Chapter 34

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Captain Juan Martinez decided to walk home from work. It was late at night but the lights were never completely turned off on the space station, and he hoped the exercise would clear his mind.

It had been a long day, most of it spent poring over the financial records he had retrieved for the Kadina Consortium. The Kadina Consortium was the owner of the space yacht which had been involved in the recent kidnapping of two men, Michael Banner and Max Lang, both patrol officers, although technically speaking, Banner was ex-patrol. He was now a medic at the Capella Hospital. The two men had been rescued just before the yacht exploded in space, sabotaged to self-destruct. It was pure luck that the Patrol ship, Qatar, had got everyone off in time.

Now Martinez, as the local Patrol Captain, was in charge of investigating those responsible for the kidnapping and attempted murder and he was starting with the Kadina Consortium. What he hoped to find was a proven link to Ron Pearce, the businessman who was his chief suspect. Unfortunately, suspicion was not enough. His principal witness was dead and he needed to find hard evidence before he could even think about prosecuting Pearce.

He locked his office behind him and left the building, rolling his shoulders to ease the tension and strode out briskly. It would only take him about twenty minutes to reach his apartment, nowhere was very far away from anywhere else on a space station, not even one as big as Capella. The streets were quiet at this time of night, at least on this side of the city, away from the busy night clubs and hotels on the other side.

He had walked home from work hundreds of times before, many occasions even later than he was tonight, but this time something felt different. Either he had a hunch or he had noticed something out of the ordinary without fully realising what it was. Something felt wrong. Casually he eased the stunner into his palm, hiding it in his hand, his finger resting lightly above the firing button. He turned his head from side to side as if stretching tight neck muscles, his eyes scanning the area around him, seeking the shadows where someone could hide.

On high alert, adrenaline pumping through his body, he passed a side-street and just caught the flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye. He fired instantly and saw someone fall to the ground, even as a second figure stepped out of a doorway ahead of him. This wasn't a random mugging, he was certain. Someone wanted him taken out or warned off, at the least. He'd bet his next pay it was connected to his investigations of Pearce.

He swung the weapon back almost faster than the eye could see and shot the man at the same moment he fired at him. Martinez fell to the ground a second after his assailant.

XXX

The man lay alone in the bed, waiting impatiently for the doctor to come and see him on her daily rounds. Although everything was dark, he could hear faint sounds coming from the room around him, the hum of a machine, the soothing sound of music playing softly in the background. Occasionally he thought he heard the sound of a voice or footstep in the corridor outside but as far as he could tell, only three people ever entered his room, Dr Yoshida, the male nurse, Tom, and a man calling himself Colonel Young.

He remembered the first time he had woken up, or at least the first time he was aware of it. The pitch blackness had terrified him. He had panicked, thinking that he had gone blind but then his questing hand had felt the slippery surface of a plasfoam bandage over his eyes and half of his head. He must have made a noise because almost instantly a man was there at his side.

"You're awake are you? You're in a safe place, just relax and I'll call Dr Yoshida, she'll be able to tell you what's happening better than I can." Even at the time he remembered thinking it was an odd thing to say 'you're in a safe place', why not just say he was in hospital? He was lying in a bed with his head bandaged. It was obvious he had been in some kind of accident.

"Where am I?" he asked.

"You're in a safe place," the man repeated. "Just be patient, Dr Yoshida will explain everything. Would you like a drink of water?" he asked, distracting him. He helped him to put a tube in his mouth and he sucked greedily until the small glass was empty. He was parched. He hadn't realised until the iced water touched the back of his throat. How long had he been here, unconscious?

Luckily for his rising stress levels, he heard the door swish open and the doctor came in. "How are you feeling, Captain? I'm Dr Yoshida."

"What's wrong with my eyes?" The question burst out, taking sudden precedence over everything else.

"You have a head injury," she explained in a measured voice. "A serious head injury. It's likely there will be some significant loss of vision in your right eye; however, I'm hopeful that your left eye will have almost full sight. We won't be able to tell until I remove the bandages in about a week."

Almost full vision. In one eye. He was trying very hard to keep his panic under control. "What happened?" he asked. "Was I in an accident?"

"You don't remember?"

"No." He didn't even have to think about it.

"You were shot in the head. With a stunner."

Shot? "Where am I?" he asked again.

"You're in a private hospital. Don't worry, we'll take good care of you. Have you got pain anywhere? A headache?"

As if the very word had conjured it up, he became aware of the pounding in his head. "Headache," he murmured.

"I'll give you some medication that will help." Someone pressed a device attached to his wrist. "Just rest now and concentrate on getting better. Colonel Young is very eager to see you but I'll tell him it's too soon, he can come back tomorrow." Dr Yoshida said decisively.

"Who?" he frowned, his voiced trailing away as the pain killer kicked in and sleep took over.

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