X-COM: Abyssal

by Hobbes
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As she stepped out of the shower Markovitch wondered how much more she would have to spit before getting rid of the toothpaste taste on her mouth and throat. When she exhaled it seemed that she felt the same freshly sensation that moved up her nose and even bothered her nostrils. Her legs felt better from the additional effort that had been required to walk on the sandy bottom but the hot water had helped to relax them a bit.
Redwood had been the one lost on the other team. She had barely known him or Morales, the other soldier who had died while clearing the USO of aliens. But the operation had been a success with a complete craft recovered a small stash of alien equipment and bodies. One thing that made her wonder though was the face of the commander Gustafson when he had been at the deck when the Triton anchored back at Madhouse. His cold face had a small grin on it as he inspected the first contents of the bounty.  
The teams on her squad that had participated on the mission were now in rest and recovery status while the remaining members being assigned to help out on the recovery operations. After she was done she would get a large meal at the mess hall and head back for the barracks for a good hours of sleep until next day. When she finished tucking her towel she moved out of the showers area and into the dressing room. She found Marsden there with a bag standing by one of the lockers as the other soldier was removing her boots seated on one of the large benches. She looked at Markovitch and said nothing, continuing to wrest with the ties.
Ignoring her also, Markovitch moved to her locker and started to dress, grabbing underwear and a pair of dark blue shorts.
A voice made both of them to look towards the door. "Hey Marsden, are you there?" The other soldier didn?t bother to reply. "Come on Marsden, I know you must be inside! Just to remind you of the money you own me. Better luck on your rookie pick next time". The laughter of the trooper trailed off as he moved away from the woman?s showers.
Hastily putting a white tank top, Markovitch turned to the other soldier and asked. "What?s this all about?" Marsden looked at her with a touch of frustration and replied as she finally took off one of her boots. "He bet that Redwood would buy his six feet under on this mission. I thought that you weren?t coming back also".
On the side of her hips her hands tightened into fists. "You were running bets on my life?! On Redwood?s life?" She had been assigned into carrying the unfortunate rookie?s body back to the morgue where it would wait until the next Triton shuttle flight flew it back to dry land. Marsden had finally managed to remove her other boot before turning to her smiling. If Marsden had noticed her aggressive posture she didn?t made any reaction to it as   she casually dismissed it with a wave of a hand. "Honey, everyone here does that before a mission. Even I have bet against Petty Mellow a number of times and he knows about it. This is all just a game".
The casual tone used by Marsden on her last sentence snapped something inside Markovitch. Before the other woman could react she grabbed the front of her blue jumpsuit and pushed her against one of the lockers, with Marsden cringing as her back hit the metal door. "Now hear this straight" She started as Marsden tried to kick her away with her boots but she had already moved sideways to avoid them. "You talk about that shit anymore next to me and you can be sure that next time you collect your bets on the base medical bay"
Releasing her, she stepped backwards as Marsden gathered her balance and raised her fists in anger and growled. "Just who do you think you are bitch?"
Narrowing her eyes, Markovitch slowly replied as she imitated the other seaman?s fighting stance. "You don?t want to try me Marsden". Her warning was wrapped around her words like a python gripping its victim before crushing it. The tone made the smaller woman to open her eyes in fear and she took a step backwards and dropped her arms.
Giving her a last look, Markovitch moved away towards her locker but keeping a watch on Marsden who barked a laugh. "Are you one of those idealists Watkins? Do you think that will save your rookie skin down here? Well, let me tell you: you?re already dead" Memories of Cydonia crossed Markovitch?s mind as she heard those words. "And pretty soon someone is just going to show it to you"
Looking back at Marsden she wanted to give her a reply but the other woman grabbed her things and shoved them into a duffel bag, before leaving the shower area in bare feet. Not yet.

September 22nd, 2044
Atlanta, Georgia, US

The weather was turning bad again, leaving grim prospects for the yacht sailing short trip that Williams was planning to make over the weekend. He had expected for some warmer and calmer conditions since the beginning of the week but things had taken a chance for sure.
For him the same could be said about the effects of what had just happened two days ago at Norfolk.
The murder of Admiral Koles had completely made him to change his strategy regarding the council and the entire war since he had foreseen the removal of the X-Com commander. But in a much more pacific and lean way that was still many months to come. As he looked again at Delacroix who had declined his offer of a chair to sit down he knew that things had definitely taken a twist too soon. And the officer?s unwillingness to sit down told him that he could only be expecting more bad news to come, since it meant that he was waiting to discuss some serious business with him. He was even wearing his X-Com dress uniform, a dark blue coated with color equal matching trousers and service cap. His collars had the pins of a lieutenant commander, with a gold anchor and a single chain of rings on the left side of the anchor. Williams had definitely preferred that the man hadn?t chose to come to his office on military dressing since it stressed out even more the crisis that was still looming over their heads.
