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Fall Of A Corporate Man

Part II

"The question is, where do we start?" Melora said. They were sitting in Tyler's skimmer, ready to leave the Ankaiah. "Playing cop isn't my strong point."

"The victim," Tyler said. "He may not be the driving force, but he's at the heart of it. Something demanded that an attempt be made on Rafe's life. The crime scene may contain clues, the method of attack...all of it centers on Rafe."

"All right, then," Melora took out a datachip that Garrett had given her, containing all the specifics he'd amassed on the case, and slipped it into the skimmer's dashboard unit. "Let's see what we've got."

Tyler put the skimmer on autodrive, setting it for Frederichs' address, which was the first thing that came up in the dossier. He then settled in to go over the data with his partner.

"Found in an alley off Talidor," he noted. "I wonder what he was doing in Neroton?"

"Had to be a meet," Melora decided. Neroton was one of Camineet's shadier districts, not an out-and-out urban war zone like Rendak but rife with organized crime and underground business.

"Probably," Tyler agreed.

"Who called the hospital?" his love wondered. "Most of the time, they won't give you the time of day without a fee down there. Neroton takes 'mind your own business' as a religious creed."

Tyler searched the file, and found the answer.

"Rafe had a corporate life-signs monitor which called the ambulance automatically when he was knocked out."

"Hell, how did he rate one of those?"

Field agents like Tyler and Melora didn't use LSMs; they were just one more way to tie them to the corp if things went bad, to say nothing of drawing medtechs into a fire zone.

"Looks like he's closer to that desk job than we thought."

"Also," Melora pointed out, "that he didn't think he'd been made by Martinez. If I knew that a division chief wanted me dead, I wouldn't have a monitor flag the LIM computers that I was in trouble and make a record of my location. Rafe would have taken the LSM off, made his own arrangements if he'd suspected he was blown."

"So, he wasn't expecting trouble--but do we trust his judgment?"

"Good question."

Tyler nodded.

"Okay, turn it around slightly. Why did someone try to kill him?"

"To derail his investigation into Martinez, presumably."

"Which means, plug the info leak," Tyler agreed. "That's a two-stage job. One, take out Rafe, since he's in the know. Two, get ahold of or erase any data he's got stored. Garrett gave us a look at Rafe's personal effects, and there was a palmcomp there. That bugs me, Melora. If the attacker was after information, why didn't he take the palmcomp to search it?"

"So where does that lead to?"

"Either the attacker didn't have a chance to rifle the body, or he or she wanted something other than data."

"I'll take door number one," Melora decided.


"Rafe's alive."

"Huh?" Tyler said, then put it together. "Oh, I see. If the attacker had time to search Rafe, he or she would have noticed that he was still alive and made sure to finish the job."


"That puts it into their hands. Where would Martinez have his people check next?"

"There's Rafe's terminal at work--no, sorry, Tyler, forget I said that. My brain must be in neutral."

Rafe would never have stored sensitive information on his work unit while investigating Martinez. Laila Newcomb wasn't above checking out her subordinates' computer files to keep tabs on them, and she was tight with Kyle Dougan, section manager for ComSec. Since the Bloody Rose was also known to have worked with Martinez in furtherance of her own career, putting sensitive data about him on Frederichs' computer at the office was one of the dumber moves Rafe could have made.

Tyler knew Rafe too well to believe he'd do something that dumb. He'd have stored the information somewhere else that no one regularly looked at. The palmcomp was possible, but Tyler would have bet marks to meseta that Garrett had already checked it over and had apparently come up empty, or else he'd have mentioned it in the mission briefing.

Thankfully, Nash Garrett did not send his people out into the field without the facts they needed to know, and in this case, everything with some connection to Rafe was need-to-know.

So, the odds were in there favor that there was no point in checking Rafe's palmcomp. That left...

"His home!"


"We've got to move fast. They've probably already gone to search the place, but maybe there's still a chance." He switched over to manual and punched up the speed by ten miles per hour. Rafe, he remembered, had a girlfriend.

Tyler, Melora, and most of the Special Operations section preferred to live off corp property, maintaining an independence from the workday world that many of the office drones just didn't have. A life of living in a corporate apartment, shopping in corporate stores, and relaxing in corporate entertainment facilities somehow didn't suit field agents who were all too aware of Luveno's darker side. Rafe, though, had a nice cushy little apartment in the Lifestyles complex, the kind of place someone firmly entrenched in middle management would have.

"I don't get it," Melora said as they walked to the main door. "What's so important about moving up that you'd put your life in a place the corp's got a legal right to come in and search whenever they want?"

"Security, maybe," Tyler said.

"What was that, love?"

Tyler and Melora pulled their corporate ID smartcards and slotted them before entering the building. That was the nice thing about it being a corp building; as agents of LIM security they essentially had free run of the place. The down side was that their presence was logged on the building's computers. Each in turn pressed their hand against the security plate, which compared their palmprint to the one filed digitally on their ID.

"Captain Tyler Jorran and Captain Melora Nain may enter. Have a nice day." The magnetically locked, armored-glass doors slid open.

"The sense of belonging, of being a part of something," Tyler said. "By instinct, primates are pack animals, and that's all we are, primates with a fancier brain. It's a natural urge to be part of an identifiable group, to divide the world into 'us' and 'them.' Nationalism, civic pride, racism, corporate identity, it's all basically the same. Probably the purest example would be one of the street gangs. They mark out territory, band together to fight off predators, and protect their living space and natural resources--food, money, and goods, I mean--from rivals."

They passed through the weapons detector, which ordinarily would have alerted the security guards to the presence of Tyler's sonic gun and ceramic knives as well as Melora's claws and poisonshot, but the security rank on their ID had overridden it. LIM Security could freely bring weapons into the facility, given that their presence was generally due to someone being put under "house arrest."

