Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Where it all started... Episode 6

Episode 6 - back to Micah, who is about to meet the Chorazin - fairly nasty Interpol set up to deal with international terrorism - agents Vince and Louise, one of whom is not what they seem.

And yes, Micah still lives with his mother! The opening paints a personal perspective on what people are feeling about the chance to leave Earth, until Micah sees something on the News, and the Chorazin arrive...

Episode 6

Micah lounged on the sofa, catching up on the news with his portly mother, her brightly-dyed chestnut hair making up for a lack-lustre floral dress. An overdose of facial powder gave her a striking appearance – "she who shall not be ignored" – as he’d joked to his school-friends when younger. He sipped the soy-beer she’d poured him after they’d had another disagreement. It had started as usual about his not having a girlfriend, at his age…
"There’s that lovely girl, Antonia. You used to talk about her all the time."
"Don’t start, Mom."
She humphed. "You’ll find a nice girl on Eden one day."
He tried to change tack. "How do you feel about going there? You could maybe find…"
Her scowl choked off his words. "Don’t you worry about me, I had quite enough of that for one lifetime, thank you very much." She kept her back to her husband’s military portrait. "Besides, I’m not going."
He stared at her, as if he hadn’t really looked at her in a long time. "But, I assumed –"  
"You know what your father always said about that word."
He sighed. Assume makes an ass out of you and me.
"Besides, this Lucy Beer rocket –"
"Alcubierre Drive"
"– isn’t for the likes of me. It’s – what do they call it – payload limited? Why would they carry my old carcass that distance?"
She had a knack of getting the words wrong but understanding the essentials nonetheless. Much as he hated his life, he hadn’t thought of leaving her behind. His gaze swept around their magnolia sitting room, cluttered with memorabilia of his father, the Great War hero, who’d been a complete bastard to his wife. And now she wouldn’t leave his ashes behind. "Anyway," he said, "it’ll be a long time before they start transporting people."
She wagged a finger. "Long after I’m dead and buried, that’s for sure."  
That was below the belt, on two counts – he didn’t want to think about her dying, and she was right that it would take a very long time. The new drive couldn’t break light speed unless its payload stayed below a narrow limit, so no mass transport until someone figured it out; or else stasis for a hundred years…
He clicked on the late hour news summary. Beef had hit 300 dollars a kilo, not that he could remember the last time he’d tasted real beef. There’d been a rumour of a sub gone missing near Guam, and another fire tornado in New Missouri, flattening the shanty town that had just been getting on its feet. Micah swigged a gulp of his beer, brooding.
"One step forwards, three back," he muttered.
"I don’t know why they bother!" his mother piped. "These fringe towns get nowhere. They should have built underground like we did here, before the War. The desert lands are too hot now –"
He lip-synched the words as she uttered them for the umpteenth time.
"– baked like a cake. It’ll be centuries before anyone can live there again."
He reckoned they didn’t have centuries. His mind sieved through the statistics, lies, and propaganda: half a century at most, probably less. But he didn’t say it. At least she wouldn’t be around to see how much worse it was going to get.
"Things always look clearer with hindsight, Mom. We were lucky. The pre-War aerial attacks and the rising temperatures pushed the Cave Bill through. This place was almost ready to move into when War hit." He looked out the window of their subterranean two-bed flat across the cavernous Kaymar Precinct: forty other blocks thirty storeys deep, glistening bubble-bridges cross-crossing at every fifth level. Biofuel copters dodged in and out of the towers, the day-time sun-globes replaced by neon advertising strips.
He couldn’t see into any of the other apartments. All windows became opaque whenever anyone wanted it that way, which was always. We were lucky, he reminded himself. Only twenty nukes hit the US during the War, low-yield thanks to the Pact of ‘36. Pretty awful, of course, maybe irrecoverable. But it could have – no, should have – been much, much worse, according to all the tit-for-tat predictions.
