A Justice Provider's Tale
A Justice Provider's Tale
A story in the Galactic Chronicles Universe
by Vanessa Ravencroft
This is a recently edited version of this story. It is an old story and it is a self contained short.
It is the year 5020, The USS Tigershark and her crew disguised as pirates just landed on Sin 4. But Erica's tale is not the only one taking place in this, my Galactic Chronicles Universe and it is an account of what happened to Angel T. Marifou, aka ATM
The United Stars of the Galaxies, much more commonly and simply known as the Union is a multicultural mega society. Its core region incorporates much of the Upward sector of the Milky Way galaxy, but it also extends in the other sectors and even to several other galaxies, chief among them, of course, the Andromeda galaxy.
It is a society of almost unlimited resources and great wealth. It is a law-abiding society with an extraordinarily strong military that defeated every outside force or threat so far. Citizens do not think twice about making a GalNet call clear across two galaxies to share some gossip or family news. Communication is very advanced, and no matter the distance, if it is within GalNet instantaneous.
Citizens can and do travel to the furthest corners of Union space on heavily subsidized Space Bus lines, trade and conduct business with a commonly accepted currency the Union Credit unit (UCU); enjoy free education and have perhaps the best health care in the known history of the galaxy. Provided by the most advanced medical service ever known to exist. Able to treat the most unusual life forms and the rarest of diseases for free.
If you would have to describe the Union in only one word, you would never fail using the word diverse.
There are almost five thousand member societies and species. The smallest beings are the individual Camogi, no bigger than a single grain of rice, and the biggest member by volume a Sentient Matter Cloud of the Vanuur region, expanding over almost half a cubic light year. As diverse as their biology, size, weight, and governing systems are they are united under Union law.
No known society in galactic history is as lawful and as content as the Union. With a crime rate of less than one percent and a citizen satisfaction of more than 90 percent.
That means less than one percent of the entire Union Citizen population is ever considering breaking the law and less than ten percent of Union citizens are dissatisfied with the current state of things and the government.
There is no hunger, no social hardship and thus the core reasons for crime eroded.
That is the official opinion and the beliefs of most.
Yet, one percent of a population, that is counted in Centillions is still a big number.
The shiny, mighty Union is not perfect. Some say a free society can never be.
There is a tarnished side, a dirty Underbelly if you will
These are tales of that other side.
The year is 5020 OTT, and this is the story of Angel Marifrou
I am on my way to Gullster’s Paradise.
Never heard of it.?
Well, Citizen me neither until five standard days ago that is. That’s when a Triple-Strong barkeep, in a less than clean and overpriced Tox-Serv right by the landing field of Thirty-Three spaceport on planet U-56730-II I, told me that there wasn’t much of anything further out, other than Belgrath and Gullster’s Paradise before Union space became Shiss- space.
Belgrath so he told me was a community of Petri-Excluders, closed to outsiders. A rabid sect of crazy stone worshippers; I kid you not; were adamant to be left alone and were shooting at everyone and anything that tried to stay on their world.
I doubted he went that way after getting the same information from the same barkeep most likely. Since that Tox Serv, although less than even average clean was the only such establishment at the E class spaceport on U-56730-III. It would not have surprised me if men and beings of all kinds have looked in the ever and everywhere present bars, taverns, and watering holes for information since times began.
Trails lead where the trails lead. I never was too picky in that regard and frankly, I prefer them to head towards a little known, out of the ways, backwater fringe world that was somewhere at the edge of unknown and Shiss space.
Now, why would I prefer trailing my prey to one of those?
Instead, let us say a nice crowded ‘old neighborhood’ core world with every convenience you can imagine? You need to smarten up, Citizen if you want to succeed in this business.
Runners that hide among the faceless masses in plain sight are much harder to track down than a scared shit-less ‘corporate rubberneck’ who first decided to skim a little profit off the top or sell something he didn’t exactly own and when it was found out and decided to run.
He heads out into the fringes thinking no one will ever find him in the boondocks far outside the busy core of our Shiny Union.
Oh wait, that is where you would go if you decided to run, is that what you’re thinking? That whatever you did wasn’t worth rotting on a prison colony; having your mind doctored by psycho surgeons or perhaps face those nice hooded goons of the Justice Departments with a very permanent solution to all your troubles this side of life?
I stopped the recording for a moment to check on the Navi readout. It would not be the first time that this EN AutoNav Starfinder got me completely lost. That second-hand ′Expensive-New-Rubbish-Overpriced-Equipment′ was not exactly my first choice.
Spelling out ENROE the manufacturing companies name in that, all over the Union known fashion was only funny if you had the credits to spend on something really nice. Like a great working but overpriced piece of SII equipment.
Everything seemed alright however, the Starfinder had me on course so it seemed and fed the helm control with the correct data. The small little red triangle representing me, or more precisely my ship on a neat path of green dots ahead of it and red dots behind of it progressed neatly and slowly inside the three-dimensional projection of a space cubicle of hundred light-years to the square.
That dot illuminated path originated from a star system designated U-56730. After scrolling through two more representations of space map cubicles it ended at a system marked Gullster’s Star. One of those stars planetary companions was a dirtball named, you guessed it Gullster’s Paradise. The reference stars I had marked just in case the ‘Star-Finder’ would act up again and find anything but the destination I wanted it to find, was still there. Losing the Auto Nav or being misdirected by it, without catching it in time was a royal screw up after all.
Especially if you found out too late and you ended up somewhere in designated Nul space, hoping the purple brutes did not notice you while trying to slip back with next to empty tanks. That wasn’t a laughing matter, that really happened and not all too long ago. I did make it back with a few micrograms of pee in my tanks, trail cold and out of a good bounty.
Thinking about it still got me pissed in a major way. Ah, but all seemed good indeed, so I resumed my recording. Where was I? Ah yes, you were asking..., or actually I was thinking you might ask this at this point of my narrative: Why not hiding somewhere out in the fringes?
I reclined a little further wished for a slug of something, preferably intoxicating strong. Think about it, the further out you go the less the travel options. Someone is bound to see and remember you. Even if you are one of those lucky ones with your own spaceship, you need fuel and all sort of things.
Again, the further out you go the less abundant the choices and destinations to get them. The easier it is for someone like me to pick up your trail. Oh, wait a minute, it’s not the fringes you’d run and hide, you consider leaving Union Space altogether, and head for Sin 4 perhaps, Union Credits are good there after all, right?
Sure, you might make it, especially if you smart and rich enough to make the trip on board of one of the more reputable companies. There are a few that do offer to get people there but trust me if you travel there trying to escape Union law and you are a not a real hard case, you be captured and sold as a slave if you’re lucky, ending up in a Togar butcher shop as part of the wares, if not.
Piloting your ship across into Freespace; unless you have a crew of fighting spacers with you and a well-armed fast ship; forget it. If you make it unmolested to one of the independent worlds of Freespace you won’t be able to hold on to your ship for long and the result will be the same, you being sold as a slave or for food.
I noticed that one of the marked reference stars had disappeared and was now a good parsec removed, from where it should have been at this point of my journey. With a silent curse, I dare not to repeat. I promised myself, this was the last time that damn thing let me astray. The first thing I would do after this hunt was over and the cat in the bag, buy myself a brand new SII Cosmos Auto Nav XI.
Damn those Schwartz Industries cutthroats and the 19,588 credits the cursed thing was priced at the last time I checked browsing Silver-Hawks Emporium and double curse that rotten piece of Enroe junk. I mused the thought for a moment, maybe there was a good used one for sale.
I cut the ISAH engines and dropped out of Quasi space. I was close to nothing really and that was, of course, a good thing. Encounters in deep space, far away from any destination system were very unlikely. But if they happened because you popped up on someone’s scanner, they weren’t usually the encounters you wanted to happen.
While I still drifted with some inherent momentum into the general direction of Gullster’s Star, at current speed not even one of those legendary Narth would live long enough to make it alive.
No trans-light enabled ship with a valid Union registration could leave the boundaries of a star system behind without at least three means of navigation.
The first and obvious one was usually the Computronic assisted Auto Nav option. Basically, Pift the Dudu could find his way in this manner. Tell the thing your destination and if was registered in the Autographical societies official catalog; given you had the required fuel and range you would end up where you wanted to be, except if you had to deal with second hand, third-grade equipment that is, like me!
With a clouded gaze, I scolded the EN AutoNav Starfinder.
Now the second option was the one I was about to use, by dialing into GalNet channel four-four-four and retrieve the ‘directional ping broadcasts’ of Pluribus Unum, Zee Point Station and Zee Minus Station. The Navigator could then be recalibrated and off I went to my destination.
Since I did have enough fuel, was well within range, had reasonably well-maintained engines that should be no problem.
