Previously: Of Hosts and Hostages
Themesong: The Garden of Allah by Don Henley
The Robotic Terraformers left Earth-That-Was in 2072 and began terraforming in 2220… that put the 34 Tauri system somewhere within 100 light years or so of Sol. In the real world, 34 Tauri was Uranus, making the system’s name literally an asspull. Of course, none of that was mentioned in the show itself, which kept the system astrography incredibly vague, referring to the Verse as “a new Galaxy” though the supplemental material had shown the Verse to be a quintuple star system of impossible stellar configuration, complete with 4 main sequence stars orbiting a single central star (also main sequence) which was in no way massive enough to cause such an effect. Not only that, but the system had 7 artificial protostars, 6 gas giants, three asteroid belts, 75 terrestrial planets, and 149 moons… almost all of the later two groups having been rendered habitable by the previously mentioned Robotic Terraformers.
The tech level wasn’t actually that bad. Serenity itself might be pretty low tech as far as STL spaceships went, but these people had had the technology to not only terraform over a hundred planets and moons, but also helioform brown dwarfs into those protostars I mentioned. That was no mean feat, let me tell you. They had gravity generators and anti-gravity floating cities, and ready and cheap space travel. They even had nanotech to a degree, though it was mostly used in terra and helioforming far from living humans. Shame the society wasn’t nearly as advanced as their technology.
It was probably a good thing I didn’t have my full range of powers and abilities, or I’d have gone to war within moments of arriving in this cesspit. The Verse is a strange mixture of incredibly oppressive, bordering on totalitarian, at one end and near savage hillfolk at the other. And that’s not counting the bloody Reavers. The civilization was a fucking mess, and the only real saving grace of the whole shebang was… um… no… I couldn’t even say that. Sure, the vast majority of the people of the Verse were living relatively comfortable and safe lives, but the Alliance Military were jackbooted thugs, the Alliance Government did unspeakable experiments on their own citizens, and the Independent Worlds who’d been forced to kneel before the Alliance in the Unification War were, by the standards of a space-age culture, barbarous, rife with crime and ignorance and, in many cases, murderous psychos.
Entire moons were owned by single individuals where the indentured servants lived lives barely more free than abject slavery. Psychopathic criminals had their own space stations out in the Rim. and much of the system was barely more advanced than the wild west, at least sociologically, though of course they had machines often more advanced than 21st century technology could make. It was a vastly stratified culture, running in bands outward from Core to Rim and beyond.
Oh yes, the system was divided into 3 concentric regions. The Rim was home to the stars Kalidasa (called Xuan Wu by the chinese population of the Verse) and Blue Sun (aka Qing Long). That’s where Miranda is, the most distant planet in the entire Verse. In from there is the Border, dominated by the stars Georgia (Huang Long), which is the largest of the four satellite systems and where the Independent Planets was founded, and Red Sun (Zhu Que), the coldest of the 5 stars of the Verse. Georgia sits in the L3 spot in Red Sun’s orbital path around White Sun. And speaking of White Sun, The Core, the most densely populated region was where White Sun (Bai Hu) held sway, and where both the Anglo Capital world of Londinium and the Sino Capital world of Sihnon were located. It’s there that the story of Firefly begins, on Persephone, the outermost planet of the Core, in the town of Eavesdown Docks.
It was also there that the door to my safehouse led. Meetra and I stepped out onto the busy street, me in my big farm girl form from my very first jump, Meetra in a smaller, more subtle form, reflecting her training and military service. Her lightsaber had, grudgingly, been replaced with a pair of collapsible stun batons and a brace of pistols. I was, discretely, packing even more heat. Behind us rolled a self-motivated luggage unit. I also had enough cash on me to buy Serenity, not that I planned to… ships weren’t cheap, but raw materials I had in huge quantities and platinum was platinum and the local coinage wasn’t exactly hard to forge with the tech I had inside the warehouse. It had taken three different attempts to get money that I could actually get out the door with, of course, but that was simply a matter of dumbing down techniques until I found one primitive to pass the embargo but sophisticated enough to pass any potential scrutiny by tradesmen or Alliance Officials.
