(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
Tubeway tunnels are huge, allowing enough space for four passenger capsules, two along the top and two the bottom. That space, along with the fact that the tunnels have to be kept in a total vacuum, mean its walls are thick and heavily reinforced, thus resistant to most hazards.
Most; not all.
The explosion that ripped a hole in that wall opened a passage that grew with each passing second as air rushed into the tunnel. Police Detective Fulman struggled to maintain her grip on the stairwell railing, afraid that at any moment it would tear free from the wall and toss her into the deadly whirlwind. That wind was now pulling her body horizontal, allowing her legs to reach the metal handrail. While there wasn’t enough clearance to wrap her legs around the rail, she did manage to curl her ankles around it and awkwardly clasp the metal between her knees.
She thought of using her C-spec glasses to call for help, but her voice would never be heard over the howl of the wind. Her partner, Saldivar, was even less likely to call for help, given that he used one of those old-fashioned hand-held phones. He could hardly pull it from his pocket under the circumstances.
“Hang on,” Saldivar yelled over to her. He was in a similar position on the other side of the stairwell. She thought of a sarcastic response, but knew it’d be a waste of breath.
“Bulkheads!” he added.
She looked over at him and shook her head: she didn’t understand.
“Bulkheads, dammit!” he repeated.
Oh! This time she got it. The Tubeway was equipped with large slabs of metal, designed to drop into place the moment a breach was detected, sealing off the damaged section of tunnel from the rest. All she had to do was hold on a little longer!
Easier said than done, however!
Her hands were getting tired; her legs starting to cramp. Abruptly, her grip loosened and she found herself sliding down the railing. Tempted to cry out in fear and panic, she managed to keep quiet only by biting her lower lip. She was dead; she knew it! Then her right foot struck a railing support and she came to a jarring halt. Wrapping her arms around the railing, she drew in a deep shaky breath, thankful to be alive.
Even if the bulkheads dropped immediately, she knew the wind wouldn’t stop right away. So large was the tunnel behind her that it would be many minutes before the hurricane died down.
In the meantime, all she could do was close her eyes and hold on as best she could.
Echo-Cen: (ECoCen) The Executive Command Center
AKA “The KC White House”
Kansas City, Missouri
June 11, 2217
“This is senseless,” Detective Fulman whispered in her partner’s ear. Dominic Saldivar, for his part, shook his head slightly and gave the woman a dirty look.
“Not here, Alyssa,” he whispered back. In fact, he couldn’t agree more with her assessment. They had work to do, a lot of very important work tracking down the people who did this. But the President insisted … no, demanded … they update him personally. It was after midnight — Fulman wasn’t sure of the exact time. Not only was she tired and hungry, she still wore the dust and dirt from the explosion. No injuries, thank goodness, but she desperately wanted to follow the new leads stemming from that explosion!
A half-hour’s sleep wouldn’t be out of the question, either, she thought to herself.
President Holden entered the briefing room, his pace brisk and his face angry.
“Let’s get to it,” he snapped, taking his seat at the head of the table, “so you people can get back to work. Tell me: what the hell happened out there, and why.”
There were no empty seats at the table, and Holden glared at each person in turn. When he saw Fulman, his eyebrows went up a little, but he didn’t comment on her presence. He focused his attention on Saldivar.
“Well?” Holden probed.
“Suicide bomber,” Saldivar explained. “He was clearly expecting to be arrested. He ran when he saw us.”
“How the hell did he manage to break through a Tubeway tunnel, though? I thought that was impossible.”
“Ah, yes, sir,” a man sitting across the table from Saldivar interjected. “We’re still sifting through the evidence, you understand, but it’s clear this was planned a long time ago.”
“Really? When? How? Talk to me, Dorfield.”
Isaac Dorfield worked for the Federal Security Agency as an explosives and demolition expert. He cleared his throat, and gave the glossy black tabletop several quick taps. Three photographs and one rotating three-dee diagram appeared in front of each participant.
“It appears that the ground behind the stairwell had been excavated between the building and the Tubway tunnel wall. Military-grade plastic explosive was placed in a star pattern along the tunnel wall. With no dirt or rock to get in the way, once the tunnel wall was breached it began drawing all the air out of the building until the Tubeway’s emergency sensors triggered the bulkheads.”
“I thought the Tubeway was shut down,” the President asked.
“Yes, sir, it is,” came a voice from farther down the table. “But the bulkheads are pretty much automatic. Gravity’s enough to drop them into place.
