Characters: Dr. Kim Matsumoto, Klevetati Yoshino, Toni Villiers, Jordan Toussaint, Terry Hale
“Still nothing, Yoshino?”
Yoshino’s eyes were invisible behind the monitor goggles she wore, tied to her portable computer. But her voice was clear enough. “No. It’s definitely a jamming station, but I can’t pinpoint the source yet. Seems to be limited just to the council hall.”
Kim muttered under her breath and quickly threw off the flight harness. The moment the shuttle settled, she was up to her feet, ducking into the rear compartment. “Can you watch him alone?” She referred to the bound heap at the back of the shuttle. It shivered to hear Kim’s voice so close.
“I only need one hand to fire a PPG,” Yoshino answered, tilting her head toward the weapon, which rested on the shelf next to her.
Kim nodded, and looked to Toni Villiers.
The security officer already had the hatch opened, and was looking out. The closest they were able to get to the council hall was in a crude lot a few blocks from the council building. A few curious faces came to windows to look at them, but landings being nothing new, they soon left. “Clear as far as I can see,” she said.
“Let’s be quick about it,” Kim stepped out after her, and thereafter only checked her pace at the doors to the council hall.
The doors were slightly ajar, and the sound of many voices in many conversations drifted out on the cool draft. Villiers gave her a quick glance. “So how do we want to play this?” she asked softly.
“Quiet, I think. Like we’re just here for the show. Better an annoyance than a threat to our assassin.” Kim listened for a few moments to all the chatter. “Big crowd. We could split up in the gallery, look like we’re just trying to find empty seats. I’ll see if I can’t sense him.”
“Makes sense. If we find him, we’ll have to yell, so we better make sure we’ve got him before all hell breaks loose.”
“Right. I don’t want him circulating for a second chance.” There was going to be a stampede when they pounced, but there was no helping it.
Villiers nodded, brushing away a stray lock of hair. “Can you … feel him?” she asked, sounding surprisingly tentative.
Kim slipped inside the doorway and paused. “No. There are so many people in here… I need to be closer.”
“Right. Best get on with it then.” She turned and moved toward the nearest staircase leading to the spectator’s galleries.
Kim glanced around and went a short way down the hall, to come up on the other side of the gallery.
She doubted the council’s doings ever produced so much interest before the war. The gallery was crowded to capacity with representatives from every social class and race with any interest in the business of rebuilding of Abbai. They crammed into the seats with the best view, some abandoning poorly placed seats to stand where they wouldn’t miss anything. Their murmured conversations rose and fell in pitch with the shifting arguments down on the council floor. From their minds, the volume was a constant. It was a little like stepping into a room of competing vid screens turned up too loud, but she kept her mind open and eyes roving.
She edged up against the wall, walking slowly. She was surprised when her glance caught sight of an unfamiliar Ranger in one of the aisle seats.
Kim paused, debating with herself, then decided when none of the minds around him spoke of any dangerous intents. She slipped down the aisle and bent to his ear. “Greetings. Kim Matsumoto from the Phoenix,” she introduced herself.
The Ranger looked up, surprised at first. He appeared to have been quite focused on the proceedings. “Greetings. Jordan Toussaint, soon to be of the Phoenix.” He offered a hand. “I don’t suppose you’re here because of this.” He showed her a link he had in his other hand.
Kim nodded. “Please don’t react, but someone is jamming the council building. There is an assassin in the crowd.”
Villiers moved through the crowds, relishing the sense of being able to do so without drawing attention. Her training had given her skills almost akin to “the ability to cloud men’s minds,” as the old phrase had it.
She found a seat high in the gallery. It, along with the ones near it, had been left empty because they offered a poor view of the floor below. But they had an excellent view of the gallery itself, which made them perfect for her. She settled into a seat and carefully began examining the assembled spectators.
Jordan’s hand stiffened in Kim’s, but he minded his training, and showed nothing else. “What are we looking for?” he asked immediately. His glance went briefly to the floor below.
Kim quickly described what little information they’d gotten. “All we know is we’re looking for a Brakiri male, and his target is Councilor Matsya — she’s the one speaking just now,” Kim added. “She’s to be killed when she comes up to the podium to speak in the second half.”
“All right. You’d better move on. I’ll check this side,” Jordan said. He pocketed the link and settled back again in his seat, looking around covertly.
Kim wandered about midway and leaned against the wall, just one of many settling for a standing view of the floor.
There were a number of Brakiri in the crowd, most of them talking among themselves as much as watching the proceedings below. Villiers’ attention was drawn to the only one who was not talking.
Carefully, she worked her way down several rows of seats, to get closer.
Villiers tried to slow her quickening breath. Every instinct she had, with ten years of experience and the training of the Rangers to back it up, told her this was the one.
As the minutes crawled by, Kim grew more worried and frustrated. There were some high tempers in the room, but nothing that spoke of murder. Any such intent, calm or furious, seemed to be completely absent.
