R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author Suspense Urban Fantasy Fantasy Dystopian SCI FI
Interrogation “Discontinue video.” The   plasscreen   faded   to   black,   though   the   sight   of the   man’s   mutilated   corpse   stayed   in   Toni’s   mind.   She turned   her   attention   to   the   forward   viewer   as   Kory   Mae   settled   onto   the   tarmac.   A   dozen   olive-drab   craft   filled the viewer across the horizon. “Kory, open a link to the base commander.” Toni    leaned    back    in    her    chair.    The    ship’s    calm persona reported a completed connection with a Colonel Ortice. “Colonel. Toni Tegaris. Earth Union Security. Marshal’s Office.” “Welcome   to   Camp   Tango   43,   Marshal.   Glad   you   were   in   our   little region of space.” His     welcome     continued.     All     she     needed.     Twenty     crimes     to investigate     in     that     system     alone     and     she     got     a     chatty     Marine. Socializing   with   the   brass   had   a   way   of   distorting   first   impressions.   She didn’t   need   an   amateur   suggesting   what   happened.   She   chose   not   to engage him. She glared back at the face on the com. His smile faded. “I would be happy to come—” “I’ll    interview    you    in    due    time    if    necessary,”    she    interrupted. “What   I   need,   as   I   communicated   earlier,   is   the   victim’s   company   to   fall in on the tarmac immediately.” His   eyes   narrowed.   His   lips   pressed   together.   “Aye,   Marshal.   Is that all for now?” “That’s all.” Toni disconnected before he could. She   walked   to   the   bridge   armaments   cabinet,   donned   her   blue   EU vest    and    a    web    belt    with    a    projectile    sidearm,    and    headed    for    the forward   hatch.   “Chewie.”   She   waited   while   the   com   addressed   her   first officer. “Aye, Toni.” “Hold the fort. Back in a few.” “Want company?” “You’re   not   getting   out   of   that   research.   Besides,   you’d   probably enjoy the heat on this moon too much. Can’t have you loafing.” He   chuckled,   what   passes   as   such   for   his   species,   which   sounds more   like   a   rat   scrabbling   through   garbage.   It   always   made   her   smile. She   stepped   over   a   slow   janibot   that   followed   her   for   a   moment,   as though she was debris it should atomize. “Go   away,”   she   snapped.   It   turned   and   rolled   down   the   corridor   in the opposite direction. Downstairs,   the   hatch   separated   as   she   approached.   She   squinted at   the   glare,   pulled   out   the   old,   scratched   up   shades   Shante   gave   her years ago. Need to replace these someday. She   walked   down   the   ramp,   realizing   the   sunglasses   weren’t   going to   be   enough   for   comfort.   The   heat   was   a   bitch   too.   She   needed   to   find the murderer or murderers fast. The   company   was   being   lifted   to   an   adjacent   tarmac.   Toni   stopped in her tracks and activated her com. “Connect Colonel Ortice.” “Aye, Toni.” “Don’t screw with me,” she said. “I have no—” “Have   ’em   fall   in,   in   front   of   me,   now ,   or   so   help   me   I’ll   shut   down this whole base for a freaking week. Do you hear me, commander?” First impressions are so important. Toni   heard   an   un-Marine-like   response   as   the   connection   broke. The    troop    carrier    lifted    off    the    far    tarmac    and    approached.    Setting down,   the   back   gate   dropped   and   jarheads   double-timed   it.   As   they   fell in,   Toni   called   at   the   sergeant   major   to   bring   them   in   a   tight   formation. The    Marine    saluted    and    barked    a    sharp    command.    The    men    and women side stepped until they were shoulder to shoulder. Time to collect physical evidence. With   the   sergeant   major   on   her   heel,   Toni   hurried   down   the   ranks collecting   initial   DNA   trace,   wishing   she   had   one   of   the   dark   shields they   wore   against   the   system’s   bright   star.   They   weren’t   going   to   like   it if    she    ordered    those    with    mingled    trace    to    remove    their    air-cooled helmets. Toni’s   computer   clicked   to   show   its   analysis   was   complete.   