Space 2315, Chapter 17

Eileen Maguire swore and while doing so, she dropped so many F-bombs that it would make even a well-seasoned sailor blush. As she ran through the walkways of New York as fast as her feet could carry her, she swore up a storm while she shoved people aside. She was oblivious to how rude she was being. Where the hell was Bernard Hernandez?! He hadn’t told her where he’d meet with the group after the explosions, only that he’d contact them somehow.

The city was going into lockdown with police in unpowered armor and gas masks deploying just about everywhere. The Army was setting a perimeter around the city, the Air Force cut all air traffic in and out, the Navy and Coast Guard were patrolling the waters, and the Second Earth Orbital Fleet positioned two trans-atmospheric capable destroyers just over the city. Nobody was getting in or out of NYC.

First responders were rushing to and from staging areas and hospitals, trying desperately to handle the tidal wave of injured, never mind the dead. Even with the city’s modern infrastructure and VTOLs it was proving a nigh impossible task. The streets were literally jammed with people trying to get away from Times Square. It was so bad that the 101st Spaceborne was setting up field hospitals in open spaces where combat medics were assisting the wounded.

It was a total mess. No. Not a total mess. It was a clusterfuck. A real clusterfuck. She knew right from the get-go that Hernandez had a grudge against the Human Federation; otherwise he’d never have planned something like this to begin with. The ACF’s FBI knew of said grudge, but if they started arresting people for having a grudge against the HF they’d run out of prisons in short order.

She’d always suspected that Hernandez was deranged. Deranged yes, but he was smart. When you mixed homicidal maniacal tendencies with intellect it usually resulted in a complete disaster.

He was smart enough that when the final pieces started coming together, he made certain to keep tabs on everyone around him. He didn’t trust any of them as far as he could throw them and for something like this that was a good thing. Not even Alice, who was admittedly Hernandez’s closest confidant, or lover as some in their inner circle suggested even though she never once slept with him, ever knew the full extent of what he was planning. Through all those meetings with his associates on Altair he’d never once implied that he was going to kill tens of thousands of innocent people besides the President of the Human Federation in NYC.

Sending her onto Earth before him? She supposed that wasn’t surprising. He wanted to enjoy Sirius alone. She could only imagine what he did there besides meeting with arms dealers or the Mafioso. Part of her recoiled from the images of what that lecherous man did on one of humanity’s most sexually permissive planets where just about anything goes. Gee, no wonder he wanted to go there!

When they finally did meet in Mexico, he sent her across the ocean to North Korea to gain VX of all things. She figured he was going to use it against military targets, not chop the heads off the HF government and innocent people. When she looked at her hands her mind’s eye saw those peoples’ blood there, as if she pulled the trigger herself. Rationally she knew that was silly, that was her overactive brain seeing things, but she couldn’t help it. She helped him acquire the stuff, even over her objections, and when she asked him why it was needed, he all but shut her out. What else did that guy get on Sirius? Surely part of the explosives was from there as well.

For now, she needed to find him. She wanted to kick his ass! But where was he? In this mess of people, she couldn’t see anything! He could be anywhere! He had to know the authorities were closing New York faster than anything so he was trapped just as much as she was. But New York was a huge, sprawling megacity that had thousands of places to hide. Where to even start looking?

Bernard Hernandez rode in a ground car with three North Koreans who helped him pull it all off. They knew of a safe house they could lay low at for a few weeks, or at least until the authorities lifted the lockdown. New York was in chaos and he wouldn’t have it any other way. Everyone in Times Square was dead, yet even now, there was a new president. Damnit! How did that senator turned acting president survive? Who was she anyways? A part of him figured he ought to know but she must’ve been too junior a senator for him to know.

She was completely out of his reach. As soon as the Human Federation Army was able to, they whisked her off to Quebec City under heavy guard. That city was under even tighter lockdown than NYC was. There was no way he was going to get there, let alone to La Citadelle. He’d need an army, maybe two armies, to get in there. And with the Air Force and Space Force providing over watch even that was impossible.

