Dead men dont cry a shor.., p.2
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       Dead Men Don't Cry: A Short Story, p.2
 

           Nancy Fulda
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  * * *

  Ten minutes later Kimball was crammed beside Sanderson in a security cubicle, reviewing news vids. The camera views were irritatingly flighty, zooming in on a celebrity here, a table decoration there, but Sanderson’s team had spliced together a reasonable record of events.

  Ambassador Komitz and President Duchevsky had arrived in the reception hall side by side, arms linked in a carefully calculated symbol of the impending treaty between the Aldebaran colony and her technologically-advanced cousins. Flashing lights glinted from the metal pins and buckles of their military-style uniforms, making them sparkle like tiny constellations. One of the cameras zoomed back for a wide-angle view of the hall.

  On the second tier catwalk, an old man — Josef Rannen — raised a rock-steady arm towards Komitz. The network cameras didn’t record in the ultraviolet range, so Kimball could not see the twin lasers that shot from the muzzle of Rannen’s weapon. Nor could he see the electric current that passed along the ionized channels of air they created. But he saw Komitz’s face contort with surprise and rage. The ambassador’s muscles tetanized, limbs curling into undignified positions as the striated fibers all fought to contract at the same time.

  Chaos erupted. Civilians scrambled in all directions. Security guards whirled frantically, trying to locate the source of the attack. Komitz toppled like an off-balance toy soldier, jarring against President Duchevsky and sending both to the ground.

  On the video monitors, chief Sanderson dogpiled the fallen dignitaries, shielding them with his body mass, but Rannen made no effort to maintain the attack. Instead he released the trigger. A faint green line arced through the air as the oxygen molecules in the channel de-ionized.

  Belatedly, security guards traced the fading line to its source and fired on Rannen. The octogenarian convulsed and Kimball stifled a wave of fury as he watched his mentor — his friend, his role model — crumple like a discarded candy wrapper. Big-jawed security thugs handcuffed the unconscious man and scanned the room for other threats. In all the excitement, no one noticed that Rannen had stopped breathing.

  After watching the sequence several times, Kimball felt sick. He paused the video and leaned back in his chair, trying to shake the feeling that someone, somewhere, had snuffed out a candle and the world was permanently darkened.

  “Satisfied?” Sanderson asked from the chair to Kimball’s left..

  “No,” Kimball answered, and watched the Security Chief’s mouth narrow in his peripheral vision. Privately, Kimball thought of Sanderson as the council’s bulldog; chunky yet powerful, tenaciously assertive, and fiercely territorial. The set of Sanderson’s jaw suggested that Kimball’s impromptu investigation was an unwelcome infringement on his turf.

  Kimball kept his eyes focused on the video monitors, one hand on the controls, cowed but unwilling to show it. “Why would Rannen fire on the ambassador?”

  Sanderson’s meaty shoulders rippled. “Rannen opposed the Partial Protectorate Treaty from the beginning. Maybe his feelings ran deeper than we knew.”

  “You can’t really believe that. You trusted Rannen enough to place him as an undercover security officer — or did he sneak that tetanizer in past your door guards?”

  Sanderson grimaced. “No, I placed him. Bad call, apparently.”

  “I’m not sure it was,” Kimball said. “I was Rannen’s personal assistant for twelve years. He always fought his battles up front and openly, always said exactly what he thought. Something like this—” he waved his hand towards the video monitors, “that’s not Rannen’s style at all.”

  Sanderson said nothing.

  “And why did Rannen fire at mid-power?” Kimball continued. “Your police-issue weapons default to minimum amperage, don’t they? Rannen must have used the manual override, but if he wanted to kill Komitz, he should have powered all the way to full.”

  “Mad dog’s more dangerous than a dead one,” Sanderson answered. “Killing the ambassador would have made waves, sure. But letting Komitz live to nurse his wounded pride has placed the treaty in even greater jeapordy. A jeopardy which you are doing little to alleviate, I might add.”

  Sanderson speared Kimball with an arch-eyebrowed gaze. Kimball imagined the security chief mentally lining him up against Rannen, measuring the strength of their friendship, wondering whether Kimball’s refusal to approve the security report was a part of the old man’s plot. Such suspicions were not, perhaps, unjustified. Kimball, like Rannen, had passionately opposed the Partial Protectorate Treaty. The idea of Aldebaran as another of Earth’s puppet regimes knotted his stomach.

  Still, he felt offended by Sanderson’s mistrust. Aldebaran’s citizens were not unified enough to win a war against technologically superior opponents; sabotaging the treaty would only divide them further. The back corners of Kimball’s heart might yearn to boot the Earth men from his home, but that impulse could not overpower his sense of reason. He was no fanatic.

  Kimball started the video sequence again. “Could Rannen have been aiming at something else? Some threat to President Duchevsky, perhaps?”

  “And hit Komitz by mistake?” Sanderson’s tone was derisive. “Not unless he mistook ambassador Komitz for a threat.”

  Kimball frowned, but he was forced to agree. The shot was too precise to be a mistake, and anyway, the video showed no charging gunmen that could have been Rannen’s intended target. The most ominous thing on the screen was Minister Farlay sneezing into a gaudy, gold-embroidered handkerchief..

  “There must be something,” Kimball said, half to himself and half to Sanderson. “Something that’s been overlooked, something that will make sense of this whole mess.”

  “Perhaps there is,” Sanderson replied coldly. “And next year, after you’ve found it, the colony will already be a useless pile of smoldering ruins. The situation calls for speed, Kimball, not precision.”

  After a moment Sanderson continued in a softer tone. “I know it’s been a rough couple of days for you; it has for all of us. But I think you should ask yourself whether Minister Farlay might be right. Whether you’re really being objective about this.”

  Kimball choked back a testy reply. Perhaps Sanderson was wise to leave the dangling threads untouched, to slap together a report and appease the ambassador before Earth scrapped the treaty entirely and occupied the colony by force. Rannen’s motives could always be explored more fully later, and his mysterious death would...

  ...remain a mystery. Kimball had worked on too many similar projects to kid himself. Once the report was signed and out the door other issues would demand attention, other crises would scream for resolution. Rannen would go down in the colony annals as a traitor, and the dangling threads of the case would never be untangled.

  Kimball shook his head, hoping some of the puzzle pieces rattling around inside would click together and stick in a coherent form. Perhaps he wasn’t being objective. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t right.

  “Let’s go see the body,” he said.

 
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