"I?ve just been in contact with the Council. Most surprisingly they agreed to leave Paris in control of operations with a replacement for Koles can be found later. I can just imagine that he moved quickly after the admiral?s death but for now it?s too premature to say if the Council will allow him to keep the job. And in some cases the objections I?ve heard were about the mysterious circumstances? regarding Admiral Koles? death".
Williams was slightly disappointed when he saw that Delacroix?s reaction to his words was simply a nod. He had hoped that his questions could start to be answered at Delacroix?s first reaction but he taken it as if he was expecting it. There was something strange about the murder of Koles at Norfolk but he couldn?t tell what it was and he was hoping that the officer could shed some more light on the matter. "Commander, what exactly happened there?"
Delacroix?s face turned hard for a second and his tone showed a hint of puzzlement at the nature of his question. "Sir, haven?t you seen the report?"
Now Williams was starting to get upset. "I have and I must say that it?s a pretty well written report with a most detailed description of what you saw on her office. Which is hardly surprising, if one considers your previous training as a police officer. I?ve also seen the visipics taken during the investigation but I want to hear from you what happened".
The lines on the officer?s forehead became more accentuated as he started to speak. "Around ten-hundred and five I was passing through the admiral?s door on my way to the tactical center when I heard what seemed the sound of a Gauss weapon being discharged inside. After the 'Killer? incidents we have seen I immediately called base security and moved inside to investigate.
Once I was on the antechamber that led into the admiral?s office I found that her personal secretary was laying on his desk. When I moved closer to examine I found that he had been shot in the head at a close range. Then I heard the same sound again coming from the admiral?s inner office. I immediately burst through the door with my own sidearm ready and found a man wearing a jumpsuit and bearing a Gauss pistol on his hand. The murderer was still close to the body of the admiral and he seemed surprised to see me there. But before he could react I fired and took him down with my weapon. Commodore Paris arrived a minute later and the security detail soon afterwards".
"What was Paris doing there?" Williams took great care to put a neutral tone to his words. "Was he also passing by?"
If Delacroix took offense he didn?t showed it. "He mentioned that he had a meeting scheduled with the admiral at ten-hundred but he was running a little late".
The councilman thought about it for a second. "How lucky or convenient for him. If he was there, most likely the assassin would have killed him also".
"Sir, I can?t say that you?re not correct but if you have any suspicions about either him or me it?s better if you let me know now". Williams examined the officer from bottom to top. Delacroix wasn?t wearing his X-Com uniform but instead had chosen a blue suit that resembled his officer clothing. Apparently he must have been too busy in the past days for even shaving since a thick black beard covered most of his face.
"We?ll get back to that in a moment Commander. How come you were carrying a weapon at that moment?"
"Sir, I always carry a handgun with me at all times, even when I?m at the base. It?s an old habit I have that has saved my neck in a few occasions".
"Are you carrying one now?" Delacroix simply unbuttoned his jacket, revealing a small holster on his belt.
Williams was surprised since he thought no one could enter Cyberweb armed but at the same time he realized that he didn?t knew a number of things about Delacroix after all the time he had known him. "How did you pass that through security?" Delacroix composed himself and replied. "Security on this building is very good but not perfect". The answer didn?t completely satisfy Williams but he decided that it would be better if he just allowed Delacroix to carry a weapon inside and also have him brief his company?s security. It would be better if he knew with what he could count on than simply prohibiting the officer and risk being surprised. But it also meant that he needed to understand better Paris and Delacroix?s role on this whole matter.
"Tell me something Commander. Would you be capable of killing Admiral Koles if you thought it was necessary?" The officer looked at Williams straight in the eyes. "Yes. The old hag surely deserved what happened to her. And most of the other officers surely believed this also, either because they resented her decisions".
The answer didn?t surprise the older man, who simply nodded. "And do you think Commodore Paris ordered the killing?"
The officer?s reply was laconic. "No, he didn?t".
Now Williams leaned forward since that was something that he quite disagreed upon. "Why are you so sure?"
