All in A Day's Work

Oh, no. Not again was Rory O'Rielly's first thought as he watched the members of the Press stepped from their transport. His eyes lingered on one man in particular before moving on. You'd think they'd begin to wise up was his second.

Being the efficient, conscientious aide that he was, O'Rielly had, of course, already read up on each member of the visiting press. He now knew things about them they probably didn't know or, if they did, certainly didn't want anyone else to know. If he was the blackmailing type, he could make a fortune off this group alone. Lucky he wasn't out to make money.

McQueen stepped forward to greet the newcomers in his own stern, impersonal way and O'Rielly matched his pace, keeping a respectable half-pace behind the Colonel. He glanced at the first person they were approaching then, speaking under his breath with voice pitched so that only McQueen could hear, he quickly outlined who she was, adding at the end that the woman had a history of promiscuousness and the Colonel may wish to watch his step as he was just her type.

"I refuse to even speculate on how you found that out." McQueen murmured back. Over the months of having O'Rielly working for him. . .no, with him. . .he had mastered the art of speaking without seeming to speak.

"I always said the Colonel was a very wise man." O'Rielly murmured back and McQueen almost chuckled. He settled for giving O'Rielly a stern look that the young man pretended not to notice.

"Her type?" He finally asked.

"InVitro, sir. Miss Masterson likes to, you should pardon the expression, "slum". It might be wise to keep young Hawkes clear of her as well."

McQueen nodded slightly then they were too close to the newcomers to keep up their quiet conversation. Even so, O'Rielly was able to continue feeding the Colonel information about each one through a variety of gestures, code words and, once, a hastily scrawled message on the clipboard he carried. Then they reached the man who had first caught O'Rielly's attention.

For a single, perverse moment, O'Rielly considered scrawling his suspicions on the clipboard he carried. Common sense prevailed and he said nothing, giving McQueen the barest facts about this man.

An hour later, the visiting press was safely in their rooms and O'Rielly had retreated back to the small office he once shared with three other aides. By subtle wheeling and dealing and, in one case, outright bribery, he had managed get all the others reassigned to either different parts of the ship or even to other ships. As a result, he now had the office to himself and he took advantage of it ruthlessly.

One of the first changes he had made was to yank out all desks save his and add three floor-to-ceiling locked cabinets to the room, two against one wall, the third against another and all securely bolted into place. It was assumed by any who entered the room that the cabinets were where O'Rielly kept items he bartered with or received from his numerous deals and in at least two cases they were correct. In the third case, well. . .everyone had a right to their little secrets.

He unlocked the door to the third cabinet and deftly moved things about until he reached what he was looking for. His secret files that no one else on the ship had ever even guessed at. O'Rielly reached for a small packet just smuggled onto the ship this morning and slipped it out then shifted items back to their original location and relocked the cabinet securely. Settling behind his desk, he opened the packet and divided the contents into two piles; three files in one stack, the rest in another. Taking the larger stack of files, he turned to the paper shredder and fed each file through it carefully, watching as the strips accumulated in the wastebasket then burned what was left. Only after the files had been reduced to ash and he had shifted through them carefully to make sure did he tip the mess into the disposal. In theory, the disposal itself should have been more then enough but he preferred not to take chances.

With those dirty little secrets well taken care of, O'Rielly turned to the remaining three files. One was the woman he'd warn McQueen about, the second one of the reporters and the third the man who had caught his eye. He picked up time-bomb-number-one. . .the woman. . .and scanned the information.

She was the daughter of a Senator of the rich and famous variety, the classic rich bitch. He'd already established that there was no reason for her to be in this press group, her reporting skills reached new lows of dismal. In fact, the newspaper she worked for made sure she was given easy assignments that were often re-written by her long-suffering editor. Then she was suddenly bumped up to this "special assignment". According to her bosses, she was being given her big break.

O'Rielly suspected that her "big break" consisted of getting Colonel McQueen into some kind of compromising situation, one guaranteed to get him in a great deal of trouble. Of course, she didn't know that but whoever arraigned for her to be sent here did. He had to admire their resourcefulness, whoever they were.

But not their information on the Colonel. McQueen would never risk his career on a one-night tumble with anyone and certainly not with a Senator's daughter. Especially a Senator with an anti-InVitro agenda. Of course, maybe McQueen wasn't her intended target.

McQueen's kids were almost as well known in both the pro- and anti-InVitro camps and one of those "kids" was an InVitro. O'Rielly thoughtfully tapped the end of the pen against his chin and frowned. Well, well, a classic double-play then. Get Hawkes in trouble and blackmail McQueen.

He thought it over, running various scenarios through his mind. Yes, it just might work. He set out to spike their guns.

McQueen was already in the clear but Hawkes would have to be protected for the two weeks this press group would be here. A word or two into Talisman and Jaeckel's respective ears would keep them close enough to run interference and. . . .hmmmmm

O'Rielly paused, remembering something he'd heard Talisman talking about the other day. Ah, yes. He straightened, reaching unerringly toward the beige-colored flyer he'd received and looked it over.

