The mercenaries starting loading the gun crates that had already been moved to the ship back on cargo wagon. Ellison, clutching his shoulder where Matilda had shot him, and his side where the other attacker had stabbed him, had been carried and seated up top, next to the driver. He slumped in his seat. As soon as they finished loading the guns back up, they’d head back to the guild. The main gate was on the way, if he didn’t die before he got to it. Either way, he’d be off Krim soon enough. He just had to bear with the pain a little bit longer.
“You guys did a good job,” Clinio Lind told him and Matilda. “Whether Rodge personally knew about this or not, it definitely looks like the Armstrong Guild was involved.”
“If you say that off-world, we’ll sue,” said Rodge. He looked at the three tied-up prisoners. “I’ve never seen those men before in my life.”
“Well, the two we followed to the warehouse were definitely your men,” said Matilda.
“Maybe you can show some good faith and help find these men,” said Clinio. “They can tell us what they know, we can recover our Singletons, and nobody has to sue anybody.”
“Benjamin Goldberg and Griffin the Squint,” Ellison moaned from his seat. “They’re the two who were involved.”
“You’re still alive,” Matilda said, then turned back to the prisoners. She grabbed the shoulder of the closest prisoner, the one she’d tried to shoot and missed. The prisoner twisted away with a groan. She punched him in the side of the head and pulled up his sleeve. “They’ve got Armstrong Guild tattoos,” she said.
Rodge Bannister peered at it then shook his head. “Bad forgery. There are a lot of wanna-be’s out there. Think it’s cool to flash guild colors.” He spit on the ground. “Real Guild men wouldn’t have been beaten by a gang of thugs-for-hire.”
“Hey!” Matilda and the prisoners said at the same time.
“And they certainly wouldn’t have allowed themselves to be taken prisoner,” Rodge added. “The Guild has a code.” He looked away from the prisoners. “You can do what you want with these three,” he told Matilda then turned to Clint. “I’ll find the other two for you.” He glared back at the three men, spit again, and walked back to the coach he and Lind had come in, which was now surrounded by a handful of Armstrong Guild members. They were eyeing the cargo wagon and muttering to themselves, hands on their sword hilts.
“Are you going to let them get away with this?” Matilda asked Clinio.
“No, we’re suing either way,” said security chief said. “The Royal Season has deep pockets and big backers. Either the Armstrong Guild was directly involved or they did a bad job screening their key hires. Either way, they’re liable. The big question is whether our off-world contracts will supersede the anti-spoiler laws.” He shook his head. “That’s the problem with working on private grids. Yes, you get confidentiality, but you pay a price.”
“Meanwhile, do you want these three?” Matilda asked him. “If not, the Mercenary Guild has a torturer on retainer.”
“Does the torture ever work?” asked Clinio. “Don’t people just tell you whatever you want to hear just to get you to stop?”
“Good torture is an art in and of itself,” said Matilda. “Having a goal in mind just cheapens it.”
“You can have them,” said Clinio. “The Royal Season doesn’t employ torturers. And unless we can get their real identities, I don’t see what we can do with them. I doubt that the grid administration will help.” He narrowed his eyes and looked behind Matilda, to where Welton Layton was discussing the details of arquebus manufacture with Matilda’s glasses-wearing gun expert.
Welton caught his look and came over.
“Those guns are definitely mass-manufactured,” he said. “Someone has made a gun, taken it off world, copied it, and brought it back in bulk. We didn’t authorize it.”
“Why not?” asked Clinio. “They had guns in the 1500s.”
“The grid founders liked the idea of sword fighting,” said Welton. “We don’t even allow import-export licenses for cannons. All the ones on Krim are individually hand-made.”
“What about the bullets and gunpowder?” asked Matilda.
“The lead balls?” Welton asked. “That’s possible. We might have let that through. But gunpowder, definitely not. And the original world design deliberately restricted the number and location of sulfur deposits, so people would have a hard time making it.”
“So the grid will help identify these men?” Clinio pointed to the prisoners.
“No,” Welton said. “We’re not going to violate privacy unless we get a court order.”
“I’ll identify them,” Ellison croaked.
“He does something with body language,” Matilda said.
“I don’t see how that could possibly be useful,” said Clinio. “Not unless you already knew their real identities. I thought that’s what he normally did. Start with a person’s real history, their recordings, that kind of thing, then analyze their habits and behaviors to find them in-world.”
“He hasn’t failed yet,” said Matilda.
Ellison pushed himself upright. He didn’t like the way this conversation was going. If the grid knew how he did what he did, they’d probably kick him out. “I’ve already got some ideas about who they could be,” he told Clinio. “I’ll just need to get back to my office and confirm.”
“Do you want to see them in action a little first?” Clinio asked.
“You can watch them be tortured,” said Matilda. “That should give you a lot of behavioral cues.”
Ellison winced. “No, I’ll pass,” he said. “I’ve already seen enough.”
“It’s like a magic trick,” said Matilda. She looked over at where Rodge was talking with his guildmembers. “We’re lucky most of the Armstrong Guild is tied up with the war,” she said. “Let’s hope that the cult can hold out long enough for us to get the guns safely stored away.” She patted the side of the wagon. “Are we about ready?”
She looked around and saw Medium Dave and another one of the mercenaries carrying a crate down the pier from the cargo ship.
“This is the last one!” Dave called out.
“I wouldn’t mind watching the torture,” said Welton. “I don’t know how useful it will be, but if they give away anything about where the weapons came from, I’d like to know. Either they’ve figured out a way to get past customs, or have access to a private gate. Either way, that’s something the grid will be looking into.”
“I’ll head back to talk to our legal team,” said Clinio. “Contact me off-world if you find anything about the location of the victims.”
He walked back to his coach where he and Rodge spoke briefly. Ellison didn’t hear what they said, but Rodge and his men walked away and Clinio got into the coach alone.
“That business relationship is irreparably broken.” Matilda shook her head. “What a shame.” She turned back to the prisoners and kicked one of them. “Let’s drag you guys home.”
The one with the bleeding wound on his shoulder from where Matilda grazed him with a bullet looked towards Rodge as the guild leader walked away.
“You really thought they were going to fight for you, didn’t you?” said Matilda. “No honor in your guild, I guess. You should pay him back and tell us all you know.”
But instead, the prisoner bit down on something in his mouth, swallowed, and started gasping for air. Then he fell, followed immediately by both of his fellow prisoners. All three began convulsing.
“Did they just bite down on poison pills?” Matilda asked. “That is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. I want one.”