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Kiraling – Part 19 (Chapter 117-123)

Written by anonxyzus :: [Friday, 15 May 2020 20:32] Last updated by :: [Saturday, 16 May 2020 20:38]

Chapter 117

Captain Moore and I decided to keep a side channel open on our secure phones for observations about Major Aldrich we didn’t want him to see. She was read in on the tap Kara had on his phone, but he was kept in the dark. It was a way to keep tabs on him.

We were getting live transmissions from him that we would compare to his debriefs, and they confirmed that Aldrich was being straight with us and following his instructions.

Mona was careful, she never discussed her other clients with Aldrich, and Kara instructed him not to ask her who they were. Rather, he was told to suggest meeting times with her, and if she told him a suggested time was bad, one of the blondes would be sure to be overhead at that time to see who came to her door.

Like I said, Aldrich was being careful, but he wasn’t stupid. One day we were monitoring his phone during one of his liaisons with Mona. We heard her leaving the room to open a bottle of wine, and suddenly, we saw pictures coming across from Aldrich’s phone of pages from her appointment book!

She used code names for all her clients, but knowing the dates and times she had appointments, for the next week was an intelligence coup. When Aldrich returned to the Pentagon the next day, he showed the pictures to Capt. Moore and she forwarded them on through the standard communication device.

The blondes worked out a schedule so that one of them would be able to monitor and then id whoever came to her door.

General Rosenthal was keeping the information compartmentalized. This was tricky. Under the agreement, Mona would be left to Kara. But, she was attempting to get confidential information, if not secret or Top Secret information, from individuals of the U.S. Government. And while no one, as far as we could tell, was consciously sharing secrets with her, she was stealing information. And that kind of thing was clearly under the jurisdiction of the FBI. By all rights, they should be read in and allowed to do their job.

This presented a dilemma. Aldrich’s access to Mona was important, and Rosenthal and Kara had promised him his infidelity would not be exposed. Kara kept her promises, and she would take a very dim view towards anyone breaking them. Informing the FBI of Mona’s activities would start an investigation, and everyone seeing her, including Aldrich, would be swept up.

No, this would be kept compartmentalized until Rosenthal and Kara decided it was time to act against Mona. And even then, it may be kept secret.

As for me, I was having the time of my life! For months I had been bored out of my skull with the drudge work Kara had given me. But now I had a front-row seat, and was participating, in an actual CI operation! It was very exciting.

As the next week progressed the blondes built up a list of men who were seeing Mona. They were all U.S. Government employees, and from a variety of agencies. And Mona had a very effective technique she would use to separate the men from their electronics: She’d either insist they take a shower when they arrived at her apartment, which, Sharon explained to me, was something escorts commonly did, or she’d work them hard enough that her offer to let them shower afterwards was accepted.

While they were in the shower, she’d carry out an ‘evil maid attack’ on their devices. She’d put a USB drive into their device and apparently upload something into it, or download something from it, or both. She always went for laptops and tablets, never phones, which was a relief, so Aldrich was safe. But that gave Kara an idea.

She gave General Rosenthal a laptop that had been built by humans from another planet, Kelsor, that could mimic a Windows computer. I don’t understand all the details, I’m not a computer guy, but it had some kind of hypervisor, according to Gloria, that mimicked Windows and insulated it from tampering, without tipping off the people attempting to tamper with it. Rosenthal had it loaded with all the security software a DoD machine carrying confidential data would be expected to have, then gave it to Aldrich. Rosenthal put a month’s worth of NATO dining facility menus on it. Encrypted of course. To this day I wonder what the Arions made of that.

Aldrich showed up with the laptop at his next appointment and told Mona he brought it in with him because if he lost it there would be hell to pay and he didn’t want to risk having it stolen if he left it in his car.

Sure enough, Mona subtly hinted that he needed a shower, and while he was taking it, she broke into his laptop. Sharon met Aldrich between Mona’s apartment and his home and brought the laptop back to my cabin.

This was all very cool, but I couldn’t figure out how the Kelsorians, or Kelsorites, or whatever they called themselves, had a copy of Windows. Were they Microsoft customers? Kara thought my questions and speculations were cute or funny or something, but she’d never answer my questions. She left me with the feeling, with not much to back it up, that the Supremis were not the only alien presence on our planet.

