Wheels of Justice,
Potholes of Reality

David van Domelen

"...pected Nazi criminal John Demjanjuk is rumored to have taken advantage of the Jewish holiday this weekend to return home and visit his family. Demjanjuk, as you'll recall, was acquit<CLICK>"
   Brian Janssen tossed the remote down on his hotel bed in disgust. Just what he needed to hear, more news about the one that got away. He muttered a mild oath under his breath, then checked over his appearance in the mirror. He had a rather important meeting today...this one wasn't going to get away. By hook or by crook, justice would be done this time. He stole a glance at his closet, and actually considered for a moment taking out what was stored in there. Not that it would help in this case...and it would be hard to disguise anyway. No, leave it for later. If words failed, there was always another way. And his other way was pretty potent.
   Brian smiled as he picked up his briefcase and left the room, the door automatically locking as hotel doors do. He took a few steps down the hall, then turned on his heel and went back. He then turned over the hanger on the doorknob to the side that read "Do Not Disturb" and had a small picture of a man sleeping. Of course, he wouldn't be sleeping this morning, but no sense in a maid accidentally finding what he had in the closet....

   Gangs in Denver had mostly evaporated. It was never a major gang mecca, and the markets were generally not lucrative enough to make the prospect of being beaten on by the Machine terribly attractive. However, a few groups, as a matter of principle (such as they had any principles) decided to make a stand. And this was it. A warehouse had been set up as an obvious meeting place, a lure to the so-called heroes. Money to the right cops made sure that they would find reasons to delay a search long enough for the heroes to find it first. Then a few 'expendible' gang members, mainly local recruits, were sent out to troll of Machiners, and spill their guts about the 'big meeting place' when caught. They weren't told about the trap, just in case.
   At about eight in the morning, Greymask and Cosmic Defender caught the bait, and radioed for backup. However, Karlson was already in a meeting with a certain Mister Janssen, and Astra was in Montana with Professor Wier. So they weighed the options, decided that the gangs might move soon, and went in.
   Lyons, who affected the bombastic Cosmic Defender identity, decided to Try a scare tactic first, and sent in a Gauntlet-created copy of himself to flush out the gang members. It was met by machinegun fire and several rocket launcher shots, making it obvious to the pair that this was a trap. Greymask grinned ferally and went in while Cosmic Defender made shields to catch the few rockets that missed and endangered the neighborhood.
   While the gang members were agog at the total lack of effect their Barrage had had on the fake Cosmic Defender, Greymask zoomed in on hoverskirts, silent until the moment he toppled a wall on half of the gangbangers. There must have been some pretty unsafe explosives in there, because this triggered an explosion which rattled Greymask's teeth and sent him sailing back into the street. Lyons expanded his walls to channel the explosion away from as many as possible while Greymask recovered. By this time, only a handful of gang members were conscious, and they were trapped by the high force walls around the warehouse. A few dropped their weapons and surrendered, figuring they'd be better off in jail than in the hospital. Three or four decided to go down fighting...whether they were insane, high or just stupid, they started shooting wildly at Cosmic Defender, ignoring Greymask who was mostly hidden by the smoke and fire now springing up. Within seconds they were all dropped as Greymask tore about the battlefield, punching and ramming the few remaining combatants.
   By the time the police and fire department arrived, all the gang members were dead, unconscious or wrapped in steel beams. The two Machiners were long gone.

