Read World of Fire (Dev Harmer 01) Online

Authors: James Lovegrove

Tags: #Science Fiction

World of Fire (Dev Harmer 01) (4 page)

BOOK: World of Fire (Dev Harmer 01)
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“Let her go.”

This was Stegman, who had his mosquito levelled with Dev’s neck, just inches away. Point-blank range. He couldn’t miss.

let the chief go.”

Dev kicked out, catching Stegman hard in the thigh, crushing quadriceps muscle against femur. A perfect dead leg. The numbed limb gave way beneath Stegman and he fell to the ground.

The distraction provided Kahlo with an opening, however, and she took it. Gripping Dev round the waist, she propelled the two of them over the rim of the fungus sculpture’s pedestal. They tumbled together into soft, loamy growth medium. Kahlo ended up on top, straddling Dev, who had lost his grip on her hand.

Next instant, a teeth-clackingly powerful punch landed on the side of his head. Fireworks exploded in his vision.

He answered by scooping up a handful of mulch and chucking it into Kahlo’s face. He’d hoped to blind her temporarily, but, dazed from her punch, he missed her eyes, getting her mouth instead.

Spitting out the damp brown muck, Kahlo torqued Dev’s head round with both hands and shoved his face sideways into the loam.

“Tastes like crap,” she said. “Try some yourself.”

It went up Dev’s nose, trickled into his mouth. He blew out hard to prevent himself inhaling fragments of it.

“Stegman! Mosquito!”

The sergeant, propped half upright on the ground, tossed the little dart gun to her. Kahlo caught it smartly, took aim and, without hesitating, pulled the trigger.

A rasping puff of air, and a thorn-like dart stuck Dev in the biceps. It stung like crazy for a couple of seconds, then all at once he could no longer feel his arm. He writhed as though he could fight it, but the lack of sensation spread inexorably to his torso, then his legs, a tide of ice-cold water.

Soon he was immobile, paralysed from head to toe, able only to breathe and blink.

Kahlo clambered off him with a look of profound satisfaction on her face.

“How’d that work out for you?” she said. “You’ve just joined the Don’t Mess With Astrid Kahlo Club. The fees are free. Membership sucks.”





on a bunk in a cell for an hour while the effects of the neurotoxin wore off. Then he was taken, smartcuffed, to an interview room, where he was dumped unceremoniously on a chair and told to wait.

He waited for what must have been at least three hours, his stomach growling the whole time. The hunger pangs were all-consuming, his belly cramping. The pulsing ache from the bruise on the side of his head was nothing by comparison.

The smartcuffs were made of a milky orange programmable plastic which moulded to the contours of your wrists and welded themselves in place, forging a bond with your flesh. If you tried to wriggle out of them it would hurt; pull hard enough, and your skin would tear. The standard method of release was the application of a tone-generating ‘key’ which broke down the plastic’s molecular bonds, dissolving the smartcuffs to goo.

Finally, Kahlo deigned to pay a visit.

“Okay, Harmer,” she said, seating herself across the table from him. “Let’s start again. What was all that about anyway, haring off like you did? What did you hope to achieve? Were you
to look like a criminal?”

“I fancied a bit of a workout. It’s good for the health, you know.”

“What’s good for the health is not running away when two of Calder’s Edge PD are in the process of detaining you.”

“I realise that now.” Dev shrugged a shoulder to indicate the contusion just behind his ear. His hands were resting in his lap, beneath the table, out of sight. “Shall we just say I was engaged in a little experiment?”

“Experimenting with how far you could push me?”

“Something like that.”

“Well, you got results. You know what you’re dealing with now. So maybe you should play ball. You’re ISS?”

“So I’m led to believe.”

“Enough of the smart-assery. Are you or are you not an Interstellar Security Solutions consultant?”

“Didn’t I prove that to you out there?”

“All you proved is that you’re tricky and have some training.”

“Some? How’s the thumb, by the way?”

Kahlo’s hand was partly encased in a clear gel bandage. The ball of her thumb was mottled purple and blue. Analgesics secreted by the gel would be holding the discomfort and inflammation at bay. Dedicated astrocyte cells would be repairing the damage tissue.

“Not bothering me in the slightest,” she replied. “How’s the head?”

“Gently ringing. Look, is it possible I could get something to eat? I’m starving. Haven’t eaten in forever. Literally.”

“That so? Funny, because I’ve just come from the canteen, where I had the best burger ever. Gherkin, relish, bacon, cheese, the works. Oh, and a mound of fries with a ton of ketchup on top. Yum.”

Dev’s mouth watered. It was almost embarrassing how delicious Kahlo’s meal sounded.

He affected nonchalance.

“I’m a steak man myself. Sirloin, flash-fried, seared on the outside, pink and oozing juices in the middle.”

“The meat we vat-grow on Alighieri is second to none. Honestly. Guys come here from the core planets and tell us they haven’t tasted better. The workforce gets fed well. It’s one of the perks.”

“Looking forward to sampling some, then.”

I let you out of here.”

you do. No reason you won’t. Technically, arresting me and holding me prisoner contravenes federal Diasporan law. ISS immunity supersedes all regional criminal codes. I could have your badge for this.”

“You’ve got me confused with someone who gives a shit. All I know is I’m looking at a man who ran when police officers approached him in the course of their duties. A man, what’s more, whose appearance gave me reasonable cause to suspect him of any number of infractions. Vagrancy, for starters. Possible sabotage, too.”

