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THE ASCENSION RUN

(Cane's Laws Book One)



by T. Q. Chant





Copyright © 2018 Tim Chant

Cover illustration copyright © Daniel Rhodes

Smashwords Edition

CONTENTS

CHAPTER ONE – ALL POINTS BULLET

CHAPTER TWO – LOCAL FILES

CHAPTER THREE – VICTIM STATEMENT

CHAPTER FOUR – GAME PLAN

CHAPTER FIVE – ON TRACK

CHAPTER SIX - FOOTHOLD

CHAPTER SEVEN – COLD READ, HOT READ

CHAPTER EIGHT – COLLECTING DEBTS

CHAPTER NINE – EXIT PLAN

EPILOGUE

CHAPTER ONE – ALL POINTS BULLET

“Control here. Anyone near the InterGlobe building on Quartermain? We're getting reports of... something happening there.”

Lakes shelled a pistachio with her teeth, dropped the remnants out of the patrol unit's window as she munched the nut. “This new guy is useless,” she grumbled, before keying the unit's comm. “Control, this is Sixteen. Try leading off with 'all units near Quartermain, respond to incident reports' or something. You know, something a bit more professional? And maybe task a drone to see what's going on?” The last was added almost as an afterthought.

Caplan glanced at the burly patrol officer he'd been partnered with. He knew by now not to make any comments about professionalism, instead quietly put the cruiser into gear. “You know, we're pretty close to Quartermain.”

“Twelve and Twenty-nine are closer,” Lakes replied sourly, reaching into the bag for another nut. Caplan had never been sure how she afforded so much of the expensive import, nor how she always knew where the other patrol units were without ever needing to check. “Plus, IGC has its own security team and that was a report of something happening, not them calling in for back-up.”

Caplan started the cruiser rolling. The fat drops of rain on the side windows became streaks as they picked up speed, refracting the streetlights that glowed into life at the vehicle's approach and then faded as it passed. “Well, it's a slow night,” he said, keeping his voice reasonable.

Lakes sighed. “Still determined to be exemplary police, then?”

“It's kind of our job. Protect and serve, and all that.”

“Maybe we just have a different way of doing things in the colonies? You shoulda stuck in the home system if you're going to carry on like that.”

Policing in the Solar System, Caplan thought, was perhaps not what Lakes imagined. Control forestalled a further response.

“All units, this is control. Reports of shots fired at IGC. Repeat, shots fired!”

“That tears it,” Lakes grumbled. She didn't hesitate to hit the blues-and-twos, though, as Caplan put the hammer down. “Sixteen, responding.”

The cruiser slid through the streets, the city a blur on either side. Caplan felt a rush as the acceleration pushed him back in his seat and then pulled him sideways as he whipped the vehicle round a corner from Ilyushin Avenue onto a cross street, hauled it round again onto Quartermain. The long, broad avenue was mixed residential and business, much like the rest of the city, and there were a few people still moving around despite the torrential rain. IGC's main building on the colony was halfway along, rising like a silvery arc buried on one end and pointing up into the sky.

Lakes grimaced as he put the cruiser onto the pavement, the fat tyres barely bumping. Despite the fact that two other units were closer, Sixteen was first on the scene and Caplan was ducking out under the rising door before Unit Twelve had even come to a halt. The weapons locker on the back of the unit hadn't been authorised by control – situation obviously only warranted non-lethal, which meant the Security Solutions stunners in their holsters.

“Caplan, slow down!” Lakes bellowed as her boots hit the pavement. She was a short block of a woman, but she wasn't unfit. Just cautious. Particularly when it came to the corporations – Ascension's Grace was a direct-administration world but that didn't mean that corporate money didn't talk.

She was right, of course. There might have been reports of shots being fired, but Ascent was a peaceful enough city and they couldn't hear alarms or gunfire. He slowed his breathing and left the stunner holstered as he strode towards the building. The big glass doors were showing as locked, but their badges overrode that automatically – he didn't kid himself that their authorisation would get them any further into the building though.

At first sight, there was nothing amiss. A smooth-faced young man in a pristine white suit greeted them in the reception area. “Good evening,” he greeted them through a light haze that told Caplan he was behind a virtual desk set to a private view. “How can I help assist you this evening?”

“Ascent City PD,” Lakes said, a bit unnecessarily as they were in their distinct blue uniforms. “We're responding to reports of a disturbance at this address, including shots fired.”

The young man looked surprised, and raised long-fingered hands to his holo keyboard. “I'm not seeing any internal alerts – we certainly didn't call you.”

Caplan stared hard at the fellow. He looked too young and guileless to be bullshitting them, but there was just something not right about it.

Lakes grunted – she at least appeared to be satisfied. “Maybe we should just walk the perimeter, make sure there isn't anything going on nearby. Sorry to have troubled you.” She hitched her belt, turned to go with a warning look at Caplan.

