Shadow - NovelisationBy Murray Smith
Page 2 of 8
Had Bek and Hanna waited a few seconds longer and looked out the window, they
would have seen approaching something that would alter their lives
irrevocably: a strange, beautiful, and deadly space ship. |
All the Liberator's crew were on the flight deck, in their usual positions.
"Approach completed," announced Jenna from the pilot's seat.
"All vectors are matched and holding," chimed in Gan.
"Power down...now," said Cally.
Jenna made a second announcement. "Switching to automatics."
Zen expressed his satisfaction with their performance. Confirm. All systems functioning. Status is firm.
Gan stood up and looked at the image of Space City on the main screen. "Very pretty."
"I know." Jenna sounded a little put out. "Piloting wasn't bad either."
"So. That is Space City." said Blake, in a tone of completion.
"Also known as the Satellite of Sin." All the crew wondered at the longing in Vila's voice as well as the smile on his face; but they now knew why he had been so eager to go there.
Avon spoke for them all. "By whom?"
"It had to be someone of limited imagination."
Avon's put-down did not put off Vila's longing. "Pick a pleasure, any pleasure."
"And you'll find it for sale in Space City." Jenna turned Vila's fragment into a complete sentence.
"If you've got the money." Blake tried to change the subject.
"But we have, we have." Vila was visibly anticipating what he would spend the money on.
Gan, who had walked down from his seat, brought everyone back to why they were there, returning to a long drawn out argument. "And if you can stomach doing business with the Terra Nostra."
Blake did not look directly at Gan, but replied, "We're going to use them Gan, not do business with them."
"A subtle distinction that escapes me for the moment." Avon's tone of voice was unchanged, but his body language hinted at some difference, as he moved between Blake and Gan, standing next to the latter.
Blake's response was one of amusement. "Don't tell me that you have a moral objection to using their organisation to infiltrate Earth?"
"Of course not." Avon moved away.
"Well, I have." Gan moved to occupy Avon's previous position.
"Think Gan, think what they've got: men, material, information," declaimed Blake in reply. "Think what we could do with a fraction of the resources they control." This had been the same argument given by Blake when he first explained his idea.
Gan remembered how he had been alone in his opposition. The others had supported Blake, or at least had not opposed him. Cally was zealous in her support, seeing it as the strategy for victory; Jenna was also a supporter, but for what Gan felt were personal feelings for Blake, not for his politics; Vila supported going to Space City for personal reasons that were now quite obvious; and Avon seemed to go along with the idea, though believing that it would not work. He would, of course, not be suggesting any better idea; perhaps it was, Gan thought, because any other idea would be better.
He knew that Blake was still unconvinced by his counter-argument, which had met with indifference and a lack of support from the rest of the crew for the reasons previously given. He still felt the need to reiterate his point. His voice was cold, and his slightly turned down mouth made his face look grim.
"No, you think, Blake. Think what it is they control. Everything dirty, degrading, and cruel on just about every colonised world."
"Earth is all I'm interested in."
"The Terra Nostra aren't responsible for everything, Gan," corrected Vila. "I could go and murder somebody now and it wouldn't be their fault." He pondered for an instant before going on. "Mind you, if I picked his pocket afterwards they'd want their cut."
"It's largely academic anyway. I don't think we'll get within shouting distance of them." Avon was still sceptical.
"The Terra Nostra run Space City." Vila was emphatic on this point.
While Cally was not a sheltered person, having been brought up on Auron, an isolationist planet hostile to outsiders, she was very ignorant of the Terra Nostra. "How can you be sure of that?" she asked, puzzled. "You say that they're a criminal organisation who work in secret."
"They work in secret on Earth and the Federated worlds," explained Blake.
"Organising crime," interrupted Gan, still looking grim. Why didn't she try finding all this out earlier? he wondered silently. Because she believes he has all the answers, and trusts him to tell her when he's ready, that's why.
Blake continued with his explanation. "Space City itself is neutral territory. Not officially owned by the Terra Nostra but it's an open secret."
