Vansen had a vivid memory of the explosion that had cost McQueen his leg and nearly killed him. From a military standpoint, she knew... intellectually... the value that terrorism could have as a weapon. The AIs had kept that war going for years for the most part as one terrorist attack after another -- like the one that had taken her parents' lives. Besides that, the labels "terrorist" and "partisan" were often applied after the fact, by whichever side wrote the history books.
All that having been said, she wanted nothing more than to get her hands on whoever had done this. There was no excuse for singling out children as targets. And one of those children had been Ty's niece.
She nodded to the deputies at the door and went outside, looking for Jessa. There were more deputies dispersing the crowd immediately outside the pavilion, but apparently the county sheriff had decided against trying to clear the fairgrounds. An evacuation would only have added to the confusion. Besides that, if the mostly IV crowd had been sent on their way all at once, there was a distinct possibility that they might have headed for Ganelon City in a mob and started a riot. Instead, they had gathered in small groups, typically with others from their own homes, and the deputies working the fairgrounds were keeping things fairly quiet for now. People were leaving the fairgrounds, but a few at a time, some going home and others to the hospital.
Vansen didn't expect the fragile peace to last for long. There had been one death already, she hoped and prayed there would be no more but some of those children had been badly hurt. Right now the IV community was still in shock, nursing their wounded and mourning their dead. But if a child died, she fully expected shock to give way to a righteous fury as these people demanded blood for blood. It would be too terribly easy for innocent people to get caught up in the chaos.
She found Jessa with the people from Brown's Station. They were packing up to leave. Most of them were going home, but a few were headed into town with some people from another station to make sure Alison and Heather were all right.
Vansen drew Jessa aside and explained what Ross wanted them to do.
Jessa's eyes narrowed. "What makes you think I know how to contact the IV underground? Or that I'd tell you if I did!"
Vansen grinned at Jessa's knee-jerk suspicion. "Because -- look, I'm not a cop. I'm a Marine. It isn't my job to catch people who've broken the IVA's rules -- and I'm sure not making it my business. All I care about is carrying out my orders to catch the bastard who set off that bomb. I don't think you're part of the underground. If you were, I'd probably buy you a drink, for a the sake of my commanding officer and a couple of my kids. And no, I'm not dumb enough to say that too loud -- Aerotech is pissed off at me already."
Jessa's expression softened as she thought about it. "Yeah... you were mixed up in that whole Vesta thing, weren't you? I don't suppose they were too happy with you, any more than they were with McQueen."
"Ummm, well, let's say I'm not their favorite person in the whole galaxy. I think that's really all I can say about it, or I'd have to shoot you."
Jessa laughed. "You probably would, too... try, anyhow. Okay, Ross was right about one thing. I'm not part of the underground. I've got a kid to take care of. But I do know someone who maybe knows someone who is. It wouldn't hurt anything if we was just to go talk to this guy."
"OK, run over there and catch that green van before they leave. They're headed for town. I hope you don't mind prowling the Groundside. It ain't the nicest place in the world."
Shane grinned. "Don't worry, I'll look out for you."
Jessa snorted, but she grinned back.
McQueen waited in the motor pool CO's office. Ross had gone off a little while ago to try to find a change of clothes and an unoccupied shower. That left McQueen alone with a dark vidphone screen. He appreciated the few minutes he had to himself, it gave him a chance to try to get his anger under control. The sight of Glen and Alison kneeling in the debris of that blast, cradling little Heather in their arms, all three of them covered with blood, replayed itself over and over in his mind no matter how he tried to stop it. He wished he could just shut it off but he knew it would be with him forever. He had thought he could handle it when loved ones were put in harm's way. He was used to it with Shane... at least, he thought, as used to it as anyone could ever hope to become. Shane was a Marine. There would always be a part of him that would see her first as Major Vansen, even before she was the woman he loved. Maybe that above all else was why their relationship worked. No matter what else they were, both of them were Marines.
Alison and Heather were civilians, innocents, the very people he and Shane were supposed to be out here protecting. More than that, immensely more than that, they were his blood and bone. Now he understood why the IVA had fought so hard to keep in Vitroes from finding their families -- he had only known his sister and his little niece for a few scant weeks and already there was nothing he wouldn't have done for them. Some coward had tried to kill them and now, all he wanted to think about was finding and killing whoever had set off that bomb. He could already feel his hands around the bastard's throat!
It made no logical sense that the simple fact of genetic similarity could create such a bond between perfect strangers. Glen and Shane had reassured him that there was nothing at all abnormal about it... just one more nail in the coffin of the stereotypes about In Vitros.
He had watched NBs do some incredibly crazy things on behalf of their families. At the time, he had been secretly a little glad that he was "above" such things. Now he was ready to do something just as insane to avenge this attack on his family. The only thing that gave him any kind of control at all was the knowledge that Glen was just as enraged, and that neither one of them could afford it right now.
The vidphone chimed for attention. It was Marcy. "What have you got?"
"I ran that background check on Marc Sederis for you, Colonel. You were right about him. He came up through Aerotech security along with Stanley Giraldo. They've worked together for several years."
