Authors: A. E. McCullough
Tags: #Science Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Fiction, #Speculative Fiction
Iaido paused. Athena could be seen behind him,
standing absolutely still in her rigid military stance.
“Athena has discovered that someone has been
using my old cover for the past five years. I’ve never given it any thought or
concern until now. According to her, this upstart Falcon is on the far side of
the Milky Way in Confederate space at the moment. So, if you get in and out
quickly, there shouldn’t be any problems. Of course this also opens up some
options for when you succeed in rescuing your daughter. If everything goes
smoothly, the authorities will be looking for someone else. If Murphy shows up,
then the upstart Falcon will still bleed off some heat from you as you make
Iaido scratched his chin.
“As part of your cover, you’re chasing a mark
which goes by the name of El Gato. He’s an ex-spy turned thief who specializes
in high-end valuables and secrets. Everything we have on him is included in the
dossier. He of course isn’t your priority but if you do catch him, the bounty
of two-hundred and fifty thousand credits is yours. When you get to Titan, go
to a casino named Mocha Delights and see the owner. Give him the data crystal
included with your armor. Just tell him that you’re calling in a favor. He owes
me. Of course, if he asks anything about the past, just be vague and he
shouldn’t know that you aren’t me since he never saw me without the armor.
Which reminds me, it would be best if you never remove your helmet around
anyone; it lends ambiguity to the persona and will help protect your identity.”
Iaido took a deep breath.
“There’s not much
else to say but good hunting. And don’t forget that if you fail to plan, then
you plan to fail. Semper Fi, my friend, Semper Fi.”
As the message ended, DJ shook his head. Once
again Iaido surprised him. He was right, if he wasn’t in such a bind with the
massive task facing him, he would never have accepted these gifts. As it was,
they might be the only way to rescue his daughter and not land back in prison.
Picking up the datapads, DJ began to read through the files. Iaido’s farewell
message was a not too subtle hint cautioning him about not charging in.
He would not, could not fail…not with Kaitlyn’s
welfare on the line. Failure was not an option.
As the United Nations Coalition Fleet transport
docked on Titan, one of the numerous moons of Saturn and the most populated,
two officers in UNCF Fleet formal dress blues stepped off and looked around.
Compared to Starbase Alpha, their last duty station which was in a geo-synchronistic
orbit around Earth, the Saturn Starport looked deserted. It wasn’t really but
compared to Starbase Alpha which boasts approximately three-hundred thousand
people on a daily basis, the ten thousand people which lived and worked on
Titan looked empty.
One of the first things they both noticed was that
everyone they saw, from the maintenance worker cleaning the trash receptacles
nearby to the custom agent which had glanced at their credentials and waved
them through, was armed, just a subtle reminder that they were no longer in
orbit around Earth.
The pretty blonde lieutenant with slight freckles
and a button nose cleared her throat to politely get her commander’s attention.
Commander Alexander Cline looked up from the
datapad he was reading. “Yes lieutenant?”
“Permission to speak freely sir?”
“Of course, what’s on your mind Evans?”
Lt. Virginia Evans tried her best to appear
confident when she asked, “Why am I here?”
As Cmdr. Cline started moving through the
starport, Lt. Evans immediately matched his pace. After a few moments when no
one was nearby, the captain took off his glasses and began cleaning them with a
bright white handkerchief.
“I thought you would’ve read your briefing. Well
no matter, we are here to ascertain why the Dreadnaught program is behind
schedule and over budget. The Horus is scheduled for christening in just over
ten months but projected reports put it at double that and the ‘powers that be’
want to know why.”
Lt. Evans nodded. “I understand all that, sir. I
was asking why am
here? I mean, why did you choose me for this
Cmdr. Cline replaced his glasses and smiled. “Oh.
That is simple. On the night of the assassination attempt you impressed me, not
only with your quick thinking, calm mannerisms and thorough knowledge of
regulations and tactics but you also had the tenacity to put me in my place
when I tried to micro-manage the situation. And to top that off, you did it
with tact. Don’t think I, and others in positions of influence, didn’t notice.”
