Back at the suite, there was tension in the air.
The lobby was jam-packed with media, hoping to get a story on the attempt on the life of a local celebrity. And Zane had just finished telling Batch his newest theory.
Batch shook his head. “There’s not a whole lot of people who know about Batch, Zane… why would anyone be after me? I do what I need to do, I work under so many fail safes that I forget how many there are. Who could’ve followed me this far down?” he murmured.
“We don’t know,” said Zane. “But we’re going to find out.” He gave Batch a smile. “We gotta look after each-other, right?”
“I thought this was just going to be simple,” said Batch, groaning. “Let’s eat. I wasn’t sure how much I could trust any of my go-to caterers, so I paid one of my roadies to head to the opposite end of town and bring back some pizzas.”
This met with general approval.
“So is this Jeffrey guy still our prime suspect?” said Ash. “I mean… do we have any reason to think he would have suspected Batch of not being who he said he was?”
“I was who I said I was,” said Batch, shrugging.
Ash rubbed his temples. “Yeah, but then you went off and became someone else,” he said. “Apparently they weren’t too happy with that.”
“Look, what we’re trying to get at is,” said Zane. “Do you still think it could be him?”
“I think he’d be the one with the best chance,” Batch said, plopping down. “But I’m not sure how he would’ve found me here.”
“Tell us more about him,” said Zane. “What did he do? What was he like?”
“He was just another tech guy… but he found out about some of my off-the-books work. So he kind of pressed on me a bit to help him out. He’d hook me up with work, and I gave him 10% because I was already overcharging.”
“Just 10%?” said Mari. “Doesn’t seem like that was so bad.”
“This was high-level corporate business,” said Batch. “That was something to the tune of ten thousand chits per job.”
Ash chuckled. “Didn’t I tell you robbing corporations was easy money?”
“It really is,” said Batch. I probably ended up making him a pretty decent amount before I moved on. Maybe he got into some trouble or something and is looking for an out. Who knows.” Batch said with a shrug.
“He’s gone this far,” said Jayna. “He’s not going to stop.” She turned to look at Batch. “Is there anything–anything at all–that can be used as definitive, incontrovertible proof of your… other selves?”
Batch shook his head. “No. I don’t keep mementos or a master list. Too easy to steal or take. My livelihood is in my ability to be a ghost.”
“You can trust that,” said Zane. “It may not be possible to scrub your past completely clean, but Batch can get as close as possible.”
“Well, this guy found him,” said Ash. “Or somebody did. And I don’t believe in coincidences.”
“Me either,” said Batch. “I need to get off planet. I can disappear for a bit and really get out from under. But this place ? This tourist trap is going to get loud and hot fast.” He got up and started to pace. “And… the stage I’m in right now is kind of… not really sustainable.”
“That might be kind of tricky,” said Mari, looking up. She held up her tablet. “All of the spaceports on Hyacinth are absolutely buzzing with media. Word gets around, it seems.”
Batch ran a hand through his hair. “Nothing I haven’t gotten out of before. But I’ve been stalling long enough. I have to go be Ben for a while,” he said.
“Are you sure?” said Zane. “We need to-“
“I have to take this meeting,” said Batch, shaking his head. “Gotta make sure my people are taken care of once I’m gone.”
He looked around, and thought for a moment. “Mari, do you want to come with me? See the joys of celebrity?
Mari looked taken aback. “Me?” she said.
“Go with him,” said Ash. “One of us should be keeping an eye on him and you’re the most unassuming.”
He gave her a warm smile. “Just let me go get dressed and put some eyeliner on.”
Mari looked down at herself. “Got anything that’ll fit me?” she said. “I’m probably not fit to be seen with you as I am.”
Batch looked over her for a moment, and then shrugged. “Gimme a second.” He pulled out his phone, and moved to the bedroom.
Maybe twenty minutes later, a full rack of clothes had appeared at the door.
“…I’m not even going to ask,” said Mari, shaking her head. “Alright, Mr. Harris, do your worst.”
He smiled. “Relax. You’re not my opening act. Just an assistant. We’re not going to go crazy.”
To be fair, it wasn’t even as bad as her outfit on Isocrateia. It was… more expensive clothing than she’d probably ever worn in her life, but it was comfy. A smart little gray dress, a bright purple cardigan to match her hair, and a huge pair of sunglasses to mask her face from… a distant star going supernova, apparently.
