CHAPTER NAVIGATION BAR
TALES OF BUFFALO COMMONS
" GUILT "
Coombs walked into the mid-room. A narrow hall between all the meeting rooms that allowed first hand observance of the proceedings of each, comfortably behind one way viewing walls, of course! * * *
She looked at the second room; Finnegan was sitting there, alone and serene, almost meditative. Why couldn't she figure him out, he shouldn't be that complicated, he's just an Astral?
She turned to Ticinovic, “Where was he?”
James took a deep breath in and shook his head slowly, “Out running.”
“Running?” She was surprised, that was a pretty unusual thing to be doing after having a front row seat for a murder.
“A team found him on a civic track half way across town. Old school track. He was pushing it too, took them a while to catch up.”
She looked through the view wall again at Finnegan. His brow was furrowed, he wasn't meditating, he was deep in thought. And angry, perhaps he was fuming over being brought in, but why would he be running right after an assassination?
Her team had managed to interview everyone else present at the crime. They'd have filed the report by now if he hadn't drifted off. She made a note of that, next time start with those closest to the event.
Coombs reached for the door but Ticinovic stopped her with a word and held out a display. She took it and looked at the screen, it soured her mood immediately, “No!”
“Recruitment?" She jabbed her arm out dramatically pointing to Finnegan, "You want to recruit this guy?”
“Like candy.” It was the latest slang for something that you had to have. Coombs hated slang.
She looked through the view wall again. “Not this guy! C'mon!”
“You haven't read his report lately, have you?”
Coombs had read it. She'd done a cursory review of everyone Ethan picked for his team, just to make sure. This one was nothing special. A stand-up guy, very sound, great to give orders to if you wanted something done, by-the-book at least. But 'ghost ops'? No way. “He's not creative enough.”
“Read his file.” Ticinovic stepped forward and pointed to one particular item on the display, “His solution to a HALO drop has them re-writing the Covert Ops manual. Tell me that's not creative.”
She glanced through it. What Finnegan had done was quick witted, workable and creative. More importantly he did it to avoid detection. All the right mix of things they wanted for a 'ghost'. She looked up at him, he still hadn't moved. She shook her head. “No, not this guy.”
Then James made the sale. “Browning thinks he'd be good for RedStar.”
Now she understood. Yeah, his file was nearly tailor made for RedStar. Coombs nodded and then paused the display, sliding it under her arm as she reached for the door again and toggled it open.
Finn's head barely tilted as the door opened and She entered. He watched with a casual disinterest as this vaguely familiar woman glided to the seat opposite him and sat at the table. He continued to watch while she appeared oblivious to his presence entirely, focusing her undivided attention on the standard sized Display that she was carrying.
This is how things remained for what rapidly seemed to approach an eternity, and just as Finn shifted his weight in the chair, licked his lips and prepared to ask her if he could leave, she spoke, “How long have you known Frohman?”
Finn paused, he considered her question, and then in a rare, glib moment of indulgence responded playfully, “Can any of us really 'know' one another?”
She wasn't amused. The gravity of the situation descended heavily on him. He cleared his throat and nodded his head gently before responding, “I've known the Major just shy of six years.”
She nodded back at him without taking her eyes from the display, “He's been a mentor to you hasn't he?”
“He was the first one in Green to accept me when I transferred over.”
It took her a second to understand that, she looked at Finnegan's file, flipping back the six or more years looking for the event. Ah, the Farside Incident; that bit of cold war activity that broke the careers for seven of the Network's best pilots. That Finnegan was involved was a surprise to Coombs, she hadn't known.
She thought about that a moment, Finnegan would have been dejected, his career on the ropes, recently shifted to a branch of the service lacking any prestige, lonely and abandoned, it made Finnegan exactly the sort of target someone like Major Frohman could corrupt.
She looked up at him, “Did he warn you ahead of time he was going to shoot MacPherson?” Not 'the General', she referred to him by just his last name.
Finn was in shock, his jaw dropped as his eyes popped and when he shook it off his mood soured quickly. "No. Of course not." The room was much colder now.
"Let me rephrase that, did you have any reason to think Major Frohman was incompetent?"
"Before he shot the General?" He wasn't trying to be difficult, but something told him to very careful with what he said to this one.
"No. I did not."
"Then," she started and paused as she shifted in her seat, leaning forward to add weight to her next statement, "Why were your hands in motion before he fired?"
Frankly he wasn't aware that they had been. "What?"
She motioned to one of her portable displays, "We have the reports from numerous eye-witnesses, and Rezney quality feeds from more than fifteen different angles that clearly show you were reaching for Frohman's gun before he fired."
Finn stiffened; he looked down trying to remember the exact sequence of events. He didn't recall even seeing Ethan, just the gun. "It was out of context," he said.
Coombs cocked her head to one side, "What do you mean by that?"
"The gun was in a place where it did not belong. We were at a diplomatic conference; our jobs were to protect people from guns. When I saw the weapon I lunged for it."
She leaned forward in her seat, "Without knowing who held it?"
"Correct." He said plainly.
Coombs sat back in her chair again, mulling this over. "You were more than a metre away from Frohman."
It wasn't a question; it was a statement of fact. Finn acknowledged it. "About two and a half metres, yes."
"So Major Frohman could've seen something that was a threat to the General. He could've been reacting to something you couldn't see from your position. Could he not?"
"Theoretically, yes." But surely she couldn't be that interested in theory.
"So he could have been bringing his gun up to save the General."
"But he wasn't." Finn interjected.
"But theoretically, he could have."
