Turncoats — Part III

ESO

The building was a skeletal frame, the remains of some development project commissioned in better times. Like many of its kind, the high-rise was meant to provide new opportunities for Ptolemaeus’ more neglected districts. Now, it was a hulking grey mass that towered above a landscape covered in 3-D fabs and shanties.

Yet another casualty of all that terrorist business, thought Capra. As illustrations went, it was a little heavy and unnecessary. He didn’t need another reminder that there was always fallout for every decision made by those who exercised power away from public eyes.

He stepped into the front foyer and was immediately hit by the sounds and smells of the interior. Sans completion, the construction project had been reclaimed by the local urban population — vagrants looking for shelter and people looking to hide from sight. In other words, the perfect place for a clandestine meeting.

Here and there, a diode cluster extended from the walls and provided minimal light, like plants drawing off the building’s internal energy. Capra ordered his ocular implants to compensate, which gave him a clear view and thermal signatures on half a dozen residents. Most were huddled in small groups around portable cookers and tandoors. But there were those standing or lying low, all by themselves.

A quick scan in millimeter-wave revealed that there were weapons. Nothing too significant, but at least two of the people he saw carried impact weapons that could only be described as military-grade hand-me-downs.

Definitely Resistance, he thought, or at least in their employ. Cavat had protection here, it seemed. He would need to be mindful of that.

He found Cavat at last on the second floor, in a room tucked into the corner of the building. Capra could not avoid picking up a tail. His clothes stunk of affluence and privilege. But such was Mr. Styro’s profile, a man living a comfortable life as a defense contractor until his conscience finally broke him.

Such a man would never think to wander into his current surroundings in anything other than his usual choice of attire.

Capra reached an open doorway and saw Cavat sitting at an improvised table consisting of a crate and a bunch of fold-out seats between them. On the table was a small handheld he read from, a baccarat that looked to be filled with tea, and there was a rauch burning on the rim of its tray. He was wearing a pair of drab coveralls and a dark set of glasses and slowly looked up at Capra. Capra took that as an invitation to approach.

“Mr. Cavat?” he said, as fearfully as he could.

“Mr. Styros,” Cavat replied, using Capra’s assumed name. “I thought I told you to call me Charlie. Terran forces have ears everywhere.”

Capra nodded. Yes, of course. So the Resistance was using the old phonetic alphabet to designate their people. C for Charlie, C for Cavat. For Capra’s purposes, C may as well have meant Contact. The man was nothing more than that to him, a go-between for finding other people.

“And I shall be…?” he asked.

“Nothing,” Cavat replied sternly. “You won’t have a name until you’re safe and away.”

“Oh, of course.”

So far, so good, Capra thought. He was playing the role of the hapless defector quite well and even enjoying himself a little. The slight tremble in his voice, the nervous shaking in his hands, the way he treated Cavat’s every statement as if it were so final. Who knew that conspiring to commit treason could be so much fun? It was like a game of make-believe, only with live ammunition.

“So… you understand what I’m offering? You’re superiors will — “

“Not my business!” Cavat interrupted. “I could care less what you’re bringing. My only concern is that you get it to where it’s needed. Got it?”

“Yes, sorry.”

Capra heard a faint noise just then, coming from somewhere in the hall. Cavat didn’t react, but Capra made a point of noticing it. His auricular enhancements traced the noise to a source not more than five meters away: a misstep, heavy boots, a person of at least 90 kilograms in mass, male.

One of Cavat’s Resistance thugs, he concluded. The unsure-footed person must have accidentally kicked the wall as they approached. Luckily, he had stopped and was standing sentry in the hallway. Capra and Cavat could continue uninterrupted.

“Where will I be going?” Capra said next. “I may need to make arrangements. There will be some people who are worried about me.”

“You won’t know until you’re there. As for your friends, relatives, they can never know. They are the first people the authorities will look up once they realize you’ve defected. Do you understand?”

“Right!” Capra nodded again, forcefully. “The less they know, the better.”

“And once you make this decision, there will be no turning back. In all likelihood, you will never see them again. Even if you could, chances are, they’ll refuse to have anything to do with you. If ever they learn the truth of your sudden ‘disappearance,’ they’ll be told you committed treason by joining a band of terrorists. You understand that too?”

Leaving people behind, never seeing family members again. With some effort, Capra responded with a display of emotion that would have made an onlooker feel immense sympathy for him. “Yes…” he muttered. “I suppose that is what I am committing to here.”

It looked like it worked, too. Cavat softened marginally. His next words were even a little placating. It was playbook stuff, how Styros would be helping to stop a terrible injustice, would save countless lives, and be making a difference for all generations to come. His family might even understand someday. They might even see the wisdom in his decision in the meantime.

“And you understand that you might be called upon to do things you might feel are … distasteful.”

