Tales From the Maid Wars Episode One:
Assassination on Koat IV
The building the ground-car dropped Lieutenant Helen Pierce off at was not very impressive; a small, squat brick of concrete and glass tucked in one corner of the large naval base. Certainly not what one might expect for the headquarters of MASA intelligence for the Kieto Sector. Fittingly for such a place, the unassuming building was only the tip of the iceberg. The bulk of the building was actually deep underground in a secure bunker.
The sharp clicking of Helen’s heels against the marble floor echoed in the large lobby as she entered, crossing a large mosaic of the seal of the Multinational Aerospace Space Armada. At the other end of the lobby seated at a long desk was a bored looking security guard. Like the building he worked in, the man’s plain uniform conceals quite a bit. Few would realize the guard was a multi-decorated veteran with three tours of combat duty in the MASA Conquistadors, the fleet’s elite special ground forces.
“Helen!” He said, looking up from his holo-reader. “Good to see you again!”
“Hey, George, how’s the wife?” Helen replied, reaching into her dress jacket pocket for her id badge.
“She’s doing fine.” The guard said, taking the badge. “We’re planning on taking a trip to old Earth next time I get leave…”
As the two chatted, Helen was aware of the numerous cameras and sensitive machines watching her every move. Should any of those sensors register her as an intruder, a squad of well-trained MASA soldiers were standing by to escort her to a cell somewhere in the base for a few unpleasant words with an interrogator.
“Oh, by the way,” George continued, taking Helen’s bag and running it through the scanner. “Admiral Rolland asked to see you when you came in.”
“Thanks!” Helen said, taking her bag back. “I’ll do that straight away.” Good thing I decided to wear dress uniform today… she thought to herself, walking past the security desk and stepping into an elevator. Admiral Rolland was more relaxed about uniform regulations, then most fleet officers, especially with his top intelligence agents; but it never hurt to look the part.
The inside of the elevator was mirrored, opposite the door. As it began its long descent deep into the earth, Helen quickly checked her appearance. She adjusted the smart uniform cap on her head. Shoulder length brown hair spilled out from under it, a little longer than regulation usually permitted. She grabbed a hair tie and pulled it back into a bun.
The intelligence officer smiled, her reflection smiling back. A pretty young face, with large brown eyes, a small pert nose and a perfect smile. The well cut, dark blue uniform jacket and skirt helped show off her tall slender body, kept fit with regular visits to the training gym. Her long athletic legs wore a pair of dress shoes and black hose.
Looking at the young, beautiful woman, one might be tempted to place her age in the late twenties, thirty at the most, and, biologically speaking Helen was much closer to thirty then the forty-three years she’d been alive, in thanks to periodic rejuvenation treatments provided by the Benefactors.
The Benefactors were a race of robotic beings, the only such species humans had encountered since leaving Old Earth. In spite of the fears of many, the ‘bots had proven to be one of humanities greatest, well, benefactors, turning their advanced technology towards the improvement of the human race, curing countless diseases and extending peoples’ lives. Gene treatments ensured that all children were born strong, healthy and pretty; those crippled by genetic defect or by accident were made whole again. New high yield crops, tailored to their worlds had sped up the process of terraforming and colonization immensely.
With a soft chime, the elevator deposited Helen at her destination. She stepped through the doors into the heart of the Intelligence branch. The long hallways lined with doors hummed with activity, intelligence agents walking to and fro with quiet purpose.
Admiral Rolland’s office was on the far end of the floor. Along the way, Helen exchanged greetings with several of her coworkers. If this was an entertainment holo, Intelligence headquarters should have been a high tech secret base, filled with laboratories where scientists were busy perfecting their newest hidden, deadly gadgets, or training rooms where cunning spies and ruthless assassins honed their skills. Anyone expecting that though was in for disappointment. Aside from being deep underground, most of the complex was just offices where a small army of bureaucrats were busy with the grunt paperwork that made up most of actual spy-work.