   Karlson steepled his fingers in front of his face as he watched this newcomer enter his office. He was trying to look as imposing as he could, but as soon as he saw it had no effect he stopped and placed his hands on the desk. Standing, he extended his left hand. "Hello, Mister Janssen. I hope your trip was uneventful?"
   Not missing a beat, Janssen put out his left hand and shook. His grip was firm without being aggressive. "I suppose it was. Now, if we could get down to the reason I asked for this interview, Mister Karlson?"
   Karlson motioned his guest to sit down, and then sat himself. "Ah, yes, you mentioned being affiliated with an Israeli concern...?"
   Janssen sat, but didn't relax, staying poised like a coiled spring. "Specifically, one that is concerned with the current disposition of Nazi War Criminals. I'm part of a private organization that was charged by the Knesset with examining various documents released by the former Soviet Union a few years back."
   "Why didn't the Mossad do that?"
   "They did. However, it was decided that for reasons of completeness that a second group would also examine the information, so as to prevent the biases of one group from coloring the results. The group I work with was well known in Israel and Europe for computerized data enhancement, and we won the contract."
   "So, what brings you here? Surely you don't think I'm a Nazi?" Karlson smiled warmly, with an undercurrent of sarcasm.
   Janssen fixed Karlson with a cold stare before continuing, "No, but certain sources suggested that you might have recently associated with one. The sources weren't considered reliable enough on their own, so I took the assignment of coming out here to gather first hand information." Janssen opened his briefcase and pulled out a dossier. He flipped that open to show a photograph, fairly recent, of Professor Wier. "Do you know the whereabouts of this man?"
   "Before I reply, may I ask what he's done? Or rather, why he's being sought in connection with Nazi War Crimes, in the event you merely want to ask him some questions?"
   "Recent Soviet documents have revealed that during the later days of World War Two, a scientific enclave near Dachau was established in an attempt to Find some last-ditch superweapon. When the Allies got too close, it was closed and destroyed, leaving no evidence of its real nature. The scientists assigned there were 'taken in' by the Soviets with one notable exception: this man, Richard Wier, who ended up in America. Inmates of Dachau were used in several of these experiments, and Israel would like to question Wier as to his role in them."
   "So, you're saying you have no proof that he committed any crimes, is that it?"
   Janssen grimaced. "If he was there, and did not try to stop what went on, he is guilty. If he worked willingly in that laboratory, which we have proof he did, that is crime enough. However..."
   "However, Israel won't try to get him unless they think they can prove he was guilty of something big, right? They don't want another Demjanjuk."
   "I would not have put it that way, but yes. If all he was guilty of was cowardice in the face of injustice, I'm afraid my government won't risk another controversy. Not with the future being as uncertain as it is...the past isn't as important."
   "I get the impression you think the past still is important, eh? Why is that, I wonder? I mean, you don't speak as if you were born Israeli, you sound more American to me."
   Janssen's face darkened slightly. "Desire to see justice done is not a function of where one is born, Mister Karlson. And since you seem to want to know, I was born in Chicago, but my family emigrated when I was sixteen. And even before I was an Israeli, I was a Jew...someone has to remember the past, or as Santayana once said we are doomed to repeat it."
   "Well, spoken. Still, although I share your desire to see justice done, I don't think that justice needs to involve persecution of a harmless old scientist. Oh, I will admit that I have met him, I'm sure you have proof of that. I also know what he is accused of, and I know that if he were to be subjected to the same process that Demjanjuk was, he'd suffer the same results: innocent in the Court of Law, guilty in the Court of Public Opinion."
   "I see. I had hoped for your cooperation...the whole reason behind my trip was to determine in private if Wier is guilty or not, without the public spectacle. But if that is not possible, we will have to rely on what we already have. And it is still quite possible that even without damning proof my government might try to extradite him. The voices clamoring for a sacrifice, be it a lamb or a wolf, are quite strong. They may prove to be a great enough temptation to sway the votes of lawmakers fearful of losing their seats over the Palestinian matter. So if you see Professor Wier again, be sure to let him know if he is innocent he is best off to talk to me. Good day."
   "Good morning. I'll be sure to tell him...if I see him."
   Janssen strode out of the room as if he had somewhere else to be. Karlson made a note to warn Wier of more than just what Janssen had said...that man didn't seem to likely to take no for an answer. He seemed to have already judged Wier and convicted him, by the very fact that Wier had gone to ground. And since he wasn't a member of the Israeli government, he might not let such niceties as risking diplomatic incident hinder him. Turning to his intercom, he called up his secretary.
   "Bob, has Janssen left yet? Okay, any important calls while he was in here? Line 12? Okay. Oh, and tell Research to check up on Janssen's company for me."
   Line 12 was that day's link to the other Machiners. Damn the need for secrecy...he couldn't leave one line permanently tagged important for them, nor could he daily tell Bob to interrupt with calls on the random line. Maybe it was time to decide if Bob could be trusted with his employer's most recent secret. In any case, he'd better see what the message was, and if he would still be needed. He put the phone to his ear, checked the anti-tapping devices, and then played back the message.
   "Mr. Karlson, Jacobs and I have some business downtown. We couldn't get ahold of our star negotiator, but figure we should be able to close the deal ourselves. Looks pretty big. We'll call when we've finished the meeting."
   So, Lyons and Thomas found some major gang connection. With Astra in Montana, they'd be out their big muscle, but the two of them should...
   A flash of red out the window caught his eye. In one of the seedier Areas of town, something had exploded, and the explosion was being funnelled upward by something...probably Lyons's force fields. Well, the deal certainly had been closed.