It had taken every ounce of my self control to keep from screaming at the crippling lack of elements I’d come to count on every bit as much as breathing… and more since my true form no longer actually did that. Even with Vulcan control and Calm & Steady I’d spent a good fifteen minutes hyperventilating as my psychic powers were stripped from me, my Astral Layers collapsing into an uneasy gestalt, my extra sensory abilities silenced, my soulsword stilled, my magic ripped away, my superhuman strength, agility, speed, toughness, and intellect all dimmed. I felt… helpless, powerless… it was horrifying. I understood in that moment what Alyria and Q had felt like. It was torture. I should have taken a background with its own identity.
I’d only managed to get out the door by dint of popping several mood stabilizers and knew that both pharmacology and meditation were in my immediate future. My hands were still shaking and more than one of my companions had looked similarly shaken, if not to the same degree. They at least would have several weeks to adjust as they spent the time shopping for ships. Meetra and I, on the other hand, had a specific ship to catch.
Walking through the Eavesdown streets, I listened to the swirl of languages, watching the movement of the paupers and businessmen, traders and tongs, priests and prostitutes. It was something out of another age, and the chinese spoken was just as subtly twanged as the english. The scents of the alien and the familiar, both tantalizing and appalling wafted past and I began to relax, just a little. The Verse wasn’t terrifying to these people… it was home. If they could survive a lifetime here, I could as well. I might be reduced, but I was still the single most dangerous entity in the Verse. I would not quiver like a child in the dark… though I might need another soother or two in a few hours time. At least long enough for me to let things play out as they should… up to a point.
We managed to arrive just in time to see the case containing River Tam being loaded aboard. Kaylee was on the ramp with Simon and Mal, Zoe, and Jayne were walking up. I waited until Dobson had come aboard and Mal was asking Kaylee “This all we got?” before I stepped forward. “Actually, captain… if it’s not too late, I’d like to book passage, if it’s not too great a trouble, for me and my… escort.” I nodded at Meetra.
“No trouble if you’ve the coin. You headed to Boros?”
“And parts beyond. We’re something of sightseers, collectors of items rare and valuable.” I smiled, “Plus, the Guild speaks well of you… at least some in the Guild do.”
“Companion, yes. Of House Ludus. Now, please, I’m afraid I did not get much sleep last night. May we book passage? We can pay in platinum. Is 500 enough?”
Malcolm Reynolds nearly choked at that, but recovered quickly, stepping aside and motioning for us to come aboard. I’d suspected he would. At this point, he was all but broke and 500 was about as much as he’d managed to get for an entire herd of black-market cattle in a later episode. Meetra nodded to the man as I strode aboard, following Kaylee as she showed us to our cabins.
The Firefly Class (extended model) had 9 passenger cabins, each potentially able to have 2 passengers. Of those 9, 3 were larger, double-sized berths. Simon got one of those, Meetra and I the other two. Book and Dobson got two of the smaller cabins. There were also 5 crew cabins in the hall leading from the dining area to the bridge, but only four of those were in use. Mal, Kaylee, and Jayne each had their own, while Zoe and Wash, as a married couple, shared one. It was a cozy, if slightly austere existence, but after 11 years looking at the same warehouse walls, it was a welcome change.
Once we were alone, I turned to Meetra, “You understand what’s to happen?”
“Yes, you’re going to knock yourself out and I’m to watch what happens and make sure nothing goes wrong up to the point where Simon has patched up Kaylee and River has been released from stasis. Then wake you by administering the anti-agent… but I don’t understand.”
“Normally, I’d be assured of my emotional control enough not to interfere… but I’m not right now and I’d rather not take the chance. I’m fond of Kaylee and I’d jump to help her… but if I do that, Simon doesn’t have leverage to get Mal to run from the Alliance. Without that leverage, Mal turns Simon over, Simon and River don’t join the crew and end up dead somewhere… or worse.”
“I can’t reveal all the secrets and just hope. It’s not likely to work, will stir up questions, and I lack the power to just make everyone go along. No, I think this is the best choice. If I interfere just a little at the beginning I can get things off to the normal setup and just… wedge my way into the story in a couple of little ways. Just, don’t interfere yourself. Maybe meditate a while.” I settled in on the not exactly comfortable bunk and laid myself out. “Wake me up, before you go-go,” I muttered, then fell into the waiting arms of drug induced sleep. The nightmares were as bad as promised, but I’d dealt with worse over the ages. Dreams where I’m the survivor of some horror aren’t nearly as bad as dreams where I am the horror and there aren’t survivors.