“That still doesn’t tell me how this happened,” Holden complained.
“This was set up a long time ago,” Saldivar explained. “We had no way to know about it until the explosives went off.”
“How long ago?” the President insisted, getting angry. Saldivar looked over at Fulman and shrugged his apology. She took a deep breath.
“Brandenberg Apartments remained abandoned throughout the War,” she replied. “Finally, in late oh-seven, the city began a major city-wide reconstruction project in preparation for the Federal Government setting up shop here. On December 12th, 2207, City Hall records show Punja Maintenance Company obtained a license to rennovate Brandenberg. They started work on December 14th. Work was completed on February 2nd, 2208. Unfortunately, Punja filed for chapter seven bankruptcy three days later and now neither the owners nor management are anywhere to be found. ”
“Was this … Quentin Perry … how the Monks gained access to the Corsair building?”
“It appears so, Mr. President. Perry’s father was contracted by Corsair Digital to handle maintenance on the building’s physical security — locks and access codes and such.”
“What about the father, then? Why isn’t he your main suspect?”
“Sir, he’s been in an Autodoc for the past week, injured in an unspecified accident. We’re still looking into it. There’s no evidence of foul play — not yet — but I have my suspicions. No such thing as coincidence in my book. We’re also interviewing Perry Senior’s friends and associates, hoping one of them can give us a lead.”
“In the meantime,” Saldivar interrupted, “I ran a database search for anything matching Punja’s modis operandi. Unfortunately, that’s taking longer than expected, given the available equipment. We could use more computer power, sir.”
“Resources of any kind are in short supply and high demand these days,” Holden replied. “Do you think the search will help locate the Vice President?”
“Sir,” Saldivar spoke slowly, thoughtfully. “I’m not sure how to answer that. We won’t know how useful it’ll be until we’ve actually done it. But right now, the leads are pretty scarce. I’m not fond of leaving any option on the table…sir.”
“Well, neither am I, Mr. Saldivar. Neither am I. You’ll have whatever you need.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
“Just get it done. Find the Vice President and nail these bastards to the wall, you got me?”
“Yes, sir. Got it.”
The meeting went on for another hour as the President grilled each person at the table about the impact — direct or indirect — of the explosion. While the local police were tasked with keeping the peace (would people panic? would anyone start looting the apartment building?), it was the job of the various federal agencies to deal with matters of public safety (Would that section of the tunnel collapse completely? How safe was the apartment building? Would people need to evacuate?) and security. As Fulman sat listening to it all, it quickly became clear that the situation was well in hand and none of them really needed to be here. But in the end, the rising anger and frustration that threatened to overwelm her good sense had one positive effect: it kept her awake. She could only imagine the consequences if she fell asleep here, in front of this particular President.
Honestly, it didn’t bear thinking about!
Kansas City, Missouri
Fulman and Saldivar emerged from the Echo-Cen and stood for a moment drinking in the cool night air. After a moment, Saldivar pulled his phone from its shoulder-pocket and checked on the progress of his database search. Fulman, hoping for a bit of conversation, sighed, and pulled the C-spec glasses from her jacket pocket. Donning them, she touched the right earpiece and began giving commands in a barely-audible voice. The two stood like that for many minutes, each absorbed in their own virtual world.
“The President wasn’t kidding,” Saldivar said to no one in particular. “This is much faster than before!”
Fulman ignored him, her eyes frantically scanning lines of text and blinking occasionally to follow hypertext links.
“Hello!” she said at last, touching the left eyepiece to pause the display.
“Something?” he asked.
“Jackpot, I think,” she replied, smiling. “I accessed Quentin Perry’s banking records and obtained a list of his recent purchases, filtering for bars and restaurants. Look, this is a young guy, right? I figure he goes out drinking with his buddies. So then I correlated his purchases over the last three months with any made in those same establishments at the same time by males of about the same age with similar Social Media profiles. The computer came up with a list of three names.”
“Good job — we can question them.”
“It gets better,” Fulman said with a smirk. “It seems they all get together at the same bar twice a week. Plus, the bar’s nowhere near where any of them live or work.”
“So … why there?” Saldivar said, his eyes narrowing. “What’s in the neighborhood that’s so interesting?”
“My thoughts exactly. Let’s go find out, shall we?”
“Alyssa, we’d better call for backup first. There’s no way of knowing what we’ll be running into.”
