(c) 2016 Thomas F. Brown, All Rights Reserved.
This material may not be reproduced in any form without the expressed written consent of the author.
In the aftermath of The Light Years War, humanity is struggling to rebuild a civilization smashed by an alien adversary. But now it faces a new and unexpected challenge: an army of religious fanatics hell-bent on completing the job the aliens started. Only one person stands in their way: an old woman with a mysterious past and an agenda of her own.
Kansas City, Missouri
June 10, 2217
Unlike the vast majority of the planet, Kansas City suffered no orbital bombardment at the end of the Light Years War. That’s not to say that the city remained unscathed by that conflict. For each portion of the infrastructure that remained operational (for example, four out of the city’s five fusion reactors still worked), another one, equally important, was unavailable. The biggest of those was the old communications network. About thirty years ago, Congress laid out new rules for that industry that resulted in the top three comm giants moving to Canada. Thanks to the miracle of Quantum Entanglement, they needed no physical presence in the United States to continue business-as-usual. Thus, the move had no real impact on communications, other than those related to taxes and regulation. Phones continued to work, as did the Worldnet. But now, thanks to the destruction of Vancouver and Montreal at the end of the War, the old phones no longer worked, and no one was left in the city who knew how to build new ones — Quantum Entangled ones, at any rate. Oh, radio still worked, and new phones were built using it, but radio was a poor substitute for the technology that had dominated the industry for the last half century.
But that was the story of Post-War Kansas City: some technology worked, but enough remained broken to serve as a constant reminder of the shadow that hung over them all. At least the city’s infrastructure still worked. The machines had sufficient electricity to operate, as well as the manpower needed to keep it that way. Thus, living in the City, it was difficult for the common man to believe anything had changed. It was, therefore, easy to fall back on old habits.
Dominic Saldivar placed his right hand on top of the black podium to summon a Taxi capsule. If he were an ordinary civilian, that’s all he’d have to do. But Saldivar was a Senior Investigatory Agent of the FSA, the Federal Security Agency, the descendant of both the FBI and Homeland Security.
“Priority Routing,” he said aloud, “Authorization: Saldivar-17478-Epsilon.” The response was almost instantaneous as the nearest empty Taxi was diverted to his location. The capsule eased to a stop at the platform, its doors opening directly in front of him.
“Corsair Digital,” he told the capsule as he took a seat. The machine chimed once in response and the doors closed. He was on his way.
Corsair Digital Building
Kansas City, Missouri
Detective Lieutenant Alyssa Fulman, Kansas City Police Department, stood at the Taxi platform in the first subfloor of the Corsair Digital building and waited for Saldivar to arrive. She wished she could have sent an aircar for him. But that was a perk he didn’t approve of except in extreme emergencies. Besides, despite the car pool’s best efforts, cars were in short supply, particularly for anything involving the Feds, and she would have been forced to call-in favors to obtain one. What would have been a natural rivalry at the best of times between the two agencies was worse in times of crisis.
And the kidnapping of the Vice President by a terrorist group definitely qualified as a crisis.
Fulman was a short thin woman with pale freckled skin and dark burgandy hair. She liked trying new things, and an another era would have had a headphone implanted in her skull. With those unavailable, she’d opted for a pair of C-specs. Wrapped around the eyes like a pair of overlarge sunglasses, C-specs were normally transparent, but could be made to display a variety of information from the computer in her pocket. This particular model had been enhanced with phone and sensor-scanning functionality, with the computer equipped with professional forensics software.
Fulman knew Saldivar well and had worked with him before on many occasions. She had, in fact, volunteered for this assignment in the hopes of working with him again.
A four-passenger Taxi emerged from the tunnel and slid to a stop at the platform almost directly in front of her.
Saldivar emerged from the capsule and studied his surroundings with a detailed eye.This was the building’s taxi station, built one floor underground. Behind him was the capsule’s MagLev tracks, while directly in front of him was a wall of “glass” (actually a silica-plastic composite commonly referred to as “plass”) separating the taxi station from the building’s lower lobby.
Saldivar took a single step towards that glass wall, but the police detective took hold of his arm.
“Still locked,” she said. “Come on, we’ll use the main entrance upstairs.”
He turned right and accompanied the woman to the main steps to the surface.
