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Episode 7 | Missionary To Mars

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A thick man propped his illuminated boots on a desk at the back of a crowded set of cubicles. He was eating a rehydrated dish of vacuum-grown beans. It wasn’t a meal to be excited about, but it was better than the slop Slingshot mess provided to its station patrol. He heard voices outside his office stall and grumbled something profane. He made the two-finger gesture for music. His cortex implant supplied a mind-numbing deep zone track to drown out the unwanted distraction from his bean stew. A shadow fell across his desk. Someone had entered his office. Whoever it was, wasn’t welcome. 

“Lunch break,” Officer Bragg said. He knew he didn’t need to raise his voice over the music since he was the only one that could hear it, but it added the desired severity to his sharp tone. He continued to give his attention to his gruel without looking up. When the intruder’s shadow persisted, Bragg said, “I’ve got another seven minutes. Come back when—” 

A sharp whack knocked his feet from his desk and sent them to the deck. The momentum threw his body forward and splattered bean mush across the front of his uniform. He stood, gestured to mute his music, and had his hand on his sidearm in one clunky motion. 

“Don’t unholster that unless you’re ready to use it.” The voice was like the deep rumble of metal under a high G burn. Bragg’s eyes rose to the face, and he choked on the remainder of the stew that was in his mouth. He swallowed hard. 

“Y—you’re,” Officer Bragg said as he let go of his pistol and put his hands up. “Y—you are,” Bragg stuttered. He reached down to wipe the bean broth from his tightly-stretched apparel. He lifted his arm and made the requisite fist to the Temple, the GovCorp salute. Admiral Strafe did not return the gesture.

“I’m looking for a dissident,” Strafe said as he glanced down at the name tag pinned to his uniform. 

“Looking for a particular one?” Officer Willard Bragg gave a morose laugh. “We have plenty to choose from.”

“This person of interest answers to the name Eustis Wade Grimes. He arrived at Slingshot Station twelve hours and forty-nine minutes ago.” 

“Well,” Bragg started. “That’s not so easy since the feed drives are on level two, and we’re up here in the cheap seats.” Bragg stepped back as if he would take his seat. Before his rump reached the chair, Strafe kicked it backward. Bragg tumbled and thumped hard on the floor. 

“Men of action remain on their feet until the job is done.” Bragg scrambled to get back up. By the time he was standing, Strafe had closed the distance between them and Bragg found himself trapped in the corner of the cubicle. Strafe’s stare could have ignited a bar of solid tungsten. Neither of them moved for a second then Bragg broke. 

“Yes,” Bragg said. “Right. I will just have to… I guess since… I mean, after all… you’re the admiral. I’m sure your clearance is in order.” Bragg gestured in the air between them as he searched the archive for the file he needed. As he worked, he filled the compartment with empty chatter. 

“I’m a big fan of your work, Sir,” Bragg chortled. “Maybe after this, we could get a selfie?” He glanced from his task to the big man. The admiral gave no indication that he had heard the request. His eyes were locked on Bragg intently. Bragg went back to the task. “Or not. How silly of me. A selfie. Stupid.”

“Finding anything?” Strafe snapped. 

“Nope,” Bragg said after another moment of searching. “No one by the name Eugene signed into the Slingshot D—”

“Eustis Wade Grimes,” the Admiral corrected. Bragg glanced at him once more. He looked taller somehow. 

“Right,” Bragg said. “Not Eugene. How stupid of me. Eustis, what a weird name.” He gestured more vigorously now. “Nope. Closest to it is a Eurie Grey. Is it possible that you might have the name wrong…” Bragg trailed off when he caught another sight of the admiral’s icy stare. He was standing closer than before. Why was he so close? The admiral spoke in a gravely severe voice. 

“You seem to be aware of my reputation,” Strafe said. 

“Well, yes, Sir. Who wouldn’t be?”

“And what have you heard about me.” Strafe was centimeters from Bragg’s face. His breath was like the exhaust of an active drive thruster. The security guard was breathing hard and wishing he could look somewhere other than Strafe’s face. The deep lines that snaked down from his prominent cheekbones could have been made of concrete. 

“You always catch your prey,” Bragg choked. “At least that’s what they say.” He tried to look down, but Strafe took a resolute fist, pressed it against Bragg’s chin, and pushed his head back up slowly. 

“Is that all they say about me?” Strafe asked. “I’m sure you’ve heard more.” 

“They say,” Bragg wished he could take a step back, but he felt the cubicle wall against his spine, cold and unforgiving. “They say you do a lot more than just getting your mark. They say you’ve killed so many people GovCorp doesn’t even have you write a report, that you’ll kill anyone that gets in the way. That you’d kill the Chief Executive Emperor herself if she happened to be between you and your target.” 