While I am explaining things any way I might as well mention the third option: Navigating by manual calculation.
Now technically there was nothing to it, as a matter of fact, it was one of the tests you had to complete successfully before they handed you the Trans light ship master license. Without one, you weren’t authorized to operate a ship that could slip into Quasi and thus go faster than light. Out here in the fringes, it didn’t matter much other than you getting lost for good, but in the so-called consecutive space claimed by the United Stars of the Galaxies aka the Union, it was. Union police hailing you for your license code and you are not able to transmit the genuine kind is asking for a lot of trouble. Getting one isn’t all that hard, I did it after all and took me only two tries.
The navigators aboard all Spatial Navy ships so I heard, did it all the time and every time. Some I heard was even able to do some of the calculations right in their heads relying on their ultra-reliable super tech Computronic Nav assist, only for back up.
In order to navigate that way, you needed a reliable star map, a precise chronometer adjusted and calibrated for Union Standard Time, then you needed to find at least three of the known quasars. Identify them by their pulse rate, know the real-time at your position and the real-time at the destination of arrival, feed the quasar positions into the calculator and ... ah well, you get the picture. Unless you are a genius or been to the Naval Academy, it takes forever.
Luckily, the re-calibration had put that Enroe junk back on track and me back on the correct course, sparing me this exercise.
Before I go on, I think I better tell you who I am and why am telling you all this.
The name is Angel Thiermo Marifou. I am human, well somewhat human that is. I really did finish Union school; despite the impression I might have given you so far. No, I never claimed to be the smartest or the best, but I claim to be a good average in almost everything. I’m about 6′ 11 and keep myself in good shape. To give me an edge over the average prey and a fighting chance over the not so average, I opted for some mostly legal cyber stuff. Nothing fancy, nothing that shows and yells Cyber freak the second you see me.
In my business, you need to strike a balance between looking no-nonsense when you got your prey in front of you and not stick out from the crowd like an advertisement pig for Arthur’s Swine and Dine with a project-a-sign over your head. While plenty of citizens are much bigger and taller than me, a human male wearing mostly black rhino armor leather and of my size and frame still doesn’t blend in as easily as the average guy.
I really did go to Union School and even served my twenty-two months as a ground pounder in the Union Army to earn my full citizenship. Yeah, I am indeed an, honest to god, Union citizen, couldn’t do what I do if I weren’t by the way.
Law-abiding? Of course! Well, mostly and depending who’s asking. That’s why I am speaking to you or more precisely I am recording all this for legal purposes as I actually have no idea who you might be if this is recording is ever listened to by anyone after all.
T’was Brux Mostry, a Big Maggi-Sauron and sort of my mentor when I started doing this. Anyway, it was him who told me to start keeping a journal.
I am not even ashamed of the mist in my eyes when I think about Brux. If I ever cared for anyone or anything. I mean I respected my grandparents and all, but not like I respected Brux. Ah, anyway about the recording, at first, I wasn’t too keen leaving a record.
While I was mostly truthful and indeed I am a lawful and law-abiding citizen as I mentioned, sometimes some of this or the other laws might get into the way of things and I rather not have any actual evidence of me not doing what Union Police wanted or most likely not wanted me to do. I am sure you understand.
Brux is as smart as they come and I learned a thing or two from that Saurian and when he argued that such a journal could be kept secure and that it also might come in handy one day if I had to prove that I was on the right side of the law.
Doing what I do is often at the very edge of what you might call lawful behavior. Besides, I follow my prey anywhere the trail leads and that usually includes places that have local laws on top of Union laws. No one could know them all, so having a record of your actions could be a lifesaver.
Brux also thought that it might come in handy as a training manual if I ever decided to get a partner, branch out or retire and turn the business over to an eager beaver wanting to succeed without making all the many mistakes I made.
Fat chance I ever get a partner and I am not one of the big agencies with dozens or even hundreds running around for them. Retiring has an attractive ring and if a real fat contract or three slip my way I might even considering it. For a while at least before I pack it all up and head out again.
I doubt there is enough time left in the universe to tell you about all the mistakes I made so far. I am pretty sure; I came out on top usually by sheer luck and by the seams of my pants. I just hope my luck isn’t running out anytime soon or I hopefully learned enough to keep myself making the big ones, especially the ones that get you killed.
And not that I have any idea what a beaver supposed to be, but since the word eager was attached I had an idea what it meant. Who knows maybe I will run into someone who could benefit from what I have learned?
Alright, back to that introduction. As I said I am Angel Thiermo Marifou. I am usually and by those who know me called ATM, you say it like this: Aaa Te Em and ever since I left home.
The name Angel I like to be used only by the female companion variety. Most often however I never get to the name introduction part, and I am simply called a pain in the..., you know where by those who wanted to see anyone but me.
As I said I am a Union Citizen and I am saying that again just to be sure you get that. I was born the natural way; you know where a woman carries the child and gives birth.
I never met my mother, meeting her with a mind old enough to remember that is. Occasionally I think I did dream of her holding me or something. Usually happy and soft dreams.
Of course, I know you need someone else’s genetic material to get a woman to bring children that natural way to life.
I heard of Union life forms that could do without that, but there were few and none were of the carbon-based variety. Technically you can, of course, use your own genetic material, and ignore the super-serious Gene clone laws, but the results are less than pretty as a rule.
In my case, it was a male and human tradition calls that individual, father. My father Thiermo Marifou left me his names but I had no recollection of him at all, not even a fuzzy and vague one like I did of mother.
Both my parents died in a big explosion during a terrorist attack. I was found, covered with blood, most likely theirs by a med bot, sometime after the attack.
I was eight months old when it happened and had been raised by my grandparents on Gore II, without question the most unusual place to be born. This isn’t just my opinion by the way. Gore II, you must have heard of it, is on the list of the ten most unusual destinations in the known universe and ranks right at the number one spot. Look it up on GalNet, or if you can go visit, it is overrun by tourists from all over the Galaxy but worth your while.
But just in case you’re from the far side of Andromeda and came to the M-0 for the first time and never heard of the place. Gore II was a living planet. Not like a garden world, but a real planet-sized organism.
The almost 6,100 meters radius ball-shaped object, an ugly dark brown crusted thing, floating around in the second orbit of a normal GIIIa type sun had been known to the Saresii of the First Age of Knowledge, or for about a million years at least or more.
While no one is certain about anything when it comes to Gore II, most researchers and scholars believe it was already dead or dying even back then.
It is dead or by some of the thinkers’ definitions still dying right now. No one knows how it came to be, how it ended up in the second orbit around Gore. No one knows what it consumed when it was alive or what caused it to die. Some speculate that the Narth know because some believe the Narth simply know everything.
It seems sort of funny to me. The planet or that planet-sized thing had been known to half the space-faring societies this side of the Galactic bulge and from what I heard for many thousands if not millions of years, long before the Union existed or Earthers ever ascended. Yet as far as I knew, none of them went near it or explored it more than maybe looking at it from a good distance.
Then Earth ascended and the nosiest, most curious race of sentient primates stepped upon the galactic stage.
It didn’t take long in terms of Galactic developments and the monkey boys from Earth discovered Gore II. Of all organizations, groups, or whatnot, it was a Schwartz Industries corporate explorer or something like that, landing on it first in 2944 Old Terran time, and because it was SII, they never left and simply claimed it.
Union science came in and examined the thing. Nothing like it had ever been found and no one came across anything similar since. As a matter of fact, no one has been able to explain pretty much anything about it, thus it was and still is one of the biggest draws to scientists there ever was.
And because Union law prohibited, even back then, anyone from exploiting a sentient life form, or from taking possession of a place occupied by native sentient life. Gore II had the potential of being either or even both.
However, after almost one hundred years of research that did not yield any evidence that the thing was alive, had a brain or was sentient, and a big court battle that developed into a day-long hearing at the Assembly. Featuring the first-ever public appearance of the Saresii representative testifying that the planet-sized creature was dead for a long time, Union science cleared the world and SII took possession. It established a large science research facility inside the so-called Heart chamber, deep inside. Below the five-mile crust of hardened carbon tissue, were layers of soft tissue, a planet-spanning tunnel system filled with blood like substance just like the vascular system of a mammal, bluish globes identified as potential neural nodes and many organic features.
The researchers and explorers also discovered small parasitic or perhaps symbiotic life forms. None were sentient, but a few quite dangerous to, especially unprotected life.
I will tell you more about Gore II some other time, but one thing I still need to mention. There are people within the Union, who believe that Gore is only sleeping and that it is a God. A Cosmic super-entity to be exact. Even though the Narth had verified the Saresii verdict in a second court and Assembly hearing in 4002 OTT.
