It's a Zeus-blessed good thing that I didn't know what Derek did to Cass until later.
He wouldn't have survived the drive to Houston.
I have spent my life learning why I am so fierce when it comes to my loves, my family.
I won't get into it here, because you want to read the chapter, not my own personal psychoanalysis.
Suffice it to say that it all goes back to feeling like I was abandoned by any family I had when I was born. (Emotional, not logical.)
Anyway. Strap in, this is gonna be a big ride!
Chapter 25: You Call Me a Bitch Like It’s a Bad Thing
Travel from Los Alamos to Houston was smooth and efficient, with no questions about their documentation. The weapons arrived ahead and were reacquired and distributed to their users. Singly and in pairs, they made their way to the HLC Headquarters campus. They entered the building with their seemingly-legitimate IDs. Mac and Lisa monitored the internal security and servers, waiting for even a hint of trouble, but instead received confirmation Kaine was indeed staying late at the office. By nine-thirty, all were in position.
Mac spoofed the cameras, Lisa cut off the internal alarms from her remote location, and Alycia triggered a jammer that blanketed the radio frequencies with static.
Stone burst into Kaine’s office wearing an HLC Security uniform with the rank of Lieutenant on the shoulders, Bruce and Michael at her heels.
“Can I help you?” said the young blonde. It was the same girl Aiyana had met, though Stone hadn’t the slightest idea. She was sitting at a desk before Kaine’s door, the guardian of the inner sanctum, and had continued to be bored. The nails of one hand were halfway redone.
“Is the Director in?” asked Stone.
“Yes, he is, Lieutenant, ah, I’m sorry, do I know you?”
“Lieutenant Rasczak, I’m from the Canberra campus on TDY.”
“Of course,” said the secretary. Stone could see the nameplate on her desk read Courtney. “I’ll announce you,” she continued.
“No time, this is urgent,” Stone said, moving quickly to the door. Bruce followed Stone while Michael faced Courtney.
“Ah’m sure that the Director won’t mind a bit,” he assured her. “Don’t y’all worry yourself about it.”
Kaine sat behind his desk, visibly angry and frustrated at the sudden breakdown of the systems.
“Who are you?” he barked.
“There’s a problem with the security systems,” Stone answered, telling the truth.
“No shit, dumbass,” retorted Kaine.
“We’re here to keep you safe,” added Bruce.
“Safe from what?”
“Sir, it’s actually fairly urgent that you come with us,” continued Stone. “There may be an attempt on your life.”
“Bullshit,” snapped Kaine. “What’s your source?”
“Sir, I’d rather not reveal that information,” said Stone, with a slight nod to the open door. “If you know what I mean?”
Kaine’s eyes flashed, and he nodded.
“I understand.” He reached below his desk, pulled up a carrier bag, and dropped his computer into it. “Ready.”
“Very good, sir,” said Stone, dripping deference. “Our transport is waiting.”
Bruce led out the door, followed by Stone, Kaine, and Michael.
“One moment,” said Kaine, stopping.
“Are you done for the night?” asked Courtney, half-standing.
“No,” said Kaine, reaching into his jacket. “But you are.”
The woman’s eyes widened as he pulled a compact pulse gun from his holster, aimed, and fired at her chest. Most of the left side of her chest, including her heart, vanished in an explosion of superheated flesh. Courtney’s body collapsed into her chair.
“I don’t deal well with traitors,” Kaine said blandly, tossing the exhausted pistol at Stone. She caught it in one gloved hand. “Charge that. You said you have transport?”
“Yes, sir,” answered Bruce. “If you’ll follow me?”
He led the way out and down the corridor.
“Bloody ruthless bastard,” said Stone under her breath, dropping the pistol on the floor. “He’ll be a pleasure to eliminate.”
“Too right,” agreed Michael, equally quietly.
Stone pulled the door closed, ensuring it locked.
“Exiting,” subvocalized Stone. “Kendra to the transport. Monegain, Sanzari, meet us at junction AA-23 to escort.”
