Connor Rix Chronicles 1: Rules of Force (6 page)

BOOK: Connor Rix Chronicles 1: Rules of Force
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And seeing Jake
in this condition, even Rix had to wonder if the public was right.

"So how's
Marie?"

"Just got
over the biofilm fever. Remember how that was?"

"Huhn. Felt
good compared to this."

"She's
doing fine now, though."

Jake closed his
eyes momentarily. When he opened them, he struggled to focus on Rix. "Any
muscle jobs coming your way?"

"Yeah. We
just finished up a case. Good pay. Bad Modifieds."

Jake nodded at
this, and said nothing.

"Jake, I
think it's time we had a talk about the nanos. And please don't tell me it's
none of my business again."

Rix watched the
uncomfortable expression settle slowly on Jake's face. He turned away and was
silent for a full minute. Then Jake started speaking softly, so that Rix had to
strain to hear him.

"I'm
already a burden, and the people I bought them from made it pretty clear I
shouldn't talk about my sources. I don't want anyone else hurt on account o'
me."

"I know,
Jake. I know. But there's a lot of bad stuff out there. If we don't get it
cleaned up it'll all get shut down. People will never get to experience the
good side of it. Before things went bad for you, remember how good it felt?
Remember feeling strong and invincible? Remember sitting in the gym, talking
about the possibilities with the other guys? The good side is still good, Jake.
It can make life a helluva lot better for a lot of people. But first we need to
clear out the scammers."

Jake lay still
so long Rix began to wonder if he had fallen asleep with his eyes open. At
last, he croaked out a stream of words. "It was some South American guys.
They had lottsa stuff for sale, more than anybody else. But they wouldn't sell
me the blood paks unless I bought some of the nanoshit, too. I had so many
customers for the other stuff I had to say yes. And then I figured I should
give it a try before selling it to any customers, so I could give a real
testimonial, y'know?" What could almost have been called a sigh had he
been stronger passed his lips. "I shoulda waited. Did you know it was only
eight days later that the news broke about these things? Eight lousy
days."

Rix watched as
Jake seemed to sink even further into his bed. He wouldn't be able to continue
much longer.

"Alright,
Jake, maybe next time I come over, you can tell me some more about the South
Americans. But just lay there and rest a bit and let me tell you what I read
about what the Mets are doing in the off-season…"

Rix spent the
rest of his visit just trying to cheer up Jake with small-talk about sports,
and news about some mutual acquaintances. Jake smiled weakly a couple times,
but did not say much. After a few more minutes Rix said his goodbyes to Jake
and Cathy and walked out to his truck in the driveway.

He had just
opened the door and slid into the driver's seat when a noise from his E-Thing
startled him. He'd deliberately put his E-Thing into sleep mode while he was
visiting Jake, but now it was emitting a sound he'd never before heard from the
device, and the screen pulsed a strange color that was also new to him. The
contact code icon was one he didn't recognize.

He thumbed the
icon to answer the call.

"Yes?"

"Mr. Rix.
This is Alexander Rohm with Open Sky. I need to speak with you in person
absolutely as soon as possible. Can you fly out in a couple hours?"

Rix was stunned
into silence for a moment.
Rohm? The big man himself,
 
the president of Open Sky, needs to see
me right away? Christ.
Running through
Rix's mind concurrently was the worry that the task he'd done for Open Sky had
not worked out as well, or cleanly, as he'd thought.
Helluva week.
Ok. Go with it.

"Yes Mr.
Rohm, I can come for a meeting. But I'm not sure I can get a ticket and a seat
that quickly…"

"What? No.
I'll have a jet waiting for you. Go to the general aviation terminal. Look for
the plane painted with our logo." Rohm paused a moment before finishing.
"And Mr. Rix? Please cancel whatever other appointments you have for the
next several weeks."

 

 

 

8

 

 

Rix had that
feeling of being a bit off his game as he walked down the length of the Great
Hall again, so soon after the last time. The Great Hall was as magnificent as
ever, of course, and he felt the same anticipation he had felt the first time.

But everything
about this trip felt different. The flight from New San Antonio to Las Cruces
— in a kind of jet Rix had never seen before — had been quiet,
subdued by a tense atmosphere. Nobody made any effort to engage Rix in
conversation, which had been fine by him, as the pain radiating from his bones
was flaring up and then fading intermittently, putting him in a surly mood. But
he noticed there appeared to be more people than necessary on board, which told
Rix that the extras were probably security personnel.

Before boarding
the plane in San Antonio Rix had done a search on his E-Thing for any breaking
news about Open Sky, but had found nothing but the usual press releases and
production reports from the asteroid mining operations. Even the secure Open
Sky internal net — the part he had access to, anyway — revealed no
indication that anything was out of the ordinary.

The plane had
landed at a runway on the Open Sky spaceport facility, and Rix was whisked to a
different wing of the Great Hall from when he had been there the first time. As
for Angie 6, his original Handler, she was nowhere to be seen. That was
unusual, in that most corporations, when bringing in outside people for
security assistance, preferred that the outsiders only deal with one person. No
reason for outsiders to know everyone on the security side of the operations,
or so the thinking went.