Despite this, there are still a few churches and sects praying to Gore and out of these churches a radical movement developed, a group calling itself the ‘Defenders of Gore’. A group strongly opposed to the presence of SII, of Union scientists, colonists, and tourists. These Defenders of Gore recruit their members almost exclusively out of the ranks of Non-Citizens and Gal Drifts and turns them into fanatical believers that do anything to advance their cause, including acts of brutal violence and outright terrorism.
Both my parents died in the big Heart chamber bombing of 4992 OTT. I was three years old that year and became an orphan. I am almost exactly forty years old now in case you can’t do the math as it is 5029 Old Terran Time.
Yeah, I know what you are thinking, I don’t get that Terran time thing either. To me, a day has 20 hours and an hour hundred minutes. A month has 40 days and the year 400.
The guys at the Assembly tried to get away of the many different timekeeping norms, including the Earth-centric way of keeping it and introduced New Union Time and technically everyone is supposed to use it and call the year 3444 NUT, but I think it will take another hundred years or so for it to really catch on. Almost everyone is still using that blasted OTT. Ah, what the heck it makes no real difference to me anyway. Time runs the same and I am not getting paid by the hour anyway.
All that time talk got me off track. Well, after serving my twenty-two months in the Union Army, and three added years, I started hunting Gore Defenders and eventually became a licensed business card-carrying bounty hunter. Making sure those who decided to become fugitives of the law and those declared guilty in abstinence will not escape their due punishment. That I am getting paid for it, is only to cover the expenses and eke out a living.
Finally made it. The place was called Gullster’s Paradise and looked pretty much like any other GWC 5D from space. Oh, right you might not be a spacer or haven’t traveled all that much. GWC stands for Garden World Class. The D denotes a dry, arid world and the number could range from one to seven, denoting just how dry the world is.
A GWC 5D is dry alright and finding open water on its surface would be very unlikely. Perhaps except for puddles of brackish soup, loaded to the max with dissolved minerals and about as consumable as boiling sulfuric acid.
I had just landed on, what the Complete Astrographic Catalog of 5025 OTT listed as Space Port F type.
It was clear, at least to me, that whatever genius came up with that designation had no idea what a spaceport F type looked like.
There was nothing portly about it. It was just a big space of dust and hard-packed dirt. I was certain whoever decided to report this place as the spaceport of Gullster’s Paradise didn’t even use some sort of earthmover or dozer to level it or move the larger boulders out of the way, but hey the fellow must have had a considerable sense of humor or a very imaginative mind. Apparently, it wasn’t a Type X, which of course meant no landing facilities were present whatsoever and no form of artificially added improvements existed.
In other words, you simply landed wherever it was level enough to put down whatever space ship you had.
Gullster’s paradise had service buildings. At least that’s what I assumed the two buildings of sorts were, that I could make out in the glimmering distance across the sunbaked flat field of Gullster’s Paradise Space Port.
My eighty-one feet, DeNoir Comet chaser TL450, lovingly nicknamed ‘Angel’s Wings’ had certainly seen better days I had to admit, but compared to the two other spacecraft sitting on their struts not too far distant, it was a shiny new looking, first-rate product of Union engineering.
To the left at about 200 meters distance, a Jooltar Dinghy. About seventy feet of dinged and crudely repaired, elongated cone-shaped Duro-metal. With two Karthanian Nuran enticers bolted to it as if by afterthought.
‘Yeah, the tech books and general knowledge will tell you they do the same thing as an ISAH pod. Kicking a spacecraft past the Dim threshold and into Quasi space, but anyone actually operating a spacecraft and knowing about them will tell you, the difference is the same as night
and day. Those Karthanian enticers weren’t particularly bad and considered products of a TL 7 society, but they required three times the energy, had half the range, a third of the speed and needed natural sourced Kalimun crystals.
The Dinghy looked like the workhorse of a scavenger. Seeing Jooltar technology so far from Jooltar space was unusual, but seeing it had a Union registry number stenciled to the side was almost unbelievable. Someone telling me this, I’d call him a liar.
To my right and at about 200 meters distance, near a rugged little outcropping of tall desert colored rocks, a D60 shuttle. Usually, Dee Sixties were shiny examples of well-kept Union hardware and used in a thousand different configurations usually within star systems. Sometimes in Long-range configuration hopping between systems that weren’t too far apart and deep within Union core space. The term shuttle had many meanings, but in terms of Union spacecraft, it usually meant anything smaller than a spaceship intended to ferry passengers and goods between short distances and usually within the confines of a star system. Even long-range shuttles with the means of going trans light never really went beyond the next star system or so.
Here is a little bit of trivia, my I have yet to meet friend, the D stands for Discovery. I think you might not even find that tidbit of information on GalNet. A guy I know, used to be in the Union Navy and I swear honest to Mickey, he had served on the most famous ship of them all, the Devastator as a shuttle pilot.
I put the engines of my Angel’s Wing on standby. Landing at places like this, I like to be able to jump back into space real fast and thumbed the recorder back on.
That flying continent has an entire fleet of shuttles of course. From the smallest D10 to the largest D100 models. Anyway, this guy tells me he shuttled the big man once, I kid you not, the Eternal Warrior, Admiral Stahl himself.
While I was putting on my Rhino leather jacket, I knew how that sounded. No one would ever believe that. Well screw you, I know the guy alright. He really served on the Devi. He had a pilot jacket, with the Devastator logo and all. Real Spatial navy, not a fibber. If you knew anything about our navy, you’d know they would never dare to fib about the Devi or mention the big man with Marines in the same bar.
I didn’t have to get angry. There wasn’t even anyone I had in mind giving that recording to, eventually, Everyone I knew would of course now how serious Marines took anything even remotely relating to their declared God.
I checked my gear and remembered I wanted to tell whoever listened to my recordings, why Union shuttles had the ‘D’ designation.
The Eternal Warrior told him that the D stood originally for Discovery. Long before Earth ascended, there were only a few shuttles and one of them was called Discovery. It was the only one that survived the times and ended up in some museum or something.
When the first real shuttlecraft was manufactured by Schwartz I think, they named their first commercially available model Discovery 20. It somehow and over time shortened to D. So, no matter who makes the shuttle, it is always called D, something. I bet you didn’t know that.
I put on the face mask, made sure the filters and the emergency air supply were okay and then lowered the ramp and stomped out into the brutal heat, that almost knocked me off my feet, despite me expecting it. I took a moment to acclimate while I kept looking towards that D60 over there.
Most likely it had been bought from a scrap dealer or perhaps had been stolen from a boneyard. It was a Mitshu-Ford Roomy-Sixty. A model that hadn’t been sold for over two hundred years if I wasn’t mistaken. It featured two ISAH pods alright, but they had been custom added. The Roomy-Sixty sitting over there wasn’t the manufacturer’s long-range version. There was no registration stenciled to its sides either.
To me it was a beautiful sight because I knew it belonged to Sodiban Renow, the Andorian I was eager to meet and the reason that brought me to this overheated dust ball in the first place.
The first thing you need to invest is in good personal gear, friend. This is a mighty big galaxy with lots of friendly, but even more with quite unfriendly people of all shapes and sizes. Many are stronger, faster, bigger and a whole lot smarter than you.
This is unfortunate, I know but a fact of life. No matter who you are there is bound to be someone bigger and better in everything you do. Once you decide to do this sort of thing, make sure you know who you after. Do your homework and learn as much as you can about your target.
Finally meeting up with a tiny small-framed Arilou, you been after for several months. You already spending the bounty in your head that is and you think you can handle the little son of a bitch with one hand tied to your back, not knowing that this little shit is a Psionic user and a good one, telekinetic talent to boot. That he didn’t break your neck with his mind powers after he spotted you was only thanks to a stroke of luck, because a competitor saw him too and attracted his attention by shooting at that green-skinned runner. Next time you hunt someone with psionic talents make sure you know what to do or decide to have someone else take the ‘tract.
While I was certain the Andorian didn’t have an HPI over two hundred, the threshold level where psionic abilities might develop in an individual, he still was a four-meter tall humanoid who could run a whole lot faster and was naturally at least twice as strong as a standard, non-enhanced human.
I lowered the cargo compartment lift gate and unloaded my Silverhawk-Monoflash. A small open skimmer with powerful Artigrav lifters and a truly insane directional ′all-environment′ turbine.
I never wanted to find out just how fast the thing could go, I wasn’t the suicidal maniac kind.
The S-M provided me with transportation first and foremost as I had no inclination to do much walking in this scorching heat and the way things looked around here, I didn’t expect taxi flyer service or convenient slide belts.
