Things are heating up for officer Kujima in installment 4 of my story Hostages.
The previous installments are:
Into The Fray
I watch the fragments of the destroyed container tumble down the side of the skyscraper that is Xiu headquarters on the sniper feed.
“Major,” the lead sniper shouts over the radio. “Orders?”
Shin slams his fist against the wall and curses. I think he is about to give another kill order.
“Wait!” I step in. “Look at his hand.”
Shin shoots me an angry look, then turns to his pad, about to ignore me.
“A dead man’s switch,” Lieutenant Yori says, he opens his microphone and gives a lizard growl. “Stand-down!”
“Affirmative,” the sniper sighs. The video feeds show two moving views of the top floor of the sky scraper as the two snipers circle the building in their flyers. Winters sits down in the chair next to the table of containers, one hand holding the trigger.
“I ordered you to leave!” Shin snaps at me.
I shrug. “I had to take care of my partner.”
“The partner whose sleeve just died?” he sneers.
I turn and look at Hisashi. My HUD is showing a number of exclamation marks and red-flashing warnings around him. I crouch down and check him with my pad. Pulse is gone, breathing stopped. I curse. His sleeve did die.
“Get him out of that sleeve, then buzz off,” Shin snaps, his voice acid. “That is another order, officer Kujima. Do not disobey this one.”
“Yes, Sir,” I stutter, then bow. I bite my lip in anger. I turn my attention back to Hisashi. I turn the chair with the big lizard corpse until I can reach behind its head. The fake skin is grafted to real skin to create an almost invisible flap. I fold it up, revealing the titanium interface hatch beneath it. With a pin from my pocket – standard Aperture Authority gear – I trigger the emergency release. The hatch pops open. I pull the fifteen centimeters of container out. Hisashi is curled up inside, his off-white tendrils undulating steadily in the gel inside the container.
He’s fine, of course. It would have been different if Winters had shot him in the head and had hit his interface, but luckily that didn’t happen.
He’d turned off most active connections right after he got shot and by the time his Thero sleeve died he would have withdrawn into full limbo. I stand and look down at the large dead Thero on the chair before me, burn mark on his chest and an empty interface in his head. It had been Hisashi’s favorite sleeve. He’d bought it three years ago, at a discount because they were clearing out that line.
I sigh and hold up Hisashi in his container. He’ll be pissed. Maybe he’ll still get his promotion for bravery in the line of duty.
I stand and glance back at the video feeds before walking to the exit. Winters is still sitting behind the table with the containers. Papers twirl through the room and shattered glass glitters on the carpet. With his free hand he’s drumming on the table’s surface.
“Can we open a connection?” Major Shin asks Lieutenant Yori. I turn my back on the two and walk to the sliding doors to exit the building. I don’t know why I feel like crap. Maybe I can finally get that cup of coffee now.
When I step outside several of my fellow officers look up. They all share the same questioning look. They’ve formed a cordon around the building, holding back a small throng of people, mostly reporters.
I’m about to head their way when Yori emerges from behind me. His tail is wagging behind him.
“Lieutenant Yori?” I ask.
“He’s asking for you,” he growls.
“Shin?” I ask.
“No,” Yori says. “Winters.”
I hesitate only a moment. Then I turn and follow Yori back inside. Shin stares at me as I walk back in. Anger smolders in his dark eyes. I shrug and smile. He turns to the video feed, shoulders tight, then pushes a button on his pad and I see a new audio connection pop up on on my HUD. The video feed is showing a close-up of Winters, sitting on the desk chair, leaning his elbows on the table, and staring directly into the camera. He’s still holding the dead-man’s switch in his right hand.
“Here she is,” Shin hisses.
“Officer Sora Kujima,” Winters says, straightening in his chair, even though he can’t see me.
“Winters,” I grunt, not quite knowing what to say.
Shin intervenes. “She’s here, Cain. We’ve established I’m willing to listen. What can I really do for you?”
He barks a laugh. “Tell me, officer Sora Kujima, how pissed was Major Shin when he shot a sleeve instead of me?”
Shin frowns, but gestures for me to answer.
“I think he smashed a hole in the wall with his hand,” I say. Probably not the best thing to say if I don’t want to be demoted to fetching coffee. Shin nods, but his lips are a thin line.
Winters picks up one of the containers and I hear Yori’s sharp intake of breath.
“I bet,” Winters says. He turns the container over, the symbiont inside swaying gently, amid the fan of tendrils leading to the cap. He snorts then puts the container back on the table. “You shot one of mine, I retaliated.”
Shin says, “As I stated, we’ve establi-”
“Shut up, Major,” Winters says. “You’re coming up here, Officer Kujima, and we’ll talk face-to-face. Well, face-to-sleeve anyway.”
I look at Shin. He shakes his head.
“I’m sorry Winters,” I say. “Perhaps if you give us one of the hostages, we can talk.”
A shadow crosses his face. “Did you look at the list?”
“I wasn’t able,” I say, glancing at Shin. The line of Shin’s mouth turns down. He rubs the stubble on his jaw in irritation.
“I bet the Major suppressed it. Let me enlighten you,” Winters says and dips the barrel of the gun to point at one of the container. “Top of the list will be Hiroku Xiu.”
I blink. Hiroku Xiu, the CEO of Xiu corporation. Xiu is one of five companies in the empire that supplies sleeves. Thousands of worlds housing a few trillion Kyosei, and they all need sleeves from those five companies. Hiroku Xiu is one of the most influential people in the Orion Spur. Even I know who he is. No wonder Shin is spooked.
“Well, spiffy,” I say. Perhaps skipping all those classes had not been the best idea of my life.
“That’s all you have to say, Sora?” Winters chides me. “He was just passing through, and took the opportunity to assess the local director of this dust-speck of a station personally. Guess he should guard his travel plans better.”
I click the microphone off. “Is any of that true?”
Shin grimaces, then nods. That explains the Major and his highly trained team being here, then. I’d heard Xiu had a security team jointly funded by the Authority and Xiu. Also, well-planned by the Resistance. I click the microphone back on.
“Alright, Winters. Now what?”
A grim smile appears on his face. “Like I said. Let’s talk.”
His hand goes to his ear. He takes off his ear piece and puts it down on the table. Then he leans back in his chair and starts drumming on the table.
Shin slams a fist against the wall. If he does that a couple more times, there really will be a hole.
“We should just kill him,” he says. “Shoot a clamp on his hand to keep the trigger down.”
Yori raises his large head, yellow eyes narrowing to vertical slits. “And what if he’s wired it to his vitals?”
“Then we knock him out.”
Yori snorts, and his scaled nostrils flare, then thinks better of it. “You’re in command. Sir.”
Shin opens his mouth, then closes it. I think he is about to give the kill order. I know the Authority stance on sleeve rebels. The CEO of Xiu dying will allow the Authority to press down on the bares harder. Of course, it could end Shin’s career in the process. He glances at me, and I see the wheels of his mind turning and assessing if he can pin everything on me.
“No,” I say at the same moment that Shin says, “You should go in and talk to him.”
I stare at him. I know a setup when I see one. Bastard.
I close my eyes and run a hand through my hair. After a few seconds, I open my eyes again and nod.
Why did I do that? I ask myself.