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chapter seven
Part Four

Coombs looked around 'The Terraces', another bar, this one well camouflaged as a Lounge. She frowned; there sure were lots of lonely people in the world and she was fast becoming one of them. The view beyond was nice though, the calming sunset was a good counterpoint to the general mood in the building, which was still abuzz with the events of recent days.

She turned, waiting for the contact to arrive. Considering the contact had begged for this meeting Coombs wondered why she was still waiting. The Chillhambra™ she had been sipping was almost gone and her liver protested the idea of another.

Coombs swiveled back to facing the bar as her contact pulled up beside her. It was unusual for her to be approached by someone without noticing them ahead of time, and to protect her reputation she refrained from reacting with anything more than a calm, "So, what can I do for you?"

"The usual."

That was a tall order. Coombs leaned back to get a better look at her guest. "You're kidding, right?"


Coombs frowned, "This isn't the sort of thing we can spin."

Dawn looked at her, "I know that."

Coombs couldn't figure it out. "What do you think we can do then?"

"What you do best."

She meant manipulate things. They'd already done that. It's why NewsNet 7 had the best angle of the event, well, three of the best angles actually. It was 7's eagerness for those shots that triggered the other station's frenzy. Good thing too, the images from all those angles provided the 'slam dunk' the prosecution needed.

"I don't know what more we can do."

Legato paused. "Give me an interview with him." She meant Ethan.

Only Coombs years of holding her face still during conflict kept her from bursting out laughing at the suggestion. As calmly as possibly, with a voice as even as laser cut steel she replied, "Can't risk that. He's too twitchy right now."

"You know I won't cross." By cross Dawn meant push the point, go into areas she shouldn't, report something sensitive, should something sensitive happen during the interview. And she worked with Float-Cams so there wouldn't be a producer or operator with her either; Dawn always worked alone now.

"Sorry." That was that. Dawn knew better than to push it. They sat there a moment while Dawn tried to think of another track. Desperation was evident from her, which was a bad sign. But oddly enough, it was Coombs who broke the silence.

"How well did you know Finnegan?"

Dawn blinked a moment, it took her that long to place the name. "Do you mean Sean Finnegan?"


A smile tweaked one side of her mouth as she remembered, "Tall, dark and British?"

Coombs actually chuckled this time, "Is that his problem?"

Dawn thought back to those days and her face flushed, she still felt bad for what happened back then. "I know him well enough. Why? You guys still trying to recruit him?"

Now it was Coombs' turn for surprise, "Still?"

Dawn turned to Coombs, it wasn't often she knew something Coombs didn't, "Vicky tried back at Farside. No luck though."

Coombs foul mood returned, she nodded, "Because he can't, or won't take the hint, right?"

Dawn chuckled, "Something like that."

Coombs frowned, "He looks good on paper, but I just don't see it happening."

The Reporter thought back to that time and earlier, she turned to the Spook. "That's 'cause you don't understand him. People are always underestimating him because of it."

"Do tell."

Dawn shrugged, "There's no one I'd rather have watching my back."

Coombs nodded, still unimpressed, "He's 'stand up', I get that. Big deal."

"No one can do more with less."

Coombs nodded, Finnegan's file reinforced that. "He's resourceful, but he's not subtle and this job is all about subtle."

"Perhaps," Dawn smiled that sly grin that often got her past bodyguards, "So, you knew there were seven people at Farside before you read his report then?"

Coombs thought about that. She knew the other names, everyone did. But the Reporter was right, without Finnegan's file she'd never have known he was one of them. It was the biggest news story of the last ten years but his name had never made it to front. You couldn't get more subtle than that. Coombs nodded appreciatively, "Thank you."

They sat there in silence, both nursing their beverages. Coombs hated being in someone's debt, particularly someone like a NewsNet Reporter, "I'm surprised you haven't asked where he'll go afterwards?"

Dawn didn't follow, "Who?" she said.

"Major Frohman."

Dawn looked at her while pondering the thought. The Network was pushing for the death penalty. Europe didn't allow the death penalty and even though the Network building in Baden-Baden was diplomatically protected as foreign soil they wouldn't upset local sensitivities by staging an execution here, which meant Major Frohman would be transported somewhere else if, no, when he was found guilty.