The driver swerved sideways to avoid running into a convoy of National Guard armored vehicles and police units. Bernard felt his pulse ratchet up at the sight of those, fearing that the men and women manning their systems would spot him. He was on every All Points Bulletin from NYC to Altair; he was Public Enemy Number One across all Human Space, and that wasn’t being immodest. He was likely wanted in Zaltaen Space as well, seeing as how an unknown number of their people, including their ambassador to Earth, were in Times Square when he pushed the button.

Looking out the window he saw his face on a screen with the word “WANTED ALIVE” above and below it. He supposed that if the authorities couldn’t get him a bounty would be placed on his head soon enough. Odds were that the bounty hunters would have a better chance of getting him than any official services. They didn’t have to worry about things like restraint and a host of other things that could bog down a law enforcement or intelligence agency. If they brought him in alive, and the wanted poster didn’t say in what condition, they’d get the bounty.

A part of him felt guilty that he left Alice behind in that mad crush, but she and so many of the others involved were on their own. She was resourceful enough that she’d eventually find her way back to the ACF without too much trouble. She’d probably rant and rave at him when they finally met again, but he figured that his safety was worth her being wroth with him. Leaning forward he asked the driver, “How much further?”

The driver shook his head and the other man up front turned to Bernard, “We’ll be there soon Mister Hernandez, don’t worry. Kim knows where to go.”

“Kim?”

“Ah, yes,” the man replied, “we tend to go by family names first. The three most common clan names in Korea are still Kim, Lee or Park. There’s an old joke among Koreans that you could drop a coin off a tower in Pyongyang or Seoul and it’d most likely hit someone with one of those family names.”

“I see, and you are?”

“Park,” he replied with a grin and a chuckle that invited Hernandez to share in the moment of humor.

It took over an hour to get to the safe house. On any other day it would’ve only taken twenty or so minutes to get there. The North Koreans drew submachine guns from under their seats before they started driving down darkened alleyways between two enormous skyscrapers. They kept them in plain sight as a warning to anything or anyone down there.

This part of NYC wasn’t in the tourist guidebooks; ground-level NYC, or any megacity on Earth, wasn’t. Most people–except for the dregs of society, the very poor, the lost or forgotten, and the criminals who really wanted to stay out of sight–lived far above the seething cesspool of crime, pestilence and waste that was the ground level. Only ten stories above the ground was the waste processing centers, water reclamation plants and maintenance facilities for the towers they supported.

Below that it was almost anarchy. The police didn’t come down here too often and when they did it was always in squad strength or better. Most crime went unreported and those that were reported were hardly investigated. Basic facilities and services were almost nonexistent. Power and water for these areas were tapped off the lines going up to the main city. Piles of unidentifiable, often foul-smelling material were just about everywhere along the sides of the streets that crisscrossed the spaces between the high-rises. Lighting was poor at best, with the occasional working light casting a dim puddle that the denizens of this hellish urban labyrinth avoided. Shitty was putting it mildly and some would consider that word too generous.

Centuries ago a Catholic pope once said, “A society will be judged based on how it treats its weakest members.” If that was the case, then the Human Federation was in for a bad assessment somewhere down the line. Not every city was like NYC though. Most cities in Europe weren’t anything remotely like the handful of megacities located in the Americas, instead wanting to keep their European looks rather than turning into something that looked like it was the beginning of a planet-wide city. But the examples of New York, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Rio, and others gave Earth a bad reputation.

Not even Sirius was this bad! Even in the seedier parts of Sirius a woman could walk the streets alone without fear of being raped or killed out of hand. No woman would ever come down here by choice!

The Koreans got him out of the car and to one of the many ground level entrances located between the piles of refuse. Almost as if in response to his thoughts not too far above them two women with dirty blonde hair that looked too young to be prostitutes leaned out a window far enough to show they were naked. “You guys looking for a good time?” one asked, her voice dripping sugary sweetness that almost made Hernandez’s teeth ache.

