City of Mists

by Sawyer Grey
 

Chapter 2
A SECRET MISSION

 
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Prologue
Chapter 1 - A Night in Hong Kong
Chapter 2 - A Secret Mission
Chapter 3 - The Airship Zambesi
Chapter 4 - Attacked by Sky Pirates
Chapter 5 - Singapore
Chapter 6 - A Voyage by Aethership
Chapter 7 - Return to Mars
Chapter 8 - Secret Mission Revealed
 

THEY PUSHED ME INTO THE cage of a waiting Police steam wagon, where the two big Sikhs sat down on either side of me while Quincey climbed into the cab next to the driver. I stared out of the barred window and tried to guess what it was all about as we passed silently through the narrow streets. All I could figure was that one of the people caught in the massive corruption investigation of the Tharsis Company had held a grudge that was not assuaged by me being let go from the Company, cashiered, and effectively exiled from the place I called home. There is just no pleasing some people.

The lorry shuddered to a stop on the macadamized street. “Out,” growled one of the Sikhs as he kicked the door open.

When I did not move fast enough, the other Sikh grabbed me by the arm and shoved me through the door. I stumbled out onto Queen’s Road in front of the baroque arcade of the Hong Kong Club. Most people think that Hong Kong is ruled from Government House, but The Club is the true seat of power in Victoria City. Deals made in the offices and salons there cascade down to impact countless lives on three planets. Inspector Quincey led us through an arched doorway into the marble-floored entry hall, where the grand staircase rose up on fluted columns between gleaming chandeliers. At that time of night the place was nearly deserted, but there were a handful people in the lounge who stared at our little party with frank curiosity.

“I’m afraid I don’t have a current membership, gentlemen. Do please go on without me, though.”

Quincey barked an order to the two Sikhs, who grabbed my arms and propelled me bodily up the marble stairs. We stopped before an impressively massive door of polished beech just off the third floor landing. The Inspector knocked softly, and turned the elaborately faceted glass knob at a muffled invitation from within.

The room inside was as Spartan as the rest of the building was ostentatious. The carpets and drapes were dark and drab, and the few furnishings well made but plain. A stout, balding man in his late forties sat reading The China Mail behind a small, worn cherry desk. Two other men in extremely expensive suits flanked him. The seated man folded his newspaper deliberately, rose, and offered me his hand.

“Captain Branham, thank you for coming,” he said in an impeccably cultured voice that just screamed of the hallowed halls of Eton. “I am Sir Henry Clement, local director of the East India Company. I apologize for the manner in which you were summoned here, but I was told that this matter must be carried out with all haste. Will you please be seated, sir?”

I ignored his hand, but dropped into the offered chair. “Can we dispense with Punch and Judy, here?” I asked, jerking a thumb over my shoulder.

He made a small gesture with his head and the two Sikhs filed out, closing the door behind them. “Satisfied?”

“Hardly. If dueling hadn’t sadly fallen out of fashion, our seconds would be making arrangements right now.” I leaned forward and gripped the edge of his desk. “You sent the police to drag me here in the middle of the night. I am threatened with violence; my ward is threatened with far worse. No, I am definitely not satisfied, sir.”

Sir Henry’s lip curled in a sneer. “I feared politeness would be wasted on you, Branham. Your feelings towards the East India Company and its officers are well known. I assure you that you are not here because either the Company or I want anything to do with you. I would happily have had you removed from this territory months ago had the Board not decided that it was not worth the potential trouble of having the Tharsis matter dredged up in the newspapers again. I even suggested that you meet with an accident on one of your frequent excursions to the gambling dens in Kowloon. Unfortunately the other directors were too squeamish to allow me to let Quincey proceed with any kind of permanent solution, so here we are.”

He sat down and glanced at the men behind him. “I have been charged to tell you that your services are urgently required back on Mars for reasons which must remain undisclosed for the time being. The Cydonia Company will hire you as a consultant, and add you to the rolls of the 2nd Cydonia Regiment of Foot at your old rank of captain.”

I laughed at him. “Go to the devil. I have no intention of working for the Cydonia Company, or East India Company, or any other of you lot that makes money by addicting people to opium.”

Sir Henry shook his head. “The Cydonia Company job is a cover, Captain Branham. The Colonial Office cabled us this morning with orders to produce you. I did not believe it myself, so I insisted on confirmation. Twice. I don’t know why they want you, but the Colonial Secretary was quite firm that you are to be delivered to the Cydonia Company headquarters at Stanleyville as soon as possible. When you arrive in Stanleyville, you will be met by a Crown agent who will explain everything to you. I don’t know what this is all about, and frankly I don’t care to know.

“What I do know is that you will go, regardless of what your own wishes in the matter may be. The AS Zambesi leaves here in four hours, bound for Singapore. You will be aboard her. Upon your arrival in Singapore, my men will see to your passage on the East India aethership Canopus. Once in Stanleyville, you become Cydonia’s problem. Until then you will have an escort of East India troops to ensure that you don’t somehow get lost along the way. As I said, the Colonial Secretary was quite firm.”

I leaned back in my chair. “So your compatriots in the Tharsis Company kidnap me, dump me here, blackball me, block every attempt I make to get back to Mars, and now you’re kidnapping me again and shipping me home whether I like it or not. Well done.”

The director’s eyes narrowed. “Two more little details, Branham. First, the job comes with a £5,000 payment to prove the seriousness of the people hiring you. Mister Stanton, here, is from Oriental Bank, Hong Kong. He has a check which you may redeem with Syrtis & Cydonia Banking in Stanleyville.” Sir Henry accepted an envelope from one of the men standing behind him, slid it across the desk, and looked down at me as he might a particularly repugnant insect. “Second, your little crusade against Tharsis Company ruined several of my friends and cost the East India Company a considerable amount of money. Members of Parliament are even discussing whether there should be investigations of the other chartered companies, and whether they should transfer the territories controlled by those companies to the Crown if they prove to be as corrupt as Tharsis. Several of the directors of East India and Tharsis have agreed that you shall not live to spend a shilling of that bonus. As soon as our agents in Cydonia have determined that your job for the Crown is complete, you are a dead man.”

I flicked an imaginary speck of dust off of my coat sleeve. “I swear I’ve heard that somewhere before. Do you by chance correspond with anyone doing hard labor in the Syrtis Cavorite mines?”

“I hope you remember that sense of humor when the axe falls, Captain Branham. In the meantime, if you feel the urge to attempt something clever, you might consider that the girl, Min, is not accompanying you on this little excursion before you do anything rash. I believe Inspector Quincey has already enlightened you as to what her fate will be if you choose not to cooperate.”

I sighed and shook my head sadly. “That’s really all your type is good for, isn’t it, Clement? Threatening little girls. Did East India make you work up to that from pimping your sisters on Jacob’s Island?”

Sir Henry’s face turned purple. “Get him out of here, Quincey!”

The Sikhs burst in and hauled me out before I could comment further. Halfway down the staircase I saw my chance. My captors relaxed slightly and I jerked out of their grip, spun, and smashed my fist into Inspector Quincey’s face. He fell back with a screech, arms flailing, blood spurting from his ruined nose, his pince-nez glasses skittering off the stairs and falling to the floor below with an absurdly satisfying tinkle of broken glass. The Sikhs grabbed me again, wrestling me to my knees before I could do further damage.

“Since I no longer have to worry about you putting me in the Victoria Gaol,” I told him. “That’s on account, Inspector. And I firmly believe in paying my debts, so you may be sure you’ll receive the rest I owe you with interest the next time I see you.”

For the first time in my dealings with him, I saw a flicker of fear in Quincey’s cold eyes.