“Should work,” said Ash. “But there’s one more accessory you need.” He pulled up his pant leg and unstrapped a small ankle holster. “Here,” he said. “You’ll have to adjust it a bit to fit on those tiny little legs of yours.”
“How did you get that past security?” said Batch, cocking his head.
Ash just winked.
Batch smiled. “A man of many talents, I like it,” Batch said. “Just keep a look out for any idiots trying to come up for an interview about me, or whatever. I’m fine. I don’t need any security or anything. It was just someone who wanted a piece of the action,” he said.
He dressed quickly in something that screamed ‘rock star in the off season’ and the two of them walked out.
The meeting was held in a small conference room downstairs. A number of suits were sitting around the table, waiting for Batch to say something.
“So, how is the severance package distribution going? I know we have enough for everyone to get a piece of the pot,” he said, sternly looking over the fattest cat Mari had ever seen.
“Extremely generous, sir,” said one of the suits. “All of the crew–sound, electrical, and so forth–will be extremely well-compensated for their service. Perhaps a little overly so. Have you considered–“
“I know a lot of people get in this business to make money. I’m not one of them,” he said, relaxing back a bit in his chair. “I want them to cherish the experience. But… I know that other people have bills to pay.”
The suit sighed. “Very well,” he said. “What about the matter of this lunatic trying to kill you?”
Ben shrugged. Mari watched as he settled pretty seamlessly into this role. She still felt really creeped out watching as he switched from one persona to the other. “He’s just obsessive. A lot of people think that by committing these acts they are becoming the most important thing about a celebrity. I have a team with me. They’re quite good. I’m not concerned.”
Mari nodded, trying her best to look like a security detail.
“If you say so,” said another suit, this one a silver-haired woman. “If you’re really serious about this retirement, I’d like you to live to enjoy it.”
“I am serious, Regina,” he said sternly. “There is the matter about this… small concert of about 2,500 people that started getting planned on my agenda without my notice… What’s that about?”
“I don’t know what to tell you,” said Regina, looking at the agenda. “All the paperwork was filed, it all had your signature and your authentication on it… you say it wasn’t you and I believe you, but it’s very strange.”
He sighed. “It’s on Hyacinth though? And it’s sold out already?” He said with a frown. “What are we going to tell the fans?”
The suits all looked at each other for a moment, and he rolled his eyes. “I mean, I guess I could do something acoustic or something. Small gratitude tour. But It’d have to be like, seriously intimate,” he said, shaking his head.
Then the room exploded into chaos as people starting to run around thinking about publicity and merchandise and everything else. Yet another of the suits, a big, bruiser type came to sit next to him.
“Ben, you’ve been great, but it’s not like you owe Hyacinth anything,” he said. This place has a transient population on a good day. They’ve seen a thousand acts like you pass through. You really want to make your last show here?”
“I already did,” said Batch, clearly amused. “But I don’t want to disappoint people who’ve paid good money for it.”
“But what about that lunatic?” asked the bruiser.
“Maybe he’s bought a ticket,” Mari said softly. “As bad as an attempt as he’s made, he’s still made an attempt.”
“But he’s just one guy. What about the other 2,499? No. Screen everyone. But I want to do this.”
The guy nodded. “You’re the boss man. Usual rider?”
“Yeah, but add some space for my security detail to get a room as well.”
“Of course, boss,” he said, picking up his tablet to tap in a few things.
Mari waited for the roar of business to move away for a bit, and then leaned in. “I’m guessing that you’ve got a plan, here?” she asked.
Batch grinned. “Yeah, but you’re not going to like it.” he said. “We’re not going to let this idiot even try to kill me. You guys are going to try first.”
Mari sputtered, and he shooshed her quietly. “I’ll explain everything back at the hotel room. But it has to do with this. When I opened up my tablet… I saw this message.”
She took a look at it, and her eyes widened. “Is this…”
“Yeah. Just read it.”
The shootings and the lights and action will stop.
Every effect has its cause. Every action has a reaction.
This is not over. This will never be over until everyone knows what you are.
She scrolled down a bit further, and she frowned. “These are.. pictures of you.”
He nodded morosely. “Apparently the office I worked at had a silent surveillance system. If I’d known, I would’ve put a scrambler on it.”
Mari whistled. “So he is trying to con old you, Bradley.”
“I hope so,” said Batch. “I really hope that it’s Bradley that he has a grudge against, because if he’s going back further… I don’t how I’ll be able to go on.”