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12 January 2007 @ 09:08 pm

                               Chapter Four

Six days before the murder

A world of blue. Almost nothing but water and salt.

Canceron rolled lazily into ‘tomorrow’ as Colette exited the Parliament building and headed left, down toward edge of the floating city. The sky above was dark and the usually placid ocean winds nipped at her face and neck.

Yyima, the unofficial capital of Canceron, was all but deserted in the early morning. The people here worked long days and those that were still awake were far out at sea, finishing their catch ready to haul it in. Carpets of weed dried on the lines crisscrossing the windows between buildings. Rodents ducked into the cracks of the walls while the smell of fish overpowered the streets, sauntered down the laneways and wove itself into the mortar. Most inhabitants did everything they could to eradicate it, but Cris breathed it in and followed toward the water where Aerelon’s representative waited.

* * *

Aerelon’s man had hired a private boat which was moored to the city’s new jetty. Cris walked along the metal boards which rose and fell with the current, searching for dock twenty-three. It was difficult to make out the numbers in the dark, but every now and then there was a lamp post clinging to the edge of the wharf, giving out just enough gas driven light to serve her purpose.

Eventually she found a typical, low range boat tied to post twenty-three. It wasn’t much to look at – ‘pokey’ even and no more than three levels. She hesitated to set foot on such an unwieldy contraption outside the shallow waters. Tourists, they knew nothing about the sea.

A dim night light switched on as Cris approached the boat. She thought she heard someone stumble across the room inside. Minutes passed with only the soft lapping of the ocean on the dock to keep her company. Everything else was quiet. Out in the night sky, immense forces pulled planets and stars in a frenzied movement to which the universe set its chaotic tempo. She looked on at every graceful and violent step, but heard none of it.

This – meeting a complete stranger at night without security – was just another movement. As a creature of the universe, Colette had no choice but to follow where the rhythm led her, and at the moment she heard the sea and the sound of a door opening on the boat – so that’s where she followed.

The representative for Aerelon appeared in the semi-darkness. “Ms. Procris,” he said as he motioned for her to approach. Colette glanced to either side of her down the deserted jetty. Two tiny white moons on the horizon left pools of white distortion in the water. The city light obscured the night sky with a blurry beacon, and a few night lights shone weakly either side of her.

Colette defiantly stepped onto the boat.

Present day

‘Please state your name for the record.’

‘Matthew Lenard.’

‘And rank?’

There’s a slight intake of breathe audible on the tape, ‘Colonel – Colonial Defense, Ground Unit Command.’

Vince’s voice doesn’t hesitate; he has these questions wired into his brain. To him, it’s like putting on another disk and listening to the playback, ‘What position do you currently hold?’

‘I am Head of Security for the President of the Colonies.’

‘Were you on duty yesterday between the hours of four and six?’

‘Yes.’ said Matt confidently. ‘My shift starts at six and finishes at nine.’

Vince paused the recording as his son, Bret, slid open the door to his office and yawned. “What are you doing dad?” he said sleepily, leaning on the doorframe.

“Just work,” Vince took off his earphones, “I thought you went to bed?”

“I did,” he said, his answer supported by his pajamas, “but there’s someone at the door. They’ve been knocking for ages.” Bret managed to be annoyed even though he was half asleep. “Ages,” he repeated for effect.

“Okay.” Vince got up and wandered stiffly to the door, picking up his son. “You go back to bed and I’ll see who it is.”

“But I wanna see!” Vince closed the door to his office and carried Bret over to the base of the stairs, setting him down.

“I promise if it’s someone interesting, I’ll fetch you. Deal?” Plea bargains – as meaningless in domestic practice as they were in political theory.

Bret yawned again, apparently losing interest. He nodded and disappeared up the stairs. Vince waited until he heard the soft ‘click’ of the bedroom door close before crossing the room. Hastily, he opened the drawer of the nightstand. He pulled out the drawer completely and set it on the desk, then reached underneath where the drawer had been and felt the underside of the table. His fingers gripped the butt of a pistol and pulled it free. Vince put the drawer back, slipped the weapon into the waistband of his pants and covered it with his loose shirt.

It was very late to have callers, and with big cases, it wasn’t uncommon to have unwelcome guests for supper. The person at the door knocked again impatiently. “Who is it?” asked Vince, approaching the door.

“It’s me,” answered a familiar voice. “Open the door already, will you? It’s wet out here.” Vince opened the door and Matt ducked in out of the storm. “Summer,” he muttered darkly, stripping his jacket off. “When will it end?”

