"What is this?" Edwin Scolos asked. "Our business is finished." He blinked, eyes heavy with sleep, at Ryland's face, then glanced over at Lyon. "Who is that?"
"May we come in? I don't think that you want to be discussing private matters out in the hall."
He looked at them quizzically.
"I suppose so." He stepped aside and showed them into his residence unit. "Please, sit down." Scolos sat in a large pale blue gel-chair, while the hunters took the regulation sofa on the far side of the room. "Oh, can I offer you something?"
Ryland shook his head.
"No, thank you. This is a business call, not a social one--and I suppose at this hour it's rude enough for us just to be here without expecting food service. Indeed, you're a lot more courteous than I'd be if I'd just stepped out of bed." His eyes flicked up and down the length of Scolos's body, taking in the man's rumpled pajamas.
"Well, yes, but you were pretty insistent at the door, so that means it's important, right?" He tried a smile and almost succeeded despite the sleepiness. "The Lab is always calling emergency rollouts for some urgent business or another, or when an experiment hits the critical stages. I suppose only the military or a med-center gets it worse."
The words were coming more easily to him, and he no longer seemed like he had to suppress a yawn with every breath. That was good. They didn't need him half-asleep.
"So what's this about? Is it some hunter job you need my help with?"
"Yes. Actually, it's about yours."
"But that was finished yesterday. You delivered the data module and I paid you. There's nothing left--indeed, I'm quite happy with your work. I'm sure that thanks to you, Dr. Carstairs's name will be vindicated as the greatest mind in xenobiology."
"That's a very laudable goal," Ryland agreed. "I think it would be even better accomplished if the true facts about his death came out."
"What do you mean? The story has been all over InfoNet." He frowned, then added, "I know the Lab has been using pressure to downplay the facts--rivalry and murder between scientists does look bad, after all--but the details haven't been kicked under the rug."
"No," Lyon corrected him, "the cover-up concocted by the military has been all over InfoNet. The details remain nearly unknown."
She fixed Scolos with an intense gaze that her inorganic-styled eyes made seem even more intimidating. He looked away from her to Ryland.
"What is she talking about? Was the military behind Dr. Guls?"
"No, they were behind you. You're the murderer."
Scolos stared at him, apparently bewildered.
"You can't be serious! M-me?" He seemed to rally, switching emotional gears. "I won't listen to these insults! Get out of here right now!"
Ryland shook his head sadly.
"I hate it when they try to lie their way out of it." He adjusted his glasses as if trying to get a better look at Scolos. "Shall I explain?"
"Give it a shot," said Lyon.
"The instant we learned that a cover-up was in play to conceal Dr. Carstairs's data, we ruled out the jealous-rival scenario. Coincidences do happen, but a man being murdered for totally unrelated reasons just as his research is being suppressed? And his supposed killer happens to be the only one able to easily analyze the data being concealed? No one is credulous enough to believe that. Could Dr. Guls be the actual killer but working with a different agenda than the cover story proposes? Again, no; he was the patsy. Only a fanatic would keep quiet and be executed rather than trade information for freedom, and he didn't fit the bill. You, on the other hand, were definitely part of the cover-up, which made you a prime suspect. More likely than not, when Dr. Carstairs first discovered the anomalous migration data and what it meant, he discussed it with you, his assistant, to prepare a report to his superiors. You tipped off your paymasters, and the plan went into effect.
"Now, none of that by itself made you a killer. At that stage, you could easily have just been a spy. Then, however, we learned who was behind the cover-up: the military. That changed things."
"I won't stand for these insults! Get out now or I'll call security!"
"Go ahead; it'll save us the grunt work of arresting you. As I was saying, you were obviously guilty because of how the crime had been made to appear: a Lab location, Lab chemicals used in the explosion, and so on. You know what kind of security Chief Milarose maintains in the Lab areas. A military black-ops team simply couldn't gain the kind of free access to the facilities needed to stage the crime. No, they used their man on the inside, since after all it was supposed to look like a Lab insider's crime. That, of course, was you. Now, I'm sure a full investigation will reveal whether you're an actual soldier placed undercover as a spy in advance or if you were recruited via bribery or blackmail, but until then--"
Ryland didn't get to finish the thought. Scolos turned and bolted for the res-unit's door. Since the hunters were across the room from it, they had no chance to block his path.
Just as they'd planned.
Lyon tapped her PDL.
"He's running; we'll pursue, but be ready to take him," she spoke into it.
"So convenient, isn't it, that flight is evidence of guilt?" Ryland quipped.
"Unfortunately, flight involves having to catch the suspect again," Lyon groused, already on her feet.
They rushed through the living area and the foyer, only to find the door locked. It took less than .2 beats to decode and open, since there was only so much one could do with a residence door from the outside, but even so it gave Scolos a head start. He was almost at the end of the corridor to the elevator, but the indicator showed that it was in use and on the way up to this level.
"It's too late," Lyon shouted. "That'll be the police, on their way to bring you in."
Scolos looked back at her, then up at the elevator, and his courage broke again. He bolted to his left, through the door that led out to the balcony walk that ran around the building and connected it to others.
"Is it the milipol?" Ryland asked.
"Search me. Come on!"
They'd gained some time while Scolos was at the elevator, so the hunters redoubled their efforts. He'd taken a turn off the balcony to a walkway, a kind of flying bridge that linked to a parking garage.
"Where's he running to, anyway?" Lyon wondered out loud. "This is a spaceship; there's nowhere to go."
"Military-controlled areas, maybe? If he gets in safe with his bosses maybe he figures the jurisdictional issues will get hacked out in a way that doesn't end in his execution for murder."
