BONUS SCENE FOR CENTRAL GALACTIC CONCORDANCE READERS
Setting: This scene takes place a few weeks after the events in Zero Flux, back on the Lumi Silta, the planet where Luka grew up and escaped as fast as he could.
“Moving a Mountain”
Mairwen Morganthur pushed off the sharp vertical face of the mountain and allowed gravity to aid her descent to her next target, a narrow ledge. The moment her booted foot touched down, the ledge crumbled away, leaving her hanging in the wind for a moment, until she got her ice clamp into the rock face and hauled herself in. Her high-tech snow hood kept her breath from fogging the interior of her helmet.
Just above her, Jerzi Adams made a similar descent. She had the impression he was enjoying himself immensely. His job as a personal security specialist rarely let him use the skills he’d honed as a member of a forward intelligence team for the Central Galactic Concordance’s regular military. She sympathized, since very little in her present life called for her extraordinary senses and speed, or offered her the challenge of the solo hunt. But she didn’t miss the kills.
The earwire adhered to her jawline beeped. “I’m angling right about twenty degrees. I don’t trust the ledge below me.” It was a wise precaution, since muscular Jerzi outweighed her by thirty or forty kilos, and carried another thirty kilos of equipment.
“Understood,” she replied.
Despite the change in season, the weather itself hadn’t changed much from the last time she’d been in the snowbound high mountains of a largely unexplored continent on Luka’s home planet. The cold-case investigation that had lured Luka back in the first place had uncovered a dangerous secret. With Jerzi’s help, she’d soon be making sure it could never be found again. Too many people had died for it already, including Luka’s long-estranged father.
After a few more rappels, she joined Jerzi on a stable rock outcrop, scoured clean by the constant wind. “I’ll set up here.” He eyed their objective, the gaping entrance to what had once been cave full of eerily beautiful giant ice columns. Between explosions that had destroyed two flitters—and nearly her and Luka—and the continued excavation work by the planetary police, the cave was now just an open wound on the side of the mountain. “I’ll see any visitors long before they see me.”
Jerzi quickly deployed rock anchors, then removed his pack to pull out his high-tech railgun. His extraordinary sniper skills, plus his willingness not to ask questions, made him an ideal companion for this venture. It was a novel experience, having a trusted ally to watch her back. As a death tracker, she’d been trained to be the solitary, extremely self-reliant stealth weapon to complete seemingly impossible missions. She liked the changes in her life, and having a friend.
Concealing their flitter and climbing over the mountain prevented the defensive scanners near the cave from detecting their tech signatures, but added to their time spent in an unforgiving environment. Mistakes could be instantly fatal.
She checked her compass once more, to make sure its reading stayed steady. Someone, possibly even Luka’s father, had twisted the geomarkers in the area to give constantly changing readings. Fortunately, the planetary police, headed Luka’s old friend and mentor, had figured out the key to getting the true readings. Equally fortunately, they’d assumed their office security was adequate against late-night incursions by security specialists such as herself. Lumi Silta culture tended to distrust technology, a trait she admired, but willingly exploited.
Thirty minutes later found her near the hidden entrance to the ultra-secret laboratory. Jerzi didn’t know about it, and she had no intention of telling him. She and Luka suspected the facility had once belonged to the Citizen Protection Service. The sprawling agency presented a benign face to the public, but hid many blackbox projects. Not even a top-level CPS telepath could force Jerzi to reveal secrets if he didn’t know them.
She deployed a rock anchor through the snow, anchored herself, then started digging. She knew from recent her previous visit that she’d survive a tumble into the shallow ravine below, but it wasn’t an experience she cared to repeat.
She finally found the human-made ledge she was looking for and tunneled her way through the snow. As she’d hoped, the police hadn’t closed the door that led to the lab. She tapped her earwire. “Going silent for ten minutes.”
“Copy,” he replied. “I’ll come looking in thirty.”
Even though that was their plan, his reassurance was comforting. “Thank you.”