“Wake up. It’s done.” Meetra, or Millicent Smith as she was in this world, said as she shook me gently. “They’re having a meeting in the galley.”
I nodded, stretching, my bosom stretching the tight top quite alarmingly. I’d forgotten how… big this form was. With everyone distracted, I stepped into the luggage area and rifled Dobson’s bag, pulling out his com unit and his spare guns and stashing them in the Warehouse. I got up stairs just as Simon was describing how he’d paid some criminals to smuggle River to Persephone.
“Milly says we’re as runnin’ from Feds and heading for Whitefall instead of Boros?” I asked, looming over the slender doctor. Mal looked cross, “Something like that. Our engineer got herself shot on account of the law man what followed our good doctor here.”
“Old Lady Patience runs Whitefall… you planning on doing business with her?”
“Milly said you said you were transporting medicine for the Alliance out to Whitefall, but you don’t have any Alliance crates in the hold… none that I saw, anyway. And Patience don’t much care for the Alliance… any more than you and Zoe do, I reckon, so I assume it’s something shady. If it is, Patience’ll be plannin’ to bushwhack you. You’ll need back up.”
“Got back up.” He nodded to Zoe and Jayne.
I smirked “That little boy’s your back up? That’s cute.” Jayne glowered at me, I winked back. He blushed. Like I said, cute.
“You just stay on the boat and we’ll be fine.”
“I wasn’t volunteering myself, Captain. Milly can go if she wants. She likes stretchin’ her legs, but it’s up to you. Oh. I don’t know if your engineer mentioned it, but it sounds like you need a new compression coil.” I turned and left, chuckling slightly, heading down to check on Kaylee. A second opinion from a trained physician couldn’t hurt, even if I couldn’t use most of my Federation Med Tech.
Things went, as they do, and Dobson escaped his bonds and attacked Shepherd Book when the man came to help him. He didn’t get a chance to hurt anyone else as my right cross addled his brain something fierce when he came for River. He was holding a knife from the galley.
“Aww, would you look at that, I think he’s tired,” I commented to the younger Tam. “Never go with strangers, child.” I looked over to Kaylee, “Feeling better?” She tried to shrug
“Better than being dead.”
“Good. call the bridge and bridge and tell them what happened, would yah?” I picked up the lawman, tossing him over one shoulder. “Come on Dobby, you’re going walkabout.”
As Wash announced the inbound Reavers, I hoisted Dobson out of the ship, dumping him in a depression about 20 yards from the ship, then went to see to Book. “Reaver’s incoming, Lawman’s safely off the ship, though I think my fist hurt him a bit more than whatever he hit you with. He’s alive… though he’ll be sore come morning.”
“You’re very strange, for a Companion.” he muttered, a bit dazed.
“I get that a lot. Not all of us are orchids. Some of us are roses… thorns and all. But we are who we choose to be, not what our past has shaped us to be. It is the power of free will, by the most holy.”
“You’re a woman of faith?”
“At times. I was raised Jewish.”
“Your parents didn’t object to your line of work?”
“They didn’t have much of a say in the matter, though I can’t imagine they’d have too much issue, Core society being what it is. You have an objection?”
“Can’t say as it’s my place to object.”
“Doesn’t stop most folk, in my experience. But enough about me, how’s your head? Anything get shaken loose?”
“Nothing that won’t settle back into place shortly.”
“Good. Now strap in. I fear things are about to get rough… actually, would you mind helping me get Kaylee to the engine room?”
“Kaylee? But she’s injured.”
“Aye… but if the Reavers catch us, she’ll be more than, and if I’m any read on our Captain, he’ll want her there. I’ll handle the fine details… but I don’t know this ship like she does. Spare set of hands won’t come amiss at that.” I tapped my ear “Milly? How far out are they?”
Book looked at me askance “The Reavers?”
“No. She’s watching for the Captain and company. They’re ridin’ hell-bent for leather, be here in 30 seconds.”
