“This guy is supposed to be a screw up. Did you see that shot? Did you? He never even broke stride! Just walked along and drew down on the perp. Must have missed the hostage by an inch.”
With a quick tap of the mouse the video played again. The reflection of the nervous viewers face shined in the monitor’s screen, displaying a thin sheen of sweat on his face and forehead.
“We have an enemy we don’t know about. That’s what I think,” the well-groomed man sitting across the office said calmly.
“No, this guy is supposed to be a screw up. It’s all in his files, medical discharge from the Space Marines to cover up an incident. Transferred from every planet he’s ever served on and not by his request. Screw-ups don’t make shots like that!”
“No need to get excited,” the second man said calmly, brushing a piece of imaginary lint from his suit coat. “This can work to our advantage.”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it. Somebody sent him. We find out who sent him and we find out who’s working against us.
“What do you have on this cop?”
The small, nervous man of Earth Asian ancestry pushed a tablet across his desk, watching the replay again. “Names Sullivan. Thomas Sullivan.”
I hate shooting perps in public places, too many people around to see the dirty part of my job. I hate it even more when rich people are involved. Rich tourists are the worst.
First day on the job and I had to go and shoot a perp. I’d just cleared customs and retrieved my weapons when I spotted commotion just beyond the wait lines for security to board the starliner. Some young punk hopped up on whatever the local form of amphetamine is had grabbed some spoiled rich young princess away from her daddy and was holding a knife to her neck.
Tired from two weeks of hyperspace travel, I was in no mood to talk the punk down. So I shot him. One shot, one kill. Hostage crisis resolved or so you’d think. I learned later the punk was little miss rich princess’s secret street hood boyfriend she’d picked up while on vacation on Beta Prime. Seems he had no intention of living without her, or the drugs her daddy’s money could buy.
I found out later I was only partially right.
You’d think dear old dad would be happy I’d solved what was going to be a messy and expensive problem for him so easily. Nah. His wife got upset because the blood all over baby girl’s dress traumatized the little princess. Now I have to fill out even more paperwork because mom and dad want to file a complaint.
I decided I’d deal with it later. Tired of the cheap fare fed to the masses in steerage, I’d skipped breakfast, deciding to eat at the first hole in the wall diner I could find dirtside. Besides, I wanted to get a look at my new home before I actually reported in.
Common sense said not to ignore the yelling idiot of a parent, but common sense and I were not always on good speaking terms. Besides, the omnipresent surveillance cameras had caught everything and I would be exonerated. After yelling at me for several minutes and being ignored, dad threatened me with the law.
I got a laugh from the look on his face when he saw my badge. That and the good look he finally got of my face. That does it for most people. He scurried off, spewing threats, something like he knew people in high places. Good luck with that. I only associated with people in low places.
Retrieving the one bag I had checked, I stopped at the freight checkout. I left orders for my small container to be sent to the address I’d been provided. I got another immediate reminder of how I’d gotten the job. The handler smiled pleasantly and informed me for an additional fee he’d make sure nothing happened to the contents of my container en route.
He should have looked at my face first.
After I showed him my badge and bent the thumb on his left hand all the way back to his forearm, I was fairly certain he was just as motivated to make sure nothing happened to my belongings as if I had actually paid the bribe.
People moved out of my way as I walked slowly down the main concourse. They usually do. At two meters tall and 120 kilos of mainly muscle and bone, I’m hard to miss. The thick, ugly scar that ran from my hairline across my forehead all the way to my jawline on my right cheek usually helped motivate people to politely move out of my way.
That and the fact my right eye is a much darker royal blue than the lighter azure of my left eye.
The surgeons hadn’t been able to save my eye when they put my face back together. At first it bothered me. That is until I got used to controlling all the features that came with the new eye. Having a tiny computer inserted into you takes some getting used too. It was the same size as my new eye and had been carefully attached to the posterior side of my right clavicle. It controlled my cybernetic eye.
It wasn’t all bad though. I could record images with the thing and it was an amazing targeting system.
It also controlled my repaired left hand. My thumb and four fingers had to be replaced as the result of the same blast that cost me my eye. I’d been lucky. Most military grade synthetic skin grafts looked pretty bad. Unless you were a plastic surgeon, you couldn’t tell just to look at my hand.
