As the councillor rides back to his office, a message arrives on his PDA. It’s from Agent Neidermeyer. It reads: “You’re playing outside your depth, Councillor. Don’t get the bends.”
“Interesting.” Santiago says to himself as he reads the message. Sitting down, he says over the intercom to his assistant, “Get me Mister Neidermeyer at Consortium Intelligence on the line, non-secure channel. Tell him it is urgent.”
Within a few minutes, Neidermeyer returns the call. His face, although grim, bears no hint of emotion. Well practiced, perhaps: “Councillor, I received your message. How can I be of assistance?”
“Mister Neidermeyer, I got your ‘message’. Do you really think try to intimidate me will work?” Santiago replies. “What are you hiding? And what don’t you want me to find out about? I’ve stumbled upon it. Others will. You must know that.”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Neidermeyer replies. “I wouldn’t dream of trying to intimidate a member of the Solar Consortium Council. I’m just worried, sir. Be well.” He disconnects.
“Well that didn’t go quite as I planned.” Santiago says to himself as he leans over his desk, thinking. He buzzes his assistant again, “I’m going to give you a name of an organization, or business, or SOMETHING. I need you to find out everything you can about it and get back to me.” He says into his intercom, cutting it off right after. He gives some of the information from his meeting with the doctor to his assistant and waits for her to get back to him in the mean time.
“I’m not sure what you’re looking for,” the receptionist tells Santiago. “But that doctor you went to see – she’s in the news, sir. She’s dead.”
Santiago rubs his head in silence for a moment, with the commlink to his assistant still open. Pondering his options, he slams his fist on the table. “Send a message to Neidermeyer. I want to see him, in person, at his earliest possible convenience…” There is a slight pauses as he shakes his head, “Screw it, I don’t give a damn if its convenient for him. I want his ass in here now. If that isn’t possible, I’ll meet him somewhere – public.” He flicks the comm off again.
“The representative from Olympia beckons and I answer,” Neidermeyer tells the receptionist after he arrives in the office about twenty minutes later.
The Councillor leads the intelligence operative into his office, closing the door behind him. “I’d offer you a drink, but I suspect you’d want me to taste it first to make sure it isn’t poisoned.” He chuckles, sitting at his desk. “Let’s get right to business. Killing an incident doctor.. is that really the purview of the Intelligence department? Covering it up as something else. I’m disappointed.”
Darius Neidermeyer clasps his hands behind his back and frowns at Santiago. “You’re disappointed in me? You call me on an open, traceable line and start spewing nonsense about me making threats? I wasn’t trying to threaten you, Councillor. I sent you a message out of sincere concern for your well-being. I didn’t kill Siri Clowell. For all intents and purposes, you did. People have been watching her and everyone else associated with Maureen Derrick. Extremely dangerous people. Some even seem willing to kill themselves to ensure the elimination of witnesses. I can assure you that if my team had anything to do with this, it wouldn’t have been so public and the assassin wouldn’t cause collateral injuries or kill himself.”
“Let’s say for a moment, I believe you… Who are watching?” Santiago asks. “And assuming, again, that you are being truthful, why wouldn’t you protect these people? I’m involved now, so start talking. I’m tired of half truths, and palace intrigue. I have half a mind to go to the president of the council and fill him in, but I think we are both better served working this out, together. Don’t you think? An ally on the Council is something you can use.”
“How do I know you aren’t working for them?” Neidermeyer replies, scowling. Despite his apparent distaste for the conversation, the intelligence agent settles into a chair across from Santiago. “I may have been unwise to show as much of my hand as I did when I sent that warning.”
“And what makes you think I am working for them? Better yet, who are they?” Santiago asks again. “I’ve been piecing this together with bread crumbs. Why not work together on this? You can’t be that blind to the fact that our combined resources could potentially end whatever this is, or is coming?”
“Actually, Councillor, my concern is that our combined resources could potentially make this exponentially worse,” the agent replies. “I’m not sure yet who they are. I was nibbling around the edges, seeking out what clues I could, and trying not to leave many fingerprints. So, when I talked to Dr. Clowell, it wasn’t the sort of meeting that might lead to her demise. Pardon me for saying so, sir, but you’re an incompetent spy. Perhaps you’re an excellent bureaucrat and politician, but your face ended up on the news about some cancer rumor and you were at her office. I’m surprised she lived long enough to meet you at Wynden’s. My guess is that our mutual friends wanted to know exactly what you were on about.”
“Maybe if you had included me sooner, things wouldn’t have gone the way they had. What do you know about Avatek? Is it a real organization or did the woman just make that up?” Santiago leans forwards. “Incompetent spy, perhaps. But I seem to have found out just as much as you have with a fraction of the training intelligence operatives receive. That aside, how do we proceed now?”
“So far, I have found no evidence to suggest Avatek ever existed beyond a flimsy cover story,” Neidermeyer replies. “And don’t get too cocky about the fact a tip from Maureen Derrick’s aunt helped you get an innocent doctor killed.” He tilts his head, smirking as he adds, “She called us too. In fact, she called us first, telling us that the whole operation was set in motion by the Texas Republic to make it look like Mars had it out for Earth. Is that the same line she fed you?”
“It was the same line, or something similar if I recall.” Santiago replies. “And if you are going to place blame, we might as well share it. You could have had security posted to her after your visit. You’re just as responsible for her death as I am.”
“I had security posted to her,” Neidermeyer replies, lacing his fingers together. “How do you think I know she met you at Wynden’s? My guard was one of the people injured in the attack in the emergency room. He might live. Touch and go right now.”
Santiago shakes his head, “Clearly your security failed.” He waves his hand in the air, “This bickering is pointless. Tell me what you want me to do now.”
“I’d like very much to keep you out of harm’s way and put a stop to whatever these people are planning,” Neidermeyer says, getting to his feet. He crosses his arms. “We have reason to believe this is all tied to an organization that calls itself Common Ground. It isn’t bound to any particular government, just a philosophy: That humanity has no business venturing out among the stars. The Ebola attack was focused on Cape Canaveral during development of the Tilsworth-Cooke Drive. We’re pretty sure a Common Ground insider leaked the test site of Discovery to the media. So, it’s likely that they’ve got something planned for the Fort Clatsop mission. You’ll be assigned as a government observer. I’m going as a security officer.”
“That is all very interesting. Quite the tall tale..” The councillor replies. “And when should I expect this assignment? If what you say is true, we should take the concern to the council president, and have an entire division of Vanguard there to ensure that nothing goes wrong. This is an important turning point in our history, we need to see it through to the end. We shouldn’t let these terrorists get in the way of that.”
“The Council president has been fully briefed,” Neidermeyer says. “We’ll have a Vanguard contingent aboard, but it won’t be any guarantee against subterfuge or sabotage. Get your affairs in order, sir. We depart for Alpha Centauri just after New Year’s.”
“Very well. I shall see you then.” Santiago replies, turning his chair to face out the window – clearly done with the intelligence operative.
The operative, however, isn’t quite done with the councillor. “Mr. Santiago, do us both a favor until then: Steer clear of the Derrick case and stay off Common Ground’s radar. They killed Dr. Clowell as a warning. Don’t imagine for a second they won’t find a way to make you suffer an ‘accident’ too.” With that, he offers a faint smile and departs.