A Very Blue Moon 5

A Very Blue Moon
Chapter 5 Draft (03-23-10)

Russo Nevier was fifty T-years old, but looked fifteen or twenty years younger. Tall and thin with quick nervous features, dark eyes, a thin mustache, and trimmed beard, he dressed and acted the part of an unusually successful trader or the high level executive with one of the larger business houses. Someone who made things happen, or at least thought he did, and one who expected others to defer to his manifest superiority. It was a role only recently assumed and one he had learned to like, a lot!

That was true at least until a week ago when word of the Caliphate’s deceleration of war on Cardoman and a number of the other Independents arrived on the planet Yatagan. But because his main, and only legitimate source of stable funding was his work for Cardoman he had a very major problem. If the Calps were not looking for him now it was only an oversight that could not last. His association with Cardoman could hardly be unknown to Caliphate Intelligence the ambiguously named Regulations Compliance Office. And thus he needed to get off this world and out of the Caliphate on the next departing ship.

Yatagan, the planet’s name derived from a word in an old Earth language that meant—‘The Sword’, was a hot dry world with the population concentrated in and around two cities, Scimitar in the central highlands, and Aleppo, located nearby but on the other side of a canyon rift valley. This geographical wonder divided the long, narrow, and only large, continentally sized land mass located in the planet’s northern temperate region. Slightly curving with a pointed tip on one end it resembled, at least vaguely, the weapon for which it was named.

The planet’s other continent covered the upper pole, and except for a peninsula projecting southward and a shelving fringe of a necklace, lay perpetually under a kilometer think blanket of ice with only the lower end of the peninsula enjoying year round conditions amenable to a permanent population.

Just that morning Russo had paid at his hotel desk for another month deposit on his suite; this establishment being far too deluxe for that type of a transaction to take place electronically, and where he further left word with the manager that he would be out of town for a week or so. He made it plain that he was going out on an investigation of some agricultural properties. And though he did not say just where they might be he implied a considerable distance was involved. The deposit was money he would have been much happier spending on a long distance ticket to someplace else, anywhere else, but a check of the spaceport departure loges showed nothing moving and he had to get out of town.

He next rented an aircar and flew it a hundred kilometers westward before landing at a garage he had already rented under another name some weeks before as a storage location for the cargo he had intended to acquire. And there he disconnecting the car’s locater beacon.

Russo’s hope was that if anyone started looking for him the fact he had rented the aircar would first take the hunt to the garage, find it empty, and then next to Aleppo, or elsewhere on the other side of the rift and away from Scimitar where the spaceport was located. So long as it was only the civil authorities looking for him they could charge the crime of disconnection the beacon to a desire for secrecy as to where his property search might be taking place, knowing full well he would claim the beacon failed on its own. That was his best case scenario; the worst did not bear thinking about.

With a population of 866 million, though still a Class 2 world (it had hyperdrive repair but no build facilities), Yatagan was still a place where one could get lost without leaving civilization, lost for a time at least.

The beacon now disconnected; Russo’s next step was to load the aircar into a covered lorry, change into workman’s clothes and driving with great attention to the local regulations, return to Scimitar where he parked the lorry on the back lot of a busy overhaul facility. He went into the service center office and made an untraceable cash down payment for work that would not even begin for another two weeks. He called for a cab and with a single small briefcase sized container as his only luggage had himself dropped off a nearby motel/restaurant only few kilometers away. From there, after the cab was out of sight, he walked several more blocks to where he took a bus to the environs of the spaceport and still another short walk later to a transient hotel, a rooming house, where once again he paid cash.

The first part of his plan complete he now needed to come up with enough money to buy a ticket or bribe his way off of Yatagan. Two days, and an improbable string of good hands later, he had the money and was looking for the transport.

“I know those two!” Nevier said to himself in shock. “Loomis and Omari, what in the world could they be doing here?” Then he calmed down keeping his gaze averted, thinking, “And how can I make a profit out of this?” And with that in mind he wondered if the two even knew he was on the planet.