The four men ignored them as they made their way inside. The hallway inside was almost as dark, rundown and filthy as the street outside. The three Koreans hustled Hernandez along the corridor to a door that looked just as bad as any of the other ones. The driver rapped on the door three times and answered a question in Korean before the door was opened. Hernandez almost didn’t want to go inside. They could disappear him and nobody would know he was there. One of the Koreans stayed behind Hernandez with a submachine gun pointed at the small of his back. The North Korean pushed him inside with his free hand, leaving him with no other option but to go along.

Inside however was an immaculately clean flat that looked like it could belong in any of the upper stories of the skyscraper. The jarring difference between here and the outside hall made Hernandez blink, and not just because of the bright lighting. Another North Korean wearing the uniform of a Korean People’s Army lieutenant colonel sat on a sofa puffing a Cuban cigar and holding a tumbler of whisky in his other hand. He rose upon seeing Hernandez, setting his whisky on an end table before extending it for a handshake.

“Mister Hernandez, welcome. I trust that you’re happy with your results,” he said, gesturing at the HD screen on the wall which showed scenes from all over Earth where the terrorist strikes occurred.

“Oh, yes,” Hernandez replied. “Now, not to put too much stress on it, I’d like to get off-world as quickly as possible.”

“I’m afraid that that won’t be possible Mister Hernandez,” the officer who refused to identify himself answered. “You see, you’re a wanted man as I’m sure you’re aware. Getting you here was difficult. Getting you to North Korea undetected will be very difficult. Getting you off-world right now will be impossible.”

“You see, the Human Federation has sealed the planet. If it isn’t government or military, it isn’t lifting off or landing. The same goes for Mars and the moon. The Sol System is pretty much under martial law. If it’s not cleared to fly, I’m sure the orders are to shoot first and ask questions later. I wouldn’t want to tangle with a Sword Heavy Fighter or a gunship any day of the week, let alone a trans-atmospheric destroyer or any of the ships in the Sol Defense Fleet; and that’s not mentioning the orbital forts and defense platforms.”

“So, you see sir, you’re not going anywhere. Give us a few days and we can arrange transport across the continent to the Bering Sea, cross the strait and then head to North Korea. Our Great Leader, Kim Hyeon-Ju, would like to meet you sir. You can lay low as an honored guest of the Resistance and then we’ll try and get you in contact with the Muagi clan to get you off-planet.”

He must’ve seen Bernard’s surprise at hearing that name. The officer cleared his throat before going on, “We know of the Muagi clan on Sirius. We know that you used his people to get here. His people sometimes smuggle us weapons when they can. He has no love for the Human Federation, as you’re most likely aware of. While we would prefer not to work with a Japanese person, considering the historical bad blood between our peoples, we lack any sort of influence off-world. The North Korean Resistance is sadly confined to the Korean Peninsula. Outside the peninsula, not to mention the Earth Sphere, we’re virtually nonexistent.”

The officer shrugged then continued, “Thus we have to turn to outside help from time to time. We would’ve been hunted down and destroyed long ago if not for the help of outsiders,” he said without bothering to look at the other North Koreans in the room. Hernandez glanced at Park who nodded in agreement. Obviously, this lot was aware of their shortcomings. Years ago, such talk would’ve landed any of them in front of a firing squad for ‘defeatist talk’ and slandering the sovereignty of the North Korean regime; this even though North Korea hadn’t existed since the Allies demolished them in World War Three.

They might be a group of fanatics but at least this lot acknowledges the fact that they lost the war, Bernard thought to himself. They might’ve even had a rush of brains to the head unlike those bat-shit crazy assholes in the Middle East who still think they can establish a caliphate! All that talk of Allah’s Will is just window dressing for their lunacy! But I suppose if it makes them feel better about blowing themselves to Hell, oftentimes literally, then fine. Every fringe group has its pathology and I suppose I’m no different.

