Clarion’s Call 33

Biffender Jones replayed the holos he had strung together, sitting at his workstation in the Capital City Police Force Headquarters on Juventas. 

He watched his wife leave the conference room with the Tetrarch. They walked straight to the special access elevator, Lopez bickering with Terry Arthur along the way. They stopped at the elevator, and she told Arthur to go away. Andi and Maria Lopez went inside. The doors closed. 

He made a motion with his hand and sped up the recording. He watched the door open, and Andi exited. Her hair was messed up. He zoomed in on the drop of blood on the hem of her dress. 

He had read the medical examiner bot’s report, and had seen holos of the bodies. He knew exactly what weapon had been used: one of Andi’s hair pins. He remembered the day she bought them, when the delivery drone dropped them off. They both were home from work that day and hanging around the apartment. She showed them off to him. They were made of a tungsten alloy, she said, and she spent an hour fixing up her hair with them. She laughed when he pulled the pins out of her hair before taking her to bed. 

Jones shook himself, dismissing the memory of happier times. The medical report showed little doubt a sharp instrument had been the weapon used. But he still had a hard time believing Andi did this. His Andi. The girl of his dreams. 

He watched as she exited the elevator and headed for the street. She avoided using the bus. Now he knew why. If the APB had gone out on her before she got home, the bus would have locked its doors and instantly parked somewhere, waiting for police to arrive. The newer buses even had incapacitation measures to render riders helpless and immobile. 

No, she knew what she was doing by walking home. He watched the holos from all the monitors between their apartment and the Administration Building. Andi kept an eye on everything and everybody. She not only killed Tetrarch Lopez in cold blood, she remained calm making her getaway. It was almost as if she had everything planned out. Or at least . . . knew what she was doing.

He watched the final holo of her entering their apartment. And then, she disappeared. StarCen was no help. All the AI would say was that she could no longer locate Andi Jones. Her last known location was the apartment she and Biff called home.

Biff remembered the last time he saw her. She acted calm, cool, and collected. He remembered their embrace, their kiss. He was distracted, getting ready for work, and he did not notice the spot of blood. 

Then there was that last thing she said to him as he walked out the door: “I want you to know that whatever happens, I always loved you.” 

At the time he thought it had something to do with the Marines landing on the planet, taking over Juventas. But now he realized she meant something else. It meant she had killed the Tetrarch and was about to disappear. 

What worried him was the thought that somebody had taken her. Somebody who ranked much higher than he did. 

At the end of the day, Biff was still just a cop. He was a step above a patrol officer. In the police hierarchy, he was just a low-level cog. If someone in the Navy or SSI had grabbed her, Andi would never be seen again. 

That in fact was the conclusion of the official investigation. CCPF decided the prime suspect in the murder of the Tetrarch and at least two others in that bunker was one Andi Jones, whereabouts unknown. However, unofficially, higher-ups in the department came to the same conclusion Biff feared. The detective in charge of the investigation quietly informed him they thought SSI had picked her up. 

“I gotta keep this off the record, Jones. I’m not authorized to talk about it. But you’re a cop and she was your wife. We’re pretty sure SSI has her. They won’t talk about it to us, but of course they’re not going to officially deny or confirm something like this. I mean, it was the Tetrarch for crying out loud.” 

Then his voice grew even lower and he said, “We suspect somebody put her up to it. I mean, how convenient is it to have Lopez eliminated right when Cooper and his boys fly in to take over? Plus, word is Lopez was about to nuke Yorkton to take out Cooper’s forces.” 

That little tidbit of information greatly stressed Biff out. Would Lopez go so far as to nuke her own people in order to thwart a coup against her? 

After thinking long and hard about it, based on what he knew about the Tetrarch, he came to a conclusion. Yes. Yes, she would nuke the city. That command bunker was nuke-proof. He could see how upset Lopez was in the last holos taken before she went down there. And everybody knew she could be ruthless. There was the Cassandra incident, for instance. Cassandra was a small outer planet in the Juventas system rich in ore. A handful of human miners accompanied the bots working it. They had a nasty labor dispute with the government-controlled company in charge of mining asteroids and outer planets in the system. The miners demanded more pay and better benefits, and took over all the station and equipment. Lopez personally ordered a bomb detonated on Cassandra, wiping out all human life. Thus ended the labor dispute. 

