Final Days | Chapter 17 of 39

Author: Gary Gibson | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1003 Views | Add a Review

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FOURTEEN

 

En route to 94 Aquarii, 1 February 2235

 

Fowler felt a slight vibration as the rail-mounted shuttle-car transported him across a hundred light-years in an instant.

The roof of the shuttle-car was attached to an overhead track that ran directly through the centre of the wormhole. One mouth of the wormhole was located on Luna, the other on board a star-ship already decelerating on its approach to the Galileo system. It was considerably smaller than the mass-transit models that carried thousands of passengers daily between Luna and the colonies, and existed primarily to transport the engineers and physicists whose job was to maintain the equipment that prevented either mouth of the wormhole from collapsing. Each of the mouths was capped by a vast steel torus containing trace quantities of highly unstable exotic matter, held at bay by enormously powerful magnetic fields, while the surface of the wormhole itself was hidden from sight behind dense layers of machinery and shielding.

Fowler had the sensation of falling for a few moments before he felt his weight return; the starship’s near-1g deceleration allowed him to walk around its interior in relative comfort.

His UP was already active, and he now used it to navigate his way to the observation suite, most often the first stop for documentary makers or politicians wanting to see where all the taxpayer’s money was going. He arrived to find Donohue already there, gazing up at the broad, curving bowl of the main display screen with tired eyes; Fowler guessed he’d only just got back from his trip to the Far East. When Donohue lowered his head, Fowler allowed himself a momentary satisfaction at the look of apprehension on the agent’s face.

‘I’ve read your summary report,’ he began, taking a seat opposite Donohue. ‘Your partner is dead, and you still haven’t found Jeff Cairns. If you’re deliberately trying to display unprecedented levels of incompetence, you’re doing an excellent job.’

Donohue regarded him levelly. ‘Mr Sanders did his best to follow your orders, sir. Maybe if we’d been told we were dealing with quite such resourceful targets, we could have—’

‘Or maybe you’re just not competent enough to do your job,’ Fowler snapped. ‘Please don’t waste my time with excuses. Have you even found Maalouf?’

Donohue cleared his throat. ‘We’ve found him, and he’s still on Newton. However, he’s escorted by armed guards wherever he goes.’

‘In other words, he’s considerably more than just a civilian scientist.’

Donohue nodded. ‘We’ve carried out extensive analysis of his movements prior to being posted to the Founder Project, and we found evidence that he’s had at least some contact with one of the local separatist groups.’

Fowler waved a hand dismissively. ‘We’ll have time to mop up the separatists after the evacuation is over. In the meantime, terminating Maalouf remains a priority. Got that?’

‘Sir.’

‘All right.’ Fowler nodded, still far from mollified. ‘What’s the latest with Hanover?’

‘We’re still in negotiation with the Taiwanese authorities, but we’ve confirmed that he allowed himself to be caught. One of our people managed to get a private interview with him, and he’s still threatening to tell Sphere representatives everything, if we don’t give him what he wants.’

Fowler grunted. ‘Hell of a gamble for him to take.’

‘But one that paid off, at least at first.’ Donohue leaned forward and clasped his hands. ‘We’ve made progress, however. Network forensics show that Hanover opened more than a dozen anonymous accounts over the past several weeks, all with firms specializing in secure data-storage. He’s set the accounts up so that any data held in them will be released and disseminated automatically unless he intervenes at specified times.’

‘In other words, killing him would just make things worse.’

Donohue nodded. ‘And it also puts a time limit on how long we can risk leaving him in foreign custody. However, we’ve put pressure on the owners of the businesses concerned. Several are in non-Coalition treaty territories, which means we don’t have any influence over them directly, but all of them do business within Coalition territories – and it’s business they can’t afford to lose.’

Fowler grunted approval. ‘Go on.’

‘To cut a long story short, we’ve already secured access to most of his accounts, and it won’t take more than another day or so to shut down the rest.’

Fowler nodded. ‘Excellent. Any idea who Hanover’s main Sphere contact is?’

‘Yes, a member of the Beijing diplomatic service, based in New York. We picked him up a few hours ago, along with a couple of other embassy workers we’re pretty sure were involved. That leaves Hanover with no evidence to show, and we’ve already arranged a diplomatic exchange.’ He rubbed his hands on his thighs. ‘Regarding him, do you want me to—?’