Even if I can get back to the ACF I’ll be a wanted man there. My company is done, no doubt about that! That bootlicking president and those cowards in our Congress will break it up and sell it off to my competitors, almost certainly for pennies on the credit, but I’ve planned for that too. I have more than enough money in secure accounts not even Alice knows about that should keep me comfortable for decades to come with my ‘forced retirement.’ Maybe I’ll go back to Sirius. I could easily disappear there under an assumed name. But I wouldn’t put it past the Muagi clan to fuck me over if given the opportunity. If I stay clear of them, maybe on the other side of the planet, I should be okay. I wonder whatever became of that Korean girl they let me have… what was her name? Meong? Seong? I’ll probably never run into her again though. If she was smart, she’d have run as far away as she could from the Muagi clan. Although, if I run into her again, I wouldn’t mind another roll in the hay with her.

“Sir,” he addressed the Korean officer, hating the fact that he was forced to talk to this flunky like he was important. Hernandez wouldn’t shed a tear if the lot of them died at the hands of the Human Federation. “As much as I’d like to return to the ACF I know that that’s not possible. Maybe I should escape to one of the neutral powers.”

The officer grinned and a slight chuckle escaped his lips, just enough to annoy Hernandez. “Midas won’t take you and good luck getting past their security. Sirius is your obvious choice since they don’t have an extradition treaty with the HF.” The officer watched Hernandez nod in understanding before continuing, “But there’s one choice you didn’t consider.”

“What’s that?”

“Bounty Moon,” the officer said as if that should’ve already occurred to the fugitive.

“Bounty Moon?” Hernandez repeated as if he were an idiot. “Hmmm…,” he hummed musingly. “That’s an option isn’t it?” to which the Korean officer nodded his head.

They were referring not to an actual moon but rather to a collection of asteroids strung together in a star system beyond the rim of established Human Space, free of the laws of any star nation. It was often compared to the Wild West of old America, a haven for the various pirate guilds and other outlaws. The only laws there was that might made right and that the pirate guilds would set aside their vendettas with one another as long as they were in-system. It was a respite in the trackless depths of space for the dregs of society. Ships could dock there and the lucrative black market around it somehow kept the pirates in good supply of whatever they wanted, provided they could afford to pay and gave them a location to turn their ill-gotten gains into credits to spend on whatever they needed.

“That’s an option for you Mister Hernandez. You could disappear there and be beyond the reach of any power in space. Although I’m not sure about the Zaltaens since they have agents all over the damned place. Although… it wouldn’t take much for one of the powers to decide to blow in there with a couple squadrons of battlecruisers with the aim to sort the mess there. Bounty Moon exists at the sufferance of the various powers in space, for reasons I cannot begin to fathom.”

“Sirius would give me better options than a den of criminals,” Hernandez countered. “Plus, Sirius wouldn’t stand for it if one of the other powers moved warships into their star systems. I guess either is good for fugitives though Sirius is the smarter choice.”

“Aren’t you one now, a fugitive that is?” the Korean officer asked with the barest hint of a grin as he sipped his whisky.

“Don’t remind me,” Hernandez growled before he shook his head. “God, I need a drink.” A few seconds later one of the other Koreans pressed a tumbler of whisky into his hand. Hernandez started to raise it to his lips, but the lieutenant colonel held up a hand to stop him, “That, sir is a 30-year-old Balvenie Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Please, treat it with the respect it deserves. This is not a Scotch to toss back. After all, it is 800 credits a bottle.”

Hernandez raised it to his lips again and took a deep breath of the amber liquid. He drank spiced rum rather than Scotch whisky but it’s what was in the apartment. The scent of honey and nuts and allspice filled his nose before he sipped it. Honey, vanilla, a hint of what could only be cigar leaf, with Sherry and tiny hints of smoke or peat filled his mouth. Swallowing he let out a breath and shook his head briefly, “Damn. That’s as smooth as a virgin’s twat.”

