Turncoats — Part VI

Medea.

Thirty-six hours of preparations and travel had placed him on the only inhabited moon in the system. Dusting his tracks after leaving the city had proven to be a little more difficult than he had suspected. The authorities were actually quite active at the Riga spaceport, checking all visas and passports and conducting random searches on waiting passengers.

He could not help but notice that all those pulled out of line fit a certain description. Clearly, the Captain had tipped off the local authorities as to his identity as well as his comrades. Nothing in the local news mentioned anything about Foche or Varsuvian. Perhaps they still had not been found, or they were keeping it a secret.

Rigan security was obviously sloppy but not incompetent.

Syros’ ID had come in handy one last time. Ironically, the injuries seemed to deter the security personnel as well. He could only surmise that the Captain’s description had not mentioned scars or a limp, and if they hadn’t yet found the scene of last night’s activities, they weren’t looking for signs of torture. Lucky for him. Still, he had to explain himself somehow.

“Get into a scrape, sir?”

“No, not exactly.”

“Then what the hell happened? You like someone hit you with a groundcar.”

Capra laughed. “No, no! Just a wild night with some friends. Had a few, fell down some stairs. Wasn’t pretty. Lucky for me, there was a semi-competent doctor open late.”

“And where was this?”

“Downtown, Daugava district.”

“Name of the doctor.”

“Not sure, I was pretty out of it. My friends handled it, though, even let me crash at their place. Would you like to question them as well?”

The security guard looked him over guardedly but eventually nodded and signed off on his tablet. The line was long, and he couldn’t be bothered to check out Capra’s story. The flight that followed had been unsettling, to say the least. Atmospheric egress did not exactly agree with the delirium of pain killers and the lingering head injury. The last thing his stomach needed was another evacuation.

Luckily, once they passed into the vacuum of space, things got much better. The local news was the only entertainment on his seat’s personal display. There was another story about bombings and political statements from both sides. The reporters tried to feign objectivity, but it was clear they weren’t particularly supportive of the colonies.

Like most Sol-based media, they appeared to be of the opinion that the colonists shut up and quit griping. Not wanting to hear anymore, he closed his eyes and managed to sneak in a few winks before they landed moonside.

That was when the hard work began.

After all the deception and revelation that had gone down the night before, he had been somewhat surprised to learn the next day that the Captain’s last known position was, in fact, Medea. That had been his first task after returning to consciousness in that pitiful grey room of his. The confiscated implants were quite helpful, even though they added to his workload.

Before they had died at his hands, Foche and Varsuvian had made two communiqués with the Captain. In the first, he had confirmed that he would be traveling to Medea. The next came a few hours later, most likely from Medea itself. That was when he had alerted them to Capra’s identity. He could only guess that the Captain had been traveling from a ship that was in the system.

A quick check of the mission files in his own implant reminded him just which ships were in-system. There were support vessels, the Valiant and the Pleiades, and the Titan-class Wintergewitter — the capital ship of the fleet. Capra really didn’t care which of these the Captain called home. He just knew he needed to get to him before he decided to head back.

Infiltrating a TDF military vessel would be difficult, getting to the Captain would be even more difficult, and getting out afterward would be damn near impossible. And seeing as how the Captain was still waiting to hear back, there would be a limited window of opportunity. He estimated he had another day or two before Lukabyo finally decided to bail — assuming he hadn’t already.

Foche and Varsuvian’s transmission had not given him a source, but the frequency could be traced within a few blocks of the effective radius. The Captain was obviously using a field transmitter to make contact with his fellow defectors once he was away from the fleet.

That gave him a bit of an advantage. Since he had been able to obtain that same field transmitter and tempt the Captain into accepting one last transmission, then he might just be able to triangulate his location before he left. It would have to be done from Medea, and it would have to be done within the window he had set for himself.

Aside from a shot of protein and a fortified glucose injection, he hadn’t eaten anything and had slept only with the help of drugs. Back at Io, the whole op had sounded like a simple affair. Interesting, but simple. By someone’s intervention, things had gotten much harder.

There damn well better be a month-long retreat waiting for me at the end of this, he thought. He was already deep into planning where. Somewhere with sandy beaches and only the meagerest trappings of civilization. The fewer people there were, the better.

Medea was certainly full of people. A planetside dome connected to an orbiting starport, it serviced all traffic coming to and from Rostov. A single diamond filament ran from the docking hub to the colony dome that was planetside, with passenger elevators running to and from it regularly.