"So you're saying we're all just a bunch of orangahs?" Melora asked, a bit miffed. She had, after all, run with the Steel Wind for seven years before being recruited by an LIM "talent scout."

"No, we're Palman, so we have the power to overcome those natural urges. After all, despite nationalism, Palm has had a unified, planetwide government of one form or another for over a thousand years." Tyler flashed her a grin. "We just act like a pack of orangahs sometimes."


They crossed the lobby, where faux green marble walls and gold carpeting reminded Tyler of the offices of some old-time bank or investment firm, only in Luveno's corporate colors.

"Some people actually take...comfort from this?"

Tyler summoned an elevator with a quick press of a button.

"Uh huh. It reminds them that they belong, that they're part of LIM's corporate 'family.'"

"Pretty dysfunctional family if you ask me."

Considering why they were there, Tyler had to agree.

The elevator whisked them up to the ninth floor. The higher levels, with the best view, were reserved for higher-status employees. Since the building had twelve floors, Rafe was doing well for himself. Arrows on the wall pointed the way to various rooms. Tyler followed them to 917. They didn't hear anything amiss, but the apartments were designed to be virtually soundproof. The nameplate said that Rafe lived with an Amie Wrayburn, so Tyler raised his hand to knock.

"Hold it."


Melora pointed to the face of the door, and Tyler understood at once. Next to the handle, there was just the smudge of a shoeprint, as if someone had kicked open the door after the person inside had disengaged the lock.


Tyler drew his sonic gun, a Redfield Marksman. It was a powerful sidearm designed for use by military and security forces. Next to him, he heard the soft click of Melora's claws extending and locking into place.

Since this was a corp building, the door code was probably imprinted on Rafe's ID. Melora was prepared, though. She took out a thin white card and slotted it into the lock. A moment later, the lock recessed, its security measures unable to stand up to her passkey. Weapons ready, they crept inside, moving down a short hall that led past a small closet towards the main living area.

"Where is it?" they heard a man's voice bark. "We've searched all through this apartment and there's no sign of it. So where is he hiding it?"

"I don't know," a woman pleaded, sobbing. "You've got to believe me. Rafe never told me anything about his work!"

There were two of them, and they had their backs to the door, which was stupid even though they'd relocked it. One was a burly man, the sort who specialized in physical intimidation. The other was female, wearing a commlink headset. Both wore carbonsuits, military-styled as sleek jumpsuits that clung to their bodies but flexed easily so as not to restrict movement, and short jackets which might or might not have been armored fibercoats like Tyler's duster. The woman carried a laser shot, the heavier version built on a two-handed frame, while the man's big had dwarfed a poisonshot like Melora's, a small pistol that shot globs of caustic toxins.

They were facing a woman tied to a chair. Amie Wrayburn, if it was she, was pretty, with dark hair curled sportily and a slim, sleek figure. She didn't look pretty, though, with tears running down her cheeks and fear in her eyes.

The man pressed the poisonshot against the side of her face.

"Do you want me to use this?" he challenged. "Do you want me to melt off half your damn face? Make it so ugly no biosculptor could fix it, huh?"

"I'd listen to him," said the female thug. "I checked over the computer. There are no files on his investigation into the Martinez matter. We've examined the apartment and found nothing. We've even checked your holovid collection to see if he snuck it onto a datapak, but it's very easy to hide something as small as one datachip, which is all he'd need. You live here; you're his lover. He couldn't have kept it secret from you; even if you didn't know what was on the chip you'd have known it was there. Why don't you make it easy on yourself and tell us what we need to know? It'll spare you a lot of pain and save your life."

That was a lie, of course. Tyler knew that they had no intention of letting her live, not since she could identify their faces and could talk about what they wanted.

"But I don't know!" the prisoner begged. "I've never heard of this, and I don't know about any secret hiding place."

"Then you're worthless to us," the man said.

"Coincidentally, that's just what I was going to say about you," Tyler remarked, stepping out from the hall, gun trained on the back of the woman's head.

"Don't get brave," Melora echoed, covering the man. "You'll be dead before you can so much as blink."

"Do you think you can put us down before we kill this little thrill?" blustered the man.

"I'm not sure," Melora replied. "If we gave a damn about saving her, it might even worry me. Luckily for me, we don't. So we can feel free to exterminate you like the bugs you are without any regrets unless you put the guns down right now, very slowly."

It wasn't so much Melora's words that affected people, Tyler considered. It was the way she said things, in that cool, offhanded tone of voice, as if issuing death threats was no different to her than ordering a bowl of soup at the cafeteria.

Tyler knew some people who actually meant it when they talked like that, the kind of inhuman monsters who made perfect assassins. Luveno's premier military android, the Siren 386, talked like that as well, as it was literally an emotionless killing machine. What impressed Tyler about his partner was that she was anything but emotionless, as passionate as her red hair implied, and she still was able to pull off the ice witch act.

The two believed her. Slowly, they crouched, set down their guns, and stood back up.

"Good. Now, who sent you?"

The woman chuckled.

"You don't really think we'll tell you?"

"Sure I do. You like being alive."

"Risks of the job," she said.

"Yeah," Tyler agreed, "but it was worth a try. Get out."


"Walk through the door and leave. Go to the elevator. Ride downstairs. Leave through the front door. It's not that tough."

Tyler and Melora kept the two covered as they slowly but steadily, confused expressions on their faces, backed out of the apartment.

"What was that all about?" Melora asked. "Why let them go?"

"We can't drag them into interrogation for answers since this is an unofficial op, and there's no point in killing them"--executions weren't his style--"so I let them leave."

He put away the gun, took out one of his knives, and freed the woman.

"Now," he told her, "maybe you can be a bit more helpful to us than you were to them?"

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