She walked   back   through   the   command   pointing   at   each   Marine   that   could fall out. Few   in   the   slain   Marine’s   platoon   were   eliminated.   Most   in   the other   three   were.   The   first   pass   culled   132.   The   sergeant   major   again had   the   company   move   in.   Sweat   dripped   onto   Toni’s   glasses   as   she reviewed her data. She was swimming inside her armored vest. Hell with this . The   Kory   Mae’s    main   hold   was   practically   empty   anyway.   “Bring them,” she told the sergeant major. Toni   headed   for   Kory   Mae.   The   hatch   lowered   as   she   approached. Walking    past    the    environmental    shield    felt    delightful,    like    a    meat locker.    Unfortunately,    the    hold    temperature    rose    as    the    remaining thirty-six Marines crossed the EM threshold. “Listen up! Front and center when you hear your name.” She    called    the    names    of    the    four    who    held    the    most    cross contamination.    Toni    walked    in    front    of    them    slowly,    allowing    the computer’s   sensors   to   pick   up   detail   readings.   The   next   hour   was   going to be a pain. At least it was cooler. Toni   returned   her   attention   to   the   first   Marine.   “PFC,   was   Tarcine a   good   friend?”   Toni   looked   into   the   dark   green   of   the   visor   for   an instant,   but   quickly   looked   down   at   her   computer   to   review   the   analysis of her infomedics. People weren’t her thing—data was. “We were together since boot,” she answered. Toni   stepped   back   and   shouted.   “We’re   going   to   be   here   a   long freaking    time    if    I    don’t    get    direct    answers.    Am    I    making    myself understood?” The loud, “Whoyeah,” echoed in the cavernous hold. She stepped back in front of the PFC. “Again.” “Like a brother,” she said. “A brother you make love to, or just drink beer with?” The   questions,   designed   to   elicit   an   emotional   response,   continued in     similar     fashion.     Toni’s     mind     wandered     as     she     watched     the computer’s analysis. She   reached   the   jarhead   with   the   most   recent   trace.   He   found   the body.   His   answers   registered   inconclusive.   Toni   broke   her   routine   and ordered him to take off the dark visor. “Take a knee.” He   appeared   to   be   taken   back,   finding   himself   eye-to-eye   with   her. Being   short   as   a   toad   was   often   as   convenient   as   not.   For   a   PFC,   he   had been   in   a   lot   of   shipboard   firefights,   considering   the   tell-tale   scars   from the   splatter   of   laser-melted   hull.   Spacers   have   a   saying.   “Better   scarred than scattered.” “Why    are    you    still    a    PFC?”    she    asked    him.    The    computer registered, consistent. “Who   do   you   think   killed   him?”   His   heart   rate   increased   twelve percent.   He   felt   he   knew,   but   he   wouldn’t   tell   if   she   rammed   bamboo slivers    under    his    fingernails.    “Give    me    an    answer    in    the    next    ten seconds or you’ll see a courts-martial.” He   didn’t   blink.   His   heart   rate   actually   slowed.   That   kind   of   threat was    going    to    get    her    nowhere.    He’d    been    busted    often    enough    to consider   it   routine.   She   didn’t   bother   to   look   up   his   record.   There   was no other reason he was still an E2. “Sergeant Major, please explain to the private he must answer.” The   woman   grabbed   him   by   the   front   of   his   shirt   and   raised   him   to his   feet,   pressed   her   nose   against   his.   “You   want   to   wash   latrines   until your service is honored, Private?” “No, Sergeant Major.” The   next   ten   minutes   were   just   as   productive.   Minutes   she’d   never get    back.    