   Janssen, to put it mildly, was annoyed. He knew that Wier was staying with Karlson somewhere, but his source wasn't exactly one that his bosses would listen to. Karlson was lying through his teeth at several points in that conversation, and the arrogant ass seemed like he knew that his lies were being seen through. Damn. Well, time for the extreme methods. Now that he was at least on the right continent, he should be able to find Wier, and with his 'special tools' could probably get a confession out of him. Sure, it might hurt his case legally, but if he could get Wier out of the country...well, possession is nine tenths of the law. And if he truly was as guilty as Janssen knew he was, then a few technicalities wouldn't save him from a life sentence.
   In the cab ride back to his hotel, Janssen went over the list of properties Karlson owned, and prioritized them in order of likelihood that Wier might be hidden in them.
   When he got back to his room, he opened the closet, and went to his Recharger.

   The mountains of Montana are a beautiful sight, especially from several hundred feet in the air. And if you can manage to be in that position without having an airplane blocking your view or making noise, so much the better, which is why some hanggliding fans go there. But even that experience is lessened, as gliders can only stay up for so long. Which is why Janssen's foul mood had almost lifted after spending an hour flying over those mountains... the beauty of nature, as the trees turned in Fall, without anything between him and the view. He wished for a moment that he didn't have any responsibilities, that he could just spend his time using the Gauntlet to fly, to see the world from high enough that man's abuses of it were invisible.
   Too bad he had a conscience, then. As long as there was evil out there and he had the power to end it, he couldn't let himself give in to those temptations.
   He'd gotten lucky in his search, though. This place was way down on his list, but when he'd talked to his Recharger....

Mid-morning, and Janssen was just placing his hand on the Recharger to Draw on its power to for the mysterious and powerful Gauntlet. He considered Asking it where Wier was, but decided against it, since it had seemed unwilling to give him too much information before. However, the Recharger apparently read his thoughts, and answered him.   "Patroller Janssen, events have changed slightly, and I am authorized to give you more information. Your subject, Richard Wier, has been engaging in activities the Patrol finds worrisome, but not enough so that we will act directly against him. However, as you are already searching for him, we feel that it would not be interference to tell you where to find him. He is currently in the region known as Montana, under the protection of the man you talked to today."
   "Hm. What has he done to change your mind? I thought the information you had on him was 'privileged' or something."
   "Normally, we do not aid or hinder in any potential conflicts between individual Patrollers. In most cases, they either resolve their differences peacefully, or one or both take actions that get them expelled from the Patrol. All I can say of this case is that Wier is working with a Patroller who is pushing the boundaries of what we allow of our agents. You will need to discover the specifics yourself."
   "Terrific. Just what I end up fighting another Patroller."
   "If you leave immediately, you will find Wier before his ally returns to Montana."

   Hopefully this wasn't some kind of test to see if he was worthy or anything of the sort...Janssen disliked having his chain jerked. He looked down and saw the open expanses of Karlson's ranch below him. Didn't look like there was anyone there to greet hi...YAH!
   A boulder had sped past him at great speed, barely missing. Looking down again, he saw a figure picking up another boulder. He flew down and saw it to be a rather tall woman dressed in fashionable Autumn clothing. How the hell she was throwing boulders he didn't know...maybe Wier's been playing with genetics. Better wrap her up fast.
   A sheet of force formed around the woman and curled around her like a scroll. She simply shrugged and it shattered!
   "What the hell? These are supposed to be indestructable!" he exclaimed before realizing it would be a very bad idea to show any weakness. Too late.
   "Diamond can cut diamond, mister. We don't need any more Patrollers here, get the heck out. This is private property."
   Whoever she was, she knew about the Patrol. He tried a stronger wrap, But could barely keep her in. Wait, that comment about diamond. He looked more closely, and yep, she seemed be surrounded by her own force fields. Maybe she was the Patroller, back early, who just used an odd style. But if she was a Patroller, why didn't she fly? Maybe she's a any case, she seems unharmable, which meant he could get nasty.
   Mustering his will, he used his force field to throw her as hard as he could to the south. If she was a projection, she'd fade once she was over the horizon. If not, well, she'd take a while to get back. Seconds later, she was out of sight.
   Pulling a small device from his beltpouch, he scanned for electrical fields. Presumably there would be big ones emanating from any lab, and Wier would probably be there. Flying about to triangulate, he found a nice strong source just east of the ranch house, underground. Putting away the scanner and forming a shovel from force fields, he dug his way in.

