"You're starting to sound like Gowan," Ryland said over the link.
"That would make you the first male in history to complain because his female partner is talking less," Lyon replied. "Or does that only apply to romances? I wouldn't think so, since feminine interpersonal relationships tend to be based more on verbal communication while men prefer non-verbal interaction, but—"
"I officially apologize."
"I thought you would."
"What's he doing?"
"Buying coffee. Looks like he's going for a table."
Leeson's was a storefront only, without seating, but chairs and tables were set across the shopping arcade against the overlook.
"All right; we'll take him from both sides, and try to minimize the risk to bystanders."
He was just sitting down when Ryland approached the table.
"Ryland, right? How's—"
"Don't get up. Nils Vandsen, you're under arrest for the murder of Arca Braden."
"Don't try anything," Lyon snapped from behind the Hunter, her railgun pointed at his head. Passerby began to shrink away from the sight of the drawn weapon, staring wide-eyed at the live drama being played out in front of them.
"What, like I have someplace on this ship to run to? It's not like I can hang out Downtown, and if I have to be arrested I'd rather it be by fellow hunters than some army goons." He raised his hands slowly.
"All the same, you're a tricky fellow. I'll feel safer if you're in cuffs."
"Suit yourself." Vandsen didn't fight as Ryland linked his wrists with plasmarings. "Running or fighting'd just be proof of guilt, and there's no way you have evidence proving I'm some kind of terrorist."
"You're right; I don't. You murdered Braden for entirely personal reasons."
Ryland sat down across the table from Vandsen. Lyon put away her gun and shooed off the audience with a sweeping glare of her blank, irisless blue eyes.
"Revenge," the Force said. "She killed Rich Deacon, so you killed her."
"Rich died on a job."
"He did. A job she assigned to him. A job with no objective that could be accomplished, with no data in the Administration's system which suggests that there was anything to do." Kohlfield had verified that upon their return from the Seabed. He'd been so aggravated by his perceived lack of trust that he'd had Irene root up Tyrell's personal access to the files and still found no hidden flags. "In short, a job Braden made up from whole cloth for the sole purpose of getting Rich Deacon killed in action. You'd have had to be Red Ring Rico to survive that section of the Seabed alone. If that isn't murder, then I don't know what you'd call it."
"Things went bad between them?" Lyon surmised.
"Bad?" Vandsen said. "Yeah, you could say they went bad. For a few months they were all lovey-dovey, but then it went wrong, really wrong." He turned to Ryland. "You know how it is, when you can't stand someone, but you can't tear yourself away, either? I told him, just walk away and leave it be, man, but he couldn't, and neither could she. It's like, y'know, it wasn't good enough to just break up, they both had to win...whatever it was."
Lyon nodded. Her own personality matrix provided for quite a few true-to-life irrational behaviors based upon emotional considerations, though murder was not among them. In that way, she was more aware of what she might be capable of than Ryland, who had only his past experience to draw upon and an organic's imperfect understanding of his own mind.
"Well, at one point she threatened to blackball him from getting any more jobs from the government, maybe even file with the Guild to try and have his A-rank status pulled."
Ryland understood at once what that meant. "No Ragol access."
"Right. For his part, Rich threatened to tell the Administration that she was showing favoritism in hiring based on her personal life—giving better jobs to hunters she dated, that kind of thing. That might have been what did it, what made her decide to kill, or maybe it was something else—I don't know. It's not like she talked to me about it."
"But it was murder just the same," Ryland prompted.
"Yeah. Rich was stupid to take that job, but y'know, stuff happens. Then the delivery guy brought those chocolates from her and I—I just knew, knew Rich wasn't going to come back. Sure enough, he didn't."
"And you decided you couldn't let that stand."
Vandsen looked at him for a long moment. Thus far he hadn't actually admitted guilt. At best, he'd admitted motive, but nothing that said he'd acted upon it. Lyon could almost see the struggle going on in his mind, caution telling him to stay quiet and hope the hunters didn't have any real evidence warring against the psychological pressure to talk, to vent some of the emotional tension that had been powerful enough to make him kill.
It was caution that lost. Vandsen was a fighter, a killer in battle but not by nature.
"He was my best friend, Ryland. We'd shared a res-unit since we left Coral, we'd worked together on jobs, watched each other's backs. You're a hunter, you know what I mean."
"Yes," Ryland said, his gaze turning to Lyon. "Yes, I think I do."
