“A file,” said the officer.
“A file,” Dmitri mimicked in a high-pitched voice. Again, the senior officer barely reacted, but the rookie’s hands closed into fists as his brows drew together over his narrowed eyes. Dmitri grinned to himself, then tapped on the picture of Haller in order to open the folder. One out of two wasn’t bad.
“This is our unclassified file on Ian Alexander Haller,” said the senior officer, continuing as though Dmitri hadn’t spoken. “I take it you two are acquainted.”
“That’s one way of putting it,” Dmitri said with a shrug as he flipped through the folder.
“You do know him, correct?”
“No, I piloted his ship for six years without ever meeting the man,” Dmitri said with deep sarcasm, jabbing his finger at the relevant document on the screen and causing it to glow as he did so.
“Well, since you’re such good pals,” the officer said calmly, “I’m offering you a deal.”
“Locate Ian Haller for us, and in return, we drop your sentence from five years to one.”
“Go to hell,” Dmitri said, without malice.
“Mr. Edmunds,” the officer said, leaning across the table and, for the first time, displaying signs of anger. “You told us you were willing to cooperate. If you are not in fact willing to do so, I can arrange for Officers Bilal and Mercer to take you back—”
“No,” Dmitri interrupted. “I mean that literally. If you want to find Ian Haller, you have to go to Hell. He’s dead, and there’s no way he’d end up in the other place.”
The officer stared. “He’s dead?”
“Marshals were chasing us,” Dmitri said, shrugging as he absentmindedly flicked through the pages of the dossier before him. “Our engines were frozen and antigrav was shot. Chances were we were going to crash anyhow, so we all grabbed jumpsuits, but I guess Haller got a faulty one; either that, or he jumped too close to the engines and smacked the locking field from the marshals’ cruisers. Whatever it was, when Miran and I landed on the ground, Haller was dead.”
“How do you know he was dead?”
“We’d just jumped from several thousand feet in the air, and he was lying spread-eagled on the roof of a building near where we landed. I didn’t exactly stop to take a pulse, since we were in a bit of a hurry at the time, but,” he shrugged, “I don’t need a fancy medical diploma to tell when a man’s dead.” He paused and glanced up at the officers, both of whom were listening intently. Dmitri was sure he was being recorded to check for later signs of lying or deception. In fact, he realized with a little mental jolt, this table was probably equipped to track the pulse in his wrist and the sweating of his fingertips. Trying to make the movement look as casual as possible, Dmitri leaned back in his chair and rested his hands in his lap instead, feeling justified in his suspicions as the two men exchanged a glance but did not speak. It probably didn’t matter all that much, but still, he wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction of getting everything they wanted today.
“That’s a very interesting story, Mr. Edmunds,” the senior officer said. “But we did not find a body when we searched the area.”
“Like I said, check with Satan.” When the man’s face darkened with anger, Dmitri changed tacks. “Maybe the recon boys were just incompetent and missed a dead body lying on a parts shed in the western shipping district. Or maybe Ian Haller is now a zombie and roams the streets of Orion Six searching for little children to gobble; I wouldn’t be surprised. Either way, you’re shit out of luck if you were hoping to talk to him.”