Chapter 13

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The best leaders modelled the behaviour that they wanted their people to adopt. I had no doubt that Trip-G's people would be striving to be as tough and as capable as their leader was.

There was no way that I was going to pull off a one-man assault of Melchi Prime Security Headquarters. Even with yellow-tip rounds. My rough outline of a simple plan involving a crazed, suicidal invasion of her residence and killing everyone inside was now dead in deep space. It would be an even bet whether it was the building defences or the security officers that would cut me down first. Long before I came anywhere near the daughter.

Even though they were unlikely to recognise my revolver as a weapon, security staff were not going to let me waltz into the depths of their HQ and stroll down to a secret residence. I had my fake security ID, but I had already used it to access Deeb's place. And that hadn't ended so well.

It was time to do some surveillance of my own. Which was not going to be easy. As a general rule, the Headquarters of Security Operations were not renowned for encouraging bystanders to loiter around standing by. And they would have counter-surveillance measures in place.

Nor was it likely that I would be able to bribe a security officer for information or access. I had the funds, but it took time to identify and prepare a target for seduction, bribery or blackmail. One approach to the wrong individual would push station security into high alert. Abduction and questioning wasn't a great option either. Trained security personnel tended to be very difficult to interrogate.

I did have a starting location, now, which was something. I needed to identify the target - the records for the Water Rationing Protocol had identified two children living in the residence. Smooth-face had only mentioned a daughter, so I assumed that the other child was a boy, but I needed to confirm.

There were three Education Centres located within a short bearing ride to the HQ. Chances were that the children would be delivered to one of these each day. I needed to map out possible routes and conduct surveillance from the Ed-Cent locations. And teachers were much easier to interrogate.

It would be counter-operational for Trip-G to accompany the kids to the Ed-Cent. She was too well-known and her presence would compromise the children's identities. Her wife might be a possibility. There were only a few photos of her around, it was less likely that people would recognise her. And most parents tended to put such soppy, lovey crap above even basic security protocols. She had married Trip-G though, so she was unlikely to be stupid, or unaware of basic procedure.

Which left me with not much. Two children under twelve, possibly a boy and a girl, accompanied by adults who were observant and possessed good situational awareness. At least two adults, probably posing as parents. They would have backup not so very far away. And every one of them would be looking for someone who was doing exactly what I would be doing.

Looking for them.

Partridge would be able to suggest a technical approach to dealing with the problem. But now that I was into the target-interaction stage of the contract I was not prepared to let her know what I was up to. She would be reporting back to Smooth-face. Her loyalties would lie with the people financing her work. If I'd had any expectation of surviving this contract, I would have already made plans to dispose of Partridge before killing the daughter. I was still trying to determine how valuable Partridge was to Smooth-face's operation. If her loss was capable of hurting him in some way, then it would still be worth killing her before they finished me.

I needed to keep her close but uninformed. Which meant sourcing some of my own equipment.

***

I hadn't seen any reports about the discovery of Deeb's body. That may have been because the report of a young, dead, beautiful off-station Minister had overshadowed by the report of an old, dead, ugly local criminal. Or Melchi Prime was becoming used to the sudden proliferation of bodies over the past few weeks. Deeb was a recluse, but someone had to have noticed his absence.

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