Continued from 15. Two Assassinations.
The story begins with 1. The Director.
Romik and Major Mus burst into Director Ais’s office. The Director looked up from his data pad, clearly annoyed.
“Marrem, I told you…” he started to say. Then he saw the looks on their faces. He placed both hands flat on the desk and tensed. “What happened?”
Major Mus said, “Romik’s team killed the wrong director.”
Romik looked at Mus in consternation. “We shot down the air car you identified, Major.”
“Stop it, both of you.” Director Ais stood. “Major, go find out where Iani really is. Chief, start from the beginning.”
Major Mus nodded once and left the room. Romik briefly explained the plan and its execution.
The Director’s face paled as he listened to Romik’s story. His mouth was a grim line until it was finished. “Thank you, Romik. This changes everything. Iani is onto me—I don’t know how.” He paused. “You have a confirmed kill on Dev Iani?”
“Yes, sir. I arranged for that one myself.”
Director Ais bit his lip. “We need to leave Siben. Right away. It’s no longer safe here. Go find Frenz and any other armsmen you can gather on short notice. Anybody you trust, at least. I’ll meet you in the holding cells in ten minutes.”
Romik was out the door before the words hit home. Anybody you trust, at least. He knew each of the men in the Director’s personal detail well. He trusted them all with his own life and with the Director’s. Could there be a traitor in their midst? He shook his head. He didn’t believe it.
He got on the mic and had everyone on duty check in. Frenz, Aitrilkol, Andadán, Jaker. “We have an imminent security threat,” he told them. “Drop what you’re doing and form up at the Director’s office on the double.”
Then he started calling the off-duty roster. He was able to raise Cojareson, Petrishes, Jen, and Cottack. Same message. They were all in the barracks; they just needed to kit up. They wouldn’t make it in the five minutes they had left, but Romik felt better knowing there would be reinforcements on the way.
The first wave of four armsmen, led by Frenz, met Romik within a minute of him calling. He looked them over with genuine relief. “Good,” he said. “We’re meeting the Director at the holding cells. Eyes open. We have an internal security threat, source unknown.”
The men exchanged grim glances. Nobody wanted to hear that.
Romik grabbed his helmet from behind the Major’s desk and fitted it on. Five faceless Enforcers, terrors of the galaxy, moved out, jogging down the hallway to the holding cells.
Director Ais was waiting there for them outside in the hallway, pacing. Romik posted two men at either end of the hall. “Report anybody coming.” Then he went to the Director.
“First squad reporting, sir. Second squad is getting kitted up. They’ll meet us where we tell them to.”
Director Ais nodded. “Good.” He jerked his head at the door. “Will you get the prisoners ready? I want to make this look like a transfer.”
Romik swallowed. “Sir? Have you been in to see them yet?”
The Director lowered his gaze. Did he actually blush? “No, Romik, I haven’t. They’re going to be… upset.” He raised his eyes. “I don’t know what to say if I go in there.”
Romik smiled bitterly beneath his helmet. They didn’t have time for this. “I’ll handle this for now, sir.” He tried to sound reassuring. “Maybe you can say something once we’re safe in the car.”
The Director looked blank. “The car?”
“I assume we have a car arranged? Has the Major checked in with you?”
He frowned. “No, I thought you were in touch with him.”
Romik shook his head. “No, I haven’t heard anything.”
The Director stood tall. “I’ll try to raise him. Prepare the prisoners for transfer, Chief.”
“Aye sir.” There was the Director he needed. He turned and entered the door into the detention center.
The two guards in full black armor, sans helmets, stood to attention behind the front desk and saluted when Romik entered. “At ease,” he said with a wave of his gauntlet. “I’m transferring two of the prisoners, Mrs. Ais and Mr. Terch. Show me to their cells.”
“Aye, sir.” One of the guards left the desk, took two sets of cuffs, and gestured down a short hallway to the left. “This way, sir.”
It wasn’t really necessary. All the cells were empty save for two. He knew Mrs. Ais well, but he did not recognize her at first, for her skin and hair. When she saw them, she stood up, regal in bearing, and then he recognized her, despite the makeup. An admirable woman, he’d always thought. In the next cell, he immediately saw the family resemblance in Mr. Terch’s face. The man seemed especially tall in the confined space. He stood with a slight hunch to avoid the low ceiling.
Both man and woman positively radiated anger and disgust.
“Stand back,” ordered the guard as he stood in front of Mrs. Ais’s cell. She complied, though with a murderous glance at each of the two Enforcers.
The guard lowered the double shield. “Turn around,” ordered the guard. She complied, and the guard wrapped her wrists in the cuffs with an expert motion.
“Step out,” he ordered. She stepped out, slowly, dignified, and stood beside Romik.
The guard went to Mr. Terch’s cell and glanced over at Romik. “Watch out, this is a lively one.”
Romik saw the ghost of a smile pass over Mrs. Ais’s face. He pulled his stunner off his belt and aimed it at the cell. “Ready,” he said.
“Stand back,” ordered the guard.