Something else happened during this time. The threat from the police to search my cabin rattled Kara, it wasn’t something she had anticipated. So she had the engineers from Kelsor back to disguise the door into my lair. That’s what I decided to call it. My lair. I was really looking forward to meeting these guys, but Kara wouldn’t let me. She made me leave the cabin and stay in a hotel in Bellingham for two days while they did their work. Nothing personal, she said. Some kind of rule the Kelsorians or Kelsorites had. When I came back, it was amazing. The door into the lair had just disappeared. I had to poke around to find the pad that opened the door; it was in the same place, but you couldn’t see it. Anyway, it still worked the same.

In the room outside the door they put shelves in to make it look like your standard basement.

While I was away Kara had also given the Kelsorites the laptop Aldrich used, and they gave her a report on the software that Mona attempted to inject into it. Apparently, it was very sophisticated, and Kara told General Rosenthal that after the CI operation against Mona ended all the laptops she had infected would have to be rounded up and destroyed. But now we knew her capabilities. Whatever she had on her magic USB drive could defeat the best encryption the U.S. Government had.

All in all, we had a better idea of who Mona was seeing, how she was accessing their laptops and tablets, and insight into her personal habits. For example, we knew she swept both her apartment and her honey pad, or hpad, that’s what I called it, twice a day for bugs. We knew she made contact reports when she returned to her apartment from her hpad.

Outside of her work, she didn’t seem to have much of a personal life. She went shopping for clothes fairly often. Sharon said that was a technique to keep men’s interest. Rotate through a wardrobe until she found what appealed to a given man the most and then dress that way for him going forward.

From what the blondes observed, Mona was a junkie for government reports, constantly scouring them for, we assumed, useful information. Based on the men she was seeing, and what General Rosenthal could tell us about them, I started looking for correlations, anything we could see that would tie Arion activity into the information she could get from these men. And I found something. Or, I should say, Xara found something.

Xara was working hard on repairing our relationship, so she was volunteering to help me with the work Kara had given me. And she noticed some suspicious trades in agricultural futures markets. And honest to God, I would not have seen them, they were subtle. Mona was seeing an analyst from the Department of Agriculture and downloading information from his laptop. Gen. Rosenthal was able to find out what the guy worked on, and Xara started seeing moves in futures markets that correlated with his visits with Mona. In one instance, we saw sales in winter wheat futures that occurred just before a government forecast came out that said the harvest would be poor.

Kara had someone from her organization (I still wasn’t meeting these people) follow the money trail, and it was tortured to say the least. This led Kara to believe that the Arions were financing their operations by laundering funds garnered from insider trading.

Chapter 118

It was clear that Xara deeply regretted injuring me. It was clear to me and everyone else. As my physical pain diminished, I found my mental and emotional pain diminishing too. One morning I woke up, she was there to help me with my stretching exercises, and it occurred to me that repairing a relationship is isn’t a solo activity, it takes two. I decided I needed to try. She had put a lot of effort and energy into me; it was time to put some back into her. I hadn’t asked her much about herself, how she was feeling, how school was going. Oh, like I said earlier, I asked her once or twice. It was time to show more of an interest in her life. Because… I wanted us to be good.

“Xara, when I asked about why you had to ‘center’ yourself on the moon, Sharon said you’d probably create some new craters.”

“I did Joe, not big ones. But the next time the far side of the moon is mapped in detail, someone’s going to notice it.”

“What exactly is involved in ‘centering’ yourself?”

“It isn’t too complicated Joe. It requires that you, and by you, I mean a Supremis, get in touch with your emotions and reconcile them with your strength and power.”

“How do you do that?”

“Meditation and physical exercises. Would you like to see?”

“Can you show me without turning my cabin into a smoking crater?”

“We’ll go somewhere else. Do you want to?”

“Sure, where will we go?”

“Alaska, but let’s have breakfast first.”

We were talking about it at breakfast and Gloria, who was continuing to stay with me in both medical and CI roles, just lit up with a smile. She told me later it made her happy to see me taking an interest in Xara again.

After breakfast Xara grabbed a half dozen eggs out of the refrigerator, she said they’d be used in the exercises. We went down to the basement, through the cool new secret door into my lair and I put on the motorcycle suit while Xara brought one of the pods into the access room. The one that leads to the lake. I should think of a name for that too.

