April started researching what was available to study economics. She’d find a formal class, but needed to know enough to even pick one. Jeff would expect her to do much more than a superficial look at the subject, and if she was going to be a bank owner she really should have a grasp of the matter. She hadn’t been thinking of all that when she first had the idea they should grab rights to have a bank while the window of opportunity was open on Home.
The array of books available was overwhelming. April usually didn’t approve of popularized guides, but saw a book entitled “Economic Jargon and Surviving Economics 101” That got bought along with what were said to be classics, “The Wealth of Nations”, and “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money”. She had to admit they looked a little dry.
Eddie called her up and wanted to talk. He assured her it was too long and complicated to cover over dinner. She set aside tomorrow afternoon with some trepidation. He didn’t sound upset with her, but she still had doubts about her trip, and whether it was as successful as others seemed to think.
Gunny was still watching recordings of Home Assemblies. April set a timer and allowed an hour to try to absorb economic jargon, and then she’d join her Japanese class. She hadn’t been in the active class so long they probably forgot who she was.
When the timer went off she was ready to move on. She had a hundred new words spinning in her head. Words she was used to using having new meanings were more difficult than entirely new ones. The language of economics seemed a bit archaic.
April knew Gunny would take tea, so she went ahead and made it to move around after sitting so long. They didn’t have active furniture that moved around under you like some offices used. It might be more productive, but April agreed with her Dad that you need a mental break too.
Gunny got up and stretched, and went off, probably to use the restroom. April took a slight break to look at the stocks. Nothing big was happening or the screen would have alerted her by changing line colors. But she examined trends and then looked at the news.
She had almost two hundred key words and phrases for her bots to gather. That was going to go up when she added economic terms. There were a number of stories about Home, commercial matters mostly. Contracts let and a couple stories about the new ring being built. Jeff’s name came up a few times and the Rock was mentioned.
She’d skimmed over half when she came to a story gathered by the key word Santos, the name of the Earth family with who she’d been staying.
América del Sur Noticias Netos: Buenos Aires, (auto translated) – Search and rescue services report no sign of the American pleasure vessel Tobbiko registered to Tetsuo Santos. A rubber dinghy with the ship’s name and various articles of clothing and food containers washed up on Horn Island shore north of the Drake passage. Chilean air assets aided in the search out of Puerto Williams. The vessel is assumed lost in the dangerous seas close to the Antarctic Circle.
“Gunny, look at this!” He got up and came over. She was too shocked to send it to his screen. She thought while he read it. When he finished and looked at her he was surprised she wasn’t upset anymore.
“It’s bullshit,” she said with absolute conviction.
“You think so?”
“Mama-san told me the Tobbiko was much stronger than boats made just thirty years ago. She said it could be pushed under by a rogue wave that would crush and demast those sort of boats and it would just bob back up. No way they got broke up and sank in the easiest season to make the passage. Papa-san wasn’t the sort to take her into something he didn’t have the skill to do.”
Gunny pursed his lips and considered it. “If this were true you’d have heard from Adzusa by now. Until we hear something from her I don’t believe it either. He just decided to disappear himself lock stock and barrel. I bet some of the intelligence community are skeptical too.”
“I’m not going to call the lieutenants in Maine. In some form Papa-san will make his pickup or he’d have arranged to let me know.”
“You going to say anything to Adzusa?”
“No. No condolences tells her I don’t believe it. Saying anything else is a security risk. If it was true she’ll contact us personally with details.”
“I agree. I bet this indicates he decided to leave Earth. He’s abandoning his contacts and networks if he’s going to fake his own death.”
“Wouldn’t they continue to have value?”
“Their value declines with time,” Gunny explained. “Their value hinges on people never being entirely sure he is fully retired. If he’s still seen as a potential player he has leverage. If he left Earth and took up permanent residence off planet I think that would end most of his influence anyway. Home just isn’t big enough or old enough to have an influence in the intelligence world. Maybe someday,” he allowed.
April thought about it. “I’m going to just keep my mouth shut. I’ve got to log on my Japanese class or miss it again. Want to go get some supper after that?
“Yes, but let me know when it’s near. I want to shower and change first.”
* * *
“Get ready if you still want to go,” April said much later. “We’re about done here and the instructor is giving us his usual little summation and pep talk.”
Gunny grunted a response and disappeared to his room.
Her time with the Santos had polished her Japanese. The household help, not her hosts, had taken the time to couch her by explaining the common daily speech about laundry and meals and shopping trips. They had even patiently repeated phrases in both English and Japanese when she was completely out of her depth.
The instructor and even a few fellow students had expected her to be rusty after an absence, but instead she had improved her accent and vocabulary. Quite a bit of it had to do with fishing and sail boat handling, but those terms can be used nicely to build analogy and metaphor.