Together we got Kaylee up and out of her sickbed, and I yelled up to Wash “15 seconds to lift. Hope you’re as good a flyer as advertized!” as we carried her into engineering.
Of course, we escaped. I was going to have to build some deployable weapon drones to deal with Reavers. Couldn’t outfit Serenity with cannons, but maybe some smart mines or concealed defensive auto-gatlings, if I could find the space. Might toughen the hull a bit if I could synthesize something workable. But first thing was getting the engine up and running properly. No Out of Gas for us, please. My team should be buying and stripping at least two fireflies for parts as soon as they found them, and once I had working parts, I could fab more without too much trouble.
And so, in the time between the Whitefall incident and the train job, I split my time between talking medicine with Simon, flying with Wash, guns with Jayne, intimacy with Inara, faith with Book, technology with Kaylee, and working my remaining psychological wiles on River and Mal, the two most in need of serious fucking therapy. With Mal, suspicious sort that he is, I had to be circumspect, never tipping my hand that I was trying to… curb, shall we say… his less appealing attitudes, the ones that made him such an asshole to those he carried about most, the ones that kept everyone at arm’s length. He was suffering from survivor’s guilt and a deep insecurity about his place in the universe, an insecurity he covered to a large degree by trying to maintain a facade of always being in charge… and being an insensitive jerk.
If I was circumspect with Mal, I was five times as cagey with River. She didn’t seem to know what to make of me, since she could no more read me than anyone else could, and because I didn’t treat her as if she was at all abnormal. Often I would bring out a game and invite her to play, games that she’d never seen before, ones where the rules were inscrutable and vague, and designed to be incredibly taxing… I started with go and worked upward into games that were to go as go was to chess. Any time River’s behaviour cause her to upset the board, I’d simply retrieve the pieces and set them back exactly where they’d been before.
I let the Train Job go as it had. Mal needed the reminder that his actions had consequences, though I had no intention of allowing Nisca to torture Mal and Wash… but that was for later. I did, however, interfere with the Bushwhacked incident. I followed the crew onto the ship and disabled first the survivor and then the boobytrap. The first went into the medbay inside the warehouse and then into a stasis pod; therapy would have to wait until I had spare time. The second I made a show of discovering and asking the Captain for permission to remove it.
Could have let Mal keep the salvaged goods… but I really figured my criminal team could use them more, so I arranged to swap out the contents of those cases with marginally convincing knockoffs, making it seem as if the doomed colonists had been sold counterfeit goods by some Alliance vendor siphoning goods to the blackmarket. It wasn’t hard. I just opened a portal to the warehouse, then opened it back up once the twins had swapped the real seeds and nutrients for the fakes.
Then it was back to Persephone for some resupply and so Mal could get roped into one of Badger’s schemes and half-ass defending Inara’s reputation. Oh, and so I could smack Mal upside the head when he acted like a jerk to Kaylee over the dress she liked so much. Then I went shopping and checked the Cortex for messages from my minions. So far they hadn’t found much. I dumped the useless crap I’d picked up at our various ports of call into either the Warehouse if they were interesting or into the hands of locals who could use them if not. Then I loaded up on various useful things at market… ship parts, better food, and little presents for the crew, things I knew they’d appreciate… though I neglected to indicate they were from me, going so far as to get presents for myself and Milly (Meetra) just to be mysterious.
Wash got a couple more toy dinosaurs (A pterodactyl and an ankylosaurus… yes, I know, strictly speaking a pterodactyl isn’t a dinosaur… shut up.). Inara got a small book of Chinese Buddhist poetry. Zoe got new boots. Mal got a hat… Indiana Jones style. Jayne got a twoshot-derringer and a wrist holster to go with it. Kaylee got some lacy underthings… and a new compression coil… with a note that said “To get your engine going… and his… though not necessarily in that order.” River got a juggling set of beanbags (“Center the body and the Mind will Follow”), Book a copy of the writings of Thomas Aquinas (“faith is perfected more by charity than by hope”), and Simon a reading jacket (“Make yourself to home. You are among friends.”)
Milly got a lamp, an old looking one that could be hung from a long pole or from the ceiling, “To Light Your Way”. I got scented oils… a gift I could share with others.