About a dozen neighborhoods of grey housing had been erected using foldmetal structures inside the dome, steel buildings that could collapse into the size of a box upon command. Floating carriages moved overhead, ferrying the privileged patrons to different areas of the city as they awaited transport elsewhere. Everyone else appeared to rely on their feet, moving along streets packed with groundcars and bikes whose users appeared to resent all the congestion.

Given the situation back home between the bombings and crackdowns involving local Marines, Medea had become overcrowded with people looking to get out of the system. Others had come claiming refugee status. While they waited for other systems to offer them asylum, or at least a temporary stay, they were relegated to the area of town known as the Red Sector.

Those that weren’t looking to leave were just waiting until things quieted down back and Rostov and their homes could be rebuilt. He could only assume that Lukabyo was hanging around in the refugee sector. It was the best way to avoid being spotted, either electronically or visually.

Calling up a display in his visual field, he consulted his map of the place. The Medean port authority indicated that its estimations might be slightly off given the changing nature of the demographics in the area. Nevertheless, the map told him with confidence that his current position placed him firmly in the Red Sector. One look around confirmed this beyond any reasonable suspicion.

Car traffic was at a minimum. The only parked vehicles looked unserviceable or stripped down for useful parts. In the air, the carriage lane markers were all darkened, indicating that no traffic passed above this section of the city. In several alleys and alcoves, people had set up tents and were burning incendiary flares in old metal drums. Entire families appeared to be living out in the open here, living hand to mouth until life got better. His presence had not gone unnoticed either.

He felt a dozen or so sets of eyes bear down on him as he entered the area.

Capra started walking again to prevent staying too visible. As he made his way down the right side of the street, he noted a collection of people in the nearest alley. It was time to start asking questions. He spotted a single man huddled under a lean-to over not far from him. He gauged that he would be a more receptive customer than anyone else in the immediate vicinity.

As he neared, the man sat up slowly and took note of his appearance. He also became much more receptive when Capra pulled a credit slip from his pocket.

“Maybe you can help me,” said Capra. “I’m looking for someone.”

“Who?” the man said, returning to his earlier facade of suspicion.

“A man who came around here not long ago. He looks like this.”

Capra placed his hand, face out, in front of the man’s face. A holographic image formed in front of it, showing an image of the Captain’s face.

“Don’t know him. Never seen him here before.”

“Are you sure? He was medium height, dark, probably looked like he didn’t belong here much.”

“Kind of like you?” the man scoffed. “Can’t help you.”

“I know who you mean,” another voice from further down the alley said. It was a young boy, not more than twelve years old. Capra turned in his direction, keeping his hand and the projected image out while holding the slip back.

“You know this man?”

“Shut up, Vincent!” the old man cautioned.

“Do you know him?” Capra insisted.

“I saw him the other day.”

“Don’t talk to him, Vince! You know they’re all trouble!”

“You shut up!” the boy barked back. “You got credits?”

“Right here,” Capra held the slip up. The boy gave it a good look, noting the value and authentication seals.

“He came here the other day. He’s staying in a unit down the street.”

“Do you know which one?”

“Not really. But I think he talked some people into letting him stay with them.”

Capra smiled. He was holding the names back, a good policy. Capra didn’t need to know who they were anyway. It would make sanitizing the place easier afterward, assuming they were home and the Captain couldn’t be lured out.

“How far?”

“Now you’ve done it, kid,” the old man tried one more time.

“Where?”

“Cathy’s Grove, three blocks down, two over. They live in an upstairs place. I don’t know which unit.”

“Has he left? Did you see him go anywhere?”

“Only to get some food. He came back a while ago and didn’t leave.”

“How do you know so much?” Capra asked with a smile.

“He’s not from around here. He gets noticed.” The way the boy said this made it seem like Capra’s question was the stupidest thing he had heard all day. But then again, he had a point. A place as insular as this one could only be adept at picking out unfamiliar faces, and someone like Lukabyo would probably attract suspicion.

The way he walked like a military man, the strange equipment he brought with him. It reminded Capra of the time he had spent in a remote hydroponic community on Europa once. Nothing he had done in the course of a day was private, every move and nuance had been documented by the locals, and he would find himself having to answer for any “suspicious” behavior the next day.

Capra smiled and passed the credit slip to the boy. He withdrew it once before handing it over. “And don’t tell anyone about this little transaction, okay? I don’t need any attention.”