“We would of course welcome your assistance in making sure our neighbourhood is safe,” the young man said with a smooth smile. Caplan looked between Lakes' hard, flinty eyes and the easy-going youth.

“IGC always have someone on reception duty in the middle of the night?” he asked. “When the doors are locked?”

Lakes scowled, but she knew he was right. Ascension's Grace might have been a well-established colony, not a backwater, but nobody wanted the all-day-and-night culture that dominated the Solar System. The receptionist knew they were right as well, and for the first time his composure broke down as he struggled for an answer. “I assure you, officer...” he started to stammer out, but was cut off by a thump that Caplan felt as much as heard, a slight shift in the fabric of the willowy building.

Chaos, of course, broke loose at that point. The building's internal alarms went loud – Caplan guessed they'd been going off in the receptionist's face the whole time – and Control was suddenly shouting in their ears. “One suspect exiting the rear of the building on foot! I am routing additional cruisers and fire units to your location!”

Caplan and Lakes spun on their heels almost as one, knowing there was no point trying to force their way further into the building. “Secure the front entrance, nobody in or out!” Lakes growled to the other officers – until someone with a stripe or more showed up, they were in charge as the first responding team. Caplan had the cruiser back in gear and moving while Lakes was still buckling in.

“Control, this is Sixteen. Give us drone footage and a route on the HUD.”

The windscreen in front of them came to life, a low-light heads-up display picking out the buildings on either side, a pulsing green line showing them the optimal intercept route. A window popped open, giving them realtime coverage of the foot pursuit currently ongoing through the service alleys running between the main thoroughfares. Lakes reached out to draw the window across in front of her seat as Caplan sent the cruiser hurtling down Quartermain, looking for the next intersection that would allow them to cut off the pursuit.

“Little bastard can run,” Lakes grunted. “IGC's goons will have him in a minute though.”

“Not if we can help it,” Caplan snapped. The explosion had upgraded the incident to a major one – lethal weapons authorised, response units being vectored into the area. The control officer who had initiated was still running point but he sounded a lot calmer and Caplan could hear someone else in the background. The route marker he was following flashed, indicating a turn, and he spun the cruiser round, left-hand wheels almost leaving the ground. A warning appeared across the HUD, which Lakes angrily dismissed.

“We could just leave it...” she began as he slammed the vehicle to a halt across the service alley.

“Don't even start – our jurisdiction.” Then he was out of the vehicle, back in the torrential rain that hazed the lights in the alley. Not so much that he couldn't see the slight figure sprinting down the alley, the bigger figures in IGC Security uniforms hot on his tail.

He drew his stunner, not having the time or inclination to fetch something more lethal from the weapons locker. “Ascent City PD!” he roared, voice amplified by the cruiser. “Everybody get on the ground.”

He thought the fugitive was getting on the ground for a moment, then realised he’d just gone through the street. He started sprinting towards the security guards as they gathered round what was obviously an open service hatch. Lucky bastard, he thought. His luck wouldn't last forever, though – the IGC guards were going in. Caplan dropped down almost on top of the last one.

“ASCENT PD! You are out of your jurisdiction and will cease your pursuit.”

The guard actually swung a shock baton at his head. He was so surprised he almost didn't duck under the wild swing, still managed to deliver a solid blow to the goon's guts, and was pleased to find he hadn't had time to put on body armour. He let the guy drop, sucking air into his lungs in painful gasps. With swift, well-practised movements, Caplan turned him onto his front, pinned his wrists, and hit them with a capsule of quick-setting cuff foam. A warning siren made him look up, heart hammering, as a bulk delivery drone slid almost silently towards them before slamming to a halt as its emergency systems kicked in. They were in the service tunnels through which the lifeblood of the city – goods delivery, power, water, refuse disposal – ran. Low-level lighting was coming on as the system reacted to the intrusion and he could just about make out running figures further ahead.

“Caplan!” Lakes shouted from above.

“Still in pursuit – one tagged and cuffed.” Pushing aside any thought of horror stories about safety systems failing and unwary trespassers getting pulped by heavy movers, he sprinted after the perps.

“Ascent City PD!” he shouted again. “Everyone just stop somewhere safe until we can sort this out!”

He realised his palms were sweating, heartbeat racing. For the first time since the pursuit began he was unsure of himself, wondering if he should have heeded Lakes.

“Screw that,” he muttered as he heard raised voices ahead, the security guards catching up with the fugitive from the sounds of it.

They had her – as it turned out – cornered in a maintenance bay. He couldn't really describe her as slim so much as scrawny, almost undernourished. Olive skin, dark eyes surrounded by shadows, a shaggy mop of jet-black hair slicked back by rain.

