Sparek threw back his head and placed an emptying brown bottle of painkillers back to the framework in the wall above the sink. He closed the mirrored door on them and pushed the sinktray back into the wall cavity.
He looked back to the mirror for a long moment, at the figure in the frame before him.
His torso was becoming a mess of scars. Circled scar tissue marked his chest whilst contracture scars sat below his thorax. Small thin lines of where Voldojo and Harved had sewn him back together on several occasions were just disappearing, some keloid in nature, but more were taking their place. The old Y-shaped scar that spanned the length of his chest a year ago had faded. His hair framed his chest where it was allowed to fall loose and hid flesh from view, but he knew that the scars were there.
His eyes travelled up his features until they had met themselves. Sparek’s eyes were the same as they always were. Two circles of blue steel stared back at him, examining the shaven jawline of his long face. Sparek brushed his hair behind his ears before tying it back, brow furrowed in familiar concentration.
With his boot he pushed the nearby toilet back to swing itself up into the wall and activated one of the three helix patterns on the wall, setting the room’s cleaning systems to activate. He’d forgotten that the device – one of the few non-spartan affects of the hospital – was broken but if he noticed he gave no sign. He yawned and picked up the mognac bottle before leaving the room.
The door slid open, hiding itself in the wall, painfully slowing down from the hydraulics as it did in the last few inches. It had been doing that for days. Sparek thumbed the sleep from his right eye and looked at the steel case that Voldojo had handed to him after he had set down the bottle. “Who’s it from?”
“Rengel in the 502nd,” mumbled Voldojo. Clara squinted at that. His voice grated like a heavy, metal snake on gravel. Sparek noted the lack of a mention of rank but he didn’t take his eyes from the metal case. He didn’t ask the medic.
“Would you mind leaving us, Vold’?” It wasn’t a request. “Leave the case too. I’ll be needing that.” Voldojo was dismissed. He left the room after setting down the metal box and putting a single fist over his heart – the traditional salute of the Union marines. Voldojo gave a hard glance at the machine and left. The door closed behind him. Sparek looked up at the androgynous, matt black cyborg that stood precisely to attention next to the spot that his sergeant had occupied. Their black form looked behind Sparek. Perfectly to attention, he thought. “Is there anything else, Zevo?”
“Only that you destroy the package when you are done, colonel. There’s an electromagnetic self-destruct attached.” Sparek understood. It wasn’t harmful to anything but the package’s electronics. She was dismissed too. A precise salute, stiff hand to brow, and the transhuman turned and left the room too.
Satisfied that the pair were now gone, Sparek unlocked the briefcase and booted up the console set inside. He keyed the code from the packet when prompted by the single flashing line in the corner of the screen. It remained blank for a few moments but for the symbol of the green communication handpiece.
A familiar face presently appeared on-screen, “Allo, ducky.” The voice was scratchy and deep and invoked images of dark streets lit with neon and a thick atmosphere of smoke.
“Jin Rengel, as I breathe! Secure, direct line – very flashy even for Uncle.” Uncle, as he was known, practically because he was a father figure to his troops. Sparek saw him as a person whom his troops respected to no end. His appearance held a strong face with a thick jaw hidden by blonde facial hair, that somehow suggested something homely about the man. it wasn’t unknown that Jin commanded a network of fingers in his regiment and Sparek had long known that Jin could acquire almost anything that you wanted, within reason. This, to a lot of people, would mark Jin out to be a father of rogues. With the 502nd being paratroopers this often inspired the image of deep striking thieves and merchants, with Jin at the head of this aerial black market.
The round, bearded face of Jin Rengel, the colonel and CO of the 502nd Airborne regarded Sparek with a serious tone. He spoke quickly: “I had to pull a few tricks to get the message to you, Nif’. This is ODIN information. I can’t risk mail like this being opened which is why I sent my runner. We’ve got a minute before this call can be buggered with a backdoor hack.”
“What have you got?” Sparek knew that ODIN – the Office of Defence Intelligence Network, completely in charge of the Earth Union Espionage Units – was nothing to be sniffed at, and he quickly turned himself to the seriousness of the conversation. At some point Clara had gotten up and sat on the desk, just behind the communication unit.
“The two that you asked about – Cpl. Wordworth and Lt. Blake. Blake was in Penan-” Sparek arched his neck back and looked at the ceiling tiles in thought. “-before the enemy came to the town.” Jin paused to let that sink in.
“Where was Wordworth?”
“I can’t find any details of a Cecelia Wordworth. Any.”
“I don’t think that’s standard ODIN protocol to have just one Unit member operating.” There was a brief moment before the notion of time reminded them to continue on. They can deal with this detail later.
“So they weren’t there to recon the Mandate,” he had surmised before Jin had paused. “What were they there for?”
“No idea. Assu-”
Clara suddenly spoke, interrupting Jin. “They were watching or looking for something else.” Sparek nodded in agreement to her words, still watching Jin on the screen before him. Jin was still smiling despite the lack of time left.
“‘Ello, Clara,” he said, and Clara replied with her own greeting. “She’s right though, Sparek. They weren’t there for the Mandate and Pen was nowhere near the frontlines for them to be giving forward observations.”
“Penan,” corrected Clara.
“Sources?” A question to which Rengel had shook his head. He held up a watch that dangled from a chain. He couldn’t even ask him where in Penan they were operating from.
“The coast is lovely this time of year, colonel. Maybe you should take the captain for a stroll on the beach.” Time was clearly up, but Sparek couldn’t help but think that the 502nd CO was hinting at something. The airborne unit were fighting in the seaside town alongside the 32nd, yes, but that was an unusual statement coming from him considering the context of the conversation. Clara shifted off of the desk and walked toward the door.
“One last thing,” said Sparek, “and don’t worry about speaking,” Jin looked studious. “You know that they weren’t who we thought that they were, right?” Sparek was speaking about the occupants of Penan, who clearly weren’t Mandate but belonged to another, different outfit.
Jin thought about his reply but nodded first. “I do, but they were well equipped. We don’t know who they were.”
“All gone, if not scattered. I’ll see what I can find on that.” Jin reminded Sparek of his words. “Remember the coast. It’s rather nice. The old terraforming turned it out wonderfully.”
“I’ll take Clara the next chance that I get.” Sparek smiled, looking up to Clara. He caught her looking at him but she glanced away before opening the door and looking down either length of the corridor. Sparek looked down at the face on the screen again. “Speak soon, Jin,” he said, to which the screen closed black to a silver line after the other colonel had bid his own goodbye.
When the 9th Marine participants of Operation Elanor had been delivered to this medical centre Sparek had communicated Jin – via an encrypted message set up by the engineer, Utterson – and asked him a favour in standard algorithmic code. He asked that Jin would look to find some information about the Earth Union Espionage Unit members, Blake and Wordworth. Sparek called it a hunch and reasoned that something didn’t feel right about the 9th Marines being deployed to evacuate the two as a primary objective and leaving the disablement of anti-air units as a secondary. What had made them such a high priority?
He sat back in his chair and played with the tricorn that was on the desk. Casually he placed his legs on the table, taking care not to let the boots scuff the faux wood, and sighed. He looked up to Clara as she walked back. She took the bottle from the desk and returned it to a nearby unit on the floor.
“What now?” Her question was aimed at Sparek but she wasn’t looking at him. When the captain had turned to look at him she’d folded her arms in anticipation of his reply.
Sparek abruptly stopped playing with the hat and, with his thumb on the back fold brought it up over and onto his head. “I have an idea,” he smiled, and then frowned at the implications. “The coast isn’t that nice though.”
+ + +
– by Kier Sparey
© Kier Sparey 2015