Adding it up, he
knew that something had changed, and probably not for the better.

 
Rix was escorted through Open Sky's
majestic headquarters by a man who had not bothered to give his name. The man
led Rix to a large, richly furnished office, and said simply, "Wait
here," before turning around to leave.

Like so many of
the offices in the Great Hall, there was a panoramic view of the launch
facilities, spread out for miles in every direction. As ever, the grounds were
alive with constant activity. It was obvious that an absolute flood of money
was pouring into this spot from all over the world.

An astonishing
array of new hardware spilled from the spacecraft maintenance and assembly
buildings — enormous crawler transporters, muscular tow vehicles, trucks
of all sorts. A surprising number of motorcycles darted between the
widely-spaced buildings. Examples of a new generation of aircraft, like the jet
Rix had flown in from New San Antonio, were scattered across the tarmac. In the
distance he could make out an enormous airship languorously rising toward the
clouds like some atmospheric manta ray.

Open Sky relied
on both traditional rockets and high-altitude platforms to launch its
spacecraft, and virtually all of the individual launch sites appeared
customized for particular types of craft.

Rix had no idea
how much money was invested in Open Sky's headquarters, but he knew the amount
must be staggering, probably equaling the economic output of a small nation.
The raw materials from the asteroids — metals like nickel and platinum,
Rix knew, but also a whole lot more — were brought down to Earth in a steady
stream.

Open Sky had
another massive source of income as well. The governments still capable of
doing so had finally agreed to contribute to a fund dedicated to the clean-up
of the orbital debris that had accumulated in Low Earth Orbit. Decades of
rocket launches had left a cloud of metal shavings, stray parts, paint chips,
and dead satellites circling the globe. Open Sky, being the only company
capable of actively knocking this trash out of orbit and into the atmosphere
through their fleet of laser platforms and solar sails, tapped into this fund
almost exclusively.

The company had
a political advantage in this endeavor; most nations did not trust each other
to place laser platforms into orbit for the purpose of eliminating debris. A
laser platform operated by any one nation would always be viewed as a potential
weapon. For a private company, however, to use a space-based laser as anything
other than an industrial tool would be to risk its own sources of profit. Open
Sky had perfectly positioned itself to be the compromise solution to a global
problem.

Through this
massive infusion of wealth, Open Sky alone had practically established the
legitimacy of New Mexico Territory. And if the rumored merger with the Texas
Republic ever came to fruition, New Mexico would have an extraordinarily strong
bargaining position.

Rix hoped the
merger would come to pass. He was thinking about what a natural alliance it
would be when the man responsible for Open Sky, the Great Hall, and the
development of trillions of dollars of space resources walked through the door.

Alexander Rohm.

Rix had seen
pictures of the man, of course, and recognized him instantly. Although Rohm was
no media hog, his position guaranteed regular exposure and prominent news
coverage.

Rix took in at a
glance the little differences that didn't show on news vids. Rohm was tall,
taller than Rix had expected, and thin to the point of being gaunt. He wore
professional clothing, obviously high quality, but nothing terribly memorable.
His hair was closely cropped, and when Rohm turned to close the door Rix
noticed a very faint web pattern at the base of the man's skull, just barely
visible above his collar.

Rohm turned to
face Rix. He made no move to shake hands.

"Mr. Rix. I
need your help."

Rix was startled
at the forthright bluntness of the request, but gave no outward sign
.

"What can I
help you with?"

Rohm motioned to
the conference table, and the two of them walked over and sat down. Rohm looked
Rix directly in the eyes, and hesitated not a moment.

"My
security team, the one you worked with, has been wiped out. Most of them just
murdered. There is no other term for it." He paused before continuing.
"There were other people I am aligned with that were killed as well."
For the first time, Rix caught a hint of emotion on the man's face.
"Friends, even."

Rix tried to
suppress the hollow feeling in his stomach.

"Angie
6….?"

"She will
survive. But her recovery will be slow. Her life will not be as she has known
it."

Rix found
himself relieved, but also sickened at this news. He had known Angie 6 for only
a brief time, but she was a comrade in arms. One of the good guys. He made a
mental note to find out a way to visit her while she recovered.

Rohm continued,
speaking in an unwavering voice, filling in Rix on the basic outlines of the
ambush at Forward Aeronautics.

"And so I
am in a position where I have no security team for, let us say, special
circumstances. I have the usual sorts of guards one would find at any large
enterprise, of course. But no real talent capable of
projecting power
. And I am increasingly discovering that genuine
security requires a more proactive approach."

Rix could
practically feel the intensity of Alexander Rohm's gaze. But the man must have
caught some of the sadness Rix felt evident on his face, and shifted to a
softer tone.

"They were
talented people, Mr. Rix. The shortcomings were mine. I can only call what has
happened a failure of imagination on my part. I did not anticipate the sudden
emergence of such heavily Modified people, and how they might be recruited by
aggressive criminal organizations." He shook his head. "Me of all
people," he said softly.