After a couple minutes, she arrived outside her destination. The Admiral had a small waiting room set up in front of his office, where he could make agents who found themselves in trouble or unwanted visitors sit and wait to see him. A small desk was set up in one corner. A young woman was sitting at it, typing. Jane Fawn, Admiral Rolland’s secretary. In an age where cosmetic gene treatments meant most everyone was beautiful, Jane was drop dead gorgeous, and her uniform, tailored in a cut that definitely wasn’t regulation, showed off her body in ways even Helen could appreciate. Her light blonde hair was cut in a distinctly un-martial bob, with bangs across her forehead.
She had no military rank, as far as Helen was aware, save for being the admiral’s secretary. All against regulations, of course, but then, any complaints one had about that would go to the admiral, so no one had. “Let the old man have a few vices…” Helen thought to herself. “It’s not hurting anyone…” So far as she knew, the admiral was a bachelor, so there wasn’t even a wife to feel scorned.
Jane looked up as Helen entered the room. “Good morning, Miss Pierce!” the young woman said, smiling. “If you’d take a seat, I’ll let Admiral Rolland know you’ve arrived.” Helen noticed a brief flash of pleasure cross the secretaries face as she mentioned her boss’ name. Unlike most women in her position, at least as far as Helen’s experience went, Jane seemed to actually love her boss, and Admiral Rolland seemed to return it, doting on his secretary every chance he got.
“Sir,” Jane said, pressing a button on the desk. “There’s a Lieutenant Pierce here to see you.”
“Thank you, Jane. Please send her in right away.” The admiral’s voice came back.
“Go right on in.” Jane said, waving Helen through the door.
“Ah, Lieutenant Pierce!” Admiral Rolland said, standing up from his desk as Helen entered. He stepped around it and shook her hand. “Thank for you coming so promptly. Have a seat.” He waved the younger woman into a small chair in front of his desk.
“What is it you wished to see me about?” Helen asked, inquisitively.
Admiral Rolland turned back to his desk and pressed a button and the holo-display flashed into life. A small, blue-green planet hung over the desk-top, two small grey moons slowly orbiting around it. After a few minutes, studying the arrangement of continents, Helen recognized the planet: Koat IV. In Interstellar terms, the Koat system and its single habitable planet was right next door, a long weekend trip by a civilian transport.
The planet had been terra-formed a little over fifty years ago and it was still sparsely settled the standards of Old Earth, only a few hundred thousand people spread out between the small planetary capital, Rajani and a number of smaller settlements across the planet’s surface, most involved in light industry and tourism, thanks to the planet’s large tropical climate band around the equator.
“I take it you are aware of the Benefactor’s mission to Koat?” the admiral said, sitting back in his chair. Helen nodded. About a month ago, the planet’s population had finally reached the point where the Benefactors announced they would set up a local presence on the planet, with a Robolord, one of the highest levels of diplomatic bots, to help serve the needs of both the local population and the yearly influx of off world tourists.
“A few days ago, there was an attack on the Benefactor’s facility, by persons as yet unknown.” Rolland pressed another button and the display zoomed in to a facility, outside the planetary capital of Rajani. “We’ve only received preliminary reports thus far, but we know the Robolord, designation Arex 4391, leading the mission was killed in the attack, along with a number of other units.”
Helen frowned. She’d heard of Benefactors being destroyed before, mostly due to accidents, even Robolords. But not like this. Not a direct attack on a Benefactor facility, on a planet under MASA protection. She had no idea what the repercussions this might have on relations between Treah and humanity, but it wouldn’t be good.
The admiral nodded. “You can see the graveness of this situation. From a purely diplomatic standpoint, it is vital that we reassure the Benefactors that we have this situation in hand and that we are committed to protecting all their people within our territory. The first step to that, of course, is catching the people behind this terrorist attack.”
“As terrible as this is…” Helen said, choosing her words carefully. “Why is this being brought to naval intelligence? A case like this would fall under the jurisdiction of planetary security. Surely the local law enforcement is more than capable of handling this without MASA having to get involved.” She was pretty sure she knew the reason already: have to show the bots we’re taking this seriously and having a high level MASA intelligence agent on the case looks better than a dozen backwater policemen; never mind whose jurisdiction it actually was.