Alas, the big question: can you do it? Can you stand to follow orders, even if they include throwing acid in the faces of small children? He was sure Cavat would not ask for anything so specific or monstrous, but it seemed like a good way to gauge just how serious one’s recruits were.

“You mean, I might have to kill someone.”

Cavat smiled and nodded. “At best, the information you provide will be used to kill personnel. At worst, there will be collateral damage, innocent lives may be lost. Are you sure you can live with that?”

A moment to think it over. A quavering answer that was nonetheless sincere. “Yes… I suppose I’ll have to. I certainly can’t keep doing what I have been.”

Cavat’s next words were something Capra would remember for some time. He had never heard the speech before. He could only hope he’d get a chance to deliver one like it someday.

“In the coming weeks, keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary. Do not change your routines. Stick to them, and don’t do anything that might suggest you’re planning to disappear. When the time is right, we will come for you. You won’t know when or where, but when we do, there won’t be any turning back. Even once you’re away, there won’t be any guarantees.

“Defection means a life on the run, constantly watching your back, and living in some of the worst places you can imagine. But in exchange, you’ll have the benefit of knowing that you’re fighting for something greater than yourself. And, with any luck, you’ll live long enough to see the difference you made. Do you think you can handle all that?”

Capra nodded once more. Against his better judgment, he felt himself wondering and wishing there was more time. There was so much more he wanted to know about Cavat and the people he worked for. It felt like such a waste to reduce him to a mere go-between. He doubted any of the other people on his list were half as interesting!

But of course, it was unhealthy to get too attached. Such things were best reserved for people who had a life expectancy. In the meantime, Capra used his moment of hesitation to activate the mechanism in his sleeve. He let Cavat wrap things up first. It seemed only polite to let the man finish.

“This will be our only meeting. You won’t see me again after this.”

“I know.”

Capra’s hand sprung from his sleeve with the stunner in his palm. Depressing the trigger, he fired it directly into C’s face. His body went stiff as it shook violently and began falling backward. A muffled grunt was all Cavat managed to get out before landing against the floor.

Capra sprung to his feet and ducked behind the wall. The sound of heavy footfalls reached him an instant later. Transferring the stunner to his right hand and aiming it upwards, he shoved the device into the man’s neck the moment he passed through the doorway.

Once again, there was a muffled grunt as the man’s body went rigid. The impact gun was drawn, but to Capra’s relief, it didn’t discharge. The sound would have been too loud not to draw attention. Once he was down too, Capra replaced the stunner in his sleeve and produced two incinerator patches. He applied one to the guard’s neck before approaching Cavat’s body.

The man’s glasses had fallen off during his descent to the floor. The milky globes of his eyes stared into space, fried by the blast. However, he was still alive in there. With time, Cavat would even make a full recovery and regain his sight, assuming there was a competent biotechnician in the area.

Once again, Capra felt deep regret that Cavat wouldn’t get the chance. The smell of the guard’s burning body reminded him that he needed to get moving. A quick search of Cavat’s right hand revealed his ID chip, fully intact. Removing the ID terminal from one of his jacket’s many pockets, he held it to Cavat’s hand and quickly imprinted the information. Capra’s image, information, and biomarkers were transferred to Capra’s neural implant an instant later.

As far as any security checkpoints and scanning devices were concerned, Capra now was Cavat. For the second time in as many days, he had become someone else. With the contents of Cavat’s ID now accessible to him, Capra wasted no time unlocking the data package — which included the last-known locations of the four others with whom Cavat had been in contact.

The intense jolt almost knocked him over, another bright burst of insight that left him feeling temporarily transcendent. He wondered how anyone still attended religious functions when revelations as simple as killing a man and stealing his information? Once the machinery was finished doing its thing, Capra slapped the second incinerator pad on Capra’s right cheek.

The acrid smell grew worse as the patch saturated every cell of Cavat’s body with its nefarious compounds, triggering cell death and violent destruction. Capra began stepping lively to get away from the two disintegrating bodies. The vagrants and any other Resistance members would notice very soon. There would be nothing left to identify the bodies by the time they arrived.

Nothing would remain that could possibly prove that Capra wasn’t Mr. Sean Cavat. At least not as far as security checkpoints and screenings were concerned.

Leaving the building, he set off on foot back to the nearest transit hub. As he walked, he ran through Cavat’s information in his head. What he found didn’t help the feelings of regret he was nursing in his stomach. It was too bad about Cavat, and he would certainly miss being Mr. Styros, who had generous credit lines and posh room booked in his name. But for now, the secret life of a turncoat would have to suffice.

He was certain things were about to get very interesting!

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Matt Williams

Matt Williams

Space/astronomy journalist for Universe Today, SF author, and all around family man!