“Assuming my paperwork comes through clean and complete, I believe I’ll set things in motion to assume Home citizenship and pay the severance taxes to end my North American citizenship,” Gunny said.
“How much do they ding you to leave now? Most folks who come up here plan it ahead and just abscond.”
“It will run about three-hundred-thousand over my regular taxes by the time I am done. I figure about a third of what I’ll get for my house if that isn’t screwed up. I put enough in my account to cover my utilities and the summer taxes when they come due. We’ll see if they get applied or if somebody snatches them. At least the account accepted the deposit.”
“If they don’t, want me to drop a rod on it so they can’t make anything from stealing it?”
“Let me see what else I can do before you bombard North America for me,” Gunny asked. “I suspect that might work against me being able to freely visit the continent too. That was one of my goals in leaving quietly and politely.”
“Yeah, I’m not sure when I’ll feel free to visit Hawaii again.”
“You are young. Smart to keep it open if you can. You may really want to go down in fifty years from now.
“Or I might not even be in the system in fifty years.”
Gunny looked at her funny. “What system?”
“Why, the Solar System,” she said, like it was obvious.
“You feel confident that is a possibility?”
“Jeff is working on it.”
The cafeteria was past peak for supper, starting to empty out. April got fish and chips and a side salad with chilled shrimp and a lemonade. Gunny got weinersnitzle with potato pancakes and sauerkraut with apples.
April went to the far wall away from the coffee where everybody congregated. She greeted several people passing through, but nobody stopped her. She sat looking back as always because she enjoyed the people watching.
Margaret from Security was sitting against the other wall right by the entry. Usually nobody sat there unless it was full because it was as far from the line and coffee as you could get. But she had a pad open and some hard copy on the table like she was working. Which she confirmed even before April unloaded her tray. A message appeared in her spex that she was working and couldn’t visit, so April just replied ‘OK’ in text with a flick and blink of her eyeballs since she had the tray in both hands.
There was Mr. Muños, as usual the center of a deep discussion, and Ed Page who was a multi-tasker with an actual computer open, not just a pad. He’d eat breakfast and watch the news and manage his stocks while listening to the Muños group and not miss any of it. There was a new guy by the coffee she didn’t know, but he had eyes only for the girl with him.
Ben Patsitsas the author came in with his usual scarf around his neck. On his heels was a new guy, Oriental, but big. He looked more like he belonged in the other cafeteria with the fit, young vacuum rats and beam dogs.
She had her stuff all off the tray, so Gunny pulled it over and set his tray inside hers and sat down beside her, eating off the tray. He hadn’t done that last night.
It finally slowed down enough there was nobody in the food line waiting and Ruby came out with a rag to tidy up the coffee area.
April stabbed a few pieces of salad and a shrimp on her fork when Gunny stood back up. What she didn’t expect was his big hand reaching in past her arm to tip her over backwards chair and all. She wasn’t even half way to the floor before there was a >BOOMBOOMBOOM<.
Her ears were ringing and she looked up laying on her back and saw Gunny drop the hammer on his new pistol and slide it back in his holster before he reached a hand down to help her up. She had to switch her fork to the other hand to accept his help. Once she was up he reached back and sat her chair upright and took off for the commotion over by the coffee machines without a word of explanation.
April followed him wondering what was going on.
The Oriental fellow who came in last was sprawled on the floor. He was a gory mess in the middle of his chest and weirdly his hair and the shoulder of his shirt were all wet but steaming. There was the handle of a kitchen knife sticking out of his lower back. Just then Jon rushed in with McAlpine. When he saw the body he breathed a visible deep sigh of relief and holstered his weapon. He pulled a chair up at the next table and made a call on his pad while Margaret hovered over him and Gunny leaned in and said a few quiet words. Then Gunny quietly spoke to Ruby, and she laughed and gave him a play poke.
Gunny came back to her and put a big hand on her shoulder. “Let’s go sit back where we were, and Jon will come tell you what’s happening when he gets it sorted out.”
“I can’t eat now,” April protested.
“Neither can I,” Gunny agreed. “Maybe after the adrenaline high wears off a bit. I need to just sit a minute. I’m kind of shaky.”
“Oh, Okay.” April was more willing to accommodate his need to sit than her own. She watched Jon finish talking to Margaret and the medical crew showed up and bagged up the dead guy. Jon conducted brief separate interviews with Ruby and Mr. Page and somebody showed up from maintenance and was cleaning the floor and all the tables and chairs on that side of the room.
“What did you say to Ruby?” April asked. She thought it bizarre she’d laughed.
“I told her she scared the crap outta me running up directly behind my target like that.”
“She thought that was funny?”
“She suggested the Chinese fellow was so wide I couldn’t have missed him with a brick.”
Most of the crowd there left and the few who stayed moved over where Margaret had been sitting. The cleaning guy sprayed and wiped Mr. Page’s computer and helped him move it. Ruby came out and gathered all the trays and plates wearing gloves, and took them to the back.