“Roger,” confirmed Kendra.
“On the way,” said Sanzari.
“Sir, won’t anyone ask questions about the body?” said Stone when she caught up with Kaine.
“No,” he answered brusquely. “I heard you close the door. Nobody goes in there when that door’s closed. I’ve made that completely clear to more than one stupid bastard who, well. Never mind why. I’ll deal with the mess in the morning.” He said the last as casually as if he’d spilled coffee on his desk.
The small group walked in silence until they met Sanzari and Monegain.
“Santos,” said Stone to Sanzari, using her appropriated name. “On point. Morgan, you’re tail-end Charlie.” Monegain nodded and held his position until everyone passed, then fell in behind.
The campus was large, and it took several minutes to walk to the exit Stone had planned. Kaine only commented once, asking why they weren’t going to the main entrance. Stone had explained the concerns and need to act unpredictably, at which point Kaine had returned to his comm. He walked blindly out the door and over to the transport, where Sanzari opened the side door for him.
With Michael and Bruce behind, Sanzari next to him, and Stone in the front passenger seat, he climbed in. Monegain stayed outside and closed the door. He would join Mac’s team and make his way out with them.
Kaine’s home was fifteen minutes to the East. When the vehicle headed West, he asked why.
“Unpredictability, sir,” repeated Stone.
“I hope you’re not going to go around the long way,” he muttered, then pulled out his computer and returned to work. He was oblivious to all for another twenty minutes until they pulled up at the OutLook safe house. The Bugatti was already there.
“Hey, this isn’t my house!” blurted Kaine, and he tried to bring his bag up.
“Ah ah ah,” scolded Sanzari, snatching it away.
“What the fuck are you playing at? And don’t give me that unpredictability shit.”
“Fine,” agreed Stone equably. “This is a kidnapping.”
Bruce and Michael reached over to grab Kaine’s shoulders and pin him against the seat from behind.
“You can’t be serious!” snapped Kaine. “My security –”
“Is in Los Alamos, or heading there,” completed Stone, now leveling a nasty-looking flechette pistol at Kaine. “Sorry, Mr. Kaine. It was an inside job, but I’m afraid your secretary had nothing to do with it.”
Kendra turned around from the driver’s seat.
“Aiyana sends her regards, asshole.” She was holding a small tube.
“You!” he sputtered. “You’re supposed to be –”
“Dead? Sold into slavery?” Her grin was cruel.
“Fuck you, bitch!” he spat.
“How cute,” said Kendra. “You call me a bitch like it’s a bad thing.”
She turned to Stone. “May I?”
The Master Chief nodded. “Your privilege.”
“Nighty-night, Glenn,” said Kendra. She pressed the end of the tube. A single thwip! sounded, and a tiny dart embedded itself in Kaine’s chest. In seconds, he was out cold.
Stone took charge.
“Let’s get this lump inside before anyone notices something weird.” She, Sanzari, Michael, and Bruce each took a limb of the unconscious Security Director and carried him up to the house. After grabbing his bag from Sanzari, Kendra went ahead, so she was the one who opened the door.
“Come on in,” said a voice from inside.
“Derek?” said Kendra, walking in. “Where are you?”
“Just in the kitchen,” he replied. “Straight back.”
“Hold on,” Kendra answered. “There’s a few more of us, and we have a, uh, guest.”
“The more, the merrier! It’s a big kitchen. Everyone can fit.” Derek sounded ebullient, and Kendra wondered.
Maybe he’s excited because they made good time?
By now, Stone and the others were through. Kendra closed the door.
“Derek’s here,” she said. “In the kitchen.”
Stone raised an eyebrow.
“How’d he get here before us?”
“I’m waiting,” called Derek, a hint of impatience in his voice. “You don’t want me to wait.”
“Why don’t you come out here?” Kendra replied.
“Oh, there’s something I need to keep an eye on. I couldn’t step away for a moment, sorry! There’s plenty for everyone, though, so why don’t you come back?”
