A-to-Z Challenge — Letter W (2)
Wedding Plans and Funerals: Part Two
Astraeus Earth Force Station, 2115 A.D.
Rourke yawned and stretched as he rolled over in bed. The other side was empty, as usual, but that would change soon. He smiled as he remembered walking Ananda to her quarters, the slow, erotic kiss at the door and then her slipping inside the room with a flirtatious sway of her hips. They’d played the flirting game for years, but he respected her too much to take from her what he knew she would eventually give willingly. Besides, they were both professionals with full busy lives. Some days they only saw one another in passing or a quick call on the intercom. Rourke had his flings early on before they became exclusive. The good doctor was worth the wait. She might not practice her religion anymore, but she held to the tradition of no sex before marriage, and at thirty-five and still single, she had more resolve than he did. Still, he was a patient man and soon, she would be his wife.
He got up and took a long hot shower. The water eased his sore muscles. At nearly sixty, he was lucky to still be agile, but his body was rebelling with each passing year. If he hadn’t taken the Genotrx injections at fifty, he doubted he would still look as well as he did, and would probably feel worse. In those days, only the rich and powerful were given the injections that could prolong a life by thirty to forty years. When Earth Gov assigned him the Astraeus, he got the treatment. He felt like he’d won the lottery. Now, though, anyone could get the treatments and the ones they gave out could extend life for over a hundred years. He’d been offered the newest treatments, but he couldn’t imagine living that long. His daughter and even Ananda would outlive him by decades. The original treatments didn’t stop aches and pains in the body that already existed, they only prevented new traumas from occurring. If one lived a cautious life, it could be a long one.
Rourke turned off the shower and stepped out of the glass enclosure. He reached for a towel and rubbed his head. He wrapped the towel around his waist and headed back to the bedroom. He sat down on the edge of the bed and sighed. Today he had to send over a hundred people off to their graves. Funerals were never easy for Rourke. Every one reminded him of Evelyn’s funeral. It had rained that day and he recalled standing by Katie, a shared umbrella above them. He could still feel the wind whipping across the gravesite, drops of rain beating across his face, and the warmth of Katie’s hand in his. So lost in thought, Rourke jumped when his link-in buzzed.
“Everything’s set, Jeremy,” Davies reported.
“Good. I will be down in twenty.”
Rourke stood up, rubbed his lower body with the towel and then threw it across the bed. He walked to his wardrobe and pulled out a black uniform that he wore only for such occasions. He was solemn as he dressed. He ran his hand over the jacket’s insignia—the golden UEC letters in a V-shape—a badge of courage for the day’s activities. He returned to the bathroom and turned on the blower to finish drying his hair, and stared for a long moment at himself in the mirror. He still looked young, but felt ancient.
It took him only a few minutes to arrive at Ananda’s door. She was dressed in a dark blue embroidered sari, with a black silk scarf over her head. Together, they went to Katie’s room and retrieved her. Like her father, she was dressed all in black, a dress that reached to her thighs and black heels. Her long brown hair was braided down her back. The three of them walked to the lift in silence.
Shannehey and Erickson had taken turns staking out the Murphy brothers the night before. Between the two of them, they might have slept three hours a piece the entire night. The brothers didn’t stir until well after 1100. When they finally left Alex’s quarters, Shannehey followed Alex and Erickson took off after Jason. Most of the workers on Astraeus had the day off because of the funerals, with only a skeleton crew working each department. Alex headed to Mechanics, so Shannehey assumed he had drawn the short straw.
When Alex disappeared inside the workshop, Shannehey found cover between two large machines outside of Mechanics and waited. He had a pretty good view of Alex’s workstation and the redheaded man seemed unaware of his presence. He clicked on his link-in and watched as Alex signed on to his tablet. Shannehey didn’t have clearance for anything more than the sign-on, so he couldn’t be sure if Alex was actually working or up to something else. He leaned against one of the machines and glanced at his watch. The funerals would begin in less than an hour.
Twenty minutes into the stake-out, Shannehey’s link-in vibrated. A coded message come through from Chief Davies: Jason Murphy is in the wind. Stay with Alex Murphy.
“Calm down, Erickson!” Davies ordered the nervous officer. “Tell me from the beginning how you lost Jason Murphy.”
