Michael Williamson: When Diplomacy Fails…

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Michael Williamson When Diplomacy Fails…
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    When Diplomacy Fails…
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Michael Z. Williamson

When Diplomacy Fails…


Alex Marlow acknowledged that he was one of the best bodyguards in the galaxy. “Best” was a relative term, but he and his team had managed to keep principals alive through battles, riots, poisonings with neural toxins and even nuclear attack. The company charged accordingly for their services, and they were paid concordantly. The company also covered the insurance, because no sane underwriter would take their odds.

In a matter of days, they’d be guarding someone again. They took short-term, high-risk assignments that would cause any other company to shriek. Ripple Creek would take the jobs, then present a contract rate that would cause most principals’ accountants to shriek, and the rest to faint. Ripple Creek did, however, keep people alive, which was cheaper than the alternative.

He and his team were on down time after their last contract. Jason Vaughn was outsystem at Grainne Colony, his home, with his wife and kids. Eleanora Sykora was in the Czech Constituency of Europe, not far from Bart Weil in Germany. Horace Mbuto was from West Africa, but had moved to Hawaii and had a nice patch of property on the side of an extinct volcano. That left Aramis Anderson, who was in Wales, though there were reasons no one would mention that.

Alex was in New York. The company wasn’t based in New York, but the fastest way for a face to face with the CEO had been for the two of them to meet there.

The cafe was right on Times Square, which had to cost a fortune in rent. It was an independent, not a chain. However, it had plenty of staff and machines to keep juice, pastries, soups and sandwiches moving to the steady influx of customers. It was 0730, and only a handful of people were present so far. The smell of pastries and bacon hit him. It was even real bacon.

CEO Don Meyer sat at a booth in the rear, facing the door. He had a fliptop comm out, and a doc case. Alex walked in, wove past four tables, and took a seat to Meyer’s right. His back was to the hallway, but he could watch window and door. It was a professional paranoia in the industry and the military.

“Greetings,” he offered.

“Hello,” Meyer agreed. The ersatz office he sat in was reasonably safe, since there was a planter to his left and his doc case was layered with armor. It also offered some concealment to his wrestlerlike frame. That classy-looking suit was laced with shear armor as well. He had half an omelet on a plate to his right. Half a very large omelet.

On the screen of his fliptop, was a news load about Bureau of State Minister Joy Herman Highland. Once Alex made eye contact with it, and back to Meyer, Meyer switched loads to the stock market, clearing that story, and her image, from the screen.

Christ. They actually had an assignment involving her? It seemed hard to believe.

“I’ve got an assignment for you, and you’ll need to leave shortly. How fast can Vaughn get back?”

“It’s probably better to have him meet us at the work location.”

“Noted. The client would like discretion and to make releases on their own schedule.”

Alex nodded. “This client didn’t like us much last time.” Actually, when they’d rescued a man that certain elements wanted and had declared as good as dead, it had caused a furor. Going back to work for that same government smelled of setup.

“No. However, different departments operate differently. Higher profile also gives a different outlook.”

“You certainly know how to challenge us.”

“Only the best.”

The exchange had taken less than a minute. A human server, young and cute if a little pale, arrived with a menu screen for him. He glanced over it.

“I’ll take the toasted ham and cheese pocket, please, with guava juice.”

She smiled and departed.

Meyer asked, “What’s Vaughn’s travel time to location?”

“Fourteen days, that I recall. He’s braced for departure, though he doesn’t get much time with his family.”

“Then he can meet you there. You’ll be DAIC.” District Agent in Charge. That meant there’d be other teams to coordinate with, under his guidance.

“I’ll get on it. Can you send a schedule?”

“Yes, and of course the client wants discretion,” Meyer repeated. The client wanted secrecy until she decided to say otherwise. Marlow understood that.

“Absolutely. I’ll arrange transport.”

Meyer moved to close things down. The meeting was done. “That only leaves the question of Anderson,” he said.

“Not a question. I’ll message him and he’ll be en route.”

“A debrief would be in order, just for formality’s sake.”

“Of course,” he agreed. Aramis was playing with fire, but it wasn’t their fire, and Alex rather suspected they were safer with it than without.

Then after breakfast he’d have a day to sight see and act nonchalant, before flying out to round up his motley band of bruisers.

Jason Vaughn swung the gun smoothly after the birds, fired, fired again. The first round hit, the second missed.

“Nice looking front sight, isn’t it?” his coach chuckled. Scott Vir was possibly the best action shooter alive. The second of the two targets faded from looking like a bird back to a small drone and settled from the sky into the weeds.

Jason grinned back. “Yes, I’m a rifleman first.” His wife giggled, too.

He was spending a bit of money to learn sport shooting for birds and other fast targets, rabbits and bounders and such. The classic over and under shotgun was dissimilar from the combat shotguns he used for work, or carbines or pistols. One didn’t aim. One watched the target, aligned the body and the gun, and slathered pellets in its path. Two to three seconds was a long, relaxed time, far more than one usually got in combat. At the same time, there were definitely aspects of this he could take to the job. They’d apply even better when he used the optics functions of his “shooting glasses.” They were turned off for now, but once activated they added to the spectra he could use, and offered some highlight and tracking functions.

Likewise, no one was shooting back at him, the day was warm with a sultry cloy of humidity, and shooting stuff was fun. Having Marisa along made it even better.

Each lesson was a div, a tenth of a local day. He liked Grainne’s longer cycle, and the primal rawness. There were fewer than one percent of the people here than on Earth. It was more free, and more comfortable. In that context, he couldn’t explain why he kept taking jobs in restrictive systems.

Two more birds erupted from the brush, rose and angled left. Marisa pivoted, pointed and shot. Even with damping weights, the recoil caused her slim frame to stagger a half step.

“Holy hell, I got them!” she exclaimed.

“Nicely done,” he said. There was something exciting about a woman shooting, and he couldn’t let it affect him on the job. Here, though..

In twenty segs he’d have her home. Now, if he could get the daughter to go see friends for a div or so, it would be a perfect day.

“And that’s it,” Vir said. “Twenty-five frames. What do you think of your movements?”

Jason switched his attention back to business and debriefed himself, with Vir’s feedback.

Just as they were wrapping up, a triple beep told him he had a priority message, which he threw on his glasses to read while walking back to the car. Ah, work. The Earth pay rates went a long way toward basics here, and allowed him quite a few imported luxuries. So it was a mixed blessing, because he’d bring back another huge deposit, but he’d be leaving a few days earlier than he’d expected.

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