After that, I had a client to see to, one who would be at the same party Inara & Atherton would be at. I just had to see the fun for myself, and honestly, being a Companion is fascinating work and it would be a shame to waste the training. And watching Mal lay out Atherton was just too enjoyable. I’d replay that memory more than once in the years to come.
I’d pondered long and hard helping get Mal more trained up, what with the swordfight coming at dawn and all, but decided to leave such things to Inara. Instead, I merely arranged to be at the duel come sun-up, warning the medbay to be on standby… just in case. One never knew with such events how closely they’d match up once the butterflies were unleashed. It wasn’t needed, as it turns out, but the fight was much closer for some reason. Maybe my talking to him had softened Mal’s resolve, or maybe he was just extra angry. He did stab Atherton a bit harder than I remember him doing so.
I’m not certain if I took more pleasure in spoiling Saffron’s little play acting or shooting the Hands of Blue in the head when they came to collect River at the medical center, though I was certain doing the later would push certain people to move up their time table, but I was counting on that to a certain extent. The Operative moving earlier would, hopefully mean that the entire crew were still together when he did, so hopefully I could better protect them from the Miranda fallout. I definitely took greatest pleasure in giving a certain madam some better protection from laser fire than a dress, which in turn forced Inara to actually confront her feelings as she now had a living rival for Mal’s affections.
When Niska’s men came for Mal & Wash… Milly made then regret their life choices… a little bit later, I made Niska regret his… though at that point things went spectacularly off the rails as one by one, Mal’s contacts began turning up dead… starting with Badger. At that point I knew The Operative was moving.
As sad as it is, I actually wanted things to play out pretty much as they had before, with one or two changes. My reasons might seem inscrutable… but largely they boiled down to wanting the Alliance to pay the price to clean up as many Reavers as possible… as that was the largest collection of those psychos and they’d taken enormous losses in that battle. As had the Alliance, admittedly. But it was a vital event… one I made absolutely certain was recorded for posterity with more than a thousand camera drones recording the furrball in all it’s horror.
My only major concessions to what had to happen was to try and save Book (by changing the timeline so he was on the ship, not planetside), Mr Universe (by guaranteeing that the Stealth Squad were there to protect him), and… of course… Wash… which I did by the expedient of having improved Serenity’s maneuverability and durability considerably, and doubling the thickness and quadrupling the tensile strength of the bridge’s windscreen. Leaf on the Wind… and for all that… I failed.
Book got cut down by a thrown Reaver hatchet, the blade sinking into his spine as I was dealing with a dozen others. By the time I got free of the scrum, it was too late even for my medbay. Wash had managed to survive, barely, but the crash had still cost him his left eye and his left arm at the shoulder. I cursed Mensarius for crippling me and myself for not being more clever.
Still, the Signal went out, this time accompanied by footage of the Reaver Squadron crashing against the Alliance Fleet in all its horror. It was a wake up call that the people the Alliance claimed to represent needed badly. Safe little lives in the Core, thinking they knew what was best for all those on the rim. Tyranny, plain and simple, no matter the intentions. And now everyone had seen the threat the Reavers posed… and knew who was responsible. The plot of the series had played out… and now the real mystery could begin. And that Mystery is exactly what brought me to Londinium, 1 year and 51 days into my stay in the Verse.
The Operative was a man of contradictions. Honorable and Ruthless, Dedicated and Driven and Absolutely convinced of his own unworthiness. After the events on Mr Universe’s world, he’d drifted back into anonymity and I hadn’t expected to see him again after using his face as a place to vent my frustration via the application of knuckles at high speed. So it came as a bit of a shock when Caine relayed a message to me from the man himself.
“Londinium. Six Companions Slain in Six Weeks, Sealed Rooms all. All with unknown bladed weapon, no evidence of intruder entering or exiting. Tell the Ludus Madame that the Game’s Afoot.” I was impressed. Somehow he’d figure out I was more than I seemed… and that I’d be interesting in figuring out who was doing this horrible thing.
I grimaced, though it was one of mixed emotion. On one hand, the murder of the innocent should not be a cause for celebration… on the other, this was an intriguing case, if it could baffle the science and surveillance state present upon the Anglo-Sphere’s capital. Unfortunately, Serenity wasn’t going in system for the obvious reasons, and linking up with any of my other ships wasn’t practical, so I sent out a rendezvous signal for the spook squad and caught the first transport coreward I could find. By the time I got there, it was 8 Companions in 8 Weeks… plus a kid who happened to be peeping (apparently) at #7 and a client at #8. This was escalation, a serial killer ramping up as they gained confidence.