Donning the greatcoat that I’d retrieved from my bag, I stepped outside into the infamous cold of my new home world, Beta Prime. It was nighttime and the cabbies were hurriedly dropping off their fares and hustling to pick up arrivals from the starliner I’d just disembarked from, the St. Gabriel.
My badge had helped me get on the first shuttle down from the space station where the St. Gabriel had docked. My size and general demeanor helped me move past the waiting passengers and grab a cab.
The temperature in the cab wasn’t much warmer than the climate outside, even after I shut the door. The cabbie who looked back at me through the safety shield had a couple days growth worth of stubble and by the looks of things hadn’t bathed in a couple of days either, making me thankful for the safety shield separating us.
“Know any good places to eat? No chain stuff. Earth food though.”
The cabbie turned on his meter and engaged the hover drive, lifting the vehicle from the pavement. Without looking he floored the drive and whipped the cab into the departure lane leading away from the terminal.
“I know just the place. If you don’t mind mixing with the locals.”
My ride through Capital City was interesting. Sort of. Typical capital city of a developing planet. Nice buildings and hover cars around the space terminal and government buildings. High rise apartments for those lucky enough to have the money and connections to live there. Not the part of town I would be living in though I’m sure I’ll spend plenty of time working there.
Crime on a planet like Beta Prime doesn’t care what part of town you live in.
I liked my cabbie. He didn’t talk. More or less took me in a direct route to a working class neighborhood. It was on the edge of the nice part of town that butted up against the ore processing plants. It had started snowing when he parked his cab outside a place called Joe’s American Diner.
Depending on which sign you read first that is. Joe’s was located on a street corner. On the main road the name of the place was Joe’s American Diner. The entrance on the side street had a different name.
I had a good laugh at that. Eat at Joe’s.
From the outside it looked typical enough. Plastisteel construction. Dirty. Covered in grime from the processing plants and the constant smearing from the melt off from the snow and ice. Probably one of the first commercial constructs in this area once the processing plants were finished. The workers have to eat somewhere.
Paid the cabbie and got out. It felt good to be in my element. Joe’s was more than just a local eat spot. It was a bar as well. I noticed the cabbie had turned off his on duty sign and locked up his cab.
“Off duty,” he explained at my curious glance. “I live around here. My wife waits tables at Joe’s.”
“So I paid you to drive yourself home.”
“Look, you said you wanted to eat Earth food at a local hole in the wall. You didn’t give me much more to go on than that.”
“Fair enough. What’s your name?”
“Ralph Jameson. Just call me Ralph.”
“Ralph it is.”
“What’s your name? I didn’t catch it.”
“Didn’t offer it. You might not want to know it.”
Ralph’s face paled slightly. “Look, I don’t want any trouble, okay. I just took you to a place to eat, that’s all.”
I laughed to myself. The smaller man looked tired in his crumpled clothes. Ralph surprised me. He didn’t smell nearly as bad as he looked.
“No problem. I don’t want any trouble either. Look, no hard feelings. I’ll buy you a beer when we’re inside.”
“Beer is good,” Ralph said with a grin, leading the way towards the entrance to Joe’s.
The double doors of the entrance were under one of those faux neon signs popular in certain parts of town. Cliché really. Eat at Joes Bar and Grill in reddish pink with green highlights behind it lighted up the entrance off the side street.
My new acquaintance Ralph walked right up to the doors and entered, giving me a glimpse of the place inside. It also let me see the two toughs just inside the door. Joe’s really was a bar.
Ralph sauntered off in the direction of the bar without looking back. The two tough guys ran a scanner over me.
“You’ll have to check your firearms here sir,” the tough with the shaved head informed me.
I smiled back as I ignored him and walked into the place. My smile vanished when I felt the tip of a phase pistol between my shoulder blades.
“Sir, house rules. Nobody carries. Your weapons will be returned to you when you leave. This is a friendly neighborhood establishment.”
