SALVAGE OF EMPIRE

15. Two Assassinations

Continued from .
The story begins with 1. The Director.

Dev Iani had blonde hair, blue eyes, and a round face, but nobody would dare say he was fat. He was young and handsome, and he counted on it. It was still early in the day, but not too early in his mind to be at the club with a beautiful woman on each arm and a coterie of admirers hanging on his every word. Dev liked to be generous with his father’s—the high and mighty Director’s—money, and they all loved him for it.

He considered himself an artist, sculpting his inner circle’s mood to suit his fancy. Right now he was happy and content, so he doled out encouraging words and the occasional drink. But not too much. Not yet. He would let them get roaring drunk later when the evening came and the party really got started. For now, just a pleasant buzz.

If he was in a bad mood, he would rile them up, get them sniping at each other (never at him), give the angry drunks just a snifter too much. Then he’d take the crew out and go wreck something: smash up a shop, beat up a vagrant, that sort of thing. There was nothing like a measure of violence to add some spice to the monotony of life.

Tonight though, he felt good. Expansive, even. He told them jokes, had them howling with laughter after a series of them he was particularly proud of, when whats-his-name, the security guy, bent over and muttered in his ear.

“What’s that?” he bellowed. “I didn’t hear you. Speak up!”

The security guy muttered a little louder in his ear. With everybody laughing, he really couldn’t hear the guy very well, and his breath tickled his ear. It was kind of annoying. “What’s the matter? Got no lungs?” He pawed at the guy’s ear. “I can’t hear you.”

The guy grimaced, but did not flinch. It was tough getting a rise out of these guys. “Sir,” the guy said, “please take your hand away from my ear. I need you to come with me, sir.”

Dev guffawed and gaped at his friends. “You hear that? He needs me to come with him!”

They all erupted in laughter.

The security guy closed his eyes, then stood up to his full height and looked at Dev again, saying in a loud, clear voice, “Sir, we’ve been made aware of a credible security threat, and we’d like to move you somewhere safer.” He looked significantly around the room, then back at Dev.

Dev rolled his eyes. “Is it those Nakaman goons again? I paid them last week.”

The security guy shrugged. “I’ve taken the liberty of arranging for a private room, sir. I’ll escort you there while Even maintains a watch out here. Once you’re safe, your friends here can join you again after we’ve screened them.”

Dev tried to play it as a joke: “Did you hear that? Which one of you is after me?” The laughter seemed forced though, and several of them looked worried. He was annoyed now. They’d been comfortable here, and the atmosphere was just right. A masterpiece, ruined. This was going to put him in a bad mood.

The security guy just stood there. The other one had joined, standing off to one side, looking vigilant. Even, he guessed.

Dev rolled his eyes and stood up. “Whatever. Let’s go.” He looked around at his friends. “I’ll see you jokers later. I’ll buy a round for anybody who’s not out to kill me!” They all laughed, but again it sounded forced. He frowned, but gave special attention to the two women who had been sitting with him, favoring each with a quick caress on the chin. “I’ll definitely see you two later.”

Then he followed the security guy out of the common room while his friends sat under the watchful eye of Even. None of them ever saw Dev alive again.


“That’s the one,” buzzed Major Mus’s voice in Romik’s ear.

A targeting reticule imposed itself over an air car just departing from Central Command, descending to join traffic.

“Perfect timing,” responded Romik. “Kloordi just reported in, he and Even are in place with the son.”

He blew out air, and transmitted the “Go” code to Kloordi. No going back now. Dev Iani would be dead within the minute, and Romik would see to Director Iani.

He nodded to the pilot. “Let’s get this over with.”

They descended from above, out of the glare of the sun. When they were within comfortable weapons range, Romik transmitted the command code to the other air car. “Shields are down. Fire!”

Two rockets sped away. “Two away,” confirmed the pilot.

The other air car dipped in the beginning of evasive action, but the rockets easily found their homes in the undercarriage. Two explosions rocked the car. Without repulsors, it dropped like a stone, tumbling, down, down, out of sight to the street below. A trail of smoke marked its path. Regular sky car traffic continued unabated, as if nothing had happened.

“That’s why you don’t trouble Director Ais,” muttered Romik.

Mus chuckled in his ear. “Copy that.”

Right. The mission. “Bring us down,” he told the pilot. “Let’s see if there’s anything left.”

They descended in a spiral as the higher smoke dispersed in the wind. Below, a fire burned in the wreckage, billowing black smoke. Down past the tops of the buildings. Down to the street level and a gentle landing. “Clear,” said the pilot.

“Squad one, give me a perimeter. Squad two, confirm kill count.”

The rear door lowered into a ramp, and the two squads shuffled out, with Romik at the rear.

The first squad formed a loose ring around the crash site and knelt, facing outward. Once the black armor came into view, passers-by in the street went about their business, giving the whole scene a wide berth. Few dared to even look, except in nervous, furtive glances.

Romik and his men looked to the wreckage.

The air car had smashed like an egg on the pavement of the street. Mus had told them to expect Director Iani and two armsmen. There was a chance, though slim, that any of them might have survived the crash. An even slimmer chance that any of them might be in a fighting mood, but Romik’s squad of four proceeded carefully all the same. They split into two fire teams, each proceeding down one side of the former sky car: one man kicking the wreckage, one man a pace back, covering with his rifle.

In a few minutes, they had found three, and to Romik’s satisfaction, only three bodies. No survivors. They were too smashed up for positive identification. “Bring me samples,” buzzed Mus’s voice.


After dropping the samples off with Major Mus, Romik weakly took a seat in one of the nearby common rooms. It had been a long time since he’d gotten the shakes after combat. This was different, though. The enormity of what he’d just done was just beginning to settle on him.

Part of it was killing fellow armsmen. He didn’t like that. He figured one of the slabs had to have been Garsi. He’d never gotten to know him, and now he never would. It was different from when he’d had comrades killed at his side. It was almost like friendly fire, but not. It was something worse. Fratricide.

A lump formed in his throat.

He swallowed and chuckled softly to himself. “Just like a rookie.”

But no, rookies went into shock because they were poor country boys from backwater planets who’d never dreamed of hurting anybody before they’d been conscripted. He was a veteran. He was a chief armsman. There was more to it than grief over the killing.

Was this what it was like to think strategically? Because right now, he could dimly see the impending consequences of what he had just done.

They frightened him.

Once, as a boy back on Churtune, he had found a wasp’s nest and started poking it with a stick. Closing his eyes, he could still hear the angry buzzing, could still see the wasps pouring out with murder in their hearts. He’d run harder than ever in his life then and sought refuge in the creek. He’d only been stung ten times.

What kind of wasp’s nest had he just disturbed?

“Chief?”

He looked up to see Major Mus. The man looked pale.

“In my office.” The Major turned and strode quickly away.

Romik stood and hurried after him. When he had shut the door, Mus looked at him, white-faced, and handed him a data pad.

On the pad were three dossiers, Director Belaw and two armsmen.

Romik looked at Mus. “What is this?”

Mus swallowed. “That wasn’t Director Iani in the car. You got the wrong Director.”

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