Redstone: Chapter Two: Avengers Assemble
Raymond Alexander was a tall man, with long legs and a purposeful stride that made keeping up to him difficult for someone his aide’s height. After seventeen months she was used to it, though, and trotted alongside him as he headed for his private ship, taking notes all the while.
“I want you overseeing all of his medical care until the transfer to Redstone is complete. Don’t let them be soft with his mods. I want a complete shutdown per the court order.”
“No private communication, everything he says to anyone is to be monitored. I want copies sent to me of all exchanges, and be sure to flag the ones that occur between him and anyone in the Central System, especially Admiral Liang.”
“Yes, sir, except…”
The president scowled at his aide. “Except what, Tamara?”
“Well, sir, your brother’s conversations with his counsel are legally mandated to be private. I can’t get you copies of those.”
“True, I suppose. For now.” Raymond stopped, shut his eyes and rolled his shoulders out, the most visible signs of tension that Tamara had ever seen in him. “Get me everything else, and put an order into the courts for a tighter level of surveillance on speech monitoring for Kyle. We might get permission for keyword containment.”
“Yes, sir.” Raymond started walking again and Tamara jogged at his side.
“The transfer to Redstone should be done within a week. I want you to stick to him and his entourage until that transfer is complete, you understand?”
“I don’t want him to have any opportunity to wriggle out of his incarceration period, Tamara, so mind that you keep everything strictly above board until Kyle is safely imprisoned. After that…”
“It’s a waiting game, I suppose,” Tamara said. “Until the trial, I mean.”
“No.” Raymond shook his head. “Redstone is endgame, Tamara.”
Tamara’s rapid steps stumbled for a moment, one hand going up to smooth her pale brown hair. “Uh…sir…”
Raymond didn’t stop until he was at the port to his personal ship. When he turned back to her, his face was full of sympathy. The expression looked odd on him, a prey mask stretched over a predator’s maw. “Don’t worry about that,” he said soothingly. “Just worry about keeping my brother firmly in hand before the transfer to Redstone. Once that’s done, I’ll bring you back home. I got an update from the genetic engineers yesterday, and they’re making real progress on a cure for you, Tamara. Soon all of this will be behind you, and you’ll have a very long, very productive life to look forward to.”
Tamara shivered slightly, her eyes wide, and Raymond chuckled and touched her cheek. “I thought you’d like that,” he said. “Just one more week, my dear.”
“Yes, sir,” Tamara murmured. Raymond turned and headed into the ship, the port closing firmly after him. Five minutes later The Regency had detached from the transport ship, and Tamara headed back to her temporary quarters, hustling head-down like a good little worker. Once she got to her private quarters and enabled blackout mode, she set her tab down and wiped a hand roughly across her cheek.
“Slimy fuck,” she muttered. “Sick, slimy fuck.” She pulled her hair back into a bun, then scratched her forehead. “Fucking fashion.” Why it had become la mode in the Central System for feminine to equal having your face mostly covered by your damn hair was a mystery to Tamara, except in all the ways it wasn’t. The resurgence in sexism over the past decade was directly linked to the dismissal of a lot of the Fringe planets and their “atypical” inhabitants, people who didn’t conform and didn’t care to. The idea that gender expression could even be an issue in this day and age had mystified Tamara until she met Raymond Alexander, and then it made too much sense.
If there had ever been a man who’d worshipped at the cult of masculinity, it was the president. He was the type to cherry pick at history, to wax rhapsodic about the great men of the past, most especially Alexander the Great. Not that that was coincidental, at all. And never mind that the guy had been a conqueror intent on expanding his empire instead of contracting it, or that he’d died young of illness and/or assassination, or that he’d had male lovers. Raymond was interested in the archetype: the fiction, not the fact. It both explained some of his idiosyncrasies and made others even stranger.
The president clearly wanted to be adored, and by a large swathe of the population, he was. Personally, though, he was alone, and seemed to prefer it that way. No close friends or spouses, no lovers, not even escorts spent any time in his bed as far as Tamara could tell. Raymond had no offspring, and the closest thing to genuine affection that Tamara had ever seen in him was what he expressed toward his little brother Kyle, and even that was poisoned.
The urge to take a shower was sublimated by the need to get in touch with Sir. Tamara shrugged out of her too-tight silver jacket—why the fabric refused to adjust properly was another fashion mystery that she wanted to set on fire—and settled on the narrow divan beside the false window. Currently it sported a jungle scene, but Tamara shifted it to a rocky cliff face overlooking a blue-grey ocean, with a dark purple sky in the background. She added the sound of waves and wind, and it was almost like being home. Then she assembled her private transponder.