Matt progressed into the hallway while Vince closed the door and turned to face him. “So,” he started, a little unsure, “what brings you here?”

“I’ve been trying to call you all night – is your phone off?”

“No.” replied Vince defensively, pulling his phone from his pocket. Its screen failed to light up. A yellow glow on the side told him the battery was well and truly in the grave. “Not on purpose.” He put it away hastily. “What’s so important that it can’t wait until tomorrow?”

Hiding at the top of the staircase, Bret re-appeared and stuck his head between the railings, watching his dad and the other man move through the foyer into the living room.

“It’s Troy Procris, Colette’s father.”

“What of him?” said Vince. He’d seen Troy at the funeral yesterday. Nice bloke, a little strange but that could be said about a lot of people. He was a tall, sturdy sort of a man with dark hair and eyes, just like the First Lady.

“I detained him earlier this evening. Our security answered a call to the private quarters of Aerelon’s Quorum representative, Edward Naxos. He was staying over at Parliament House for the funeral. Troy Procris apparently tried to kill him.” Vince’s eyes widened, but Matt didn’t appear to be very surprised by the news. “He might yet succeed. We found them throwing each other around the apartment. Naxos wouldn’t have lasted much longer; he’s older than my father.”

Matt and Vince sat down on a couple of the comfy armchairs. Vince winced and leant forward, reaching behind to extract the gun from his waistband.

“Paranoid as usual.”

“Careful,” corrected Vince. “I have a kid here, and the work I do attracts all sorts of miscellaneous danger.”

“I know,” said Matt, “I saw him crouched at the top of the staircase as I came in.” Both men sat quietly for a moment as boy-sized footsteps fled over the carpet quickly followed by the ‘click’ of a door latch. “Takes after you I see.”

Vince looked at Matt curiously, “Funny, I always thought he was more like her.”

Vince and the missus, it was one of those fantasies you knew must have existed but could never quite see reaching reality. “Vince, they need you in there, right away.”

Matt moved forward in his chair, donning a serious expression. “Well, it’ll have to wait until morning,” said Vince plainly. “I’ve got babysitting duties tonight and it’s too late to call anyone. How about I question Troy Procris first thing tomorrow?”

“Not good enough Vince. It’s not Troy I’m worried about.”

* * *

“Not long now,” said the doctor quietly to one of the nurses. Edward Naxos lay close to death. What could be seen of his ailing figure above the fresh linen was either bruised or fragile. A drip attached to his hand did its best to keep the pain at bay, but other than that, there was nothing much the hospital could do.

Detective Vince Moretti flashed his identification at the front desk and did the same to the two gentlemen with firearms at the door of Mr. Naxos’s private room. Vince was shocked by the man’s appearance as he moved toward the bed. He’d seen Aerelon’s representative on TV many times, but this was the first time Vince recognised him as the frail old man he really was. His eyes lacked the fire that the people of the colonies had grown to fear over the past decades. Now, they were barely open – their pupils dilated under the weight of heavy lids.

Vince found a chair and sat beside the bed.

“Mr. Naxos?” There was no response from Edward except the steady ‘beep’ of the machine beside. “I am Detective Moretti, and I need to ask –”

“Colette – is that you?” Vince stopped. The old man opened his eyes, as if coming out of a trance. Suddenly, he was very much alive. Except it wasn’t Vince he was seeing. It was Colette. “You have to listen, have to – have to tell them,” said Naxos urgently, reaching out to grab Vince’s arm. Vince offered no resistance, intrigued by the man’s turn. “I tried, for the sake of the colonies, but I couldn’t get it. Promise me you’ll try.” Naxos pulled Vince closer to him, still seeing the First Lady. “You must promise.”

The heart monitor on the wall changed pace, fluctuating with bursts of speed. One of the alarms was triggered, and nurses appeared from nowhere. Naxos only held on tighter, tugging Vince closer. “I was weak and I’m sorry. I should have told them myself but I’m a coward; I feared fear and look where it’s got us. The letter is on its way but it’s not safe. They’re coming for it, Colette, and then –”

Naxos convulsed as one of the nurses threw herself at his chest, trying to keep him in the bed. Another tried to remove Vince, pleading with him to leave. “He’s dying!” they shouted to each other, struggling to keep him down.

“Then what?” prompted Vince, curious as hell. “What happens when they come?”

Naxos arched up in the bed. The nurses backed off in shock, mouths agape at the violence of his death. Questions formed and raced through Vince’s mind. He wanted to ask them all at once but the man in front of him had already drawn his last breath. Naxos turned to Vince and, with bronze rimmed eyes, whispered, “War.”

