Not long ago, Cape Canaveral Spaceport underwent a lockdown after a terrorist claiming to be from Browndell, Texas, released a strain of airborne Ebola virus into the central air system. It turns out, however, that the terrorist actually came from the domed city of Bradbury on Mars. The following communique arrives on your PDA device: “Councillor Santiago, it is imperative that we meet to discuss the Ebola Browndell matter as soon as possible. I can secure a subpoena, if necessary, but I’d prefer to keep this between us for the time being. Advise as to best time and place to meet. Sincerely, Darius J. Neidermeyer, Consortium Intelligence Service.”

Rafael Santiago sits in his office, looking out on the Consortium Headquarters courtyard when his PDA goes off. Looking at the message, he sighs. Consortium Intelligence, what a joke – he thinks. He presses a button on his console to record a message. “Mister Neidermeyer. Threats are not required. Simply present yourself to my office and we can have a productive conversation. Councillor Rafael Santiago, out.” He snorts as he encrypts the message and fires it off to the Intelligence official. He assumes the man will be along shortly, and returns back to gazing out into the courtyard.

“I appreciate you taking the time to see me, Councillor,” Darius Neidermeyer says after he’s shown into the office by the receptionist. The intelligence agent is a middle-aged man, stockily built, with a rather square head going rapidly bald. “I’ll get right to the point.” He slides a PDA across the desk to Santiago. The display shows a young woman with red hair. “She gave a false identity to doctors after her capture. Before her death, she inadvertently revealed to witnesses that she was, in fact, from Mars. We’ve confirmed her identity as Marlene Derrick of Bradbury. What, if anything, do you know about her?”

After the obligatory introductions, and once the two have settled into their seats, Councillor Santiago leans forward, listening. He writes the name of the woman on a notepad in front of him. He leans back, silent, punching something into the computer terminal, presumably the information of the woman in question.

“Mister Neidermeyer. Dead or alive, the woman has the right to due process. I assume you are looking for specifics – known affiliates, those who she is known to consort with. Specifically, perhaps, if she was under observation by Martian security forces?”

Santiago snorts as he takes a small data chip out of a port in the computer, placing it in his pocket. He turns the computer off, standing and walking around his desk towards a window near the intelligence officer.

“I deplore any sort of terrorism, no matter who does it. But I can’t willingly give you information. It opens myself, my office, and the Mars government open to legal action.” He pauses a moment, turning to face the man. “Do what you must, but that, as we say… is that.”

He smiles, walking past the man, dropping the data chip down next to his chair, while proceeding back to where he sat. He places his hands on his desk, hands clasped together, simply looking at Neidermeyer, a grin on his face waiting to see what the man says and does next.

Neidermeyer arches his eyebrows as he tracks the path of the data chip from Santiago’s hand to the floor, where it bounces once, twice, and settles beneath the agent’s chair.

“You could’ve saved me the trip and the time by just writing back that I should get the subpoena,” he grunts, but leans over to pluck the data chip off the floor. He stands, pockets the chip, and then says, “But I understand your dilemma. Thanks for your time, sir.”

The councillor chuckles, “But good sir, then we wouldn’t have had the pleasure of actually meeting. I like to meet the people who are trying to screw me with my pants on. Subpoenas are so messy. If I can be of any other help, please, let me know.” He leans back in his chair, his right hand tapping his desk, while is left hand rests on the arm rest of his large leather chair.

The intelligence agent nods. He turns to leave and takes a few steps toward the door before he stops. “I don’t have to leave my office to screw you, Councillor, let alone worry about pants,” Neidermeyer says, turning to regard Santiago with a grim smile. “I’ve got people for that.” He pats the pocket holding the data chip, then asks: “Why do you suppose someone from Mars would pretend to be from Texas when they’re trying to infect Consortium citizens with Ebola Browndell?”

“That’s a good question. The easy answer is – does a terrorist need a reason other then to kill and strike fear?” Santiago replies. He leans forward, placing his hands on his desk. “The complicated answer is… well..” He pauses. “Maybe their plan wasn’t to start something between the Consortium and Texas? Maybe it’s all about misdirection. Hands full in one place, eyes not watching somewhere else. It’s possible we have a cell on Mars. Free Mars movements aren’t anything new either. Have you given that some thought?”

“I have,” Neidermeyer replies. “It’s certainly one possibility. Another simulation I ran indicated that we may be dealing with an economic terrorist group out of the asteroid belt that wants to sow discontent between Earth and Mars. We’re not ruling anything out yet, but we need to eliminate the obvious possibilities before chasing down the long shots.”

Nodding, Santiago ponders Neidermeyer’s scenario for a moment. “Well, if you require the assistance of Mars Security, please, don’t hesitate to ask.”

“Thank you, Councillor,” the intelligence agent replies. He then steps out of the office, closing the door behind him as he goes.

By Brody

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