Lights and Shadows Update #10

His apprehension turned to suspicion as they made their way down the airlock’s long cylindrical passageway. Matson was no scientist or even an engineer, but as he studied the white corrugated walls, his mind pondered how much effort and resources it took to dig through what appeared to be tons of rock and subsoil. Clearly, someone was exaggerating their claims with regard to the scanner results. He held the Colt at his left side as he and Finch led the others forward, his mind doing a mental inventory of the last twelve bullets he was carrying in addition to the six in the chamber. Finch had her rifle and his other pistol so hopefully that was enough until they could scrounge up another option. As he walked ahead of the group, he became aware of the knife in his right boot. He doubted that a hologram could be cut, much less made to bleed, but it was another weapon in his woefully under-equipped arsenal.

“Deep in thought?” Burke appeared beside him, her scent distracting him from his internal musings. She smiled up at him as she matched his stride. “It occurred to me that I never thanked you for rescuing me and Pierce back there.”

“No thanks necessary, Doctor,” he replied, avoiding her gaze by studying a line of evenly spaced vertical cylinders that dotted both sides of the tunnel. Each of the red cylinders was attached to the walls by cable struts and were topped by a small antenna. They reminded him of self-destruct charges but there was no way to be sure outside of a closer inspection. They rounded a slight corner after which they saw the end of the airlock tunnel. “Serve and Protect.”

She placed a hand on his arm. “You don’t strike me as the type who follows the Party Line, Agent Matson. I heard Agent Finch call you Zack. Is that your first name?”

He nodded, giving her hand a gentle pat until she took it away. “It is. Rather unprofessional of her, but I’ve learned to make allowances for youth and inexperience.”

“Would you mind if I called you Zack?” she asked. “Agent Matson seems so…formal. After all, it appears that we will be together for some time.”

He looked down at her, studying her features with as cold and dispassionate a disposition as he could muster. He had the advantage of having committed what he had read from the outpost computers to memory, but facts and figures never compensated for a warm flesh and blood person in close proximity. Burke was a suspect. Attractive, yes, desirable, definitely. But still a suspect in what all the evidence indicated was an active participation in mass murder. I can’t afford to trust her too much, he thought, but I can play along until I find some evidence to either clear her name or arrest her.

“You may,” he framed a smile for her benefit. “Though I would think that your companion would find such familiarity a little off-putting.”

She smiled, showing perfect teeth. “My relationship with Pierce is purely professional, Zack. He was assigned as my personal assistant and bodyguard during my time here.”

Matson stopped. “Bodyguard? He’s armed?”

“Of course. Aren’t all bodyguards?”

Matson turned away from her and went to Monroe. “All right, Lieutenant, let’s see it.”

Monroe took a step backward. “What you do mean, Agent?”

Matson raised his pistol and casually allowed it to rest on his right shoulder. “Your weapon, which you neglected to inform us of when we revived you.”

Monroe shot an angry glance at Burke while opening his shirt. A shoulder holster was nestled against his chest, the synthetic sheath enclosing a small and slender chrome plated laser pistol. Matson recognized the standard issue S&W ArcFire Pulse Pistol’s brushed finish before it was gently extracted and put into his outstretched hand. He checked the settings before handing it back. “Any other weapons that you want to tell me about?”

“That’s the only one, I swear,” Monroe protested. “I have legal authorization to carry and use that weapon during the performance of my duties.”

“You are a potential suspect,” Matson said. “You have the rights that I choose to give you. Now, you keep that gun at the ready and I expect you to help out if trouble comes knocking.” He studied the wall cylinders. “I have no doubt that we’re not out of the woods yet.”

Monroe buttoned up his shirt and watched Matson move away. “Agent Finch, may I ask you a question?”

Finch nodded.

“Is he always so…that?”

“It’s our first case together,” she replied. “Agent Matson plays by a different kind of rule book. I would strongly advise you to do as he says.”