Mr. Terch stood there, tall and imposing, staring at the guard, unmoving, sizing him up.
“Stand back, or I’ll go get my whip,” said the guard.
Mr. Terch frowned and stepped back.
Romik grimaced behind his helmet. He hated neural whips. He wouldn’t use them unless directly ordered.
The guard went through the motions with Mr. Terch, who complied with surprising docility. He was probably planning something once they were out in the open.
Once they were both ready, Romik gestured with the stunner. “This way,” he said.
He let them go ahead and stayed out of arm’s reach of Mr. Terch.
The guard went ahead of them all to open the door. The other guard had prepared a rucksack with personal effects which he handed to Romik. Romik slung it over his shoulder.
When Mrs. Ais emerged into the hallway, Romik heard her gasp. “Kolteo! What’s going on?”
Romik followed Mr. Terch out into the hallway. He stopped short when he saw Director Ais. He’d never seen him like this: the man looked helpless under the fuming glare of his wife. He shrugged and smiled sheepishly. “I can’t explain right now. We have to go.”
Mrs. Ais and Mr. Terch exchanged dark looks.
The Director turned without another word and started giving orders. “Right. You two, walk just in front of me. Romik, at my side. Two men up, two men back. We’re going to Perch Seven Twenty-two. Marrem will have an armored car there for us.”
Romik nodded. “Aye sir.” As they started moving, he relayed ahead to the other squad to meet them at Perch Seven Twenty-two.
They walked the halls of Central Command in tense silence. Romik was gaming scenarios in his head. He felt pretty confident that they would leave in safety. Director Ais had always kept a tight grip on the military chain of command. Iani had no in-roads into it. The only muscle he could muster on short notice would be from the gangsters, and they wouldn’t have access to Central, not without Major Mus or Director Ais or himself knowing about it.
He was most worried about the sky car. Once they were outside the shield of Central, they would be vulnerable. He hoped the car would be armored, but he didn’t want to trouble the Director with that right that moment. Surely he and Major Mus had worked everything out.
They arrived at Perch Seven Twenty-two without incident, and the backup squad arrived a moment after. Indeed, there was an armored sky car with plenty of room for two squads plus. Romik breathed a sigh of relief. He opened it up and ushered everyone in, then raised the ramp behind him and went to the front to sit in the empty pilot’s seat. He wasn’t the best pilot in the world, but he could get them to the spaceport.
The Director’s hand on his arm stayed him, though. “Romik, let’s have Julin fly.”
Romik looked at him in surprise, then back at Julin, who also looked surprised.
The Director looked at Mr. Terch and Mrs. Ais. “I couldn’t explain earlier. We have to leave, and quietly. You win after all, Julin. We’re all leaving Siben. After that, you can do what you want.”
Romik watched Mr. Terch’s face and smirked behind his helmet. The man’s expression was quite entertaining.
“Julin, I understand you’re an excellent pilot. I don’t know what’s going to happen once we leave this perch, but I want you behind the controls, just in case.”
Romik shrugged and produced a key from his belt. He held it against Julin’s cuffs. The wraps slackened. Julin didn’t say anything. He got up and tossed the cuffs at Romik, who caught them, then shoved past him. “I haven’t flown this model.”
The Director waved away his concerns. “It’s the same; a little heavier, but more powerful engines. Just follow the normal flight path unless we hit trouble.”
Mrs. Ais caught Romik’s eye. “Romik, is it? Will you unlock mine too?”
“Oh, yes ma’am.” He did so. She rubbed her wrists and inclined her head. “Thank you.”
Romik sat down and buckled in. The sky car rose from its perch and glided smoothly out to merge with traffic. He motioned to the rest of the squad to be on visual lookout. He looked out his own window, scanning for threats. He thought about another sky car, blown out of the sky earlier that day and shuddered involuntarily inside his armor. But nobody would have the command codes, would they? The slight shimmering of the shield outside the window reassured him.
They had gone a few minutes without incident, when Jaker called out from the back, “Armored car at five o’clock, forty degrees up!”
“Coming out of the sun,” growled Romik.
Up front, Julin cursed. “Shields are down!” he shouted. “Brace yourselves! Going evasive!”
Even as he said it, the car lurched and dropped. Romik’s stomach leaped into his throat. How could they’ve had the command codes?
The ground and sky spun crazily past his window. Romik looked away. Mrs. Ais groaned beside him. With effort he grabbed a sick bag from under the seat and handed it to her. She pawed at it, he helped her open it, and then she needed it. He looked away, still holding the bag for her as she clutched at his arm. His own head spun dizzily, but his lunch stayed put.
“I see rockets!” called Jaker. The man must have an iron stomach, Romik wondered.
Julin and the Director were having a tense, clipped argument.
“Fine!” cried Julin. “Crash positions, everybody!”
Romik grabbed the bag from Mrs. Ais and pushed her down. “Head between your legs, protect your neck!” he growled, then took his own advice.
He chanced one look out the window and saw a river far too close and a rocket roaring past.
Continued in: 17. Cold Water
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