“You fuckers can just step off,” she was snarling as he came into the bay. She tipped over a stack of crates filled with who knew what with a crash, buying herself a bit more space to edge up on a security door. Caplan knew they'd be on her before she could get to it, though. Apparently she knew that too, as she reached into the small of her back and produced a sleek but oddly antiquated handgun. “Everyone just back off!”

“Ascent City Police!” he barked, using the 'cop tone' that required obedience through force of personality and authority, not volume or threat. “Everyone put your weapons down and get down on your knees or I will shoot!” He had the stunner in his hand, knowing what a limited threat it was and hoping that Lakes wasn't far away with something a little more intimidating.

Because the cop tone, even learned through years of hard experience, did not always have the desired effect.

One of the IGC goons spun to face him, as though he'd realised for the first time that they weren't the only ones in pursuit. “This is a Corporate matter, officer, and we can handle it.” Caplan noted he was carrying an Enforcer coilpistol and there was no way of knowing what it was loaded with. The other security officer, apparently unworried by the gun being waved in his face, continued to close on the fugitive. She was up against the door now, fumbling behind her one handed, trying to get it open.

“As soon as your building started exploding and you took it onto Ascent City streets, it became our matter,” he said flatly. “Learn the ordinances before you start quoting the law, buddy.”

The guy actually smirked at him. He had the look of a senior exec at odds with the security uniform, the smooth assurance that Corporation clout and money could push a colonial cop around. The fact that he was holding a potentially lethal weapon just gave him that extra confidence. It also gave Caplan justification.

He levelled and fired the stunner in one smooth motion. He habitually kept it on the ‘bit of a jolt’ setting, just enough to wipe off the smirk and put the IGC goon on his side, legs twitching uncontrollably. The second goon turned away from his prize, alerted by the sharp hiss of the stunner firing and the tang of ozone on the air, and Caplan put him down as well.

He almost shot the perp as well, but she had her finger on the trigger of a definitely lethal firearm pointed in his general direction and he didn't fancy her squeezing one into him when her body went into convulsions. “Come on now, citizen, put it down.”

“Citizen. Ha.” She did drop the muzzle slightly, but not so far that he felt comfortable stunning her. “What's your name, mate?”

“How about I ask the questions?” he said, easing slightly forwards and to one side, trying to take himself out the line of fire. The fact that she actually laughed when he said that convinced him she was tweaked on something.

“Come on. Girl has a right to know who's pinching her.”

“Ok, ok. Caplan – my name's Caplan. Joe Caplan.”

She nodded, as though this has confirmed something vitally important for her. Caplan let go of a breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding as she carefully safed the pistol before popping the mag and jacking the action to remove the round from the chamber, neatly arranging all three items on the ground. She didn't wait to be prompted but stepped back from the weapon and got down on her knees, hands behind her head and ankles crossed. Almost like she'd been arrested before.

Caplan holstered his own weapon and slid hers well out of the way with his foot. “Careful with that – I'll be wanting it back.”

Lakes finally came puffing up, a riot gun cradled in her hands and a look on her face, when she realised he'd already contained the sitch, that suggested she'd really been looking forwards to using it.

“Tag these two,” Caplan ordered, his voice tight as he moved round behind the female suspect. “What's your name, then?” he asked as he put her wrists behind her back and squirted cuffs onto them, holding them in place while it solidified.

“Samrit Cane Kokhani, officer,” she said. “But you can go ahead and call me Sam.”


The rain front exhausted itself at some point between Caplan and Lakes booking their collars in for the night and their shift ending. Caplan was in the station barrack house – between homes and marriages, as the saying went; Lakes lived slightly out of town with her husbands. Which meant he was the one dragged out of a deep sleep by the day watch sergeant.

“Captain wants to see you,” An Hieu said, leaning against the fold-down desk in the small but comfortable pod assigned to him. She didn't show much interest in giving him any privacy as he dragged himself from the sleeping alcove.

“Beats me why we have a pod barracks when this planet isn't even remotely over populated,” he grumbled as he set the wall unit to turn out an extra strong coffee.

“Department budget and the fact that we don't want bums like you taking up space that newbies need.”

He squeezed round Hieu to grab his uniform tunic. He'd fallen asleep in his shirt and trousers, didn't feel much like changing given that he was being summoned on the off-shift. Hieu snorted with annoyance and finally moved out of the way to give him room to pull his boots on.

“This about those Corps goons? I just stunned them, chrissake.”

“Nah. Well, not much anyway. We tagged and released – fancy IGC lawyer showed up this morning, spun a line about the one going for you thinking you were another perp. Heat of the moment, all that guff. Didn't even raise a complaint about you stunning two of 'em.”

“Well, best give me my side arm back then.”

“Review team still has to make a call.”

“Then why did you drag me out?”

“It's the perp you tagged. Superintendent will explain.”

