Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

Condor’s back. Ten years ago he stood in front of me, the rain streaming down his face failing to dim the fire in his eyes. In reply to my question about why I should hold off reporting, he offered me a datacard.
“Your enthusiasm gets you involved in dangerous events. Bad things can happen to good people for no reason, yet you go hunting bad things. You’ve heard the old one about a ‘get out of jail’ card?”
I nod.
“This is a ‘get out of hell’ card. One day, you’ll be in so deep nothing can help you. Use this. We’ll come. That’s why you’re going to hold off broadcasting.”
I cursed myself up and down for complying. Lost a promotion over it, too. But something about his words struck deep. I’m a reporter. It’s a career that’s never been highly regarded, especially by those with things to hide. In a universe-spanning empire of very human bureaucracy, corruption, and power games, that card gave me the confidence to do things my competitors wouldn’t. I made my name as fearless and incorruptible. But, like he hinted, bad things will eventually happen. Yet, even when they did, I held off from running the datacard until I lost my drones, the mercenaries, my crew, and my left arm.
His eyes haven’t changed.
“Camilla. Problems getting in or out?”
I smile: “News is news. The scope has widened. The access hasn’t.”
He gestures to my stump.
“You left it until limb loss.”
“The missile convinced me I was in too deep.”
Which I’ll never forgive myself for. My crew didn’t deserve to pay that price for me.
He frowns.
“It happens. Now, we upset a lot of people on the way in. I’d like to know who we’re in opposition to.”
‘Upset’? I saw dozens of them out there, with armoured vehicles and everything. All owned by –
“Alouize Barch.”
He and his team exchange looks, then nods. He crouches down.
“Then the easiest way out is by finishing the exposé you started. Without him to fight for, our drones will force the rest to break and run. I presume you were about to reveal his private army, but got ambushed?”
“Then you deserve a few words with him. Come on.”
The team move smoothly into some formation that seems to let them shoot everywhere. The one who tended my arm carries me through ten minutes of screaming chaos and gunfire. I have no idea what’s going on! There are explosions, falling masonry, and burning people. The team stalk through it all with practiced ease.
After an intense moment of firing, a door ahead of us explodes and we storm into a luxurious office. In the silence, I’m deposited in an armchair facing a desk, behind which I can see the pasty features of Alouize Barch.
“Councillor Barch. Care to explain why her friends are dead?”
Condor points an enormous gun at him.
“Humour me.”
Alouize shrugs.
“She’s part of the conspiracy. This planet is run by weaklings. The people need a true leader.”
I lean forward.
“Like you?”
He smiles.
“Obvious, isn’t it? Me, leading a glorious hierarchy. Those who obey will prosper.”
“Those who don’t?”
“Will serve.”
“You lost the last election with that.”
“Corruption! The people wanted me.”
“Even if they didn’t vote for you?”
“I was cheated of my just victory.”
The enormous gun fires. Alouize vanishes from sight.
Condor shrugs.
“You can’t win with his ilk. Kill or comply are the only options.”
Sadly true; rarely acknowledged.
“We need better politicians.”
He grins.
“Too right.”