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Marco had only been out of the warren for a couple of hours when he entered yet another completely different world.  The San Francisco headquarters of the Federal Cohort was hyper-designed to constantly remind everyone of the pre-eminence of federal authority.  Everyone was in formal dress, and no conversation or encounter was casual or relaxed. 

Priyanka wasn’t ashamed of where she worked, but she was conscious of its effect on others, and she wanted to shield Marco from any unnecessary inquisition.  Pursuant to the Discretionary Order, her custody of Marco was on a need-to-know basis, and she hoped he would keep his head down.  They had their first test after they arrived in her office.

“If you’ll excuse me, Detective, I need to use the restroom.”

“Funny, I was just about to say the same thing.  I have toiletries in my pack, but I still need a place to, um, put it.”

She looked about the office, mindful of the Cohort’s draconian hygiene standards.  Then she remembered her potted ivy.

“Anything you can do to help my poor plant would be most welcome, Detective,” she said, giving him a lift down to her desktop.  After he disappeared into the leaves, she stepped out to see to her own needs.

When Marco stepped back down onto the desk blotter, a large shadow fell across the desk.

“What have we here?”  Marco’s head snapped up to see a young male Cohort officer looming over him.  Before Marco could react, the officer snatched him up in his hand.

“Someone call pest control; we got mice,” he thundered.  He gave Marco a predatory grin.

“How old are you, officer?” Marco yelled up from the man’s fist.

“Eh, what?”

“I can see you don’t know how to shave,” Marco continued yelling.  “Do they let you carry a weapon?”

The man’s grin disappeared and his grip tightened.  Marco couldn’t breathe easily.

“Detective Guzman has a point, Milite Schaeffer,” said Priyanka from the doorway.  “He’s your senior, in more ways than one.”

Schaeffer immediately dropped Marco on the desk and stood at attention.  Priyanka took an involuntary step into her office, then saw that Marco had landed on his feet.

“I’m fine, Centurion,” he said into his phone.

“Milite Schaeffer,” she said, “aren’t you forgetting something?”

Schaeffer faced Priyanka and saluted, whipping his right hand to his temple.

“Not to me,” she said.  “To Detective Guzman.”

Schaffer deflated, then turned to Marco and gave no less enthusiastic a salute.  Marco regarded the gesture for a moment, then turned back to Priyanka.

“Now, Milite Schaeffer, can you tell me why you are in my office?”

“Tribune Kobick sent me, ma’am,” said Schaeffer, holding his salute.  “He would like to see you and, uh, Detective Guzman in his office.”

“Thank you Milite,” said Priyanka.  “You are dismissed.”

Schaeffer closed his salute and marched out without looking at either Priyanka or Marco.  Once the door was closed, Priyanka hurried over to her desk.

“Do you require medical attention, Detective?” she asked.

“No, Centurion,” he replied, mimicking Schaeffer’s salute.  “Thanks for asking.”





Kobick hoped his smile displayed courtesy and not the amusement he deeply felt as Priyanka entered his office and let Marco depoche onto Kobick’s desk.

“Tribune Dobbs Kobick, may I introduce Detective Marco Guzman,” said Priyanka, switching her phone to SPEAKER and setting it on the desk.

“It’s an honor to be your guest, Tribune” said Marco, affecting a slight bow.

“So, Centurion,” said Kobick, “did you confirm this unauthorized egress from the warren?”

“Indeed, Tribune,” replied Priyanka.  “It was precisely where Detective Guzman estimated it would be, in a storage room in the basement of the Almstead Building across Bancroft from the warren complex.”

“Go on.”

“There was no clear evidence that any warren residents had been in the room.  I sampled the vicinity of the egress and installed a monitor, but since many warren residents remain untyped, the sample may not be conclusive.”

“Any chance any warren residents could have escaped the room unaided?”

“No,” Marco replied.

Kobick seemed startled that Marco was still part of the conversation.  “Really, Detective?” he said.  “Don’t underestimate the resourcefulness of desperate people.”

“Oh, the people I’m looking for were desperate, alright,” said Marco.  “I’m sure they still are.  But I don’t think they had any illusions about how long they’d last outside the warren.  I didn’t find any provision for water or food or shelter.  There wasn’t even any way to get back into the duct.  Anyone who came out of the warren that way was taken.  By someone.”

“How refreshingly conclusive, Detective,” said Kobick.  He turned back to Priyanka.  “Howabout that, Centurion?  Any ideas who aided their escape?”

“Nothing solid yet, Tribune,” she replied.  “DNA analysis shows 26 distinct specimens, aside from Detective Guzman and myself.  The only ID so far is one Vasily Orlov, age 42.  Naturalized 15 years ago, suspected of being a mob enforcer 12 years ago, investigation dropped.  Last known whereabouts Pyongyang 14 months ago, but this sample is newer than that.”

“Has he been jaked?”

“Not when he left this sample, Tribune.”

“Perhaps he was up to something with his old buddies in the warren.  What’s the mob like in your neighborhood, Detective?”

“We have our share, Tribune,” said Marco, “but I’ve never heard of them trafficking with people in Big Sky.  Wiseguys are just like everyone else; if you’ve been jaked, they don’t want anything to do with you.”

“Nevertheless, this Orlov would seem to be our best suspect at present,” said Kobick.  “Centurion, kindly discover Orlov’s local haunts, if any.”

“As you say, Tribune,” replied Priyanka.

“Excuse me, Tribune,” interjected Marco, “why aren’t we talking to Chadwell?  Didn’t you certify the routing of Payne’s messages?” he asked Priyanka.

“That’s still a bit premature,” began Kobick.

“Actually, Tribune, I ran the routes last night,” said Priyanka.  “The routing is genuine.”

“Did you, Centurion?” said Kobick.  “That took some initiative.”

“It was the next logical step, Tribune,” said Priyanka.  “It was well within the authority of the Discretionary Order.”

“I’m sure you’re right about that, Centurion,” replied Kobick.  “Very well, if your . . . logic takes you to Mr. Chadwell, I trust you will have good cause to contact him with your inquiries.”

“Thank you, Tribune,” said Priyanka.  “I will keep you well apprised of all developments.”

“I couldn’t ask for more, Centurion.  Thank you, as well, Detective.  You may dismiss.”

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