So, if that were the case, if Lopez was about to nuke her own capital city to take out the Marines who were landing, then Andi was a hero. Sort of. Lopez had her faithful adherents who would never blame her for anything and always side with her no matter what. Already, in fact, there were pro-Lopez vigilante teams out looking for Andi. Word had spread. A few girls had been roughed up who sort of looked like Andi. StarCen had to intervene and prove to some people that those girls were not the right one. 

But regardless of whether Andi was a good guy or a bad guy, Biff thought, where did she go? A SWAT team raided their apartment within minutes after he left for work, and they found it empty. Andi had dropped off the grid before then, somehow. 

Sometime between the time he left and when the SWAT team arrived, she disappeared. The easiest answer was somebody teleported her out. But StarCen kept records of all ports, and she had no record of one occurring anywhere near the apartment building during that time. 

It was a mystery. 

Biff leaned back in his chair and smoothed down his hair. His Sergeant had offered him time off, in light of the fact his wife was a suspect. But Biff turned him down. As it was, Biff would not be getting any assignments right now. He could show up at the station, but he would not be going anywhere. “Forced de-stress time” they called it. That suited Biff fine. 

He ran through the holo showing him exiting the apartment. Then nothing. In nine minutes and 58 seconds, he knew, the SWAT team would show up. Where did she go?

Could she have walked out through the basement? 

He waved in the air to bring up the monitor grid. There were none in his building, but there was one in the storm sewer underneath it. He zoomed in. It flashed a dull red on the hologram. 

“Oh yeah. Broken.” 

He knew that. He served on the Monitors Committee. 

Biff stopped. A memory surfaced. Andi knew about the broken monitor. She was always interested in his work. He left vidsheets around at home, and sometimes he would find her reading through things. She asked him about work a lot, too. In particular, he remembered she read through the entire report on currently disabled monitors in the city. 

So, if she knew the monitor was disabled, maybe she left through the storm sewer. He made a mental note to check the door in the basement for fingerprints and DNA. But if she went there, which way would she go? 

He pulled up the monitor map again. Sure enough, another  one was disabled in an alley nearby. And the storm sewer map showed a manhole in that alley. If Andi knew about the first monitor being disabled, she probably knew about this one too. So, if she came out there and walked away, she would show up on one of the working monitors on the street nearby. Which one? 

He pulled up the holos from three that seemed promising. The first two, nobody showed within the time window. On the third, a woman he had never seen walked by from the direction of the alley. 

She was the same height and build as his wife, but she looked different. 

“StarCen, identify this woman please.” 

“That is Catarina Mulligan, Officer Jones.” 

“Where is she from? What is her business here?” 

“Ms. Mulligan is a native of the planet Peligro. She is no longer on Juventas. At this moment in the holorecord, she is heading toward the spaceport.” 

Biff’s eyebrows shot up. 

“Oh really? Where is she coming from and where did she go?”

“I do not know her location before this hologram. As for where she went, she boarded the Coral Reef. I regret to say that the Coral Reef has recently been captured by a pirate ship registered from Lute at Pegasi Station. Naval forces are en route to intercept.” 

Biff felt stunned at this information. 

“Wait, wait, wait. Back up. You don’t know where she came from?”

“I do not know her location before this hologram.” 

“What do you mean, you don’t know? Did she come out of a shop? Did she leave a hotel? Come on, StarCen. You know everything.” 

“I do not know everything. And I have no records of Catarina Mulligan’s location prior to this hologram.” 

Biff thought about this statement for a while. He said, “Let me see her all the way to the spaceport, please.” 

He watched the woman as she waited patiently for a skybus. Then he watched the video as she sat in the bus on the way to the spaceport. He watched her walk through the crowds carrying her bag. She waited in line at a kiosk to buy a ticket. 

“There. Stop and play that part again.” 

The holo stopped and backed up, then started again.

“Freeze it.” 

Right before she bought a ticket, Catarina Mulligan pulled nervously on her earlobe. Just like Andi.

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