To help boost moral, the military had decided to run a series of tournaments on the Bacchus. The latest series of tournaments centered on weapon expertise. Well, Hawkes was the best shot on the ship. And shouldn't the Saratoga have a representative? The first two tournaments had come and gone before the Saratoga even knew about them but this one was still a week away.

O'Rielly smiled and dropped the flyer on the desk. A word or two in the right ear. . .especially McQueen's ear. . .and Hawkes would soon be out of harm's way. Of course, there would be the matter of getting him there and back and arraigning for someone to go with him to keep him out of trouble while on the Bacchus. . .ahhhhh. The hand-to-hand combat trials were running at the same time. So. . .encourage Talisman to enter. She could keep an eye on Hawkes and visit with Twonky as well.

So, that took care of time-bomb-number-one. Onto time-bomb-number-two.

Frank Peters. The reporter. An actual tried and true member of his profession. Whoever had arraigned for Miss Masterson to be in this group had to have been behind this man being sent as well. It didn't matter what kind of story Peters was doing, he always managed to put some kind of anti-InVitro slant on it. His stories during the AI War were works of art but had been so very deadly to the InVitros and their reputation.

Of course, having Hawkes gone from the ship would keep him clear of Peters' clutches as well, leaving the Colonel to handle the reporter. And, as O'Rielly well knew, McQueen could handle Peters. Of course, it never hurts to have some extra ammo, just in case.

That ammo came in the form of a very well-hidden secret from some twenty years ago. O'Rielly opened the sealed envelope and looked it over, tsking in mock dismay. Whatever would Peters' readers think if they knew the real reason he wanted InVitros to remain second-class citizens? Better yet, to remain indentured? Of course, a bigger question might be what was Peters doing now that his supply of young InVitros, some of them decanted as biologically young as eight-years-old, had run out. He eyed the pictures included in the packet with clinical interest and reflected that you couldn't tell that the victims were InVitros. The angles were just right to hide the lack of bellybutton in its proper place or the telltale neck nipple. So just maybe they weren't InVitros and maybe. . .

Well, that wasn't his concern. Others were looking into that matter. What mattered right now was this illicit packet of information he currently held, a packet that would put Peters directly into jail-do-not-pass-go-do-not-collect-$200 so fast his head wouldn't have time to spin. And dead shortly after since convicts had no use for child molesters.

In other words, he had something almost guaranteed to get Peters tossed out the nearest airlock and it was a very tempting thought. But there had been a stern note included in this smuggled packet telling him that several people, very well placed in a dozen governments, had been involved in that InVitro-chicken ring and were now being kept in line with that information so don't be careless with it as the blackmail material could last for several more years before they dropped it on an unsuspecting world.

So he kept a tight lid on his smoldering anger and settled for scrawling a short note on one of the pictures, telling Peters to behave himself and maybe these pictures wouldn't suddenly pop-up as the screensaver of every computer on the Saratoga. Slipping a couple of the more graphic photos into an envelope, he pondered briefly on how to get it to Peters, finally settling on having Talisman slip it in via the air ducts. She was remarkably good at using the air ducts as her own private transportation system and could slip in and out almost anywhere without anyone ever knowing. He'd just tell her to slip it somewhere where Peters and no one else would find it quickly and easily.

The rest of Peters' file, along with the remainder of the photos, joined the previous ones; through the shredder, thoroughly burned then disposed of down the disposal. With time-bomb-number-two defused, O'Rielly turned to the last file on his desk.

By all appearances, Luke Branson was your common everyday camera man. Only by looking closer and with a eye more then halfway into the criminal world would you notice that accidents tended to happen where ever Branson may currently be. Accidents that were never given a second thought by any but another member of Branson's true profession.

Branson was an assassin.

It had never been proven, of course, or even, for the most part, suspected but O'Rielly knew. He had the proof in his hands though it would never stand up in a court of law. The fact that most of his victims weren't well known and that most were InVitros helped quite a bit in keeping Branson from ever being suspected. Up and coming members of their race that certain people didn't want to reach their full potential.

Well, well. O'Rielly thought to himself. They done sent an anti-InVitro fanatic this time around. This could be fun. Then he settled in to work out a way to keep Branson from ever carrying out his current mission. There was no way O'Rielly was about to allow any type of accident happen to his Colonel.

Branson specialized in accidents and accidents, O'Rielly reflected, were very rare on the Saratoga. He pulled up the ship's accident report and looked it over, noticing that over the past three years, the only fatal accidents seemed to happen to newcomers and short-term visitors. He didn't bother with speculating about accidents off-ship. . .say, on a planet or perhaps on the Bacchus as no such excursions were planned in the next two weeks, the length of the press' stay. He concentrated on what might happen on the ship itself.

Airlock accidents were almost unheard of though, he remembered, one did occur just short of three years ago. A crew member who had made the mistake of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A newbie, he remembered, not quick enough or bright enough to realize there were deadlier things then her out in this big, bad universe and not all of them played fair. But such accidents were almost impossible to rig and besides, McQueen would have no reason to be near an airlock.

