Characters: Tomás Darquin, Katia Santiago
“You’ve got to be nuts.”
Tomas Darquin sighed, adjusting the duster of his Ranger’s uniform with a casual wave of his hand. “I didn’t ride in on a crate of ER’s just so you can tell me that.”
His contact, a baby-faced guy with stringy hair, smirked at him. He must’ve been in Earthforce at one time, just like Darquin, since he picked up on the joke. Earthforce-issue survival rations were often called “ER’s” by the rank and file, reputed to taste so bad that they’d put soldiers in traction. For the benefit of the bar-hoppers in this noisy strobe-infested watering hole, they chuckled aloud, lazily slapping each other on the arm as if reacting to a private joke. It wasn’t that far from the truth.
“The security’s going to be tight,” his contact said into Darquin’s ear.
Darquin shrugged. “I’m used to it.”
That earned a skeptical grimace. “But you’re talking teeps, man.”
“Okay, now look.” Darquin waved his arm with emphasis in the air, pretending to flag a waiter, and waited for the live band to start another number, something that sounded like Pontefract. Even if by some chance a Psi-Cop was watching them, the noise would make it harder to concentrate on their conversation. “Look, they won’t track the info back to you. Know why? ‘Cause they won’t catch me.”
“Yeah, I know how tough you Rangers like to act–”
“Either we are or we aren’t,” Darquin chimed in. “Can’t afford to just pretend.”
His contact grinned and nodded, conceding defeat. “Not with all the Earthers that must be mad at you guys.”
“Exactamundo. So you got the info or what?”
“You know where the Delta-31 Drop is? Okay, the passcode is ‘red badge.'”
His contact shook his head, a huge smile on his face. “English teacher. Now beat it.”
Darquin slipped out of the bar, back into the maintenance ducts within the infrastructure of the Syria Planum dome. He found the data crystal he was looking for tucked behind a junction box, the Delta-31 anonymous message drop for the Mars Resistance. Officially they and Earthgov were pals now that the war was over, but the Resistance was keeping their underground network in place all the same. They’d certainly picked good locations for it. Surrounded by millions of active circuits, offline and out of sight, Darquin was free to download files off the data crystal without being detected.
Maps of maintenance tunnels and sewage canals, superimposed on civil engineering survey maps of the old government complex, were scrolling across the face of the datapad. Polygons stood out with a glow, icons for Earthforce launchpads and Psi-Corps residential campuses in Syria Planum.
Darquin sat down against a bare patch of wall and took a minute to think. Once he knew Katia was involved, it was obvious where she was going. That gave him an advantage over the Psi-Cops… assuming they didn’t already know she was coming.
He bit his lip. Now there was a nasty thought: What if this was a trap for her from the start? It’d be a perfect set-up, an infiltrator who was too emotionally involved in what she was doing and who was running headlong into a place where the Psi-Corps would have the home-field advantage. From what Darquin could gather from the message logs, all this started with a message from Alfred Bester back in Earthdome. And he’d learned enough about Psi-Cops to know that Bester, like most of his ilk, loved jerking people around. Goading Katia and luring her into a trap was right up their alley.
And Katia, Kim, and Morgan were all walking right into it. He tried to rub a headache away. The whole scenario was getting more and more snafu all the time.
After taking half an hour to memorize as much of the map as he could, he packed away his data reader and climbed deeper into the infrastructure. His prospects weren’t about to look any better unless he did something.
Darquin had worked his way around the tunnels into the nicer side of town, near the business parks, towers, and apartment complexes all reserved for Psi-Corps only. Now it was time to go into stealth mode; he started concentrating on the more abstract musical noise from Passengers…. clickclickclickclick eeriesynth-whine slither from back of the ear to the front …assuming that’d confuse the hell out of anybody.