He    might    know    something    valuable,    but    he    was    a    cagey butthead. And a moron . She   stepped   before   her   next   candidate,   on   to   the   next,   and   the next after her. An   hour   later   Toni   again   stood   in   front   of   a   smallish   Marine,   not to   say   she   was   as   short   as   Toni,   but   she   was   under   180   centimeters,   and had shoulders the sergeant major could have snapped without effort. The   trace   was   left   on   the   corporal’s   fatigues   within   twenty   minutes of    Tarcine’s    death.    Older    DNA    remained    on    her    skin    from    weeks earlier.   Either   she   shared   the   same   bar   of   soap,   or   she   rolled   in   the   sack with him. Toni looked up under her visor. Stick to data, or take a shot at reading her the old fashion way?   “Remove   your   helmet,”   Toni   said   softly.   It   was   time   for   a   gentler touch. Being a bitch hadn’t gotten her far in two hours. The   corporal’s   face   didn’t   hold   a   single   scar.   She   looked   as   though she   could   still   be   in   high   school.   Toni   waited   while   the   woman’s   record downloaded.   She   had   been   in   the   service   three   years.   No   firefights. Bizarre.   She   was   being   taken   care   of.   Tarcine,   an   E5,   was   in   a   position to   do   that.   The   woman’s   pulse   rose   steadily,   even   though   Toni   hadn’t asked her a single question. “You   shower   with   Tarcine   recently?”   she   asked   the   woman   at   a near whisper. The corporal’s eyes got a little larger. Most assuredly something sexual there. “Ma’am, not that I recall.” “How long have you been planet-based?” “Ma’am, we just arrived for weekend RNR.” “She   was   a   replacement   eight   months   earlier   for   a   jarhead   who   got himself liquefied by a particle charge,” the sergeant major explained. Toni’s     computer     registered     the     corporal’s     stomach     muscles tightened,   but   her   general   stress   leveled   off.   Toni   wanted   to   sit.   She looked   down   the   line.   Three   more   Marines   to   interrogate.   They   stood   at ease,   like   pillars   of   granite,   or   machines,   hidden   behind   their   alloy fatigues, helmets, and visors which people still called glass. Why   do   they   insist   on   calling   it   glass?   There   wasn’t   a   molecule   of silicate in it. Toni    struggled    to    refocus.    She    hurried    through    the    last    of    the Marines,   turned   and   held   out   her   computer   to   the   sergeant   major. “Want these three with me, the rest you can release.” Toni   didn’t   offer   the   three   seats   when   she   led   them   to   the   galley. She   walked   across   the   room   and   pointed   to   a   spot   near   the   end   of   her team’s   conference   table,   and   eyed   the   PFC.   He   marched   forward   and stood   at   attention   on   the   spot.   She   separated   the   other   two   across   the room in similar fashion and walked out without a word. I hate fricking dead bodies.   She   entered   the   forward   hold   where   Tarcine’s   body   was   set   out. The   heat   outside   had   accelerated   its   decomposition.   It   reeked,   even though    Kory    quickly    lowered    the    temperature    in    the    hold    to    two degrees when the body was delivered. He   was   no   delight   before    he   lost   part   of   his   face.   Half   of   the   man’s chest   was   also   missing.   His   right   leg   had   been   cleanly   separated   from his trunk. He really pissed someone off. Given   a   few   hours,   Toni   could   match   the   weapon   to   the   wounds, but   lasers   in   an   armory,   which   a   whole   brigade   had   access   to,   added little   credence   in   a   court   proceeding.   It   was   a   hell   of   a   lot   easier   to   pull together   psychological   evidence   when   you’re   a   gazillion   miles   from   a real forensics team. “Kory, have you finished your analysis?” “Aye, Captain. Would you—” “If it isn’t inconvenient.” Toni   watched   as   the   slide   on   her   computer   showed   the   progress   of the   download.   The   door   of   the   lift   open.   She   looked   over   her   shoulder expecting    either    Chewie    or    the    other    marshal    on    board    who    was recuperating from a nasty ambush. “I did not release you, Marine.” The   man   lifted   a   laser   at   her.   