Stone shrugged. “He’s your husband.”
Kendra led the way, opened the door, and stepped back to let the others through first.
“Oh, now isn’t that interesting,” she heard Derek say. “You brought a surprise. Why don’t you put that over at the table?”
Kendra followed. “Hi, Derek. I didn’t expect you to be here yet.”
Derek was standing with his back to them. It looked like he was stirring something on the cooktop. He turned, and Kendra was stunned to see that he was holding a sonic disruptor.
“Derek?” she said, confused.
“Put your weapons on the table, everyone,” said Derek coldly, the weapon never wavering. “Do it gently. I’ve had a busy night, and I’m not feeling very trustful right now.”
Carefully, they complied. Kendra started towards the table, but Derek waved her off.
“You. Stay away from the table. Put everything on the floor.” His voice was arctic.
“Where’s Cass?” trembled Kendra.
“On ice,” answered Derek. “But alive.”
“She’d better be,” threatened Kendra.
“Or what?” mocked Derek. “You’ll kill me? Don’t stop,” he said to Kendra, who had slowed her disarming.
“What’s all this, then?” asked Stone, quietly fuming and furious she hadn’t trusted her instincts.
“Oh, you haven’t figured it out? Gee, with those two supposed computer geniuses, I would have thought it easy for you super-agent types.”
“You own HLC,” Kendra said flatly. “You’re behind all of this.”
“I knew I loved you for your brain,” sneered Derek. “No, wait, it was her brain, your body.”
“Did you? Love us, I mean?” Despite herself, Kendra couldn’t prevent her voice from cracking.
Derek laughed, a cold, ugly sound. “Is this where you get all teary-eyed and wail about how you feel used? Or do you save that for later and a bottle of wine? Because, if I were you, I’d go for the former. There isn’t going to be a later.”
Kendra had recovered from her momentary weakness. Now her voice was as cold as his. “You didn’t answer me.”
“Yes, I loved you. Right up until Aiyana told me about her research and what it could mean. I tried to divert her from it, but she’s a stubborn bitch too. Kept on working the problem like a terrier with a bone.” He shook his head.
“It wasn’t supposed to end like this,” he continued. “Farrell gave himself away somehow, Aiyana picked up on it, and the next thing I knew, I was running from the man I’d hired to kill her! Well, okay, he didn’t know me, but damn. His target was the redheaded woman. You’d think he’d be able to kill a single fucking scientist!”
“What do you mean, her?”
“Hold on a minute,” he said. “You four.” The agents were all standing still, disarmed.
“Yes?” answered Stone for the group.
“You might want to step away,” he said. A heartbeat later, he shot Kaine, who lay unconscious in a chair. There was no visible damage, but as the sonic pulse passed through his body, it disrupted his brain's chemical and electrical signals. Suddenly millions of neurons fired at once. Muscles throughout his body spasmed, his back arched violently, and the sound of bones breaking, shattering, was loud in the room.
“What the frak!” shouted Kendra.
“Failure shouldn’t be rewarded,” he explained. “Kaine has been an incompetent bungler this whole sorry affair, and I’ll be damned if I let him implicate me in anything.”
“Where’s Aiyana?” demanded Kendra, coldly furious.
“Like I said, she’s on ice.” He gestured behind him. “Or nearly so.”
There was a metal door behind him, and Kendra suddenly realized what it was. Many OutLook safe houses were equipped as refuges for times of political and social unrest. They were designed for as much self-sufficiency as possible. Like her shelter in the Hoosac Tunnel, this safe house had a walk-in refrigerator and probably a freezer.
“Frak me,” she whispered.
“I don’t think so,” said Derek. “Like I said, stubborn bitch. You couldn’t let it go, could you? And instead of staying with me at the terminal and letting the police handle things, you had to take her and run. Do you know how much crap I had to deal with when they took me in? How much I had to pay to keep my name out of it?”
“Money? This is about money?”