For your information, friend. It also pays to check whatever information you could get about the environment your prey has decided for his hiding spot. Bummer Is, I didn’t always follow my own advice. I didn’t check GalNet or ′Foster’s Fringe World Almanac′ on information regarding Gullster’s Paradise. I had relied once again on local information if you could call the colorful description of a barkeep at U-56730-II at a Tox-Serv 344 light-years distant local information. My mistake.
Sadly, after seventeen, hold on ... no nineteen years of doing this I am making them, mistakes I mean. Hey, I never said I was the best in the business or the most successful. To myself, I added a ‘Nope sadly not.’ Then I swung into the seat of the S-M and opened the acceleration control to only five percent and was basically already where I wanted to go. Arriving ahead of a rolling dust cloud that moments later engulfed everything with a blinding billowing talcum fine powdery substance.
Neither the black, just recently washed and decently clean Silverhawk nor my mostly black outfit weren’t black anymore. I was certain I was now perfectly camouflaged to blend into the rest of the dusty yellowish landscape.
Well, I better not put that into the narrative, I was thinking to myself while I was glad, I was wearing my face mask. The air of this charming world was a little on the thin side in terms of oxygen and way too hot for comfort. Even though a standard NiOx breather like myself could have survived. At least for a short while, there wasn’t a single molecule of H20 in that atmosphere. GWC 5D, yeah right. This was more like a GWC 6D and in my opinion, there was nothing even remotely ′garden′ about this place either.
The building, if you could call the tent-like something a building and the red spherical metal thing with its doorway off the ground and accessible via a stack of crates forming a ten-step staircase of sorts, emerged out of the settling dust cloud. Surprisingly, none of the clingy dust stuck to the metallic sphere. But then there needed to be moisture, even a little bit to make it stick, I guessed.
The tent was made of heavy white, semi-translucent Dura-plast packing tarps glued or stitched together and draped over something large rectangular. A sign made from a long piece of the same plastic material and stretched between two metal poles told me that this was ‘Gullster’s Paradise Space Port Main terminal’. A sign of similar design identified the about twenty-meter diameter steel ball as ‘Gullster’s Paradise Space Port Administration’.
What struck me odd were the fifty or so colored lights that had been placed around the third plastic sign. ‘Gullster’s Saloon and Restaurant’ right beneath the main terminal designation.
The ‘terminal’ I guessed was about forty meters long and maybe five or six meters tall.
To enter it one had, to step through the weighted curtain that was right underneath the inviting sign. I was fairly sure it wasn’t the lights that enticed me to seek out my business inside.
There was the prevailing wind that was blowing in my direction and the reason for my recent dust bath, the constant rustle of plastic tarping but no other sounds that would suggest this place to be occupied. I didn’t hear any voices or music coming from inside.
Remember what I said about equipment and other beings being faster, bigger, and stronger? The very first thing you need to get is the highest classification of weapons permit you can get and then buy yourself an equalizer. Yep, we humans aren’t particularly good at anything except making weapons and going to war. No matter who or what you hunt there is bound to be a weapon that will do the trick in equalizing some of the otherwise quite unfair advantages, let’s say a Petharian has over you unless you are a Petharian, then, of course, you are more or less the weapon you need. I carry a variety of weapons and at all the time. I know where they are on my body and can handle them.
I didn’t want to walk through the curtain door with a drawn weapon, but I brushed over the weapon access selector of my right glove and held my thumb on the auto draw release of my SII TKU Mark 5. I never made short cuts when it came to my arms and kept them in the best working condition possible.
As my main sidearm, I carried a TKU. The Thermo Kinetic based weapon systems of SII were with little improvements and minor design changes around since the Y’All invasion almost fifteen hundred years ago.
There have been many newer developments in terms of personal weapon systems over this long period, but to this day nothing ever equaled the reliability and sheer killing power of the TKUs. Out of the over four thousand five hundred Union member species. Less than twenty could survive a TKU blast and it was very unlikely that I would ever hunt a Camogi Cluster or tried to go after a Bandrupo. I imagined nothing in terms of standard weapons could harm a Narth and the blast of a TKU would probably only feed a Non-Corp with energy or go right through one. There were a few more I could not think of right now, but none of them were likely to become runners. The rest would need serious shields and battle grade armor suits. The weapon released a bolt of superheated plasma, at near light speed and hit whatever target I aimed at with a few tons of kinetic energy and the temperatures found inside a star.
I know a missile weapon is usually the preferred hardware of a Hunter with programmable, intelligent ammunition, and I do have one along as well, but trust me, there aren’t many beings that don’t know about the power of a TKU. Looking down the quarter-inch discharge borehole with an active discharge field takes the fight out of many before there is a need to pull the trigger. And yes I wish I could buy myself a Mark six or even a Mark eight, which is the standard sidearm of the Spatial navy and our Union Army, but civilians and sadly even ex-soldiers have a hard time getting these legally and with the necessary carry permit.
Now, I did hear about the legendary TKU 12. Who hasn’t? But if it ever really existed, there was no way in hell anyone would be permitted to carry it, with exception of Admiral Stahl perhaps. Besides, I wasn’t hunting Bandrupo.
I brushed the plastic curtain aside and stepped in.
No wonder it was so quiet, there was no one. The place consisted of a single room, with a compact, all in one Frontier bar 5000 on one end. Half a dozen tables of various sizes and simple plastic cubes to sit on. The ground was not even covered with anything and was the same yellowish dirt and rock as outside. The only difference it was mostly dust-free.
Right across the entrance flap, a rugged encapsulated all environment GalNet terminal, two privacy cells, and a Tabil Tosser game. Then came a long plank, resting on two barrels serving as a serving counter. The words Union Post Office on a neat pre-lit modern sign above it. There was a green metal box for physical mail, plastic rack with Union Voter forms, Science Corps personal research requests, OOCA information, recruitment information for the Armed Services and a few other forms and pamphlets that made it clear that this desolate and remote place was still a Union world.
There were advertisement posters taped or glued to the thin plastic walls: Speedsty the cartoon character spaceship of DeNoir NuGas, one for Yellow Ribbon Ship services, three for different brands of beer and a wanted poster of one of the most famous pirates of them all. Mysterious Black Velvet, active somewhere in Freespace.
I was not sure if these images hadn’t been doctored or completely fabricated. No pirate could look that sexy in skin-tight leather. Nice to look at I had to admit though. For a moment I was dreaming about what I would do with the reward of Twenty million credits for her capture. Not that I had any intention to pitch my Angel’s Wings against a full-sized and reportedly well-armed Karthanian ship, with Nul froth casters to boot.
The poster did not hold my attention for all that long. I had business here and the beer advertisement, especially considering the dry dust ball made me thirsty for an ice-cold Miller. Since I supposed to advise a potential future hunter, my friend stay away from Tox while on the job. I have one iron rule, not a drop of Tox of anything until the job is done. If I ever would have something like a partner, I’d shoot you dead on the spot for being intoxicated. Nope, friend, you need all your senses and then some to make it in this business.
Well standing around didn’t do much and even after waiting for about fifteen more minutes, I was fairly sure no one noticed my landing.
Before I headed out, I decided to spend the outrageous price of eight credits for a cold Fizz-Cola and an auto prepared burger from the operational Serv-Matic which represented the ‘restaurant’ of this fancy spaceport terminal. Eight credits were pricey but considered the distance the ingredients had to travel it wasn’t overly so.
While I had a Serv-Matic aboard the ‘Angel’s Wings’ it was even a bigger heap of useless tech parts than my Auto-Nav. Not surprisingly so as it came from the same Corporation, just a
different Division. However, for the price a good used SII Auto-Chef, I might as easily hire me a real chef for a year or so. Not that there would have been much room for one.
I took off the mask and immediately smelled the sharp stench. Only one thing I knew smelled that way, the shit of those four-armed, evil to the core Shiss lizards.
Considering that their declared territory officially began less than 100 light-years to the Galactic south from here, the possibility they raided this place was not a slim one.
I couldn’t make out the source, but I expected it to be close. One of those extremely dangerous tall, strong, and vicious lizards had crapped somewhere and perhaps was still around.
Neither Fizz Cola nor a burger was on my mind now. I hastily replaced the face mask and this time I released the Auto Draw. The TKU jumped into the receptor glove worn on my right hand. Into the audio pick up of my mask, I said. “Angel, button-up, weapons on standby. That told my ships AI to raise shields and slave the ships weapons to my remote control.
While there was no open war between the Shiss and the Union, relations were anything but friendly. There were raiders that had no open connection to the Shiss government. At least that was the standard excuse of the Shiss for any incident.
I had no intentions to get into a pissing match with a cruiser full of angry Shiss who were eager to tear a human apart just for fun.