It   was   a   civilian   version   of   an   M2. Small   enough   to   hide   inside   a   shirt,   not   the   most   powerful,   took   about a   second   and   a   half   to   recharge   between   shots,   but   still   deadly   if   the handler’s aim was good. “How   in   the   hell   did   you   pick   the   three   of   us   out   of   the   company?” he mumbled. “Your questions were bullshit.” “Did I say they were relevant?” He twisted his face as though Toni was an idiot. “Did   Tarcine   rape   her   and   you   executed   your   private   justice,   or were you getting rid of the competition?” “Who says—” “Oh    please.    I’m    freaking    short,    not    stupid.    The    PFC,    Scarface, cleaned   up   after   you   the   first   time.   You   notice   he   isn’t   behind   you   now? Not going to clean up after you this time.” Toni   prepared   to   ask   him   how   he   thought   he   was   going   to   get   away with   shooting   her,   considering   a   dozen   sensors   focused   on   him,   when he fired. Heat radiated across her vest. God, it hit her vest. A Marine who couldn’t shoot worth crap—what luck. Toni   pulled   her   sidearm   and   fired.   His   fatigues   would   absorb   most of   her   rounds,   but   they   would   hurt,   and   keep   him   from   getting   off   a better   shot.   She   leveled   her   weapon   as   high   on   his   trunk   as   she   could, hoping   to   catch   a   break   and   get   him   in   his   unprotected   throat.   She wasn’t   such   a   great   shot   to   aim   for   his   head.   It   was   more   important   to keep the projectiles soaking into his chest, and him busy. After   his   first   shot,   alarms   would   be   going   off   in   the   decks   above. She just had to stay alive until Chewie reached her. She   walked   forward   doing   her   best   to   empty   her   clip.   His   body lurched,   arms   swayed.   He   fired   again.   The   blast   sailed   wide.   She   had another   free   second   and   a   half.   She   tried   to   count   her   shots.   About eight.   Another   thirteen   to   go.   The   burned   propellant   smelled   harsh against the ship’s purified air. Within twenty feet of him. Fatigues   would   fail   in   three   more   steps.   A   round   caught   his   raised wrist   and   blood   and   tissue   exploded.   Somehow   he   held   onto   the   laser. His   face   turned   purple   from   the   pain,   the   pounding   he   was   taking.   He struggled   to   lift   the   laser.   Fired.   It   crossed   within   two   centimeters   of Toni’s cheek. She   felt   blood   running   down   her   face,   a   burning   furrow   from   the residual   power.   Another   free   second   and   a   half.   Maybe   seven   rounds left.   He   jerked   hard   as   her   rounds   met   the   fatigue’s   tolerance.   But   his hand rose again . Last round, maybe. The laser leveled. Enough! She   aimed   for   his   face.   Pulled   the   trigger.   His   head   rocked   back, body   teetered,   fell   backward   in   slow   motion.   Toni   screamed.   It   was anger.    Frustration.    She    dropped    her    arms    to    her    side,    took    a    deep breath. “Damn!” She sucked in air and looked down at her shoulder. “Another freaking scar.” Blood   oozed   down   the   front   of   her   vest,   through   the   hole   melted   in it. Glad it wasn’t an M4.   Bastard was hard to kill. The   lift   door   opened.   Toni   didn’t   have   the   energy   to   ready   her sidearm    again.    She    was    pretty    sure    it    was    empty    anyway.    Chewie sprinted   down   the   catwalk.   He   held   one   of   the   gargantuan   laser   rifles she couldn’t lift. “About time!” she screamed. “Ever occur to you to check if your guests are armed?” “Crap. Must ’ve cut class that day.” © R. Mac Wheeler 2017
R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author