The reply from him was a frustrated, "I suppose." These sort of hypotheticals wore on his patience quickly.
She had a growing smile now, like someone enjoying the act of tearing legs off a helpless insect, "And you would've stopped that?"
Finn tone grew grim at the reminder of his failure, "If I'd been faster, yes."
Coombs digested that a moment, "All those years training and working with the guy and yet you lunged at his weapon the first chance you had."
There was a simple answer, Finn gave it, "It was out of context."
She was getting bored now, "So you keep saying."
Finn bristled at this. What was she getting at? He asked her.
Now it was her turn to lick her lips as she considered what to say. "It's just a question that keeps nagging at me. Why a junior officer would reach for a gun being wielded by his senior. They train you against that. Constantly. And particularly when you worked so closely with the guy. It just hints at a..." she seemed lost for words, her hands wafting in the air before her as if to conjour them.
Finn suddenly realized what she was trying not to say, "Are you suggesting I was part of some sort of conspiracy?"
She looked at him frankly, "The thought had occurred to me, Leftenant."
Finn tightened, it was a natural response to threat and one he was simply unaware of doing. "I shan't speak further without an Advocate present."
Coombs waved that thought off, as though it were a mist. "Leftenant, no one is accusing you of anything. It's just a question that will be asked and my job to explore."
"An Advocate, if you please." She didn't flinch, he continued with a tone of determination, "I shan't sit here and let you railroad me into something I had no fore knowledge of. I want an Advocate. Now!"
She flopped back in her chair, the first ungraceful move she'd made in this meeting, possibly the first one she made ever. She couldn't tell him that they couldn't call an advocate in for a meeting that technically wasn't happening. She could reveal they were off-the-record in a society that wasn't suppose to have an off-switch. She needed to re-direct this.
"Relax, Leftenant. We know you weren't aware Frohman was going to kill MacPherson."
Finn cut her off, "Major Frohman and General MacPherson, Please!"
Coombs leaned back. He was quite forceful, and she could see, quite rigid. She understood his respect for the dead, but to continue referring to his killer as Major was something else entirely. She glanced over at the view wall wishing she could see Ticinovic and get a signal. For her this interview was over, but she knew what was expected of her and soldiered on.
"The one benefit of having all those Reznay's present is that we have full bio-metrics of you. You're particulars were too even for someone pre-aware of an assassination."
"Then why ask?" He was hostile now, on edge. Exactly where she wanted him.
She leaned back and let a slight curl, the merest hint of a grin, creep up one side of her mouth, "It's just something we have to do, to be thorough."
Finn nodded warily, "I see."
Another pause, then, "Do you miss flying, Leftenant?"
Finnegan was beginning to wonder if his interrogator was medicated. She seemed to be floating all over the conversational map, without benefit of transitions. "I'm sorry?"
"You were at the pinnacle of your career as a pilot, and now you muck about, fighting hand-to-hand. Do you miss flying?"
Finn shrugged, "Sometimes." Truth was, while the actual flying was very relaxing, the lead up and take down time that bracketed the function provided a level of tediousness that was frequently mind-numbing and over-compensated for the thrill. He found that wasn't the case being an Astral. Here even the preparation for a mission provided an odd stimulating relaxation, while the mission itself usually provided an abundance of thrill.
She glanced at the display again, his file, "I see you keep your licenses up."
"In my line of work it never hurts to be prepared."
She nodded. That was true, and a positive sign. "In any of your training did you prepare for the recovery of a craft behind enemy lines?"
"Yes. They're called TRAP missions."
"Traps?" She'd never heard that term before.
"Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel. We train for them with some regularity, as Astrals that is."
This surprised Coombs. Astrals were specialized Ground Troops, the thought they would prepare for recovery of an aircraft was something she'd never considered, "And you fly the planes out?"
Finn was surprised at that question. "No. If the craft were flyable the pilot wouldn't need our services."
"So what happens to the vehicle?"
"We rig them with charges and use the explosion to cover our exit."
She deflated, "So the Pilot is your prime target?"
"Ensuring the vehicle does not get into enemy hands is equally important."
Coombs considered this, trying to come up with a different track of approach. Finn was confused by this sudden direction and increasingly suspicious of where he was being led.
Feeling out the scenario she weakly offered, "What if the plane was flight worthy?"
That didn't make sense, "Flight worthy but behind enemy lines?" he asked.
"Yes." She said hopefully.
Finn was intrigued now, as an intellectual arguement this was stimulating, "How did it get there?"
Coombs leaned forward, herself confused, "What does it matter?"
He didn't let go, the concept begged questions and Finn wanted answers, "On a mission like that, these details can be critical. For example, why did the pilot leave his plane behind?"
She didn't have an answer for that. She frowned, returning his gaze. There was an answer but how to share it without giving too much away. She shrugged, deciding it wasn't possible and then chose to do something she knew would get her in trouble, she told the truth. "Maybe it isn't ours."
Now Finn was very confused, there was only one reason he could think of. "Are we talking theft?"
He wasn't getting it and Coombs knew she couldn't put all the cards on the table without further approval. Approval that wouldn't come because, despite all his skills, Senior Leftenant Sean Mitchell Finnegan just didn't have a flexible enough mind for espionage. At least that was how Coombs planned to write it up in her report.
"It was just a hypothetical, Mister Finnegan. I now see the flaws in it. Forget I mentioned it."
Finn wouldn't forget it. How could one forget the weirdest conversation they've ever had. Coombs gathered her things and rose. As she walked for the door she spoke without looking back, "You're free to go Leftenant, with the Network's thanks."
* * *