Once we came out of the water Xara took a suborbital ballistic path to somewhere in the mountains of Alaska. It didn’t occur to me to ask exactly where we were, but it was in the middle of nowhere, which describes most of Alaska. When I got out of the pod, I could see we were in a rock field. There were a lot of large and small boulders strewn about.

I had carried the eggs with me. Xara went up to one boulder and smashed it into several fist size rocks. Then she went to another boulder and flattened the top so I’d have a place to sit.

Xara took the eggs from me and set them down on another large rock, then picked up one of the stones she made and tossed it into the air, then, before it came down, picked up an egg, then two more rocks. She was juggling one egg and three rocks.

“Usually I meditate for half an hour before doing this Joe, but I’m in a good enough place now that I don’t need to.”

As I watched, every time she caught a stone in her left hand, she’d crush it and drop the remains, but when the egg landed there, she caught it gently and then tossed it back into the air.

Then she reached down and picked up another egg, then four more rocks, so she was juggling four rocks and two eggs. She closed her eyes, and repeated the earlier process, until she’d destroyed all the rocks, then set each egg down gently.

“That’s amazing Xara! Did you take eggs to the moon with you?”

She laughed and said, “No, I did it all with rocks, but it’s the same thing. I have to be able to use my strength and power in such a way to accomplish my goal, but not hurt anyone in the process. And Joe, I am so sorry I hurt you.”

“I know you are Xara. And I’m in a good place now. I forgive you.”

The last syllable was barely out of my mouth when I felt Xara hit me with her body, wrap her arms around me and rotate us so she hit the ground and I landed on top of her, in a kiss.

“How did the craters come about? These rocks you used wouldn’t do that, even on the moon.”

“Oh, no. I used small rocks to avoid damaging the landscape. We’re in a National Monument. On the moon I used much larger rocks, most of them bigger than your car, a couple of them bigger than your cabin.”

When we got back to Bellingham Kara and Sharon were there, and they greeted us with warm hugs and kisses. I stepped back out of Kara’s embrace and asked, “What’s this about?”

She said, “Gloria called me and told me you were going on a field trip with Xara. We assumed,… were we wrong?”

And Xara said, “No mom, you aren’t! He’s forgiven me!”

Which brought about more hugging and kissing.

Kara took us all to dinner to celebrate. It struck me that this was a very big deal to the Supremis, all of them, including Gloria. I asked them about it. Gloria answered me.

“Do you remember when you gave me your bible to read?” she asked.

I nodded.

“It’s like that story in one of the chapters about the son who leaves home, then returns and his father welcomes him back with a big party.”

“The story of the Prodigal Son,” I said.

“Yes,” she said. “The family, our family, had a hole in it. And now that hole has been filled. You welcomed Xara back into your life and now our family is whole again.”

The blondes all nodded their agreement.

Chapter 119

Thanks to Major Aldrich, Kara had a copy of the software Mona used to break into and download information from supposedly secure laptops and tablets. And through direct observation, we knew who her clients were, at least her present clients. And from correlating market moves with client visits, we had an idea of the kind of information she was looking for and how she was using it. Or, more correctly, we knew what information she was getting.

Major Aldrich was her only client who had access to military information, and we were certain he had given nothing up. Her other clients had access to confidential information, but nothing that could compromise national security. That was utmost in General Rosenthal’s mind. Kara, on the other hand, wanted to understand the total scope of her operations, including who she was reporting to. Was her handler located on earth, or were her transmissions directed at a satellite or out into space? We didn’t know.

The time had come when we weren’t going to get any more intelligence about her operation surreptitiously. Kara determined that feeding her false information would not be productive. We could feed her some false data on oil production, and sit back and watch the Arions make bad financial decisions based on that information, but that would just be a temporary setback for them and might cause them to replace Mona. We had an excellent idea of the shell corporations the Arions were using and how they laundered their money, and we had records to prove it, or we could point to where the records were. Kara and General Rosenthal decided it was time to end our CI operation against her and turn her fate over to Kara.

The first thing Kara and General Rosenthal did was to meet with the FBI personnel who had been cleared to receive information from Kara, per the agreement. I prepared all our documentation and turned it over to them, with the understanding that they wouldn’t act on it until Kara had made her move.

I was grateful that the men Mona had compromised had been unwitting dupes. There were only two other clients who were like Major Aldrich. By that I mean strong, confident men with major responsibilities. The rest were nerds. None of them were traitors.