Trying to act on raw impulse instead of concentration, he scrambled through the tunnels toward the nearest Earthforce launching bay where the shuttle left for Katia sat waiting. He couldn’t wait to get there, check on the shuttle, and find a good spot to leave the damn tunnels before he turned into a tunnel rat.
He slowed from his frantic crawl as he reached the thick reinforced bulkheads of the launch bay. The place must’ve been part of an emergency shelter tunnel system for techs if they ever got caught in the hanger during an accidental launch. Gently sliding over the ribs of girders crammed into the tight shapes of the tunnel, Darquin eased himself through till the airlock hatch, the way out, was in sight.
Even before he reached the door, a shuttle made its presence felt with a resonant shudder through the walls. Studying the shaking of the metal against his palms, he decided the shuttle was just bringing its engines online; not enough power for a launch. He listened for footsteps and the rhythm of idle engines and waking power systems, then opened the hatch by a crack, certain it was safe.
Occasional blasts of bitter coolant steam obscured his view of the shuttle in the hangar bay, standard Earthforce issue. A human shape marched down the steps of the modest boarding ramp, a contour composed of darkness except for a single flicker of gold near one shoulder. With a gentle pull of his fingertips, Darquin shut the hatch and finagled his way back down the tunnel before he had time to think.
No wonder Major Ryan thought Katia was in trouble; Psi-Cops had already taken her shuttle. Darquin allowed himself the luxury of swearing quietly to himself the moment he was sure that he’d gotten far enough from the launchbay.
The darkness was a blessing as Katia continued to do her best to run quickly from shadow to shadow, trying to get away from the local constabulary. She honestly didn’t know at this point if she was going to make it off of Mars alive, and at this point she wasn’t sure she truly cared, but she continued to hurry in the direction away from those chasing her.
The aching chasm in her chest threatened to overwhelm her as she dodged from shadow to shadow. Kayla and Kira didn’t want anything to do with her. Didn’t even believe she was their mother. How she could have expected anything less completely escaped her as the pain and anger overshadowed everything.
She focused all her mental attention inward, forcing a strong wall around her mind, not allowing anything to escape that might be sensed by another telepath. Unfortunately, it also kept her pretty locked up inside herself and unable to sense if anyone was following her. Moving quickly from building to building, hugging the walls, she did her best to move as quietly as possible. Suddenly, her foot stepped on a plastic wrapper laying on the ground. She quickly picked her foot off of the wrapper and winced, glancing around quickly to see if anyone had noticed.
Darquin fought off the languid allure of sleep and on hands and knees traversed the superstructure, into the residential areas near the Psi-Corps district as early evening bled into the night. By then, he was getting tired of the whole Phantom of the Opera gig, maybe just plain tired, and sought out the nearest access grill to the open streets. He managed to get into a series of ventilator shafts that eventually led out into an alley on Northwest Robinson Boulevard.
Crouching low, he rested on the balls of his feet, in the shadows of the alley as he adjusted his backpack and waited for his umpteenth wind. He looked out at the pale gleaming cityscape ahead, recognizing the Greek letter Psi on the face of a tower looming over the shorter buildings around it.
He began to feel as if he were in a Fafhrd and Grey Mouser story. He smirked to himself, thinking in Minbari in hope of retaining his privacy: What would such a story would be called–“Swords Against Telepathy”?
Darquin started walking, traveling in the shaded chasms between buildings, in a lazy spiral, drawing tighter orbits on each pass till his destination was minutes away if he ever decided to break for it. Patrols of Earthforce Security troops paid his presence little notice, its own perceptible manifestation barely a flicker in darkness. Whenever he took the time to watch a patrol pass, he smiled widely despite himself. Earthforce never did get the knack for detecting shadows.
Before he could move out to complete his final circuit, voices popped in and out of earshot. Brief, raucous, in octaves a little high for most male species… was it them? If it was, they wouldn’t have made any noise when they didn’t have to. The noise could’ve been for someone’s benefit. Oh hell… they must’ve been caught in the open….
