First Hints of Galactor by UnpublishedWriter
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Hontwarl felt different.

Not very precise, but those were the only words Kentaro Washio could use.

He rested on a park bench in his home town, watching the people and thinking.

A bit more diligence in Customs. Loss of a century-old newspaper, without even a Web replacement. Stiffness in the formerly friendly populace.

“Washio?” A rotund man with a fat, piggy face. “It’s McCallum.” No sneer or swagger.

“What do you want?” How was he still alive and loose?

“Yeah, I know. May I?” He motioned at the bench.

Curiosity piqued, Kentaro nodded.

“I thought I recognized you. I’ve been following you for hours, trying to work up the courage.”

He’d only seen McCallum really scared once, when he and Kozaburo Nambu had pulled their best prank on him just before the Nambus went to Ameris. That was nothing to the fear now in his normally-mean pig-eyes. “What is it?”

“Something’s wrong here. Really, really, wrong.” The sausage fingers clenched, relaxed, clenched again. “I knew what I wanted to say. I had it all planned out.

“You’re the smartest guy I know. I’ve seen your picture. Okay, you and Nambu are the two smartest guys I know. I’m so dumb I’d forget to breathe if it wasn’t automatic. I thought I was so great, being stupid.”

You always did seem barely capable of tying your own shoes. If a dim-witted bully could see the wrong in Hontwarl, there must be something to it.

“I’m in the damned government,” McCallum continued. “I have a record as long as the Amazon river, and I’m the Police Commissioner for this canton. I was hired six months after my last release. I’m not reformed.”

How had that happened? “How did they explain that?”

“Lots of public relations. I remember how Nambu could turn things around, and make friends out of just about everyone who tried to beat him up. This was a sledge-hammer to the skull compared to that. People were bamboozled, pressured, into not protesting.” He shot a quick glance around. “A lot of the ones who kept on with questions have disappeared or died. I signed the papers on six of them.”

He should love this. He can do what he wants.

“I don’t have to be smart as you to know what you’re thinking. I loved it, until I started thinking. People used to hire me because they thought a bully would be perfect for what they wanted. Then I’d act like a bully and get fired. And now I was head of the police.”

After that realization, he noticed other things: off-hours meetings between government officials and purported ‘foreign investors’; profitable contracts allowed to lapse, yet nothing closed down; mysterious lights in the mountains. “That’s just here.”

“And?” Because there had to be more.

“My cousin, the head of the opposition party went missing. People think he skipped the country with a boyfriend and embezzled funds. I’m certain he did no such thing. He was a stick-in-the-mud, not the type to do such a thing.”

“Those are just the sort who do have the lover and secret bank account.”

“Not my cousin. He was no hypocrite. I know him. He’s gone. Dead in a ditch with a bullet in his skull.”

“If you’re right, what can I do?”

“You work for the smartest man in the world, and he works for the ISO, which is affiliated with the UN. They’ll listen to him, not a stupid thug like me.” He grabbed Kentaro’s arm. “My cousin sent me something. I’ve been afraid to look at it. He always said I was stupid and a criminal, but not corrupt. If I look at it, I know what I’ll do with it, because I’m worse than corrupt: I’m a coward.”

Two men approached them. “Commissioner,” one called.

The fear vanished, replaced by porcine malice. “You think you’re hot stuff because you can fly a plane and have that pretty mug all over the Web, but I’m in charge here, Washio. You can’t do a thing to me.” McCallum heaved to his feet and trundled towards his underlings.
***** ***** *****

Next day, Kentaro found a flash-drive under his door. He didn’t so much as look at it until he returned to Utoland City and took it to Dr. Nambu.

After the explanation, Nambu fitted the drive into a stand-alone, no-Web-access notebook. After a thorough scan for viruses, worms, and Trojans, he opened the files.

“Good Lord,” Kentaro breathed, a half-hour later.

Nambu kept reading. What does he see that I do not? He never could keep up with his friend’s nimble mind. “It’s worse than that. This extends far outside of Hontwarl. There’s more to this than corrupt government employees and greedy corporations.”

Knowing how conspiracy theories exasperated Kozaburo, Kentaro asked, “Are you saying this is a real conspiracy?”

“It looks like one, but I can’t accept that. There are always leaks, always traces, whenever people conspire. They disagree on tactics, buy too many parts at the same store, make dumb mistakes and flat screw up. This one is in full operation, and almost perfectly concealed. That’s impossible.”

On the other hand, it was equally impossible that a dozen or more separate illegal activities (each involving government figures) could be currently ongoing. “McCallum wanted the UN to investigate?”

“He wanted someone to investigate. But where would they start?”

“Assuming, for a few minutes, that McCallum’s cousin did find a conspiracy, what is its purpose?” Nambu continued reading. His eyes widened. “This is not mere criminal activity. If this is correct, an enemy power is infiltrating Hontwarl, intending to take over.”

“All that ‘if’ makes me nervous, Koza. You’re right about most conspiracies, too. We need more and better evidence, or we’ll sound like nuts.” He didn’t trust the UN to get information.

Every nation had spies in every other nation. Supposedly, these men and women were trained to spot such patterns as would indicate conspiracies and plots, yet they often missed those indications. There was a reason ‘military intelligence’ was considered an oxymoron around the world.

Nambu turned his head. “This isn’t a game, Kentaro. Put it out of your mind.”

That’s why I call him ‘Sherlock’. “Hontwarl is my home. And you said this goes beyond Hontwarl.” The plan took its shape in his head.

“You fool. What about Eileen and Ken?”

Eileen. Ken. “You know why.” He closed his eyes. I know just what she’ll say, before she lets me go. He opened his eyes.

“Koza, I’m already entered in the Melbourne air show. People know that I’m a show-off. I just need a new face, a new identity, and a way to Hontwarl.” If anyone could make this mad plan work, it was the man before him.

Expletives in three languages. “You are gathering information. No heroics. If anyone suspects, they’ll make the mistake of looking for Hontwarl’s version of James Bond, and you might learn even more.”

No heroics. That would be a difficult temptation to resist. “Others in Hontwarl know something’s wrong. Once I have a lead, I can find them and build up a network. You’ll have more information than you can stand. Proof.”

“How do you return from the dead?”

“We should worry about that when the time comes.” He laughed at an idea. “In the meantime, you should have a way to know if the information comes from me. A code phrase.”

Silence.

“Red Impulse.”
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