“Good huh?” the officer asked, waving Hernandez to sit on the couch. “Relax sir, we’re not here to, as they say, ‘throw you under the bus.’ If you want to get to Sirius, we’ll make it happen. But you’ll have to lie low for a bit.”

Eileen Maguire sighed in frustration as she tried again to contact Hernandez via comlink. Standing in a bus station she stared at her comlink in impotent fury, cursing Hernandez under her breath. She couldn’t believe that he’d ditched her like that! Those damn North Koreans absconded with him and they failed to let her know where they went. Oh, she had an idea of where, but not specifically. If she wanted to hide in NYC there were plenty of underbelly warrens but no way to tell which one, he fled to.

It was highly doubtful that he left the city, so at least he wasn’t on his way to North Korea. At least, not yet. Even if he managed to get out of the city in a few days which way would he go? There were so many ways off the North American continent; so which way? Would he go north and under the Pole, east, or west?

More importantly, how would she get off Earth? She was trapped in the city just as much as anyone. Kicking at the floor in frustration she cursed again. Even if the Human Federation relaxed the lockdown of the city, they weren’t going to start letting people off-world. About her only option was to go to the police or the HF’s own FBI. Once they positively identified her, they might let her go or keep her around to grill her for information.  She knew which way she’d bet on that. Either way it might be her only way off-planet.

Looking up and down the street Maguire saw only the thick crowd of people going away from Times Square. She would’ve called the police directly, but they had to be swamped. Sighing in frustration she walked back into the press of people. It was slow-going as everyone stopped running at least, but with this amount of people there was hardly any room to move. She ended up walking for a few kilometers before she spied the insignia of the NYPD on a skyscraper.

The inside of the police station was a riot of activity as officers moved this way and that quickly and intently. Sighing she made her way toward the front desk, ignoring the dozen or so civilians already in line there. At their protests she turned and gave them the middle finger. The harried officer behind the desk and metal mesh gave Maguire a very dirty look for jumping the line but did nothing more than that as she listened to the woman before her. Maguire tapped her foot impatiently as she waited for the woman in front of her.

After a few minutes the officer behind the mesh waved her forward, “What is it that couldn’t wait missy? All these other people were here before you.” Her Brooklyn accent was very thick and was more than a little difficult for Maguire to follow.

“I don’t care about them,” Maguire declared, shrugging off the indignant responses of those behind her. “I have vital information that you need.”

The officer yawned behind the metal mesh separating her and Maguire, “Yeah, yeah, I’m sure you do. Everyone behind you will say the same.” When she had said the word “sure” she put her hands up and made air quotes.

Maguire gave the cop a dirty look before she reached into her pocket and fished her FBI CAC out. She shoved it through the little access port between her and the officer and hotly said, “Now will you listen, you dumb bitch?”

The officer gaped at her then at the ID card. She looked back up at Maguire then down at the card then Maguire again. The classic double take would’ve amused the ACF FBI agent if the urgency of the situation wasn’t so pressing. She didn’t know what the officer was more appalled by, Maguire’s language or the ID card and what it implied. “You’re… you’re…,” the officer said dumbly, her eyes still looking between Maguire and the ID card on the desk.

“I’m what?” Maguire asked with a hint of smugness as her lip curled in contempt for the police officer before her.

The officer exploded to her feet, the chair she vacated rolling across the floor with the force of her movement. She turned her head to her left and shouted, “Tyler, get this woman in here now!” The policewoman’s hand snatched Maguire’s CAC from the desk while whoever Tyler was came to get her. A door opened to Maguire’s right and two officers came out. One of them, Tyler perhaps, gave her an odd look before saying, “If you’ll come with us ma’am.”

