Kaldor City: a Magic Bullet Production


a Kaldor City story

By Fiona Moore And Alan Stevens

Originally published in Shelf Life (2008); reprinted in Cosmic Masque #3

This story is set between Occam's Razor and Death's Head

“Well,” said Landerchild, “do you have something for me?”

“Presumably,” said Carnell, “or I wouldn't have asked you to a second meeting.”

“Don't be facetious. Are you going to provide me with a strategy, or are you going to pay me my share of the money from that scheme on which we employed you--” he paused for effect before continuing pointedly “-- the one which failed?”

Carnell sighed, leaning back in the tastefully understated black chair behind his desk. “The reason why the strategy did not work, Firstmaster, was that your group failed to provide me with all the information I needed,” he said mildly. “There were two major variables of which I was left unaware, and really, I am only entertaining your request for further services out of a combination of generosity... and boredom.”

To himself, Carnell acknowledged that the strategy of which Landerchild was speaking had not been his finest hour, although he also acknowledged in his own defence that it was difficult to have predicted the materialisation of a blue box out of thin air, but he would never have confessed as much to his client.

Landerchild failed to react to Carnell's needling, but simply looked unimpressed. Carnell wondered idly if this were a front or a genuine response.

“I don't hold much with this psychostrategy nonsense,” said Landerchild. “I had my doubts about employing you on the earlier project, from the beginning. The only reason why I'm coming to you now,” he said, anticipating Carnell's question, “is because what I want is the death of Firstmaster Chairholder Uvanov, and I assume that you have a good knowledge of his vulnerabilities, since I know you do work for him at times.”

Carnell spread his hands. “Client confidentiality, Firstmaster,” he said, “I couldn't possibly acknowledge any involvement with Uvanov, regardless of whether I have worked for him or not.”

“Yes,” said Landerchild dismissively, “but as this confidentiality would be extended to any of your clients, I believe myself to be reasonably secure in employing you. Now what have you got for me?”

Carnell took his time replying. “The advantage which psychostrategy has in these cases over simply hiring, bribing or blackmailing an assassin,” he said, appearing more interested in the position of the objects on his elegant desk than in his client, “is that it involves seeking out an individual with the motivation to effect the end you wish to achieve, and then pushing them in the desired direction, in such a way that they believe they have acted of their own free will. Thus, the results of the successful strategy cannot be traced back to you-- or to me, for that matter.”

“So you're going to manipulate some fellow into killing him,” Landerchild summarized bluntly.

Carnell seemed amused. “Well, you must know somebody with a grudge,” he said. “I was under the impression that it was positively fashionable these days to hate the Company Chairholder.”

This time, Carnell's barbs got through and Landerchild bristled. “My being here has nothing to do with fashion,” he glowered. “It's because Uvanov is an unfit steward for the Company. His policies to date have been disastrous, and his handling of recent crises shows a disturbing tendency to favour populism over common sense.”

“He's also not a member of the Founding Families,” Carnell pointed out mildly, “and god forbid that anyone of lower rank should possibly rise to such an exalted position.”

“That's as may be,” said Landerchild hastily, “but my concern is that the Company should be led by someone with the intelligence and training to do the job.”

“Well, you may feel that way,” Carnell said, “but there are a number of other Founding Family members for whom the issue of Uvanov's class is indeed deeply significant.”

“It's too risky to use an aristocrat,” Landerchild dismissed the implication. “Uvanov's paranoid about the Founding Families; he's suspicious of us as a general principle.”

“But it would be a crime with two obvious motivators-- jealousy and class consciousness-- which could not be immediately traced back to you,” Carnell pointed out. “Anyone investigating the crime would simply assume that the man was acting according to his own deeply-held principles.” He waited for any further objections from Landerchild, then, receiving none, continued: “So what you need to do is to find someone, ideally a fairly minor Founding Family member, who is down on his luck, and who would be willing to take part in an assassination attempt against the Chairholder in exchange for money and an elevation-- or, as might be, a restoration-- of his position.”

“It's still too risky,” Landerchild said. “Those motivations are fairly general, and anyone investigating the matter might still come back to me. Remember, Uvanov's got that new bodyguard, and he's supposedly a lot less derelict in his duties than your average Company Security thug.”

“No, but Kaston Iago's employment would cease immediately upon Uvanov's death. Should Iago decide to remain in the City afterwards, his professional interests are likely to be directed by whoever should then decide to procure his services.”

“What if Uvanov should survive the attempt?” Landerchild demanded.

“You think this strategy will fail?” Carnell asked, raising an eyebrow.

