Case Files of Rolkahr Dholztra, Kuzdrohna Department of Public Safety
[Editor’s Note: Read Episode 1, here.]
For all his worldly experience as a police detective in Nolatre’s capital city, Dholztra could still count the number of times he’d been in space. So when the air car he rode in with HCBI agents Grelek and Jalinoor pierced the atmosphere and docked with a medium-sized cruiser, his antennae were as sharp as the business end of a nail.
Maybe it was just as well that, only ten minutes later, the cruiser broke out of orbit and began the three-hundred-ninety-thousand-kilometer journey to LunarOne. That way, Dholztra didn’t have quite enough time to work himself into a tizzy about the perils of space travel.
With so much at stake, he needed as few distractions as possible to absorb the facts of the case. And that was aside from crafting a strategy to thwart Halfoorn’s bizarre criminal enterprise. Instead of wallowing in anxiety, Dholztra immersed himself in the intel he received from the two agents.
According to Grelek, Halfoorn’s radicalization began at Kalendrar-Helath, site of the final, bloody battle that ended the failed human invasion. For it was soon afterwards, amid the rubble, tears and chaos that “Big Brian” emerged as a powerful vigilante leader.
“Turns out, Halfoorn was a visiting lecturer in Linguistics at the local university when the humans stormed in,” said the HCBI agent. “They blew up the transport lines first thing and there was no way out of town for two lunar cycles afterward. He was stuck.”
“Didn’t Brian make some kind of speech around then?” asked Dholztra.
“Incredible, isn’t it?” asked Jalinoor. “I figure if my invasion plans went south and I got left behind, I’d go into hiding. But the day the city’s broadcast station reopened, Brian stormed in with a gang of toughs and forced the manager to patch his voice through the translation grid. Then he ranted about revenge at the top of his voice — until the patrol came by and shut him down. Just our luck, Halfoorn caught the broadcast and liked what he saw.”
“He … liked … looking at a human. Hard to believe.” said the detective.
“We figure Halfoorn thought Brian had potential,” said Grelek. “We’ve interviewed his former colleagues at the Kuzdrohna Academy. They all say he had a paranoid streak; he kept going on about a SWARM conspiracy.”
Whatever the reason, it was enough to make the eventual terrorist kingpin seek out Big Brian and propose an alliance. In exchange for inside information about every move the humans would make, Halfoorn promised to work his connections and help funnel supplies to the human resistance.
“A lot of university types are opposed to the way the human survivors are treated,” said Grelek, “even though SWARM has done everything except give them Nolatre outright. So it wasn’t hard for our boy to drum up support.”
“It still takes credits to run a revolution,” said Dholztra. “The Halfoorn I knew barely had enough cash for a hot lunch.”
The two agents stared at each other a moment.
“Should we tell him?” asked Jalinoor.
“No turning back now,” said Grelek. “Detective, you should know that Halfoorn’s father was Neshtria Lolvahn.”
“The robotics magnate?” asked Dholztra. “Craters. You mean that reprobate is sitting on trillions of credits?”
“There isn’t an army in the entire interstellar alliance that Halfoorn couldn’t finance out of petty cash,” said Jalinoor. “That’s what sets him apart from a typical power hungry nut-job. If he fails, it won’t be because he ran out of funds.”
“Fails at what?” asked Dholztra. “I just spent two rotations with Olithcraz and I still have no idea what he’s after — except maybe more explosions.”
From that point forward, Grelek and Jalinoor set out to give the detective a detailed briefing. For better or worse, the HCBI had uncovered several terabytes of data on Halfoorn’s terrorist organization, starting from its first faltering steps twenty-five years earlier. It was a lot for the detective to absorb but, as it happened, even given the ship’s advance-design ion-drive, they wouldn’t reach LunarOne for another eighteen hours.
