After the first installment last week, on to the second one.
If you haven’t read the first installment, you can read it here.
Hisashi stares ahead as the elevator moves up, yellow eyes unreadable.
After half a minute there’s another pling and the doors open.
The floor outside is more marble, but I think I see the fractal glimmer indicating a smartfloor. Meaning it can dampen sound, has extra grip, and can repair damage from high heels. We’ve come to rich-folk territory. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide most of the light. A line of pillars with thin white drywall walls sections off a working area. It’s decorated by a neat row of paintings. Real ones.
There’s broken glass down the hall.
We both draw our wraith pistols in unspoken agreement. I pull up the floor plan. Hmm, toilets next to the elevator, then a kitchenette and a large meeting room. Beyond the drywall are desks for the supporting staff. Hisashi covers me as I clear the corner leading to the supporting staff’s desks. No movement, no heat signatures. Nothing. The area with the desks connects back to the main hall on the opposite end. Hisashi gives a hand signal and I start to move between the desks, checking each one, while Hisashi clears the hall on the other side of the wall. I see a picture on one desk of two humans smiling beneath a red sky. Another desk holds a stale cup of coffee.
Hisashi and I meet up at the large meeting room at the corner of the floor. My HUD shows sounds coming from inside, and there are heat signatures as well. I clear the corner and stare into it. Hisashi moves up beside me.
The broken glass we saw earlier is all that remains of the glass wall separating the meeting room from the hall. The room itself looks like it was hit by a hurricane. Of course, there are no hurricanes in a space station. Desk chairs are scattered haphazardly across the carpet and papers lie everywhere. Several humans are on the floor, unmoving. Others are slumped into desk chairs. My HUD tells me they all have a normal heat signature and heartbeats. Not dead then.
In the center of the chaos is a large meeting room table, untouched. A man stands behind it. He wears a blood-smeared headset and two wraith pistols in his hands. There is a row of transparent containers in front of him on the table, fifteen centimeters tall, topped off with metal, containing the undulating shapes of symbionts.
Behind him, beyond the transparent walls, I can see the rest of the city sprawled out over the curved surface of the inner station. One of the wraiths is pointing at me, the other at the containers before him.
Oh, great, I think.
“Officers,” he says, “I was waiting for you to arrive.”
Well, Hisashi’s got his wish. An opportunity to gain a recommendation in a hostage situation. Only thing is, it already turned ugly, with all of us in a stand-off.
Hisashi send a priority signal back to headquarters requesting back-up and that they seal off the building. They should be here in minutes.
“Put the pistols down,” I command the man behind the table. “Then place your hands behind your head and lie down on the floor.”
“Really, Officer?” He tilts his head. “I could ask you to do the same.”
The words hang in the air, but none of us act on them, and none of the four guns go down. The man is blond, with a crew-cut, and there is an ugly scar across his cheek and nose. It has to be a bare. Which most likely means Resistance. His blue eyes do not waver from mine. The pupils are too wide. He’s on something.
“Officers,” he says more calmly than I’d expected. “You need not come to harm. Deliver my demands, and you can walk out of here.”
He’s faking a posh accent, trying to intimidate us. He seems resigned to the situation, with a fanatical glare in his eyes.
I lower my wraith. Maybe I can earn his trust, talk him down, be a hero. More accurately, walk away in one piece.
Hisashi still has his gun on him. His tiny lizard hands don’t inspire confidence though. I squat and place my wraith on the carpet slowly. The air seems to grow thick as we stare intently at each other.
“My name is Officer Sora Kujima,” I say.
“Cain Winters,” he replies. I notice the stubble above his ears is white. He’s old. Definitely a bare.
“Why don’t you put down the wraith, Cain,” I say. “There is no need for this to end violently.”
“There is not, no,” he replies calmly. His lips tightens. “But with what I know of you and your empire, it will if I lower this pistol.”
Definitely Resistance, I think.
“Have I done anything to you?” I ask. I have training in talking people down, officially. I also had somebody else take the exam in my name, because I felt I didn’t need the training. You live, you learn.
“You have not,” Cain replies. “Your partner’s pointing a weapon at me, though.”
“Well, you’re pointing one at me,” I reply. “Why don’t you put yours down and Officer Lin will follow suit.”
“I’m not a child, Officer Kujima,” he says. “When I put my gun down, you’ll arrest me. I know how this works.”
“Well, good for you. So what’s your suggestion?” Oops. I think that was bad negotiation tactics.
An annoyed look crosses his face. “Why don’t you go back down to the lobby and tell your superiors what I want.”
“What do you want?”
“A habitable planet,” he says.
I grunt. “Yeah right.”
“You have thousands,” he says calmly. “You can miss one. We just want a place where we can live in freedom and peace.”
He’s completely serious. Maybe he has a reason to be. The empire does span thousands of worlds. Still, I doubt we’ll give up a planet to a criminal resistance fighter.
I’m about to respond when the electricity goes. All the lights cut off, leaving only the soft glow from outside the building. Cain has his back to the windows, and his face is now all shadowy angles.
“Ah, your backup has arrived,” Cain says. “This might be a good time for you two to retreat.”
I stay where I am. I’m getting fed up with Cain’s smug smile. I know, it’s a bad habit. “This might also be a good time for a reality check, Cain. No way they’re going to give you a planet. Put the wraith down and we can all go home and I can get some coffee.”
He barks a laugh. “Honest of you, Office Kujima. Yes, I could use some coffee myself.”
Cain lowers the gun pointed at the containers and places it carefully on the table, not taking his eyes off me and Hisashi. He picks up one of the containers and holds it up. I see the symbiont undulating inside, a long off-white shape inside a flurry of tendrils.
“Helpless,” he says. “Unable to speak or communicate. Encased in a small glass prison.”
A container instead of a gun, that’s progre-
He tosses the container at me.
The glass cylinder spins end over end through the room. My hands shoot out and I catch it and hug it to my chest. The fall would not have broken it, but it is a reflex I cannot suppress.
I duck to the side behind the wall on instinct. I know it won’t block a particle beam. I roll and come up against the drywall. Glancing to the side, I see Hisashi fall to the ground. There’s a black patch on the side of his chest. I smell ozone and burning meat.
“Hisashi,” I yelp.
“I’m sorry about that, Officer Kujima,” Winters says. “But three’s a crowd, don’t you think?”
I want to sprint around the corner, jump over the table, and tackle him. Then pound the crap out of him. I fight down the anger and stay where I am. My breathing is hoarse, and my pulse is racing. I slow both down. I’m pretty sure the rules say I shouldn’t attack him with my bare hands.
“Please step out from behind the wall,” he continues. “Or I will be forced to shoot your colleague in the head.”
I grip the container tightly and clench my free hand into a fist. I don’t have a choice. I stand and walk out from behind the wall. Winters is still behind the row of containers. He’s holding two wraiths again, both barrels aimed my way. Our eyes meet. His are icy blue, mine feel as if they should be flaming red.
“It’s time for you to go downstairs and tell your superiors I mean business,” he says. “You’re holding my offer of good faith. And do take your partner with you.”
I glance down at the container with the symbiont.
“Get Xiu to share the list of hostages,” he says. “It should help you convince them to give me my planet!”
He waves one of the wraiths toward the elevators. I move to Hisashi’s side mechanically and help him to his feet.
Thero bodies react very differently to injuries than human bodies do. A human would be pale, sweating, and trembling in shock. Hisashi just has his teeth bared and is unresponsive. I sling my arm around his body on the side without the burn and we start to stumble away.
I glance at Winters, who is still pointing one of his wraiths at us. “We will talk later, Officer Sora Kujima. Goodbye.”