Interrogation “Discontinue video.” The     plasscreen     faded     to     black, though   the   sight   of   the   man’s   mutilated corpse     stayed     in     Toni’s     mind.     She turned    her    attention    to    the    forward viewer    as    Kory    Mae     settled    onto    the tarmac.   A   dozen   olive-drab   craft   filled the viewer across the horizon. “Kory,    open    a    link    to    the    base commander.” Toni   leaned   back   in   her   chair.   The ship’s       calm       persona       reported       a completed    connection    with    a    Colonel Ortice. “Colonel.       Toni       Tegaris.       Earth Union Security. Marshal’s Office.” “Welcome     to     Camp     Tango     43, Marshal.    Glad    you    were    in    our    little region of space.” His     welcome     continued.     All     she needed.   Twenty   crimes   to   investigate   in that   system   alone   and   she   got   a   chatty Marine.   Socializing   with   the   brass   had   a way   of   distorting   first   impressions.   She didn’t   need   an   amateur   suggesting   what happened.   She   chose   not   to   engage   him. She   glared   back   at   the   face   on   the   com. His smile faded. “I would be happy to come—” “I’ll    interview    you    in    due    time    if necessary,”    she    interrupted.    “What    I need,   as   I   communicated   earlier,   is   the victim’s     company     to     fall     in     on     the tarmac immediately.” His   eyes   narrowed.   His   lips   pressed together.   “Aye,   Marshal.   Is   that   all   for now?” “That’s      all.”      Toni      disconnected before he could. She        walked        to        the        bridge armaments   cabinet,   donned   her   blue   EU vest    and    a    web    belt    with    a    projectile sidearm,    and    headed    for    the    forward hatch.    “Chewie.”    She    waited    while    the com addressed her first officer. “Aye, Toni.” “Hold the fort. Back in a few.” “Want company?” “You’re     not     getting     out     of     that research.   Besides,   you’d   probably   enjoy the   heat   on   this   moon   too   much.   Can’t have you loafing.” He   chuckled,   what   passes   as   such for   his   species,   which   sounds   more   like   a rat      scrabbling      through      garbage.      It always    made    her    smile.    She    stepped over   a   slow   janibot   that   followed   her   for a   moment,   as   though   she   was   debris   it should atomize. “Go   away,”   she   snapped.   It   turned and    rolled    down    the    corridor    in    the opposite direction. Downstairs,   the   hatch   separated   as she    approached.    She    squinted    at    the glare,   pulled   out   the   old,   scratched   up shades Shante gave her years ago. Need to replace these someday. She      walked      down      the      ramp, realizing   the   sunglasses   weren’t   going   to be   enough   for   comfort.   The   heat   was   a bitch     too.     She     needed     to     find     the murderer or murderers fast. The   company   was   being   lifted   to   an adjacent    tarmac.    Toni    stopped    in    her tracks   and   activated   her   com.   “Connect Colonel Ortice.” “Aye, Toni.” “Don’t screw with me,” she said. “I have no—” “Have   ’em   fall   in,   in   front   of   me, now ,   or   so   help   me   I’ll   shut   down   this whole   base   for   a   freaking   week.   Do   you hear me, commander?” First          impressions          are          so important. Toni      heard      an      un-Marine-like response   as   the   connection   broke.   The troop    carrier    lifted    off    the    far    tarmac and   approached.   Setting   down,   the   back gate     dropped     and     jarheads     double- timed   it.   As   they   fell   in,   Toni   called   at the   sergeant   major   to   bring   them   in   a tight   formation.   The   Marine   saluted   and barked   a   sharp   command.   The   men   and women    side    stepped    until    they    were shoulder to shoulder. Time to collect physical evidence. With    the    sergeant    major    on    her heel,     Toni     hurried     down     the     ranks collecting   initial   DNA   trace,   wishing   she had   one   of   the   dark   shields   they   wore against    the    system’s    bright    star.    They weren’t    going    to    like    it    if    she    ordered those   with   mingled   trace   to   remove   their air-cooled helmets. Toni’s   computer   clicked   to   show   its analysis   was   complete.   She   walked   back through   the   command   pointing   at   each Marine that could fall out. Few   in   the   slain   Marine’s   platoon were   eliminated.   Most   in   the   other   three were.    