I turned just enough to look at Baldies face. He meant it. So did I when I hit him right on the button of his chin with my left hand. While he collapsed to the floor and before his genetically enhanced friend could move, I had drawn, thumbed the safety off and pointed my old school chemically powered, kinetic energy weapon at his nose. Looking down the dark space of a rifled barrel always gives a man pause.
“I don’t give my weapons up for anyone. Nor do I have to,” I informed my new red-faced friend. With my left hand I reached inside my coat and pulled out my badge. He looked at it and blinked a couple of times.
“I’m sorry Inspector. We didn’t know.”
“No problem. I’m new in town. Haven’t gotten to know the local help yet. Just to show there’s no hard feelings on my part, I’ll pay for a couple of beers for you and your partner.”
Giganto looked at me long and hard before realizing he wasn’t going to intimidate me. I also noticed he took a good long look at my right eye before taking a quick peek at my left hand. He grinned and nodded in recognition.
“Yeah. While back.”
“We’ll take you up on those beers. But please, no more trouble or we won’t be able to let you come back. Foods good here.”
Baldy stood up rubbing his sore chin. He looked less than happy. I guess his professional pride was hurt.
I made my way to an empty booth in the far corner near the door to the kitchen area. It was dark there and I could keep an eye on the three entrances, main street, the bar and the entrance to the kitchen from there. Ralph had disappeared and that was fine with me.
The locals watched me sit down without much interest. Evidently it could get rough here this time of night. The décor was pure Earth. This was a joint for humans. Images of classical musicians from old Earth adorned the walls. Bands like The Rolling Stones, which I had studied back when I was in school, and other similar musical groups from different time periods.
A glance at the lighting told me this place served two entirely different crowds. During the day it served breakfast and lunch to workers. In the evening families who could afford it ate here. Or maybe dad was springing for a night for mom to not cook and they brought their kids here for comfort food from the home planet.
After dinner time though, the crowd changed and the lighting got turned down. People didn’t like bright lights when they drank or engaged in business. I made a note to myself to get to know Joe, if there was a Joe. This was a legit business. Whether or not it was a front, I’d have to learn.
I picked up a worn menu from the booth’s table. The seat was comfortable and not too lumpy from the years of use. I ran my hand over the red, faux leather and looked at my fingers, noting they weren’t covered with anything nasty. The same could be said for the table’s surface. Another glance at the brown colored plastisteel walls indicated the place was not too dirty. It was just worn and darkly lit.
A waitress approached, dressed in blue jeans and a t-shirt. She looked tired and none too happy about my arrival. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail. She could have been pretty if she put on a little make-up and didn’t have rings under her eyes. Her nose had been broken too and should have been set. Crooked teeth drew attention to her thin lips. My right eye caught a slight scar on her lower left lip.
“Can I get you something?”
“Yeah. A cheeseburger. Fries. Large coke.”
She laughed. “I didn’t figure you for a teetotaler.”
“Don’t always judge people when you first see them. By the way, the two tough guys at the bar entrance, beers on me, okay. And there was a cabbie who brought me here. Beer for him too. Put’em on my tab.”
“Ralph brought you here? Joe’s not going to like that. You showin’ up his guys and all.”
I shrugged and looked away. She got the message and left to place my order.
I sat quietly, minding my own business, checking out the place. Lots of other interesting images and artifacts were displayed on the walls. Early starliners and space freighters were another common item. Famous places from old Earth cities like New Orleans, Houston, Paris, London, Berlin, even Moscow.
The sound of a glass hitting the table brought my attention back to my immediate surroundings. Sitting down on the other side of the booth was a man of average height and build with mouse brown hair slicked back. He was clean-shaven and smelled of decent cologne. I glanced at his hands and saw the scars and reddish skin of hands that had worked long hours in a kitchen. His clothes were nothing special, khaki work pants and a black shirt.
“My name is Joe,” he said flatly.
“You own the place.”
“Yeah. Who are you? I don’t like people causing trouble. Sometimes we get a few idiots in here at night and I don’t tolerate it.”
“I can understand. If they had not pushed the issue, there wouldn’t have been any trouble,” I answered before taking a sip from my ice cold Coke.
“Who are you?”
“Well, enjoy your soft drink and then leave. I like to know my customers.”