Along with my weapon at the ready, my combat HUD had come on and mirrored its data onto the inside of my visor. Told you, friend. Don’t try to save a few creds on personal gear, you won’t die on a soggy burger that your EN-CuliExpert accidentally combined with the fixings of an apple pie and a cola, after a while you might actually get to like some of the rather unusual combinations, but you will end up as glittering shimmer of dissipating atomic ashes in a situation like that. Shiss weapons are designed with Nul in mind and have no problem roasting you to charred bits. Not that going against an unarmed one is a much safer alternative.
The motion sensor and temperature difference visualizer made me aware of a human-sized target right behind the weighted plastic flap of the entryway. I knelt behind one of the tables. Nothing in terms of cover of course, but helping me to resent a smaller target, simultaneously I aimed the weapon as a muscular, fit-looking man stepped in, wearing the maroon colored pants of an Explorer corps uniform. He had- worn but decent looking Terran All Terrain boots on his feet. I wore the same type of boots on my feet. As I said cutting corners on personal gear is asking for trouble you don’t need. There was no better footwear in the Universe. I heard even Kermac loved to wear them.
Above the pants waist he wore only a not exactly clean looking, at one point probably white T-shirt. Broad suspenders held the pants and a wide equipment belt with an assortment of tools, and an ancient Bofors III. Much better known all over as the venerable Bo-Zap Three, a directed Energy weapon with variable beam focus and decent stored energy capacity. The man appeared human and thanks to the very deep tan, the wide-brimmed hat and a mouth and nose covering breath mask, he could have been a member of just about any of the many human subspecies or
descendant of an old colony community. Perhaps not all of them. I was certain he wasn’t Stellaris, too dark for a Vrill or Falkenhorster. He was certainly not Thauran, as these blue-skinned bastards didn’t fare well exposed to too much sun and did not tan but more or less just burn.
The man also wore a pair of dust goggles. He had stopped moving as he stared at the weapon I held leveled and aimed at him. “You shoot me, mister and you are in a world of trouble.”
“Depends what you call trouble. Smelling Shiss caca, smells like trouble to me and you don’t look like you poop lizard crap.”
“Nope, but you don’t want to be to close around and smell what I produce either.” He pointed towards the Union post office alcove. “Happens, I am the Postmaster around here. Shooting me, even as distant from Pluribus as we are, will have Postal police on your tail. That GalNet terminal isn’t fake.”
He had a point, that was indeed trouble of the most serious kind, but I wasn’t just yet prepared to put the gun away. “Never figured it was, but that still doesn’t explain the smell.”
“The pile of crap behind the other side of the tent wall however should. I was about to bury it when some genius decided to create a dust storm. Looking at you, however, I think the word genius might overreaching things.”
“You realize I have a TKU drained on you. Insulting me is either insane, crazy or you have nerves of Titanium and guts of Ultronit.” I did, however, lower the gun and slowly replaced it in the holster, keeping my thumb on the Auto draw release, however.
“Living here on Gullster’s is sort of insane, to be honest.” He said and took off his dust mask. “And I might have turned nuts without knowing, but as I said I am the designated Postmaster of a little shitty office at the edge of nothing and the Shiss. But the Postmaster I am and shooting me would be the dumbest thing you did ever, even dumber than raising a dust storm.”
“So, we have established that I am not the smartest, I can live with that. I still sort of curious why there is Shiss dung behind your, uhm ... space port terminal. But I can live without ever solving that mystery. However, if you know the whereabouts of a tall Andorian, goes by Sodiban Renow and flies around with that customized D60 out there; I’d be very grateful and even send something using your post office.”
“There isn’t a war going on between us and the Shiss you know, and this place is closer to Shistaa than to Pluribus by magnitudes. Them lizard’s come here to use the XChange selling crap and using the credits they earn to buy non-restricted Union stuff. It’s not against the law or anything.”
The man walked behind the bar, took off his hat and tool belt and tied an apron around his waist. “Bar and restaurant now open, stranger.”
I sat down at one of the tables. “A Fizz Cola then and that Gullster’s Special Burger I’ve seen on the menu. So, any idea where I could find an Andorian around here?”
“As a barkeep and restaurant owner. I don’t like to share such information just with anyone. You could be a bad person on top of being a very dusty one and that poor Andorian is hiding from you for good reason.”
“He’s hiding and running for a good reason alright and I am a bad person most of the time.”
The man placed a cold plastic can of soda and a plate with a decent looking burger on the counter of his bar. “No one has yet applied for the wait position, so it’s self-service Mister.” I got up walked the few meters to the bar taking the things back to my table. The soda was very welcome as it wasn’t exactly cool inside the tent. The burger was quite good for an auto prepped one. Better than what my screwed up Serv-Matic fabricated for certain.
He came to the table held out a portable cred reader and I swiped eight credits and a tip of 5 in it.
Without a single word, he went behind the bar untied his apron and retrieved a green jacket and slipped in it. He pointed at a metal disc-shaped disc that was pinned to it above the left breast pocket. “As the duly appointed sheriff of Gullster’s however I am very interested why you after said Andorian and if the reason is legit, I tell you where you can find him.”
I activated my bounty hunter license and he studied the projected holo for a second or two. “I could run that license you know, that GalNet terminal is working fine, but I buy it. I also know your friend Sodiban Renow is a runner. Poor guy, decent fellow for most of his life. Union Citizen and all that and then he and his brother of all people fall in love with the same woman.”
The sheriff that had yet to give me his name sighed. “Crime of passion, that sort of crime will never be eliminated from society, I imagine.”
“Probably not, but all he had to do was go to a Court clerk, get a lawyer and all that. Instead of cleaning out his brothers’ credits, disregarding three summons of the Union court and disregarding a bench warrant. Not to mention selling a load of Boron on the XChange for himself, five thousand tons of it.”
“He didn’t mention that.”
“He was employed by Sunders and Brown Mineral and Ore Dealers Inc. The Boron was destined for a commercial customer of theirs. Sodiban Renow redirected the freighter, sold the stuff for cash credits instead of having it delivered to said customer and used the profits to run. Tried to buy himself a new CITI and all that. He pretty much decided to become a genuine outlaw after that. Doing all kinds of bad things.”
The man with the dark tan and the multiple titles and jobs said. “He tried that here as well. There is a CITI machine in the school principal’s office.”
“So, I gather you are the principal as well and this,” I gestured around me.”is the school?”
“No, Silly hunter. There is an actual town here and believe it or not we do have a genuine Union school. It’s a remote one with only an Avatar teacher and seven students at the time, but it’s a real Union school. Ms. Perkins, who runs the XChange is also the principal.”
“Okay, then where is Sodiban Renow?”
“In jail. Or that’s what we call the freight container now, as I put him inside since we never needed an actual jail before.”
“But you needed a Sheriff?”
“Alright, Sheriff. Can I get your prisoner then?”
“Yes, in principle you can, but I already called this regions Ranger and he might show up in a few weeks or so. What about the bounty?”
I sighed, now I get it. You want a share!”
His eyes widened. “A share? So, you mean I would, I mean the Community would get a share. I was afraid we would have to pay the bounty and then somehow claim it from somewhere.”
“You aren’t Sheriff for long, right?”
“Nope, I am the Postmaster. We only needed a Sheriff since Sodiban Renow tried to break in the School’s office and use the Union CITI machine.”
“They can’t be used without going online and a duly authorized operator present.”
“He didn’t know that, so it seems.”
“No, Sheriff. Gullster’s owes nothing. As a matter of fact, as the elected Sheriff you can confiscate the D20 as it is an FTL capable spacecraft and was operated without license or Union registry. It is a piece of crap but still worth fifty or sixty thou even out here.”
He widened his eyes. “Fifty thousand credits?”
“The bar and restaurant are closed now, the entire terminal is closed now too. You finish your burger if you want to get another one. I am getting you the prisoner, wait right here. That’s an order by the way. Sheriff’s prerogative and all.”
“It is no trouble I can pick him up.”
“Nope, you are bound to cover the entire colony with more dust. Or start shooting and doing ‘bad people things. This is a quiet place and we like it that way. Stay here, Sheriff’s order!”
He put goggles and hat back on then his dust mask and without much further ado he left.
I was slowly chewing. This turned out to be the easiest hunt ever. If it was all true. I couldn’t help it. There was something strange about it all that didn’t add up.
But he was the Postmaster and apparently the Sheriff too. Going against his order to wait here could be against some local law.
Local laws mean little, especially if they were minor infractions, like that, you say?
Then you know little about our shiny Union my friend. The spaceport no matter how primitive and ridiculous it appeared was a registered port on a registered Union colony. Meaning the port was Federal ground, you follow me so far?
The guy, most likely also the spaceport administrator gave me a direct order to stay. Disregarding it was a federal offense, however minor he could report this to the local regional Union court. Get the idea?