I’ve no idea what strings The Operative had pulled, but all 10 bodies were waiting in a high security morgue when I arrived. “Standard autopsies have been done,” he handed over a datapad with all the documents. “Murder weapon is, in all cases, a blade approximately 5 inches long, single edged, though blade width seems to be variable… even between cuts on the same victim.”
“There are things you’re not mentioning… I assume you’re testing me.” I flipped through the pictures and whistled softly. “But here’s a question for you… why did you decide to call me? How did you know I’d be interested, and how did you determine that I’d be qualified to do so?”
“One operative recognizes another.”
“Pull the other one.”
“Fine.” He handed over another datapad, thus proving he’d known I was going to ask. It contained only a single 15 second video, one taken from the office of Adelia Niska. Apparently I’d missed a surveillance bug planted on him by someone else. It showed me killing Niska’s guards in so short a time that the first had barely hit the ground before the last was dead. “Every strike was precise. No wasted motion. The House of Ludus acts to protect the other Companion Houses… through any means needed.”
“That information isn’t well known.” I said with a chuckle. Indeed, since I’d invented the House of Ludus, Companions who specialized in games of the mind and skill, rather than be of Inara’s House Madrasa, which was clearly spiritual in leaning, I was doubly impressed that we had a reputation outside of my head. It always amused me how the background details I dreamed up for myself were integrated into the fabric of the setting, where possible… and if I decided those details before I went in and they were in keeping with the general themes… Though it did raise interesting ontological questions. Was I deciding on details and introducing them into the local reality matrix… or was I being given subconscious options to choose from of things that already existed but had simply never been shown in the media? Which came first, the chicken or the idea of the egg? “But I prefer to say through any means warranted.”
“This blade took out a chunk of bone… here… here… here… how clean were the cuts?”
“On bone? Interesting. The killer lacks precision, or has a great deal of rage… or both. These marks on the flesh… they look like frostbite.”
“That’s what the report said.”
“So this blade is variable in width, very close to monomolecular, and cryogenically cold.” I considered. “It’s getting thinner with each thrust… and probably shorter, but that’s hard to judge, since it can’t be assumed each thrust is the same length. Show me the scenes of the crimes?”
For the next six hours, we toured the sealed off rooms, the security officers melting away like mist whenever we approached. Each room had had to be accessed via security overrides and all cases there was no evidence of tampering, all the surveillance showed no one entering or leaving, and there wasn’t any hint of physical evidence, besides the damage done to both people and physical objects that had been slashes or smashed.
The first scene, the most recent, I searched with everything in my bag of tricks (at least everything that was permitted under the current ruleset), even going so far as to request access to the rooms on all sides of the crime scene. That took the longest. With each successive room my searches got shorter and shorter.
Finally, I stood in the first room and looked around, already knowing what I’d find. “The murderer entered there.” I pointed at a security pick up disguised as part of a light fixture.
“I… that’s not possible. It’s a camera… and a non-functional one.” he said, looking at it.
“It’s not. It’s short lived hologram generator… a solid light generator. It’ll burn out in about 3 minutes. Check the power pull from each building right around the time of the murders. You’ll find a spike in energy draw. A fairly large spike I’d think.”
“That… technology does not exist.”
“I think someone’s existed it. The question is how. And who.”
“And how we stop them.”
“And how we stop the Alliance from using it against its enemies.”
“I can’t comment on that.”
“Murder from a distance.” I shuddered slightly, then began disassembling the lighting fixture, removing the embedded camera/projector. It was good work… but it wasn’t the kind of thing that could casually have been slipped into the fixture in a couple of seconds of inattention. No, this would have taken… “We need to check the maintenance records for each of the buildings… going back at least… three months. And check the records for any other deaths that had similar wound signature. A mugging, or something else fairly public.”
There had been, in fact, a knifing, apparently at random, 11 weeks previously, a Companion Apprentice had been killed outside of a bank after making a not insubstantial withdrawal. We checked her financials and the sum was… uncharacteristic of her standing and background, though it did seem she’d had the money to remove, as her accounts had contained several times the amount.