We were discussing how Kara would go about confronting Mona. It had to be at a place and time where there would be no witnesses or innocent bystanders. Kara wanted to keep her existence and mission confidential, of course, and there was no way of knowing how Mona might react, if given the chance. And Kara wanted to give her a chance, a chance to surrender herself. Though she had little hope that would happen, in which case she needed a time and place where she could quickly execute Mona and dispose of her body.

At that point in the discussion, Gloria presented a new option.

“Kara, I should approach Mona and attempt to turn her,” she said. Just like that. No explanation. So Kara asked for one.

“What are you thinking, Gloria?”

“I think if she is approached by an Arion, she is less likely to run or fight. If I can get some time with her, maybe I can convince her that dying for the Emperor is not her only option.”

“Gloria, what if she decides to fight?” I asked. “If she is trained in combat, or has a weapon, what risk does that present to you?”

“I am not an ordinary Beta, Joe. I am a Kella’Prime, I have been enhanced. I am much stronger than a Beta, quicker, and more resistant to injury. And I am most proficient in unarmed combat. She will be no threat to me.”

“I like the idea,” said Kara. “In my experience, when a Beta is confronted by a Protector, they attempt to fight or flee, and when apprehended and offered the chance to live, they decline it.”

“Mona will too,” said Gloria, “If she has a family she is loyal to. If the Empire suspects she defected it will be very hard on them.”

“Can we fake her death?” I asked.

“We can if she agrees to cooperate,” answered Kara. “But it would have to be convincing.”

“Suppose,” asked Gloria, “that she disappears, but we do not raid her apartments?”

“That would mean giving up any equipment and codes that would be there, said Kara. But it might be worth it to have a living Beta we could interrogate. Gloria, put together a plan. I want to see it in 48 hours.”

“Where would we put her mom?” asked Xara. “Gloria is the only Arion defector we’ve ever had, and she came here of her own volition. Are we going to let Mona live at our house?”

“No,” said Kara. “We’ll keep her here.”

Chapter 120

“This is my house,” I said. “Don’t I get any say? Let me rephrase that. I don’t want an enemy combatant under my roof.”

“Joseph,” said Kara, “if she willingly defects, she won’t be an enemy combatant.”

“What if she’s just trying to save her ass,” I countered. “She’d be a major security risk. And Gloria is the only Arion I’ve ever met who didn’t try to kill me.”

“Joe’s objection is valid,” said Gloria. “Until we are sure we can trust her we should keep a Supremis here.”

“I’ve practically moved in anyway,” said Xara.

“But you go to class,” I said.

“Joseph, we’ll keep Gloria here. And until we know we can trust her we never leave her here without one of us present. Can you live with that Joseph?”

“I will. I don’t want to, but I will. Do we let her into the lair?”

“Only if she proves trustworthy,” said Kara. “And how long are you going to be calling it ‘the lair’? she asked.

“Batcave was already taken,” I answered. “Until I can think of something I like better, it’s the lair.”

Janelle had relocated her office to a different building several blocks away from the original office. For her expanding medical practice, what she thought of as a veterinary practice, she needed more space. And the stairs to her old office presented an obstacle to the elderly and mothers carrying sick children. So she found a larger space at street level.

She had seen her last patient of the day, the sun had set, and she was going to the local pharmacist. She had an arrangement with him. He would order medical supplies for her, swabs, syringes, even some drugs, and she would pay him a premium to keep her out of his records. She liked this pharmacist. He approved of the way she took care of the patients who came to see her and they had built up a mutual respect.

This evening, as she walked into the pharmacy, she saw two rough looking men at the counter. The pharmacist handed them an envelope. She scanned the men and the envelope, they were armed, the envelope was full of cash. A significant amount of cash, at least for this pharmacist.

They looked her up and down as they passed her on the way out. She was used to that, these frails never saw truly beautiful women, so she paid them no heed. Except that she noticed that once they went through the door, they waited outside. She didn’t hear them walk away.

When she got to the counter, she gave the pharmacist the list of supplies she wanted him to order. As he was going over the list she asked him who those men were, and why he gave them so much money.

He didn’t question how she knew the contents of the envelope. Paying for protection was the rule in this neighborhood. He told her they were from one of the gangs, the gang that had jurisdiction for this neighborhood and they were picking up their weekly protection fees.