“Certainly,” she answered the male officer without a trace of resistance. Her smugness had vanished, replaced by the look of competent professionalism the FBI trained into her. If it fazed the policemen, they didn’t let on. They took her through the door they came from, ignoring the shouts of those behind them and led her through the corridors to an interrogation room of all places. Once in there the other officer threw Maguire’s CAC on the simple metal table bolted to the floor and pointed at a metal chair bolted to the floor as well. At least they didn’t shove her into it, falling back onto their own professionalism rather than the brute force tactics they could’ve used.

The door closed behind them as they left her in there. She was left unrestrained for which she was infinitely glad, so at least she could walk around the tiny cell-like room. Sitting there wasn’t comfortable; the chair wasn’t designed with the occupier’s comfort in mind after all. All she could do was wait. She waited, and waited, and waited, eventually getting up to pace back and forth rather than sit on that uncomfortable seat.

By her wrist chrono it was over a half hour before the door behind her sighed open. Most people wouldn’t have heard the door open, but Maguire was used to rooms such as this and the subtle telltale sounds they made were as much a part of her as her training was. Another police officer, this one wearing the uniform of a lieutenant, came in. He gave her a hooded look as he came around behind her to take the chair opposite her across the table. A quick glance behind her showed Maguire another officer standing just to the left of the door, no doubt as backup in case Maguire tried anything funny.

“Miss Maguire,” the officer began without preamble. His upper-class Massachusetts accent was a lot easier for her to follow than the desk sergeants was. “I’m Lieutenant Ethan Bagwell, NYPD. First, let me assure you that you’re not under arrest, but we’d like to keep you here until the FBI gets here. Then we’ll hand you over to their custody.”

“I’m being detained?”

“Yes and no ma’am,” Bagwell responded.

She leaned forward to prop her elbows on the metal table. “If I’m not under arrest you really can’t hold me here without charging me with a crime. Seeing that I am an officer of the law, ACF though it may be, I still know my rights.”

Bagwell flicked an index finger at her CAC and Maguire felt her face heat involuntarily. “By giving us that you’re admitting that you’re…, what do the lawyers call it…?”

Persona non grata,” Maguire supplied.

“Yes, that,” Bagwell nodded his thanks at her. “You’re an agent of a rogue state. I could arrest you on that alone. We’ll hold you here in protective custody until the FBI gets here. I’m sure they have a lot of questions as to why an agent of a rogue state is in New York today, let alone on Earth.”

“You’re looking for an ACF extremist,” unlike the police officer, Maguire had no qualms about using her star nation’s abbreviation. She noticed the cop’s lips purse ever so slightly at her use of it. If he wanted to go on calling the ACF a rogue state that was his prerogative, but she’d continue calling it the ACF; especially since it bothered him. She knew it was petty, but she wasn’t in the mood to worry about his feelings. “I have detailed information on how Bernard Hernandez got here and where he probably intends to go. And since your acting president and mine have agreed to let our respective intelligence, law enforcement, and investigative agencies work together to arrest him I suggest you tell your people to hurry up.” She knew that much at least from the news broadcasts she’d seen at the bus station.

Bagwell’s eyes widened in shock as he looked past Maguire to his partner by the door. He had a false start or two before he managed to say, “Let’s see about finding Agent Maguire a better room to stay in. And tell the FBI to hurry up.”

“Yes sir,” the other guy said. Bagwell gestured for Maguire to follow him out of the interrogation room and down the hall to his office. He invited her to sit on the small couch tucked in the corner while he stepped outside to what was still called the water cooler. He returned with a paper cup of water for her before stepping back out while raising a comlink to his face.

This is better, Maguire thought to herself. I certainly got his attention, even after he all but threw me into lockup.

She twitched in surprise when someone said her name some time later. She must’ve dozed off while waiting for the HF’s FBI agents to arrive. She looked up to find two men in black suits and black sunglasses with FBI CACs hanging from a pocket on their jackets. Really? That get-up? How corny can they be?