Rolland gave Helen a half-smile. “The reason MASA is sticking our nose into this business, Lieutenant, is because it is believed that Arex 4391’s death was a political assassination. Though we have no proof of it, as of yet, we suspect the assassins may have ties to the terrorist group known as AMAZON.”
“Ah…” Helen murmured to herself. She should have guessed. If there was an attack on the bots, AMAZON was always behind it. While all rational people responded to the Benefactors with proper gratitude for all that the bots had done for humanity, there were always those on the lunatic fringe who saw conspiracies in everything the bots did. Perhaps the craziest of these were the women who formed AMAZON.
According to these madwomen, everything the Benefactors did; every act of charity, every gift given to mankind, was all part of some elaborate ruse, to lower humanity’s guard. In fact, the true goal of the robots, according to the AMAZONS, was to abduct and enslave all human females as “French Maids.” It was all Helen could do not to laugh at the absurdity of it all. Honestly, she thought to herself; that sounds like the plot of some ancient science fiction B-Movie.
And yet in spite of this, AMAZON was no laughing matter. These terrorists, no one know how many AMAZONS there were, though MASA intelligence put the low estimate in the hundreds, were deadly serious in their beliefs and they were all well-armed and well trained. No one knew where AMAZON was getting all of its military equipment from. The current theory among Intelligence circles was that AMAZON was simply a front group, unwitting dupes for another organization with its own agenda and reasons for hating the bots. Still, AMAZON functioned more like a true military force then a criminal group and they were very capable of launching well organized strikes against their imagined enemies: The Benefactors and anyone they saw as protecting them.
“If AMAZON, or any other off planet group is behind this attack,” Rolland continued, interrupting Helen’s musing. “Then this investigation automatically comes under MASA’s jurisdiction. Of course…” He smiled, “As you pointed out, for now, this is still just a theory and thus it is still a matter for Koat internal security forces. Your role, for the moment, will be that of an observer. You will keep MASA in the loop as the investigation proceeds and should the planetary security forces find any evidence that off-world groups are behind this attack, you will be well-placed for MASA to assume full command of the investigation.”
He smiled, wistfully. “Of course, I’m sure the local investigators wouldn’t mind having an experienced intelligence agent assisting in their investigations, and should you happen to uncover these assassins, whoever they may be, I’m sure no one would be too brokenhearted.”
Helen smiled back at him. “No, I’m sure they wouldn’t be.”
“Well then…” Admiral Rolland stood up. “I’ve forwarded the preliminary reports, along with the details of your travel arrangements. This is an important assignment Lieutenant Pierce. There’s a lot riding on us catching these assassins as soon as possible, but I’m confident you’re up to the task.”
Helen stood and saluted. “Thank you sir, I won’t disappoint you…”
Helen sat in her chair on the inter-planetary passenger vessel Corona. As a high ranking MASA intelligence agent, Helen rated a first class ticket, which on the Corona got her a small compartment to herself, along with a Spartan work desk with a built in entertainment view screen and a comfortably padded chair to sit in.
A locker for her personal luggage took up most of the remaining space. The cubical wasn’t that big. Seated in her chair, Helen could have easily touched any of the four walls without any effort, but it provided some privacy from the rest of the passengers, which was the real reason for her travel arrangements. The last thing she needed was to have some overly curious civilian reading classified MASA intelligence reports over her shoulder.
Idly, Helen flipped through the report of the official investigation by the local security forces. The young woman suppressed the urge to yawn. The report was written in the usual dull, plodding prose of someone desperately trying to cover their ass, should the investigation come up empty handed. Luckily, one of the analysts had done Helen the favor of going through the pages and pages of crime scenes investigated, suspects questioned, stake outs held, records searched; and provided a neat summary, highlighting the important facts.