The vid they’d caught earlier had interviewed some of the surviving "fire-breakers", a handful of soldiers and generals of different nations who couldn’t bring themselves to detonate the nukes when instructed to do so. Most had been executed for treason in the final days of the War, but the few who survived were later hailed as heroes. It was one of the few episodes of recent history which stopped his cynicism plummeting into freefall.
He tried to lift the mood. "If the fringers can survive a year, the grass might stick, and we can start to reclaim the land. God knows we need the space."  
"No, no, no!" his mother countered "Rushing too soon, that’s what drove us to this –" she waved a mottled hand at the window, "– in the first place. Life got too fast. No one had any time, everyone running around, losing touch with each other and nature."
He rolled his eyes.
"Yes, my boy, nature. Your forefathers didn’t care about the environment. It was always about the quick buck, and the quick –"
"Mom!" He couldn’t abide it when she feigned to be coarse. Or maybe it was the fact that she’d had more sex in her day than he was having now. But she was in full flood.
"Good, hard-working people rebelled. I don’t side with them, of course," she glanced at the portrait of Micah’s father in battle dress, "but they did have a point. Humanity had lost direction. It’s not surprising these funnies –"
"Yes, well, whatever, it’s not surprising they took up arms. It was a wake-up call. And we damned well needed one!" She folded her arms in an unassailable conclusion.
He sagged. To say anything now would only invite another tirade. He focused on the vid, and with a jolt he realised the reporter was speaking about the Eden Mission. His mother’s sour face suddenly beamed.
"Oh, Micah! Look! Do you think we’ll see you this time? Why are you never on the vids, when you do such important work?"
And why do I still live with my mother if I do such important work? He tuned in to what the newscaster was saying.
"... A break-in at Eden Mission Control earlier tonight. We have little information but members of the Chorazin have been in and out of the building for the past two hours. No further news at this stage. The Gov-pod says that there is no impact on the Eden time-scale."
Break-in? He wondered if it could be connected in some way, but it seemed far-fetched. He switched off the vid.
"What did you do that for? What does it mean anyway, you were there only a few hours ago, weren’t you? Did you see anything?"
He turned away so she couldn’t see his face. She was a lot shrewder than she let on. He headed for the kitchenette and opened the fridge. He ignored the Molsen lites; he needed to clear his head – maybe an ultresso. He barely heard her come up behind him.
            "What is it?" she said quietly. "You’re not in any trouble, are you?" He turned to face her, saw the concern in her eyes. Truth was, he was tired, and the argument had worn him down even further.        
"I honestly don’t know, Mom." He was about to say he’d done nothing wrong, quite the opposite, when the door buzzer made him start. They both froze. She gazed up at him, and he saw how frail she was, like worn china. He knew she was wishing his father was there. He sure as hell wasn’t.
            "Don’t answer." she whispered.
He shushed her, and headed for the door. Before he reached it, it opened. Two figures entered: a man and a woman, wearing the instantly recognisable silver-grey Chorazin uniforms, the regulation jackets cut off at the waist, lightweight and bullet-proof, a small red eagle insignia on the left breast. The man, late thirties, athletic and bald, carried a small brown sack in his hand. They didn’t appear armed, but Micah knew better.
            The man strode to the centre of the lounge, immediately taking control of the apartment, and its occupants. He looked Micah over, then held out his hand. Micah shook it warily. It felt like rock.
            "My name is Vincent. You can call me Vince. This is my associate Louise."
Micah glanced in her direction, and then his eyes lingered – a hawkish blonde, hair lashed back in a tight bun. She moved around the room with the grace of a gymnast. She held a small scanning device, though he guessed she relied on her senses far more. She met his gaze briefly. His eyes dodged back to Vince.  
"You are Micah Sanderson, employee of the Eden Mission, working in Telemetry?"
He found Vince’s ice-blue eyes disconcerting, like staring into the vertiginous blues of an ice-field.
            "Er, yes." Then as an afterthought, "And this is my mother." He turned to see his mother standing in the kitchenette doorway. Her face was stone. He’d not seen that expression since his father’s funeral, when an old admiral had made a muffled, snide remark about her dead husband. With alarm he noted she was clutching the bread knife.