The    first    pass    culled    132.    The sergeant   major   again   had   the   company move    in.    Sweat    dripped    onto    Toni’s glasses    as    she    reviewed    her    data.    She was swimming inside her armored vest. Hell with this . The    Kory    Mae’s     main    hold    was practically   empty   anyway.   “Bring   them,” she told the sergeant major. Toni    headed    for    Kory    Mae.    The hatch      lowered      as      she      approached. Walking   past   the   environmental   shield felt     delightful,     like     a     meat     locker. Unfortunately,     the     hold     temperature rose   as   the   remaining   thirty-six   Marines crossed the EM threshold. “Listen   up!   Front   and   center   when you hear your name.” She    called    the    names    of    the    four who   held   the   most   cross   contamination. Toni    walked    in    front    of    them    slowly, allowing   the   computer’s   sensors   to   pick up   detail   readings.   The   next   hour   was going to be a pain. At least it was cooler. Toni   returned   her   attention   to   the first   Marine.   “PFC,   was   Tarcine   a   good friend?”   Toni   looked   into   the   dark   green of   the   visor   for   an   instant,   but   quickly looked   down   at   her   computer   to   review the    analysis    of    her    infomedics.    People weren’t her thing—data was. “We   were   together   since   boot,”   she answered. Toni    stepped    back    and    shouted. “We’re   going   to   be   here   a   long   freaking time   if   I   don’t   get   direct   answers.   Am   I making myself understood?” The   loud,   “Whoyeah,”   echoed   in   the cavernous hold. She    stepped    back    in    front    of    the PFC. “Again.” “Like a brother,” she said. “A   brother   you   make   love   to,   or   just drink beer with?” The   questions,   designed   to   elicit   an emotional       response,       continued       in similar   fashion.   Toni’s   mind   wandered as she watched the computer’s analysis. She    reached    the    jarhead    with    the most   recent   trace.   He   found   the   body. His     answers     registered     inconclusive. Toni   broke   her   routine   and   ordered   him to take off the dark visor. “Take a knee.” He     appeared     to     be     taken     back, finding     himself     eye-to-eye     with     her. Being    short    as    a    toad    was    often    as convenient    as    not.    For    a    PFC,    he    had been    in    a    lot    of    shipboard    firefights, considering   the   tell-tale   scars   from   the splatter    of    laser-melted    hull.    Spacers have     a     saying.     “Better     scarred     than scattered.” “Why    are    you    still    a    PFC?”    she asked    him.    The    computer    registered, consistent. “Who   do   you   think   killed   him?”   His heart   rate   increased   twelve   percent.   He felt   he   knew,   but   he   wouldn’t   tell   if   she rammed     bamboo     slivers     under     his fingernails.   “Give   me   an   answer   in   the next   ten   seconds   or   you’ll   see   a   courts- martial.” He     didn’t     blink.     His     heart     rate actually   slowed.   That   kind   of   threat   was going    to    get    her    nowhere.    He’d    been busted     often     enough     to     consider     it routine.   She   didn’t   bother   to   look   up   his record.    There    was    no    other    reason    he was still an E2. “Sergeant   Major,   please   explain   to the private he must answer.” The    woman    grabbed    him    by    the front   of   his   shirt   and   raised   him   to   his feet,   pressed   her   nose   against   his.   “You want   to   wash   latrines   until   your   service is honored, Private?” “No, Sergeant Major.” The   next   ten   minutes   were   just   as productive.     Minutes     she’d     never     get back.      He      might      know      something valuable, but he was a cagey butthead. And a moron . She      stepped      before      her      next candidate,   on   to   the   next,   and   the   next after her. An   hour   later   Toni   again   stood   in front   of   a   smallish   Marine,   not   to   say she   was   as   short   as   Toni,   but   she   was under       180       centimeters,       and       had shoulders   the   sergeant   major   could   have snapped without effort. The   trace   was   left   on   the   corporal’s fatigues      within      twenty      minutes      of Tarcine’s    death.    