“The correct terminology, Sergeant, is 'suspect',” he said piously as he followed her out of the pod.

**********

You've seen one interview room, you've seen 'em all.

Saskia had said that, after the first time Sam had been collared. Stretched out on the slightly springy wipe-clean floor, she was obscurely pleased to remember that. Both the details, and who said it. Some of her long-term memories were still a bit hazy after the Bright Place, but they were coming back.

She definitely remembered all of the interrogations and interviews she'd been subjected to, the times she'd walked out laughing and the other times she'd come within a gnat's dick of being collared. She certainly remembered the IGC cell in this very city, the third time she'd been really properly nailed to the wall and forced into making a shitty deal.

She shivered at the remembered cold of where that had led her – or could be the icy planet's chill had never really left her bones. She gave up trying to nap, which was just as well as the door slid open and the cop from last night strode in.

“There you are, sunshine,” she said, pulling herself to her feet. “Sleep well?”

He glowered at her as she examined him. Handsome son of a bitch, more grizzled than a bloke his age had any right to be. Probably didn't realise quite how attractive he was. Dark hair, short. Stubble but not designer, none of the on-point topiary that was in right now. Light grey eyes, bleary from a lack of sleep.

Good. Just how I like my interviewing officers.

“You know you don't have the right to pick and choose who interviews you?” Caplan took a slug of his caff and gestured her to the seat that appeared to have been extruded from the floor. There wasn't a table in the room, and he didn't take the opposite chair.

“Really? Maybe I was just trying to be reasonable, Officer Caplan. Told your super I would absolutely spill my guts, but only to Joe Caplan.”

He stared hard at her, obviously trying to figure her out.

“What are you? Some kind of fucking groupie?”

The trick here was not to appear to know too much, and not too little. She quirked an eyebrow at him. “Why? You famous?” She reckoned he needed to have his ego pricked slightly. “Actually, come to think of it, think I read something about a Joe Caplan a while back, back on the Phoenix Station beat...”

“Never mind,” he snapped. “So why did you ask for me?”

“Kind of traditional, where I'm from. Arresting officer does the initial interrogation. Just makes me feel more comfortable, you know?”

“Well, you've got me. We have, as they say in the vids, upheld our end of the deal. Now spill – why did you try to blow up InterGlobe Corp's office?”

Sam shook her head. No way was she letting anything that suggested terrorism stick to her. “That wasn't an attempt at destruction – that was a simple breaching charge. Emergency exit in case things went sideways.” She stood up, crossed her arms. “You must have read my file by now – I'm a petty crook, not a bomber.”

“A petty crook who was in the Army, and once I see your forces file I'll be able to see if you have demo training.”

Which confirmed he had read the local copy of her file and submitted a data request through channels. Good. “I was a supply clerk. I counted boxes of bullets and bombs, I didn't use 'em.”

“So. I ask again. Why did you break into IGC's offices?”

“Who says I broke in? Maybe someone invited me in?” Which was pretty close to the truth, not that she was going to lay that out. After all, the junior exec she'd played had thought she was someone completely different when he cleared her access.

He raised an eyebrow, and she shrugged. “OK, so I certainly broke out, which means I was up to no good.” She sat again, making sure she looked more relaxed than she felt, slouched down as she stared at the cop. “The truth, then.”

She let a little agitation bleed through, leaning forwards, elbows on her thighs and hands laced in front of her. “What would you say if I told you that there is an entire human society hidden in the gaps between known colonised systems? A society run by a cruel, barbaric religious government that is set on subjecting us us to their – what's the word? – theocracy.”

“I see. I'd ask how they're planning on doing that.”

“They appear to have a multi-strategy approach, involving old-fashioned things like warships and armies. They also have a technology that brainwashes people into their death cult through an intense light, which I think is based off the same code as the A.I.s that actually claim to be their gods. I did mention the A.I.s possessing people, didn't I?”

“Uh-huh. No, you didn't mention those.” Caplan was keeping his voice civil and appeared to be noting everything down in a pad, doing it longhand with a stylus. Obviously didn't rely on the recording systems; she appreciated an old-fashioned flatfoot. “So how does IGC fit into all of this?”

“IGC, or at least a faction within it, appears to be aware of the Saved – that's what they call themselves, by the way, the Saved – and seems interested in making links with them. Maybe co-opting their colonies, using the friendly assimilation clause in the Pre-Existing Pops Act to their advantage by opening up a dozen or more new worlds that are already developed.”

“I see. And that's why you were breaking into IGC's offices here?”

“Yep. Looking for evidence. I think at least one member of this cabal is based here, though I won't name the slimy son of a quasar until I can confirm it. He'd sue me for defamation. Fucking lawyer.”

“Well, I have to say, if you did tell me all this, I'd have to call a brain-basher to have you looked at.”