He slipped back his coat to reveal the slug thrower. The boy seemed unimpressed but nodded just to show he took the threat seriously. The boy edged closer, hesitating before snatching it up finally. He then turned and ran as quickly as he could down the other end of the alley. The old man continued to scream after him long after he left.

Clearly, the boy had broken a sacred commandment by talking to an outsider. Capra would let them deal with the boy as they saw fit. He didn’t plan to be around long enough to know what the consequences would be.

Cathedral Grove, as it was called, appeared to be what passed for a major avenue in the area. Several alleys ran parallel to the building block the boy had mentioned. It made for a good indirect perfect approach, and perhaps he would find an escape ladder on one of the backs of the buildings. He also checked to take stock of the rear exits just to see where they would be on the opposite building.

Since all the buildings in the area had been fabricated based on the same model, he had to assume that the complex the boy had indicated would have its rear exits in the exact same places. He also noted how between buildings, there were three-meter high partitions, which meant there was only one way in or out from the alleyways. That meant that the Captain would have only two options.

To take the front door and exit into the street, or use one of the rear exits and still take to the street. Either way, he would be unable to cover his exit for the few crucial minutes that it took him to get from the building into some kind of transport.

The case clinked in his hand as he walked, the rifle ready to be broken out and assembled. After too many close encounters, he had decided to opt for a clean kill, long-distance and with as little contact as possible. Witnesses were a bit of a concern, but he had that angle covered. Special ammunition would ensure a nice, quiet death.

It was a foregone conclusion that the local authorities would not be quick to react. By the time they had found the Captain’s body, his body would be cold and stiff. And the locals would prove to be poor witnesses. Capra’s weaponry, untraceable, would also leave them with a dead-end if they even bothered to get forensics involved.

Once on top of the structure, Capra did a quick survey at the building opposite him and the street below. Should Lukabyo step out the front of the rear in the next few hours, he would have a clear shot at him. It wasn’t likely to be long before Lukabyo decided to abandon the complex and make his way back to the elevator.

Just then, Capra noticed the pain acting up again. It had been almost twelve hours, and the pills had all but worn off. A new dose would put in him a state that would make surveillance and precision shooting very hard. What could he do? He had fought his way through too much delirium and frenzy in the last few days to trust himself to take down the Captain while high.

Deciding to ride out the pain, he found a spot in the middle of the roof and got to work assembling the rifle. The pain would keep him alert and might even give him the edge he needed to take Lukabyo down.

With the rifle pieced together, he reached in and fetched the magazine and began popping rounds into place. He selected the ammunition with the nanowarheads and set the rifle to subsonic to minimize the sound the bullets would make once they cut through the air. Snapping the scope into place, he unfolded its front bipod and slithered into place next to it.

A thermal image gave him a ruddy, multi-hued look at the bodies in there. There were too many clustered on each floor to make it clear which was which, but if he had to guess, he would assume that the one body that appeared to be sitting off in one corner of the building had to be the Captain.

The thought of switching ammo and turning the rifle to supersonic occurred to him. One armor-piercing shot would surely cut through all those walls and take Lukabyo out right away. But the noise and commotion it would create would be a problem. Besides, he needed to be sure Lukabyo’s neural implants survived the takedown. His last target was a particular challenge, and whatever information the Major had in his head was vital.

It was a few hours before Lukabyo’s thermal profile began moving towards the bottom floor. Capra raised his rifle, eased his finger into the trigger guard, and waited eagerly. The thermal profile doubled back a few times once it reached the second floor, then descended towards the street level.

What the hell is he doing? Capra wondered.

Most likely, he was checking to see if he was being followed or if anyone was waiting for him on the ground floor. It looked like he was descending to the basement and routinely backtracking. Capra’s head pounded. The pain was making him ornery and impatient. He wanted to make the kill shot now! He wanted Lukabyo to feel what he was feeling!

Finally, the heat signature reached the ground floor and began moving horizontally. Capra switched the scope to regular view just in time to catch sight of the man entering the street from the alley. He was dark and medium height, with a stocky build. Not too thick in the middle, but with wide shoulders and a wide stance. His clothes were plain, but the military training practically wafted off him. He looked around a few times before setting off down the street.

Picking a spot midway up his back, Capra switched the safety off and took a deep breath. Letting it out slowly, he pulled the trigger. A single round emerged from the muzzle with a small crack and struck home a second later.