“Bring me up to speed,” he said.
“The body was found first thing this morning by a janitorial crew going to work in a building down the street. Didn’t recognize the Senator, by the way. You’ll see why in a moment.”
“Anyone see who did it?”
“Nope. No one was around at the time.”
“Odd, don’t you think? I mean, even if the victim was still alive when they brought him here and didn’t need to be carried, they’d have to transport one of those big damned crosses. Someone should have noticed something out of the ordinary. A group of men hauling a body and a big damned piece of wood through the city shouldn’t have gone unnoticed!”
“We believe they used a Taxi to bring the cross here. Looks like they folded the thing and brought it in like a great big piece of wood.”
“Would it even fit in a standard capsule?”
“Not the regular four-passenger model, no. Not without removing the seats, along with some interior trim. I have a call in to the Maintenance Yard to see if any of the workers reported a damaged capsule. If so, Forensics will go to work on it, searching for clues.”
“What about an eight-passenger capsule?”
“No, already checked the Operations Log. No eights were routed anywhere near here for the last two days.”
“Their leader’s an ex-soldier,” Saldivar reminded her. “That means he had body modifications, including computer-penetration software. They could have brought an extra-large capsule in here and wiped the Log afterwards.”
“Yeah, I suppose you’re right.”
“But why bother? That’s an awful lot of trouble to go through just to drop a dead body on our doorstep.”
“To make a point, I suppose. A reminder of what’s going to happen to the Vee Pee if we don’t give in to their demands.”
“But they haven’t made any demands yet, have they?”
“No,” Fulman said with a sigh.
They stood side-by-side in front of the building’s main entrance, The plass doors were propped open, and men and women were going in and out. Beyond, in the middle of the lobby, stood one of the Monk’s wooden crosses: a man-sized wooden “X” with a battered and bloody body hanging from it.
“Yeah,” Saldivar muttered, “I can see what you mean. There’s no way you’d recognize the Senator. God, what a mess. Time and cause of death?”
“Shortly after midnight from a crossbow bolt through the heart.”
“Not all they did to him,from the looks of things.”
“No, they really worked him over. Forensics thinks he might have been dead before being shot, but they won’t know for sure ’till they’ve studied the readings.” As she spoke, a man was running a hand-held electronic device over the body and the cross it was attached to.
“When will we know?”
“Tomorrow,” she replied. “Or so they say, anyway.”
“Somehow,” Saldivar opined softly, “I doubt they’ll find anything useful.”
“You never know,” she replied, flashing him a wry smile. “He was put here to make a point, after all, not to keep it a secret. There may be something they want us to know.”
“Misdirection, in other words. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill criminal.” Saldivar approached the doors, studying first the latch mechanism and then the black locking plate mounted on the wall to the right. “Nothing looks broken,” he commented.
“Well, they’d need explosives to get through the plass here, and any tampering with the lock would have fused the mechanism and shut them out. Standard security tech.”
“It was locked?” he asked, turning to look at the detective.
“No it wasn’t, not when we got here, anyway. According to Forensics, the company either left it unlocked — highly unlikely — or the Monks had a ‘key’.” Saldivar could hear the quotation marks in her voice. Puzzled, he gave her a raised eyebrow.
“Corsair Digital went bankrupt in ninety-six. At the time, that lock was keyed to the biometrics of seven men. The last of those men died in oh-three, during the War.”
“So … what? They did a little grave-robbing to get inside?”
“Ah … not really,” she said sarcastically. “All seven men were cremated upon death, just like everyone else.”
“I was kidding, Alyssa,” he told her. She rewarded him with a sly grin.
“So where does that lead us, Dom? I hope you have ideas, because I’m all out.”
“Well, what about the General? Toland? A soldier could have overrode the lock and gotten inside, right?”
“Maybe. I’m having the lock checked for any software tampering, but so far there’s no evidence of any. A soldier might be able to brute-force the lock, but I think that would’ve shown up by now. Besides, he’s their leader. Would he really risk his own butt just to open this one door? I highly doubt it.”
Saldivar found himself staring at the shiny black locking plate beside the door.
“Hmmm,” he muttered, running a finger alongside his lower jaw. “What about a professional? A locksmith could have done it, right? All local locksmiths have to be registered with City Hall. Can’t be too many left on that list these days.”