There weren’t many. About four days ago, (adjusting for relativistic time differences between solar systems) a team of unknown assassins had managed to breach the security perimeter around the Benefactor’s mansion. They used an explosive charge to breach the walls of the mansion before storming the Robolords office. The handful of security bots, in that wing of the mansion, moved to protect Arex 4391. They were destroyed before they could move him to safety.
Helen started a video clip, taken from security footage the Benefactors had provided. The video showed four young women, dressed in civilian clothes, wearing masks, carrying assault weapons of a design Helen wasn’t familiar with. They moved with the ease and precision of a squad of veteran soldiers, used to working with one another, silently communicating with hand gestures, intuitively following the contours of the hallway, staying out of the open and keeping one another covered at all times.
As the intelligence officer watched, a pair of security bots rounded the corner, moving to intercept the team. Two of the women raised their weapons. Helen blinked, surprised. She had to rewind the video and watch it again. As far as she could see, nothing had happened when the strike team aimed their guns, but down the hallway, the security bots suddenly began to shake. One of the bots shut down, falling over. The other kept shaking and a moment later its cranial processor exploded in a shower of sparks, as it collapsed onto its disabled comrade.
What kind of weapon was strong enough to do that? Helen wondered. The report didn’t say, but it did tell how the Robolord himself met his demise: following the decimation of his bodyguards, Arex 4391 was executed by the intruders by firing a large number of chemical-propelled lead slugs, which tore through the mechanical being’s chassis, and thoroughly wrecked the bot’s electronic brain beyond the ability of even the Benefactors to repair or recover. There wasn’t any footage of that; there were no security cameras in the Robolord’s private chamber.
The use of an old fashioned slug thrower was almost as odd as the mysterious weapon they had used to eliminate the security bots. MASA didn’t use chemical propellant weapons, nor were there any civilian manufacturers who made them, apart from a tiny handful of reproduction pieces made for historical collectors. There were a small number of mercenary groups and pirates who used them, often handmade and of varying quality. Maybe there was a lead there? Helen wondered, making a mental note to look into it when she got the chance.
Following Arex 4391’s death, the strike team had disappeared from the security tapes for approximately 23 and a half minutes, before reappearing as they made their escape, blowing a hole through another wall before the rest of the facility’s security bots could move to stop them. A perimeter security camera caught a brief glimpse of their get-away vehicle: a civilian model ground car which had been found abandoned several miles away, torched. The owner had reported the vehicle stolen earlier that day. A thorough investigation had corroborated his claim.
Helen frowned. As a veteran intelligence officer, she’d taken part in dozens of investigations like this during her career. She knew things weren’t always clear cut, but even so, the facts here were pretty sparse. Grumbling to herself about ‘backwater, civie rent-a-cops’, she flipped back to the actual report to see what it said in full. As it turned out, there were two reports, one from the Koat investigators’ sweep of the crime scene. The other was provided by the bot’s own security team. She turned to the Koat Security report first.
There wasn’t much. The investigators had conducted a routine sweep of the crime scene and come up negative. At the bottom of the page was a note: ‘see supplementary report for further details’. Helen clicked on the link to the report. As she guessed, it was provided by the mansion’s security network. Even more so than the rest of the report, it was written in a lifeless, factual style, methodically providing details on everything from the ambient temperature and weather patterns in the area at the time of the attack to second by second movements of every bot in that wing of the mansion, but in the end little of any actual worth to an investigation.
“Hang on…” Helen said to herself. “Did I miss something?” She went back and read through the report again, more carefully this time. No, she hadn’t missed anything. For some reason, neither report had mentioned any DNA evidence found at the scene of the attack. Going back to the footage of the attack, Helen saw the strike team was wearing civilian clothing, surely they must have left behind some DNA evidence: skin cells, hair follicles, so why wasn’t there anything about that in the report? Helen could understand the local investigators forgetting something like that. Without proper equipment or training they could easily miss something like that. But the bots? Given how methodical they’d been in reporting every other fact, no matter its insignificance, it seemed unlikely they’d overlook a major detail like this…
Before Helen could think about it, a loud speaker crackled into life. “Passengers, this is the captain speaking. We will shortly be transitioning into the system, please take your seats.” A minute later, the ship lurched suddenly, as they arrived in the system, the inertial compensators struggling, for a brief moment to adjust as the ship slowed down from light speed into a safer velocity for approaching the planet.
