“I beg your pardon?” Gideon asked in a voice that said, quite clearly, You’re smogging kidding me, right?
“Hear me out.” The general held up a hand to forestall the inevitable protest. “The war is over,” she explained, “and for the most part in our favor. But what would happen to what is, in fact, a very delicate peace, if it became known a Coalition agent had not only been siphoning intelligence from under the Corps’ nose for at least twelve years, but was still doing so? The public wouldn’t stand for it. They would demand action—sanctions at best, and renewed conflict at the worst.”
“I’m not a fan of going back to war,” Gideon said, “but do we really want to negotiate with a power that, by their own spy’s admission, doesn’t think the war is really over?”
“No, we don’t.” Her admission was rueful. “But even less do we want to risk a renewal of hostilities. We can’t,” she said, her voice dropping lower, “because if we go back to the field against the Coalition states at our current strength, we will lose. The victories at Allianz and Santander were far from decisive, and both cost us dearly. The best that can be said is that both battles led the Coalition to believe we were in better shape than they, so they sued for peace.”
Which was not what Gideon expected, or wanted, to hear. “What are the chances,” he asked, “that Odile has already passed that information on?”
“It’s not impossible, but—given the very small circle of individuals aware of the gravity of the situation—the thinking is, that if the enemy knew, they’d have taken action by now.”
Gideon nodded, though it all felt a little optimistic. “We were really losing?”
“One more major engagement—two at the most—and the Eastern colonies would have begun to fall like dominoes.”
“And what about them?” Gideon nodded to where DS Hama and Mia were rolling his cycle to a stop under the pier’s lamp.
“They weren’t privy to Odile’s confession and only know what I shared, which isn’t much.”
Somehow, Gideon doubted it’d be that simple. “So, if I can’t talk about Odile, what are we saying happened at Nasa?”
The relief on her face was unnerving, and made Gideon realize how very precarious the United Colonies’ position must be.
“It was a crime of passion,” she said. “Celia Rand, in revenge for your refusal of her advances, misled her husband into believing you had assaulted her, leading to his actions at Nasa. Tawdry, I’ll admit, but close enough to the truth that we should be able to make it fly.”
“Make it fly?” Gideon said. “Twenty starbucks say it’ll be on the center stage at the Circus inside the week.”
“I don’t believe I will take that bet,” she said with a small smile, which quickly disappeared as she asked, “And will you do it? Will you keep this secret? I can’t say the Corps deserves your silence, but—”
“I won’t tell,” he said, cutting her off. “Anyway, I’m not sure my truth is any more plausible than your fiction.”
Her smile returned and, as one, they turned towards the dock and started walking. “At least you’ll have your freedom, and your reputation.”
But not those six years, he thought. And those five soldiers are still dead.
He didn’t let himself think of Dani.
“You also have your rank,” Satsuke was saying, “if you want it. The Corps still needs people who think… differently.”
By now they were at the landward end of the pier. On the dock to Gideon’s left waited Mia, with DS Hama, and to his right, the general’s staff car.
Her driver was already at the door, holding it open.
It would certainly be easy to accept Satsuke’s offer.
After all, his entire life had been one of following orders. Dodger, soldier, convict… in fact, he wasn’t far from the position he’d been in thirty hours and a kilometer back, stepping off the Ramushku onto the Nike airfield.
As he thought this, a fine rain began to fall.
“Thanks,” he said, pausing at the foot of the pier, and looking down at the general. “It means something you’d make the offer, but I don’t think this is the kind of war I’m cut out to fight. In fact, I think I’m due for a career change.”
To what, now, that was the question.
He could always take ship, like Horatio Alva, and see where he landed.
He could do as Jinna had done when she left the Corps, and find a nice normal job.
But see how that worked out for her?
His thoughts danced over to the Errant, and Pitte’s crew, but even if Jagati didn’t shoot him on sight, there was a bit too much history there.
He looked at Hama and thought, copper?
But no, too many regulations.
And if there was one thing Gideon was sure of, he was through taking orders.
He thought again of Jinna, and the troubles with Minister Del, and of what he’d learned of the local politics.
He thought of DS Hama, a decent cop in a very not decent system, then he thought of the issues in Lower Cadbury, where Tiago was fighting the good fight in his own unique way.
“What sort of change?” Satsuke asked, no doubt thinking along those same lines.
“I’m not sure,” Gideon admitted as they came up even with Hama and Mia.
“Not sure about what?” Mia asked.
“Colonel—pardon me—Mr. Quinn is having something of a career crisis,” Satsuke told her.
Mia opened her mouth.
