by Dan Swanson
Shortly after the hyper carrying Lionheart and Remanence blasted away from the Citadel of Justice, another alarm went off in Citadel of Justice’s emergency monitor room. For an instant, the senior situation analyst was shaking with anxiety, but she quickly realized that this alert wouldn’t require a decision from her — it came from the Council Central building and had automatically been routed directly to the Justice Machine. Not long later, she heard the whoosh of the super-speed pneumatic capsule connecting the Citadel directly to the Council Central Complex. Somebody’s gonna be busted hard, she thought. They took at least fifteen seconds longer than regs allow to get away. But at least it’s not the senior analyst whose head rolls this time! she thought with satisfaction. She didn’t know what had delayed the Justice Machine’s response, but she did know that their commander, Chief Prosecutor Bettan, wouldn’t overlook it. Somebody’s head was definitely in danger.
A few minutes earlier:
Today was the semi-annual Justice for All Day. Following a long-standing tradition, a dangerous traitor to the Imperium would be given a fair trial in front of all nine members of Council Central, transmitted for everyone in the Imperium to see, after which the traitor would be executed. Justice Day was one of the few worldwide holidays for the working class. The wide, flat plaza around Council Complex, the meeting place of Council Central, was crowded with civilians celebrating their rare day off. Many were hoping to get a seat at the trial.
Today’s trial would be particularly compelling. Dewantay Seysa, the defendant, was a former colonel of the Georwellian Occupational Force who had received several decorations in the Erwhon Annexation almost thirty years ago. He was a small, highly charismatic man, and sometime in the last ten years he had been subverted and become a leader of the Underground. He’d been captured several months ago. The anger the public felt about his betrayal of their beliefs was palpable (at least according to Council Central’s opinion polls), and the press had called for his immediate execution. Council Central had decided instead to postpone his trial until Justice Day, today.
Inside the complex, Security Sergeant Lebet watched the plaza monitors with her new commanding officer, Captain Vinnel. Vinnel had just been transferred here from the Uncle Kindly™ brigade, and he wasn’t happy with his new position. This close to Council Central, an officer was always under intense scrutiny day and night. Vinnel was determined to take no chances and do everything by the book, and he strongly disapproved of any kind of personal initiative in those under his command. After twenty-eight years in Complex Security, the sergeant knew that there was a lot more that the book didn’t cover than what it did.
Lebet leaned forward to adjust a control on her panel, throwing a switch that the original designers hadn’t installed. Everything that happened in the control room was now being recorded by devices that Vinnel didn’t know about and couldn’t wipe later. Though she took immense pride in being very good at her job, Lebet also understood the value of covering her ass. Several prior commanders had tried to blame their failures on her, but she was still here, and they weren’t.
“The crowd doesn’t look right to me,” Lebet told her commanding officer hopefully. Maybe this time he’d listen. “A lot of these people are dressed to party, but the mood isn’t festive enough.”
“Officer Friendly™ says everything is within normal parameters,” he responded to her sharply. When Vinnel had arrived, he’d had Officer Friendly™ crowd analysis software installed on the complex’s security computer, even though Research Central admitted that it was still experimental.
“Sir!” she acknowledged with a sigh. She’d hoped Vinnel might respect her experience. But she tried one more time; she really was good at what she did. “The…” But her C.O. cut her off before she could draw his attention to indicate a pair of secondary monitors on the Officer Friendly™ control panel.
“That will be all, Sergeant!” he ordered with an angry snap. “We don’t rely on intuition around here. Keep your eyes on the crowd!”
Friendly’s trend indicators were showing that the patterns of crowd movement were becoming more sluggish than it expected, based on comparisons with recorded crowd movements at other, similar events, and that unusually dense knots of people were developing around the entrances to the complex. The variations hadn’t yet reached the level necessary to trigger and alarm, but the trend was obvious. Lebet had already noticed these things herself, and her instincts told her they meant trouble. At that instant, another security program beeped for attention.
“An approaching flier just sent a landing request, along with today’s landing authorization code,” she read to her commanding officer from yet another monitor. “The air traffic control computer automatically granted the request, and the flier will be landing on the security pad in about fifteen seconds.” She touched some buttons on her control panel, and one of the monitors switched views to show a heavily armored flier approaching. The insignia on the flier showed that it was registered to Councilor Six, as had its response to the traffic computer’s automated challenge. She switched to an internal view of the flier, which showed five figures wearing Mark 9 combat armor (the most current model). The monitors still looking at the plaza showed that the crowd was streaming toward the exits — nobody wanted to be around when an armored combat flier landed. Military autopilots were often careless about backwash from a flier’s landing rockets, and human pilots sometimes seemed to be keeping score of how many civilians they could squish by landing outside designated zones.