“Weekly? That is a great deal of money to give them every week!”

“Yes senorita, it is. But what can I do?”

Nothing, she thought. But maybe I can.

She walked out of the pharmacy and turned down the street. As she walked past a darkened doorway, she could hear the men’s heartbeats and smell them. She smiled to herself as she continued along. She wanted to lead the men away from the pharmacy so as not to implicate the pharmacist in what she was about to do. As they followed her, she gradually sped up. It looked like she was maintaining a comfortable walking pace, but the two gangsters found themselves walking faster and faster, almost jogging, to keep up.

She turned a corner into a dark alley and broke into a run, going about halfway down the alley and hid behind a dumpster. The two men turned the corner and began running. As they passed her, Janelle stepped out from behind the dumpster and said, “Are you gentlemen looking for me?”

They stopped and grinned and walked back towards her.

“Senorita, we want to make friends with you. Wouldn’t you like to be our friend?”

“Oh, I’d love to be your friend,” she answered. “Give me all the money you are carrying, and I’ll be the best friend you’ve ever had. If you give me the money, you get to leave this alley alive. But if you make me take it from you, I’m afraid you will never be seen again.”

The thugs thought that was hilarious. And they had an answer for her.

“Senorita, if you suck our cocks, and do a very good job, you get to walk out of her alive. Not unhurt, but alive. But if you make us take you, no one will ever see you again.”

“Well,” said Janelle, “it seems we are at an impasse.”

And then she walked up to them, put her hands against their chests, and pushed them into the brick wall behind them. She wasn’t being subtle. She didn’t calculate just the right amount of force. She just shoved them, hard. They hit the wall with a wet scrunching noise and collapsed to the ground, their backs broken, the back of their skulls crushed.

They were leaking blood, so Janelle gingerly went through their pockets and found the envelope the pharmacist gave them, and two more. Apparently, they had made other stops that evening.

Then, just as gingerly to avoid getting blood on her clothes, she picked their bodies up and deposited them into the dumpster. By lucky chance, the dumpster would be emptied into a garbage truck the next morning, their bodies would be taken to a dump, and buried under mounds of trash. Dumps stink, dead animals ended up in them all the time, so no one would ever think to look for their bodies there, and overnight rains took care of the blood Janelle left behind in the alley.

Janelle made her way back to the pharmacy and walked up to the counter.

“My friend,” she said, handing him the envelope, “here is your money back. If you are asked, say that you made your payment and don’t know where the men are who took your money.”

“Where are they senorita?”

“They went out with the trash,” she answered. “But let’s keep that between ourselves.”

She gave the pharmacist her phone number with instructions to call her the next time men came for the weekly payment and warned him to say nothing more about it to anyone.

Janelle returned to her office and put the other two cash envelopes into her safe, then called Miguel to drive her home.

The two gangsters weren’t missed for two days. Then men were sent out looking for them. They went to all the businesses on their route and found that they had made collections from three of them. But no one could remember or agree on the time they had arrived, except that it was late in the day, so they didn’t know where they had last been seen.

It was rare, but not unheard of, for low level gangsters to run off with whatever amount of cash they got their hands on. So feelers were put out to the surrounding towns to look for these men and report back when they had been found. They would eventually be found, and then they would be punished.

But they were never found, and soon they were forgotten.

Chapter 121

When Xara wasn’t in class or studying in the library or taking part in other campus activities she was at the cabin. After my recovery she still spent two to three nights a week at my place. She was there one evening when she got a call from the girl who lived next to her in the dorm. The police were there looking for her, and they left a card with a number for her to call.

She called the number and was transferred to the same detective who had interviewed all of us after my ‘accident’. He told her that Josh had been extradited from Canada to the United States and had been granted bail. He also told her that she might be called as a witness at his trial and it would be in her best interest to have no contact with Josh. She told him not to worry about that, she didn’t want anything to do with him.

“What would you testify about?” I asked her.

“Probably that he had asked me to travel to Vancouver and pick up a package for him,” she answered.

“Do you miss him Xara?” I asked.

She thought for a moment, then said, “No Joe, I don’t. I did at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that he was trying to groom me into his business. He made me think he loved me. But he didn’t.”

“Xara?”

“Yes Joe?”

“That night, you said you wanted me to fight for you. Why?”

