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A murdered snippet : Prince Aloxius Manswell

Often in the course of writing, I end up with sections of a chatper that, after review, simply do not ‘fit’ the way they should. They’re too wordy, or too complicated, or the tone is off.

I’ve shaved, by my very rough estimates, a good half-million words out of OSABC and almost 80,000 out of ATTWN. Some of it got repurposed into what became the Cerberus Files or my other documents, but a lot of it simply ended up on the cutting room floor.

Here is one snippet, originally written to start off the next chapter, that I ended up not using. The direction is the same, actually, but I’d rather let TIM shine than Aloxius.

“This, I must say, is a truly fine mess.”

The office of the Directorate of Intelligence was faintly tinted with the haze of cigar smoke, and a half-full bottle of Crown Royal sat next to a black-bordered report from the AIS on the heavy desk dominating the room, bold letters on the front of the folder reading ‘Postmortem Analysis : Case 9530S-D-Arcturus’. The man sitting behind the desk took a sip of the drink from his glass, gazing at the haptic vidscreen hanging on the far wall.

The vidscreen showed the displeased features of President Windsor, sitting in the Octagonical Office. His voice was level but carried a hard, icy tone. “Yes, quite. I am very interested in just exactly how a pack of two-bit killers got aboard what is supposed to be our most secure space habitation, and more confused – and concerned – about who else got aboard to kill them and then got away scot-free.”

Prince Aloxius Manswell gave the President a thin, humorless smile. “These same concerns have been keeping me awake most of the night, Your Majesty. The investigation has turned up some interesting things.”

The prince gestured to the folder on his desk. “The initial reports by the Commissariat were mostly on target. The first team found dead were definitely P’s operatives. They were both former Marines – Technical Sergeant Gordon Siems, wanted for murder and treason against the government, specialist in explosives with a very high ODT rating, and Lieutenant Casey Marks, cashiered for dealing in red sand and other illegals with batarians, an omni-war specialist.”

He set his drink down, sighing. “Based on the equipment they were carrying, they were planning a very direct attack on the estate, with high explosives and remote drones. The other team, consisting of a sniper and a very dangerous CQB expert, would have picked off their targets as they fled the estate. Dah, in particular, was very well known and dangerous – roughly N5 in qualifications and a veteran of the FCW.”

He picked up his cigar, inhaling slowly, before his eye flicked up to meet the President’s. “All in all, very nasty operators, and given the fact that the wedding participants were unarmed and unarmored, almost certain to succeed.”

Windsor grimaced. “And the Broker’s involvement?”

Aloxius shrugged. “That’s less clear. The man we picked up was a tech-hacker named Ronald Valiant, AKA ‘Ghast’, well known in certain circles as associated with the Broker. He claims he was hired by the Broker along with another expert he didn’t know to sneak into the Sphere. Unfortunately, his story doesn’t quite match the evidence we found – he received a big payment, but not through any Broker-linked banks – instead it came from an unchartered bank operating out of Omega, one typically used by certain deniable STG ops.”

The President’s face took on a thunderous cast, and Aloxius smiled. “When we raided his apartment, we found software downloads and certain other materials consistant with certain STG operations.”

Windsor’s jaw firmed. “Someone has attempted to murder our councilor, our Spectre, and her wife – on their damned wedding day. And I do not believe for a moment the STG is that stupid. This is intolerable. Get a hold of this Shadow Broker and find out what happened. Directly. I don’t care what it costs. Find me who put this together and have them delivered to me in pieces, or I will take more aggressive actions personally. Am I clear?”

Manswell gave a small smile. “We do not have any direct contact with known subversive criminal organizations, Your Majesty. “

Windsor narrowed his eyes. “Then make some. Executive Order. Get this done, Aloxius – the Commissariat is suggesting this had to have been done by those internal to the SA who held knowledge of Shepard’s wedding, and that is a rather small list of highly influential names. I cannot have traitors of that magnitude operating freely.”

“At once, Your Majesty.”

Windsor killed the connection, and Manswell leaned back in his chair and let himself laugh for a good five or six seconds. After finishing his drink, he tapped a control on his communication panel.

A moment later, the image of a elegant office appeared on his vidscreen, dominated by the rich attire of the volus in the middle of the screen. “Ah, Prince Maxwell. -shrrrkk- I presume you are not calling about your family investments on Onderas?”