She slouched back again, crossed her arms and grinned. “OK, guess I won't tell you that. I broke in 'cos I was looking for blackmail material. Old-fashioned grift. Truth this time, squaddy's honour.”

“You know, I might call a shrink anyway.”

“You wouldn't be wrong to.”


CHAPTER TWO – LOCAL FILES

“Here's what we do know,” Caplan said as he sat down across from Lakes in the briefing room.

He'd stopped the first interview not long after Cane had spun her tale. He'd been pissed off at being dragged out of bed to listen to that fantasy, but a shower and proper breakfast had put him in a better mood. He couldn't deny he'd enjoyed being on the right side of an interview room; he had her to thank for that at least. A detective would take over soon enough, when one of them dragged themselves in to the stationhouse.

Lakes glowered at him over her cup of cocoa. It was mid-afternoon, shift change, and he knew he'd be hitting harder stuff to keep himself going into the night shift. His actual job, as she'd pointed out sourly. “You do know I never went for detective? Never wanted it?”

He glanced at her, shrugged. “I did the whole detective thing, back home. It's overrated. More than happy just to be a beat cop myself.”

It was mostly true, he knew. The slight spike in his heart rate told him it wasn't entirely, though.

“Well, you two may be stuck with this one,” Superintendent Mendoza commented as he came into the briefing room, a couple of detectives on his heels. “Stein and Chen have had no luck cracking her. Seems she's only interested in talking to you, Caplan, which means the two of you are on the desk for now.”

“We'll see,” Lakes muttered, her mood seeming to worsen. She yawned massively. “She high on something?”

“Blood and urine came back clean,” Caplan said, tapping a key on his pad to bring up the interview room feed on the main monitor. “Thought she was tweaked at first, though,” he conceded as the five of them watched the small woman. She didn't stay still long, moving with an abrupt jerkiness between the chair, sitting in a corner or lying stretched out along the back wall.

“And now?”

“I think she's tired, boss.”

“Seems like a livewire to me,” Stein said. She sounded as bored as Lakes, had to break off picking her teeth to speak.

“Tired's maybe the wrong word,” Caplan went on, his voice pensive. “Exhausted is more like it. Pushed to the point where she's strung out on nerves and adrenalin. Running from... something.”

“Yeah, IGC,” Chen said. “Which brings me to why they're not pressing charges.”

Caplan glanced away from the monitor, twitched an eyebrow. “We don't need them to press anything. We've got her on illegal weapons, resisting arrest, breaking and entering. Maybe terrorism offenses.”

“Something like this, you'd expect them to be all up in our asses,” Stein pointed out. “With an extra list of charges and a demand that we throw the book at her.”

“Yeah, they really don't like not having their own enforcement powers on direct admin worlds,” the super said. “I've got a couple of them coming in for a 'quiet chat' in about an hour, so let's see if we can't give them something to keep them happy.”

“Anything in particular you want?”

“I'll take a motive, what she was actually after. That would be nice.”

“We don't need one,” Lakes grumbled. “We've got her on a range of charges, let's just sling her into Central and let the courts have her.”

Mendoza stirred, looking uncomfortable. He stared hard at Caplan, just for a second, and that told him the super knew exactly what he was thinking. That he wanted to run with this, prove himself on the new beat. Mendoza had had his back in the past – only reason he had a precinct to be in – but there were limits.

“Let's keep her for a few more hours, certainly until after I've finished with the suits. I'm curious, and it's not often that we catch something like this.”

Cane looked unutterably bored when Caplan pushed into the interview room, slouched down in the chair with her feet stuck out, crossed at the ankles. She just looked like she was done with the whole process, that despite her disclaimer she genuinely believed the bullshit she'd dropped on him earlier. She barely acknowledged him until he'd taken the seat opposite her. “Glad they finally listened and sent you back in. That Stein was cute, but not the brightest.”

“So this is what we know...” he began, glancing down at his pad.

“About time I got a proper dinner,” she broke in. “Rights, and all that.”

“Samrit Cane Kokhani.”

She sighed, putting him off his stride again. “Earth-born. Mumbai and Newcastle, then multiple short-term addresses or itinerant from mid-teens. Couple of brushes with the law but nothing much until an arrest aged nineteen, for a bloody genius scam that only went wrong because... well, that's probably not in the file. Choice: Green Machine or chokey. Cockiness of youth says do the time, professional pride says take the deal. Took the deal. Counted bullets.”

“Which will be confirmed once we see your full file,” he broke in, annoyed despite himself.

She rose, the same pattern of movement as before. Crouching in the corner glaring at him. “I look specops to you?”

“Kind of the point about specops is not to look like it, I imagine.”

She shrugged. “You have no idea.”

He had the initiative, held onto it. “Let's see – dishonourable discharge, no details but I'm guessing you were caught on a grift. Then what looks like a genuine attempt to go legit, IGC Security – not sure how, with your record. Gets a bit patchy after that.”