“Because… because, as much as I liked Josh, even loved him, he wasn’t the friend you have always been to me. There was something missing, something he didn’t have that you do. And I wanted to know if you felt that way about me too. I want to know if you feel that way Joe.”

Now it was my turn to think for a moment.

“Xara, before I met you, the best friends I ever had were Johnson and Dixon. I miss them terribly and I think of them every day. Losing them left a big hole in my heart. A hole that you are filling.”

She hugged me.

Chapter 122

In the army, when we make a plan, we go into great detail. When you move men and equipment there are a surprising number of variables that must be accounted for. Details at the squad level, details at the platoon level, details at the company level, all the way up through battalion, brigade, division, and if the mission is large enough corps. That’s a lot of planning.

Here’s Gloria’s plan for turning Mona: Go to a restaurant she frequents, get her attention, get her to follow her out of the restaurant… then Mona defects. That part between restaurant and defection, the part made up of the three dots, seemed a little light on detail to me. Kara too.

“Gloria, how are you going to get her to follow you out of the restaurant?” I asked.

“Once she sees me,” said Gloria, “she’ll recognize me as an Arion. She will assume I am there to see her about something important and she will follow me.”

“Okay,” I said. “That sounds reasonable. What happens when she leaves the restaurant?”

“I will reveal myself as a Kella’Prime with important information to impart to her. I will tell her we have to go to a secure meeting place. Then I will drive her somewhere.”

“Where?” asked Kara.

“I was considering one of the many parks or monuments in the area.”

“That won’t be contained enough,” said Sharon.

“I’ll talk to Rosenthal,” said Kara, “about getting the house we took Aldrich too.”

“Why not just give her the address and tell her to meet you there?” I asked.

“We don’t want her to have time or opportunity to contact her superiors,” said Gloria.

We settled on a plan. Gloria would fly D.C. From their surveillance the blondes knew which restaurants Mona favored. They would surveil her and let Gloria know when she was on the move and vector her into Mona’s location.

Gloria would get her attention and Mona would follow her. That seemed like a bit of a leap to me, but the blondes agreed that a Beta, working undercover alone, would react the way Gloria said she would.

Gloria would tell her she was there to take her to a meeting at a secure location. Once at the cabin, Gloria would tell her that her cover had been blown and she could surrender herself and submit to interrogation or she could die, right there, at Gloria’s hands.

“That sounds harsh,” I said.

“It’s the kind of language they understand,” said Kara.

I had misgivings about this. The last time I saw Kara capture Arion Betas it did not end well for them. I asked her why Mona would be any different.

“It’s a matter of gender and sex,” she said. “Betas are oppressed in the Arion Empire. They live under the thumb of the Primes and there are no laws that protect them. This falls hardest on the males, and male Betas, having Arion sized egos, lash out at weaker beings, Terrans especially. And they lash out at Terran women, which usually means rape, and often means death.

“The females are different. They don’t have as much of an ego problem. They aren’t as likely to lash out. A male Beta, put here to seduce females, would be less likely to be a successful as Mona.”

Still, I wasn’t convinced. Kara talked like the choices for Mona were defect or die. What if she picked a third way, prisoner of war? What is the duty of a POW? To escape, or failing that, force their captors to expend as much resource as possible to keep the captives under control. I know it doesn’t say that in the Military Code of Conduct, but that’s the way it is. I didn’t want a POW living in my house.

Gloria and the blondes left. Kara took a pod with Gloria in it, Xara took an empty pod for Mona, if she decided to live instead of die. I was left alone, in my cabin, for the first time in months.

Chapter 123

I was working in my lair. I’d just finished a session with the Deep Teach machine when I heard my alarms go off. I checked a monitor and saw a car pull into my driveway and park behind Xara’s car. She had left it here while she was away dealing with Mona. I saw two men get out and start looking at Xara’s car.

I ran upstairs to my room and got my Ruger. Right then the doorbell rang. I picked up the special remote control and pushed the button that bolted all the doors and windows closed. I went to the door and pushed the intercom button.

“Can I help you?” I asked.

“We’re here to see Danni,” one of them replied.

“Why do you want to see her?”

“It’s private.”

“Danni isn’t here.”

“Her car’s here.”

“She isn’t.”

“Where is she?”

“That’s private.”

“Look man, just get Danni. Get her now or we’re coming in.”

“Just a minute,” I said.