* * *

Six days before the murder

Colette sat opposite Edward Naxos in the small living room of the boat, a glass of scotch untouched on the table beside her. The room was dark with only one lamp in the back corner behind the representative. It silhouetted him, making it difficult for Colette to read, or even see his expression.

He was an old man, she noticed. “Are you prepared to talk, or are we just going to continue sitting here in the dark?” That bordered on hostile. Colette made a note to correct that part of her interviewing technique.

Naxos was mildly amused by the First Lady, a woman he had never met on a one to one basis like this. She was so young and had much to learn about her home and her people. The people, she thought she loved them so much but wait until she knew what they did – what they planned to do, to each other.

Naxos wondered why it felt like war all the time. It didn’t matter who with, as long as it existed. Even now, in this room, it trickled through into the conversation without effort. He’d miss it in a tragic way. But alas, life was short, and this conversation would only hasten it toward its end. “I want to talk about two colonies, Ms. Procris. I wonder,” he said, “are you familiar with the Rock and the Raindrop?”

Of course she was. How could you grow up on Canceron and not be? “Yes.”

“Then you know about the lonely solar system, farther away then any of the others, with two habitable planets orbiting close by one another.” Colette knew Naxos’s story. It was the tale of Aerelon and Canceron. All children heard the romanticised tale. “Two planets,” he continued, “one small, rocky and blessed with oxidized dunes which sweep its surface in tides of red and black and the other, a mighty drop of ocean, swung about like water in a bucket. They pretend to hate each other, these two beautiful worlds, but the truth is in the irony.” Naxos shifted in his seat. “They’re both so very lonely,” he said sadly, his voice a breathless whisper, “and all they have is the other. Alone in the dark.” He stopped for a moment, overcome with emotion.

Colette felt her own darkness thicken. She had not felt compassion for an Aerelonian before. It was distrust between the worlds, based on the ancient emotion of envy that filtered through into their respective cultures, and fed a lack of empathy. She felt compassion now, quite keenly as Naxos stared upward to stop the tears from slipping over the edges of his eyes. Life was a long battle, and this man knew that he was nearing its end but not its victory.

Naxos composed his aging features, and then continued. “Now, a different tale,” he said, “of another planet orbiting in a busy system. It is surrounded by the noise and chaos of its five siblings. As in primitive ecosystems, survival of the fittest governs them. They’re so physically close that they obsess over what the others are doing, thinking, conspiring. It becomes an art – deceit.

“This world is the most venerable of the six. Historically the oldest, it was the first to be settled by our ancestors thousands of years ago. Oh, you can see beautiful ruins there Ms. Procris, some of them buried under the forest canopy and others, restored and in use.”

“Gemenon,” she stated quietly. He was talking of the Great Forum.

Naxos smiled, “Can you guess, Ms. Procris, what it means to be old? It’s all right,” he said, when she didn’t respond. “I am old and you are not. It is good that you do not understand. I like to think of the little arrangement the colonies have between themselves as a game of Black Jack.

“Gemenon is the Banker, first to arrive with an enormous stash of chips under the counter. The other colonies join later and seat themselves at the table. Gemenon deals them in.

“The game begins on an equal footing. Players lose and win marginal amounts. Deals are made and the Banker slips chips under the table to those who make acceptable offers. It continues on in a steady balance where money is exchanged with one constant; the Banker always holds all the cards.

“Two players start to win more than they lose. As everyone is playing against the Banker, nobody seems to care much about this, and the table remains content. The Banker, though, notices his pile of money start to diminish. Only slightly at first, but gradually these two players reduce to the Banker to a position where paying out the other players’ wins becomes impossible. The deals under the table reverse. The Banker calls in favours to stay in the game while the two dominant parties increase their lead.”

“The Rock and the Raindrop…” Colette said quietly to herself. “Two planets of immense wealth.”

“I think you mean new wealth. Anyway, the table becomes volatile. Players are cautious in placing bets because the Banker cannot pay them if they win. The two heavy weights start to pay their fellow players off when the Banker cannot. They loan money and gradually reduce the Banker’s role to mere card shuffling. These two big shots know that at some point they could find themselves in opposition with each other, but for the moment, they are stronger together than apart.