The next shift cook came in and after a brief word and a hug Ruby headed out the door, obviously done for the day. The new cook took both carafes of coffee away and cycled the pot.
When Jon was through with everyone else he took Gunny over two tables away and had a conversation in low tones. She caught a couple words, but her ears were still ringing a little.
Finally Jon came to her last, and Gunny took a seat on the other side of her.
“Take this,” Jon said putting a capsule by her glass. “It will keep you from having any permanent hearing damage from the gun fire. Your ears are probably ringing aren’t they?”
“Yeah, a little.” Gunny had just swallowed one too, and she chugged her’s with some of the lemonade. It was good and she took a couple more swallows of it before putting it down. She didn’t tell him she’d taken them before down on Earth.
“Tell me what happened since you walked in the door of the cafeteria today,” Jon asked.
April related everything she could remember. Even who she observed was here and the way Gunny ate off his tray instead of removing everything to the table. Then how she’d been shoved back and she’d had to curl forward to avoid banging her head, and what she’d observed when she followed Gunny to the other side of the room.
Jon just nodded a few times, and stayed attentive, letting her go at her own pace.
“The fellow who was killed waited until you looked down at your food, and then stood, drawing a pistol as he stood. He was looking right at you and it’s pretty obvious he’d been warned how fast you are and was waiting to move on you until you had your attention elsewhere. He really should have been patient and waited for both you and Gunny to be looking down. Not that it would have saved him, but I would have thought it was obvious Gunny is a guard. He discounted him entirely too much.”
“Why wouldn’t that have saved him?” April asked.
“Watch the security video,” Jon invited, and sat his pad open to her and played the captured scene in slow motion.
The man sat his tray down and seated himself, but he didn’t scoot his chair in. He looked to the right where Mr. Page was looking at his computer screen. There was an empty chair between them and he was the closest of the group with Mr. Muños. He glanced to the left but there was nobody close, just Margaret clear across four rows of tables against the far wall.
Page’s eyes flicked to the left when the man looked away, but his fingers never hesitated continuing to click, click, click away at the entry he was making.
Ruby was walking slowly, sliding a rag along the edge of the counter, but she was watching the new guy from behind and frowning.
When the man started to stand back up he already had his hand on his gun on his left side worn cross draw. He stood too abruptly, telegraphing something wasn’t normal. Ruby shoved off the counter hard with her right hand. The rag went flying and revealed she had a twenty centimeter chef’s knife clutched in her hand under the rag. It was three long steps to the man.
Mr. Page threw the mug of coffee in his left hand with no discernible hesitation at all. He couldn’t have seen the gun yet, just the motion that shouted it was being drawn.
The man was still hunched over slightly, gun just a little higher than the table edge when Gunny’s first round hit him right in the breast bone. The coffee mug hit the side of his face just about when the second round hit him a couple centimeters from the first.
By the time the coffee was a explosion of drops splashing off his face there was a violet aura of electric discharges arching through them and all around the man’s head. Margaret had discharged her Air-Taser dead on the man’s head, and it looked like she had the power level set lethally high.
The man spasmed from the Taser, gun hand jerking up past the point he’d have thrust it forward, hand opening in a claw. The gun would continue climbing and sailed over the group talking to Muños to bounce off the next table onto the floor.
His back arched from the electrical jolt, helped by the impact of a third slug from Gunny. He was bent the other way now, backward. Ruby slammed into him from behind with her left shoulder, not taking time to slow down. Her right hand slammed the blade into his back to the hilt right where a kidney would be.
Ed Page was pushing himself up off the table, obviously intending to offer further violence than the coffee mug. But by the time Ed was fully vertical the man was going down the other way, rolling off the edge of the table from Ruby impacting him from behind. Ruby yanked sideways on the knife handle, twisting it in the fellow, and it was wrenched out of her hand as he went down crooked, falling on his side.
Ed Page stopped his motion, needing a step to stop his forward momentum, and it was all over except for a vicious kick Ruby gave the fellow after he sprawled on the floor.
“Poor son of a bitch had no idea what hit him,” Jon explained unnecessarily.
“Who would want to hurt me bad enough to send somebody all the way up here?” April asked, shocked.
“Well, the remnants of the Patriot Party, any of the genetic purity nuts, maybe even rogue elements of the USNA government or military all come to mind,” Jon guessed, “but I’m guessing just from his appearance that it is the Chinese who are still peeved with you, this time.”
“Do you think Jeff or Heather might be targeted?” she suddenly worried.
“I called then and cautioned them on the way over here,” Jon assured her.
April looked at Gunny, thinking how she’d told her mother she didn’t really need him here. She dug in her pocket and got the platinum coin she’d got from Jeff. “Performance bonus,” she told him and flipped the bright thing to him. He snatched it out of the air, looking pleased.