I will however not remain forever, and make sure that neither of these relics out there suddenly leave.
I checked them with more than just my eyes you see, both crafts are cold. Their power plants and engines are not even in sleep mode. They are off. Takes at least ten minutes to get even a small shuttle-like this up and running.
It didn’t even take as long as I expected, the guy came back. He had been gone for maybe twenty minutes at most. Brushing the plastic curtain aside he thumbed over his shoulder. Got your friend outside. Say you get paid for your troubles regardless of his condition, right?
Depend on the bounty conditions.
Well, he tried to do a number on me and so I shot him. He’s dead.
I wondered about that, did that ‘law-enforcement’ officer shoot the guy because he wanted to make sure he could keep and sell the shuttle? Which was in my estimation a highly likely reason.
“What sort of number did he try to do?”
“I guess telling him you were here to pick him up was the wrong thing to do. He didn’t want to go. He’s tall and strong and ... well I am the sheriff and he resisted and fought me, end of the story.”
I got up and brushed past him into the open. There on a simple open bed cargo bed floater sat the unnaturally folded body of a tall Andorian. There was a ghastly hole right in Sodiban Renow’s forehead, the light of the sun was shining through and the weapon was, considering the charred holes something similar to my TKU, there was plenty of blood all over the face and the body.
I couldn’t think of a reason for those injuries and the blood other than Sodiban had been tortured and perhaps was dead before something punched a hole through his cranium. Well in his case it
was dead or alive and the killing was done by the local authorities, no matter how questionable those authorities were.
“Well, I said, “Looks like I got my man and you got yourself a Roomy-Sixty.”
“That D60 out there is a Galacton Small Crafts and an old Roomy-Sixty model. You going to give me a copy of the incident where you had to shoot the Andorian?”
“Sure. I guess I have to have one for the ranger as well when he comes, right?”
“I would imagine so.”
The Sheriff, I learned a little later while I had another cola, went by the name Shin Tsuro, because he had returned and handed me an official report with his name on a CITI verified document. He was indeed the postmaster as he had used the Post office GalNet station to verify his and my identity.
After I had the Andorian wrapped tight in the same plastic material as the tent building I said to the guy. ” Well, I will be on my way now. Out of curiosity what is it you and I mean the colonists do out here for a living?”
“We scoop the mineral puddles, fill it in bottles and sell them on the XChange. Takkians love that stuff.”
I nodded. “Figures, whenever I thought there is something utterly useless, there is someone in that Union of ours willing to pay for it.”
“Yeah. Say you get around a lot. I imagine. Did you hear a rumor about the Nul perhaps making peace with the Union?” I silently apologized to the dead Andorian, as I used some additional memory tape to secure his wrapped body to the Cargo rack of the Silverhawk-Monoflash. The darn guy was just so tall and thus considerably longer than the cargo rack.
“Now that would be major news all over the place and I am sure your GalNet terminal works as good as mine.”
I shook my head. “And I don’t listen to all them conspiracy and rumor stuff they have above the 5000 channels. It all always turns out to be exactly that, rumors and crap.”
“Yeah, you are probably right. So, you think there won’t be peace between the Union and the Nul?”
“Wouldn’t that be bad news for those green-scaled behind-your-tent poopers? They fight with the Nul for longer than there is a Union, from what I understand. However, I doubt it will ever happen. Those purple bastards don’t even have something like diplomatic relations with us.”
I was satisfied with the result of my taping job and added. “Those purple brutes like to pull the Tigers tail and one of these days they pull too hard and the Assembly lets Stahl do the
complaining. They are tough, Mr. Tsuro, those Nul and I bet it is not going to be a walk in the park, but when Stahl is done, there won’t be many Nul left to worry about anything.”
The Sheriff-Postmaster-Barkeeper agreed with a nod of his own. ” Yeah, that Stahl. He is something. But I bet he doesn’t exist. He’s just some sort of propaganda to keep the Nul, the Kermac and of course the Shiss at bay. I don’t even believe that Devastator really exists.”
“That’s what they all like to think until he shows up. Well, Mr. Tsuro I am on my way for sure now.”
I let him be and went on my way.
Blisterbahl II was in terms of galactic distances not all that far from Gullster’s Paradise. In terms of Union space and the core region, the sun Blisterbahl and its four planets were still fringe region.
It was in the Upward Sector but already within spitting distance of the Coreward sector, figuratively speaking. It was also in the outer spur of the Sagittarius arm and way past Steppingstone and thus all the traffic to the Large Magellan Cloud. It was on the outer edge of the Galactic disc and Galactic West of the famous Union-Klack corridor which was without question one of the most unstable and potential troublesome regions in known space. A small strip of space that was considered Union and was right between the Nul and the Shiss empires.
Despite its distance of almost one thousand light-years to Steppingstone, the Blisterbahl system was well developed. All planets had installations. Blisterbahl II was the seat of the regional Union court, a region that included Gullster’s Paradise at its most distant edge. There was the regional headquarters for the Union Ranger service and the seat of the 988th Union police precinct.
I dropped out of Quasi space between the sixth and fifth orbit with not much MolGas left in my tanks, because that three times cursed Starfinder had me heading off the galactic plane and in a general direction of Zee Point station. Not that I would have had any hope to ever make it to a station that was more or less a million light-years removed from the galaxy and parked at the apex position of the Z-axis in relation to the spiral arm view.
Speaking to my journal I added. “Yeah, me too, I always wonder how they got it there and what they would do there all day long. Come to think of it, I have no idea how someone gets there and if it is accessible to civilians. Well, not a place for runners for sure.”
I was glad to be in a civilized system again, with a considerable paycheck in the form of a frozen Andorian in my small cargo hold after a nice uneventful climax to the nine weeks hunt I chased after Sodiban Renow. From New France planet, the headquarters of DeNoir, in the core region of
the Union, across seventeen worlds until he got his brain container perforated by something extremely hot and fast.
“Just be patient, Friend. I show you how a trail is picked up as soon as I get on the next one.”
Whenever I was thinking about the four-meter tall stiff, in my hold I got this nagging feeling that there was something fishy the way it ended. Every time I did, I also told myself to forget it. I had all my limbs, wasn’t out of unusual expenses and was soon 70 k richer.
Eighty kilo credits or Eighty thousand nice ones were the bounty, dead or alive. I figured about ten went for expenses. Ten percent I had to scratch for taxes leaving me with enough profit to finally get a new SII Cosmos Auto Nav XI. Dang, it galled me to shell out almost twenty k, but I will be damned if I ever fell asleep again and ended up somewhere, I certainly didn’t want to be.
I wondered why I didn’t see anyone else of the colony, but then they were out scooping that acidly mineral stuff perhaps, and I hadn’t been to the actual settlement anyway. At this point I was convinced, that sun roasted dark-skinned descendant of some Terran Asian strain of homo sapiens had killed the Andorian in cold blood to make sure there wouldn’t be anyone challenging him sacking the shuttle. Who knows maybe Renow had some of the credits left he had essentially stolen? Greed was still a powerful motif and I had hunted quite a few suckers who made that old motivation the core of their troubles.
Ah, why am I keep thinking about that?
Renow had it coming, he had been declared guilty in absence because he failed to appear and aggravated the whole situation by seriously hurting a card dealer of the Golden Dream Casino at Maritime planet. Adding more charges to his already growing account of charges. I guess he didn’t care about this anymore and felt he was beyond redemption. Well, his bounty went from forty-five thou to eighty big ones and from ‘capture alive’ to ‘wanted dead or alive’.
I was almost right away hailed by a Spatial Navy patrol consisting of a wing of Wolfcraft fighters. “This is Blisterbahl patrol, Lieutenant Burrh, please identify yourself. You have entered a star system controlled by the United Stars of the Galaxies.”
Since I didn’t want to be mistaken for someone or something hostile by an over-eager Wolfcraft pilot and end up as a dissipating cloud of energy and molecular fumes, I responded right away. “You have my bloody transponder on your long-range scanners, ever since I came within a light-year distance and without a doubt ran my reg and all that already. What’s the idea?”
“Citizen, this is a measure of precaution intended to increase the overall safety of all Union citizens and assets in this system.”
“I am Angel T. Marifou I just send you my FTL license and this DeNoir Comet chaser is registered as Angel’s Wings and it is fully paid for and almost out of go-go juice. I appreciate your Navy boy’s diligence, but I am in the need for some civilization and intend to take care of my business. Any objections?”
“No, Mr. Marifou it all checks out have a nice time in-system.”
“Thank you, Lt. Burrh. Keep up the good work and all that.”
“We will, Citizen. “There was a tiny pause and he didn’t disconnect. “Say, Mr. Marifou, we noticed you came from the general direction of Shiss space, seen any Shiss lately?”