He’d truly had been lucky the night before and his Cardoman retainer would register on his credit chit in a day or two as untraceable except to the Bank of Freehold, though he would only use it as a last resort. That sum would pay off most of his accumulated bills, at least here on Yatagan, if he couldn’t ship out in the next day or so. But if he could get out that quickly without a legitimate ticket and a passage through customs he was going to skip without paying.

He still had plenty of credit directly traceable to Cardoman that he could draw upon—in theory. It was just that as soon as the declaration became known Cardoman credit accounts were frozen if on deposit in a Calp chartered bank and everywhere else here on Yatagan the exchange rate was in freefall.

Russo had not exchanged any Cardoman credits thus far and had nothing on deposit locally, relying on his personal credit chip as needed. At least for now he would not risk using Cardoman money and was unwilling to take a discount in any event. With war declared using Cardoman credit in a public venue would call attention to himself he could not afford. And he wasn’t that desperate, especially after last night.

But money was always going to be a problem except in the unlikely event the Caliphate managed to lose this war and his Cardoman accounts freed up. Total medical builds weren’t cheap and Russo had had one just six months ago and could feel another around the corner. He was needing them ever more frequently. He was always looking for the main chance and Cardoman, as good as it had treated him in the past, no longer looked to be it.

All that was neither here nor there, his need to get off planet was still supreme but what to make of two Cardoman military personnel in the heart of the Caliphate? Should he reveal himself and try to enlist their help? To turn them in autonomously would only heighten overall security so that wouldn’t work. The two sat down at a table near the door that Russo would have to pass in order to leave. He would need to make a decision or else waste precious time he should be using looking for his way off this world.

Yatagan a hundred years ago when its population was third of the size it was today, had been made into a Calp sub fleet base and equipped with shipyard repair facilities turning it into an important Class 2 world on the eastern edge of the Caliphate frontier half way between the Sun and Llanfairn. As such it was and remained a major gateway and transshipment point where cargoes were warehoused and combined for shipment to their final destinations.

Important as it was Russo hadn’t spent any time here since before he went to work for Cardoman, preferring the more decadent pleasures of the larger Caliphate and Federation worlds. Seeing the handwriting on the wall he was getting ready to disappear into the backwoods on a planet on the other side of human explored and settled space and as far away from the war as he could manage. Some place like Frissia or Sheppard, both out of the way but similar in size to Yatagan with out the immediate threat of violence. For someone such as he it always came down to money, how much was enough, did he have it, and would it last.

A half an hour of wasted time and Russo made his decision; he would make his presence known and see how things developed. Paying his tab and walking towards the exit he clumsily bumped into one of the empty chairs at Loomis’s table and steadied himself by placing a hand, palm down, on the table. He said “Excuse me,” looking the Cardoman in the eye and righting himself and continuing on his way left a scrap of paper behind. The paper said simply, “Outside.” Russo waited, looking in the window of a shop several doors down the street for the few minutes it took for Loomis and al-Omari to make their own exits.

“Small universe isn’t it?” Russo said as the two took stations on either side of him looking in that same window.

“I was thinking the same thing myself,” Abe responded, and without further small tall said, “Got a place where we can go and talk?”

“Two blocks away, the ‘Royal Rooms.’ Just follow me. Keep your distance and I’ll let you in the back way.”

Russo stepped away from the window and proceeded down the walkway. Loomis and Gaza followed some thirty meters behind. True to his word he swiped his pass card at the named hotel and entered the three-story, nondescript housing unit located on the intersection of the main roadway and a small alley like side street.

“Stay here till I signal, I’ll go around back.” Loomis didn’t think that Russo would give him the slip. Not likely he would try, but Abe was taking no chances.

