September 5th 2013
Gates was growing tired of Nemo, or at least the tiny patch of it he and Seabrook had gone to ground in. The safe house was spartan, yes, but that was to be expected. Seabrook was fine as a housemate, though she had disappeared into the nets as soon as she believed it safe to do so. That left him only Stroller’s statement and Morgan’s dying declaration for distraction, and they weren’t helping much to contain his mounting impatience. He could only listen to Morgan’s last moments so many times without wanting to kill Stroller, and Stroller was no longer on hand for the killing. Gates had the man shipped him off to Special Action’s blackest holding cells, the ones set aside for traitors awaiting trial.
Stroller had given up a lot before he’d been shipped. There was a meet planned for next month. Les Inconnus leadership was looking to integrate the heads of a couple of new slaver organizations into the fold, and had a meeting set up on the White Stag. It had all gone in the report, along with Seabrook’s assurances that she’d managed to cover for Stroller’s absence by planting transfer papers into his file and answering his mail with the data he’d provided them.
It’s driving me mad, this waiting for a response from Vasser!
There was a knock at the front door.
Gates pulled his sidearm and glanced across at Seabrook. No one is supposed to know we’re here, let alone come calling. She tapped a command into her terminal, checking the security feed. She nodded at Gates. Because he wasn’t the trusting sort, he still kept the pistol ready as he opened the door. He nearly dropped it when he saw who was standing on the front step.
“Gates,” Vasser said, brushing past him.
“Ma’am,” Gates muttered, still off balance.
Gates closed the door, tried to get his thoughts moving.
Vasser looked back at him, “Good to see you’re recovered.”
“Unfortunately, it’s the only good thing about this visit.”
Gates opened his mouth, but she held up a hand to stop him: “Look, Internal Investigations Division, in the person of one Agent Jakob Neustedt, made a run at me last week, at almost exactly the same time your report hit my MobiGlas —” she paused, held the device up, showing it was in active recording mode, and giving both her agents a chance to think about the timing of that bit of news before resuming: “I told him to walk out the airlock, that it was under my direct orders and supervision. My associates at headquarters are saying that IID is now looking at ‘fiduciary inconsistencies’ in Special Action. They listed Seabrook’s Caterpillar as one of those irregularities.”
“How the hell?” Seabrook blurted.
Gates kept his mouth shut, anger building as he worked through the implications.
Vasser shook her head, “As I was the one gave the order, I felt I owed it to you both to tell you face to face: we can’t continue against Les Inconnus while this crap is going on. They clearly have people with clout on payroll, and those people will tip off the targets as soon as we move.”
“Understood,” Gates said, holding his temper tight.
Seabrook shook her head, “Someone in IID is working for them and we have to call it off?”
“If some Advocacy agent is working for or with them, I can’t prove it, yet. Therefore Special Action is not undertaking any investigation of Les Inconnus until I can clear it. Am I understood?”
“Understood,” Gates repeated, letting out a long, slow breath.
“What!?” Seabrook barked at him. “You were the one who said we had to move, that taking them down wa–”
He spoke over her: “Yes, I did say that.” Gates gestured at Vasser, “The Special Agent in Charge just told us Special Action is no longer on the case.”
“I’ll follow orders … but … it’s …” Seabrook spluttered.
Gates turned to Vasser, clicking heels together. “Thank you, Agent Vasser, for personally informing us.”
Vasser nodded, “You’re welcome. I am sorry I can’t offer more comforting news.”
“Understood,” Gates said, decision made.
“Seabrook, I have a seat for you on the shuttle departing in five hours. I have other business to attend in the meantime.”
Seabrook looked back and forth between Vasser and Gates, clearly puzzled.
Vasser left without another word.
“What the hell, Gates?”
He paused a moment before replying, wanting to get it right. “Vasser’s hands are tied, Seabrook. She had to give the order to stand down, and do so on the record. Remember, she had her MobiGlas on and active. If she hadn’t, then she wouldn’t be able to deny responsibility for what I’m going to do.”
“Think about what she said.”
“She said we —”
“No, she didn’t. Think. Her exact words were …”
“She said —” her eyes shot wide. “She said Special Action.”