Lt. Evans looked shocked at the admission. Sure,
she got a rare field promotion that night but she was certain her harsh words
and brusque mannerisms were going to come back and haunt her. Now her commander
was telling her that it actually endeared her to some on the Command Staff. She
forced herself to focus back on the commander as he began talking again.
“Your no-nonsense attitude and knack for getting
to the heart of the problem could prove to be very valuable during this
mission. Besides you have a certain, if I can be so blunt, sweet and innocent
look which hides a backbone of steel. The combination could very well aid this
Subconsciously, Lt. Evans pulled her shoulders
back slightly as she walked. It was a good feeling to be recognized for being
yourself. “I will do my best, sir.”
“I know you will, but if I can continue to be so
bold, I would prefer you to act like the stereotypical blonde anytime we are
around Titan Avionics executives. Be clumsy, flirty, anything but yourself.
Make sure they don’t see you as a threat.”
As they stepped onto a moving sidewalk and stopped
walking Lt. Evans fidgeted with her hair for a moment. “That is a strange
“Be extremely subtle, even to the point of
formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness.
Thereby you can be the director of the opponent's fate.”
Lt. Evans turned and faced her commander. “What
Cmdr. Cline grinned. “It’s a quote from the Art of
War, written sometime in the sixth century by the legendary general Sun Tzu.”
Lt. Evans nodded. “I think I understand, sir. You
want them to underestimate me so they might let something slip that they
otherwise wouldn’t. Good plan.” She absentmindedly toyed with a stray strand of
hair before asking, “When is our meeting with Titan Avionics?”
Cmdr. Cline checked his chronometer and made a
slight adjustment. “We meet the Titian Avionics shuttle in two hours at
ten-hundred hours local time, which gives us just enough time to check in with
the local law enforcement and Coalition command.”
“Aye, aye sir.”
“One more thing, from this moment on always assume
that someone is watching or listening to everything we do or say.”
Lt. Evans shook her head slightly. “This is some
real super spy stuff you have dragged me into…sir.”
“True, but I think you’re up to the task.”
“I won’t let you down, sir.”
* * * * *
As the gangplank slowly lowered until it touched
the deck of the Saturn Starport, SWAT Officer Tim ‘Spike’ Ernspiker studied the
passengers with an experienced eye. Even though he’d spent the last sixteen
hours on the same transport with them and he hadn’t seen anything that might
warrant such scrutiny, he knew this was a prime opportunity for an attack. Only
a zealot bent on pure suicide would’ve attacked the Councilor during the flight
from New Atlanta to Titan. A truly professional assassin would wait until they
touched down and make a blitz attack, hence the heightened vigilance.
Spike hazarded a quick glance over his shoulder at
his partner to find that fellow SWAT Officer William ‘Sponge Bob’ Spurgeon was
standing between the opening doorway and the Councilor, much to her dismay.
Neither of them had asked for this assignment, but when you’re a simple grunt,
you follow orders especially when they came from the President of the
Following the foiled assassination, their whole
team had been put on TAD – Temporary Active Duty – and reassigned to the
Presidential Protection Detail. That was eight months ago. In that time, Spike
and Sponge Bob had become the President’s favorite bodyguards. Spike knew that
the agents of the newly reformed Secret Service were still jealous of the TAD
police officers but when the President speaks, those in the government listen
and here they were.
Councilor Teana Carpenter took a deep breath and
sighed loudly. She wasn’t happy about having to hide behind the pair of SWAT
officers the President had assigned to protect her. After all she was a retired
agent with the FSA – Federal Security Agency. Of course, he had just recently
lost two thirds of his High Council in the assassination attempt and had
heightened security for all his cabinet members. Logically she understood their
role but that didn’t mean she had to like it. Since neither officer moved or
even acknowledged her displeasure, she began to tap her foot as another sign of
After several minutes, Spurgeon grunted his ‘all
clear’ over his sub-vocal microphone and moved to the side.
