Saturday, April 23, 2016

Bark: Elite: Dangerous - Requiem - Chapter Seven



Summerland: Eurynome

The sun had set by the time Tegan, one of the two house maids, found me still clinging to Karina on the bloodstained gravel outside the portico. She had started looking for Vilko after he had uncharacteristically missed dinner, only to be presented with what looked like three corpses lying in front of the mansion. Tegan's high-pitched scream snapped me back to the present. I snatched up my dart gun from the ground beside Karina's legs, the pistol grip slick with her blood, and aimed the muzzle directly at her terrified features.

"Have you come to try and kill me as well, Tegan?" my voice shook along with my hands, distant and detached. 

The petrified maid collapsed to her knees, stammering as she held up empty hands in supplication. "N-n-no! No, my lord!"

I took five gulping breaths, considering whether I should shoot her anyway before I judged that the mute horror on her face was genuine. I dropped the gun and held my head in my hands, trying to compose myself.

"My lord, what happened?" Tegan asked, starting to rise up back to her feet. "Are you hurt?"

"Stay back. I don't trust any of you." I warned her with a low growl. "And don't touch her. Don't touch anything."

Tegan took a step backwards in fear. "I should call SysSec."

"No!" I snapped at her, shouting, making the maid flinch. Seeing that I was scaring her, I took a deep breath before continuing more quietly. "No... I'll deal with it. I need to speak to Laure first. Find Marielle, take one of the ground cars and get off the estate. I don't want you here anymore."

Tegan turned and fled back into the mansion. I waited by Karina's body until I saw the two house maids enter the garage next to the glass house and the lights from one of the estate's four ground cars illuminate the gravel avenue leading away from the house through the glade to the exit of the estate. As soon as the car disappeared out of sight, I knelt down beside Karina, stroking her blonde hair as I holstered my dart gun. She looked happy, lying motionless on the ground, as if serenely asleep, but I knew that this was a slumber from which she would never awake. I kissed her forehead and whispered. "I'll be back for you."

I couldn't face entering the house. It had been forever tainted by Vilko's betrayal. My thoughts boiled with anger - all I wanted to do was return to my ship and destroy the mansion - burn it to the ground with beam lasers and cannon fire. I didn't want to have to look at it again, but I knew that Tegan was right. Vilko's crime would have to be reported to SysSec, but I didn't want to make the call without speaking to Laure first. My numbed brain returned me on autopilot to Fell From The Top(...) and I slumped into the chair by my desk terminal in my stateroom.

"ASTRA, get me Governor Torval."

"Yes, my lord."

"It's urgent." 

It took less than a minute for Laure to answer my call. The smile on her face disappeared almost instantly when she saw the state of me through the video feed. "Aemon! What happened to you?"

"I take it you told Zemina to shove her Interdictor somewhere unpleasant." I replied, avoiding her question.

"About ten hours ago, as it happens. Aemon, what's wrong? You look like hell. Is that blood?"

"Yeah." I nodded. "Zemina tried to have me killed. Again."

"Oh, gods. Aemon. Are you okay?" Laure reached out to touch her screen, the closest thing she could manage to a caress.

"No. He killed her. Karina's dead."

"What?! Who? Who killed her?"

"Vilko." I closed my eyes, replaying the moment in my mind, wondering if I could have reacted faster, or done anything differently to save her. "Vilko shot her. He was aiming for me, but Karina got in the way."

"Vilko? But, he's worked on the estate for decades. He's practically family. I don't understand." 

"Zemina must have given him a better offer."

"What happened to him?"

"He's dead. Double tap and a headshot. But I wasn't fast enough."

"Aemon, I'm sorry. I know you cared about her."

"Don't pretend that a part of you isn't happy to have her out of the way." I hated myself for saying it, but closed my eyes and said it anyway.

"Aemon... That's not fair." Laure's eyes started to water. "Not like this, she didn't deserve that." 

"No, she didn't. She saved me again, and I failed her."

"Don't blame yourself. You didn't pull the trigger. Vilko did." Laure said, trying to console me. "Have SysSec been informed yet?"

"No. I wanted to know whether Karina's fake ID would stand up to a full background check first."

"Give me an hour and it will." Karina went to work on her terminal, tapping furiously at her keyboard. "Aemon, get yourself cleaned up. You'll need to answer a lot of questions when SysSec arrive. I'll come to Summerland as soon as I'm done here."

"Laure..."

"Yes?"

"If Zemina came for me, she might try gunning for you, too. Watch yourself."

"I'll be careful. I'll see you in a few hours." Laure stroked her screen again, the long distance equivalent of a kiss. "I love you."