"Aerotech security? That explains where he learned to fight. How did he end up with Agropoint?"
"In 2063 when the indenture system was outlawed, Agropoint's stock tumbled. A group of natural-born investors in Ganelon City -- wealthy junior executives of the company -- had been expecting this and bought out a lot of the previous owners. However, Aerotech kept its 40% share of the company, and they were the ones who suggested Marc Sederis as the new CEO.
"I found out something else interesting while I was looking into all of this. Ten percent of the shares are in the hands of a holding company. Usually the on-world investors and Aerotech agree on policy, but when they deadlock that holding company casts the deciding vote. I don't know yet who the holding company is holding the stocks for, but I'm working on it."
"Good. So are Sederis' loyalties to Agropoint or to Aerotech?"
"I'm not sure that I understand the a difference?"
"There's a difference, all right. Agropoint is 40% locally owned, by people who have lives and futures right here on Ganelon. Aerotech's home base is back Earthside. Stay on it, Marcy, I'm very curious to know who owns that other ten percent."
"Right! Will you be at this number?"
"I'll have to contact you later."
Ross came back in just as he was signing off, and he relayed what Marcy had found out about Sederis.
Ross ran his hand through still-wet hair. "Does it seem to you, Ty, that every time something stinks, Aerotech is involved somehow?"
"I've noticed that...."
"Guess there's not much else we can do except wait to see if Vansen has any luck."
McQueen nodded. Ross paced the room for a few minutes, then settled into the other chair.
The battered green van belonged to some people that Jessa knew from Ganelon City. The ride was subdued, even uncomfortable, and Vansen realized that was due mostly to her presence. The In Vitroes were reluctant to discuss the bombing in front of an NB stranger, and there weren't any other convenient topics of conversation at the moment. It was the first time she had experienced prejudice from that side of the fence, and it gave her a lot to think about.
They arrived in Ganelon City. The driver let them off at the corner of two busy streets lined with run-down buildings. A pair of sleepy, bored hookers lounged in the shade of a wide awning in front of a liquor store. The clerk inside occasionally scowled through the glass at them, but didn't stir herself to express any further disapproval of their presence. The hookers paid her no attention. They looked up when Shane and Jessa got out of the van, but decided at once that the two were not potential customers.
Jessa reached back into the van for her crutch and thanked the driver for the ride, pressing some gas money into his hand over his attempts to refuse it. "You sure you don't want us to wait on you? You're never gonna get a cab in this neighborhood."
"That's okay, I don't know how long we'll be, and we can call some people for a ride when we get done."
"Okay, if you're sure."
"Yeah, thanks, but we'll be fine from here. You guys go on home, you don't want to be out running around if things get nasty."
"Right. See you, Jessa."
The InVitro stepped back on the curb and settled her crutch under her arm as the van pulled away. She gave Vansen a long, critical stare. "Umm -- no offense, but let your hair down."
"None taken," Vansen assured her. She pulled her pony tail clip loose and shook her hair down to cover the back of her neck.
Halfway down the block, Jessa stopped in front of a cinder-block building. A sign over the door proclaimed "Sparky's Grill." Vansen pushed open the heavy door and they stepped inside. The smell of cheap alcohol and stale cigarette smoke made both of them wrinkle their noses ... but at least the creaky old air conditioner made it a little more tolerable inside than outside. This early in the afternoon, the place was empty except for one waitress in a tight red spandex catsuit and couple of drunks at the far end of the bar.
Jessa asked the waitress, "Where's Derek?"
She looked Vansen over, and finally supplied the information. "He's in the back."
Vansen followed Jessa past the drunks and through a curtain at the end of the bar. The back room was a little classier than the bar. There were several banquette booths along the walls, and a couple of leather-covered card tables in the middle of the room.
Only one of the booths was occupied. A tall, thin man sat working in front of a computer, apparently doing the bar's book work. He looked up as they came in, eyes like smoky sapphires that flicked across Jessa to Shane, sizing her up as she walked across the room. He closed the computer and slipped it into his pocket.
Jessa asked conversationally, "How's business, Derek?"
He smiled. Shane saw very little warmth in that smile. "I can't complain. Have a seat. Who's your friend? Looking for a job waiting tables? I need a cocktail waitress."
Shane grinned. "I don't know, it's been a long time since I've done any waitressing. I might be a little rusty."
"I doubt that." When the girl in the catsuit glanced inside, Derek asked, "Is it still beer, Jessa?"
She nodded, and Derek told the waitress to set them up. Presently she brought a tray with three opened bottles and three mugs, then she withdrew from the room.
Jessa said, "Hell of a mess at the fairgrounds today. Ali's little girl got hurt pretty bad."
"Not as bad as the son of a bitch who set off the bomb," Derek replied.
"If he was the one who did it."
"I heard he was caught in his own blast."
"That's one way it coulda happened," Jessa agreed. "Another way is, somebody wanted it to look that way."
Derek looked at them, and his eyes settled on Shane. "Who are you? Cop?"
