The problem with taking someone from Navy Intelligence down, Gates reflected, _is that they are already prone to a certain level of justifiable paranoia.
Especially if, as in Stroller’s case, they’re traitorous scum. Even more so if you want him alive. Easier by far to put a laser beam through Stroller’s heart, harder to keep him alive for questioning._
“Live,” Seabrook said.
The next private transport pod to pass the magnetic modules he’d placed derailed, missing its transfer point and dropping ten meters down the maintenance shaft in a sudden free fall.
On-board safety measures kicked in, meant to slow the pod to a survivable stop. Gates stepped from the gantry onto the roof of the still-decelerating pod. Bending, he yanked the emergency hatch up and away.
Gunshots echoed loudly in the tube, rounds shattering against the combing and hatch. Frangibles. Sensible in pressurized environments where thirty meters of water would make a tiny hole a massive problem.
Gates grinned. Shoot first, eh? Damn fast reactions. He dropped the riot grenade into the pod and slapped the hatch back into place.
The grenade went off in a series of disorienting flashes accompanied by a warbling shriek that would make a deaf man’s ears bleed. Gates let it go on a few seconds, then threw the hatch open again. When no gunshots greeted him, he jumped into the smoke-filled pod, deactivating the grenade.
He found Stroller already climbing empty-handed to his feet.
Gates dropped a hammer fist into his brachial plexus, gloves discharging.
Stroller dropped the gun and grunted, but rolled with the blow, catching Gates on the chest with his opposite fist.
The punch didn’t hurt so much as surprise. Stroller should have gone down with that first strike.
Better this way.
He snapped a knee up, aiming for Stroller’s face.
The traitor swayed, grunted again as he took the knee on his upper chest.
Gates’ estimation of the other man’s fighting skills went up a notch as Stroller used the power of the blow to help drive himself erect. Stroller had several centimeters and several kilos on him, but was still groggy from the grenade.
Maximizing his limited advantages, Gates threw a combination at Stroller, pressing him hard in the limited space of the pod.
The traitor managed to get a grip on Gates’ arm, drove an elbow into his bicep.
It was Gates’ turn to grunt. A following forearm clipped his head, making stars come out.
Gates swayed back, pulling his nearly-limp arm free before reversing direction and driving a head-butt into Stroller’s face. He felt teeth snap under his forehead and knew Stroller was unconscious even before he sagged to the floor.
Blood from his forehead dripping onto Stroller’s jacket, Gates bent and slapped the restraints on. The heat-activated memory-metal restraints quickly expanded to enfold the man’s wrists, cinching them tight together before creeping around his waist to connect in front. Gates clipped Stroller’s restraint to his own harness.
“Copy.” Gates pulled Stroller tight, stood up, and promptly staggered sideways, a wave of dizziness threatening to make him puke. He worked on it a moment, figured he wouldn’t puke if he moved sideways to get under the emergency opening, and eased over.
Hard-headed I might be, but damn, I won’t do that again. Swallowing bile, Gates set himself, muttered, “Clear us.”
The retrieval line went taut, started hauling them in. Gates bashed his shoulder on the hatch combing, and he had to pull one of Stroller’s broken incisors out of his forehead, but aside from that the extraction went smoothly.
Less than two hours later Gates stood across from Stroller’s unconscious form, administering a shot. He closed the medical case but left it on the table between them, not because he thought it would be successful — most Navy Intelligence types had some familiarity with interrogation techniques — but because the threat was often more useful than actual violence, medical or otherwise.
“Stroller, wake up.”
His vital signs were good. He was awake. Not fully aware, but awake. The drugs would loosen Stroller’s hold on courage, but there was a limit to their effectiveness. Dulling the mind could lead to a lack of recollection. So Gates decided to lay out a story for the traitor; to play a character Stroller would find easy to believe.
“You pissed off the wrong people, Stroller.”
Stroller groaned, lisped, “Wh-What?”
Gates slowed his delivery, pasted a wide grin on his face. “You pissed off the wrong people.”
The lisping reply tried for cold anger, came out sounding plaintive: “You’ll let me go, you know what’s good for you: the Navy comes down on those that hurt their own.”
Gates hid a sigh of relief. First mistake. Never, ever open your mouth to say anything during an interrogation but your name and rank. This is going far easier than I’d hoped. “Come on, Stroller, the Navy doesn’t give a fart in a spacesuit about you. You left their protection when you started working with us. In fact, they’ll probably applaud our removing you, once we make it clear you broke faith with them.”
Stroller looked confused, “Us?”
“Our employers, of course,” Gates said, keeping the big smile in place. “Well, in your case I suppose I should say: former secondary employers.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Stroller lisped past his broken teeth.
Gates snorted. “Yes, you do. The ones who’ve padded your accounts quite nicely. You know, the ones set up in your daughter’s name.” Gates read the bump in Stroller’s vitals when he mentioned that little bit of data. He made a mental note to thank Seabrook.
“Thoo … So, what did they tell you I did?”
Gates laughed, “It doesn’t matter, really. See, all this consolidation, all the groups under one roof? It couldn’t last. There’s a split in the organization at the system-wide level, and I’m on the winning side. You are not.”
“System, only? Then I–I can be of use, run coverage for you, same as I was doing for Whittaker. I’m not his, by any means. Who is it you’re working for, Chambliss? He knows me, knows the quality of my information.”
Filing the names away, Gates shrugged, “You aren’t making much of a case for yourself.”
Gates waved a languid hand, “We have our own sources, ones that we can rely on that aren’t just working with us to save their hides. Besides, I was told to find out what you know and dispose of you if you proved a threat to the new, improved organization.”
Fear lit in Stroller’s eyes. “I’m no threat.”
“I was given wide latitude to decide that. You were not. And see,” Gates smiled again, “here’s the thing: no one said anything about how I dispose of you,” a caress of the medical case, “so I thought I’d play a bit before getting to that point.”
Stroller swallowed. “What?”
“I do so like my little games,” Gates said, opening the case and grinning into it like a pervert presented with his favorite perversions.
“I’ll give you the local leadership, where they live, who their mistresses are, all of it, if you’ll just let me work for you.”
Gates didn’t bother to look at Stroller. “We already have the names of those we need to take down, it’s how we found you.”
Gates pretended to consider that, eventually shrugged. “No, I don’t think you know anything sufficiently important to make me give up on the one thing that makes my job so much fun.” Gates reached into the case.
“The top leadership, all of it, from every system! They’re gonna be on a ship at the end of next month!”
Too easy, I had thought Navy Intelligence was made of sterner stuff … Gates let his anger show, left his hand in the case.
“The White Stag, a corporate liner, that’s the ship!”
“And why would my bosses not know about that?”
“Turner just announced it, the message traffic showed up in my monthly packet. I hadn’t yet forwarded it to anybody. You can confirm it, easy!”
Gates let his lip curl, “Really?”
“Really. Hadn’t you ever wondered how your people were able to coordinate with outside organizations without Advocacy pukes tripping to it? It’s me, man, I’m the one handling the information, so you can’t kill me. I’m too important.”
“Tell me everything, then I’ll decide if you’re worth keeping alive.”