She put her head back, rubbed at her eyes. “You'll have asked for the record from them, but they won't give it to you. Not all of it, anyway. It won't mention IGC-One-Eight-Seven because I signed a non-disclosure and they are not telling anyone what happened there.”

“That's a matter of full public disclosure,” he said. “Raiders took the settlement out. Regular supply run found the colony deserted.”

“Uh-huh. Sure.”

It was said with enough flat certainty to make him pause. She looked at him again, and just for a second he caught a glimpse of something behind the hard-bitten mask she wore. “We have you being assigned to the Pioneer Department,” he went on after an uncomfortable pause. “Which suggests the going legit thing didn't work out for you. That was here on Ascension, and that's the last record we have of you.”

“They told me I probably wouldn't have to deploy, that there weren't any missions planned for my contract,” she said.

Something cold settled in Caplan's gut, a premonition of what she was about to say. Something, he somehow knew, that would shatter his world if it turned out to be true.

“Then some clever fucker decides to put together a mission for the colony ship Lawrence. Departed Ascension's Grace high anchor almost a year ago, having taken on a final party of colonists, and set course for destination system.” Her voice was cold. “Never to be heard from again.”

She's a crook, a bullshitter. Nothing she says is true. He managed to cling on to that. “Long periods of no contact are not unusual...”

“Let me stop you right there, Officer Caplan. The Lawrence is gone. Last I saw her, degrading orbit over a frozen shithole of a world. Colony site nothing but frozen corpses by that point.” She saw his horrified expression before he could clamp down on it. “Bastards didn't report it, did they? Figures – loss of a colony expedition just after a third-gate place went under would do their stock prices no good.”

He got a proper handle on his emotions, forced himself to remain professional. He had to get the initiative back, start cracking her story open.

Confirm that she was lying about the colony ship.

“Unless they're also covering up the existence of the Saved, you mean?”

“Na-ah. Don't do that, Joe. Don't pretend you believe me. Don't try and play a player.”

“That's what you were going to say, wasn't it?”

“Like I told you. Just looking to make a few sterlars off these bastards. Grift and run, move on to somewhere a little less parochial.”

“So if the Lawrence is gone, how the hell did you get back here?”

“Jacked a jSpace capable seed shuttle when everything hit the fan. Emergency nav dumped me in the closest inhabited system and I've been working my way back here for a while.”

“You were alone? No other survivors?”

He could tell from the odd look she gave him that he'd let too much creep into his tone, giving away his personal interest. He shrugged nonchalantly.

“Sounds like you got lucky.”

“Lucky. Yeah.”

He closed the pad, stood up and walked to the door. Turned at the last second to lean against it.

“None of this is adding up, Sam,” he said, keeping his voice mild. “You have to know how unlikely even the sane version of your story is. My best guess? You split from the expedition before it launched, before it went anywhere near an IGC corporate world so you'd have at least a chance. Kept your head down here until you absolutely had to try something, get some scrip in your pocket so you could get somewhere else. Home, maybe.”

Her eyes were haunted as she glanced at him, looked away quickly. “Can't go home,” she said quietly. The expression was gone when she looked back at him, the face of a professional crook replacing it. “Any chance of a decent curry on this rock?”


The curry, a rogan josh made with printed chicken and some local replacements for the necessary spices, had been declared tolerable. That was pretty much the only progress he made with Cane. She veered wildly between hinting at a dark conspiracy tied in with undiscovered human civilisations beyond the fringe, and just being a low-level but capable grifter.

“Nothing?” Mendoza asked. It was late, and the superintendent had just finished his meeting with the suits from IGC as Caplan finally emerged from the interview room. He was still troubled by what she'd said about the Lawrence, but he wasn't going to let that show. Whether or not she was telling the truth, his gut told him that she knew something about the colony ship, which meant he couldn't afford to get taken off the case for having a personal connection.

“She's either running one hell of a long con on us, or she's completely deranged and actually believes there's an interstellar cult after her, working with your chums there.” He nodded his head across the quiet squad room to where the IGC suits were being shown out.

Watch Commander Traver he recognised from past dealings – none of them happy. One was slick and expensively dressed enough to be a lawyer. The third was a tall, weather-beaten black man with a severe expression. There was something... not quite right about him. Caplan couldn't put his finger on it. Maybe his expression as he conversed with the desk sergeant; maybe just the fact he was wearing locally cut clothes – rough and ready frontier style from the planet's north continent – but everything about him screamed offworlder.

“Transferring her to holding for now, chief,” he went on, his tone absent. “Think everyone needs a rest.”

