Shadow Of Freedom – Snippet 15

“Which means it really might make a lot of sense for them to get us out in the boonies this way before they pounce, after all,” his sister pointed out in an even more sour tone.

“Well, yeah.” Indiana nodded. “Come down to it, though, we’ve gotta take a chance or two if we want to pull this off. Besides, all the codes were right, Max. If O’Sullivan’s scags had all of that, they wouldn’t have to lure us anywhere. They’d probably already know exactly who we are and exactly where we live, too, and they’d just’ve come calling in the middle of the night, instead.”

“You’re making me feel enormously better with every word,” she told him with a glare, and he shrugged.

“Just considering all the possibilities. And while I’m at it, what I’m actually doing is pointing out that this almost certainly isn’t a trap because there are so many other ways they could have dealt with us if they knew about us in the first place and that was what they wanted to do.”

She made a face at him and turned back around to sit straight in her own seat, yet she had to admit he had a point. To her surprise, that actually did make her feel better. Quite a bit, in fact.

“There’s the turn,” she said, removing her right hand from her left armpit to point through the rain-streaked window beside her.

“Got it.”

Indiana guided the ground car through the open, dilapidated gate in the security fence. The rain was beginning to come down harder, turning into distinct drops rather than the fine, drifting mist it had been, and he pulled under the overhead cover of the deserted loading dock with a distinct sense of relief. Not only would it protect the car (such as it was, and what there was of it) from the rain, but it also offered at least some protection against the SSSP’s overflights.

The Seraphim System’s indigenous industrial and technical base left a lot to be desired, as the use of something as ancient and old-fashioned as asphalt rather than ceramacrete even here in the planetary capital of Cherubim indicated. But that didn’t mean better tech was completely unavailable if the price was right, and the scags, as General O’Sullivan’s security troopers were universally (and with very little affection) known, tended to get the best off-world equipment money could buy. Even the Seraphim Army had been known to express the occasional pang of envy, but President Jacqueline McCready knew where to invest her credits when it came to “system security.” Which meant the SSSP had first call on the treasury…and a large and capable stable of surveillance platforms.

Not even the scags had an unlimited supply of them, however. And serviceability was often an issue, since the Seraphim education system didn’t turn out the best trained maintenance techs in the explored galaxy. So the odds were against any of them being used to keep an eye on such a dilapidated and useless stretch of the Rust Belt, as the once-thriving wasteland on Cherubim’s perimeter had come to be known. There hadn’t been anything worth worrying about out here since the transstellars like Krestor Interstellar and Mendoza of Córdoba had moved in and eliminated Seraphim’s once vibrant small-business sector. These days, either you worked as a good little helot for your out-system masters or you didn’t work at all. And God help you if you thought you could scrape up a little startup capital and try to change that situation.

That was what had happened to Bruce Graham.

Mackenzie rolled down her battered window and looked out, peering into the gloomy shadows which had gathered in the corners of the loading dock. It was still only late afternoon, but what with the rain and the onset of winter it looked a lot later (and darker), and she squinted as she tried to make out details.

“I don’t see anybody,” she said after a moment, her voice more than a little nervous.

“I don’t either,” Indiana acknowledged. “On the other hand, we’re a couple of minutes early. He may still be on his way. Or –”

He broke off as a man stepped out of the dim recess from which he’d apparently been examining the ground car. The newcomer moved calmly and unhurriedly, with his collar turned up against the cold and a soft hat of a style which had once been called a “fedora” pulled well down. He looked like a mid-level manager, or possibly someone a little further down the pecking order from that.

He also looked nothing at all like the man the Grahams had expected to meet, and Indiana’s ungloved hand stole into his coat and settled around the grip of the shoulder-holstered pistol.

“Indy,” Mackenzie said softly.

“I know,” he replied, and patted her on the leg with his free hand, never taking his eyes from the stranger. “Stay here.”

He drew the pistol from its holster and slid out of the ground car, holding the gun down beside his right leg where it was screened from the other man’s sight. Then he stood there, his shoulders as relaxed as he could make them, while his pulse hammered and adrenaline hummed in his bloodstream.

“I think that’s probably close enough,” he said, raising his voice against the sound of the rain as the stranger came within seven or eight meters of the car. His tone, he noticed with some surprise, sounded much steadier than his nerves felt.

“Works for me,” the stranger said calmly, and shrugged.

His accent was slight but noticeable, that of an off-worlder, and he held his own hands out from his sides and turned the palms towards Indiana, as if to deliberately demonstrate that unlike the Seraphimian he was unarmed. Or, at least, that he wasn’t actively flourishing any recognizable weapons at the moment, anyway.

He was a very ordinary, eminently forgettable looking man, Indiana thought. He was of medium height, with medium brown eyes, medium brown hair, medium features, and a medium complexion. In fact, that word — “medium” — pretty much summed up everything about him.