Lyon didn't know if Scolos intended to try to get away in a vehicle or just thought the garage offered a better escape route. She never got the chance to learn, because two aerocars sporting the flashing red and blue lights of milipol cruisers descended to hover over the walkway, searchlights pinning him in their beams.
"Edwin Scolos! This is the police! Give yourself up and surrender into custody!" blared over one cruiser's loudspeakers.
"There's nowhere left to run, Scolos," Lyon called.
He looked back at them, eyes wide and staring, his face looking almost ghostly in the spotlights. Scolos looked up at the aerocars, then back to the hunters.
"Oh, yes there is!" In one convulsive movement, he wrenched himself over the walkway's four-foot-high railing and let himself drop.
They were nineteen levels above the city base.
Inspector Laleham joined them on the walkway three beats later.
"If it matters, the cruisers confirmed impact," he told them. "He fell the whole way; he was TBR." Terminal Beyond Recovery, meaning too much brain damage for him to be revived with a Moon Atomizer, a Force's Reverser technique, or medical center equipment, all of which could infallibly restart a technically deceased body so long as the brain was intact.
"Blast it!" Ryland cursed mildly. "I wanted to take him alive so he could tell us who ordered the killing, which part of the military was behind the dome tower project."
Laleham frowned sourly.
"CoC'd probably just bury my report anyway," he admitted, referring to the military chain of command the police reported to. "If this was all sanctioned then they'd whitewash it until it sparkled, and if it was a rogue op they'd take steps in-house to keep from losing face. At least this way the guy who did the hands-on work got what was coming to him. I wonder what made him jump, though?"
"Inside, Ryland, you said that only a fanatic would play out Guls's role if he were guilty. Do you think that Scolos--?"
"Was a man with a cause? Maybe. There's a lot of factions interested in Ragol, and loyalty can go a long way. Or maybe he just got scared and desperate. He may have been a spy and murderer, but he was still a lab rat, not a field agent. Maybe, thrown into a fight situation, he just snapped."
"We'll probably never know."
"You got enough, though, to release Dr. Guls, didn't you?"
"Oh, yeah, no question. As soon as I get back to headquarters I'll be springing him."
There was a hissing sound from somewhere in the city, and a streak of light rose upwards to burst into a shower of bright gold sparks. Other fireworks began to go up, crackling red, green, and blue.
"000 beats," Lyon reported. "Happy New Year."
"Well, we saw through a cover-up, unearthed a clandestine plot, brought down a killer, and freed an innocent man. Maybe things are looking up."
"Maybe so. Sounds like you two make a pretty good team, at any rate."
Lyon and Ryland shared a glance. The Force rubbed the back of his neck.
"We do, at that. Want to talk about it over a cup of coffee, Lyon?"
"I'm an android, Ryland. I don't drink coffee."
"All right, so I'll buy."
They walked off towards where Ryland had parked his aerocar, while fireworks heralded the new beginning above.
~X X X~
Irene Seda, secretary to Principal Tyrell, walked briskly into the conference room.
"I know that you're all busy people, but I'll be brief. In regard to the matter of the message signal coming from the newly discovered facility on Gal De Val Island, the Council has made its decision. The initial exploration of the target areas shall continue to be carried out by hunters certified as A-rank or above by the Hunter's Guild, in accordance with current policy. Responsibility for selecting and supervising the hunter teams shall be the sole province of the Lab."
Commander Valgarde slammed his fist on the table.
"This is intolerable! That message originated with the Deputy Commander of Pioneer 1's military, Heathcliff Flowen! It is clearly an internal military matter."
"The Council took that factor into consideration," Irene said. "However, the decision was made."
Natasha Milarose smiled thinly at him from across the table.
"No doubt the details of the army's most recent surface expedition had a certain influence, Valgarde? You know, the one where your entire advance team was slaughtered by the Epsilon-class mech you were trying to hijack? Or in which your spy started murdering members of my staff to cover up your own incompetence?"
"There's no proof of any of that!"
"Of the murder, no, but plenty of the military's unsanctioned surface operation. I had a hunter go down and clean up after the late Dr. Carstairs, and she and a friend all but tripped over your little building project. A complete report was made." She smiled again, catlike. "Did I forget to copy you when I passed it on to the Administration? How careless of me."
She rose from her seat.
"Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a major operation to plan."
Natasha strode coolly from the room, followed by Irene. Valgarde turned to the final person at the table.
"Damn it, Leo, why didn't you say something?"
Leo Grahart, commader of the 32nd Galactic Mobile Infantry Squadron, WORKS, was impassive behind the metal mask that covered half his face.
"I saw that report," he noted. "You were finished the minute it hit Tyrell's desk."
"You saw it?"
"I have my sources. It's curious, though. The hunter found your installation by analyzing the Rappy migration data that you were trying to conceal. I'm assuming that the late Dr. Carstairs was murdered to keep him from reporting on that data to anyone, correct?"
Sensing a trap, Valgarde kept his reply hypothetical.
"If you assume that, then what piques your interest?"
"Well, Natasha basically threw a hunter on top of that data, and events proceeded from there. So how did she know? How did Chief Milarose know that Dr. Carstairs's data would expose you?"
"What are you driving at, Leo?"
"Perhaps nothing. Only, just out of curiosity, how exactly did your people get their hands on Pioneer 1 data indicating that they were using that tower for development of the Epsilon battle machine?"
"One of our agents stole it. It was part of a data cache a hunter team had retrieved from a bio-development lab in No Man's Mines."
"A hunter team working for whom?"
"They'd been sent to locate the facility and retrieve any significant data by the Lab, which was why we wanted to get a look...at..." His voice trailed away as it sank in.
"That," Grahart concluded, "is pretty much what I suspected."