She managed to keep the surprise from showing in her face, the desire not to disturb the rhythm of the conversation winning out over openly reflecting her emotional response, but surprised she was. Ryland considered their friendship important enough that he could imagine herself committing murder out of revenge if she'd been killed?
Oddly, she found it touching.
"I couldn't just leave it alone. I thought and thought about it for a week and a half, until I came up with an idea. It was perfect. It had ironic symmetry—on two levels, besides—and I thought it gave a pretty good chance for me to get away with it, too. I might have been willing to die for Rich, but I wasn't willing to die for that bitch Braden if I could help it."
"It fooled the milipol. Then again, it was a crime only a hunter could have committed, so it probably had to be a hunter to solve it. Soldiers don't work with Mags, so they don't really understand what they're about. You used Deacon's, I assume; it loved its master and was willing to go along with your idea. You can't really talk to them, but it could sense your emotions and get the idea of who you liked—and hated."
"Yeah. They're smarter than we think. I hear Dr. Montague's even made an android that can talk to them—really talk, I mean, in words and like that."
"Elenor," Ryland agreed. "But how did you get it to charge up a Photon Blast? I thought it was impossible to keep one charged when teleporting back into the Photon-suppressed environment of the Guild areas."
"It is. I charged it right in my own room. I linked with it, then I just shot myself in the leg, then healed up with a monomate, then shot myself again...after a couple of dozen times, it was all ready to go."
Ryland winced, imagining Vandsen doing that.
"It worked, though. A Mag isn't a weapon or explosive, so it didn't trigger the security scanners, and a Photon Blast doesn't damage inanimate matter so you knew the blast would be contained, not punch through the walls to take out someone next door but be sure of killing Ms. Braden."
"It was perfect, almost like the damage she hit Rich with came back against her. And of course, I had to deliver it on White Day. Her chocolate to Rich gave me a nice, sentimental-sounding excuse to send a package to her, but there was more to it. On White Day, after all, you're supposed to give back to the people who gave to you on Valentine's Day."
"Yeah. I guess Deacon must have been a polite guy, since he returned what he got," Lyon remarked. It drew a faint smile from Vandsen.
"I have one last question," Ryland said. "How did the Mag get out of the residence? The milipol search teams didn't find one."
"It waited around for them to show up, then snuck out in one of their packs."
"Smart little guy."
"Yeah, it is."
No one said anything for a long moment, until Lyon asked softly, "Was it worth it?"
Vandsen appeared to seriously consider the question.
"I'll tell you what. When I get to the other side, I'll ask Rich and Braden what they think."
~X X X~
Romance gone sour and violent death were always big sellers, and details of the arrest in the "White Day Detonation" were all over the online news broadcasts. The talking head who'd replaced Nol Rinale on InfoNet reported the facts with ghoulish detail. Lyon and Ryland watched for a while, then walked away from the kiosk and headed down the arcade.
"I'm surprised InfoNet knows what to do with itself," Lyon said cynically. "They're so used to reporting that the latest conspiracy was only a personal matter I don't know how they're dealing with news where they can actually broadcast the truth."
"Krone's happy. Now that the crime has a face and a story, no one's even mentioning Diamond Drive Deliveries any more except as our employer. The Administration's not too happy one of their own was caught in a scandal, but at least it's a personal scandal, not a political one. And of course, they score points off the military with the "hunters did in two days what you couldn't do in two weeks" sense. Principal Tyrell likes that, because it supports his policy of having the Guild handle Ragol rather than turning the investigation over to the military."
"Even though the murderer was also a hunter?"
"One rogue individual driven to extremes—and, it may be noted, one who competently and efficiently accomplished his chosen task."
Lyon shrugged. It made a weird kind of sense.
"Laleham, I'm guessing, isn't too happy with us, though."
"Fit to chew nails," Ryland agreed. "He understands it's our job, but it doesn't make him happy. Of course, he's probably madder at his own military superiors. Politics had nothing to do with the case, and it still completely fouled up his investigation. You can't fight crime that way."
"Well, the military is supposed to work for the government, not be a rival to it. Too bad there's no one with both strength and integrity to run it any more."
"Yeah, too bad."
"But like you said, this was a crime only a hunter could really be expected to solve."
She considered saying something pithy about the romantic tragedy of it all, but estimated there was a 43.9% chance that this would prompt a wisecrack of some kind. That was far too high a risk. Besides, as the storefronts with their Easter displays clearly showed, the romance season had passed by until next year.
At least for those who, unlike Rich Deacon and Arca Braden, had managed to understand that the line between love and hate, while easily crossed, was still as distinct as day and night.