The following morning after a brief discussion, the women decided they should let Father Verrick know something. Neither one knew exactly how much to tell him, though.
After breakfast had been served, they found themselves in his office.
“My door is always open,” he said as they settled into chairs in front of his desk. “What can I do for you?”
“It’s about a couple who disappeared last night, over in the small courtyard on the edge of the property.”
“Oh, the Bensons. Yes, I didn’t see them this morning. They have a daughter who is Captain of a Navy warship. They’ll talk your ears off about her if you give them a chance. You say they’re missing?”
Julia and Gina shared a glance.
Wilcox turned back to the priest and decided to be blunt.
She said, “They won’t be coming back. Some goons took them away using police bots and killed them in a warehouse nearby.”
Father Verrick looked stunned. He did not reply for a moment.
Finally he said, “How do you know this?”
“We followed them,” Julia said, “but we couldn’t stop them. Well, maybe we could have if we moved fast enough right after they were abducted. And I feel terrible about that. But we were curious as to what the bots wanted with two old people. So, we followed them. And . . . we saw them get killed in some kind of experiment inside a warehouse near here.”
Verrick processed the information a bit longer.
Then he said, “You say police bots? Are you sure?”
Both women nodded.
Wilcox said, “You were right. Somebody is abducting indigents.”
“I see. We can’t really call the police about this, can we? Not if they’re using police resources to do this. Hm.”
“Maybe we can help patrol at night, now that we know what’s happening,” Wilcox said.
“That’s a good idea,” Verrick said, slowly.
The priest looked troubled. He said, “I’ll try to bring in those on the periphery, like the people sleeping in that courtyard. Have them move closer to the others. Maybe if we cluster the people together more, it will help. Thank you, ladies. You’ve given me a lot to think about. And pray about.”
The women nodded and stood to go.
As they walked away from Father Verrick’s office, Julia said, “I think it’s time we went exploring. Can you recognize any of the implant signatures on those guys?”
Wilcox nodded and said, “Absolutely. I’ll never forget them.”
“I wonder if they’d be around the police headquarters, or the Administration Building?”
“Or SSI,” Wilcox said. “I hate those bastards.”
Julia said, “Let’s make our way into the city and poke around.”
It took some time to get to the center of Rostin. They found a bus stop outside the AWD, and calculated how many kilometers away the Central Administration District was from their current location.
Wilcox subtly indicated the sensors onboard the terrestrial bus that pulled up, and with that knowledge in mind, Julia decided they should walk. Rostin was not that large a city, after all, and it was only about a four kilometer trek. They could be there in under an hour.
The buildings steadily grew nicer, and taller, the closer they came to the Administration District, At last they found the Central Administration Building, an ornate skyscraper standing in the center of other government structures.
A pathway with green space on either side, and a large fountain circled all the way around it. It reminded them of a moat.
The ladies found a food cart, tended by a late model droid, and ordered an early lunch along with something cold to drink after their long walk. Then they took a seat on a public bench beside the fountain/moat.
“How’s the talking environment?” Julia said before taking a large bite out of her sandwich.
“Not good,” Wilcox said.
Julia nodded. This was code. Too many sensors were about for them to enjoy private conversation. So the “talking environment” was no good. But, she expected as much this close to the seat of government.
“See anything interesting?”
Wilcox nodded. She said, “I just want to sit here a while.”
They continued eating, then polished off the cold drinks. Wilcox sat in silence, occasionally closing her eyes.
The day passed. Wilcox sat in silence, mostly with her eyes closed. She looked asleep, although Julia noticed uneven breathing.
After two hours, Julia got up and walked around the circle surrounding the Central Administration Building. The entire area was open to the public with the strip of green space providing something of a park, or at least a park-like atmosphere. The moat/fountain offered water, which seemed to cool the area off. Long concrete benches offered people places to sit, and several were taking advantage of the opportunity. Mothers strolled with infants while other people just wandered around.
After a while she made the complete circuit and came back to Wilcox, who had not moved.
Resigned to boredom, and silence, Julia sat down next to her and watched people go by for another hour or so.
Finally, about the time Julia was wondering if it would be worth it to purchase more food from the vendor bot’s cart, Wilcox’s eyes opened.
She said, “Let’s go.”
She stood and began walking back toward the AWD. Julia had to hurry to catch up.
Half an hour later they reached the outer edges of the district. Wilcox stretched her senses out, looking for AI monitors. Finding none, she began speaking to Julia in a low whisper.
“Baron Roth is our guy’s name. He’s an executive with Thespar. I was able to listen in on a conversation he had with Tetrarch Billings.”
Julia’s eyes grew wide.
“What did they talk about? Did he mention the old couple from last night?”
Wilcox nodded and said, “In a way. That was evidently a trial run of a new weapon Thespar is developing. Billings gave Roth the green light to commence trials in space on a much larger scale. They’re using the latest technologies combined with some of the things they’ve been learning in the war. I’m afraid this weapon is going to really hurt our flyboys.”
“What . . . what’s it do? I mean, the old man and woman, they just stepped across a line and disappeared in a flash. It’s like they walked into the sun or something. But . . . how’s that work in space?”
“I’m not sure. But from what I gathered from their conversation, they plan to set it up where the ships are going. Like a bear trap or something. When the ships cross that line, they’ll be . . . obliterated.”
“But how’s it work? I don’t see how it would be effective.”
“I dunno. But you saw what it did to Mr. and Mrs. Benson. Or, at least you were there. Now, imagine that on a giant scale . . . in space.”
They walked in silence for a moment.
Julia said, “We’ve got to get word back to the others.”
“We can’t communicate until we’re ready to go.”
“I know. But this might be worth leaving early for.”
“That’s not part of our mission.”
“I know. I know.”
They walked faster, with purpose now.
Half a kilometer away, on the rooftop of a nearby building, an SSI agent with a directional microphone frowned at the discussion he had just picked up. He had been aiming his device toward the AWD, at the property owned by the Church, but he did not expect to pick up this sort of conversation.
This would require a report. Since he did not use a neural implant, it would have to wait until he met his superior in person . . .