The aged features of the prince drew into a small smirk. “Sadly, no, Barla. I’m afraid this is more serious business. I need a chat with your boss or at least one of his … direct associates.”

Barla Von’s wide fingers tapped nervously on the rich finish of his desk, barely visible in the vidscreen. “That may be difficult, Prince. -shrrrkk- The Broker Network is engaged in some internal housecleaning and communication is spotty and hard to achieve.”

Aloxius tented his fingers together at the base of his chin. “Perhaps I was unclear, then. The Systems Alliance president asked me to clarify the recent unpleasantry at the wedding of our Spectre on Arcturus, given that certain assets involved claimed to be working for the Broker. Failure to comply would no doubt drive the man to do something … rash.”

The volus’s voice didn’t waver, the glowing orbs of his eyes staring back steadily. “That would be very unwise, Prince. Anything we do is just -shrrrkk- business.”

Aloxius snorted. “Attempting to kill humanity’s Citadel Councilor? I think not. At the very least, the SA would certainly focus a great deal of effort into killing as many of your operatives as we could get our hands on, and I fear our Commissars are very creative when it comes to torturing information out of people. It would truly be a shame if we found out anything that would harm your bottom line and accidentally transmitted it for the entire galaxy to receive.”

Barla Von was silent for a long moment. “I will see what I can do.” He cut the communication, and the Prince shrugged.

He spent the next ten minutes piecing together what he could about the assassination. Whoever ordered it was not anyone Manswell considered to be ‘in the know’. While Udina was certainly aggravating, he was also too politically compromised – and too savvy – not to play ball when the time came to give him his marching orders. Killing him would serve no real purpose for the Hades Group, or the long term plans of House Manswell.

The ignorant fools who flailed about in the Ministries, of course, might think differently.

As for Shepard and the asari, why anyone would want them dead was actually something of a mystery. It would seem to imply Shepard had perhaps stumbled on to more information than what Kyle gave her, possibly a threat to someone – Admiral Chu had already let him know of the incriminating information about Saracino’s fooling about with underage girls.

In short, whoever put out the order hated Udina and wanted Shepard mentally unstable or dead. That pretty much narrowed the list of possible actors down to very few people with the position, power, and money to order a hit – Baron Bekenstein being the most likely candidate, followed by Saracino.

As he was determining how to proceed, his comm panel lit up, the identifier coming across as “UNKNOWN”.

He tapped it.

The image that filled the vidscreen was some kind of computer composite, a silhouette of a humanoid figure of some kind, featureless and blue-tinged. The voice was equally artificial, but there was a growling, menacing undertone to it that reminded the prince of a tiger.

“Prince Manswell. I understand you wish to speak with the Broker. You have my attention.”

The prince smiled. “Capital. I presume you either speak for the Broker, or are the Broker?”

The figure merely nodded, and Aloxius continued. “You are no doubt aware of the recent assasination attempt on Councilor Udina and several other guests at the recent wedding of Baroness Shepard. The Systems Alliance is very interested in the person or persons who engaged this act.”

The computer-generated figure folded its arms. “The Network is not in the business of selling out our clientele without reimbursement – at least twice the original price – to offset the loss of future business. Additionally, this contract was done in concert with other networks, and divulging this information is likely to cause additional problems.”

Aloxius shrugged. “So name a price. I’m afraid we really must know this information, or else we will have to assume the Broker Network is a hostile entity and proceed forthwith.”

The figure shook its head. “Threats will serve you no purpose.”

Aloxius arched an eyebrow. “I assure you, this is no threat – I’ve been tasked by President Windsor, who no doubt feels both affronted and endangered by this. Right now, evidence points towards the STG, but the President does not believe that. He is unlikely to listen to my advice to simply increase security. So either I get the information, or we assume your organization is hostile – my hands are rather tied.”

The voice spoke calmly. “One hundred million credits, via the Eldfell-Manswell Bank of Earth, direct credit transfer to Barla Von Financial Associates.”

Aloxius managed, with long experience, to keep the shock from his expression, and paused a moment to make sure his voice was even. “That is an extremely large sum for mere information.”

The figure spread its hands. “And a large sum was paid to us specifically to ensure the information would not be released.”

Fifty million credits was well outside of Saracino’s price range. Even assuming the Broker was gouging them and charging them four times as much instead of twice, twenty-five million was beyond him, and would be impossible to hide from AIS Financial for long.