“No, not so much the money,” said Derek. “The aggravation. It would have been so good, so easy, if either of you could have let it go. And now you have to die.” He aimed the disruptor at Kendra but didn’t trigger it. Instead, he looked down in surprise at the sudden bloom of red on his shirt. He turned to the side to see Celsey standing there with her flechette gun.
“Always check your six,” she said. She shot again.
This time, he fell.
She triggered off another burst to his head, just to be sure.
Kendra dashed past the dying man and yanked the metal door open. Diving inside, she called out, “Cass!” while looking desperately for her wife.
A moan led her to the far corner. Aiyana was on the floor, hands tied behind her back, eyes closed. Kendra hefted the taller woman up and carried her out, through the suddenly-noisy kitchen, and into the next room. Kendra dropped Cass’s cold body onto the couch.
“We need to warm her up,” said Lisa, hurrying into the room. “Where’s the thermostat?”
“Set temperature to ninety,” said Kendra as an answer. “Authorization Foster-Briggs Zero Zero Seven.”
“Confirmed,” said a robotic voice.
“All of the safe houses have a rudimentary AI,” explained Celsey. Kendra stripped off her jacket and blouse to wrap around Aiyana, then pulled her into her arms.
“I need blankets!” she called out.
“On it,” said Bruce. He returned with an armful and wrapped the two in them in just a few moments.
“What about something hot to drink?” Lisa asked.
“I’ll see what I can do,” said Michael, returning to the kitchen.
“Not coffee. Cocoa, if there is any, the sugar will help,” said Kendra. Turning to Celsey, she said, “Where did you come from?”
“Lisa and I were on the top floor. Apparently, that’s where the central hub is, and we saw it when they arrived. It was way early. I saw him dragging Cass into the house and knew something was wrong. Lisa sent messages to Mac. They should be here any time, but we couldn’t contact you.”
“Why not?” demanded Kendra.
“Because you had Kaine, and we didn’t know the situation in the transport.”
Stone, who was listening from the door, nodded. “Good tactical thinking.”
“Thank you, Master Chief.”
“How long were you planning to let him talk?” Kendra said, calming. She was a courier and an assassin. She didn’t usually work in a team, so she was willing to bow to those with more experience.
“Until he did anything that seemed really dangerous.”
“Like shooting Kaine, maybe?” Lisa said with a bite.
“Exactly. I targeted him then, but I had to stay out of sight. When he aimed at you, I knew I was out of time.”
“Well,” said Kendra. “You cut it a little fine for my taste, but you always did have a flair for the dramatic. Thanks.”
Michael came in with a cup of cocoa. “Warm, but not too hot to drink.” He handed it to Kendra. “I have more when you’re ready.”
“Cass, honey, drink this.” Kendra put the mug to Cass’s lips and tipped a little bit onto her tongue. Tasting the chocolate, though not really awake, Aiyana strained for more. Gently, slowly, Kendra tilted the cup, giving her little sips. Shortly, Cass opened her eyes.
“Hi babe,” she said blearily.
“Hey hon,” sniffled Kendra, at last giving in to her emotions. “Glad to see you.”
“Me, too,” returned Cass. She settled more comfortably into Kendra’s arms, then stiffened as memories rushed back.
“What – wait – where’s Derek – Derek! He’s the one who –”
“Shh, shh, we’ve got it under control,” hushed Kendra. She felt the tension ebb from Cass’s body. “Are you up to telling us what happened?”
“As long as you don’t let go of me.”
“Not a chance,” said Kendra, tightening her arms.
“We stopped just outside Amarillo,” Cass started. “When Derek came back to the car, he drugged me, and I was knocked unconscious. When I came to, we were somewhere outside Houston. Derek was driving, and he had tied me to the passenger seat.” She stopped and drank more cocoa.
“Go on,” urged Kendra.
She took a deep breath then resumed. “I asked Derek why he was doing this. He said it was because he’d been trying to have others do it, and they kept screwing it up, so he had to do it himself. Kendra, he’s the one who was trying to have us killed!”