“I’m trying to decide what to do with my life,” Gideon explained.
“Oh,” Mia said, “that’s easy.” All three grown-ups stared and she shrugged. “You can do what you been doing since you got here.”
Hama looked a little panicked, and Gideon couldn’t blame him.
“You can facilitate.”
Gideon, who’d been ready to protest, shut his mouth.
He looked at Mia, then at Elvis, curled around the girl’s neck, and then, for no reason he could fathom, to the shadow in the front seat of the general’s car.
“I could,” he said after a moment, turning back to Mia. “I could absolutely… facilitate.”
The general blinked. “I wasn’t aware such a career existed.”
“Gideon just invented it.” Mia beamed.
“Keepers preserve me,” Hama sighed, then explained. “As pleasing as it is to have the likes of Clive Wendell, Erasmus Ellison, and Killian Del sharing a cell, never mind the notorious Madame Rand, the paperwork you have generated in one night will keep me busy for a month.”
“Come on.” Mia patted his arm. “It won’t always be that bad.”
Hama didn’t look convinced.
“You’re sure about this?” General Satsuke asked.
Gideon tried on the idea, discovered he liked the fit. “Surprisingly, yes.”
“Then I wish you well,” she said. “May the Corps’ loss be Nike’s gain.” She turned on her heel and started for her vehicle, but, after three steps, stopped and turned back. “Tell me, as a—private facilitator—would you be open to the occasional military contract?”
His head tilted as he felt a surge of something too new to recognize. “That depends.”
Gideon’s teeth flashed in not quite a grin. “On whether I like the job.”
“Fair enough.” She nodded. “Goodbye, Mr. Quinn. For now.”
Satsuke turned again, this time not stopping until she reached the staff car.
She climbed in, waited for the Corpsman to close the door, take his seat, and start the engine before she spoke to the officer sitting shotgun. “You were right. He’s not coming back to the Corps.”
The captain nodded, though she continued to watch Gideon, who was speaking to the detective, and the girl.
“I wonder, though,” Satsuke continued, also watching Gideon, “if he’d have made the same choice, had I let him know you were the officer who made his freedom a possibility?”
“I don’t have to wonder,” Captain Indani Solis, whom Gideon had always called Dani, replied. “He would have returned. Out of gratitude, he would have come back.”
Now her eyes dropped to her left hand, and the wedding band which graced it. “I don’t see that working out well for any of us.”
* * *
Outside, Gideon, Mia, and Hama waited for the general’s car to drive off before turning for the city, Hama walking his cycle, while Mia perched on the seat, and Elvis perched on Mia.
As they made their meandering way from the riverfront, Mia continued to regale the men with plans for Gideon’s new business, from where to set up shop—near but not in Lower Cadbury, she determined—to the type of jobs he should take, to what sort of advertising would best serve Nike’s first ever Private Facilitator.
Hama, for his part, continued to intersperse which laws and statutes would have to be observed to keep Gideon out of the nick and, more importantly, paperwork off Hama’s desk.
Gideon, amused, let them wrangle over the details.
For himself, he was perfectly happy to make it up as he went along.
Six years’ back pay from the Corps wouldn’t quite elevate him to the level of a risto, but it would provide a cushion.
Enough to keep himself and Elvis, and—he glanced sideways at the animated dodger on the bike—his assistant, fed and under a roof while he worked it out.
In the meantime, he was, for the first time in memory, free to do as he chose.
Chances were what he chose would be messy, skating the edges of legality and, if the past thirty hours were any indication, worthy of at least the box theatre at the Circus.
It would also, almost certainly, be interesting.
And who knew, but, while he was making interesting messes, he might also manage to help a few people out. People like Jinna and Tiago and—admit it, Quinn—himself.
People the system had somehow overlooked, or left behind, or simply turned its back on.
He thought all of that as he walked along with Mia and the detective, and then he thought maybe they should grab some grub, as he was at least a quarter past starving, and Elvis was looking a bit gray as he hunched away from the despised rain.
He thought about how to find homes for the dodgers currently sheltering with the keepers at the Elysium, and whether the Ohmdahls had gotten their radio back, and what sort of charges Killian Del might be facing.
Which made him think they should get word to the Errant that it was safe for Jinna to return to Nike if she chose (possibly breaking Rory’s heart), and if she did, what were the chances of her still having a job to return to?
The one thing he didn’t do, as they turned onto the main road to the city, was count how many steps he was taking.
Gideon, Mia, Elvis and the gang will return in Fortune's Fool, posting begins in June, 2022, or you can buy the book now.