The coordinates landed Rowena on a grassy hill, under the shade of a pagoda covered in vining plants. It was out of sight of the city cameras, windows, and pedestrians. She patted the knife in her pocket for comfort. After this was over she’d have to find a way to get it back to Silar. It had a good weight to it. She could throw it at his head.
In Cargo Blue while he was drinking would be the best time.
If she could get it to smack into the wall right by his head, that’d be perfect.
Grinning, she headed down to the Jhandarmi offices. She’d never studied architecture, but the white column against the mirrored glass and silver dome was pretty if not functional. There was undoubtedly some long and storied history that the mudders – she caught herself – that the grounders liked.
“Grounders. Ground-siders,” she whispered under her breath. “They are people. I will treat them like people. Even if they are people who don’t like engines.” Highly suspicious that. Who didn’t like the comforting sound of an engine to fall asleep to?
The broad double-doors slid open as she approached and the fresh air smelling of grass clippings was replaced by a rush of chilled office air. The Jhandarmi needed a new filter for their air cycler. And, possibly, soap.
A young woman with brown hair pinned in rosettes at her nape smiled from behind a desk as Rowena walked in. “Good morning, ma’am. May I help you?”
Rowena bit back the need to correct her. Yeoman was an enlisted rank, she wasn’t Ma’am any more. But, according to her implant, the ground-siders sometimes used it as a respectful title for someone they didn’t know. “I’m looking for Guardian Sciarra from Enclave. I’ve reason to believe he’s here working with the Jhandarmi on a case.”
The woman smiled brightly. “Of course, ma’am. If you’ll sign in here.” She held up a tablet. “And I’ll get you a badge. The join offices are on the fifth floor.”
Rowena took the round badge and pinned it to her shirt. “Do you have stairs?”
“The lift is around the corner on the left,” the woman said. “If you have any trouble, come back to my desk and I can take you through the worker’s entrance. The lift is supposed to be fixed though.”
She nodded. The building felt strange, overgrown almost. The ceilings were too high and the halls too wide. Unless they planned on running a regiment through here, they were wasting space.
Around the corner was a bank of silver doors.
Rowena stepped in front of one and tried to trigger it with her implant. There was no data receiver and no telekyn in the doors. “Fifth floor,” she said.
The doors remained inert.
“It’s a push button one,” said a voice behind her.
She looked over her shoulder at a bullish, bald man who her implant hadn’t been able to find because of his lack of telekyen. Her first real grounder. She blinked.
“Tyrling,” he said reaching out and hitting a small, rectangular button. “From Marjori, originally.”
“Rowena Lee off the Danielle Marie,” she said. “Are you going up?”
“I am indeed.” He placed his hand over the open door as she stepped inside, then followed.
“Fifth floor, please.”
Tyrling nodded and pressed a button on a panel. “Danielle Marie, famous scientist from the start of the space age, wasn’t she?”
He nodded as the lift ascended quietly. “You here on business?”
“Trying to contact someone from Enclave who is working on the theft of fleet property.”
His head bobbed again. “I know that case. Are they expecting you?”
“No, but I needed to get the information I came across promptly.” That seemed like a safe answer. It justified her presence without giving too much away.
The bullish man smiled. “Excellent to hear. The Jhandarmi appreciate fleet support. I’m Tryling, by the way. Director Tyrling.” The lift chimed and the doors slid open. He motioned for her to proceed. “One of my best field agents is on that. I’ll send her your way. Can I persuade you to take a seat in our conference room?”
“That would be agreeable.”
Tyrling led her to a small room with frosted glass walls and a thick sliding glass door. “Just here, if you don’t mind. It won’t be but a moment.”
Rowena glanced around as she walked in took a seat. At the far end of the hall there was a small gallery that looked like a break room. And on the table a white cup with Titan’s name scrawled across it. She relaxed.
He was here.
The director shut the door with a smile leaving her to watch the spectral figures who passed. They spoke in hushed voices and moved with urgent purpose.
Rowena closed her eyes, trying not to remember the brig she’d sat in for months at the end of the war. The first days had been like this, no news, no contact, only voices of people out of sight.