I reached into my jacket quickly, startling Joe. Slowly I withdrew my badge and handed it to him. He examined it thoroughly, so much so that he told me a few things I wanted to know and wouldn’t have to ask around to find out now.
“I’m sorry Inspector Sullivan. All you needed to do was show your badge as soon as you entered and my boys would have taken care of you.”
“Joe, I like your place.”
“Thanks, I suppose.”
“I like a place where I can eat food that tastes like it was cooked on Earth and I can be left alone to think. Is this a place where I can do that?”
Joe looked at me carefully, thinking before he answered my question.
“The food here is good, the best Earth food on Beta Prime. We even get rich people slumming here in the evenings to eat. Most nights the bar is pretty calm. It can get rough around payday but most bars are like that near the plants or mines. Whether or not you’ll be left alone has more to do with you than my customers.”
“Good. Now you just have to pass the inspection.”
“What inspection?” Joe replied, the inside of his left eyebrow turning down to indicate his irritation.
I smiled back at him to needle him a little bit as the waitress set my food down in front of me.
“If your food is as good as you claim it is.”
I checked into a decent enough hotel after I finished eating. Decent enough they didn’t charge by the hour. Joe was right. The food was good. Good enough I might try to find a place to stay within walking distance. The neighborhood wasn’t bad but it was just rough enough that people knew to mind their own business.
I locked the door after checking the room. I don’t particularly trust electronic locks so I moved the dresser behind the door. At least it would give me something to dive behind when the door opened.
There was nothing on worth watching on the screen and I was pretty certain the monitor was two way. Not feeling like being watched, I cut it off and for good measure disconnected it.
My feet felt better somewhat when I pulled my boots off, setting them right by the side of the bed. Opening my backpack, I pulled out a few of my safety devices I had collected over the years. I decided on my electronic jamming device and set the range to cover my room and nothing more.
I lay on my bed in my clothes and greatcoat. Next to my right hand was my trusted sidearm, a .500 caliber revolver with laser sight, not that I needed it. By my left hand were two throwing blades I’d retrieved from my left boot. If tonight was the night they came for me, I’d take as many as I could with me.
And so once again, I found myself in a strange place, not knowing anyone. Another hellhole of a planet crawling with criminals and corrupt officials and I’d been tapped to clean up the mess.
Or die trying.
Why I didn’t just hand in the badge and walk away is beyond me. I could do other things to earn my keep. The bitterness and anger I always felt when I thought like this came bubbling back to the surface. It’s not like I’m unjustified for feeling like I do.
Six years in the Shore Patrol of the Interplanetary Alliance Space Marines. Signed up straight out of school. Bought the recruiting pitch hook, line and sinker. Even bought into all that honor and integrity stuff the Corps drills into us. I wasn’t real happy about the medical discharge.
My unit was working crowd control in a town the Marines had just hit. Insurgents set off bombs and I got caught in the blast. The Corp’s doctors patched my face up okay and I got a new eye and fingers for my left hand. Of course, if I’d been an officer or some rich politician’s son, I wouldn’t even have scars like the beaut I have on my face. I wouldn’t have gotten a medical discharge either if I’d kept my mouth shut.
The idiot Lt. leading the sweep didn’t listen to me when I told him we needed to pull back and set up our road blocks in a more defensible location. Nine of us got hit that day. I was the only one who survived. Of course, the good Lt. didn’t get a scratch. I filed the paperwork to have him brought up for review. It all came out at the hearing. All of it.
The constant belittling of personnel he didn’t like. Endless bad decisions and incompetence on his part ending with getting eight of his personnel killed and me severely wounded. It all ended with my getting a medical and his getting promoted to Captain. Connections and money can cover up a lot of problems.
I learned a lot from my mistakes in the Space Marines. Mainly, the laws that I had sworn to uphold had almost nothing to do with justice for the people I had sworn to protect. Not that the law is a bad thing mind you. See, most people, including criminals I’ve found, adhere to the law to varying degrees, just not the people who have the power and the money. The entitled believe they are above the law.
With no other prospects and training, I joined the Interplanetary Alliance Police Force. Interplanetary Alliance. What a joke. It’s the same it’s always been. The rich and powerful rule for their benefit and the rest of us are just along to make sure our rulers have everything they want and need.