“Exactly. And I’m on suspension. As in: not even Advocacy.”
“But, that’s messed up.”
He snorted. “Don’t like the heat this close to the sun, change your orbit.”
Seabrook’s eyes narrowed with suspicion. “What are you going to do, Gates?”
“I’m going to take them down, of course.”
“Call it what it is: you mean to kill them.”
He cocked his head, just looked at her.
“I didn’t sign up for murder. We’re not above the law.”
Gates nodded, “You’re right, we aren’t above it. That said, there’s a separate law for this.”
She sniffed. “Gates, do you actually listen to yourself, sometimes?”
“Look, Seabrook, I’ve been around a long, long time. Longer, probably, than the people you called dinosaurs when you were coming through the Academy. One thing I learned at the knee of the agents I called dinosaurs back when: we can never allow the murder of Advocacy agents to go unpunished. Never. Not once. Usually that means making an arrest and walking someone into a prison cell. Sometimes that means going all the way: off the charts and into the big black, and maybe not coming back. Stroller’s information gives us a shot at the leadership. I’m taking it.”
“It’s not right, Gates.”
“Agent Max Nawabi. Agent Gage Knowles.”
She blanched. He was sure she’d have controlled her shock better if he’d slapped her.
“They are what this is about. Nawabi and Knowles, and making sure Les Inconnus don’t make any more like them.”
She held up a hand in surrender, “All right. I understand. I won’t go shooting my mouth off.”
He nodded, once. “I didn’t think you would.”
She turned away.
“And Seabrook: you’re good people.”
“Screw you, Gates!” she said under her breath. Reaching for her console, Seabrook hunched over the table and started typing.
Gates shrugged. Pacifiers come in all shapes and sizes, I suppose.
“Sorry,” she muttered, “just getting a few things you might find useful.”
“You sure that’s a good idea? I mean, I appreciate it, but Vasser won’t be happy if she has to cover for your ass after that talk.”
She turned and leveled a dark look at him, “You really think I’m that slow? That I don’t know how to dance the data to pick up a few items without it leading back to us?”
“Sorry,” he said, meaning it. “It’s not my area of expertise.”
“I know, it’s mine,” she said, turning back to the comp.
“I’ll just start packing, then.”
“You do that.”
When he returned a few minutes later, she was done and on her way to her room. She said nothing to him. Even so, he heard the accusation in the silence.
He put it away, sat down in the front room and pulled out his MobiGlas. Time to set my people digging. They made a mistake coming after Vasser, now there’s a chance my people can work backward from that point of contact. If there’s an after for me, it’d be helpful to know who Neustedt sold his soul to.
Angelique can start working Senator Yaldiz’s contacts from that end, see if there’s something the Senate Oversight Committee on Advocacy Affairs might do with the knowledge Neustedt is working with Les Inconnus.
He sent Angelique’s message and started going through the mental list of his other contacts. He typed Zara’s address in. Might come across a thing or two as well, with her ties among the corporate lobbyists. Best tap her as well, since Stroller confirmed the corporate connection Seabrook revealed. She still owes me big for keeping her and her corporate clients out of the newsfeeds on the Holbrook case.
He was sending the last message when Seabrook spoke from behind him: “Still using the old protocols?”
Gates looked over his shoulder at her. From the drawn look to her, she’d been thinking about hard choices and harsher realities. He didn’t feel good about opening that particular door for her. He remembered, too well, having the same thing done to him. They were not pleasant memories.
He realized he’d left her question unanswered for too long. “They work, last I checked?” Gates said, wondering how his answer ended up a question.
Seabrook smiled, “Oh, it works quite well, given enough message traffic to bury it in.”
“Good. Our earlier conversation had me worried.”
“Had I known we weren’t going to be working together, I’d have shown you a few tricks.”
“You may have noticed, being an agent and paid to notice things, but I’m an old man. Learning new things does not come easy for me, or for those trying to teach me.”
Seabrook snorted and reached for his MobiGlas, “You mind?”
He handed it over without showing too much hesitation.
She punched several keys, then handed it back to him. An image of an ID and passcode appeared on the screen. “I set up a blind account for you. Check it in a few days, there’ll be something for your use … call it … call it my contribution to the cause.”