“The Banker has seen this situation before. In a normal game, the two players would be asked to move to another table, but in this case, there is no other table to go to and the next few moves of all or nothing bets will send the Bank bust. Power will pass to one of the two big players. But the Banker can’t just rejoin the game if he loses. He has not been playing like the others and has no chips with which to bet. He faces complete eviction from the table or a long suffering existence as an unwelcome spectator. By this stage, the Banker’s debts are enormous. Two options remain:

“One; perhaps the most obvious, is to leave. Pass over power in return for the cancellation of debts. The Banker will be broke, safe and dependant on whoever the new Banker is.

“Two; make use of a curious rule. Any player who leaves the table before the game is finished must forfeit their cash. All forfeited cash is claimed by the Bank. ‘Interesting’ notes the Banker. What he needs is a way for both big players to forfeit the game. The only players powerful enough to make that happen - are each other.”

“Force conflict.” said Colette, understanding. “Force Aerelon and Canceron into war to restore Gemenon.”

“Exactly.” Naxos smiled without mirth. “The Bank has a problem. Neither big player wants to go to war with the other because the stakes are too high. They’re intelligent. You have to be to get this far and they know that any challenge to each other could end in their demise. In military terms I believe it is called, Mutual Assured Destruction. If they’re going to risk it, the Banker is going to have to give them a good reason to do so.”

Colette smiled, “The Banker needs the other players. Gemenon needs the Colonies. Use them to catalyse the war.”

“Ms. Procris, I had no idea you were a card player.”

By his own admission, the colony of Aerelon was smart. Apparently sharper than Canceron because they were the only ones that saw Gemenon’s game for what it was. They were also the prey. Prey could always smell danger on the wind. “And what does Aerelon want?”

“To survive.”

Present Day

A very unhappy ex-wife greeted Vince at his front door. Her arms were folded aggressively in front of a blue, V-necked jumper he used to like. “So who’s this ‘Matt’ and why is he sitting in the lounge room with my son?”

Oh, whoops… thought Vince.

* * *

“It’s very nice to finally meet you Mrs. Moretti.” Matt picked himself up from the floor where Bret had been forcing him to play ship racing games. In truth, Bret didn’t have to force him too hard; Matt was a fan of video games himself.

“Trust me, it’s hasn’t been ‘Moretti’ for a while. You can call me Tess – who are you again? I’m not sure we’ve met.” That last bit was directed more at Vince than Matt. She was not an overly protective parent, Tess just liked to meet or at least know something about the people that looked after her child. A first name always helped.

“Ah – ” Vince stepped in between the two in case his ex decided to accidentally commit murder. “This is Matthew Lenard. He’s Head of Security for the President.”

Tess narrowed her eyes and observed Matt like a desert eagle to its insectile prey. As much as she wanted an excuse to pick a fight, she had to hand it to Vince, it was extremely difficult to be mad at him for leaving the President’s Head of Security in charge of their son. Not injuring either of them was her form of approval.

“Vince, a word?” Tess headed out into the kitchen, followed obediently by Vince. “Close the door.” He did so while she retrieved an assortment of vegetables from his fridge and began chopping them on the board in front of him. She must have bought those and put them there while he was out. Dammit, he’d told her specifically not to shop for him. “Whatever it is you’re involved in, I don’t want Bret anywhere near it – do you understand me Vince?”

Vince watched the sharp knife slice a potato in four. Despite its tendency to bite, he missed her attitude toward life. She was never indecisive and always prepared to fight for what she wanted. Tess was also extremely talented with a knife – but that’s what you get for marrying a chef.

“Are you listening to me, because I’m serious this time!” Juice and seeds spilt onto the cutting board from a ripened tomato – she wiped the knife on a nearby cloth. “You can’t always keep your work and your home separate, not in your business. It follows you Vince; it’s a part of everything you do. That’s why you’re so damn good at it. It’s also the reason I can’t sleep at night and spend the rest of my time worrying about you.” She stopped mid-slice, “About Bret.”

Vince moved forward, “Tess – ” He stopped when she resumed cutting.

“He’s seven. Remember that when you’re making decisions that affect his life.”

“It’s all I think about.” Vince left the kitchen before they got into another of their famous arguments, a tactic he’d picked up in their four years of marriage.

“Vince,” he slipped his head back inside the room. Tess had both hands on the bench for support. Her shoulders took most of her weight. She looked tired, they both did. “Don’t die,” she said quietly. “I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t die.”

“I won’t die.” He replied. Vince closed the door after him, leaning against the wall until he heard her resume chopping.

* * *

‘A world of blue. Almost nothing but water and salt.

