Tetrarch’s Dilemma 35

The women immediately settled into a routine with Father Verrick. He seemed to deliberately avoid asking them many questions about their past or much else about anything. Julia supposed he did not want to make them lie, because they surely would have if asked.

He also did not seem overly surprised at their need for a place to stay. He offered them a room in one of the many interconnected buildings comprising this part of the AWD.

As for the vast network of structures and alleyways and courtyards, he explained that all the surrounding buildings were owned by the Church, and had been for some time. In years past they had been used for profitable endeavors, namely renting them out to shipping companies for storing stuff coming or going off world. But things slowed precariously after Billings took over as Tetrarch. His administration changed several local regulations on interplanetary shipments.

Now with the war, the entire district suffered an even more drastic decline. The Church retrofitted its space to house the city’s growing indigent population. Much to everybody’s surprise, that population exploded. Even with the spacious real estate the local parish held, they were splitting at the seams with more people streaming in all the time.

Nonetheless, Father Verrick still had a handful of choice accommodations available for volunteers, and Gina and Julia were happy to have a place to stay far from the prying eyes of StarCen.

Julia immediately inquired as to the possibility of finding work in the Administration Building. This had been her modus operandi on Juventas while getting close to Tetrarch Lopez.

Father Verrick knew little about the inner workings of the Administration Building, but he doubted they were hiring right now.

“The Billings Administration went on something like a lockdown once the war started. They are more insular now than they ever were,” he said.

So, Gina and Julia helped run food lines during mealtimes and found other ways to make themselves useful to Father Verrick. For his part, the priest greatly appreciated the help.

On their second night, they agreed it was time to start scouting the premises. Julia activated her camouflage unit and winked out of sight. Gina silently got up and followed her out the door of their room, spreading out her senses, alert for anything electronic that might pose a threat.

They immediately noticed that the mission did not sleep after dark. A number of clandestine transactions took place in the shadows. Drug dealers peddled their wares, and the indigents found credit tokens to pay for hits of various substances. Alcohol was available as well, along with other black market goods.

“The AWD has a dark underbelly,” Wilcox muttered as they crept along an alleyway, disrupting a drug deal.

From her place beside the Sergeant, invisible, Julia agreed.

She said, “That libertarian priest would say, if you get your food for free, it frees up money for other things.”

“Would he say that? I know he’s got a lot of political ideas, but he’s the one feeding them, after all.”

“I don’t know. But it sounds like something he’d say.”

“I wonder if he even knows all this is going on under his nose. I mean, he’s pretty young. He hasn’t been beaten down by the reality of his fellow man yet. He’s too idealistic.”

Julia agreed. “He needs to at least secure the premises so bad apples can’t get in to ply their trade. Heads up, I’m going to go take that guy out.”

Wilcox felt her leave and approach the drug dealer they interrupted. He still stared dagger eyes at the Sergeant, upset she interfered with his transaction.

Julia crept up on him and kneed him in the groin.

“Urk!”

He collapsed to the ground.

Julia bent down and whispered in his ear, “Get out of here! Don’t ever come back to the AWD!”

His eyes grew wide and he whipped his head around, looking for the source of the voice. But Wilcox stood several meters away in the gloom, and Julia’s camo unit prevented him from seeing her.

He painfully pulled himself to his feet and stumbled away, looking for an exit in the maze of alleyways between buildings.

“My good deed for the night,” Julia said, sidling up next to Wilcox again.

Gina nodded, then turned her head sharply as she felt something.

Julia said, “What is it?”

“Bots are approaching. That direction.”

She pointed.

Julia said, “Let’s go take a look.”

Two buildings over they came to another open area, a courtyard of sorts between warehouses. Only a handful of tents were up here, and a couple of police bots were in the process of tearing one down. Mechanical hands simply gripped the cloth and pulled. The elderly woman and man inside screamed as the structure collapsed, and they tried to run away.

The bots shocked them with stun guns, and they fell down to the ground.

The other tents were either empty, which Julia doubted, or the occupants were likely cowering in fear.

The two bots reached down and each grabbed a person, slinging them over their shoulders in a fireman’s carry. Then they marched toward an alley leading away from the area.

“I hate League bots,” Wilcox whispered. “Let’s go get those bastards and get the humans back.”

“Wait,” Julia said, placing a hand on the bigger woman’s arm. “Let’s follow them and find out what they’re up to. I’ll go on ahead, you catch up.”

Reluctantly, the Sergeant nodded. She felt Julia move away, jogging to catch up with the bots. Wilcox followed, slower and at a distance.

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