For a fraction of a second, the sharp lines around Strafe’s mouth stretched, arching as close to a smile as Bragg could imagine ever displayed across that grizzled face. “In basic, I learned something about myself,” Strafe said as he placed the toe of his huge boot on top of Bragg’s and let his weight press down against the subordinate’s. “You know what I learned?” 

“No,” Bragg whispered. 

“For most, when they miss the target, they try again and again with the same short muzzle repeater. I take a different approach. The bigger the gun, the harder it is to miss.” 

“Oh,” Bragg said, in a hurry to get the words out. The silence that followed could have been a chokehold. 

“I always get my mark. I aim with a big gun. I don’t care what else I hit.” Strafe paused. “Do we understand one another?” With the words Strafe leaned forward and put his weight on the toe of Bragg’s boot. Bragg bit his lip and grimaced. 

“Loud and clear, Sir,” Bragg said in a breathy tone. “Your mission is my mission, Sir. You can trust me, Sir. If I have to watch every second of security footage from the last twelve hours, I’ll do it. I’m on the case, Sir.” 

“That’s more like it,” Strafe said, removing his foot from Bragg’s. 

“Is there any more information you can give me about this Eustis character?” 

“Dark shoulder-length hair. Flight suit. Black duffle bag with a Houston City insignia on it.” 

Bragg stroked his chin, still wishing Admiral Strafe would take even a tiny step backward. “Actually, I think I know the guy,” Bragg said. “Or at least I saw him. Brown eyes? Tall chap? Stubborn bloke? Has a problem with authority?”

“Sounds promising,” Strafe said as he made a flicking motion in Bragg’s direction. An image notification blinked on in Bragg’s cortex display.

“Yep, that’s the guy. Like you said, he came through here about twelve hours ago. Nearly got the sharp end of my shock stick. Was trying to abed a tramp in criminal vagrancy.” 

“Where is he now?” Strafe said. “I am going to ground him into nothing.” 

“Don’t know,” Bragg offered in a whisky voice. “I’ll track him down on the security feeds.”

“Bring the vagrant for interrogation,” Strafe said. 

“Can’t,” Bragg said. “He expired unexpectedly of natural causes. He’s already been sent to reclamation. You know how these transients are. Dying by the droves. Matter of fact, Just the other day I was—”

“The security footage,” Strafe said. 

“Right. Yes, Sir. I’m on it.” 

“HEXA,” Strafe said. 

“Yes, Sir.” Bragg continued to pull the footage as Strafe talked into his communicator to his A.I. assistant. “I have an Officer Willard Bragg here. He’s going to link access to the security mainframe on Slingshot. Go through it. Look for anomalies.”

“I’m not really authorized to give universal access to...” Bragg trailed off at a glance from Strafe. “Yes, Sir.” Bragg grabbed the digital credentials and flicked them to Strafe. They stood there in silence for almost five seconds before Bragg broke it. “So, we just wait, or…” 

“I think I have something,” HEXA’s voice returned. 

“Give it to me.” 

“We have nine dissreps that scanned in on that shuttle. One of which is a kid named Enzo Gatti. A few seconds later, another Gatti signed in. Dr. Lorenzo Gatti. Sound familiar?”

“Why do I know that name?” Strafe asked. 

The Dr. Gatti. Solologist from Mercury. Known for his work on the flare cycle.” 

“Oh yeah,” Strafe said. “I thought he died in a flare event.” 

“He did,” HEXA said. 

“So, how does a dead scientist from Mercury log into a GovCorp terminal on Slingshot?” Strafe asked. 

“Security footage from the time of the log shows this,” HEXA said. Bragg didn’t have access to what Strafe was seeing, but he could tell from his face that they had found their mark. 

“I’m going to chop him into little pieces,” Strafe mumbled. Watching Strafe talk to himself about how he was going to treat his victim gave Bragg a strange sickly thrill. “I’ll end him.” 

“That’s him,” Strafe said. “The kid he’s with.” 

“Enzo Gatti,” HEXA said. “Engineer on record for a ship called the Scuttle. No transponder signal on ping or private dataset for over a year, but dock manifest shows it was portside up until about eleven hours ago.” 

“I could get you those manifests,” Bragg interrupted. Strafe furrowed his brow, spun, and stepped out of Bragg’s cubicle without another word. “Or, we could question the docking authority if you want.” Strafe rounded the corner and was gone. 

Bragg turned to look at his cubicle. Bean stew was all over the floor and desk. He almost had the urge to clean it up, but he managed to suppress it. 

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