"A neutral base for an outlawed organisation?" asked Cally rhetorically, interested in the concept.
Blake smiled briefly. "Well, presumably it has its uses."
"Entertainment, for example," explained a grinning Vila.
"Why don't you take a cold shower or something?" Jenna asked sourly, at the same time checking her instruments. She almost instantly realised that she had sounded exactly like her mother, but kept this realisation to herself. Maybe, she wondered, she was more apprehensive about the chances of success of Blake's plan than she had cared to admit.
"And risk being left behind when we go and meet your friend?"
"Largo's no friend of mine," Jenna quickly explained. "When I met him on Callisto he forgot to mention he was a member of the Organisation. Just said he wanted me to run a cargo into Earth. He didn't tell me what it was at first."
"Drugs?" inquired Gan.
"Shadow. I turned him down."
"Very sensible," said Avon. "Possession carries a mandatory death sentence."
"That wasn't the reason." Jenna's reply carried the unspoken addition that she wasn't going to give the actual reason.
Zen then interjected. Navigation computers are receiving interrogation signal from Space City traffic approach control.
"About time," commented Blake, who then began giving orders. "Request standoff position. Cally, stand by on the teleport. Jenna, get on the communicator and see if you can contact your friend Largo. Gan, Avon, get ready as well." He began to leave the flight deck.
Vector coordinates received and laid in.
"Er, what about me?" Vila sounded nervous, wondering about his exclusion from Blake's orders.
"You're staying here."
"Where I can find you if I need you."
Vila pointed back to the main screen. "But that's Space City," he pleaded, "one of my all-time great ambitions."
Blake was polite but resolute. "You'd probably be disappointed."
"I'll take that chance."
"I would never forgive myself, Vila." Blake then turned and left the flight deck, Vila remaining with a look of dismay on his face.
Bek entered a storage compartment in Space City. Hanna was sitting on the floor, staring at nothing in particular.
"Hanna, twenty minutes I said! That launch crew goes off shift in an hour!" His angry tone of voice became a little pleading. "We may not get another chance. Where is Peety?"
Hanna turned her head; and, following her gaze, Bek now saw something he had not seen at first: a silverish blanket, covering something the size of an adult human body. She didn't need to tell him whose body it was.
"How? How?" asked Bek, his mouth wide open. His question was answered when he saw a number of drugs beside the covered body, including two balls of shadow. Bek grabbed one in his fist, went over to his sister, knelt down and shoved the fist in front of her face. "That's how!" he half-shouted, half-screamed in frustration and grief.
Hanna attempted to tell him what had happened. "He didn't take any more. He didn't need another dose for twelve hours, at least twelve hours. He just...just died."
She sounded as if he had died fifty years ago instead of a few minutes.
"Just died?" Bek dragged his sister to the blanket-covered corpse. "That's what shadow does; it kills you!"
"Think I don't know that?"
"Well then why? Why so stupid, Han? Stupid. Stupid Peety." Bek lifted the blanket and looked at the face of their dead brother. "Look after you." His voice was a mixture of hopelessness and contempt.
"It's not your fault." Hanna attempted to console him.
"Largo." Bek suddenly mentioned the name in a determined fashion, starting to get up.
"Bek?" pleaded Hanna, clutching him.
"It won't help Peety."
"It'll help me."
"What about me?" Hanna's voice was a light wail.
The compartment's door opened, and a young man appeared. Dressed in a shirt and suit similar to Largo's, he had a gun at the ready.
"You?" Bek was bitter in his manner, the despair at what had happened finally emerging in full. "It's too late, remember. You're already dead, like Peety." He turned around to leave, then saw the enforcer and his gun. Though young, this particular enforcer had already built up a considerable reputation. He was also known to be good to his parents.
"Must run in the family," the enforcer commented in the dry tone recommended for his kind to use. "Shed the gun," he ordered Bek, who complied. "Largo wants you two, very badly." He smiled slightly.
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