Darkness Rising (Dusk 2)
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Copyright ©2014 J.S. Wayne
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"...And so, it is my great honor to present Colonel Peter Silva with the Dusk Diplomatic Corps Meritorious Service Medal for his courage and heroism in being willing to sacrifice his own safety and life to protect two senior members of the DDC."
Olivia extended her hand. Pete took it, shaking it as firmly as public decency dictated. He would a lot rather have kissed her, and from the look on her face she was thinking much the same thing. Duty had to come first, though.
A series of rapid whirs and staccato clicks indicated the presence of tri-vid cameras, there to commemorate the occasion for reporting throughout the human-controlled galaxy. He kept his face carefully neutral, trying hard not to think about the intrusive lenses. Olivia hadn't exactly lied, but she hadn't told the whole tale to Ambassador Al-Aziz, either. If she had, Pete had no doubt he'd already be on his way off-planet under close armed guard, probably by Kozlowski.
The large man loomed in the background somewhere off to his right, but Pete could feel the intensity of the Naval warrant officer's stare burning between his shoulder blades. He wasn't unduly worried about it. Kozlowski couldn't make any kind of a move without tipping his hand about exactly why he was really here and who he was really working for. Even so, it bothered him that he couldn't nail the warrant officer down any better than that.
Olivia had finished pinning the medal to the breast of his dress tunic: a stylized supernova emblazoned with the crest of the DDC, depending from a midnight-blue ribbon with alternating white and black stripes. Now she looked at him expectantly, raising her eyebrows. The message was clear. Say something, dolt!
He cleared his throat. "Thank you, Madame Ambassador. I am pleased to have been of assistance to the Dusk Diplomatic Corps."
If they wanted more of a speech than that, they could form a conga line and kiss his ass for it. Pete had always hated public speaking, and awards ceremonies were the absolute nadir of the public appearance spectrum as far as he was concerned. He couldn't help thinking about another such ceremony, only months before, when he had stood before a crowd of hostile, grieving faces in this very uniform and handed widows, bereaved parents, and crying, confused children the IC flags that had lately draped their loved ones' caskets.
It was a dirty secret that many of the caskets did not contain remains. In far too many cases, the destruction had been too complete to make reconstructing the bodies and ensuring that this finger or that splash of blood went with this corpse practical. Pete knew it, and was under orders to keep his mouth shut about it. It would have done no good, General Neville had told him, and would only further sour public sentiment toward the Regina IV massacre.
As if anything he said or did could have made that interplanetary pooch-screw any worse. Pete almost laughed at the notion, even now. With a long breath, he stamped down the threatening, dark chuckle.
Olivia moved to his side and stood, looking directly out at the bemused and somber faces filling the amphitheater. Was it his imagination, or was she bending toward him the way he wanted to bend toward her? More clicking and whirring sounded, and he did his best to look anywhere except at the soulless glass eyes of the cameras. On his other side, he felt another presence, more prickly than Olivia's but just as supportive in its own way: Merrick. The other man put his hand on Pete's shoulder in a silent gesture of thanks.
His shoulder jumped and tensed under Merrick's fingers. Although it didn't hurt, his body knew it should. That was what happened when you got a hole the size of a pencil burned through your body: it hurt. If anything, it itched like crazy as the cellular matrix Olivia had injected into the wound worked to heal torn and cauterized flesh, blood vessels, and muscle. He didn't move, but gave the barest hint of a nod, acknowledging Merrick's presence and the contact.
How strange, to think he had experienced his first moonrise on Dusk, his first threesome, and his -- he thought quickly -- seventh brush with death all in one day. Any sane person would be hiding under a bed somewhere or demanding a one-way ticket back to Terra, and fuck the promotion that came with this ridiculous gig.
He tensed. On one of the ledges high above the main floor, a dark figure crouched. Although the room blazed with the soft light of a hundred fluorescent lamps and the reflected gleam of the blue diamond table around which the DDC members sat, pools of shadow still yawned in the ribbed vaults between the walls and ceiling. It was in one such swatch of darkness that the figure lurked.
"Who is that?" he murmured out of the side of his mouth to Olivia.
He raised his hand, moving his index finger toward the figure. Before he got it more than halfway up, Olivia quickly smacked it down again. She laughed as if he'd just made the funniest joke ever, but her eyes stayed stern and serious.
"That's Galacia City Security. They have a presence all around the room. Don't draw attention to them."
Pete glanced around and saw it was true. The security people were doing their best to stay unobtrusive, but now he knew what he was looking for, there was no missing them. Two stood near the huge doors. Another pair skirted the crowd, working in opposite directions in an arc that would take them directly past each other. He checked again and picked out no less than four concealed near the ceiling. If he had to guess, he'd imagine there were at least three times as many as he'd seen.
"Sorry," he muttered. "Call me crazy, but getting shot at makes me a little paranoid."
She raised an eyebrow. "Oh? And you think I somehow missed that incident? I was there, remember?"
He shook his head in apology. "You're right. Guess we're both a little jumpy, and we have the right to be."
She pursed her lips. "I don't want to be angry at you, Pete. I want this over with so we can go back to my quarters and fuck like restlan all night long."
"I'd like that, too." He started to turn, to ask Merrick his opinion, when a thought intruded. "Tell me about Trelawney's assassination. I never got the full story on that."