“Agent Maguire,” the one closest to her said, “I’m Agent Oscar Neilson with the Human Federation FBI. It’s my understanding that you have information regarding Bernard Hernandez. If you’ll come with us, please.”

Maguire stood, smoothed out her clothes and followed the two to the lift. Neilson pressed the button for the roof. Once out there the agents led her to an unarmed, unarmored VTOL emblazoned with the FBI’s insignia. The FBI would have other craft necessary for insertions into hostile environments (though said craft weren’t nearly as good as the ones the armed services used) but this situation hardly rated such craft. The pilot got the small craft in the air as soon as they were strapped in and the hatch was shut.

“Agent Maguire,” Neilson said over the sound of the VTOL’s air breathing turbines. “From what you told the police you have information on Bernard Hernandez, am I to understand that that’s accurate?”

“It is,” she said, “I know when he got here, how he did, where he went afterward, where I went, and where he might go now that this,” she waved at New York below them, “has happened.”

“Well, well, Agent Maguire, it seems that we have much to discuss,” Agent Neilson said as he looked at his partner before settling back in his chair, his hands absently checking the shock frame holding him in the seat.

Hernandez still couldn’t decide if the North Koreans were going to sell him out to the HF at the soonest moment. The way they were treating him since he got to the flat argued otherwise, but what did that say? That they were willing to go to certain lengths to make him comfortable before sliding the proverbial knife in his back? It was certainly plausible.

The Scotch whisky in his hand had a good argument against them selling him out. If they were why would they go through the trouble, and the expense, of providing it? Or the Cuban cigar he held in his other hand? Or the women before him?

Both were almost certainly with the North Korean Resistance. Neither of them had the look of common streetwalkers. They were beautiful with black hair, though on the thin side, much smaller than the girl he bedded on Sirius. In fact, most of the NKR members he met were on the thin side; which shouldn’t have surprised him since they were all but living on the run except for a few well-hidden underground facilities.

Both raven haired beauties came out of a bedroom somewhere in the back wearing thin, tight, low-cut, short skirted dresses. Their NKR uniforms had to be somewhere in the flat, probably in the bedroom they exited. Both batted their eyes at him sexily and swayed their hips from side to side.

The still unnamed NKR colonel stepped between the two, settling his hands on the girls’ hips without a thought. Both only giggled at his touch. “Well Mister Hernandez, what do you think of Hwan?” he asked, moving his hand to pat the girl on his left on the ass, “And Hyeon?” he did the same with the girl on his right. “Do these girls meet with your… approval?”

“Oh, yes,” he responded.

“Good,” the colonel responded. He slipped his arms around both and smiled at each one in turn, “Hwan’s twenty-five and is the older one by two years. I hear you like your women young and beautiful.”

“So, you pimp out your women?” Hernandez asked. “Is that what the NKR does?”

The colonel gave him a disgusted look. “Now, now, Mister Hernandez. There’s no need for such language. These girls have offered to help North Korea in any way possible.” By the way the colonel caressed the girls’ butts Hernandez knew how they helped their cause. “That’s not to say they don’t know how to handle a weapon. But sometimes sex is a weapon, one that’s far more persuasive than a gun, wouldn’t you agree?”

Hernandez thought about that for a few seconds before saying, “Yes.”

The colonel gave both girls another pat on the ass saying, “I thought you’d see it my way sir. Show him a good time girls.”

Neither wasted any time at all shedding their dresses. They were naked underneath and they sat beside him with absolutely no shame. They moved his legs apart at the knees before draping one of their legs over his, turning to him with dazzling smiles as he tried to keep ahold of his drink and cigar.

“Oh, and Mister Hernandez,” the colonel said, “You’ll find they’re very receptive.”

Hernandez glanced at both and they nodded their heads slowly. “Um…,” he said, suddenly uncharacteristically not sure what to do. The colonel smiled and said, “Enjoy!