The building’s rear entrance, actually a fire door, was built into the back corner of the structure under a blank section of wall facing the alley. The solid door, no handle or card reader on the outside opened at Loomis’s light knock.

“No alarm code?” Abe asked seeing the sensor built into the door frame.
“Out of order,” Russo replied, “I made sure of it.”

“Come to the side and knock,” Abe said into his comm unit, and in a moment Gaza was inside as well where the three proceeded up a flight of stairs to a hallway servicing eight or ten rooms. There were a few additional doors without card readers that were probably storage closets for building maintenance and the like. Russo swiped his card once more at 203 and they went inside. As they did a viewscreen was plain on the wall next to the door and it showed the now empty hallway outside. Russo tapped it twice and the view switched to the main entrance.

“Not as secure as I would have liked but the best I could do under the circumstances,” Russo commented.

“Now we get to the main point. Just what are the circumstances Russo?”

In all this time from, from when Nevier first made himself known, Gaza had not said a word, and now while they talked he remained silent and kept taping at the door-side viewscreen cycling through the various remote cameras, front door, lobby, second floor hallway, rear door.

“Isn’t it obvious? I’m trying to get off of Yatagan alive. And you should be too.”

“Go back a bit Russo, last I heard you were on New Britain in Indie Space, what brought you into the Caliphate?”

Russo had heard enough to know it was time for him to go on the offensive. If Loomis had known he was last on New Britain then he was also much higher up in the Cardoman chain of command then Russo would have suspected. The fact he was here on Yatagan screamed Spook!

“Since you know so much you must also know that I do more than just recruit warm bodies for our dear home world. I look for technical and military surplus items as well. I had a line on source here on Yatagan with access to munitions, someone I had dealings with years ago before Cardoman ever entered my word view. At the time this guy was a low level supply officer with sticky fingers, now he runs logistics for the Calp subfleet base. A leopard doesn’t change his spots.”

Abe had never heard about a leopard before but the inference was plain. “So, did you do any good, and why this room right now?”

“Oh I was close alright. But that was before word reached here that war was declared. Now I just want off the planet without being caught and interrogated. My identity is good enough to withstand most normal checks but not the kind of scrutiny that Calp Intel can throw at it. And they will do more as soon as they settle down and slap on wartime controls. I should be good for a few more days but the blind I set to cover my absence is going to fail eventually and I have to be on my way to some place else before that happens.”

“What was the blind?”

“I rented an aircar to make them think I went over to Aleppo or at least on the other side of the valley. When they do find it, it’s in the back of the truck I drove back to town in, the search is going to focus right here in Scimitar.”

“Before we get back to that tell me more about this Supply officer and how far along you were before you decided to run.”

“Mujahid Zabiullah, I’ve had dealings with him twice, the last time a few years before I met all the nice people from Cardoman. What he used to specialize in was surplus and reconditioned gear. Some one would find fault with one or two items in a shipment and Zabiullah would down check the whole thing if it was small enough or selected items if the cost of a total rejection was large enough to warrant a major investigation. Older items refurbished by Calp maint units or on the inventory too long for going back on the manufacturer for repair and replacement.”

“And you have talked to him already?”

“Just once, ten days ago. He was interested but not overly so. I think he has other long term deals and no need to sell through me again.”

“Didn’t you think that with a war on his other contacts might be cut off and you, being here might and willing, could be his last chance to make a score?”

Russo hid his reaction to this obvious question, but Loomis was far too good at thinking like an arms dealer, how could he have gotten this good a feel for the way the trade worked?

“I might have tried getting back to him for a last try but I have another problem, lack of funds. For the kind of deal that I would risk my life for the profits would need to be larger than anything I can afford to front. I would have needed to get help from Cardoman, or maybe New Britain, though I would not risk that, for untraceable funds and I don’t have the time to get to either with the way things are.”

“Just how much money are we talking here Russo?”