"He?d be incredibly stupid or simply brilliant if he had done so sir. No matter how much Koles was hated, her murder was not something to be done lightly. The commodore was the one that would most likely benefit from such a move. He is a plausible suspect since he has a motive and the means to make it happen. However, why did he choose to simply jump on her inside one of the most heavily guarded facilities on the entire US? He could simply arrange for an accident while she was onboard one of the Tritons".
"You said that he had a motive and the means. That includes both of us also commander. And you were the one who found the assassin". The hidden implication on Williams? words was not lost to Delacroix who raised an eyebrow at his words but stood immobile in front of his desk.
"In that case sir, you surely aren?t the one who gave the order because I?ve known you for too long. And as far as this concerns me, if I?m not worthy of your trust anymore then please let me know now and report this matter to the Council right away". As he finished speaking he moved his arm and pulled his weapon out of his belt and placed it on Williams? mahogany desk with the metal butt facing him.
Scratching his chin for a moment, Williams studied it and the man in front of him. He had never been into this position with Delacroix before. "Please retrieve your weapon commander and I apologize if I insulted you in any matter. I?m simply having a problem to accept all that have happened and I needed to clear my head from any suspicions I had about the way you became involved in this matter".
The cold stone face of the officer grimaced for a moment in relief with his eyes closing and the lips stretching backwards. "I completely agree sir and I wasn?t expecting anything less than you". At Williams grin he paused and continued in a skeptical tone. "However, I fear that the whole matter of the Admiral?s death won?t be completely settled for the time being. The investigation seems to have arrived at a dead end".
"Let?s get back to that then. Any progress in determining who the man was and how he infiltrated the force?"
"We still don?t know sir. So far the petty officer had never displayed any signs of having a grudge against the admiral. On that day he had had breakfast at the mess hall and his squad was going through an R&R shift. A number of witness saw him heading for a corridor which lead into the area where the Admiral?s office is located but no one saw him after that. Which it isn?t surprising since only a number of officers regularly pass by through that area.  A further check into his personal belonging didn?t show any clues of exterior help on the assassination besides the fact that he was involved into small arms trafficking and a number of other illicit business. But when we traced the Gauss pistol that he used we found that it didn?t helped us either. It belonged to a batch of weaponry that had been sold to the US Navy but the crate that contained the pistol was apparently stolen from a weapons depot".
"Tell me something. Could he be the 'Killer??"
"No. In one of the attacks he was performing a combat mission. Either there are more people involved on the assassinations and in that case he could well be a part of a conspiracy against X-Com or he simply had unknown motives to kill the admiral".
Considering it for a second Williams felt puzzled. "I still don?t understand how someone could be as stupid to walk inside Koles? office and simply shoot her in the head without considering that he might get caught".
Twitching his lips, Delacroix looked behind Williams before replying. "Either he was simply a sleeper agent with a suicide mission or we don?t know. There are a lot of far-fetched motives for what he did, including..." The officer scowled at the word. "That he was under an exterior mental influence".
"It would be the first time in twenty years from the last reported incident of that nature. Still, it would be unwise to put it away since he?s dead now and there?s no way to examine his brain activity to detect any signs of possible manipulation". Williams felt hopelessness as he looked over the room. "The only ones that I can imagine pulling off such an attack are the 'usual suspects? but it wouldn?t make no sense at all".
Delacroix stiffened. "If the Cult has decided to get back into business there will be hell to pay". Even Williams felt uncomfortable at the officer?s words, although he knew that the former Inquisitor had plenty of motives into hating them. "And I?ll make sure that they pay back every dime".
"They?d be incredibly stupid if they had ordered it so since they would be risking a full war with X-Com. Still I?ve had my share of people doing idiotic things. In any case we?ll cross that bridge only if we find that there?s no other alternative. But for the moment we need to check all possibilities".
"Most likely Paris will keep me out of the investigation since I was involved but I can check for some things on my own".
"Do it. And keep me informed". Delacroix nodded in grim determination and Williams expected for the officer to salute him as necessary before he left. Instead he stood in the same position. "There?s one last thing to report sir. Lieutenant Braddock has informed me that yesterday lieutenant Markovitch has survived her first combat mission. And she even managed to kill a couple of Aquatoids on the process. It seems that you might be right about her, sir".
The report made Williams to feel satisfied and relieved at the same time. At least not everything was going completely unpredictable. Looking again at the weather outside he considered that there might be one or two things about it also. He and Candy and Sugar all wanted to get some sun in a little sail trip. It seemed that he would just have to spend the entire weekend all locked up in the boat?s cabin with them. Which wasn?t actually such a bad idea with the irony making him smile.