Councilor Carpenter stepped to the front and gazed
down the gangplank. At the end was her welcoming committee and the beginning of
three long days of politicking.
* * * * *
The Aetós came out of hyperspace when they were
within thirty minutes of landing on Saturn.
Aeolus had explained in transit that all ships
were required to dock and be inspected at the Saturn Galactic Starport on
Titan. From there, shuttles and taxis would transport anyone to the settlements
of Titan or other moons within the Saturnian System.
According to the files uploaded by Iaido and
supplemented by Aeolus and UR-L8, Titan Avionics completely controlled this
region. Technically there was a police force, the Saturn Sheriffs or SS for
short. But when DJ saw the emblem used by the Saturn Sheriffs, a very stylized
double S which looked more like twin lightning bolts than letters, he
immediately thought of the early twentieth century Nazi Germany military
organization which used a similar symbol known as the Schutzstaffel. Loosely
translated from the archaic language of German meant Protection Squadron, they
became the iron fist wielded by Adolph Hitler and his National Socialism party
in the mid-twentieth century. The SS and the Nazis were credited with some of
the greatest atrocities of any war in Terran history, including those committed
by the Unified Islamic Nations during their Jihad against the Coalition in the
last century. Any organization that would take an emblem with such a bloody
history would best be avoided. Unfortunately, DJ knew that with his current
mission he would have to deal with them in one aspect or other.
“Aeolus, what can you tell me about the Saturn
“Accessing. The Saturn Sheriffs is a small
independent police force which was formed just over twenty-five years ago as a
volunteer organization when the crime rate on Titan began to rise after the
influx of settlers. At the time they were known as the Titan Constables.
Twenty-two years ago, they reformed under Galactic Law as a Sheriff
organization and held their first elections. Sheriff Tim Cunningham won the
first election and held the office of Sheriff for five years until his death in
the line of duty.”
DJ did some calculations in his head. That would
put it about seventeen years ago at the height of the war. “Why is his death
Aeolus continued. “This was the first death of a
law enforcement officer in the history of the settlement of Saturn and her
moons. Secondly, his killer was never caught and thirdly, his death created an
opening which was filled by an outsider. The current Sheriff Jeffery Kassinger was
a veteran of the war who had been medically discharged and moved to Titan City
about the same time. When the sheriff position came open, he ran for election
with a very flashy and expensive campaign. He won the election by a narrow
margin. That was the only time in the last seventeen years that he came even
close to losing.”
DJ pulled up the file on Sheriff Jeffery
He had served in Fleet and his last duty station
was the UNCF Arizona which was destroyed by friendly fire during the war. Punching
in a different query, it seems that the retired Admiral Roger Thomas just so
happened to be the commanding officer of the Arizona when it went down.
Coincidence? He doubted it.
“According to records, within two years of
Kassinger’s election the size of the Saturn Sheriffs tripled. Most of the
original sheriffs chose to leave although exact employment records are
unavailable. There are numerous complaints going back ten years concerning use
of force issues. The Galactic Marshals investigated every claim but determined
that the complaints were unfounded and false.”
Considering what DJ knew about the recently
disbanded Galactic Marshals, it seemed more likely that someone got paid off to
make sure that they ruled in favor of the Saturn Sheriffs. Another question
nagged him. “Have they always used the stylized lightning bolt double S for
“Accessing. No, the originally design was a simple
picture of the planet Saturn and its rings with their name above and below. The
current design was adopted ten years ago, shortly after the armistice with the
DJ nodded. Once the war was over and the veterans
began returning home, there would’ve been an influx of settlers and traffic to
the system. According to Iaido, Titan Avionics is ultimately the power behind
the Saturn Sheriffs and since they controlled the local media it would’ve been
easy to slip a uniform and design change past the public, especially something