“After what happened last time, I want to be certain there's a contingency plan.”

“All my strategies come with a built-in failsafe,” Carnell said. “It's simple enough to ensure that Uvanov will not use Iago to investigate, by selecting an assassin with a known connection with Justina.”

The possibility that Kaston Iago was having a relationship with Uvanov's executive assistant had not particularly occurred to Landerchild, though, when he thought back, Firstmaster Strecker had made some sort of remark to the effect that they had seemed rather close to one another at that party during the Firstmaster Murders. However, he did not want to let Carnell know that he hadn't been aware of this. “Of course,” was all Landerchild said, smiling sourly. “So, Iago won't investigate. But what if Uvanov employs someone else?”

Carnell emitted a tiny sigh. “If Iago is out of the way, the task will inevitably fall to Uvanov's other main enforcer: Operations Supervisor Rull. Who will be occupied, for reasons I will go into in a moment, meaning that the investigation will be directed by Deputy Operations Supervisor Cotton. Your contact in Company Security, if I'm not mistaken.” From the look on Landerchild's face, it was evident that he was not. “Who will therefore ensure that the investigation will come to nothing. As for Uvanov's own suspicions, the assassination will also be such that it could seem to be directed by someone who knows the facts about the Taren Capel incident in which Uvanov was involved when he commanded Storm Mine Four. Should the attempt fail, Uvanov will promptly suspect ex-Firstmaster Chairholder Diss Pitter of being behind it.”

“I also am aware of the genuine facts of the Taren Capel incident,” Landerchild cut in acidly. “What's to stop him suspecting me?”

“Too obvious a candidate,” Carnell said. “Uvanov's paranoia does have its uses. He will immediately suspect the least likely person, and, since Pitter's been taking to his retirement so well....” he left the rest unsaid.

Landerchild evidently accepted this. “So the problem then is, how do you get someone close enough to shoot Uvanov, and also to somehow convey to Uvanov that this is the work of a person who knows about the Taren Capel incident while shooting him?”
Carnell allowed a slight hint of disappointment at Landerchild's evident lack of imagination to creep into his voice. “Shooting is a little direct, I feel,” he said, “as well as raising the problem of how to get any sort of obvious weapon past Uvanov's security measures.”

“So what are you proposing?”

“A skull.”

Landerchild was about to let Carnell know his opinion of this idea, but then, since the psychostrategist had been making sense all along up to this point, he decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. “Whose skull?”

Carnell made a dismissive gesture. “At this point, it doesn't really matter. What matters is that it should be covered in contact poison, placed in a presentation box, and given to Uvanov under the guise of it being Taren Capel's skull, found in the ore hoppers of one of the Storm Mines.”

“Thus providing the connection with the Storm Mine incident,” Landerchild nodded sagely.

Carnell again allowed a hint of disappointment into his voice. “We don't actually want a direct connection with the Storm Mine incident,” he said. “If Uvanov feels that there's too close a connection, he might begin to suspect that he is being led. No, if the skull is said to have been found in an ore hopper, that does imply a connection with the Storm Mine incident, but also fits with the myth that Taren Capel walked away into the desert which is being embraced by so many cults these days. Uvanov won't know which direction it's coming from, which should keep him off balance just long enough for the skull to do its work.”
“So where do we get this convenient skull from then?”

“Well,” Carnell smiled slightly, “before you get a skull, you first need to get a corpse.”

“So where do we get this convenient corpse?”

Carnell let his smile widen. “Company Security,” he said, “Forensics Division.”

“They don't just have bodies lying around there, you know,” said Landerchild.

“Oh, a corpse is easy enough to arrange,” Carnell said. “What you need is for a rebel arms cache to be found in some out-of-the-way and sparsely populated location. A number of possibilities spring to mind, but the most ideal one would be a particular two-man research and ore processing station out in Zone Nine, on the edge of the Blind Heart Desert.” Landerchild wondered what was special about this particular station, but decided to restrain his curiosity for the time being. “All you have to do is arrange for a consignment of, say, ten plasma rifles and assorted explosives to be delivered out there, then ensure that rumours of the existence of this consignment find their way to Supervisor Rull.”

“And how will this consignment be arranged?”

“Through Cotton.” Carnell implied that the answer was obvious. “He can supply the arms to your would-be assassin, who can arrange to have them placed in the station. And once the volatile Rull learns about the consignment, there should be not one but two corpses available. Meaning that Rull, as I promised, will be too busy to investigate the assassination attempt, since he will be trying to find evidence to support his belief that the two research station operatives were involved with the rebels, and he will also be wanting to prevent the circumstances surrounding their deaths from being investigated too closely by anyone else, as he will want to ensure that he himself is not placed under suspicion of a double murder.”