Private, because of course Tamara needed something that didn’t hook into the prison ship’s network and also couldn’t be connected to Raymond Alexander’s communications. Assembled, because she would never have been allowed an actual private transponder. President Alexander demanded complete subservience in his employees, and that meant giving up all semblance of independence in most aspects of their lives, from what they wore to who they spoke to. Privacy was anathema, cohesion and adherence were everything. It was a good thing that Tamara had spent the time she had at the Academy learning how to make what she needed on her own.
She pulled part of her tab and set it on the divan, then pulled the retro-but-still-allowable chip from the center of her belt and slotted it into the top of the scavenged motherboard. Her earrings, completely inert when worn, became power supplies when dipped in an acid environment, which she got from the cleaning supplies in her bathroom. A few more tweaks and a minor calculation to get to the nearest bouncer, and Tamara uploaded her code and waited.
Sir answered after fifteens seconds. He looked as imperturbable as always, agelessly handsome in his crisp Academy uniform, his thick black hair a little longer than Tamara remembered it. In the background she heard Hermes say, “Mercury protocol activated,” and breathed a little sigh of relief. They were secure.
“Hummingbird,” Sir greeted her. “What do you have for me?”
“Nothing good,” she replied, wishing it was otherwise. “The President just left. I’m staying on as his liaison until Fledgling is delivered to Redstone.”
“So it is Redstone, then.”
“Yeah.” Tamara winced. She knew just how much time and effort Sir had put into getting a safety net in place at Caravan, where Kyle really should have been sent given his criminal history and family name. “His mods are going to be deactivated, and all his private communications are being monitored except those directly related to his legal counsel. I can’t guarantee that those will stay private for much longer either.”
“I’ll let Peacock know.”
Tamara snorted a little laugh, because if there was ever a more accurate descriptor for one of Sir’s operatives she didn’t know it. Garrett was one of her favorite people, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t kind of ridiculous too. “You do that. What’s our next move, Sir?”
“For you, monitoring, just like you’re supposed to. I sincerely doubt there will be any way for you to get close enough to Fledgling to speak with him, and I don’t want you to take undue risks with regard to your position. We do need to know what happens to him, though, so keep me updated as often as you can. Mercury will let you record messages in fifteen-second increments, so use the coded sequence if you can’t get me specifically.”
“Yes, Sir.” Who’d have thought a modified Morse code would be good for anything in this modern day and age?
“When you get to Redstone, the best option we have is for you to manufacture a reason to stay on the prison. You’re incredibly useful in your current position, but our top priority is the survival of Fledgling. See what you can do.”
“Yes, Sir.” Tamara would make that happen, if she had to give herself an actual heart attack to do it. “Are there any operatives in place at Redstone?”
“Peacock had two in positions of power at Caravan, but transferring them to Redstone will take time. The human guard population is only twenty percent compared with Caravan’s fifty, so it will be harder to get both of them in. There is someone on the inside at Redstone, but communication is extremely sparse.”
“Why’s that, Sir?”
“Because he’s in the prison population, Hummingbird.”
“An inmate?” Tamara was genuinely surprised. “I didn’t think it was possible to fake getting into Redstone. I mean, it’s the supermax for a reason. The only fakes that get in are the ones that have no choice, like Fledgling.”
“He isn’t a fake. Not exactly.”
“There’s a supermax prisoner in Redstone working for you? Seriously?”
“Peacock and Puffin both vouched for him.”
“Fucking Puffin,” Tamara grunted, because there was entitled and then there was dismissive, and none of her exchanges with Puffin had been anything but both of those. “How are we going to get him in touch with Fledgling?”
“He’s going to have to do it without our help, I’m afraid. Unless you can pass Fledgling information about an operative who’s largely in the dark, which I doubt. He’s modded, though, I do know that much. And Peacock oversaw the mods himself, so they’re going to be the best quality. If things go well, Fledgling won’t be alone in there.”
“Well, that’s something at least,” Tamara agreed. “Can I have a designation for this shadow operative?”
Sir smiled faintly. “Call him Magpie.”
Tamara raised one eyebrow. “Does he like shiny things, then?”
“He’s adaptable, or so I understand.” Something beeped, and Sir frowned as he glanced at a screen on his desk. “I have another communication coming through that can’t be delayed, I’m afraid.”
“I understand, Sir. Hummingbird out.” She cut the power with a sigh. If someone had asked Tamara when she was a teenager whether or not she’d enjoy spending so much time on her own, she’d have answered with a resounding “Yes!” Now that she’d been in the game for a few years, though, she could feel it wear on her a little. She hadn’t spoken with her father for months; they’d never been very close to begin with, but her dropping out of the Academy and then going to work for President Alexander were unforgivable, as far as Dad was concerned. She wondered if he was eating right, wondered how things were on Pandora. She wondered when the President would launch his attack there.
Not that she could prove that, not even with all her time as his aide. She was careful, but he was completely paranoid. He needed to go, and to manage that they needed Fledgling.
“Magpie better be good,” Tamara said to herself as she started to disassemble her transponder.
He had better be damn good.