He let his folded fighting pike drop out of his sleeve, into his hand. He circled the building beside him, trying to catch whoever was on the other side, a few rapid-fire footsteps into the street lights, landing on the balls of his feet, long enough to sink into the next patch of darkness. Looking around the next corner, he saw the patrol he’d passed a minute earlier. The two bricks in Earthforce grey warily scanned the area with their eyes and moved on.
Waiting till their shadows stretched thin against the pavement, Darquin crossed the street behind the patrol and ducked into the alley directly ahead. He waited a few seconds, listening, before he poked his head out from behind the foothills of junk in the alley.
The lilting crunch of a crushed plastic wrapper intruded on the silence ahead of him, gentle and brief. Out of habit, he watched the darkened alley spaces for movement. It sounded harmless enough, possibly a cat or some poor lurker, but Sech Varriel on Minbar drummed into him the importance of dismissing assumptions. Good thing he listened too; he caught a glimpse of an elbow and a fist jumping between shadows. Someone was on the move, a real pro who wouldn’t have been seen if he or she hadn’t been in such a hurry. He set his mind onto more techno-noise (persistent bass drum beats, unchanging, coated in trilling digital voices, mechanical clatter, electrical buzz) and went in pursuit.
His quarry led him on for a while, hugging the dark sides of nearby buildings, dipping behind corners where alleys would end. Real quiet, whoever it was. Darquin decided to take the initiative, as best as he could with his mind divided between this, thinking in Minbari dialects, and memories of whacked-out music. At the next corner his quarry took, he sprinted to close the distance between them once and for all.
The moment he flattened himself against the other side of the corner, the universe welcomed him there with a pile driver to the ear. He went temporarily blank, unable to remember hitting the ground. The streets and building jiggled as his vision blurred, quickly switching to a worm’s-eye-view of the dome ceiling hundreds of meters overhead.
He fumbled for the hand pulling him off the ground by his collar, staring at the tip of a woman’s nose as he heard Katia Santiago’s voice. “Darquin?”
He snapped himself up to sit on his ground, acting on instinct honed after the many reprimands he’d gotten while training on Minbar. “Yeah?” He shook his head till the milky sensation of borderline consciousness washed away.
Katia rose and pulled Darquin up with her, hissing in a desperate effort to whisper. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“Wondering if I should’ve try some Beatles instead.” He rolled the cold metal of his folded pike onto the cutting throb in his forehead. “And if you got any aspirin.”
“Okay, okay,” she muttered, dragging him into the next flock of shadows. “But how did you get here?”
“Mutual friend with some major connections.”
Her eyes wandered past him. “Major…?”
“Yeah, yeah, so where’re the others?”
She rolled her eyes heavenward. “Damn it, the data trail–”
“It was either me finding it or you getting put in charge of Security.”
“I’d make a real mess of it too, judging from tonight.”
“Give yourself a break ’cause it gets worse,” Darquin said. “Guess who’s at the shuttle.”
She tapped her fist against her cheek, gritting her teeth. “Kim and Morgan are on their own. Probably on their way there.”
Darquin did his best to ignore his headache long enough to think. “Only so many ways into the shuttlebays without getting seen….”
“They’ll have to help each other, no matter what,” Katia said. “They got the worst of it. Exhausted if they’re lucky.”
“Air shafts or sewer system. Cover me.” Katia’s shadow swept over him as he tore his data reader out of his pack. “Yeah, an Earthforce transit point and an access hatch into the sewers just twenty meters away. There’s a construction site on the same street. Unless there’s a night shift, we can go in and wait for them behind the new wall there… or there.”
Katia nodded, looking over his shoulder. “If we’re quick, we can meet them there. Where did you get that?”
“I should’ve hit you harder.”
“Pretend you already did. I’m still feelin’ it.”
(C) 1999 Joe R. Medina and Tamara Freise. All rights reserved.