I cut the channel without replying, too distressed to think clearly. I unzipped the bloodstained tac-vest and let it fall to the floor, exiting the ship again and walked back up the hill to the water-meadow. Still fully clothed, I walked into the artificial lake until my feet no longer touched the bottom. For a moment I considered letting myself sink beneath the surface and not come back up, but the thought passed quickly. I dunked my head below the water and washed Karina's blood from my hands and face. I let myself float on my back, smiling faintly as I remembered the last time I had gone for a swim in the water-meadow on my honeymoon, making love with Laure in the shallows. I swam back to the waterline, crawling out wearily onto the lawn, lying on the grass and looking up at the stars as my clothes dried in the warm, still night. It was there, sprawled on my back on the lawn, where the SysSec Inspector found me two hours later, after his shuttle landed behind the house in the glade.

After taking my statement and laser scans of the crime scene, the SysSec investigation proved to be a formality, with all the details wrapped up long before dawn. A quick financial records check revealed that a deposit of two million credits had been made in Vilko's account four hours before the assassination attempt. The money had been traced back to an anonymous account that had been opened in the hour before the transfer and shut down immediately afterwards. The SysSec Inspector said that such arrangements were common for front companies of intelligence agencies paying for services rendered. It would be impossible to find out who had created the account and set up the transfer. The Inspector suspected the involvement of the Federation Intelligence Service, but I knew in my gut that Zemina was responsible. A review of Vilko's message logs was similarly fruitless. If he had received instructions via mail, radio or hyperwave message, all records of the conversation had been remotely erased from his terminal. 

Satisfied that Vilko's death was a case of self-defence and that he had been clearly responsible for Karina's murder, the Inspector trotted out all the traditional platitudes about being sorry for my loss and made arrangements for Vilko's remains to be taken to his family. 

"What do you want to do about Miss Dementyeva's body, my lord?" The Inspector asked, as sensitively as he could as we watched Vilko's corpse being loaded into a ground car. "I'm afraid the records show that she has no next of kin."

"She was my friend. I'll bury her on the estate." 

"As you wish, my lord. If you require any assistance...?"

"No, thank you, Inspector. I've taken up enough of your time as it is."

The SysSec Inspector and I shook hands. "I'm sorry that we couldn't have met in kinder circumstances, my lord. May she rest in peace."

"Thank you, Inspector." I gave the Inspector a shallow bow and he returned it before heading back to his ship behind the mansion.

As the SysSec shuttle disappeared over the top of the vineyard ridge, I turned back to Karina's body, where it still lay on the gravel before the main entrance to the house. She looked utterly tranquil, as if she were going to wake up at any moment, but my heart sank with the knowledge that the nightmare I had endured for the last twelve hours was real and that there would be no awakening from it for either Karina or me. I picked up her body and walked across the lawn to the edge of the water-meadow. It was as fitting a place as any, overlooking the lake and the ocean beyond. I retrieved a spade from the glass house and started to dig. It was approaching nightfall by the time I had finished laying Karina to rest, marking her burial mound with a simple cairn made from stones taken from the cascade and topped with a murex shell I had found washed up on the beach.

"Goodbye, Karina." I said, kneeling next to the cairn, wiping sweat and tears from my face. 

Goodbye, master. I heard her reply in my head, as I stood to walk back to the landing pad, knowing that I'd never be able to listen to her voice again, nor feel her skin against mine. As I opened the hatch to Fell From The Top(...) I realised that I would never come back here again, and that I was leaving one of the best parts of me behind forever. I refused to look back at Eurynome as I sealed the hatch.

As I walked onto the bridge to begin a system check, ASTRA locked out the control consoles.

"ASTRA, what are you doing?"

"My lord, I think you'd better sit down. There's something you need to see."

"This better be important, or I'm going to have your memory core wiped." I snarled, taking my customary seat in the command chair on the right hand side of the bridge. "What is it?"

"The live feed from GalNet, my lord." ASTRA explained, activating the holoprojection screen on the HUD.

I recognised Adams Orbital instantly in the video footage, as well as one of Zemina's personal Majestic-class Interdictors, INV Duval's Vengeance, on station ten kilometres from the edge of the Coriolis station's no-fire zone. 

"ASTRA, what the hell is this?" I demanded, transfixed by the footage.

The AI didn't answer, letting the video speak for itself. A familiar ship exited the station, Athene Noctua, Laure's personal Imperial Clipper. As soon as it was clear of the toast rack, the Interdictor surged forward, opening fire with all weapons. The shields on Laure's Clipper coruscated purple, the fast-charging bi-weave shields trying to keep up with the energy drain, but they were overwhelmed in seconds.

"No!" I screamed, as the elegant, pure white vessel came apart before my eyes. Only then did I notice the text feed at the bottom of the video.

BREAKING NEWS: Governor Laure Torval confirmed killed in political assassination. Action thought to be sanctioned due to a personal dispute with Senator Zemina Torval.

"ASTRA." I addressed the AI, my voice quiet and deadly. "Send a mail message to Senator Torval: 'I'm coming for you.'"
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