            "May I sit, please? It’s been a long day," Vince said.
Micah appreciated that he didn’t sit down straightaway, but actually waited for permission, so he nodded. Micah and his mother perched on the sofa, Vince on a hard-backed chair facing them, placing the small sack carefully on the floor between his feet. Louise walked over to the window, apparently uninterested in their conversation. Micah’s vision was drawn to her perfect ass in stretch pants. She glanced over her shoulder, alert, elfin eyes catching his look. Her gaze struck him like ice on his neck, but there was openness, too, daring him. The sort of woman his mother would tell him to avoid. Louise raised an eyebrow. He cleared his throat and turned back to Vince.
            "Er, Mom?" he said, prying the bread knife from her fingers, laying it to rest on the coffee table. Vince seemed about to say something then paused. "Is that a battle commander top you’re wearing? Looks like the original nannite-protective model."
Micah had forgotten he often wore it now in the evenings when the windows were open, the massive turbo-fans blasting a chill breeze around the stalagmite-like tower blocks. It pleased his Mom, and he had to admit it was comfortable. It had been his father’s in the War. He never quite knew why he liked to wear it – somehow it was to spite his father, who when alive had never as much as let Micah touch it.
"You know what it’s worth, I suppose? Probably more than this apartment."
Micah nodded and caught his Mom’s approving eye. He glanced at his father’s stern face in his military portrait on the wall.
            "Family heirloom. Non-functional of course. Otherwise I’d have it registered with the Nannite Oversight Commission." And you’d know about it already.
            Vince nodded. "Have you seen the vids tonight Micah? May I call you Micah?"   
Did anyone ever say "No" to such a question? Vince seemed like someone you could talk to, but shouldn’t. He didn’t like being on familiar terms with the Chorazin. "Yes, we just switched off. What happened? The reporters didn’t seem to know anything."
            Vince rested his finger-tips on the table as he leaned forward. "We were rather hoping you might be able to help us there."
            "Well, no idea really," he answered hesitantly. "I left several hours ago."
            Vince nodded." At 18:45, to be precise. Working late? You are, of course, aware of the anti-overtime laws? I believe the Eden Mission isn’t exempt."
The beer had definitely been a bad idea. He wished he’d had time to fix an ultresso. But Kane had wanted to keep "it" quiet. He took a breath. "Things are pretty busy now, with less than a week till Ulysses reaches Eden. I’ll take time off later. That’s allowed." He sat back, trying to remember how to look relaxed.
            "Nothing out of the ordinary?" Vince said.
There had been no cameras in Kane’s office. "No, nothing really." He caught his mother’s curious eyes on him. Shit, even she can see I’m lying!
            Louise’s voice cut in, deeper than he’d been expecting. "So you normally have after-hours meetings with Mr. Kane, the Eden Mission Project Manager?" She looked him up and down. "Seems unlikely."
            Micah bridled. "I did drop in to give a status report. Nothing unusual."
            She cocked her head and considered him for a few seconds, then returned to the other side of the room. With some difficulty he stopped eye-tracking her.
"And then?" Vince said.
Micah felt like he was a ball in a tennis match – with hard hitters.    "Then I came home. That’s all."
            "And he’s been here with me ever since!"
Thanks Mom, that’s all I need to make me look guilty. "What’s this all about anyway? Why are you here? What do you want from me?"
            Vince said calmly, "We want to know who killed Mr. Kane at nine pm this evening, and why."
            Micah’s mouth dropped open. "What?" He tried to replay in his head what Vince had just said. He heard his mother gasp. She began wringing her hands, looking to the portrait. He tried to regain control. "Killed? But how? I was there earlier, and he was…"
            "Alive?" Louise offered.
            "What? Yes." Then it really hit him. Kane was dead. He’d just been talking with him a few hours ago. He walked unsteadily to the window, turning to face them all.
            "Wait a minute! You don’t think I..." He flushed. "I – I’ve been back here for ages. I mean, how did he die anyway?"