It made her want to scream.
The door opened and Selena Caryll walked in wearing grounder business clothes. Her shield was muted, offering no information and hidden from all but a direct search.
She stared at Rowena for an uncomfortably long moment then quietly closed the door. “When Tyrling said someone from fleet had come looking for Titan, I wasn’t expecting you.”
“I wasn’t expecting you either.” Rowena refused to take a defensive posture or be goaded into a fight, but every hair on the back of her neck stood on end. “I know Titan’s here. The guardians tracked his shield here and there’s a cup with his name on it.” Her belligerence wavered under Caryll’s quiet stare. “He’s here. If the Jhandarmi are holding him-”
Caryll shook her head and sat down. “No, we aren’t holding him.”
The we rocked Rowena to the core. Selena Caryll was a lot of things she hated, but she wasn’t a traitor. “We? You’ve left fleet?”
“I’m the OIA liaison. Over the course of my work I took the Jhandarmi training.” She took a seat across from Rowena. “I hold rank in both places. It’s all or nothing any more. It can’t be if we want to survive.”
Rowena sucked in a breath, trying to hold back her growing unease. “Where’s Titan?”
“I wish I knew. The cup in the break room was from breakfast. I ordered for him because he didn’t come directly here after his meeting with Lily Sekoo. He didn’t answer when I pinged, but I thought he might had had crew business.” Caryll’s expression was hollow, guarded and worried. She was watching Rowena like she held the secrets of the universe.
“He left with Lily.” Rowena shook her head. “That’s… that’s the last anyone’s seen of him. But the Sekoos say he isn’t there. I went to the Starguard and they tracked Titan’s shield here.”
“Most likely tracked my shield,” Caryll said. “I helped Titan modify his shields when I realized he’d be around grounders. I imagine they’d look very similar. It’ll keep him safe from any local weapons though. Including the obsidian knife in your pocket.”
Rowena started, looking up in surprise. “That wasn’t supposed to be detectable.”
“It’s not… to most people. Carver had five of them; one each for Gen and Hollis, Marshall, me, and one for himself. I added it to my security scans. It makes it easier to track them all down in hurry. Except most of us have quit wearing them since the war ended, and I doubt you bought yours on planet.”
“Silar gave it to me,” she admitted, touching her pocket. “So I wouldn’t be outside Enclave unarmed.”
Caryll seemed to consider this and then nodded slowly. “That’s a very Hollis thing to do. Especially if he thought I was down here in trouble.”
“I’m not your backup.”
Caryll’s eyes flashed a white-blue as she smirked. “I don’t need backup, Lee. I need answers. Where do you think Titan is?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know how to find him.”
“Did you need to find him right now?”
Rowena weighed her options. At the end of the day, Aronia’s life was worth what little pride she had left. “I traded the Sekoos for medicine for my sister. Three boxes, and they got an hour with Titan. We scheduled the trade last night and I sent them an alignment coil for a stabilizer since they put the word out they needed one.”
“Good trade tactics,” Caryll said with a nod. “What went wrong?”
“The medicine wasn’t what we needed. Some of it was, but some had been switched.”
Caryll frowned. “Could it have been switched?”
“No.” Rowena shook her head. “It was repackaged and resealed. Either the manufacturer made a mistake, or someone tampered with it after shipping. I haven’t heard of any recalls on the grounder communiques.”
“Neither have I.” Caryll sighed and sat back in her seat. With a sigh, she closed her eyes. “I have a really bad idea.”
“Sounds like you.”
Caryll shot her a glare. “I know how to find Titan, but I need Sciarra resources to do it.”
“Good luck with that.”
“You’re going to help,” Caryll declared as she stood up. Her sudden smile was not reassuring.
Rowena crossed her arms. “How are you going to convince me to do that?”
The room shifted abruptly, the grounder offices being replaced with a scene of broken chairs and the smell of a burning ship.
“Welcome aboard the Persephone,” an AI voice said as the captain’s whistle rang around Rowena.
Selena Caryll walked across the bridge of her warship. “You should know better, Lee. Captains never ask, they order.”