“Nope, didn’t see any, but I smelled one. Wasn’t cross the line in Shiss space, guys, just at Gullster’s Paradise, found what I was after and now heading back.”
“Just checking, Mr. Marifou.”
It wasn’t unusual to be checked out by a patrol, but usually by federal police and not fleet. While the region of Space the Shiss claimed past Gullster’s were firmly in their control for longer than there was a Union, it was a thinly populated region in terms of stars and Shiss colonies and had always been a quiet one. Having an active Fleet patrol of a wing of heavy Wolfcraft fighters on the prowl might have just been a routine thing.
Blisterbahl II is the exact opposite of Gullster’s in terms of climate. I had been here a time or two and didn’t need to consult GalNet for conditions. It’s a wet and steamy world. A GWC 4A. Temperatures almost as high as on Gullster’s but there is plenty of water, basically a planet-sized steam bath during the day and heavy showers and violent thunderstorms at night. I don’t recommend you go outside unless of course, you are a Shaill, they love the planet and thus make up most Union colonists.
While the D designated a dry world. The A was saying this was a world where a standard BaPhy carbon-based NiOx breather could live just fine. How perfect was indicated by the number. On Blisterbahl II, everything was garden so to speak. No outside surface, natural or not was free of some form of plant growth.
Landing was easy, as it was automated by port control. “To give you a little more travel education, because that is what you will do a lot in this particular field of work, Blisterbahl Port was a Class D port. Meaning basically all the necessities were there. Fuel, basic repair and maintenance, hotels, restaurants, Union clinic and so forth. Just not a very big selection, like on a C port. No complicated repair and spacecraft service options as on a B port. And you guessed it, everything you could possibly think of and most likely a thousand things you could not, are available on an A-class port.”
The size of a port was dictated by traffic options as well. At an A-class you had space busses leave at every moment, access to Trans-matter tunnels. Big passenger ship service, most likely a space train station within easy reach as well.
My Angel’s Wing was now remote-controlled by port systems slipped past the upper cloud ceiling. Once it had descended past the lower clouds, instead of the usual automated process, a nice looking Chuckian female appeared on the comm. visualizer. “Welcome to Blisterbahl port, citizen. Your registry has been verified and your TL shipmaster license is in perfect order, Mr. Marifou.”
Like all Chuckians, who were a humanoid species, she had her face painted. She had chosen a flowery image and the pink and white flower matched her pink and white hair do with small
flowers woven into her curly hair. Her eyelashes enhanced with tiny white flower petals looked nice on her. However, I was never able to take a male Chuckian too serious.
She continued to chirp with her high voice. “We have you on landing pad eighty-seven. There is no landing fee, but we do charge a daily parking fee of fifty-one credits for a craft of your size. We do have premier parking available for Ninety-nine credits per standard day. Subsurface...”
“Say no more, lovely. I’ve been here before and don’t want to scrape caked-on moss of my ship for days.”
“I am assigning you landing bay fourteen. Please be advised Blisterbahl II is a Weapon controlled community and no weapons beyond class VI may be carried. We are also a zero-tolerance community for Califerm users and dealers and discourage GalDrifts from coming here, anyone knowingly bringing GalDrifts, will be fined and must take them back.”
“No worries then. I don’t have the permit for Class six shooters. I never touched Califerm and I survived the Heart chamber bombing of 4992 on Gore II. That should give you a fair idea about what I think of GalDrifts.”
She blinked with her impressive lashes.” Oh, I can imagine. Welcome to Blisterbahl Port and the city of Blisterbahl-Green.”
“Doing anything special after you directed space jocks down in safe berths, today?”
“No Mr. Marifou, I will tend to the needs of my two boys and my husband when he returns from patrol duty. It’s nothing special but quite satisfactory, nevertheless. You might have luck in the Glitter and Glamour district, however.”
I grinned, disconnected, and watched an ocean of lights in every conceivable color appear between the sheets of heavy rain that also pelted the transparent material my ship’s bow section. The landing field was a sizeable six-sided field of black wet glistening material with yellow painted markings and more colored lights. Small orbs of red, yellow, green, and blue set flush with the black material to designate lift-off segments, landing areas, and elevator platforms.
Robots unfazed by the torrent of rain pouring out of the almost pitch-black night sky serviced various types and all kind of different sized spacecraft. The biggest one present, an eight hundred meters tall Meteor class freighter, also a DeNoir product. was in the process being loaded. The giant sitting on the far left of the hexagon landing field received a stream on standard containers. Handled with great speed by two Octo-bots. These enormous, many stories tall machines with their long tentacle arms of flex metal and syntho muscle looked disturbingly alien as they grabbed containers with machine speed and precision to lift these heavy objects into the open cargo holds of the freighter.
The Angel’s Wing, deposited by a tractor beam on a parking platform sunk beneath the surface and a big robot arm took platform, Angel’s Wing and all deposited it on a track of rails of sort and moved horizontally for at least a mile or two before it came to a stop and was pushed sideways into a yellow stripes marked open-sided box of sorts.
Well, here we are. Now comes the fun part of the jobs.
Turning everything off and putting Angel’s AI in sleep mode I strolled down the underbelly boarding ramp and lowered the freight compartment access. To no surprise really, the Andorian was still there. Just a whole lot stiffer than ever before as I hadn’t bothered to put him into the stasis box where he would have been if I caught him alive. Instead I had exposed the compartment to space and kept it air free. No need for Mr. Renow to stink up my cargo hold. You’ll learn that bio forms of all kind, especially the carbon-based type starts to decompose after they’ve been dead for a little. Plastic tarp or not, you need a lot of Scrub-a-deck to get rid of that smell. Coming from a place that is essential a planet-sized dead body, this wasn’t something I had to learn, but you might have never seen someone no longer among the living. Especially being in that state for a bit.
At the outside of my ship’s park box. I found as I expected to find a call point in the otherwise empty looking corridor that, brightly lit extended in each direction apparently for many miles. On the opposite site were bright yellow and blue colored glass doors of a Personal transport system.
“Hey, guys. I am here at parking bay five-five-three. I need service.”
It took less than five minutes those doors opened and a Plato-Slave wearing a dark blue coverall stepped out and approached me.
He had the logo of the Yellow Ribbon service company on his coverall and on the coverall matching cap he was wearing. “Good First Hour, Citizen and welcome to Blisterbahl-Green port. I am Lun, Yellow Ribbon Inc. You called for services?”
“Sure do, Lun. I need to rent a porter bot and how much is fuel?”
He tabbed the call point next to me, and a Two-Dee display showed the SII-Energy logo. We sell SIIMGAZ, for 1005 per standard slug.” The number appeared on the display. “If you purchase 5slugs or more the first five days of parking are free.”
“Fill her up then. She’s pretty much dry and you guessed it, she’ll going to need all five she can take. Also, do a Level two on both pods.”
Thousand -five credits for a slug of MolGas isn’t bad. If you aren’t a spacer and own your own ride you may not even know, but ships or pretty much all spacecraft create the energy they need from the controlled annihilation reaction between matter and antimatter. The matter and the antimatter come from your fuel tanks.
Half of the matter goes one way and the other half is changed into Antimatter by the Isah-Schmitt process. Both components come together in a force field -Magno core chamber and create the immense energies needed to propel your spacecraft, establish the ISAH field and slip you inside Quasi Space. To increase your spacecraft range fuel, usually, hydrogen or helium is compacted. Meaning the space between the atoms of the liquefied element is compressed, thus much more atoms and thus fuel fit into your tanks. I thanked the Plato as he expertly and without
even consulting an expert system found and opened the umbilical ports of the port side fuel intake valve. Then swiped a fifty-credit tip in his cred receiver.
Like all Plato’s he was humanoid in shape and standard human sized. He had dark blue skin, a face, and head that looked as if carved by a very untalented artist trying to create a human face using a blunt chisel out of a lump of granite. I wasn’t too familiar with the Plato, only a relatively small number lived on Union side as free and independent beings. The majority lived outside Union space as a slave thrall species of the Kermac and the Galactic Council. Some say the Plato are the genetically altered form of a similar-looking life form to suit the needs of the Kermac.
The Plato so I heard, were used in the most degrading and dismissive fashion by the Kermac. Bred and kept alive with only the most basic necessities, to serve and perform the most menial labors.Without regard used in the most dangerous and life-threatening work conditions. Easily and cheaply replaced. Not allowed to have names, possessions or form any sort of social bonds with one another.
All this was only very rudimentary knowledge, I heard here and there, but the few I had met on Union side were usually utmost competent and detail-oriented in whatever they did. I did know that they insisted on being called Plato-Slaves as a reminder that their brethren were still in bondage on Kermac and GC side. I also knew no one hated Kermac more. The robot came and I directed the S-10 to pick up, the frozen Andorian package and follow me, but before I left, I snapped my finger as I remembered. I said to Lun. “I also like to get a new Astro-Nav. Would you know a place here that sells used spacecraft equipment?”