            Vince placed the tip of an index finger on his sternum. "Stiletto. Professional. And, lucky for you, we know you didn’t do it, for two very good reasons. First, the crime scene investigator pinned the death down at 9:02, and yes, you were here by then. The tram and bubble-cams show that. Difficult to fool so many of them."
            Micah needed time to think. But his head fuzzed up, and these Chorazin kept throwing him off-beam. "Second reason?"
            Vince opened the sack he had brought in with him and pulled out an object the size of a grapefruit, made of gleaming metal. There were a few wires visible and some kind of timing device. One of the wires had been cut.
            "Oh my!" his Mom exclaimed. Micah stared at it, his mouth reluctant to verbalise what his eyes recognised.
            "Exactly, Mrs Sanderson," Vince said. "You’re lucky we found it. We always inspect premises before entering for an interro –" he paused, "– before an interview. Happily, my associate is very thorough. She found it in the heating duct outside your apartment. It was set to go off –" he held up his wristcom "–  around about now." He tossed it back into the bag. "It would have taken out three whole floors. Alicians are also known for being thorough, though excessive is a more appropriate word."
            Micah felt dizzy. He leant against the window frame. "Is it true, Vince, what they say about the Chorazin? Shoot first, question later, take no prisoners, takes a criminal to catch a terrorist. Etcetera."
            Louise answered. "That’s what the recruitment brochure says. That’s why I joined."
            Vince rapped the table twice with a finger-knuckle. "Micah, assuming you did not kill Mr Kane, we nevertheless have an interest in what you were discussing with him."
            Micah suddenly remembered. "Sandy!"
"Excuse me?" Vince said.
            "Sandy, his personal assistant. What about her?"
            "Files show she left shortly after you did. Why?"
            "She was still there when I left, didn’t look like she was leaving. In fact Kane asked her to stay late." His breathing was rapid. He was trying to think. Could she have killed him? Surely not, but then… He remembered how defensive she’d been, not allowing him to disturb Kane. Was that to get him out of the way? But she didn’t seem capable of killing, and the rumours were that they were lovers.
            "You’re sure about this?" Vince asked.
Micah nodded. Louise walked to the kitchenette, activated a sub-dermal earpiece, and began talking in coded Chorazin language. The only intelligible word Micah heard was Sandy. Vince got up in one fluid motion. "We need to know what happened between you and Kane. What did you discuss?"
            Micah’s mind felt like an out-of-synch vid channel. He ran through the data he had: Kane had been killed two hours after their meeting. Kane’s office was well-known for its anti-surveillance technology. No one else knew what they had discussed. That meant only one thing. Someone Kane had contacted – and trusted – had killed him.
            Vince’s voice took on a harsher tone. "Talk to me, Micah!"
            Micah needed air. He turned and opened the window, trying to decide what to say, trying to think faster than the speed at which Vince’s patience was failing. The cacophony of urban nightlife flooded in, but it actually helped. He focused. Once I tell, then it’s out, it’ll be on their internal net. Kane would have called people he trusted, Eden security. Some of those had to be Chorazin; the Eden Mission was too big to escape Chorazin surveillance from the inside. And if a Chorazin had killed him, then that person by now would have had me killed, and would have stalled Vince. Vince doesn’t seem to know anything yet. So – I should be able to trust him.
Vince raised his voice. "Micah, close the window and sit down. Trust me, you’ve nowhere else to go, and I’d rather not send you to interrogation. But if you don’t talk right now, I will arrest you as a suspected accomplice."
Micah turned to see his mother get to her feet.
"No, you mustn’t – he’s a good boy!" Her face was white marble, ready to crack.
In that instant Micah decided to tell Vince everything. But as he took a breath, he heard the shrill whine of a copter. Everything slowed down. Louise sprang towards him, arms outstretched, aiming to push him out of the way, but not in time. He felt the projectile hit him sledgehammer-hard in the back, knocking him off his feet, sending him crashing through the glass coffee table. As he sank into blackness, the last sound he heard was his mother screaming.

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