“Millions! Five, ten, who knows? We’re talking expensive gear, standard military grade sensors and drive components, maybe even missile systems. Not the latest and greatest but last year’s model, stuff that is as good as the majority of the hardware in use.”

“When you left New Britain did you try to get a credit voucher, just in case?”

“No. I should have I guess but I felt I needed a bit more detail, see what if anything was available, before I took that step. You have to know how Cardoman and the credit situation is.” And he let it go at that though the real reason was he didn’t want his nominal employer to have any idea about his travel plans either then or in the future.

“Let me see your credit chip Russo, I need to know how much you have available.”

“Look here Loomis; last I knew you were just a small and very minor cog in the Cardoman military. What gives you any kind of authority to ask me to turn over that kind of information?”

“Look behind you Russo.”

Nevier turned round and saw al-Omari only two meters away pointing a short barreled gun in his direction and decided now was not the time to stand on principal. Still he needed to say something. “You could go and shoot me, sure you could, but it won’t do you any good. There is no way for anyone but me to access the chip, and for large amounts even I have to code the amount in a day before I make the withdrawal and verify again at the time of transfer.”

“We can wait, or we can just take it from you and worry about the credit later. Without funds getting off of Yatagan becomes a much more difficult task. You dropped the note on our table, remember? So you know where my authority lies. Let’s see it!” Abe’s voice took on an entirely different and ominous tone.

Russo took a small case from his shirt pocket and extracted a data cube; there were two more with it, one his Ident Data, and the other his personal accounts. He inserted the first into his comm unit and punched a string of numbers then passed it over.

Abe saw the Bank code and corporate name, recognizing it as Nevier’s Cardoman front, “A nice tidy sum. It seems Gaza and I have come in at a most opportune moment. You see we were planning on making a few purchases ourselves and along with this happen to have the kind of credit you say you need. I think you can now get back in touch with this Mujahid Zabiullah and let him know you are still in the market.” Abe passed back the comm unit, “Set up a transfer of all the Cardoman funds for tomorrow, and I will transfer back living and operational expenses, your own money is of course your own.”

“How very reasonable you are!”

It took all of Russo’s self control to maintain an outwardly calm expression. There was no way he could stay on Yatagan with the entire Calp security apparatus looking for him. But by the same token he couldn’t say no to Loomis and he threw out one last objection. “What you’re asking me to do is risk my life for no certain return. If I am not being hunted by the Calps now I soon will be. And by even being around me you both are putting yourselves at risk.”

“That’s why they pay us so well, isn’t it Russo?” Abe said with a wry grin. “So this is what we are going to do . . .”

An hour later Gaza had gone off somewhere unmentioned, though the fact he had taken Nevier’s rental aircar key with him was highly suggestive, Loomis and Nevier were standing outside of an underground entrance; Russo with newly purchased comm unit in hand.

“Keep it short and follow the script,” There was a steady stream entering and leaving the tube station so they were going to be noticed. If Nevier’s comm was being monitored the Calps would have a location almost at once. Abe was counting on that.

Russo punched in a code and yes—almost at once the call went through on a public line bypassing the military net.

“Colonel Zabiullah, this is Russo Nevier regarding our previous discussion.” Without waiting for acknowledgment but knowing even if Zabiullah checked to see the false name registered to the comm unit his voice was recognized he continued, “The war announcement and news from the home office has given a sense of urgency to my plans. I need to know if we can work together or if I must abandon any hope and move on to other things. I regret the need to rush like this but as volatile as the markets off Yatagan have become I find unless we can work something in the very near future I must leave for opportunities elsewhere. That being said I will be available at this number for another day, perhaps two, but unfortunately no longer. I won’t hold you for an answer now but alas; you know my situation. Goodbye for now,” and without ever hearing a word from the other end of the conversation Russo cut the connection.”

“Very good Russo, time to move.”