Violent storms gather strength, their expanding peaks pushing upward into the water laden atmosphere. Clouds swirl and pull tunnels of water into the sky and then drive them out over empty seas. The depth of the water changes its pace. In the shallows, it moves quickly over the sand beds. Currents and rips drag each other apart; schools of fish catch and alight the morning tides to rejoin the deep water highways. Sunfish bask the flats. Their silver bodies sprawl. Wild children use them as rafts during play time; sitting on their backs they run dark fingers over the fish’s scales. The Sunfish is a lonely spirit of the world, protected because of its ugliness. No creature will touch its flesh.

In the deeper water, life grows large. Whales sing to each other through the clouds of plankton and mate in the moonlight of the clear season when the sky is finally free of the thunder clouds.

The waters warm and the algae bloom. They are underwater smoke clouds. Green plumes that erupt toward the surface then spread to avoid the tension of the water. Growths, larger than the islands, fill the oceans with spawn. These floating ecosystems are unstable and die for unknown reasons. Their green becomes brown and their form – waterlogged. Soon after, the mass sinks to the bottom of the ocean, joining the carpet of dead organisms that has built for millennia. In time, there will be oil and coal to mine from the lifeless mass. A renewable source of energy. Self perpetuating wealth on Canceron’s waves.’

Matt closed ‘On Canceron’s Waves’, placing the gift on his desk. His office was bare, probably because he didn’t spend enough time in it. He hadn’t gone to any effort to make it homey. This place had been his for eleven weeks, and now he didn’t see the point of putting any effort into something as pointless as aesthetics. With any luck, this would all be someone else’s problem shortly.

(This entry is subject to change :) )

sidhe1sidhe1 on January 14th, 2007 05:09 am (UTC)
This was another great chapter. SORRY I didn't get the beta back to you. I was actually busy at work for once this week. Go figure. *hugs*
ellymellyellymelly on January 15th, 2007 05:44 am (UTC)
do not worry! I've been stuck on the farm for the last two weeks with my nephew and his friend so I know what's it's like to be short of time. :D They better not be driving you too hard at work or all the a/r shippers will have to bring their sharpened pencils and come and have a serious word with them!
sidhe1: sexydamasidhe1 on January 15th, 2007 05:10 pm (UTC)
Work isn't too bad but if y'all could finagle a way to get me out of teaching a class that starts tomorrow, I'd appreciate it muchly. Remind me next semester not to do that again, would you? =P
ellymelly: facepalmellymelly on January 18th, 2007 11:01 am (UTC)
i'll write it on my forehead lmao!

hmm, I don't see a way out of class but - hold on, your icon just loaded and totally destroyed my train of thought.

um... okay, i'm going to need a moment... *stares at icon*
sidhe1sidhe1 on January 20th, 2007 06:53 am (UTC)
Crap. Which icon is it? They aren't showing when I view the replies in this thread. Weird. You can snag it but I need to know which one it is so you can give due credit. Gods know I certainly didn't make it! =P
ellymelly: Squeeellymelly on January 22nd, 2007 09:24 am (UTC)
ooooh! i got this notice in my letterbox telling me i have a package! *gets excited* now i have a reason to go into town! :D (I actually laughed because our letterbox isn't used and its kind of on the lawn with bits of lawn coming through it and the post guys always stop and look around for another mailbox before relenting and bending down to the dangerous looking object :D You have a package on the way, but i don't think it's got there yet. It's all a bit chaotic with the trains and the roads closed because of the huge bushfires. (our place is not brown and dry - we really really need rain...) But i got your fanfiction bound! lol, I waited and nagged my parents for a binding machine and they finally relented! (i didn't tell them i needed it urgently so that i could bind fanfiction lmao!)
ellymelly: it is only your soulellymelly on January 22nd, 2007 09:06 am (UTC)
the icon says, "sexydama" lol (you can see why i'm transfixed)
sidhe1sidhe1 on January 22nd, 2007 05:29 pm (UTC)
Ah yes. Heh. That was made by prettypinkdork.
Joellyetanothermask on January 18th, 2007 03:57 am (UTC)
I'm sorry, I've got to be the world's worst beta. Anyway, I just wanted to see that you've got me hooked with this story. The characters are interesting and it's so rare to see a glimpse of colonial life before the Cylon attack. Can't wait for the next part!
ellymellyellymelly on January 18th, 2007 10:59 am (UTC)
no, i think i currently hold that title lmao!!! :D

I've just been so off the wall lately. I tell you, holidays and being out of the city really screw with my reliability online. oh well, going into town tomorrow - civilisation!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

thank you for the compliment, i'm about to send off the next chapter, 'shatter' in a day or so. goodness knows what it's like. lol *hugs*