"Major Shane Vansen, USMC."
He sketched an insolent little salute. "Do the Marines usually get mixed up in criminal investigations, Major?"
"It seemed like the thing to do at the time," Shane replied, giving him back a dose of his own attitude.
After a moment, Derek nodded. "You're barking up the wrong tree. The company has a reason to put the co-ops out of business. What motive would an In Vitro have to set off the bomb? There would be a lot simpler ways to get rid of Marc Sederis, if that was the reason."
Vansen said, "I don't know. I'm just interested in getting to the truth. You know what the food and medicine that Ganelon produces mean to the war effort. I don't want anything to put those supplies in jeopardy. If you know anybody who can help us get to the truth, no matter what it is, that's all I care about." She swirled her beer in her mug and took a drink. Not bad -- a lot like her favorite Mexican brew -- could've used a wedge of lime. She wondered if it was a local brew.
Derek nodded slowly. "Nobody who could help you get to that truth is going to want to talk to you," he replied bluntly.
"They don't have to. Maybe they'll talk to Commodore Ross and Colonel McQueen." Vansen met his eyes. "Troubles on Ganelon could be real bad for business," she pointed out.
Derek said, "I'll make some calls and see what I can set up. Where can I get hold of you?"
Vansen borrowed his pen and wrote her phone number on a cocktail napkin, and indicated her watch-phone. He put the napkin in his pocket and watched the two women leave the bar.
He took the paperwork he had been doing back behind the bar and told the waitress that he would be out for an hour or so.
Jessa's friend had been right about the availability of taxicabs in this end of town. The two of them had to walk several blocks in searing heat before they got to a busy street where they could get a cab. Vansen handed over her debit card and told the driver to take them to the motor pool. He swiped the card and, when it came back OK, started off without a word. After a couple of minutes, Jessa stuck the end of her crutch over the seat and aimed one of the air conditioner vents at the back seat, then rested back in the seat, massaging her crippled leg.
Quietly, Shane said, "Can't they do something for that? You would not believe some of the things they can do with prosthetics anymore."
"I busted it in something like seventeen places. Had a doc back on earth who told me they could replace the bone with a ceramic one, but I never had the money to do that. Now I'd have to go at least to Groombridge, that kind of an operation is too complicated for the hospital here to handle. It's a long way and a dangerous trip. Then I'd have to worry somebody'd give me the wrong medicine. My son has a mother who gimps around on a crutch, but at least he has a mother."
"Yeah. It was none of my business, but--" Vansen made a sympathetic noise. "When my sisters were still in school, I always had to rob Peter to pay Paul whenever I had to take one of them to the doctor. It's a mess sometimes."
"Your sisters...? I don't get it, I thought NB parents were responsible for you till you were like, eighteen or twenty-one or something."
"Our parents were killed in a terrorist attack during the AI war. We were in foster homes for a while -- but then I was emancipated and got custody of my sisters when I was sixteen." At Jessa's shocked look, Vansen went on, "It wasn't all that bad! We grew up in San Diego and there was plenty of work. I was a lifeguard, and the next year my next oldest sister, Anne, started waitressing. It was hard, with school too, but we did all right. Anne got married and had a baby, want to see a picture of my niece?"
Vansen pulled out her card holder and turned to her latest picture of Marion, wearing a tiny pair of jeans and a Marine Corps tee-shirt that Shane had sent her. Jessa grinned, "Aw, she's a cutie!"
"Yeah," Shane replied.
Jessa looked at the next picture, of a young woman in an ROTC uniform. "She looks like your batch -- uh, I mean --"
Shane laughed. "I know exactly what you mean! That's my youngest sister, Lauren. You might say there's a family resemblance there, yeah."
"Is she going in the Marine Corps too?"
Shane turned serious. "She's got her heart set on it. There's this huge family tradition. Our grandma was a general. It's a lot to live up to. I'll murder her if she doesn't get her degree first, though. I made her swear on Mom's grave that she'd stay in school." Shane gulped hard. "I hope to God the war is over by then."
Jessa nodded. "I hear that. Brown's Station has some people in the military. When they found out about Ali's brother, and there was actually a chance to do some good and make a career out of it at the same time, they decided to sign up."
Shane pushed her damp hair back and let the cool stream from the air conditioner blow through it. "Yeah, sure, the military always has had a tradition of being more integrated than civilian life. I won't try to say it's perfect, but out of two of my squadron who've made Captain since I've been CO, one of them is an In Vitro. I've got to say, I don't think he's been treated any differently than anyone else in the outfit as far as the Marine Corps is concerned. Yeah, he could make a career out of it if he wanted to."
"Doesn't want to?"
"There's this nurse who has a job waiting for her back Earthside after the war..."
"Gotcha," Jessa grinned.
The cab pulled up in front of the motor pool and Jessa let in a blast of hot air when she opened the door. Shane saw the driver re-adjusting the air conditioner vent before he pulled away from the curb.
|Fanfic||Part One||Part Two||Part Three||Part Four||Part Five||Part Six|