"And so I
have invited you here. I need singular individuals who can fight these people
on their own terms. And especially, I want justice in this matter."

Rix nodded.

"I'm given
to understand you have your own associates who could perhaps be retained for
special circumstances?"

"I know
some people. The extraordinary kind, as you might put it."

"Please try
to recruit them. Compensation will be… ample." Rohm seemed to hesitate for
a moment, and then blinked slowly. "If you check your E-Thing, I have
already sent you some payment proposals."

Rix pulled out
his E-Thing and opened a new message from Rohm. It was all he could do to avoid
whistling, like some gobsmacked everyman in an old movie peering into a money
bag embossed with a large dollar sign.

"I feel
confident I can convince some people to join us."

"Excellent."
He leaned in closer. "Just so I am clear, I want the leaders of the
organization captured and turned in
to me
.
Not the regular law enforcement channels. Are you comfortable with this
directive, and its implications?"

Rix raised an
eyebrow.

Alexander Rohm
leaned back in his chair and folded his hands together.

"We live in
extraordinary times, Mr. Rix. Nation-states are weak. The United States has
dissolved, the Chinese haven't recovered from the Epidemic of Sorrows, the
Middle East is silent after the 36-Hour war. Established powers have fallen;
new powers are rising.

"Yet human
enterprise continues. And human enterprise cannot thrive without justice. But
so very many of the older structures of justice have crumbled, or are no longer
effective. I can assure you, in New Mexico territory, such matters are often
handled in this manner. I know that in the Texas Republic things are not so
very different."

Rix met Rohm's
gaze. He responded in a level voice. "You realize, Mr. Rohm, that in an
earlier life, I enforced the Uniform Code of Military Justice. I'm not some
one-man posse trying to make money by dragging men to a hangin' tree."

Rohm stared
back, and then slowly broke into a smile for the first time since their meeting
began. "That is unexpected talk from a Texican," he said. But the
smile vanished almost immediately. He leaned forward.

"We are all
for law and order, Mr. Rix. I couldn't run my various enterprises without it.
But sometimes when the spirit of the law becomes slave to the letter of the
law, when the process tramples the clear objectives of natural law, free men
need to take the initiative and act. After all, did not the very foundations of
the United States crumble under the mountain of laws, rules and regulations
built up over the centuries? Were all those laws truly necessary to keep the
peace and secure justice? The central conflict of The Breakup was over whether
the literally uncountable regulations subverted the plain law of the
constitution."

 
Rix said nothing.

"If we
wanted to be purists, Mr. Rix," Rohm continued, "I could ask if all
your Modifications are completely in alignment with current law. Or I could ask
to inspect the stack of approval licenses for this security operation you run.
No doubt they are all in order," he said, with an expression that looked
to Rix as if he were barely suppressing a smirk. "But I won't. You saw a
problem with the potential for Modified people, superhumans really, to commit
unprecedented crimes, and took the necessary actions to counter these people.
You did not go begging for permission from the nearest government official. And
I will not go begging local authorities for permission to see that these men
receive the
proper justice
."

It was Rix's
turn to lean back in his chair. "You're a smart guy, Mr. Rohm. You've been
called a genius as far back as I can remember. What you've created speaks for
itself. But the holes in your argument are obvious. You could almost drive an
asteroid through them."

Rix could see
that he was getting under Rohm's skin. There was a slight flush to his face,
although it faded quickly. Rix guessed that he was employing some well-tested
stress management techniques.

"So you
will not help me?" he said tightly.

Rix took his
time answering, slowing turning his head to look out the wall-length window.
"I'll side with you on this, Mr. Rohm," he said at last.
"Because you were right about one thing — in our new nations the
legal structures may not yet even be in place to handle such wide-ranging
crimes that cut across borders. And imperfect justice is better than no
justice.

"But more
important than that, if these people are not stopped, many more innocents will
die. They clearly have no compunction about eliminating anyone who opposes
them. If stopping these people means turning them over to you, so be it."

Rohm closed his
eyes and let out a long breath. "Thank you," he said. When he opened
his eyes again, he looked tired. "There is more that I did not tell you
earlier. My friend that was killed, Allen Venway, was a man of some
significance."

Rix started at
the mention of Venway's name.
How has the news of that not gotten out?

"And by
significance," Rohm said, "I do not mean that he was merely wealthy,
or famous. His work was leading to an extraordinary future for mankind.
Extraordinary…." Rohm's voice trailed off.

"They were
all valuable, Mr. Rohm," Rix said softly.

"Yes. I am
glad you are helping me avenge their loss." Rohm straightened up in his
chair, as if getting ready to leave. "Get ready to study a trove of useful
information. Angie 6 managed to extract some significant data and transmit it
to me before she was incapacitated."

He stood up.
"You may contact me directly as necessary. My link has been sent to your
E-Thing. You may also visit our security armory. I think we have some unique
items that will help you in the coming conflict."

Rohm reached out
and shook Rix's hand. "Thank you," he said. "I look forward to
the day when you turn these people over to me, that we may drink a toast to our
fallen friends."

BOOK: Connor Rix Chronicles 1: Rules of Force
2.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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