She thought about that for a moment before shaking her head. “No,” she said. “I don’t think so.”
“What if it’s….”
“Dom, remember what happened at Camp Sandy Hill — half the soldiers died from ‘friendly fire’. You know what that means: some of our own soldiers were working for the Monks. How do we know the KCPD isn’t similarly compromised?”
“Going in alone might be suicide. Have you thought of that?”
Fulman considered their options. “Alright,” she replied. “How does this sound: I’ll put everything we know in a data packet and send it to the precinct via Suspend Mail. I’ll set it to deliver the packet in an hour if it doesn’t hear from me. That way, I can still cancel if we don’t need any help.”
“Make it a half hour and you’re on.”
“Done,” she said, touching the left earpiece of her glasses. “Hang on, this will only take me a minute ….”
1500 Block of Garrett Street
Kansas City, Missouri
The two emerged warily from the Taxi station, Neural Jammers clutched in nervous hands. Both knew the risks they were taking in this investigation. Unlike the police of an earlier era, lethal weapons were forbidden. Against ordinary criminals, Jammers were more than sufficient. But against Monks armed with swords and crossbows they were useless.
Fulman climbed the last few steps to street level and looked around. At this hour of night the neighborhood was deserted, but that only made her more nervous.
“Over there,” she said pointing to a building with a faded “Bob’s Beef and Beer” over the front door.
“‘Beef’?” Saldivar said, frowning. “Really?”
“Yeah, I know,” she replied. “Not exactly the kind of neighborhood you’d expect to find real meat.” The street around them was littered with trash while the trees and shrubbery planted in the center median were dying of neglect. “Real” food was far too expensive for the people likely to be living here.
“I’ll check out the bar,” she told him, talking fast to avoid an argument.
“We both should,” he said.
“Nope. I’ll get the boys to buy me drinks and I’ll pump ’em for information. You need to figure out what’s so interesting about this neighborhood.”
“Might be nothing,” he pointed out. “Maybe they just like the food.”
“I’m hoping the Monks have a safehouse or headquarters or something around here.”
“I still think we need to go in there together,” he said, nodding his head in the direction of the bar.
“But if we do that, it’ll look like I’m with a boyfriend of something and no one’s gonna buy me a drink or try to pick me up. We won’t learn nearly as much. Relax, Dom. I know what I’m doing. I’ll just be another woman out on the town.”
“And if they get fresh? Or worse?”
“Easy,” she held up the compact Neural Jammer. “I’ll just Jam ’em into submission!”
Saldivar didn’t like it, but knew how stubborn his partner could be sometimes. He watched her approach the bar with trepidation and decided on his own course of action.
Fulman paused with her right hand on the knob of the bar’s front door. Reaching up with her left hand, she activated the C-specs and muttered several short commands, activating low-light enhancement and record-mode. She was as ready as she would ever be — she was still nervous, no matter what she told her partner. Turning the knob, she entered the bar.
The first thing she noticed was the silence. Her expert eye spotted the sonic emitters mounted along the ceiling, each of which serving to bury the ambient noise of glasses and conversation.
“So much for evesdropping,” she thought to herself.
She saw two of the three men on her suspect list, and started making her way through the crowd (and the place was very crowded, even at this late hour) towards them. So focused was she on her target that at first she failed to notice the others around her.
A man standing with his back to her turned suddenly, and she found herself face-to-face with her own precinct Captain. She realized then that the men he’d been talking to were also familiar: cops from her own precinct.
But her precinct was on the other side of town!
“What do we have here?” the Captain greeted her in a friendly voice that was anything but. She moved to retreat, but a stranger blocked her path. A combat knife suddenly appeared at her throat.
“She’s a cop,” the Captain explained to the stranger. “One of my detectives. Right now, she’s working with the Feds to locate the Vice President.”
“Well, then,” the knife began to press harder against her throat.
“Stop,” a voice called from the back of the room. The crowd parted, allowing Brother Gabriel, now dressed in jeans and tee-shirt, to pass. “Don’t kill her,” Brother Gabriel said, coming to a halt directly in front of her. The knife lowered a little from Fulman’s throat. “Not just yet, anyway.” He gave Fulman a courtious nod. “Nice job tracking this place down,” he told her. “Tell you what. It’d be a shame to waste such good detective work.” He raised his voice to address the others in the bar. “She needs to be rewarded. Have another cross prepared. We have a guest.”
To be continued …