Excerpt: WARDOGS INC #2

HUNTER KILLER is the second in the WARDOGS INC. series of Merc-SF action by G.D. Stark

“So,” Jones asked, punching in his order on the table computer. “Where the hell is Ward?”

“Arrested,” I said, taking a coffee from the robowaitress. One sugar, one cream. I considered having a shot of bourbon added then decided against it.

“Arrested?” Zelag and Jones said simultaneously.

“Yeah,” I said, selecting my own order. Pancakes sounded good.

“Why?” Jones asked.

“The cops pushed him, questioned his integrity, almost accused him of doing it himself,” I said. “Damned pigs.”

“And he blew up,” Jones said.

“Bingo. They kept pressing him until he snapped and shoved the cop, they stunned him, then off to the tank he went.”

“That’s bullshit,” Zelag said. “They should be talking to the crazy butterfly people, not us.”

“What did you do?” Jones asked.

The robowaitress approached and brought my pancakes, along with Jones’s and Welag’s orders. She refilled my coffee silently, then wheeled off.

“What was I supposed to do?” I said. “I let them take him away. He was out of control and it wasn’t like I could take them all down and carry him out. I did the responsible thing. I answered their questions like a good little sheep. But they had it in for Ward. They pushed him too far.”

“We should bust him out,” Zelag said.

“What?” I said. “You barely know him.”

“He’s a Wardog,” Zelag said. “That’s good enough for me.”

“He’s right, Tommy,” Jones said. “We could bust him out easy.”

“We’re going to requisition arms from the WDI office so we can hit a local police station?” I said. “They’ve probably already cleared out everything we’ve got at the house and in the car.”

“Naw,” said Jones. “Hell, we could probably neutralize everyone in the station if I could get ahold of a few ingredients at a hardware store. Jam the sensors and the sniffers, kill the lights, hack the ventilation and put down the cops—with our optics we could get in and out in the dark—10 minutes.”

“I’m not going to say I’m not tempted,” I said. And I was. I’d love to put the jackasses in their place. “We’d never get off planet after that, though,” I said, realizing how screwed we’d be without official Wardogs support.

“I have friends in the diplomatic corps here,” Zelag said. “I could get a system jumper lined up. They wouldn’t even have to know we were Wardogs. No questions asked.”

I chewed thoughtfully. We could do it. Ward was our boy. If I could simply– Then my transceiver pinged and I twitched my eyes to bring up an incoming message. I saw Jones and Zelag were receiving as well. We’d all been jacked before this mission, since the tech level allowed it.

I read the message off the table top in front of me. It wasn’t really on the table, of course, but that’s how it looks when you’re jacked. I wasn’t on AI and I was firewalled so those Unity bastards couldn’t turn me Manchurian, but it was good to forgo carrying a tablet when you’re in the field.

Falkland, Jones, Zelag—why the hell are you screwing around with the local police? Shut the hell up and let legal team play dice. Do not answer any more questions and for God’s sake don’t do anything else stupid. Client dead, lethal force utilized at public event, and now Ward is assaulting peace officers? Shut down and sit tight, the cavalry is on the way. This is NOT the time to go off the chain!
—Captain Arden Williams, Sales Division

“Damn,” Jones said after I showed it to them.

“Yeah,” I said. This should have been simple. Now I was in the sauce.

Zelag yawned. “I figure getting some sleep is probably the best way to keep out of trouble.” He stabbed at a last piece of sausage and washed it down with a swallow of tomato juice. Or maybe it was a Bloody Mary. I didn’t ask.

“Agreed,” Jones said. His eyes unfocused for a moment. “There’s a hotel about five minutes walk from here. Anyone got any money?”

“I have the company card,” I said. I was half-way through my pancakes but I’d lost my appetite. “Let’s go.”

We got ourselves rooms and I lay down on the bed without undressing. I was beat inside and out.

The door chimed cheerfully, waking me up. I rolled out of bed quickly and looked for my gun, then realized it was gone. The events of the last 24 hours raced back to me. That death—geez—I tried to tell myself it was a nightmare but knew full well it wasn’t. No nightmare was that vivid. I walked to the door and looked at the small security monitor to see who was outside. There I saw a pair of women and three guys in suits. The woman in front rang the chime again.

Great. Ambulance chasers. I ran my fingers through my hair and opened the door.

“Tommy Falkland?” said the woman. I nodded. “Veronique Parey. I’m a Senior Investigator in the Intelligence Department.” Ah, so this was the cavalry. Not bad. “This is my partner, Bettina Wolfsganger,” she continued, gesturing to the second woman. Veronique was maybe 35, tall, thin and athletic, with high cheekbones and long black hair. Bettina was a little shorter and more compact, with blonde hair and wide-set silver eyes. She was either wearing fancy contacts or had optical implants. My bet was on the latter, given her occupation.

“May we come in?” Parey asked.

“Sure,” I said. “Who are these guys?” I asked, gesturing towards the guys in suits.

“Just the local element of your new legal team. Jeston, Forman, and Ashbach.”

“Let me get some coffee started,” I said. I walked to the small kitchenette and studied the machine I knew could produce caffeine. It had too many options and my eyes were blurry.

“Here,” Wolfsganger said, walking in behind me and pressing a button. There was a hiss and a moment later a panel opened containing a mug of black coffee. “Cream? Sugar?” she said. “One of each,” I replied. She pressed a couple of buttons and my coffee was complete.

“Thanks,” I said, taking a sip.

“The situation is not ideal,” Parey said, sitting on the edge of the bed. Two of the lawyers sat on the love seat, another stood uncomfortably against the wall. “But I’ve seen worse.”

“Tell me about it,” I said. I was starting to feel less stupid as the caffeine hit my system.

“We’re working on getting Ward out,” she said. There was another chime at the door and I got up to let in Jones and Zelag.

“Looks like a great party,” Jones said, smiling and sitting on the bed next to Parey. “Who are you all?”

“This is our legal team, I think,” I said.

Wolfsganger stood just inside the kitchenette, silently watching us over a cup of steaming tea. Zelag looked around for a seat, then sat on the bed on the other side of Parey. I stayed standing.

“We’re considerably more than that,” Parey said. “You and the rest of your team not only blew the mission, but managed to get yourselves into a legal mess. If you’re lucky, we’ll get you safely disentangled and off the planet before you screw up anything else. And while these three gentlemen are the legal team. Betti and I are investigators who have been assigned to this case. We’re going to find out what happened and how they managed to get past you boys.”

“We didn’t kill him, you know,” Zelag said.

“Of course not,” Parey agreed, with a professional smile. “But let me take a little stab in the dark here. The four of you don’t think much of the local police, and after you were all taken into custody, you were less than perfectly cooperative during the interview process. I’ll even bet that the three of you are already planning to break into the police station and exfil Mr. Ward.”

Zelag’s eyes widened. Jones shrugged. I did my best to look as if the thought hadn’t even crossed our minds.

“Look,” she said. “I get it. You’re mercs. Your job is to break stuff and do bad things. But what you have to understand is that our job is to fix things and correct the problems that are occasionally caused by excessively violent men.”

“The three of you are going to have to trust us,” Wolfsganger declared, entering the conversation for the first time. “This is far from the worst situation we’ve had to clean up. All we need you guys to do is not dig the hole any deeper, all right?”

“Thanks, Betti,” Parey said, then turned back to us. “Now listen. As the first order of business, you three need to stay put, sit tight, and shut up. That is an order!”

“Who put you in charge,” Jones muttered. I kicked his shin.