Dawn was looking beyond the current news cycle, which had only a few more hours of life to it, to the next one, and she saw that the next one had legs. The 'execution' dialogue could rage long after the execution took place, in the right hands of course. "So," she said calmly, "where will they take him?"

Coombs took a final sip of her drink, then on an impulse she drained it dry before putting it back down on the bar, "It's up to the tribunal," she rose, about to leave, "but if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say smart money is on Texas."

Dawn let the seat relax bringing her back to face the bar; Texas meant the Network facility at Crawford. She had contacts there, people inside to interview, access to the room even.

But before Coombs went too far Dawn called out, "Can I make a recommendation?"

Coombs stopped, Dawn was going to owe her large for this.

"Get Finn to take him, alone. Let the Major be your frying pan."

Coombs' jaw dropped at the use of that particular metaphor but then she shook herself out of it. Dawn couldn't possibly have known, right?

After Coombs departed Dawn pulled out her Micro-Mate™ and began the query string that would accumulate and prep the background files for both Crawford and the history of State Executions. She began cueing volumes of real news blocks in the NewsNet7 Info-Stream, there were days worth of stories here, background and counter-point material, the basis for a real dialogue.

As a broad smile grew across her face Dawn muttered smugly, "I wonder what Celeste Etoille thinks about the death penalty?"

* * *

Ethan stood in the holding cell with his back to the window and an angry pout on his front. One wouldn't normally think an entirely body could pout, but there it was.

He wasn't happy. It was dusk on the second day after he'd made the hit and no one had come to see him yet. What was the hold up? If he'd done right they should've been in here by now to congratulate him, if he hadn't why weren't they in here chiding him. The waiting was enough to drive him crazy. Crazy stupid.

He looked at the room. It was bright and cheery, like every other damn room in this Pete-forsaken building. It had one door, four nearly featureless walls and the window. There was a padded bench, no blanket but the thermal monitor made sure anyone sleeping on it would have exactly the right temperature regardless of what part of their sleep cycle they were in. It didn't help. Ethan preferred to cocoon with a real blanket, usually 600-denier cotton. He longed for his bed.

In the middle of the cell was a standard four legged table, bolted in place, and two matching bench seats, should he have a visitor, which brought him back to the fact that no one had shown up yet. His body pout worsened.

Ethan turned to look out the window. The screen on it was annoying; it caused a filtering effect, which quite frankly diminished the natural light. At least that's what Ethan thought the problem was until he stepped closer and realized it wasn't a window at all but a large sunken Rezney display.

His mood brightened immediately. This was perfect, exactly what he needed. Ethan reached out to the monitor and waved his hand over the bottom left corner. Nothing. He waved it rapidly over the bottom right corner. A pop-up window appeared with the display controls.

Ethan pressed his thumb against the panel and held it there. Unless his captors had been very, very thorough, and had completely broken the underground movement - which he doubted - a pre-secured override should kick in, right about... now.

Another window appeared, it was nearly identical to the first one; in fact it was simply ghosting the first one like an overriding signal. It was the only way to ensure that casual video monitoring, and even some of the more sophisticated security systems, wouldn't detect that a sub-panel was being accessed.

Then, as calmly as he could, lest he pique suspicion among anyone monitoring him, Ethan keyed in a very simply code: EVA352334XEU05H000, a simple stream of digits with a very precise meaning.

EVA352334 was the ten-digit identifier that would float the info stream until beckoned by its owner, in this case a stunning redhead he'd met during a covert mission who had given him five reasons not to kill himself, herself being one of them.

It had taken them a few hours to realize they were both working for the same outfit, oddly even had a few mutual contacts. That was a bit of a surprise considering they were competing for the same prize, but then it was an organization so heavily compartmentalized that frequently it didn't know what each cell was up to.

XEU05 was going to be pretty easy for anyone to figure out, the "X" meant departure and the rest was the registry code for the building he was in right now. Every shuttled assigned to it had that code emblazoned on its hull.

H000 meant 'hour zero' or 'without delay'. Hopefully she'd get this message before they moved him because if she did then Ethan was sure this woman, a person who could be his soul mate, would come for him. And knowing her it would be a very dramatic rescue indeed.

Before he could send the message the door behind him opened.

* * *