“I have to check the registry.” I told The Operative. “But could you get me a list of everyone who works at that bank, especially everyone in that day… and anyone who works above…” I looked up at the bank building “the third floor.”
I found what I was looking for almost immediately once I had the two lists side by side. There were three people connected with the Bank that were on the Client Registry. One was a director with an excellent standing, one was a teller with a minor black mark… a warning but not a ban, and the third was the Bank’s security chief… who had a full lifetime ban with the Guild. No companion would contract with him.
I checked deeper on one Temple Weiss, DEE. His wife had divorced him a year previously, citing emotional and physical abuse, taking with her their three children… but the court hadn’t awarded her the compensation she’d demanded due to a lack of evidence. A familiar name came up in the case notes, an au pair that had gone on to become a Companion Apprentice and then the victim of violent crime, had been originally listed as a witness against Mr. Weiss, but who’d claimed she had no knowledge of any improprieties under oath.
It was motive, especially if she was blackmailing him, and records showed that Mr. Weiss’s nephew was a commercial electrician… who’d been in each of the buildings where the murders had been within the months prior to the crimes on repair jobs, though not ones connected to the victims. Still, a review of surveillance records showed that, in at least 3 cases (the other buildings didn’t keep their data that far back), he’d apparently gone to the victim’s apartments under some pretense after making the repairs he’d been contracted to make. “He’s probably saying that there’s been some kind of systemic problem in the building and he just wants to check to make sure it’s not a problem here too.” I commented to The Operative.
“Makes sense. But why do all this?”
“Anger. Blackmail… a sense of power.”
We confronted Temple’s Nephew Bill Withey about the case and he folded almost at once, admitting that his Uncle had covered some serious outstanding gambling debts in exchange for installing surveillance equipment in 21 different apartments, though what connected the apartments he had no idea. A check of the owners showed that not only was each in the hands of a Companion, but that each had, or had had at one point, an account at the bank that Weiss worked at.
Once The Operative and I were alone again, I asked “If I give you my word that there won’t be more victims and there won’t be any evidence of foul play, will you let me handle this?”
“I’m astounded Mr Weiss isn’t already somewhere he can’t hurt anyone ever again.”
“Oh… he is. It was a rhetorical question.”
“You’re very scary, Mistress.”
“You’ve caught me on a bad day. Normally I make very scary seem like a walk in the park. Now, if you’ll excuse me?” I stepped around the corner and vanished between one step and the next, sliding into the Warehouse as the entrance apertured opened and shut like a camera lense. Temple Weiss didn’t look very good… I guess Joy hadn’t been gentle in getting him here.
“Full confession,” Ahab growled. “He had recordings of the killings as well.”
Caine held up a strange dagger, made, apparently, out of crystallized light. “Also had this in a box in his desk.”
I took it, questioningly, then blinked as I realized that, as I was holding it, I could see out of 13 cameras. I focused briefly and found myself standing in an empty room, facing a low bed and nicely decorated. A woman moved in another room, greeting someone. I looked at the dagger in my hand, then slashed it through a stick of incense burning in a pot of sand. The stick parted like a breeze and I whistled softly, then stopped focusing, finding myself back in the Warehouse.
“That… is quite a trick.”
“He says it only works with the lenses that form under the pommel. Apparently a new lense is made every week. He’s no idea how.”
“I think this qualifies as “Something unlike anything in the Verse”. What do you think?”
“That’s your call, SJ.”
“It’s Senit. We’re still in the jump.”
“Senit then. If you think we should take it to the hole, I’ll back you.”
I considered, then nodded. “Dump that sack of shit into the composter.” I grabbed my flying carpet and rose to the roof, keying in the sequence to open the blast door. “Hey, asshole! Found your key!”
An eye the size the Enterprise-A’s deflector dish blinked open, looking at me. Mensarius’s voice chuckled “Very good. I knew you could do it.”
“Release the Banker!”
“Oh, I shall. I shall. Just as soon as you find the rest of the Key.”
“Oh, yes… sorry… Didn’t I tell you? It’s been broken into 5 parts.”
Next: Holmesworld Bound