   Astra cursed as she flew through the air. When she had exhausted her limited supply of curses, she remembered the comlink in her jacket, and pulled it out. She was able to get off a quick warning before the impact destroyed the comlink, as well as most of her outfit.

   Professor Wier got the warning, but was too busy to respond. Security had already picked up the intruder, and confirmed he was a Patroller. Wier was busily finishing a device when the large spade came through the ceiling, followed by a man wearing a black jumpsuit and a Gauntlet.
   "Professor Wier, as a representative of the state of Israel, I have a few questions I'd like to ask you concerning your activities near Dachau during the war."
   Wier did his best to look unconcerned as he replied, "You're not exactly a representative of Israel. Now please leave, you are trespassing on private land."
   The man was undaunted. "Every citizen of Israel can be said to represent his homeland. And I think a little trespass is negligible in comparison with the crimes you are accused of."
   "By whom? Who is accusing me? Israel itself? Nonsense...I watch the news very carefully, there has been no formal accusation. You? You lack the authority to back up any such accusation."
   "I assure you, I have the power to back it up. I want truthful answers to my questions, Doctor...if you are innocent you have nothing to fear from me."
   "Hah. Except that the only truthful answers you will accept are those which involve my guilt, is that not correct? By seeking to avoid those like yourself, I have painted myself guilty? Oh, and as of now, you do not have the power, nor the authority." Wier flipped a switch on his device, and suddenly Janssen dropped the few inches he had been hovering above the floor. "Your broadcast power has been interfered with. Not enough to deactivate your Gauntlet, but enough to prevent any major power usage, like force fields or flight. And don't think that smashing this device will stop the jamming, it was merely an initiator...the jamming field generated elsewhere, and eventually will be computer controlled."
   Janssen reached into another pouch and pulled out a small pistol. "Don't think that I still can't threaten your safety. If you won't talk, I will have to take you out of here by force and then once out of the jamming field take you back to Israel for questioning."
   Wier smiled a small smile of confidence. "Oh, I don't think so. I'm a frail old man...anything you could do to force my compliance would harm me. And your Gauntlet is still aware of your'd lose your power for good then. How far do you think you could get on foot in late fall in Montana, with Astra out there somewhere, and the others due back any minute? Not far at all. And then Karlson would have you arrested for trespass and kidnapping, much to your nation's embarrassment. If you leave now, you might escape with your power and your liberty. Otherwise..." he shrugged.
   Janssen put the gun away. "Don't think this is over, Nazi. Your group did some truly horrible things to my people. Trying to find ways to extract Potassium from corpses for use in gunpowder. Mind-altering chemicals."
   Wier frowned. "Yes, and things more horrible than your documents could possibly tell you. And I watched this go on around me, knowing that if I protested, if I tried to escape or quit, I would become another test subject. I was not willing to die for no reason, that was my only crime. I may not have stopped the atrocities, but I committed none either. And my own memories are punishment enough for what I didn't do. Now go."
   Janssen climbed out through the hole he had made. "I'll accept that for now. But if I find any evidence that you were more involved...." He let the threat hang in the air for a moment, then left. Wier could hear his footsteps running away, then they stopped as the man took to the air. Wier turned off the field and sighed. Chilled by the autumn air let in by Janssen, he turned and left the room.
   In the air above Montana, Janssen cursed himself for falling prey to such a standoff. If there was to be a next time, he'd have to be better prepared.

   Disclaimer: no attacks on Israel are meant by the nature of this storyline, rather the idea that both sides of a conflict can be sure they're right.

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Copyright 1994, 1997 by David van Domelen