With a sigh, Helen shut down her touch pad and set it on the table. Unbuckling her chair, she stood up, giving a soft groan. The flight to Koat was a little over eight hours in length, not very long by the usual standards of civilian space flight, but still, after eight hours sitting down, reading reports, Helen needed to stretch her legs.
The MASA officer opened the door of her compartment and stepped out into a narrow hallway, that run the length of the passenger portion of the craft. If the Corona was like most passenger starships Helen had been on, at the bow of the ship would be the crew area, where the bridge was located, and the galley. In the back was engineering. Helen headed for a stairwell up to the observatory deck. As she reached the top of the stairs, it was like climbing out of the ship. Around her, a canopy of stairs shone sharply in the vacuum of space. Ahead of her, she could see the bow of the ship, behind, the glow of the powerful engines as they powered through space. On either side, the wings bent, curving gracefully up.
It was, of course, an illusion. As a naval officer, Helen was well aware windows, even small ones, much less a domed observation deck, were always a structural hazard on a spaceship, even for a civilian craft. A whole other deck and numerous layers of hull still lay between Helen and the cold vacuum of space. Instead, a battery of high powered cameras, out on the hull, and a dome of video panels lining the walls achieved the same effect, without the risk of decompression. Still, Helen thought to herself, stepping out onto the platform, it was a very good illusion.
At the moment, Helen shared the observation deck with two other people. They were obviously civilians, minor government or corporate functionaries, heading to Koat for a few weeks of vacation on one of the planets numerous sea side resorts. They nodded at Helen, a little awed by her officer’s uniform. Helen nodded back, before turning her attention to the field of stars.
Almost immediately she found the star, Koat, a large, white orb, shining ahead of the Corona. The ship was still far enough out, the planets orbiting around it were little more than pixels on the screen beside their star. After a moment, she located a small, reddish dot, which she guessed was Koat VIII, one of the gas giants, and, on the other side, a blue dot which must have been Koat V. Once she found those, she was able to figure out the ecliptic plane. From there, it was easier to spot the rest of the planets, making their way around Koat.
Off to the left Helen saw a blue green sphere that was Koat IV. In another half hour its slow orbit would meet the Corona as the ship made its own way in system. Helen paced around the platform, watching the unfamiliar constellations of stars overhead, stretching out her legs a bit. She chatted idly, with the other passengers, sure enough, one of them worked in middle management for one of the large shipping firms in the Kieto sector; he was taking his family on vacation.
“What about you, officer?” the man asked.
Helen shrugged. “MASA recruitment drive.” She lied casually. Odds were the civilians on the observation deck wouldn’t be able to recognize the markings of the MASA Intelligence Branch on her uniform. She felt it best not to say the real reason for her trip. Thus far, Koat security and naval intelligence had done a good job suppressing news of the attack outside of the Koat system. It would get out eventually, but if they could bring the assassins to justice before that happened, it might be enough to prevent any panic.
Above them, the green-blue spot grew steadily larger, now as large as a baseball. More people began to appear on the observation deck, to watch the approach to the planet. Helen smiled, as the planet soon filled up the entire screen above them like a massive map stretching from one side to the other. She could make out the green outlines of island chains and small continents, speckling the blue-green waters of Koat’s warm, shallow seas. Here and there, wisps of white clouds painted the oceans.
Peaking above the horizon, Helen could see the silver rim of Tor, one of Koat’s two moons, and here and there, barely visible to the eye, were the usual man made moons, communication and positioning satellites, solar power collectors… There were no large, orbiting stations over Koat, the planet’s industrial capacity wasn’t enough to warrant such extensive installations, though according to the reports Helen had read, one of the outer gas giants had recently attracted some small orbital mining operations on its numerous small moons.