I thought about calling 911, or that detective, but decided that they might want to know where Xara is, so I discarded that plan. I decided to fake it.

“I’ve called 911. The police are on their way.”

That resulted in a string of expletives.

“Hey, calm down,” I said, “when the cops get here, we can all work this out. Oh, before I forget, my security camera got a good look at your license plate number.”

This resulted in more expletives, and threats. I don’t react well to threats. I didn’t know who these guys were, or what their stories were, but I know for a fact that I’m a trained killer, and I’m good at it. But I thought better of it, Kara wouldn’t be happy if I went after these guys. Besides, my M4 was downstairs in the armory. So I tried to stay calm, though, I did see Dixon and Johnson for a few moments. They were pissed off too.

“Hey guys,” I said, “no need to get nasty. I bet the cops are almost here. You can talk to them about it when they get here.”

More expletives and threats then they went to their car and drove away, fast.

After I was sure they were gone, I opened the garage door. The garage was designed large so as to have storage space. It isn’t really a two-car garage, more like a one and three quarter car garage. But two Priuses? I bet I could make them fit.

So I went out to the garage and brought all the wine in, then put the yard tools on the deck and covered them with a tarp. Then I backed my car out of the garage and drove back in, moving it to one side as far as I could and still get out the door.

Xara had left her keys with me, so I drove her car into the garage next to mine. But there wasn’t enough space left to open the door and get out, so I backed out of the garage, turned the car off, put it in neutral, and pushed it back in. I put a couple of blocks in front of and behind one of the rear tires so it wouldn’t roll. Then went inside and closed the garage door. If those guys came back, they’d think Xara had left.

I lowered all the shutters. Then I went downstairs and got the M4, checked it, grabbed three magazines, and took it upstairs. I slept with it next to my bed. Around 2 am the security system alarm woke me up. I checked my cameras; the same car was back. This time it didn’t stop, it turned around and drove away. Evidently assuming Xara was not here because her car was gone.

In the morning Aldrich made an appointment with Mona for 1830 that day. Then at 1820, as instructed, he called her and canceled it. Mona came out of the apartment building her honey pad was in and headed down the sidewalk. Though she had excellent trade craft which would guarantee she would discover anyone following her, she didn’t count on Sharon above communicating with Gloria below. Gloria never came within site of Mona until she entered a restaurant and was seated.

Gloria waited outside for a few minutes, to give Mona time to get seated, then entered the restaurant. She stepped around the Maître D’ and lined herself up so all Mona would have to do was look up. Mona had positioned herself so she could see the entrance, as was her habit. Good trade craft. And when she did glance up, she caught sight of Gloria, looking at her with those blue eyes that could only belong to an Arion.

Gloria made a slight ‘come here’ move with her head, then left the restaurant and waited on the sidewalk.

Mona got up from her table and headed out, heart pounding. If Near Earth Command had sent someone to make physical contact with her, something particularly important must be going on. Otherwise they would have communicated with her electronically. Had she been compromised? Were her communications no longer secure? She saw Gloria on the sidewalk and turned towards her. As she did, Gloria turned and began walking down the street. Watching Gloria, Mona realized she was running a surveillance detection route. That meant she thought she might be being followed, so Mona began using her trade craft skills to look for surveillance. She never saw any. She wasn’t looking up.

After walking for nearly an hour, doubling back, going down alleys, Gloria finally came to a car. Mona saw her get in the driver side, then reach over and open the passenger door. Mona approached the car on the right and got in.

As Gloria pulled into traffic, Mona was so worried that she forgot to exchange identification phrases with the Arion next to her.

“Look out for surveillance,” Gloria said.

“Where are we going, why are you here?” asked Mona.

“Look for surveillance. All your questions will be answered.”

“Have I been found out? Do the Terrans know about me? Or Protectors?”

“Do as you’re told,” said Gloria. “Don’t worry about anything except making sure we aren’t being followed.”

Gloria drove a complicated SDR, which convinced Mona that someone must be looking for her. When they left the city and pulled onto a rural highway, Gloria looked in her mirrors and said, “I think we’re clear.”

“Where are we going?” Mona asked again.

“To a safe house,” said Gloria. “I’ll explain everything when we get there.”

They arrived at the ‘safe house’ and Gloria stopped the car and said, “We’re going inside.”

Mona followed her into the house. When they got inside Gloria turned on the lights.

“Sit down Mona.”