“Sorry, sir. After Shannehey and I split up, I followed Jason to the Caverns. He was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt. I had him dead in my sight, sir,” Erickson said. He shifted in his chair in Security, inhaled deeply, and then proceeded with his report. “The Caverners were staging a protest against the funerals. They were all dressed in similar black hooded sweatshirts and Jason disappeared in the crowd. I searched everywhere, sir, but I couldn’t locate him again. That’s when I called it in.”
Davies paced the room and stroked his goatee. Could the whole thing have been staged to allow Jason to escape? Or did the Murphy brothers know that the Caverners would be dressed that way and Jason could blend in? He stopped in front of the table. “Okay, Erickson. Get down to the funeral airlock and coordinate with Tomas. Make sure the Commander and his family are safe at any cost,” Davies told the officer and dismissed him.
“Commander,” Davies said into his link-in, “are you sure you don’t want to cancel the funerals? We still haven’t located Jason Murphy.”
“I have faith in your team, Davies. We are completely surrounded by officers in full riot gear. We will proceed,” Rourke confirmed and ended the call.
Davies suited up and joined his team in the Caverns. They began in Sparks’ restaurant and casino, searching behind every door and both storage rooms, but came up empty. Next they tore through every tent in the tent city, breaking up several riots from the protesters. A few officers were shanked and paramedics from Medic Labs swarmed the area. Once Davies was sure his men would survive, he took his remaining officers to the uninhabited section of the ruined sector.
“Tear this place apart!” Davies screamed at his men. “Find Jason Murphy!”
The officers scattered and began pulling debris from every corner. Davies checked the far southwestern wall to make sure it was still sealed. It was. He headed back through the maze of metal and piping.
“Chief!” an officer yelled as he ran towards Davies. “You better come, sir. We’ve got a man down!”
Davies followed the officer through a series of metal partitions to a hidden corner. Leaning against a wall was one of his officers, stripped of his riot gear with a black hooded sweatshirt lying beside him.
“We found the sweatshirt over his face, sir,” an officer stated.
Shit! Davies thought. Jason Murphy could be any one of the men surrounding the Commander. He called Tomas. “Murphy is in riot gear and armed! Have the funerals started?”
“Yes, sir. I can’t tell if Murphy is here… these damn visors!” Tomas yelled and the line went dead.
“Bloody hell!” Davies yelled. As he raced to the lift, he screamed at his officers. “Every one of you, get to the funeral airlock now!”
Davies and some of his officers piled into the lift. As the door closed, he called Shannehey. “Status on Alex Murphy,” he demanded.
“He’s still at his workstation, sir,” Shannehey reported.
“Don’t let him out of your sight!” Davies screamed and ended the call.
The lift opened. Davies and his men stood back from the door, listening. There was no sound, so they filed out with their lasers raised. Davies led the way down the long corridor to the airlock. When they arrived at the entrance, he waved his hand before the door for it to open. When it failed, he tapped the door’s computer, but it didn’t respond. He tapped it again. Still nothing.
“Manual overdrive!” he screamed at the computer. When nothing happened, he hollered at one of the officers. “Get a crowbar in here now!”
This must be why Alex volunteered to work today, Davies thought as he waited for his officer to return. He called Rourke on his link-in. No response. He tried Tomas, again, no response. He couldn’t even reach Shannehey. It had to be Alex. He must have jammed the calls.
The officer returned with the crowbar and Davies took it from him. He rammed it into the slit between the two halves of the door and pulled back on it. It barely moved. Another officer joined him, both men pulling as hard as they could. As the door’s broke free, two bright flashes radiated through the room and a scream rang out from the south end of the airlock. Davies rushed inside and pushed past several officers until he was at the back of the airlock where the caskets were lined up.
Davies knelt before the two men on the floor. Erickson laid full-bodied over the Commander and a stream of blood oozed from his back to the floor. He moved the dead officer off of the Commander. Rourke winced. Erickson had taken the biggest hit, but the laser had grazed his shoulder.
“Get Medics down here, now!” Davies yelled as he pressed his hand against Rourke’s shoulder to stop the bleeding. He jerked his head around and scanned the room. Ten feet away, he saw another body slumped against a wall.
“Tomas!” Davis yelled as he motioned for the officer and pointed to the other side of the room. Tomas ran over and removed the headgear from the man. It was Jason Murphy.