Within minutes, the Corona had orbited around to the night side of the planet. Here, the darkened surface glittered with the isolated lights of settlements. To Helen’s surprise even the seas were lit up in places with bio-luminescent algae. Around her, the other passengers cooed at the impressive sight.
“Passengers, this is the captain speaking…” the intercom announced again. “We’re currently in orbit over Koat and we are making our final approach. At this time, I’d like for all passengers to find a seat and buckle themselves in as we prepare to land.” Turning to the stairwell Helen and the rest of the passengers left the observation deck, as the screens above them went dark. She returned to her compartment, sat down in the chair and buckled herself in.
There was a light bump, as the ship met the atmosphere of the planet and skimmed across it, the inertial compensators going to work keeping things as smooth as possible as the Corona descended towards the surface of Koat. The ship shook again, as it hit a pocket of denser air. Outside, the hull would be glowing red hot from the friction, as it screamed through the sky at fantastic speed. In their seats, the passengers would be sitting, feeling the occasional shudder run through the ship, knowing that it only took one faulty heat tile… Unlikely, of course, there were strict safety regulations for interstellar passenger liners, but you never knew…
In her cabin, Helen was idly flipping through the rest of the report. She’d been through worse landings in her naval career. More than once, she’d found herself in a drop pod, less than a tenth the size of the Corona, with thirty other MASA Conquistadors, plummeting towards a pirate’s base, hoping the incoming artillery fire didn’t hit them…
Fifteen minutes later, the Corona had settled down, gently, into its docking cradle at the spaceport outside Rajani. The passengers unbuckled their seat restraints, trying to hide any nervousness they might have felt a moment ago. As they grabbed their luggage and started making their way to disembark, their fears were quickly forgotten, as thoughts turned to the vacations that had just begun…
Helen grabbed her MASA issue duffel bag and swung it over one shoulder. She waved away the porter who politely offered to carry it for her. She shook her head, smiling. “I need the exercise…” she told him. Truthfully, the bag was carrying enough classified MASA Intel and equipment to see her court-martialed twice over, should she let anyone else touch it.
Along with the rest of the passengers, the young woman moved briskly through the First Class disembarking tube, into the space port proper. In sharp contrast to her earlier exhaustion, now she felt invigorated and light as a feather. Koat’s gravity was slightly under normal Earth gravity; not enough to cause any problems, just enough to give one a light feeling for the first day or so on-world. Koat’s terra-formed atmosphere also contained a slighter higher proportion of oxygen than usual, something to do with large the tropical oceans that made up most of the planet’s surface.
At the other end, the usual crowd of friends and family, business associates and drivers were waiting. After a moment, Helen spotted an older man, tanned, and wrinkled, wearing a light blue uniform that belonged to the local security force. He was holding a sign with “Lt. Pierce” written on it.
“I’m Sergeant Morris.” The man said, in a gruff voice, as he eyed Helen, trying to size up the MASA intelligence agent. “Koat Security.”
“Helen Pierce,” She said, extending a hand. “MASA intelligence division.” He took it in one of his own, rough hands and shook it. The two turned and started walking. A short distance away, they passed by a large line of people waiting to go through a security check point. A half dozen men and women in the same uniform as Morris prowled around the line.
“We’ve locked down the space port.” Morris explained. “No one gets off world without security clearance. It’s making hell for the tourist trade, but the terrorists aren’t getting off world through here.” He led Helen out of the spaceport to a nearby parking garage where a ground car with Koat Security markings was waiting.
“Chief Werner assigned me to be your liaison, while you’re here on Koat.” Morris said, starting up the car. “If you need anything, let me know and I’ll get it done for you.”
“Thank you.” Helen replied.
“I suppose you’d like to go to your hotel, get freshened up a bit? The chief had a room reserved for you at the Hotel Imperial; it’s the nicest in Rajani, probably the whole planet.” Morris ventured as they pulled out of the garage and onto a raised highway.