A sudden thought occurred to Kim, and she felt stupid, relying just on what she could sense. She may not be the only telepath. Her gaze slid toward Villier’s end of the gallery, to start a new sweep, when she was caught by an intense wave of thoughts from Villiers.
Her thoughts were rapid fire, but burned brightly through the cacophony. There. On the aisle, of course, so he can move as soon as he strikes. How close can I get? Can’t let him see me.
Kim focused her mind quickly to where Villiers was looking and then reached out toward the Brakiri’s mind… and found a wall. She drew back immediately, lest the assassin notice.
Suddenly, with a single unbroken motion, the Brakiri pulled a short tube from one sleeve, slipped something into it with the other hand, then raised it to his lips.
Kim’s eyes widened, then she looked quickly down to the council floor. Matsya had just taken the podium, close to where Captain Hale sat. She reached to Captain Hale’s mind and urgently sent: Captain, Councilor Matsya is in danger. Get her under cover!
Below, Terry jerked and dropped her stylus. Her eyes flew up to the gallery.
Even as Villiers bolted from her seat, yelling, “Freeze!” the assassin blew through the tube.
Terry sent her chair clattering away as she threw herself across the intervening space, and caught Matsya around the midsection. They went down and under the table.
Kim took two steps forward to come to Toni’s aid, then quickly threw herself back against the wall again as the crowd caught wind of what was happening, and panicked.
Villiers had her pike out, held low between both hands, blocking the aisle that was the assassin’s path out of the building. She took two steps forward, calling, “Give it up, and no one –” when she suddenly threw her head back, groaning in agony.
Kim threw an attack at the assassin’s mind, a mental stomp that had worked quite well before, but only slid and battered around his strange, alien mind. Nathaniel’s gift of experience hadn’t included much on alien telepathy. Quickly she retreated to what she could do. She blocked for Villiers.
Aside, unseen, Jordan had gone white, and let himself be drawn along with the escaping crowd. Down in the corridor below, he cut away and rushed into the council chamber.
Villiers gasped and blinked, renewing her grip on her pike and turning to pursue the Brakiri, who was jumping across the tops of the seats to reach the nearest exit — only to find it jammed by panicked spectators.
Shoulder scraping the wall, Kim forced her way around the edge of the gallery, working to head him off.
The Brakiri drew another weapon — an almost impossibly large gun — from under his coat. Before he could bring it to bear on the crowd in front of him, Villiers’ thrown pike hit him in the small of the back.
Terry lifted herself off Matsya and took a quick glance toward the gallery. Next to her Matsya gasped, whispering an exclamation Terry didn’t understand. But at the horror in her voice, Terry looked back, and then to what Matsya was staring at. A slim dart stood up from Terry’s arm, quivering with her movements.
Terry suddenly felt strange, as if the room had gone silent. A part of her mind wondered if it were shock, or the beginning of her own death. She plucked the dart quickly and uselessly, tossing it aside.
Jordan arrived in time to see it fall, and from where.
“Oh god, no.”
Kim finally got an open stretch and threw herself forward in a sprint. She vaulted a couple rows, and then the third, feet slamming right into the side of the assassin.
As he went down, his head rebounded against the wall, and Kim felt his mental attack evaporate as he lost consciousness.
“Toni, are you okay?” Kim asked, as she steadied herself. She leaned down to flip the Brakiri over.
Villiers finally reached them and picked up her pike with a grim smile. “Thanks to you. Did he hit anybody down there, could you see?”
“I don’t know. Last I could see was the Captain knocking the councilor down. You’d better have a look over.”
Villiers ran a few steps down the aisle to get a good look over the railing, and returned, her fair face knotted in worry. “The councilor’s okay, but the Captain’s down. The dart must have hit her.”
Kim swore softly. “I didn’t intend…” she muttered, and redoubled her efforts to find the rest of his dart kit. “We need to know what he used.”
Deep in one pocket she finally found it — the flat case which she had seen once before, an image from a data crystal. Inside were several more darts, coated with some kind of poison.
“I’ve no idea what this is.” Kim looked to Villiers, as if she might have some solution to surprise her with.
“He must know,” she said, pointing her now-folded pike at the unconscious Brakiri.
Kim wasn’t as confident about her ability to prise out the answer quickly as they needed, but she nodded. “Wake him up.”
Villiers pulled a small canteen from her hip, opened it, and upended it on the Brakiri’s elaborately tattooed face. He sputtered and blinked. “What ….” he murmured, still quite dazed.
Kim forced his face around to look at her. “What is the poison you used?” she demanded.
He was too disoriented to offer any resistance. “Nitual.”
Villiers frowned. “I don’t know what that is, but the Abbai medics probably do.”
“I imagine you’re right.” And with a swift, sharp blow, Kim sent the Brakiri back into unconsciousness with a little more enthusiasm than necessary.
“I’ll take him,” Villiers said. “Get down there.” She jerked her head toward the floor.
Kim got to her feet. “Make sure the police know he’s a telepath.” Then taking a deep breath she hurried off towards the stairwell.
Copyright (c) Jamie Lawson and Alida Saxon. All rights reserved.