The warhead pierced Lukabyo’s skin, the nanomachine contents spilling forth and infiltrating his blood. In seconds, they were in his spinal column, working their way upwards towards his brain, heart, and endocrine system. It would be a few more seconds before they would overtake all of these areas and reduce Lukabyo to a twitching carcass.

Capra’s eyes went wide when he saw what actually happened. Lukabyo first stumbled from the impact and rolled, quickly pulling himself to his feet and recovering. His weapon was drawn, and his eyes searched frantically for a sign of his attacker. Soon enough, he spotted Capra’s position and began firing off rounds in his direction.

Capra rolled sideways and crouched behind the parapet. His head began pounding again, this time with the added intensity of rage.

“Fuck!” he yelled as rounds struck around the rooftop. Lukabyo clearly had some internal protection, likely graphene layers bonded to his vertebrae and spinal nerves. It would take the nanomachines minutes to break through them and do their job. In the meantime, Lukabyo was making a terrible racket and drawing attention to them.

“Fuck fuck!” Capra yelled. The rounds eventually stopped, and he rolled sideways again to get a look at the street. Lukabyo was now off at a runner’s pace, heading north along the main avenue.

The chase was on.

The Captain had a head start and used it to get several blocks away to the market district. Still, Capra was able to keep him in sight as he followed at a brisk pace. His head began to throb, and his muscles ached terribly. But in time, the Captain began to slow down, allowing Capra to gain on him.

The market district opened up before them after they rounded a corner. People and vendors filled the streets and clogged the sidewalks. The Captain used these to his advantage, ducking into one particularly thick throng and pulling people behind him to obscure his path. Capra was able to keep track of his movements thanks to the way people dispersed around him. Their shouts of displeasure were also an indication of where he was heading.

Many times Lukabyo changed direction, ducking this way and that behind people and vending carts.

Capra almost lost him at one point. He had just made his way past a cluster of people who were recovering after being pushed over when he looked up and caught no sight of the Captain. Luckily, a small trail of crimson spots brought him back to the trail again. The spots grew, the farther they went. Slowly but surely, the warhead Capra tagged him with was making the Captain bleed.

The blood trail winded off the road and down a particular sidewalk behind a series of vending carts, then off into an alleyway.

Capra drew his gun discreetly and edged up to the alleyway, keeping his back to the wall. Popping his head around the corner and withdrawing it quickly, he spotted the Captain at the end of the alley, trying futilely to climb a partition. He came around again, gun aimed forward and trained on the Captain’s back.

Lukabyo’s body soon gave out, and he fell to the ground, the waste processing units he’d clamored together to act as a footing cushioned his fall.

The Captain’s widened as he watched Capra approach. It wasn’t shock or surprise, just the natural reaction of a man fighting the rigor that was overtaking his own body. He didn’t even have the strength to produce his gun by the time Capra had closed the distance between them. Still, Capra thought to take it from him and check him for any other weapons he might have.

His mouth, still functional, managed to produce some strained pleas as Capra finished with his inspection.

“Wait, don’t!”

“Sorry, Capt’n. Not up to me.”

“You need to listen to me!” the Captain yelled. By now, the nanomachines had neutralized his ability to fight, even summon up the energy to move beyond a slow crawl. But his speaking skills were still largely intact, and he was using them to his full capacity.

“You don’t know who you’re working for.”

“I know who you’re working for, traitor!” Capra raised the slug-thrower and made ready to squeeze off the fatal shot. Lukabyo’s protests interrupted him.

“I’m not the traitor, you fool! You are!”

“Witty. You need to work on your comebacks,” he thought to say before finishing him. Lukabyo’s continued protests delayed him once more.

“You don’t even know, do you? You don’t even know who put you up to this!”

Why aren’t I shooting him? he asked himself. Now, of all times, was not the time for a thoughtful conversation with a known traitor. Especially with all the people who were in earshot of their little entanglement. But still, he listened.

“You’re being played, Capra. You’re not working for our side anymore. You have to listen to me!”

“You’re lying,” Capra replied, raising the gun again. “You’ll say anything to drag this out. Now just shut up and die!”

“How do you think I found out about you? Who have you been taking orders from? You don’t know –”

“Goodbye, Captain.”

The gun squealed and left Lukabyo with a smoking hole in his chest. He sputtered for breath a few times. Even as he lay there dying, he struggled to finish what he was trying to say. Capra could have tried to listen but didn’t. Turning about, he fled the alley as fast as he could and tried to disappear into the crowd.

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Matt Williams

Matt Williams

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