“And how will I get the skull off one of the corpses?” Landerchild asked.

Carnell's tone did not alter. “Again, through Cotton.”

Landerchild frowned. “If anyone decides to investigate the decapitation of the corpse,” he said slowly, “then the first thing they would do is ask whether there had been any unusual presences in Forensics during that time, meaning that the name of the Deputy Operations Supervisor would promptly come to light.”

“Exactly,” said Carnell, “which is why he won't be doing the actual acquisition of the skull. He will simply be putting pressure on someone in the Forensics Department who has something to hide, which is known to Company Security. From what I understand, there's quite a few people with antisocial habits in Forensics. Indeed, as the Head of Forensics is one of them, I'd suggest that Cotton start at the top. So to speak.”

“I thought you said psychostrategists were above using blackmail?” Landerchild queried.

Carnell raised an eyebrow. “I never said that,” he remarked. “What I said was that psychostrategy involves providing people with a plausible motive for action. In the case of the Head of Forensics, I'd say that blackmail would provide a very plausible motive for cooperating with your contact. Furthermore, it would also provide him with a motive for ensuring that his tracks are covered, so that the disappearance of the head cannot be traced back to him. The plan Cotton will propose is that he will set up a false identity on the Company Security network, the identity of a Forensics technician with full documentation and backdated employment history. The corpse arrives; the Head of Forensics books it in under the name of the false technician; he relieves it of its head, boils the flesh off it and provides it to Cotton.”

“Wouldn't it be simpler just to have the Head of Forensics book it in, and then have him killed?” Landerchild asked.

“As you said before, if anyone investigates the disappearance of the skull, they will be looking for anything suspicious occurring around Forensics, and another death is, if anything, even more suspicious than the unexplained presence of the Deputy Operations Supervisor. No, in his case I think we can definitely rely on blackmail to keep him quiet.”

“What happens when someone discovers that the identity on the system is false? The trail would immediately lead back to either the Head of Forensics or to Cotton.”

“Not necessarily,” Carnell said. “There are a lot of people with the means to create a false identity on the system. Leaving aside the large number of individuals with the skills and experience in computer crime in this city who can be employed discreetly for a price, you have the Company personnel officers, Rull, Pitter, Uvanov-- in fact, the entire Company Board have the ability to do so, and god knows there are enough disgruntled Founding Family members on the Board to provide suspects. And, if the record is properly backdated, there will be no telling who set up the identity, or when.”

“I've thought of another problem,” Landerchild said. “What's to stop Uvanov making the assassin take the skull out of the box himself, to prove it's not booby-trapped?”

Carnell smiled. “Nothing, indeed, that's what he will do. So we simply use a slow-acting poison, and make the assassin think that he has consumed the antidote, to ensure that he complies with the plan. That way, at the end of the strategy, anyone involved who could possibly be linked back to you is either in your pay--” he ticked the items off on his fingers-- “so closely implicated that they will have to keep quiet out of sheer self-preservation, or dead.”

“Well, you do appear to have covered all eventualities,” said Landerchild, rising and making as if to leave. “But I'll tell you this, Carnell: it seems like a dangerously overcomplicated scheme to me.”

“If you follow the strategy to the letter,” Carnell said, “then you should achieve the result you want.”

“It had better work, because if it went wrong, it would be disastrous.”

“Actually,” Carnell remarked as the office door shut firmly behind Landerchild, “it will only work if it does go wrong.”

Human nature, he reflected, made it impossible for anyone, and particularly someone as arrogant as Landerchild, to follow such a strategy exactly. And even if Landerchild did not succumb to the temptation to modify his instructions somewhat, any strategy which was planned to such an elaborate degree that it allowed no flexibility whatsoever, was virtually guaranteed to go wrong at some point. Whatever Landerchild did, the outcome would undoubtedly be in Carnell's favour.

“Well,” said Uvanov a few hours later, “do you have something for me?”

Carnell remarked smoothly, “Yes, in fact I do.”

“What is it, then?”

Carnell's face betrayed nothing. “If you suspect that a relationship has developed between Iago and Justina,” he began, “I would suggest setting up a test which would reveal, firstly, the nature of their connection, and, secondly where their first loyalties lie.”

“And how will I do that?”

“By engineering what will appear to be an attempt on your own life...”

Click to return home