Kendra caressed her forehead. “I know, I just found out a few minutes ago. What next?”
“I didn’t understand and told him so. He said that my research would ruin his company and cost him hundreds of billions of credits. I still didn’t understand. He said he was the sole beneficiary of the D.D. Harriman Trust. Kendra, back when I was at MIT, I studied them for a paper on the economics of the space industry. They own, like, everything about space! Capricorn Station, HLC, and the Sagan Foundation are all tied back to D.D. Harriman!”
“I wonder what his connection was?” speculated Stone.
Mac and her crew spilled into the safe house. Exclamations over the bodies in the kitchen prevented Cass from continuing, and Stone excused herself to sort the chaos out. Kaine and Derek were dragged into the freezer for later disposal. The various agents were given interim assignments for the rest of their stay. Finally, the leaders reconvened in the room with Kendra and Aiyana. Cass felt better and was sitting upright, her hands wrapped around another cup of cocoa. Kendra refused to move from her side, and Lisa attached herself to the other side. Mac, Stone, and Montana sat in chairs facing them.
“Where was I?” said Cass.
“You were about to explain how Derek was connected to D.D. Harriman,” reminded Stone.
Mac jumped in. “Oh, I know that my bots finally finished digging out the information, he was the great-great-grandson of the founder of the trust and the only descendant deemed eligible to inherit, so when his parents passed several years ago, he got control of the whole thing, and the Trust is just huge, I mean absolutely huge, you wouldn’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly huge it is, I mean, you might think that the Buffett Foundation is huge, but that’s just peanuts compared to the Trust, and Derek was the only one who controlled it, and he was really really hands-off for most of his life, but ever since he met you, Cass, he was taking an interest in HLC, and they’re one of the bigger bits and pretty well interconnected with everything else, and –”
“Of course!” exclaimed Kendra, cutting Mac off. “So if Cass’s research was going to hurt HLC and hurt them badly, that would have a knock-on effect on most of the rest of the Trust.”
“How long have you known this, Mac?” asked Stone in a dangerous tone.
Mac recognized the warning flags.
“I just read the report on the way over here, my bots finished digging a while ago, but I was busy with the assignment so I hadn’t checked, and when I did look we were only, like, five minutes away, and I didn’t think it worth comming ahead since we were going to get here soon, but I wasn’t holding it back I promise!” She ended with a squak.
“Fine, Mac, you did good,” reassured Stone. “Aiyana? You want to try again?”
“That matches up pretty well with what Derek told me,” confirmed Cass. “Then he told me he was going to be busy and knocked me out again. You know the rest.”
“I’ve got some questions,” said Montana.
“I’ll answer if I can.”
“How did you get here so fast? We figured it was five hours plus, but you were here in, what, four?”
“Kendra’s car,” said Cass. “Derek didn’t know about the restricted speed, but he pushed to nearly four hundred KPH.” She shrugged. “I mean, I was out for most of that, but if I had to guess? No matter what people say about the Rangers being incorruptible, there’s never been a civil servant who was averse to a little pocket-lining.”
“And how did he know we were coming here?” continued Montana.
“That’s on me,” confessed Cass. “We talked from the house to the border. He asked all sorts of questions about what was going on. I didn’t tell him any specifics, just that you had to do something in Houston, and we were heading for a safe house to wait.”
“I wish that we could finish connecting the dots,” said Kendra. “We have enough to know the overall picture, but there are still so many questions!”
“Like why did Kaine target Lisa?” said Cass.
“And what were the exact contracts Talbott had?” added Montana.
“And who else is compromised?” continued Stone. “We know that someone in the Rangers bugged the Veyron. Who else?”
“But with Kaine and Derek dead, we don’t have anyone to ask,” finished Mac.
“Yes, we do!” said Kendra, jumping up and dashing from the room.
Cass and Lisa exchanged a look. Montana shrugged.
Kendra returned with Kaine’s bag.
“We have his computer!” she said triumphantly. “Mac, do your magic!”