‘No.’ Fowler shook his head. ‘No termination. I’m going to let him live – for now, anyway.’

Donohue frowned. ‘I don’t understand.’

‘Trust me, he’s going to suffer more than you could imagine. What about the shipment?’

‘We know the hijackers landed at an airfield outside Tegucigalpa, and the shipment was then transferred to a cargo drone belonging to a shell company registered in the Philippines.’ Donohue paused, as if for effect. ‘Which turns out to be owned by a subsidiary of Shang-Gu Tech.’

Fowler could feel all the pieces drop into place. Shih Hsiu-Chuan was the original founder of Shang-Gu Tech, and still maintained a controlling interest in the company.

‘And after that?’

Donohue sat back with a sigh. ‘It’s confirmed that the cargo drone went down north of the Mariana Islands, and took the shipment to the bottom of the Pacific with it. We already knew the exact latitude and longitude of where the first of the growths would appear; by the looks of it, the drone crashed at the precise same coordinates.’

Icy tendrils creeping through his belly, Fowler recalled the recovered footage of the Pacific growth, dipping in and out of sight as the ship rose and fell on the turbulent waters. It had been wrapped in clouds of smoke and steam, big enough already it was almost certainly visible from orbit.

It was one thing, he thought, to have foreknowledge of future events. It was another matter entirely to see them so clearly confirmed.

Following the meeting on Luna, he had shown Amanda the full and unexpurgated video, noticing the way her lips had compressed into a thin white line as she watched it.

The view had swung away from the growth to show Amanda standing by a railing, with the Pacific blue and deep and restless behind her. Her eyes suddenly darted to one side, as if she saw something there that frightened her. After that, the video blurred and jerked rapidly before fading to darkness.

‘It’s going to be hard, you know,’ he remarked, almost to himself.

‘Sir?’

‘The colonial administrations,’ he explained, glancing directly at Donohue. ‘Most of them aren’t going to give up what little power they have without a fight. It might be all over in days, or it might take years – long, hard years.’

‘I understand that, sir.’

Fowler made a sound of irritation, aware that he sounded maudlin. He reminded himself that Donohue was nothing more than a weapon, and almost incapable – if his personnel file was anything to judge by – of anything resembling introspection.

‘Any news on Mitchell Stone?’ asked Fowler. ‘The one we brought back from the future,’ he added, by way of clarification.

‘I’m afraid not, so far. But the instant he shows himself anywhere near the Array, we’ve got him.’

Fowler nond wondered how he had managed to underestimate Stone’s resourcefulness quite so badly. His mistake, he saw now, had been in allowing a military intelligence unit to run the interrogation. His own people, even Donohue, surely couldn’t have made as big a mess.

‘Fine. Let him come to us, then,’ he said, regarding Donohue with a level stare. ‘And let me be perfectly clear on this: screw up again, and I’m going to wonder if you’re really competent of taking care of the tasks I assign you.’

‘Sir,’ said Donohue, standing up.

Once Donohue had left, Fowler leaned back and stared up at the stars displayed across the overhead screen. One of those points of light, he knew, was Galileo, only a few months’ journey away within the frame of reference of the ship and of Earth. Just another couple of weeks of deceleration, and radio communication with it would become possible. By then, however, the Earth would have been reduced to a lifeless wasteland.

And where will I be? Fowler wondered. He was supposed to help rebuild the Coalition, under the light of some other star, but he was all too aware of how much of a liability he already represented to that nascent civilization: useful for facilitating the transition of power, but possessing too much knowledge to comfortably be allowed to live.

And if anyone were to be given the orders to terminate him, it would almost certainly be Donohue.

No, Fowler had already come to his decision: neither Donohue nor anyone else would get the chance to kill him. He would fulfil his duty in the meantime, and give whatever orders proved necessary in order to ensure preparations for the transition went as smoothly as possible. But any lingering doubts about staying behind had vanished in the wake of Amanda’s decision not to seek escape.

After all, as she herself had quickly pointed out, someone had recorded those images of her on that storm-tossed ship, with that incomprehensibly alien structure rising from the deep ocean behind her. And, in his heart, Fowler knew that person could only be himself.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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