Older    DNA    remained on   her   skin   from   weeks   earlier.   Either she   shared   the   same   bar   of   soap,   or   she rolled   in   the   sack   with   him.   Toni   looked up under her visor. Stick    to    data,    or    take    a    shot    at reading her the old fashion way?   “Remove    your    helmet,”    Toni    said softly.   It   was   time   for   a   gentler   touch. Being    a    bitch    hadn’t    gotten    her    far    in two hours. The    corporal’s    face    didn’t    hold    a single    scar.    She    looked    as    though    she could   still   be   in   high   school.   Toni   waited while   the   woman’s   record   downloaded. She   had   been   in   the   service   three   years. No    firefights.    Bizarre.    She    was    being taken   care   of.   Tarcine,   an   E5,   was   in   a position   to   do   that.   The   woman’s   pulse rose   steadily,   even   though   Toni   hadn’t asked her a single question. “You         shower         with         Tarcine recently?”    she    asked    the    woman    at    a near whisper. The     corporal’s     eyes     got     a     little larger. Most    assuredly    something    sexual there. “Ma’am, not that I recall.” “How    long    have    you    been    planet- based?” “Ma’am,      we      just      arrived      for weekend RNR.” “She      was      a      replacement      eight months    earlier    for    a    jarhead    who    got himself   liquefied   by   a   particle   charge,” the sergeant major explained. Toni’s      computer      registered      the corporal’s    stomach    muscles    tightened, but   her   general   stress   leveled   off.   Toni wanted   to   sit.   She   looked   down   the   line. Three     more     Marines     to     interrogate. They     stood     at     ease,     like     pillars     of granite,    or    machines,    hidden    behind their   alloy   fatigues,   helmets,   and   visors which people still called glass. Why    do    they    insist    on    calling    it glass?     There     wasn’t     a     molecule     of silicate in it. Toni     struggled     to     refocus.     She hurried   through   the   last   of   the   Marines, turned   and   held   out   her   computer   to   the sergeant   major.   “Want   these   three   with me, the rest you can release.” Toni    didn’t    offer    the    three    seats when    she    led    them    to    the    galley.    She walked   across   the   room   and   pointed   to   a spot     near     the     end     of     her     team’s conference   table,   and   eyed   the   PFC.   He marched   forward   and   stood   at   attention on   the   spot.   She   separated   the   other   two across   the   room   in   similar   fashion   and walked out without a word. I hate fricking dead bodies.   She   entered   the   forward   hold   where Tarcine’s    body    was    set    out.    The    heat outside           had           accelerated           its decomposition.    It    reeked,    even    though Kory   quickly   lowered   the   temperature   in the   hold   to   two   degrees   when   the   body was delivered. He    was    no    delight    before     he    lost part   of   his   face.   Half   of   the   man’s   chest was   also   missing.   His   right   leg   had   been cleanly    separated    from    his    trunk.    He really pissed someone off. Given     a     few     hours,     Toni     could match   the   weapon   to   the   wounds,   but lasers    in    an    armory,    which    a    whole brigade     had     access     to,     added     little credence   in   a   court   proceeding.   It   was   a hell    of    a    lot    easier    to    pull    together psychological    evidence    when    you’re    a gazillion    miles    from    a    real    forensics team. “Kory,     have     you     finished     your analysis?” “Aye, Captain. Would you—” “If it isn’t inconvenient.” Toni    watched    as    the    slide    on    her computer    showed    the    progress    of    the download.   The   door   of   the   lift   open.   