A couple of uniforms were just escorting Cane from the interview room, across the back of the squadroom to the holding cells. The tall black man happened to look round just at that moment, and Caplan caught a brief expression of pure, undiluted hatred on his face as he saw her, only mastering himself when the lawyer touched his arm and whispered something to him. Caplan looked round at Cane, seeing only the same expression of bored indifference on her face.

“There's something not right about this whole thing,” he told the superintendent once she was out of earshot.

Mendoza looked like he agreed, but wasn't going to say so. “We can chuck this over to Central, like Lakes wanted,” was all he said in response.

Caplan didn't even have to think about this, just shook his head. “What did the IGC lot want?”

“The usual. Update on the case, whether she's said anything about what she was after. Whether she actually took anything.”

“She didn't have anything on her when we caught her, and the booking scan would have picked up anything she'd hidden in a body cavity or swallowed.”

“Yep. And their goons were in hot pursuit the whole time she was out of the building. They'll know better than us if she had got her hands on something.”

“Which makes me wonder why they even asked.”

“Yep. Watch yourself on this one, Joe. You still have things to lose.”

Caplan watched Mendoza's broad back as he retreated to his office. That explains why everyone's happy for a uni to be in the lead on this. If it went south, it would all just be pinned on him and, rightly or wrongly, he had a rep for fucking up.

“Always wondered if I'm maybe just too cynical for a place like Ascension's Grace,” he muttered.

“You Sol-born usually are,” Lakes said as she sauntered up beside him. She was in street gear; vest, stunner, nightstick and cuffs all weighing her belt down.

“Didn't know we were going out.”

“We're not. Sergeant has paired me with a rook, name of Kasinski. Just until you've finished with... whatever this is.” She clapped him on the arm. “Don't look so glum, pardner. I'm a street cop, I'd be no use to you.”

That much was true, but he couldn't escape the feeling that a lot of folks were suddenly giving him a lot of space.

He shook his head, angry with himself. The squadroom was quiet and empty because the night shift was out on its beat, and this was a quiet precinct anyway. Ascent City was generally quiet, in fact; even the well-established extra-Solar colony worlds didn't have the same crime rate he used to batter his head against back in the home system.

Or it hadn't, at least, until Same Cane had happened.

**********

Sam lay rigid on the bed in the holding cell, fists clenched at her sides, trying to suppress the sudden panic, the sudden urge to run or to try to burrow into the wall and hide.

She closed her eyes, saw Okafor's face again; how it had suddenly sprouted an extra hole, red and angry but small in a way that belied the mess the back of his head became. The memory felt detached, nothing to do with her and the fact she'd pulled the trigger. “Son of a bitch had it coming,” she whispered, swinging her legs over the side of the cot and sitting up. Dinner was suddenly a sour, unpleasant weight in her guts.

She hadn't thought of Okafor for a while, or the cold satisfaction she'd felt as she'd pulled the trigger. She'd been too busy, between the hellish voyage back from the failed colony, then working her way back here, from one shitty fourth-gate world to the next. Then the tiring two months in Ascent City, avoiding notice, planning, observing, running small scams to build up an operational fund. Careful, slow, deliberate – Rule #19, the bigger the score, the more time you need to take over it. And she was after a plenty big score.

That was all threatened now. The timetable had been moved up for her, because IGC and the Saved seemed to have moved faster than she'd expected.

She'd certainly never expected to see that bastard Jonathan's face again, let alone in an Ascent PD stationhouse. The only thing that had surprised her about the whole thing was that he was in company with the slimy lawyer Allain.

“Take a breath,” she told herself. “This changes nothing. Nothing but the timeline.”

It had taken everything she had not to react to seeing Jonathan; not to try for a gun, any kind of weapon to do to him what she'd already done to his son. His expression had told her the former director of the 187 colony site hadn't forgotten or forgiven her. She'd half expected him not to have given a shit; a not unreasonable expectation given that he'd personally killed his wife and one of his sons, and had his daughter publicly beheaded.

“Seems blowing the heir apparent’s head off left a mark after all,” she muttered, and actually smirked at that. Reminding herself of Adissa, of the flash of steel in her brother's hand as he'd hacked her head off, settled her. Pushed away a rising tide of guilt at the way she'd killed the little shit.

What she was bringing to them, they had coming.

Caplan's voice outside the cell startled her. “The tall man with the two suits from IGC. He knew you.”

She hopped to her feet, wiped a hand across the wall to clear a section of the frosted plex – it was one of the more refreshing things about a directly administered world, things like the right to privacy being protected even when you were in slam. Caplan moved into the cleared area, looking thoughtful. Troubled even.

“Yes, yes he does. He's not IGC. Well, he was.”

“Who is he? He didn't give his name.”

“And they let him into the station anyway?”

“This may be direct admin, but we rely on IGC for a lot of the cargo runs. They don't get to ride roughshod over us, but they do get extra consideration.”