Accidents with electricity occurred all too often, though they were rarely fatal. The two times they were fatal were, interestingly enough, with newcomers to the ship. No, one new crew member and a visitor. After the second death, the chief engineer had insisted on doubling the safeguards. Made it much harder for accidental death by electrocution. He crossed off that possibility and moved on.

Getting killed in a bar fight was a very real possibility but having two people in a year die accidentally in a bar fight on the same ship was pushing it. Besides, he doubted Branson would be stupid enough to get anywhere near a bar fight. So scratch that one off the list.

Heavy, falling objects. That had happened twice already though only one was fatal. That was. . .oh, yes! A broken cable while moving crates. Crushed between two of them, if he remember correctly. The other man had been left him permanently paralyzed from the neck down when a Hammerhead canopy had rolled at the most inopportune moment. But McQueen was rarely in a situation where falling heavy objects could be brought into play.

Accidents from falling from great heights. . .ahhhhhh. Now that was a possibility. There had been only one death by falling in the past three years and that occurred only because the man had landed very wrong, breaking his neck on impact.

But there was a place where falling from a great height was very possible. In the catwalks above the flight deck, where McQueen often went to be alone. Not many others liked to go there. Too dark and scary and rift with the very real possibility of falling.

He knew that Talisman and Jaeckel went up there often enough but he was the only one who knew, having caught them at it when he'd gone up there to his own hidden alcove. His appearance had almost startled Talisman into falling, only her quick reflexes had saved her from a fatal tumble to the ground far below.

Most everyone knew that McQueen spend much of his free time in the area above the flight deck but only four people knew exactly where. The Commodore knew because he occasionally joined McQueen for some quiet time, O'Rielly knew in case either man was needed in a hurry and Talisman and Jaeckel knew because they had spotted McQueen while playing their deadly games in the rafters.

But no one, not even McQueen, knew that the latter two even suspected where he spent his free time and no one was stupid enough to approach the Commodore for information on the Colonel. So that left him. The Colonel's lowly civilian aide.

Turning to the shredder, O'Rielly absently sent the last file through it as he thought through what he had to do. He'd have to make himself accessible to Branson, of course. Give the man a chance to chat him up and make friends and, if he didn't, then O'Rielly would make it a point to meet him. That wouldn't be unusual. O'Rielly was always making new friends on the off-chance that they would prove useful in getting things to and from the Saratoga.

One way or another, he would get Branson to the catwalks above the flight decks. Not to McQueen's hidden alcove but up even higher, up where Talisman and Jaeckel. . .and, on occasion, O'Rielly himself. . .played deadly games of tag-you're-dead among the rafters where a single misstep meant a long fall to a very unforgiving floor. Up there, quite near the ceiling, was his hidden alcove, an alcove with railings. But the railings were a deadly illusion. They were rusted to the point where a gentle touch could break them.

A body, propelled by a good, hard shove, would have no problem breaking the rusted railings.

And maybe, just maybe, before he actually started to fall, Branson would realize that there were deadlier things then he out in this big, bad universe and that this was one that never ever played fair.

O'Rielly finished destroying the documents and turned back to his work, humming to himself as he worked out the arraignments to get Hawkes safely off the ships, typed up a waiting stack of reports, did some slightly under-handed wheeling and dealing that would guarantee the Saratoga would be near the Bacchus in time for Gary's birthday and worked on a half-dozen deals to get the items needed to make the Commodore's upcoming birthday memorable. Once his work was finished, O'Rielly logged into the SpaceNet, using the time he'd accumulated to write a lengthy letter to his mother. As an afterthought, he sent a copy to his grandmother, just in case his mother was still too wrapped up in devising new, original and non-traceable methods of killing Diane Hayden to read the letter immediately.

It was a chatty letter, letting them know what was going on in his life and reminding his mother to make sure she got the items for the Commodore's birthday shipped out in plenty of time for the celebration. But amidst the inquiries about health and details of his days' work was a hidden letter that only a member of his family could ever understand. A secret letter that detailed his plans and recommended that perhaps mother dearest would like to pass out the word about how many assassins had died while on the Saratoga? It was rather tedious thinking up new ways to eliminate them without falling under suspicion and it was obvious that whoever (and don't we both just know who that is?) was hiring these assassins wasn't telling them about their potential life expectancy once they arrived on the ship. Yes, Talisman and Jaeckel were helping but they only took care of off-ship assassination attempts; like that fool who came in a green member of the 58th or that idiot on the Bacchus who came dangerously close to finding out about Gary or the third man who'd tried to knife McQueen in a bar fight and found a really pissed-off Jaeckel in his way.

Once the letter was finished, he brought up one of his favorite tags, one he used sparingly but was remarkably appropriate for this letter, as it had been for ten other letters he'd sent to his mother and grandmother over the past three years.

Tyrone, you know how much I love watching you work, but I've got my country's 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder and Guilder to frame for it; I'm swamped.
Prince Humperdinck
The Princess Bride.

With a smile, O'Rielly sent the e-mail off and shut everything down. Making sure the cabinets were safely locked, he returned the keys to the chain around his neck and set out finish his day's work.

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