Helen shook her head. “Can you take me to the Benefactor’s mansion? I’d like to see the scene of the crime, try and get a feel for it as soon as possible.” She grinned. “I’m sure the bots won’t mind if my uniform is a little wrinkled…”
“That they won’t.” Morris replied. They drove for a few minutes, before the older man asked, “So, is MASA getting ready to take over the investigation?”
Helen glanced out the window, admiring the wonderful view of the coast before her, blue-green water, lapping at a beach of light red sand. Further inland, familiar Terran imports mingled with exotic native vegetation. Rajani Space Port was a few miles outside the city that gave it its name. She shook her head. “At the moment, my role is purely advisory. But, if it does turn out these terrorists are working with AMAZON, or if they make it off world, MASA will step in. Until then, it’s your show.”
“oh…” Morris grunted. He sounded oddly disappointed. Helen glanced over, curious. In her experience, most local security forces hated when MASA intelligence stuck their noses into their business. On the other hand, with a case like this, no doubt the local cops would be glad to hand a political hand grenade like this over to Naval intelligence. Let them take the fall from the Benefactors when they failed to catch the Robolord’s killers.
To her surprise, Morris shook his head when she mentioned that. “It’s not that. The chief’s put half the security force on this one case. He’s got us all over the planet, running around, shaking down small time crooks, to see if they know anything about the terrorists, trying to look busy to show the bot’s were taking this case seriously. We’re doing busy work while other, less politically important cases go cold.” Helen had been around Morris enough, she felt she had a good feel for him. The veteran intelligence officer thought she detected a hint of bitterness in the older man’s voice.
“Like what?” She asked, curious.
The man glanced over at her, looking confused for a brief moment. Perhaps he hadn’t expected an off-world intelligence agent to care anything about local affairs, or anything other than her own assignment. “Well…” there was a brief moment of silence, before he began. “About three days before the Robolord’s assassination, twenty eight people disappeared from St. Joanne’s…it’s a girl’s finishing school, out in the country, not far from here. No one knows what happened to them. Quite the uproar…the order was to locate the girls safe and sound, no matter the cost…” he sighed. “Then the assassination happened and all the investigators were pulled off the case and put to work, looking for the terrorists.” There was another pause, longer this time, before he added. “One of the missing girls was my niece.”
Helen was silent for a moment. “I’m sorry.” She said softly. The car was silent for a long time, as they continued driving down the highway. Ahead of them, Helen could see the capital city, Rajani, a few dozen miles away. The city was smaller than other, more heavily settled worlds. Here and there, the young woman saw a few, modest sky scrapers; less than a hundred stories tall. Tiny compared to some of the mega-cities on other worlds. Here though, they towered over the smaller buildings that sprawled across the island, haphazardly.
Before they’d gotten halfway there, though, Morris turned off the main highway, onto a smaller road. The Benefactor’s mansion lay beyond the outskirts of Rajani, close to the spaceport. The ground car passed through more gorgeous countryside along the way, and Helen quickly saw how the planet had gained its status as a tourist destination. She saw a few resorts, and between them several small vineyards, growing some local variety of grape.
Helen almost didn’t realize they had arrived at the Benefactor’s mansion until Morris pulled off the main road, onto a smaller one leading up to an ornate, wrought iron gate. Past the fence was a long, well-kept lawn, leading up to a large, stately building of native stone, done in what on old earth would be neo-baroque. Odd choice, Helen thought, for a race of mechanical beings. Did they really have an appreciation for the aesthetic, or had they simply chosen the style as part of a calculated gesture, to inspire feelings of awe and majesty to the humans who visited them?
As Morris parked the car in front of the gate, Helen noticed some activity going on around the side of the mansion. The older man turned to Helen. “You go ahead.” He told her. “I’ll wait here. To tell you the truth, the bots give me the willies…”
“Suit yourself…” Helen replied, opening the door and stepping out...