“Huh. His name's Jerry Jonathan. He was the colony director for IGC-One-Eight-Seven. You know, the one that got wiped out by raiders and was found abandoned.”

Caplan frowned at her. “You know that's going to be easy to verify, don't you?”

“Yes, I imagine it will be.” Jonathan’s appearance had scared the shit out of her, but she was beginning to realise that this might work to her advantage. Just like any con, a lot of it came down to the mark being arrogant.

Reckon I was right to trust this Caplan. He's a thinker.

“He appears to hate your guts.”

“He has a right to. I killed his son. Who was my fiancé at the time, apparently.”

That really surprised the cop. He took a step back, the look on his face telling her he really wished they were having this conversation in an interview room. Sometimes the right to privacy could really torpedo an investigation. “Are you telling me that you murdered someone?” He was obviously just going to go for it and rely on his sworn testimony in court – good, but not as good as a sanctioned and stamped audio-holo recording.

“Depends on your definition of murder – I'd call it self-defence. Plus, it was on One-eight-seven – not sure I can be prosecuted for a crime on a deserted planet I've officially never been to.” She winked, waved the wall back to being frosted and killed the sound. She knew Caplan could just clear it himself, but she had a point to make.

**********

The problem with doing actual detective work on a colony world was how long it took to get access to any sort of offworld resource. Even information, which flowed with only limited delays between the planets and stations of the Solar System, was days away. First a spread of jSpace postal pods – or a courier ship, if you could afford the fees – would have to work their way to the destination systems, then the information would have to be found and uploaded, then the return pods would make their chancy way back through the weird substratum of the universe that allowed humans to get round the light barrier.

Caplan scowled at the screen over his caff and cursed the eggheads who hadn't gotten round to inventing proper FTL communications yet. He was in his pod in the station barracks, pretty much the only place he could get any sort of privacy.

At least Ascension's Grace was that one-in-a-trillion chance of being both a grade 1 habitable world and on a strong jSpace current that connected it to the core Commonwealth worlds – it was barely three days away from Neu Berlin, one of the oldest and most advanced colonies and therefore sector capital for this region.

Which still meant more than a week's lag time. Right now he had to content himself with what they had locally, which meant a sparse personal file and the evidence from the collar. Which wasn't much.

InterGlobe had been pretty forthcoming on Cane's employment with them, confirming what he'd suspected, that she'd ducked out of a pioneer contract before the Lawrence had finished its resupply and taken on a last group of colonists. Including Lucinda. She'd been on the run from them – ditching a contract came under corporate law – on Ascension's Grace ever since. Forensics had identified the device she'd used to escape the building – embarrassingly, it was from a stock of Ascent PD materiel that had gone missing on its way for destruction five years ago, having being classed as obsolete.

Obsolete, but still effective.

He tagged that as an action in the case management system and also gave it a force-wide flag. Serious Crime was handling the theft of the munitions, so they'd appreciate the heads up that an item had been used and might even return the favour if they caught a lead from it. He debated with himself, very briefly, before he fired it into the system – there was a chance SC would want the whole case as it linked to one in their deepfreeze.

Well, if they wanted it, they'd take it. He told himself that IGC's explanation was the only one that made sense, that this suspect knew nothing about the Lawrence because she'd never been aboard it. That he had nothing to worry about. He shrugged and processed everything onto the main system.

Next was the weapon she'd menaced him and the IGC officers with. He flicked a holo display of it into life in the middle of the room, extrapolated from the recording by the forensics boys. SIG-Steyr five-point-five millimetre, pre-Ascension but only just. Cutting edge a century and some ago.

He gestured, causing the virtual weapon to break apart into its components. Lot more complicated than a gauss weapon, even though this would have been one of the last generation of chemically fired firearms before small-scale electromagnetic accelerators were perfected. “Looks like it's in good condition, well maintained. Where did she get it and learn how to use it?”

She was ex-military, after all, but she wouldn't have trained with anything like that. Just one more weird thing in a case that had started out as a relatively straightforward collar, but was rapidly spinning out into the surreal.

The only other thing was the feed from the drone that Central had vectored onto the chase. It was in low-light mode, everything just very slightly grainy and the colours washed out until everything was little more than greyscale. He watched the chase unfold – it was a shame the drone had only arrived after Cane had blown out a section of wall to escape, he'd always enjoyed a good explosion. It started recording the action just as she cleared the IGC perimeter and took off down the alley, the view occasionally swooping as the drone manoeuvred around aerials or protrusions from some of the more esoteric pieces of architecture.

It was the unsteady view that almost caught him out. Almost. He watched it, again and again, and each time there was a flicker of something that he couldn't quite pin down.

Then, on the fifth viewing, he caught it; stabbed his finger down on the display to pause it then slid the image back, slice by slice, until he saw what it was Cane threw just as she vaulted the low fence around the IGC building.


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