Dead Man’s Bounty (Part Three) by T. Eric Bakutis
Arcasia settled Bennett and pulled the stolen linkline from a jumpsuit pocket. She accessed Bennett’s PBA and compromised it for real this time, looking for mistakes and finding one. Bennett had partitioned her drive so Arcasia had only shut down that partition last time, not her actual PBA. She felt stupid. She had really mucked this up.
Now deep inside Bennett’s real PBA firewalls, Arcasia locked down all Bennett’s cybernetics and then triggered an emergency restart. Bennett’s PBA fired a jolt right where the brain least enjoyed it. She gasped as her eyes opened, but she couldn’t sit up or move, really. Arcasia had height, leverage, and a jaw that wasn’t screaming with excruciating pain. She also didn’t have her arm and leg implants immobilized.
“Goddammit, Arc,” Bennett whispered. “He’ll kill them.” She slurred her words a bit, but that was probably because of her broken jaw, not head trauma.
“Your family?” Arcasia asked.
“He’s got Ethan, and Sarah. He’s got them both.”
Arcasia stepped off Bennett and breathed. “He’s really pissed we dumped him in that swamp.” Bennett had to see what that meant. “You think he’ll let you live?”
“He’ll let them live.”
“You think your family will be okay if he murders you?”
“I think they’ll be alive.”
Arcasia shook her head. “You let me get the drop on you. You partitioned your PBA. You wanted me alone when you electrocuted me, so you made your own camera loops?”
Bennett nodded, lips tight and eyes wet. “I just didn’t know Galloway would send you.”
“How long do we have until we’re blown?”
“Not long. Please, Arc, just give me the file and let me go. I’ll tell him I killed you.”
Galloway wouldn’t believe that, but Bennett and her family would die even if he did. Arcasia didn’t see a good way out of this, at least one that didn’t make this night more annoying, and she knew what she’d do if Galloway had her daughter. Dammit.
“I’ll archive a confession for the chief,” Bennett said, still slurring a bit, “and I’ll tell him everything I did. I’ll make sure he knows I tricked you.”
“He won’t care.” Arcasia flipped to her headdesk and released her wireless lock on Bennett’s cybernetics. “About my reasons, I mean. I used him and I lied.”
Bennett didn’t get up and start kicking her immediately, which Arcasia took as a net positive. She offered her hand.
Bennett stared up with wary eyes. “What are you doing?”
“But I betrayed you!”
“I get that a lot. It honestly doesn’t bother me anymore.”
After a tense moment, Bennett gripped Arcasia’s hand. She pulled Bennett up, steadied her, and stepped back.
“You’re giving me the file?” Bennett asked.
“You’re giving them a file.”
Bennett shuddered. “Thank you. Arc, I—”
“They’re going to double-cross you,” Arcasia said. “Then I’m going to kill them all.”
Bennett tested her jaw with two tentative fingertips. “This is my family here.”
“And we’ll do everything we can to save them, together.” Arcasia stared Bennett down. “You know there’s no way Galloway releases them. We do this his way, your family dies.”
Bennett grimaced, winced, and sighed. “You have a plan?”
“Not really.” Arcasia shrugged. “But on the flip side, neither does Galloway, now.”
* * *
Leaving BAS was easy with Bennett lying to everyone. Saying goodbye to Josef in person seemed like a bad idea. Bennett sent him a PBA direct message instead, saying she was going to spend her off-duty time with Arcasia, catching up. He said that sounded fine.
Arcasia was already settled on a rooftop overlooking Kiyosumi Garden two hours before Bennett was scheduled to meet with Galloway’s people. It was a nice little park, actually, surrounded by broccoli-looking trees and nature. Two wooden benches sat on the shore of a wide, calm pond, the place where Bennett was supposed to make the trade.
Galloway had probably chosen this venue because it was open from all sides, allowing his hired sniper to threaten the Bennett family from a rooftop well outside the park. That rooftop sniper would have threatened them all, too, if he wasn’t dead currently. Arcasia had dragged his body behind an A/C unit after snapping his neck in an almost disappointing anticlimax of a fight. Not everyone could afford top-tier cyberization.
She had the sniper’s rifle now, and she was a decent shot, but that didn’t matter today. The rifle she’d stolen from the man she’d killed had a military-grade AI and fired smart bullets, tiny rockets that practically aimed themselves. She was absolutely keeping it.
As she waited, she tapped her fingers on rough gravel. She’d borrowed some of Bennett’s clothes before they left BAS, jeans, a shirt, and a jacket, so at least she wasn’t stuck in that grimy jumpsuit. Still, she was more than ready for a warm bath and a cup of cocoa. She checked on Naomi again over the wireless — still sleeping at home — and reminded herself why she was doing this. Her daughter was home and safe. Bennett’s wasn’t.
She scanned the other rooftops as hours marched by, using the scope, but no more snipers arrived. The lack of reinforcements suggested Galloway wasn’t using locals, which made sense. Locals hated gaijin, slavers in particular, and Japan’s borders remained tight. Bribing enough officials to smuggle in this weapon had likely cost Galloway a fortune.
Finally, the long cold wait ended. Arcasia watched Bennett enter the park and tracked her through the scope. Bennett wore rain boots, long slacks, and a trench coat. Hands in her pockets, she walked a stone path cut through grass. Bennett eventually stopped at the benches overlooking the pond, glanced around the empty park, and sat. She waited.
Arcasia waited, too.
Five minutes after the meeting time, an armored sedan pulled to a stop at the entrance to Kiyosumi Garden. Arcasia scoped in on it. A thin man in a business suit stepped out, as did two big soldiers. The man in the suit wasn’t Galloway. He didn’t have the weight.
