Chapter 10 continued.
I did not need to wait for long. The door to the kitchen opened silently to dramatically reveal Petrova. Without saying a thing she sat down in front of me. Despite her hard gaze she did not look directly at me. Instead she concentrated on the steaming mug of coffee in front of her. After contemplating it for a while she reached for the little brushed steel sugar pot. She poured a spoonful of sugar slowly on the foam. I felt slightly proud that I had made a first class foam but my pride quickly noticed that it had come at an inopportune moment, mumbled an excuse and left. Petrova added another table spoon of sugar. Now the little mound began to slowly sink into the foam.
We sat there immersed in silence for a while. I tried to start a conversation using my wonderful sense of humour.
'Your university has a very interesting curriculum.' I said.
Petrova looked up. She did't get it.
'I did not know that torture was part of the curriculum.' That sounded a lot funnier in my head. I stared into my coffee while Petrova watched me her expression still running on neutral. With a sigh she put her spoon into the coffee. Right in the centre where the sugar had sunk in and left a brown mark in the white foam. She stirred gently forming a spiral pattern in the foam.
'I did not learn that in the university.' her voice came from a far away place.
'Before I decided to get a proper education I was in the army. You learn a lot of things there. None of them good...' She kept stirring slowly now looking back into her mug.
'A soldier?' I said 'Aren't you a bit young? You look like you are in your late twenties.'
'I was a volunteer. I joined our glorious cause when I was 14. And I did pretty well on my assessments. So my proud country decided to put me in special forces. We all were around fourteen. The youngest age at which you could volunteer and the best age to form a good soldier.'
I did not know what to say. So I decided not to say anything. Instead a took a sip of my coffee. It was actually pretty decent.
'In the end I was lucky.' she continued 'I was part of a control group. We were just indoctrinated and trained in the old fashioned way. Others were modified. They thought that adolescents coped better with modifications. We were sent everywhere. The trenches of Mars first. Just one eternal front-line. After a year when it became clear that nothing would change the situation there we were called back. We were to valuable to be used up as cannon-fodder there. Instead we raided enemy bases in the asteroid belt and assaulted space trains.' at this point she smiled.
'That was the best part. Making plans, infiltrating enemy facilities. Pulling off ridiculous stunts. Robbing a train that moves fast enough to get from Earth to Jupiter in a couple of weeks is harder than you'd think... Anyway. This did not last long. Russia was losing its battles on Venus. Mars had turned into a meat grinder killing more soldiers than mother Russia could birth. And rumours about the rebellion of the outer colonies under the banner of Titan had reached even us in our secluded little space ship head quarter. So we were sent to Venus to save the day. Fucking Venus.'
She paused again. While she was not saying anything her face was telling her story. Focused on her memories I could see grief, disgust and terror moving over her features.
'We had to conduct special operations. Surgical strikes. Cut off the enemies supplies. Sounded all quite reasonable. But it meant killing civilians. Killing and torturing. I played along for far to long but I reached a point when I knew that if I carried on with what I was doing the "war" would destroy me. I had seen it happen with the others. What we did changed them.'
She took a sip of her coffee. Regaining her composure.
'As a volunteer the army could not stop me from turning away. After my sixth year in the force I declined my promotion and my new contract and walked away. I had actually expected them to orchestrate a nice little accident for me to have. But I guess it was to much of an effort. The War had already started freezing. All the greater powers were running low on resources and money. So to my great surprise I actually survived university and became an architect. Designing new buildings... helps me.' a distant faint smile appeared on her lips. 'It is good to work to build something that is intended to last and that is meant to shelter people. Give them homes and places to work.'
'As far as professions go Architect is pretty nice. Creative and useful.' small talk was all I could come up with for the moment.
'It is an art that creates things that can be both beautiful and useful.' she looked me straight in the eyes. 'I guess you are wondering why I am telling you this?'
'The thought crossed my mind. Yes.'
'I want you to know that I am not a monster. What I did down there was horrible. But I did not cause that man any permanent damage. We needed information and he tried to get us both killed.'
'I was not feeling any sympathy for that prick.' I lied. 'And it would be nice for a change to know... well anything.'
'His name is Darren Carter. He had a sordid childhood under an abusive alcoholic mother and it seems that his only joy in life was being a bully. Grew up to become a soldier like most. In the end his bad behaviour got him kicked out of the Imperial Space Force. With a dishonourable discharge and enough black marks in his file to make it unreadable he did not have anywhere to go. He had a short stint in a PMC but the company itself was led by idiots who run their company into the blood soaked ground of Mars. Darren got out alive and came here to Europa where he set up a small protection money racket which quickly drew the ire of the local mob on whose territory he was infringing. They sent people after him. A few broken limbs later he had made a name from himself as a tough guy. In an uncharacteristic moment of sudden intelligence he decided to talk to the local don, apologize and giving him most of the money he had "earned". That way he came to his new career as violence dispenser for hire.'
Petrova leaned back in her chair relaxing for the first time drinking her coffee. I meanwhile was impressed at the amount of information she had extracted from our victim.
'I guess you are pausing dramatically for the punchline?' I asked.
A wide grin appeared on her face.
'Strange thing. He was supposed to catch you. He had no idea that you had a price on your silly head. He was hired by a man called Franklin Gwyn.'
'The pimp of crime?' I knew the man. He had appeared many, many times in the local rumours in the Nightingale.
'Pimp of Crime? That's what I always used to call him. He is a bit of a celebrity in the underworld. Known as a man who gets things done. Only that so far that I can tell "getting things done" means hiring some small fry and let them do the hard work.'
'Really? I did not know that. Maybe you are good for something after all Kane.'
'I have my talents. So our next step would be going to have a talk with Gwyn. But that poses several problems. While I do know where he does his business he will hardly tell us all he knows and beating it out of him will be a bit hard because his gorillas will be climbing all over us if we try that. Furthermore there is the little problem that I've been a bit over exposed in Old Town. Not only does everyone seem to know what I look like but I am sure that word is spreading that I was involved in the case of the Tall Gun for Hire and the Exploding Sniper.'
'Yes. We will not go back to the European sector just now. First of all we need you to vanish from there for a while, so people will stop looking for you there. And secondly and more importantly we have to get to a terraformer so that we can have a chat with it. It will provide us with a new perspective and who knows what it makes out of your data collection that is rolling around in your head.'
'So...' I asked. 'Do you know of any terraformers that would fit the bill?'
'Oh yes.' now she was virtually beaming. 'I've thought things through and I have decided that we will be going on a little trip. I know of a third tier terraformer called Iserdis. It is located, if we take a decent boat, a days travel east of here in the middle of a neutral zone where the Russian, the Imperial and the Ethiopian sector meet. There is only inhabitants there live uptown while down here on the ice level there is nothing but the structural parts of the high rises that keep up town aloft and working.'
'Sounds good.' I said. 'That way we are out of sight. Giving us enough privacy for some breaking and entering followed by the capital felony of tampering with a terraformer.'
'It is settled then. Pack your things. We'll leave in an hour.' She got up from the table. Drained the last bit of her coffee and was bout to leave the kitchen when I interrupted her. 'What will we do with our... guest?'
She froze in mid stride. 'Don't worry about him. We will take him to a nice safe place from which he can walk back home.' With that she left leaving me alone with my coffee.