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chapter seven
Part Three

Coombs 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 Finnegan 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.

She smiled, trying to look calm but it came across as grimace and rather more threatening than she intended. "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?" he said.

"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."

* * *

Coombs exited the room and turned to Ticinovic, "See what I mean. Short of hitting him over the head with a frying pan I can't imagine him ever getting it."

James Ticinovic continued to look through the view wall as Finn rose, and with the manners of another time, slid the chair forward flush to the table, militarily. "What do you think his problem is?"

Coombs looked at his file again, "He believes in the system."

Ticinovic continued to watch as Finn proceeded out the far door. "Poor bastard."

* * *

"They're going for the death penalty?"

Jose Nazir shrugged an affirmative at his colleague, while internally enjoying some mirth at her reaction. No doubt she thought this turn would protract the news cycle. "Don't get excited Dawn, they've got enough to wrap this up in a day, two-days tops."

Dawn Legato, the hot 'field face' for the highly rated NewsNet 7, didn't see it that way. "The bar for a death sentence is 'beyond a shadow of a doubt', you think that won't slow things down?"

Nazir shook his head, "They confiscated fifteen Reznay feeds of this Frohman fellow in the act. They even know how fast his heart-rate was going when he pulled the trigger."

Dawn slumped in her seat at their station in the Media Room. Second stringers were filling the airtime with pundit interviews, which sent the ratings bar plummeting. Who cared what these idiots thought, everyone had an opinion and most people long ago realized they were often just as knowledgeable on the subject at hand as the yabos willing to sit before a Network Float-Cam.

Nazir sat forward suddenly intent on another display, "Twelve's got a spike!"

Dawn glanced over at NewsNet 12, their primary rival. Their 'face' was talking to Vid-Star Celeste Etoille about the events at Baden-Baden. Dawn grimaced, Celeb yakking was pure bottom of the barrel stuff, and it bugged her that it always worked.

She cringed when she heard the first question asked Celeste: who had designed her outfit, as though anyone watching couldn't see the Phendo™ logo on the yoke of her blouse. How much were they paying Channel 12 for that product placement?

The worst part was that she could already hear Net 7's owners reaming each other out for not doing the same thing. Etoille was a coupe, and generating revenue during a news story was the high-art of broadcasting.

Dawn had to find some real news to report or this was going ripple down the entire bandwidth.

* * *