Some of the information was familiar to Dholztra from his own dealings with the humans over the past few weeks. What was new was the staggering scale of the operation and its ambitious goals, which would have been comical if only the terrorists weren’t so deadly earnest. That, of course, was aside from the massive explosion in Kuzdrohna and the unprecedented destruction of the Djalethan bridge — with imported lase canon, no less. But one jarring detail made the normally positive detective wonder if the universe were fundamentally evil.
“Looks like about five cycles ago, Halfoorn and Big Brian had a falling out,” said Grelek. “Brian was only interested in getting better conditions for his survivors. He didn’t see how taking over the entire quadrant would do much for the humans — and he was right, of course.”
“Think I know where this is leading,” said Dholztra.
“Well, we can’t prove it, yet,” said Jalinoor, “but the fact is, nobody’s actually seen Big Brian for a long time. If Halfoorn did have Big Brian killed, he could easily use a voice and video sim to create the impression he was still alive.”
“Seen it before,” said Dholztra. “Double crossers double cross. It’s what they do — until somebody takes it too far and gets smacked down hard.”
From then on, the three law enforcement operatives talked non-stop and were still going at it when they sat down to dinner in the ship’s galley that evening. Most puzzling of all, right from the start, had been the involvement of the Belanthrese.
“How the purple pulsar did Halfoorn get the lizards mixed up in this?” asked Dholztra. “Last I heard, they were dying to expand their trade deal with us.”
Grelek looked up from a steaming bowl of thaldrilesh noodles.
“Come on, Detective,” he said. “You’ve been around the block. Take any group of a hundred sentients and a good five of them will tell you they’ve had a bad shake in life. Some are looking to make it rich, fast, with as little work as possible. Others are just plain bored. They’ll do anything for a thrill — especially if they know they might regret it later.”
“Right,” said Dholztra. “But what does Halfoorn offer them? The humans I can almost see. Most of them have nothing to lose. They won’t even sign up for Red Disk, because they think it’s a betrayal. So they’re stuck. Their homeworld’s too cheap to pick them up and, if you ask me, they wouldn’t be any happier following human rules than ours.”
“You’ve almost got it,” said Jalinoor. “Here’s the last piece. Halfoorn has promised the humans their own planet — a bankrolled, starter colony with enough cash to get them settled and a load of prefab housing. He tells them they have a special destiny, if you can believe that.”
“And the lizards?” asked Dholztra.
“That’s the wackiest part,” said Grelek. “Halfoorn’s got them believing they can take over the entire Interstellar Council and then start laying claim to their “ancestral homes” in the Alkitadraz sector.
“Come on,” said Dholztra. “Nobody’s ever made it that far out into deep space. Why would the Belanthrese believe they came from way out there?”
“What do you think?” said Grelek. “Halfoorn gave them a glory myth, a story about ancient ancestors who colonized our quadrant, raised us up from ignorance — only to be driven out by ungrateful Nolatrids.”
“Let me guess,” said Dholztra, “these ancients were lizards, too.”
“Right,” said Jalinoor. “But it gets worse. Lately, Halfoorn’s been talking about ‘purifying’ all life in this quadrant. I think that’s partly behind the remapped humans you saw in Olithcraz’ lab.”
“Comet juice,” said Dholztra. “How do you fight against that level of crazy?”
The two agents looked at each other and nodded.
“We have one lead,” said Grelek. “That Red Disk who contacted you … Imogen. Told us her brother had been taken in by Halfoorn’s big talk and asked if there was any way she could help get him back.”
“That was the first clue we had about that warehouse you were in,” said Jalinoor, “and those mutant clones that Olithcraz is making.”
“Think she has any idea what happened to Nyles?” asked Dholztra.
“No,” said Grelek. “And we plan to keep it that way. No sense making her give up hope before we send her in.”
To Dholztra’s astonished question, the HCBI agents explained that Imogen had volunteered to infiltrate Halfoorn’s compound. The HCBI would wire her up with a suite of biomechanical sensors and transmitters. Then she’d offer herself as an advocate with the rest of the human survivors for Halfoorn’s crazy scheme.