Dev cocked an eyebrow. “Interesting. And why would there be saboteurs on Alighieri? Got a terrorism problem on this world, captain?”

“Who’s interrogating who, Harmer?”

“Just data mining. I would have put the time you’ve left me hanging around in this room to good use, checking news feeds and conducting some research, but you’ve installed interference fields in your police HQ. My commplant’s fritzed. All I’m getting is static.”

“It’s standard procedure. We can’t allow crooks unfettered communications access.”

“I’m no crook.”

“You still haven’t convinced me of that.”

“I shouldn’t need to. By now you’ll have verified my credentials. Perhaps before you went to dinner you fired off an information request to ISS Central, and the reply only just pinged back. What’s the ultraspace transmission delay between here and Earth? An hour? Hour and a half at most.”

Kahlo poker-faced, but that alone told Dev he was right on the money, on every count.

“So,” he continued, “you have official confirmation that I’m the consultant who was booked to pay a call. They even sent you an image of my host form. It’s beyond doubt. I am who I say I am, and the only reason I’m still in custody is pure spite on your part.”

“Or that I don’t trust you.”

“The feeling is mutual. Already we have something in common; surely we can build on that.”

“Say I do let you go, Harmer. You’re implying you want CEPD to co-operate with you?”

“It’d make my job easier. Specifically, I’d like
to co-operate with me, Captain Kahlo. I don’t have an ISS contact any more, and it’d be good to partner up with someone from round these parts who knows the ropes and has some sway. Who better than a senior cop?”

“Out of the question. I’m far too busy.”

“Shame. Guess I’ll just have to go it alone. By the way...”

He raised his hands from his lap, laying them on the tabletop.

“I’ve saved you the hassle of uncuffing me.”

His wrists were bare, free, showing rings of chafed skin where the smartcuffs had been.

Kahlo’s jaw dropped just a fraction before she caught herself and recovered her composure.

“Clever,” she said. “I’ll bite. How did you manage it?”

“Old trick. If you rub the join between the cuffs up and down against a solid surface – a table leg, for example – you create a vibrational resonance, kind of like strumming a guitar string. Smarts a bit, but once you hit the correct frequency, it acts like the tone-generating key does. Design flaw. The cuffs disintegrate. If you look down by my feet, you’ll see what’s left of them.”

Kahlo glanced down. The floor around Dev’s chair was spattered with blobs of sticky milky-orange fluid.

“Polis Plus technology is a speciality of mine,” Dev said. “Particularly dismantling it. I hate the fucking stuff.”

“The guy monitoring the surveillance feed saw you moving your arms up and down. He assumed you were playing with yourself or had some kind of unfortunate rash.” She sighed. “All right. You’ve made your point. You’re Mr Super-Duper-ISS-Man and we should all bow down and give thanks that you’ve graced us with your presence. I have no option but to release you and send you on your way. As for helping you...”

“I’d be grateful.”

“It’s out of the question. We’re stretched as it is. I can’t spare anyone. We need all the manpower we’ve got.”

“ISS would be grateful, too. The kind of grateful that puts credit in a person’s bank account.”

“Is that some sort of cackhanded attempt at bribery?”

“Just offering you an incentive to do a little moonlighting.”

“Mr Harmer,” Kahlo said severely. “Unlike you, I work directly and exclusively for TerCon. I’m a public servant, not some freelance mercenary. I’m in receipt of a government salary and proud of it.”

“That’s fine. I’m sure you earn enough. Or is the job its own reward?”

“You can’t put a price on keeping the peace and upholding the law.”

“I used to think that too, once.”

“Well, whatever changed your mind, I’m sorry for you.”

Not as sorry as Dev was.

“Now, if you don’t mind,” Kahlo said, rising to her feet, “I’ve a police force to run. Don’t waste my time any further. Do what you have to, carry out your mission, but for your own sake, stay out of my –”

The door burst open, and a police officer leaned in.

“Sorry to interrupt, ma’am.”

“You’re not interrupting anything. What is it?”

“Got an emergency call from the Jansson Crossing township. Something about a train crash. Possible casualties.”

“Okay. I presume first responders are en route.”

“So I’m told.”

“I’ll go too. Someone has to supervise.”

Kahlo, halfway out of the room, turned to find Dev right behind her.

“What are you doing?” she snapped.

“Tagging along.”


“Why not?”

“Weren’t you listening? Didn’t I just tell you to stay out of my way?”

“Well, to be honest, you didn’t actually finish the sentence. You could have been about to add ‘unless you see a pressing need to follow me somewhere.’”

“There isn’t any pressing need. This is official business.”

“Captain, I’m doing my best to get an overview of what’s happening on this planet,” said Dev. “Already I know you’re having unusual earthquakes. Now a train crash. You raised the issue of potential sabotage earlier. It’s all relevant, it all adds up to something, and my job is to work out what and why and put a stop to it. Now, I could travel to this Jansson Crossing on my own, or I could cadge a ride off you. Either way, it’s my next destination.”

“I’m not going to get rid of you, am I?”

Dev smiled in what he hoped was a winning manner. For all he knew, he was pulling some hideous grimace. A host form’s facial muscles were always the hardest to master. Gross motor skills came first, fine motor skills second.

Kahlo rolled her eyes, resigned. “Very well. I suppose I’m better off keeping a close watch on you anyway, rather than letting you blunder around off the leash. You can come with. Just don’t get under my feet.”

BOOK: World of Fire (Dev Harmer 01)
6.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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