Vlad jerked awake at the incessant ringing and pounding on the front door. Grabbed his gun and galloped down the stairs.
"Police! Open up!"
Vlad flipped the switch to light up the porch and yelled back. "I am Senior Detective Vlad Gargaran. Who the hell are you?"
"Special task force Alpha . . ." The kalidescope image of the man through the patterned, panes of the glass was shoved aside.
"Gargaran! What the hell are you doing here?" Agent Schweiger's irritated--and irritating voice.
Vlad flipped the locks. "I live here. If you're still hunting for evidence gainst Lord Axel Vinogradov," he opened the door, "you in the wrong place." He pointed. "Try next door."
"So you know him!"
"I met him for the first time two months ago when I was investigating his uncle's death. I thought you said you'd arrested him?"
"He escaped. Now get out of the way. We're searching the whole neighborhood."
Vlad stepped back in disgust. "More of your emergency powers? No doubt, no warrants needed."
The Stutt cops flooded in, charging into the kitchen one way and the garage the other.
"Vlad? What's going on?"
Vlad looked up the stairs, at his father coming down, shotgun in hand. "Searching for a fugitive. Tell Mom and I'll get Dina." He raised his voice. "My father is a retired policeman. He has every right to that gun. Mind your manners, especially around my sister. She had a bad grow-in and . . . God damn you assholes!"
A pair of over-enthusiastic Stutts shoved past his father and headed up stairs. Two more galloped out of the garage and charged upwards.
A wordless startled "Eep!" from Dina, and he was charging up the steps after his dad.
And grabbing for the gun. "Dad! Give me the shotgun, before these idiots shoot you!"
Fortunately for all concerned, Dina was being ignored. A big eyed girl in mismatched flannel jammies, standing in the corner clutching her stuffed bunny wasn't attracting half the attention he was.
But mostly they were searching the room, a glance in the bathroom, out the glass door to the snow covered patio, in the wardrobe, one door bouncing off Dina's chair that wasn't where it usually sat, a light shown under, clothes on hangers shoved around.
Then checking under the bed, pulling out a suitcase, opened it to show frilly pink things, shoved it back under. Then around to the narrow space between the bed and the curtained window wall . . .
Another Eep! as Dina scrambled up to stand on the bed, then as they jerked the comforter off, she climbed up on the headboard.
Vlad stalked in. "Dina, come down here! Schweiger? Why the hell do you think Axel Vinogradov would be hiding under a bed? Didn't you lot research him at all before you arrested him?" He put his arm around Dina's waist and lifted her down, stepped away, keeping her close.
"Oh? And where do you think he'd go?"
"Up Top. You know, the Reasearch Center where his parents worked? Where if he wanted to hide, he probably knows every nook, cranny and hiding place? Or if he had no intension of hiding, he probably knows where every dangerous chemical and exotic experimental electronic gadget is?"
"Listen, Gararan . . ."
"Not to mention that he damn well knows where all the Fast Response Team weaponry is stored. BECAUSE APPARENTLY YOU DON'T REALIZE THAT HE'S A TEAM MENTALIST!"
Schweiger blinked. "He's not any kind of Mentalist at all, any more. They chipped him first thing."
Vlad stared at him in shock. "You arrested him yesterday. There was no trial . . . You do realize that illegal chipping is a capital offence, right? And chipping 29 Vinogradov? Whoever makes a decision like that is dead, and his entire branch removed from the line."
Schweiger sneered. "The 300 is gone. Not coming back. Stuttgart is going to scoop up every weakling world around and we'll be the capital, the nucleous of a New Empire."
Vlad shut his mouth on an injudicous comment. Took a deep breath. "Dad. Get Mom and bring her down to the dining room. We'll just let these . . . fine gentlemen . . . get on with their search."
"Hold up Gargaran." Schweiger pulled a small device out of his pocket and touched Dina's head with it.
Checking her chip.
Dina flinched and clung.
Schweiger looked at his instrument. "Dina Gargaran. Class seven impairment." He stepped away in distaste. "I'm surprised you didn't have her institutionalized."
Vlad turned Dina and hauled her out of her room.
The Stutts were exiting his room, he could see his wardrobe standing open, the bed tossed . . . He shook his head and kept an arm around Dina all the way down.
Strange suitcase under the bed--or did she take that from Axel's house yesterday?
Chair moved so the wardrobe was harder to search . . .
His mom scurried down after them tying her robe, eyes worried, but still huffing indignantly.
Schweiger stalked down the stairs, phone to his ear.
A pair of men trotted in from the back and shook their heads. Sheddding half melted snow and mud.
"Yes, sir." Schweiger clicked off. "All in. Let's go!"
He scowled at Vlad but walked out the door without a word.
They looked at each other silently for a minute.
Vlad stepped over to the living room window and watched them climb into military-looking vehicles, and drive away.
"Well. I might as well get dressed, and put the guns away. Mom? How about some breakfast?"
He started at the top, searching the parents room for a lurker. I ought to have counted how many entered the house.
Racked the shotgun. Searched his own room, noting a strange pair of pants in the closet. Then Dina's room. A quick glance around. Shifted her chair. Grabbed the tottering figure that nearly fell out of the back, blocked a punch, almost tripped over the bundle Axel had dropped and hauled him over to the bed.
"Quiet. I think they're gone, but . . ."
He got a nod in return.
"Did Dina get you her medicine?'
"Yes . . . 'm still full of drugs."
Well, guess this makes me an accessory. An outlaw.
I'll go check on Forty-one . . . and maybe he ought to share that stuff around with his buddies. I wonder if he could get it to the Fast Reaction Teams? Their barracks are Up Top . . . but they do meet when they have portal duty.
He grabbed his computer on the way down and set it where his father could see it, as he brought up the non-public police site.
Axel was the top news . . . apart from the minor detail of not being named.
A major search on for the escapee who'd murdered the Chief Surgeon at the Cybernetics Center . . . The dangerously deranged man's chip had gone horribly wrong . . . A public danger . . .
Vlad gulped. Murdered the surgeon. He must have incredible resistance to the anestheia they use . . . And I've got a killer sleeping off drugs in my sister's room.
Dad stirred uneasily. "Son . . . Axel . . ."
Vlad shook his head, slowly. "I fail to see how Lord Axel Vinogradov, who is a Fast Reaction Team Mentalist employed by the Imperium could be arrested and chipped so quickly at all. And since he is 29 Vinogradov, it ought to have involved an Official Executioner. If Stuttgart is ignoring those legal requirements, they are in rebellion against the Imperium, and we'd better not expect any restraints on their behavior."
"We're in deep trouble, aren't we?"
"Yes. So . . . we'll just keep a low profile and see what happens." He pointed at the screen. "The Stutts are going to be really sorry they got Igor mad at them."