“Poor kid still thinks she can save her brother,” said Jalinoor.
“And you’re gonna just exploit that?” asked Dholztra. “Craters, she trusts you.”
But as Grelek pointed out, if Halfoorn succeeded in handing Nolatre over to a cadre of fanatical Belanthrese, any human not already “converted” would either be shot or wish they had been.
“I don’t care,” said Dholztra. “It’s a suicide mission. If Halfoorn now has control of his father’s robotics company, he might have sensors that would see right through your implants.”
“Look at it this way,” said Grelek. “If we’re gonna stop Halfoorn, we have to know his next move. Besides, she volunteered. No way she doesn’t know the risks.”
Dholztra leapt from his chair.
“Not good enough!” he shouted.
“Take it easy, Rolkahr,” said Jalinoor. “You have a better idea? Spit it out.”
“She needs cover,” said the determined detective. “I’m going in, too.”
“What the bleeding muon did Olithcraz do to you in that lab of his?” asked Grelek. “You wouldn’t last five minutes before someone spotted you … like Halfoorn himself.”
“He won’t know it’s me,” said Dholztra, “If we deck out a robotic unit in a chameleon suit, it would look as human as Imogen. I could operate it remotely and keep an eye on her.”
Grelek stood up.
“Not bad, Detective,” he said. “But I’ll do you one better. LunarOne has a humanoid robot in development right now. It might not be ready for full independence, but I’ll bet it could work with a control unit. Agent Jalinoor?”
Within minutes, Jalinoor had comlinked the LunarOne robotics center and returned with his report.
“They have one unit they could reconfigure for us, pretty much by the time we land,” he said. “There’s just one problem. It tends to fall over on uneven terrain. Nobody has completely figured out how humans can walk on just two legs.”
“Like that’s the biggest mystery about them,” said Dholztra. “But OK, I’ll watch where it walks.”
“There’s one more thing,” said Jalinoor. “The remote control is by cortical implant. If the unit overloads it could fry your brain faster than a short order cook on a sugar high.”
“We have to try,” he said. “Send me the specs as soon as….”
Dholztra was drowned out by a staticky announcement over the cruiser’s internal comlink.
ALL PERSONNEL TO BATTLE STATIONS.
WE ARE UNDER ATTACK. REPEAT….”
The HCBI agents grabbed the intrepid detective by two of his shoulders and pushed him into the corridor that ran past the galley.
“Move it,” shouted Grelek. “We have to get to the nearest emergency shelter. There’s one down on the right.”
After his ordeal with Olithcraz, Dholztra was in no shape to run.
“How … how close are we to LunarOne?” he panted, as the agents hustled him along.
“Should be within range of the landing field,” said Jalinoor. “But we can’t risk landing until we knock out this assault ship.”
“Is it the Belanthrese?” asked Dholztra.
“All we know right now is that it’s firing on us,” said Grelek. “Come on, through here.”
The three of them entered a large, vaulted bulkhead that was already nearly full of the cruiser’s non-military personnel. Before they had a chance to catch their breath, a tall uniformed sentry slammed the bulkhead door shut and entered a series of commands to lock it.
“Should be out there fighting,” said Dholztra.
“Relax, Detective,” said Grelek. “Let the soldiers do their job. You look like you could use a rest, anyway.”
“Think maybe Olithcraz might have infected me with something,” said Dholztra. “Been feeling kind of crazy ever since I was in that lab.”
“Fear,” said Jalinoor. “You’ve been infected with fear — and you have a lot of company.”
Just in time to stoke that emotion, the entire bulkhead shook as, out in space, the battle raged between the cruiser they were on and an unknown number of enemy ships.
“Any idea how we’re doing?” Grelek asked the uniformed sentry. The burly female checked the readout on a handheld attached to her front right leg.