They didn’t go down into the tube station but instead walked across the street level to a cafe’ where they could see the underground entranceway, taking perhaps a minute in the process. If Zabiullah had put out an alert or the Calps were already looking for him the evidence would be clear in moments. Five minutes later with no sound of sirens or swarming of police, coffee finished, Abe said, “All is not lost. The Colonel may still have some use for you, back to the rooming house and we wait.”

Aleppo was a clean modern city when first seen from the air. Upon drawing nearer, the older section near the rift edge stood out from the much taller buildings beyond it and made Gaza think of his own homeworld and the city he grew up in on Altoona. He regretted he could take no time to sightsee but instead, and as rapidly as possible without calling attention to himself or the vehicle, parked Nevier’s aircar in a large all hours’ shopping center and mall located on the edge of the old city. The center along with the normal run of retailers also contained some small service shops along with several real estate offices on the premises.

Once more he disconnected the car’s locater beacon. Now when the Calps finally did find it they would have certain reason to search on this side of the continental divide. Getting the vehicle out of the lorry had been a risky business but no one seemed to take any notice.

As he strolled towards the public transport station on the rift edge, dressed as a local and speaking the language, he felt an ever more painful sense of loss. Cardoman was his life but would it ever be his home?

The walled section of the old city was called the Jdeydeh; it was 400 years old dating from the time when there were fewer than five million on planet and 20,000 lived in the narrow walled warrens. Sun baked mud brick was the main component of all construction from the least to the greatest, basked tile roofs and unpaved streets without sidewalks. There was not a single structure but for one minaret attached to the central mosque taller than 10 meters. In front of most all the buildings were awnings and still the sun shown through. Over all it was a richer more vibrant, and far less decadent version of Altoona’s capital Gabara. His wife Irwana, though perhaps not his son Mohamed, would have loved it here.

Gaza yearned for a chance to explore the back alleyways and talk to some of the residents; no time for that. He passed through the 12 hectare covered market call the ‘suq’; children played in the streets, camels knelt in front of store fronts; the smells of cooking and incense; the close packed humanity; the calls to prayer and the unpaved streets took Gaza back so far that the ultramodern passenger station, where he boarded a transport for the short jump back to Scimitar, was a shock and a wakeup call.

The bus stayed high, there were tourist vehicles to plumb the depths of the great rift, but even from this distance he could see why the valley was considered one of the natural wonders of explored space. Reaching the other side, all too quickly, Gaza disembarked and took a tube to a station near to Nevier’s apartment, but after leaving he came close but did not go inside. He gave Abraham a call and took a seat at an open air dinner, ordered and waited.

It didn’t take long from the time Gaza checked back in, less than an hour, and a voice Russo was quite familiar with was calling on a number that showed on his comm unit display as one he had never seen before, and one the standard net search for owner showed no match for. The voice, rapid and demanding, gave terse instructions, “Forty-five minutes, where we first talked, I have a list, you have the money. We can deal—make sure you are alone!”

“What now Abraham? As you are well aware my funds will not excite Col. Zabiullah. He will also realize, hell he knows now, that I can not wait for any kind of fund transfer.” Russo was lounging back on the single bed and Abe was standing at the room’s small window that looked into the building’s alleyway.

“We can do this Russo, you just need to maintain.” Abe took a rectangular memory card and flipped it to Russo who grabbed it in air.

“And this is?”

“Money! Plug it into your comm unit, it will be interesting.”

The thing booted and Russo saw a name first with a descriptor field and then the numbers. “Is this real? I never saw a stand alone credit chip with built-in authentication codes. I thought those things were only for inter-governmental or world to world transfers.”

“It’s real enough that your own account will authenticate and credit it at once. And that is all we care about, isn’t it? Zabiullah can check as much as he wants and everything turns up green. He won’t check much though, just make the deal, hide the details, and move along.”

“One of those details will be what to do with me.” Russo stared with an intensity that said he wouldn’t back down.

“If this goes through you will leave when Gaza and I do. That I promise.”