Mona sat down.

“Do you know what I am?” Gloria asked her.

“A Kella’Prime is my first guess,” answered Mona.

“That’s right. I’m a Kella’Prime. Do you know who I answer to?”

“Someone at Near Earth Command, I suppose,” said Mona.

“I haven’t had a chance to look at your personnel records. Do you have family?”

“I do.”

“Are you and your family close?”

This question made Mona more nervous than she already was. This Kella’Prime was looking for leverage against her.

“I have an uncle,” she said. “We are not close. I do not care for him, for personal reasons.”

“Good,” said Gloria, “there is hope for you.”

“I don’t understand,” said Mona. I haven’t understood anything since I first saw you.”

“Mona, it is important that you stay calm.”

She wasn’t calm, and she knew the Kella’Prime in front of her knew that.”

“I will try,” she said.

“The Velorian Protector of this world has had you under surveillance for several months.”

Mona gasped.

Gloria went to a nearby table and picked up a sheet of paper and gave it to Mona. It was a printout of the photos Aldrich had taken of her appointment book.

Gloria said, “Major Aldrich provided this information to the Protector.”

Mona began trembling, so badly she dropped the sheet of paper. The Velorians had discovered her. They’d planted an agent, Aldrich, who spied on her. NEC was blaming her. This Kella’Prime was here to kill her.

Gloria could see that Mona was rattled, and afraid. But was she rattled enough and afraid enough? Gloria walked over to her, bent down, right in Mona’s face and said, “Your security lapses revealed you to the Velorians. They know who you’ve been meeting with. They know your methods. You gave them a copy of highly classified software when you installed it on Aldrich’s computer. Do you know what the punishment is for these transgressions?”

Mona could only nod.

“Tell me little Beta, do you want to die?”

“No.” She could barely get it out.

“Do you want to live?”

“Yes.” She was on the verge of tears.

“You have a choice to make,” said Gloria. “Die in disgrace or leave the Empire and live.”

“What?” Mona was confused. She didn’t understand what Gloria was telling her.

“Have you been a faithful servant of the Empire?”

“Yes! Yes, I have!”

“And how do you expect the Empire to reward you once they discover your operation has been broken apart by the Velorians?”

Mona was so shaken she didn’t pick up on the implication that NEC did not know she had been compromised.

“I expect to be tried and executed. And if you’re here, that means I’ve already been found guilty.”

“Is that just?” asked Gloria.

“No,” admitted Mona.

“I can offer you a way out. I can save your life.”

“By leaving the Empire? How do I do that? Where can I go that they won’t find me?”

“The Velorians can protect you,” answered Gloria.

“The Velorians? They’d just as soon kill me.”

At that moment Kara, Xara and Sharon entered the room. They’d been listening from one of the bedrooms. Mona screamed, but didn’t attempt to flee.

“No,” said Kara. “If you cooperate, I will not kill you.”

Mona was shaken, she was afraid, but she was still able to think. She knew she couldn’t escape the Velorians. And if she did, where would she go? If she reached out to NEC, she would come under suspicion. If NEC found out she had been compromised… she didn’t want to think about that. Arion executioners were exceptionally good at inflicting maximum pain before their victims succumbed to death. So she sat there in shocked silence as Kara laid out her only choice to live.

Kara said, “If you want to live, you must turn your back on the Empire. You must cooperate with me. You must work with me to keep this planet out of the hands of the Empire. The alternative is death.”

Gloria added, “Not death at her hands, we’ll release you to the Empire with a list of your failures.”

That part was a bluff. Kara wouldn’t do that. Mona now knew that there were three Velorians on Terra, plus a Kella’Prime. She wasn’t going to give up that secret just to avoid executing an Arion spy.

Everyone was quiet now. They waited while Mona decided what to do. They could see the inner battle taking place in her mind reflected in her facial expressions. Xara almost felt sorry for her, until she remembered what the Arions had done to Eric, right in front of her.

“You will protect me from the Empire?” she asked.

“Yes,” said Kara, “I give you my word.”

Mona thought about this. As much as the Empire hated Velor and accused the Velorians of vile crimes, those who had actual experience with them knew they were more merciful than the Empire.

“I accept your offer,” she said.

“Very well,” said Kara. “Be warned though, if you betray me, I will make you wish I’d turned you over to your Arion superiors.”

Mona nodded.

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