It didn’t take me long to learn the politics of the IAPF. Didn’t like those much better than what I’d found in the Space Marines. But I like getting justice for people who need it.
I don’t like most figures of authority much even though I’m one myself. At the moment I wasn’t sure about my new chief.
“Protocol says you report directly to me Sullivan.”
“I never read that anywhere in the regs.”
“You shot a civilian the minute you got off the shuttle! In front of hundreds of people and then you just walked off!”
“I shot a stoned perp holding a knife to the throat of a probably not too innocent young woman. I’m sure it’s all on the surveillance video.”
“Have you ever heard of filing a report after a use of deadly force incident?”
“Yes, Chief. I’m here today and it was on my list of things to do.”
“The young woman’s father filed a complaint against you. Just wanted to let you know that Sullivan.”
“He’s just embarrassed. Rich guy used to getting his way. Bet it was the first time he ever saw violence that wasn’t in a sports arena or on a screen.”
“The rich guy happens to be a major stockholder in one of the biggest mines on this planet. The rich guy pays a lot of taxes that pay your salary.”
I wasn’t impressed.
“Rich guy got a name?”
“Yes, his name is Spencer Deveraux. He is not someone we want to make angry.”
“Chief, I’ll bet you my first paycheck here the perp knew Deveraux’s daughter.”
I hit it right on the nail.
“Turns out the dead perp was a dealer. His daughter Melanie hooked up with him during the visit. Love of her life she claims.”
“Nah, just a way to get under daddy’s skin. Dad’s more worried about his reputation than anything else.”
The chief just glared at me. “Since you figured that out, why did you just walk off?”
“Because I didn’t appreciate his attitude. I just saved him and his daughter a whole lot of hurt and he gets to go off on me? Nope. Not in the regs Chief. What’s more, I had just hit dirt and wanted to eat.”
“What am I going to do with you Sullivan? You can’t treat citizens like Mr. Deveraux like that! What’s more, I didn’t request you. You were forced on me.”
I decided it was time to let the Chief know I knew the score.
“I didn’t ask to come here, Chief. But you have a mess on your hands. Too much crime and corruption on a planet marked for massive economic development. Tourism for the snow resorts. Massive mineral deposits, favorable trade routes to get raw materials out not to mention opportunities for manufacturing. But you let things get out of hand. So I got sent in to bring order.”
The look of pure hate the Chief shot me told me I’d hit the nail, if such things were still used, right on the head.
“Do your job. Don’t cause problems, especially with important investors and citizens and as soon as things are better, I’ll see to it you get a transfer off this frozen rock.”
I stood up to leave. I’d wasted enough time.
“Sullivan, where are you going?”
I looked back at the Chief. “Got things to do. Perps to catch.”
“See Captain Markeson. He’ll explain how things work around here.”
I’d pushed the Chief enough for one meeting. He’d figure things out eventually.
“Markeson. Right Chief.”
As I left the Chief’s office I stopped the old sergeant at the desk where I could find Markeson’s desk. She pointed me in the general direction and that was about it for help. Walking past the desks of the detectives and inspectors, it was pretty obvious the place was not an efficient precinct. Not that I like pushing electrons around, but its part of what a cop does, computer work.
I did find the coffee machine. Lousy coffee, lousy even by cop standards. No wonder the cops here couldn’t function.
Tossing the cup in the trash, I made my way over to the tiny office with Markeson’s name on the door. I knocked and stuck my head in.
“You must be Sullivan. Have you ever heard of waiting till someone says enter?”
I didn’t like him right away. He was a handsome man, with the refined features of a pretty boy. Not that there is anything wrong with being a pretty boy as such, the problem was he knew he was a pretty boy. His suit screamed custom tailored. It was made from the latest synthetic material, the name of which escapes me. The dark blue material was contrasted by a white dress shirt and red neck adornment. His black hair was slicked straight back, making it easy to see the diamond stud in his ear, a real diamond. Blindingly white teeth contrasted with his tan, clearly a product of chemical coloring on this frozen planet. Nobody had a tan like that from sunning themselves in the cold. His cologne was expensive but subtle. At least he had the decency to not have a kilo of gold jewelry on while he was at work.