She looked     over     her     shoulder     expecting either   Chewie   or   the   other   marshal   on board    who    was    recuperating    from    a nasty ambush. “I did not release you, Marine.” The   man   lifted   a   laser   at   her.   It   was a     civilian     version     of     an     M2.     Small enough    to    hide    inside    a    shirt,    not    the most   powerful,   took   about   a   second   and a    half    to    recharge    between    shots,    but still    deadly    if    the    handler’s    aim    was good. “How   in   the   hell   did   you   pick   the three    of    us    out    of    the    company?”    he mumbled.        “Your        questions        were bullshit.” “Did I say they were relevant?” He   twisted   his   face   as   though   Toni was an idiot. “Did     Tarcine     rape     her     and     you executed    your    private    justice,    or    were you getting rid of the competition?” “Who says—” “Oh   please.   I’m   freaking   short,   not stupid.    The    PFC,    Scarface,    cleaned    up after   you   the   first   time.   You   notice   he isn’t    behind    you    now?    Not    going    to clean up after you this time.” Toni   prepared   to   ask   him   how   he thought   he   was   going   to   get   away   with shooting      her,      considering      a      dozen sensors   focused   on   him,   when   he   fired. Heat radiated across her vest. God, it hit her vest. A      Marine      who      couldn’t      shoot worth crap—what luck. Toni   pulled   her   sidearm   and   fired. His   fatigues   would   absorb   most   of   her rounds,   but   they   would   hurt,   and   keep him   from   getting   off   a   better   shot.   She leveled   her   weapon   as   high   on   his   trunk as    she    could,    hoping    to    catch    a    break and   get   him   in   his   unprotected   throat. She   wasn’t   such   a   great   shot   to   aim   for his   head.   It   was   more   important   to   keep the    projectiles    soaking    into    his    chest, and him busy. After   his   first   shot,   alarms   would   be going    off    in    the    decks    above.    She    just had   to   stay   alive   until   Chewie   reached her. She   walked   forward   doing   her   best to    empty    her    clip.    His    body    lurched, arms   swayed.   He   fired   again.   The   blast sailed   wide.   She   had   another   free   second and   a   half.   She   tried   to   count   her   shots. About   eight.   Another   thirteen   to   go.   The burned   propellant   smelled   harsh   against the ship’s purified air. Within twenty feet of him. Fatigues    would    fail    in    three    more steps.   A   round   caught   his   raised   wrist and       blood       and       tissue       exploded. Somehow    he    held    onto    the    laser.    His face    turned    purple    from    the    pain,    the pounding   he   was   taking.   He   struggled   to lift   the   laser.   Fired.   It   crossed   within   two centimeters of Toni’s cheek. She    felt    blood    running    down    her face,   a   burning   furrow   from   the   residual power.   Another   free   second   and   a   half. Maybe   seven   rounds   left.   He   jerked   hard as      her      rounds      met      the      fatigue’s tolerance. But his hand rose again . Last      round,      maybe.      The      laser leveled. Enough! She   aimed   for   his   face.   Pulled   the trigger.    His    head    rocked    back,    body teetered,   fell   backward   in   slow   motion. Toni        screamed.        It        was        anger. Frustration.    She    dropped    her    arms    to her side, took a deep breath. “Damn!” She   sucked   in   air   and   looked   down at her shoulder. “Another freaking scar.” Blood   oozed   down   the   front   of   her vest, through the hole melted in it. Glad   it   wasn’t   an   M4.    Bastard   was hard to kill. The    lift    door    opened.    Toni    didn’t have    the    energy    to    ready    her    sidearm again.   She   was   pretty   sure   it   was   empty anyway.     Chewie     sprinted     down     the catwalk.   He   held   one   of   the   gargantuan laser rifles she couldn’t lift. “About time!” she screamed. “Ever   occur   to   you   to   check   if   your guests are armed?” “Crap. Must ’ve cut class that day.” © R. Mac Wheeler 2017