The dead sniper’s stolen comm crackled in her ear. “Confirm.”
Arcasia tapped the dead man’s mic, two clicks. The suit and his bodyguards entered the park instead of hopping back in the sedan, which told her clicks were good enough. The suit sat beside Bennett as the bodyguards flanked them, cutting off any escape.
From Arcasia’s vantage on the roof, she could see Bennett and the suit in profile, well enough to watch their legs and hands. So where was Galloway? Watching from inside that sedan? No. He’d be watching from a remote camera somewhere, safe and warm.
The comm in Arcasia’s other ear crackled, its mate freshly embedded in the back of Bennett’s skull, beneath her hair. They hadn’t had time for anesthesia, and Bennett had blacked out when they drilled. Just the two of us catching up, Dad, just like old times.
“Agent Bennett.” A faint voice echoed in Arcasia’s left ear, swimming in background noise. “Is Arcasia Barondale dead?”
“Sure,” Bennett said.
“You have our package?”
Arcasia swept the scope back to the armored sedan to find it on the move again, just rounding the corner. It stopped at the far end of the park, where Bennett could see it. Bennett’s family would be in that car, if they were here. If not, they’d likely never be.
“Where’s my family?” Bennett asked.
“The package first,” the suit said.
“You think I’d have it on me? Show me my family or I walk right now.”
The suit waved to the waiting sedan. Another soldier emerged and dragged out a hooded man in a blood-stained shirt and jeans, followed by a hooded little girl in white and pink pajamas. The soldier pointed his rifle at them. Probably best they couldn’t see that.
Bennett’s voice trembled. “Let them go, now.”
“Tell us where to find the datastick,” the suit said.
Bennett shuddered and glared at him. “Taped below the bench, just right of your leg.”
The suit smiled. “So you did bring it with you.”
Arcasia’s scope highlighted the two hooded hostages she hoped to God were Bennett’s family and the soldier pointing his gun at them. She target locked him. She scoped back into the park and locked the suit’s two bodyguards. The suit retrieved the datastick.
“I did everything you asked,” Bennett said. “I didn’t tell anyone. We won’t tell anyone.”
“We’ll know if that’s true in a moment.” The suit plugged the datastick into the port below his ear. Everyone waited.
“It’s genuine, sir,” the suit proclaimed, likely talking to Galloway over wireless. “Upping it to you now.” He paused. “File scrubbed.” He tossed the datastick into the pond.
“Now let them go,” Bennett said. “Please, she’s just a child.”
“Of course.” The suit gave Arcasia’s rooftop a meaningful glance. “Proceed.”
Arcasia squeezed the trigger three times.
* * *
By the time Arcasia entered the park, Ethan Bennett was holding his daughter tight as the suit squealed like a stuck pig. Jaime Bennett sat on top of him, pressing him down hard enough she had probably broken one bone or another. He was absolutely crying.
This asshole was lucky to be alive. Those smart bullets had just disintegrated three adult male heads. The fact that an anonymous rooftop sniper had been willing to shoot those tiny rockets at a five-year-old girl made Arcasia feel absolutely fine about killing him.
Bennett zipcuffed the suit’s hands behind his back and stepped off. “I owe you everything for this, Arc. I know I don’t deserve help, but … can you get us out of Tokyo?”
Arcasia glanced at the darkened sky. “Probably best you wait for BAS.”
Bennett gasped. “You sold us out?”
“It’s my turn to betray you, isn’t it?”
“But damn you, Arc, why?”
Arcasia abandoned her smirk as the long night weighed on her. “BAS already knows you betrayed them, they just don’t know why. If you run, they’ll send people after you.”
“But she didn’t do anything,” Ethan Bennett said, looking between them with wide eyes. “Jaime, you didn’t do anything!” He blinked. “Did you?”
“BAS doesn’t have a high tolerance for treason,” Arcasia reminded them, “and the Japanese have even less. There’s no guarantee Josef could choose who their government sends after you. There’s no guarantee they would ask questions.”
Bennett sat down beside her husband and daughter. “You’re right.” She wrapped her arms around her family. “My God, you’re absolutely right.” She stroked Sarah’s short hair as Sarah sucked her thumb and stared at nothing. “I’ll tell them everything.”
“You won’t say a goddamn word,” Arcasia said. “I’ll tell my father you were working for me all along, and then I’ll tell him you did all this to help me find Galloway.” She knelt beside the suit, who hunched up like a scared bug. “First, this asshole.”
“Please!” he shouted. “I was just following orders!”
Arcasia pointed at Sarah Bennett, a little girl who would probably still need therapy long after she grew into an adult. “Making that girl’s head explode is an order to you?”
“Just tell me what you want to know! I’ll tell you anything!”
He just might, given his trembling. Arcasia leaned close. “Where’d you send that file?”
“I don’t have a name, just a handle. Tengu.”
“What was in that file?”
“I don’t know, but he promised five billion credits upon delivery. And deletion!”
“How did this Tengu contact you?”
“On a skill trade site, on the dark web. He had references!”
She loomed over him and raised one fist. “You don’t really know much, do you?”
He trembled against the grass. “You have to believe me. Please! Don’t!”
Aircar spotlights flooded the park as rotor whumps flooded the air. BAS response time was just under three minutes. Not bad. Arcasia stood and raised her hands.
A moment later, Josef Barondale and eight BAS soldiers entered the park from just about everywhere. BAS had a security contract with the Tokyo government, so they could stomp wherever they pleased. Josef looked about as angry as Arcasia expected, but he softened when he spotted Bennett clutching her family, as well as the trussed-up suit.
“You have an explanation,” Josef said, with the implication she better.
Arcasia forced herself to smile. “You’re not going to like it.”
END OF PART THREE