I sat down in the chair across from his desk without being asked to take a seat. His desk didn’t look like a Captain’s. Too neat. No paper in piles or flash drives lying about. No stains from spilled coffee and no writing styluses lying about.
Markeson gave me a once over before speaking again.
“You were forced on us, we didn’t ask for you.”
I just shrugged in response. I didn’t bother telling him I hadn’t asked to be transferred to Beta Prime, even though I had jumped at the opportunity to take the job. I had my reasons.
“Don’t cause problems, you got it? If you can keep your nose clean I’ll help you get a transfer off this rock.”
“Why is everyone worried I’m going to do my job?”
“Why is everyone worried I’m going to do my job?”
“Like you did yesterday? Shooting that perp? Which reminds me, I’m going to need your side arms until after the final review of the deadly force incident.”
I smiled as I reached into my left boot for the little .22 automatic I kept there. I unloaded it and put it on Markeson’s desk. “I’d like a receipt if you don’t mind.”
Pretty Boy looked at the tiny pistol and back at me. “That is not the weapon you used.”
“No, but it’s the one you’re going to hold on to until I’m cleared.”
Markeson frowned but thought better of saying anything. He picked up his tablet and thumbed a few screens, picked on and scratched away with a stylus. He glared at me one more time for good measure while the printer spit out my receipt.
“Look Sullivan, acting like a tough guy is not going to go over well here. Morning roll call is at 0630. Now get out of my office.”
I left as instructed, picking up my receipt as I left. Don’t let anyone tell you I can’t take orders. One thing was for sure. Not only did I not like Pretty Boy Markeson, I didn’t trust him.
Markeson glared at the door before picking up the small kinetic energy weapon the new Inspector had left. Whoever had sent this Sullivan was indeed no friend to his cause. He would have to be careful in dealing with the Inspector. Too much was at stake for him personally.
With a quick, practiced motion, Markeson ran his hand through his carefully groomed hair, making certain each strand was in its place. No, there was no doubt; this Sullivan would have to go. He had come too far, invested too much time. With his goals within reach there was no way he would allow a single individual, a single man, to stop him.
Markeson felt the old emotions he had pushed down come flooding back, filling him with the strange combination of anger and remorse. Feelings of anger didn’t upset Markeson, in fact he often welcomed the emotion. It fueled his efforts, allowed him to do things most men couldn’t bring themselves to do.
Remorse was something different all together. Remorse made him weak, hesitant, too much like other men. Men who would never be anything or have what he wanted. Worse, remorse made Markeson remember how his journey had started.
Unable to stop the memories from flooding back, Markeson thought back to the first time he’d killed a man. His own father no less. Why the old man couldn’t look past the fact he just wanted to have a good time on occasion, kick back, cut loose and blow off a little steam, was still beyond Markeson. Hard working and honest to a fault, his father just couldn’t bend, not on the slightest thing.
Catching Markeson stoned and with a girl for the umpteenth time had been the final straw for his father. He’d thrown Markeson out. That Markeson could have lived with. It was, after all, the old man’s house, his rules. His father telling him he couldn’t, and wouldn’t, amount to anything was something Markeson could neither forgive nor tolerate.
After living on the streets of Marlon IV for over a month, he’d decided to leave the planet to make his way in life. To do so required money. His father had come home unexpectedly, catching Markeson in the act of stealing the hard credits his parents kept hidden in the house along with his mother’s jewels.
In a rage, he’d beaten his father to death. His only regret about the act was his father hadn’t suffered enough for the humiliation he’d inflicted on Markeson over the years. If his father had wanted to live a boring life and work hard all the time, never stopping to enjoy the things money could buy, that was his choice. Inflicting that choice on Markeson and his brother once they were of age was unacceptable.
Hard work did bring profit to the individual willing to expend the time and effort. It was the one thing Markeson agreed upon with his father. Not enjoying the rewards of that effort in the manner of your choice was something he would never agree about. Hard work and the benefits it produced, benefits like money and power, should be exploited, for pleasure and to gain more, always, to gain more. What good was having more if you didn’t flaunt it; hold it over those who were weaker?