Aloxius suddenly smiled, the pieces clicking into place about who exactly would pay such an extravagant sum. “May I surmise that the party paying you to be silent is not the party that actually commissioned the assassination?”

The figure was silent a long moment before giving a sound that was almost laughter, but had a horribly grating undertone to it. Aloxius suppressed a shudder, if this was the Broker himself, he never wanted to meet him in person.

“You are much more intelligent than I expected, Prince Aloxius. You are correct.”

The Prince nodded. “In that case, I am afraid I will not need the name – the identity is evident. However, I will transfer a sum to your accounts to reimburse you for the trouble and time you have expended.”

He tapped several controls, and a few moments later the figure nodded. “Your professional courtesy is noted, Prince. On that note – a warning. I do not know who ultimately planned this assassination. There were multiple cutouts in the process, so many that even my best people cannot determine the ultimate source.”

The figure paused, folding its arms again. “One thing is certain – there is no way for whoever killed them to have known they were coming without either a deep leak … or the party who killed said assassins also being the ones to hire them. And deep leaks in my organization or that of the other party are very unlikely.”

The figure leaned forward. “Broker out.”

The signal cut, and Aloxius leaned back nodding. He hardly needed the tip, of course – no one in the entire SA could afford fifty million credits for an assassination without the AIS being all over them. He went ahead and issued orders for a trawl of all the banking markets, but he knew the search would come up empty.

Bekenstein could put his hands on that much cash, but not without liquidating assets. The only Families with that kind of cash on hand were Windsor, Ashland, Eldfell, Manswell, Chu, and perhaps al Saud. None of them had any reason to want Udina dead.

He tapped the comms panel on his desk. “Communication request to President Windsor.”

He worked on other matters while he waited to be put through, and after only a few minutes the vidscreen illuminated once more. Windsor’s expression was still tightly angry. “Well, Prince?”

Aloxius smiled. “The Broker was most helpful, after a fashion. Whoever originated the hit used so many proxies and intermediaries that even the Broker wasn’t sure who was originally behind it, but they paid at least twenty-five and more likely fifty million credits to have it done.”

Shock widened Windsor’s eyes. “Fifty million credits! Dear God.”

Aloxius nodded. “I am already running searches, and AIS financial will be notified – I’ll also send word to C-SEC FINCIN. But as you are well aware, Your Majesty, that is an extremely large sum of cash to drop on killing three people. I do not think anyone inside the SA could do so and not be detected in one fashion or another.”

The President sat back. “I am baffled.”

Aloxius sniffed. “The most logical conclusion I can reach is whoever did set up the assassins must have done so with the intention of killing them off. For them to then frame the STG …”

Windsor sighed. “Someone is trying to manipulate us into war. And at that level of wealth…”

Aloxius shrugged. “The most reasonable candidate would be someone in the Asari Republics. Doctor T’Soni is, after all, a point of contention for them – and if the asari wished to cripple our independence, killing Udina would make us more leery – especially given the nudge that the STG was behind it.”

Windsor rubbed his temples. “This is getting far too complicated for my tastes, Prince. Your recommended course of action?”

The minister of information rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Two things. Forward the evidence suggesting STG involvement to the STG. Second, assume that we are looking at CASE RHINESTONE in terms of the relationship with the Asari Republic and have the Commissariat begin investigating non-citizen asari here on long durations – particularly any on Arcturus itself.”

Windsor sighed. “I will be in communication with you shortly, once I meet with my advisers.” He clicked off, and the prince merely smiled to himself.

He stood, staring out the window at the skyline. “Ah, intrigue.”

Well, shit.

I’m no longer with Blue Cross Blue Shield 🙁

Recently, we lost our biggest contract in Texas — the health contracts for the state’s school districts. There isn’t a hard figure for how much money this will cost us, tens of millions at least.

Overbudget and with everything still a mess with ObamaCare, a sudden flareup of my mother’s medical condition just made things worse.  So, I am done now.

I already got another job, working DBA-stuff for a vendor in Verizon’s logistics team , but I don’t have  a firm timeline on when I will get back to writing. I hope to just write a bit here and there and have a new chapter out in a month or two.

Moar delays

I’ve made progress on all three stories, but nothing ready to publish. Work continues to be nightmarish, as contracts we put on hold for end of year now have to be brought online. Since this is my first year at Blue Cross, I wasn’t expecting a second rush.

Also, my mother’s had some eye surgery needed, so I’ve been tied up with that.

That being said I should have some progress to show this month, at least on OSABC.