Fulman touched the earpiece of her glasses, and the lenses darkened. She muttered commands under her breath, and those same lenses became high-resolution computer displays. After a moment, she had an answer — only not the one Saldivar was hoping for.
“Three locksmiths registered and currently active in the city. But I compared each name on the list with our profile of potential Monks. None of the men come near to matching the profile we’re looking for. It’s highly unlikely any of them’re sympathetic to the Monks.”
“What about criminal profiles?”
“Hold on…Nope. None of them match our criminal profiles, either.”
“Dead-end, then,” Saldivar concluded with a shake of the head.
“Hey, wait a sec,” Fulman said, hitting her own forehead with the heel of her right hand. “I’m stupid. Let me …” she muttered more commands to the glasses, her eyes darting back and forth and blinking rapidly as she fine-tuned the search request. “Ah-ha! Got it!”
“Forgot to check close relatives. Turns out one of the locksmiths has been in the hospital for the past month, and his eldest son’s taken over the business while he recouperates. According to his Social postings, he’s a bit of a loner and outcast, which fits the profile of a potential Monk recruit.”
“Good work, Alyssa.”
“Got an address,too! Come on, Dom.” She pulled him eagerly towards the Taxi station. He smiled and allowed himself to be drawn.
Kansas City, Missouri
The suspect lived on the third subfloor, which was surprising given that a locksmith made good money. Only the poor rented so close to the surface. Rich and middle-class preferred living deeper inside the earth.
The elevator doors slid open, and Saldivar and Fulman pulled Neural Jammers from their pockets. Jammers were compact lumps of plastic the size and shape of a worn stone, capable of overloading the nervous system of a human being, rendering them unconscious. Hands wrapped around the weapons like on a gun-handle, thumbs poised on triggers, the two tried to act casual as they strolled down the corridor. They wore casual civilian clothing, and the Jammers were difficult to see, so only attitude stood to betray their true identity and purpose.
But casual wasn’t easy after what they’d seen of the Senator’s condition.
Movement in the corridor ahead almost made them pause, but they forced themselves to maintain the same slow pace. A man had just come out of one of the apartments. He was closing the door when he looked up and saw them. He frowned for a second before his expression changed to panic. He turned and ran, leaving the apartment door slowly swinging open.
“Quentin Perry,” Fulman shouted, bringing the Jammer up. “KCPD. Stop, you’re under arrest.” Perry kept running, so the police woman thumbed the trigger.
“Too far away,” Saldivar said when the man didn’t fall down. “Come on!”
They ran down the corridor after him. At the end of the corridor, he dove into the stairwell and continued running.
“What the hell?” Fulman said, looking first up towards the surface, then down into the depths of the earth. “He’s going down, not up! Why isn’t he going up?”
“Let’s ask him!” Saldivar was already running down the steps. The woman quickly followed him.
“This is stupid!” she complained. “There’s nowhere for him to go!”
“Do a search,” Saldivar told her. “Maybe there’s a Taxi tunnel or storm sewer close by. He may have an escape route planned.”
Fulman had to slow a little to use the glasses.
“Neither one,” she said at last.
“So where the hell is this bastard going?” he asked.
“Give it up, Perry,” she shouted down the staircase. “There’s no escape!”
Saldivar was catching up with the man. He came around a turn and found himself staring the man straight in the eye. Perry reached into a pocket and pulled out a small silver box with a large red button on it. He grinned.
“Oh, crap!” Saldivar said to himself. Whirling about, he raced back up the stairs.
“What …?” Fulman asked.
“Back! He’s got a bomb! He’s going to …”
Quentin Perry pressed the button, and from somewhere close came a massive “thud”, as if a giant had stomped an angry foot. Then the sound of crumbling masonry assaulted the ears, like an avalanche approaching. Finally came the tug of air, a gentle breeze at first, but quickly growing into a fierce hurricane. The fugitive was pulled violently into the hole that suddenly appeared in the wall behind him.
“Oh my God!” Fulman cried out as she frantically reached for the handrail. “Not a Taxi tunnel or storm sewer!”
“Tubeway!” Saldivar yelled over the howling wind as he maintained his own deathgrip on the handrail. “The dumb son of a bitch breached a Tubeway tunnel!”
To be continued …