Hyeon giggled and took his drink from him, standing up and beckoning Hwan and Hernandez toward the bedroom they came from. Hernandez followed her with Hwan following very close behind him. They lay on the bed and made “come here” gestures at him.

Well, maybe they’re not going to put a knife in my back, Hernandez thought, but if they are, I might as well enjoy myself until they do.

The VTOL carrying Maguire and the HF FBI agents touched down atop the J. Edgar Hoover Building in Washington D.C. The building had been renovated and expanded at least half a dozen times over the past three hundred years, to the point that it barely resembled the building it once was. The agents led Maguire off the VTOL to a lift not too far away. Punching their destination into the keypad they waited while the lift moved.

Maguire felt a twinge of nostalgia as the lift moved downward. She’d been in this building many times as a HF FBI agent. It was only a few years ago that she’d left for Altair and never came back, instead joining the rapidly growing Allied Colonies’ FBI. Just like the ACF’s military almost all the personnel who made up their intelligence services, both domestic and foreign, were originally a part of their HF counterparts.

Any properly minded security person would have frothing fits over that, seeing as how it was highly likely that any of those people were double agents in the Human Federation’s employ. But unless the Allied Colonies wanted to start completely fresh, with untrained personnel, they had to accept former HF members. They didn’t have the time to do that and besides, who would train them, much less run the background checks needed to vet them?

Maguire knew everything about the FBI headquarters and had a vague idea where they were taking her. When the lift kept moving past where she thought it would stop, she quirked an eyebrow at the agents. They silently stared straight ahead at the lift’s doors without so much as a glance at her. When the doors swept open, they escorted her down a passageway that few people ever came to and she knew it. Only two offices occupied this floor, those of the Director and the Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

She swallowed hard when the agents stopped at the deputy director’s office. Apparently, someone decided that the information she had in her brain was worth taking almost to the top. They opened the anachronistic wooden, unpowered door and followed her in past the deputy’s secretaries and into the inner office.

Maguire’s breath caught in her throat as she found herself face-to-face with not only Deputy Director Demetra Spiros but also Deputy Attorney General Devorah Rosenberger, Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Lieutenant General (retired) Huang Hou, HFAF, Deputy Director of the National Security Agency Grégoire Traver, and Deputy Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Rear Admiral Kallisto Pasternak, HFSF. She didn’t know the aides behind those august personages, and she doubted they would be introduced.

Spiros gestured to a couch set up in front of a low coffee table upon which rested a carafe of steaming coffee and a plate of sandwiches. “Please sit,” she said as she seated herself on the far end of the couch. Four armchairs sat facing the couch across the coffee table and the other four deputy directors seated themselves as Maguire sat on the couch, leaving a space between her and Spiros. The two FBI agents who escorted her to the office politely excused themselves from the room, stepping back into the outer office but probably no farther than that.

“As you might’ve already guessed,” Spiros said, her voice calm and level, “when the NYPD called ahead to say that they had an accomplice of Bernard Hernandez detained, who just happened to be an undercover agent of the Allied Colonies for Freedom FBI, it certainly peaked my interest. I’ve invited my counterparts here to ‘get the word straight from the horse’s mouth’ as it were. I see that you’re aware of who they are Miss Maguire, seeing as how you once worked for me.” Her grin was disarming but her eyes were hard as flint. It was an unusual combination, surely brought about because of Maguire’s betrayal of the Human Federation.

“So, we’ll dispense with the usual introductions and get down to brass tacks immediately.” She reached forward and poured herself a cup of coffee as she said it, adding only the tiniest bit of cream to it. “Now, how about you tell us what you know?”

“Certainly,” Maguire responded in what she hoped was a confident voice in front of everyone in the room. “May I?” she asked, gesturing at the coffee. Spiros nodded her head and Maguire poured herself a cup as well, taking it black. She leaned ever so much back against the couch, mostly keeping her back straight as she began.

Continue to Chapter 18…