Lebet immediately put the security garrison on full alert and focused the complex’s highest-powered weapons and armor suppressors on the flier. She took personal charge of the identification procedure and didn’t relax until the security computer came back with positive identification. Councilor Six’s command computer acknowledged releasing an armored security team to Captain Vinnel’s command for the duration of today’s trial.
“Greetings from Councilor Six,” the armored team’s leader announced to Lebet and Captain Vinnel over the visicom, in the weirdly tones that showed that the combat helmet’s voice distorter was in use. “Today’s trial has generated more than the usual amount of public attention, and the councilor felt that additional security might be useful.”
Lebet made sure her commander didn’t see her secret smile of vindication. Captain Vinnel was furious that Councilor Six had decided, on his own, that Complex Security might be inadequate to today’s demands and needed to be reinforced by his own personal troops. He was also annoyed that he hadn’t been notified in advance regarding this temporary addition to his command, but he didn’t dare show his anger. Any councilor had the legal right to do as Councilor Six had done. And even if they hadn’t actually had the authority, complaining about the actions of a councilor was invariably fatal for the person who complained.
Vinnel pressed the button that returned the garrison alert level to normal. Lebet winced but bit her tongue; it seemed to her that if Councilor Six felt the need to send her team armored reinforcements, the condition was anything but normal.
Leaving Sergeant Lebet in the monitor room, Vinnel greeted the armored team in the security screening room. The newcomers removed their helmets, which lowered the anxiety level of the security screeners. Their leader was revealed to be an extremely attractive woman with red hair, hard green eyes, and a saucy smile. She introduced herself as Lieutenant Dexter. Captain Vinnel designated several of his security agents to escort the four armored guards to stations at strategic strong points throughout the complex, while he personally insisted on giving Dexter the grand tour. In the monitor room, Sergeant Lebet noticed that some members of her own team were headed for the armory to don their own armor. Security armor was actually obsolete, hand-me-down military armor, a combination of Mark 6 and Mark 7, less advanced than the Mark 9s Councilor Six’s team was wearing. But Lebet insisted that her team keep their gear in top condition, and even obsolete armor was more than adequate for crowd control.
On another monitor, Vinnel was already making suggestive conversation with Dexter, who seemed quite receptive. The sergeant decided not to tell him that his own agents were also armoring up while he was trying to make time with the lieutenant. He would no doubt order them to stop, and Lebet, at least, wanted some of her own team ready to deal with the threats Councilor Six was worried about.
The grand tour finished in a small, lavishly furnished sitting room with a one-way window overlooking the council floor. Occasionally, important visitors to the complex were entertained here in luxury where they could observe the absolute rulers of the Georwellian Imperium going about their business. Though this particular room was not scheduled for any official use today, Vinnel was sure that he and Dexter could make use of the luxurious facility to transact some private business of their own.
“So that’s how I, single-handedly and unarmed, stopped the Underground’s assassination attempt on Councilor Three last week!” Vinnel finished the highly embellished story he was telling. Lieutenant Dexter’s eyes were wide, and she had cooed appreciative oohs and aahs at appropriate points during the story. “Say, I know how uncomfortable it is to wear combat armor for a long time. My team has everything under control. Why don’t you take off the armor and take a short break, and I’ll order us some lunch?”
She smiled seductively. “Why, Captain, what a wonderful idea. But you know I don’t have anything to wear.” No one wore clothes under armor, just a skintight body suit to prevent chaffing where the armor might rub against skin. The bodysuit was definitely not modest apparel.
“Don’t worry; I think I can find something that will fit,” he said as he turned and opened a closet, reaching in to pull out a hanging garment. As he turned, Dexter donned her helmet and pointed her right arm at him.
“Silly boy, I never worry!” she quipped as she fired her armor’s energy blaster. A bolt of plasma sizzled into his back, disintegrating him instantly, along with the closet and everything in it. “Especially about clothes!”
She turned to the window, disintegrated it with another blast, and tossed a hand grenade into the council chamber. As the grenade went off, she leaped through the jagged opening and used her boot jets to settle slowly to the floor. She spun slowly as she descended, shooting everybody she could see with disintegrator blasts. By the time she’d landed, she’d vaporized everyone in the room, including all nine members of Council Central.