“Looks like LunarOne just came on line and is helping out,” she said. “Their defenses aren’t that mobile, but a lase canon’s a lase canon, I guess.”
“Can’t argue with that,” said Dholztra.
To everyone’s relief, his voice had barely died down before an “all clear” message rang out on the ship-wide comlink.
STAND DOWN FROM BATTLE STATIONS
PREPARE FOR LANDING
“And to think I could have had a good job scrubbing toilets back home,” said Jalinoor.
“If this keeps up, you’ll still be out of luck,” said Dholztra. “There won’t be anything left to scrub.”
It took another half hour, but at last the cruiser touched down on the airless void of Nolatre’s moon. A flexible, airtight passageway extended itself from the nearest dome. Soon the detective and the two HCBI agents emerged into the base. Their faces grim, they entered a maglev lift that took them up and over to LunarOne Central. When the lift doors opened, they were greeted by an imposing female military officer, whose twin particle guns glinted in the center’s harsh light.
“Detective Dholztra,” said the officer. “Admiral Nethrez. “I hear you have an ambitious plan to infiltrate the enemy.”
“Can’t let that Red Disk go it alone,” said Dholztra. “No telling what they’ll do to her,”
“Nolatre will never forget your service,” said the general. “Now, in case your resolve starts to waiver, I have some bad news for you.”
“Wait a minute, General,” said Grelek. “I was told HCBI would have the military’s full cooperation. Why have you held out on us?”
“Take an ice bath, Agent Grelek,” said Nethrez. “You’re gonna overheat something fierce. This just came in. Seems Halfoorn got to know a little too much about the detective when he was pretending to be an informant. Fact is, Dholztra, his goons kidnapped your girlfriend this morning and he’s already talking ransom.”
“Ransom for Treldraah?” asked Dholztra. “Last I heard, that lunatic was sitting on trillions of credits.”
“Oh he’s not in it for credits,” said Nethrez. “The ransom he wants is you.”
“What do you think, Detective?” said Grelek. “Nobody’s forcing you to drive the android. One of our agents could do it.”
“Forget it,” said Dholztra. “If I’d been smarter, Imogen and Nyles would never have gotten mixed up in this. I had Halfoorn in custody more times than it rains on Halthrema Prime during monsoon season. I should have known….”
“He fooled you like he fooled everybody,” said Nethrez. “Turned your good nature against you — your impulse to help a guy when he’s down. He blinded you.”
“I’m not buying that,” said Dholztra. “This was my mistake and I’m gonna fix it. Besides, if I surrender, Halfoorn will kill us both anyway. I gotta hope he thinks having Treldraah as a hostage is worth more to him than killing her.”
“Maybe,” said Jalinoor, “but if that’s your ace in the hole, you’re kidding yourself. If you want to keep her alive, you’ll have to play along, at least a little.”
“How fast can we get the robotic unit ready?” asked Dholztra.
“The lab’s latest estimate is tomorrow, early,” said Nethrez.
“Tell Halfoorn I’ll be at his front door the night after, stuffed and ready for the oven,” said the detective.
“You think a day is enough to accomplish anything?” asked Grelek.
“If it isn’t, we’re all getting ‘kidnapped’,” said Dholztra. “I have a hunch Halfoorn’s ready to strike any time. What do you say General?”
The decorated military leader cast her multifaceted eyes down to the center’s polished granite floors.
“Latest sensor readings show a fleet of a thousand battle cruisers heading our way from the Belanthra system,” she said. “You may have even less time than you think.”
(To be continued – read the next episode here)
Mark Laporta is the acclaimed author of the Changing Hearts of Ixdahan Daherek series and the new novel, Probability Shadow, which was published in October by Chickadee Prince Books, available now in paperback or ebook on Amazon, Barnes & Noble or at a bookstore near you.
Design by Steven S. Drachman, from an original image from BeFunky.