She removed her snow hood and turned on the hand lights strapped to her wrists. As she started to run, she dropped into tracker mode, and time slowed…
The curving halls blurred as she sped by. She evaluated the scents along the way, and detected nothing but wet stone. Her light footsteps echoed in the hollow corridor. The doors at the end were closed, but quick and easy to open, at least for her, because no one had patched the known flaw in the security system. She stayed outside in the corridor and set up the large, AI-directed explosive package she carried. Its programming would cause it to deploy pieces of itself throughout the facility. She added a smaller package to do maximum damage to the lab entrance, and destroy evidence of the more sophisticated package.
She ran back down the hall, stopping to leave three similar smaller packages at thinner points in the walls between the engineered corridor and the natural ice cave.
At seven minutes and fifty-seven seconds, she eased up out of tracker mode as she stepped on the edge of the carved ledge. “I’m back online.”
“Copy. Absolute zero activity. Not even birds are out today.”
“Good,” she replied. “I’m starting phase two.”
* * * * *
Mairwen gladly let Jerzi pilot the flitter while she ate three calorie-concentrated protein bars she’d discovered in her pack, undoubtedly a gift from brilliant, caring Luka. From almost the beginning of their relationship, he’d made it his quest to discover foods she liked and go out of his way to make sure she got them. Trackers ate whatever they could, whenever they could, because their altered metabolism demanded it. Humans, apparently, could afford to have preferences, and she found she enjoyed it. More accurately, she enjoyed knowing Luka loved her enough to look after her, the same way she enjoyed doing little things for him. Like blowing up a mountain.
“I can see why Luka doesn’t come back to Lumi Silta very often,” said Jerzi. “He hates the cold.”
“Yes,” agreed Mairwen. He also had no love for his dysfunctional family or dredging up memories of a tragic, violent childhood. Neither she nor Luka could change their pasts; they could only change their future.
“You should take him on a vacation to Tremplin in Nila Marbela, where Pico and her friend Valenia are going to school. It’s a series of equatorial tropical islands, and it’s never cold.” He gave her a lopsided smile. “Assuming you could get Luka to actually take a vacation.”
“Does Pico like the school?”
“Too soon to tell. It’s got a good reputation.” A frown crossed his face. “She hasn’t decided on a focus field yet.”
“Is that required?” Like so many things in the civilized world, Mairwen had no experience with universities or their protocols. Her education since escaping the tracker survival program had been entirely self-directed, and mostly focused on learning how to blend in and be entirely unremarkable.
“No, not yet.” Jerzi shook his head. “After what her mother did to her, I probably overcompensate on worrying.” He shrugged one muscular shoulder and gave Mairwen a wry smile. “She calls it hovering.”
Mairwen had no memory of her parents, and certainly didn’t feel qualified to comment on Jerzi’s parenting skills. Fortunately, he didn’t seem to expect a reply. She had the impression that Dhorya Sankirna’s dramatic departure had flamed both Pico and Jerzi with the afterburn. She didn’t need Luka’s intuition to tell her Jerzi had been slow to recover. She wanted her friends to have the same bone-deep happiness she’d found with Luka, but didn’t know what to do to help.
They took the flitter to high orbit to avoid the local weather and keep to their timetable. The interstellar freighter they’d reserved would wait, but she’d rather be off the planet and in transit space by the time the planetary police send someone to investigate why their mountain crime scene tech scanners had gone offline.
“I just realized tomorrow is the GDAT new year,” said Jerzi. “It always makes me think of Seshulla Zheer’s odd little midnight party, before you and Luka left La Plata.”
“Luka believes she was ‘moving chess pieces.’”
Jerzi snorted. “Luka always thinks forecasters have an agenda. I’m a simple ex-military gunnin who thinks it was just practical advice.” He tapped the arm of his pilot seat. “I don’t know what to believe about her prediction of a coming upheaval. What do you think?”
Mairwen had enough trouble figuring out how to live like a normal human in the everyday world, without wondering about the future of galactic civilization. She shrugged one shoulder. “That it’s better to be prepared for all hazards.” Trackers who didn’t assume the universe was a malevolent place didn’t live very long.
Jerzi laughed. “Spoken like a true security specialist.”
— — —
Follow the further adventures of Jerzi Adams, and Mairwen & Luka, in Pico’s Crush (Central Galactic Concordance Book 3), where Jerzi finds that vacations can be deadly, even with the help of friends.