“Yes, Citizen. There are several. There is ‘Bromley’s Everything-Used’, right outside the North exit and to the left. He is an Oghr, hoarding and collecting everything. He’s honest they say for a used equipment dealer that is. We got Pick-your-part, all the way over by the freight and cargo terminal. Cheaper than Bromley, but you got to know what you are looking for and most likely uninstall it from whatever the scrap scavengers bring in.”
I sighed. “I guess I have to get a new one.”
“Not necessarily, Sir. We have a genuinely nice SII-ACUR-45. Navy surplus, it’s not the newest model, but genuine Union navy, still in the box. I take yours’s out, see if it has still any value, put the ACUR in for sixteen and credit you whatever the old unit is worth.”
I smiled. “Now that is a deal I can live with. Make it happen, Lun.”
With the robot following me, I left the Plato to his work. Plato’s were known for their honesty. Yellow Ribbon Services was perhaps the best commercial thing that ever came out of the Union. Three former Navy Captains and two genuine honest to Mickey real Union fleet engineers came together about a thousand years ago or so and started a Non for profit spacecraft rescue and service company out of Frank’s planet, the busiest and most frequented planet in the universe. Using an old surplus Army barge space tug, they modified the thing and towed spacecraft in, free of charge and even offered repairs charging only the parts. In return for a donation of whatever the stranded spacecraft owner could afford and a membership in the Non for-profit organization. As a Yellow ribbon member, you agreed to help and if possible tow any other space ship in technical distress to the next port and give a small donation to the service annually as much or as little as you could or wanted.
The concept spread like a virus. Today you can find Yellow Ribbon services on virtually every spaceport D type and up. It has turned into a for-profit company but still operated under the same principles. They offered help to anyone in distress, you paid only what the emergency service actually cost, towing within service range to the next port remains free and you still were encouraged to sign up to become a member. If there is ever one thing I would endorse without any restrictions, its Yellow Ribbon. They probably helped and unquestionably saved millions of lives. To this day they are trusted, known to be honest and utmost competent. They now operated a fleet of very specialized, special built and designed spacecraft, known all over as the ‘Yellow Bugs’.
I know out of my own experience what a welcomed sight one of these pot ugly utility craft can be. Drifting without fuel, a busted mag core line, 200 light-years away from the nearest port.
The doors of the roomy Person-Mover closed and started moving towards the spaceport terminal.
“Yes, my friend if you start on this path you need your ship and unless you are related to Rex Schwartz or something like that, you aren’t going to start with something first-rate, brand new and free of problems. A used spacecraft means there are bound to be issues. Go, become a member of Yellow Ribbon. Those 50 credits a month won’t hurt you.”
At the actual terminal, I was stopped like everyone else by a hard-light barrier from progressing into the actual terminal and from there to the rest of the planet.
The customs officer was an actual being and not a bot. From the looks of it a Triple-Strong. She was human in appearance as her species was the result of Genetic tinkering and engineering long before the Anti-cloning laws and the strict gene tailoring laws existed. The woman looked as if she could arm wrestle a Botnaar and win the match and from the expression in her bored face, I could see she was hoping for a chance to do something like that. She waved me over to the inspection desk after the CITI-check turned green and let me pass.” Mr. Marifou, CITI checks out fine, but I like to know what the Porter bot is carrying. You aren’t trying to sneak in a Non-Cit? That plastic wrap job isn’t very convincing.”
“You must be new on the job. That former citizen inside that wrapper is dead.”
“I am doing this for three years now. Any reason you travel with a dead body?”
“None that concerns you, lady. I am a lawful citizen and I have a valid reason indeed, but none I need to explain to you, dead bodies are not contraband or restricted from being shipped or carried from point A to point B.”
“No, they are not but it might be used to conceal illegal wares or restricted goods.”
“I have no time dealing with a bored Customs officer. Either you let me pass right now or you state the reason you are detaining me.”
“I am detaining you for suspected illicit trade of wares or goods and potential crime of murder. Please remain still, so you may be scanned, searched, and disarmed. I will also confiscate the wrapped organic item for detailed examination.” She grinned. “You picked the wrong woman to mess with. My shift just started, and I got all day.”
“And my PDD just recorded and transmitted everything you said to Legal Central.”
She didn’t like that at all and was joined by two of her colleagues and a security bot.
The bot scanned me and the dead Andorian.
One of her colleagues, a male Chuckian with an orange paint scheme on his face said. “His credentials check out. There are no warrants, he is not on the POI list of either the Federal police or the justice department. He is authorized to carry all the weapons he carries.”
The other checked the scan results of the Andorian, he was an ant-like Klack. Deceased male Andorian. CITI information links to Sodiban Renow. Declared Non-citizen by Union court decision and sentenced to death in absence. There is a warrant out for him.”
“And that explains him being wrapped up in plastic and brought in by me, a fully licensed private justice provider. Can I go now? I have business at the closest police precinct.”
The Klack said. “One moment, citizen. Scan shows and active tech device on the deceased that does not conform to Union tech.”
The Klack had the robot cut open the tough plastic film and moments later, the late Mr. Renow was stared at by several individuals. The robot not having any feelings and thus not being the squeamish type had no problem frisking the dead man. Something that I should have done, to be honest. I sort of expected the sheriff of Gullster’s Paradise to have done that before he locked this Andorian outlaw in whatever he called the local jail. In retrospect and considering the individual that presented himself to be the local law enforcement officer, among other things, this was another one of those mistakes I was talking about.
The robot retrieved a small assortment of things and laid them out on the table. Three hundred credit casino chips of the Golden Dream Casino at Maritime planet. A small Interlink jack. The kind Data brain users often had to jack themselves into Virtu entertainment, six rad shielded Polo-coins and a greenish oval thing apparently made of a somewhat flexible plastic material that looked almost like a flattened egg of something, small enough to fit into the palm of a hand.
The Klack picked it up. “A Shiss Nituzzuzh, that what I thought it is. Nothing illegal here.” I am sorry, Mr. Marifou but we just must be careful. With the Nul threatening to go to war and all that.”
The orange face paint wearing Chuckian put the things in a little plastic bag and handed them to me and gave my Porter bot permission to pick up the Andorian, now mostly unwrapped and beginning to thaw.
I pocketed the plastic bag. “The Nul threatened with war?”
“We don’t now detail. The warning to be on heightened alert went over GalNet One just about two hours ago. I am sure there is more on the news soon.” The Chuckian said.
The Klack motioned the Triple-Strong to take care of another arriving person and paid me no longer any attention.
Luckily, I did not have to go far, the local Union Police precinct was in the same district as the spaceport and underground shielded from the wet greenhouse conditions of the planet. I wondered if the world had moderate regions or if all of it was the same, not that I considered settling here.
Once outside the spaceport, I did notice many hover sleds using, man-sized naked snails everywhere. Considering the conditions outside, this world must have been paradise to the Shaill.
The desk sergeant behind the entrance of the police building, however, was a standard human without any distinct features that could have given me a clue as to from what world or society he might have originated. Instead of the usual police helmet or duckbill cap, he was wearing an orange cloth strip that had been wrapped around his head in many layers to a towering thing of sorts. His skin had a darker complexion than mine but was shades lighter than that of the sheriff of Gullster’s. He also featured an impressive mustache that extended past his face to both sides of his nose.
He leaned forward and inspected the stiff and then looked over a display I could not see from where I was standing. ” Alright, this is indeed Sodiban Renow. Everything checks out Mr. Marifou.”
He held a thin PDD in document display mode and tabbed at it with his other hand. “If you verify here and here, I am authorizing the bounty transfer.”
This I had done many times before. I checked the document, made sure I didn’t sign some local version of something I didn’t want to sign. Made sure the reward was indeed 80,000 credits and pressed my hand on the tablet.
He pointed to the Credit transfer terminal and with a little happy ding, my credit balance was now showing a new balance that in turn caused a happy smile on my face.
“Much appreciated, Sarge.”
“What do you want to do with that?” He pointed at the dripping body of the dead Andorian.
“Me? He’s all yours. You just paid for him.”
“I paid for the bounty and he is dead alright. The body is of no consequence. There are no instructions attached to the bounty as to what to do with the body. There are no relatives listed that want to be notified. So, would you please take it out of my precinct. The smell isn’t too pleasant.”
“Can you not dispose of it somehow?”
“This is a police department and not a funeral parlor.”
“What are the laws of disposing a body around here?”
“Since there are no relatives or claims for his remains you are its owner and can do whatever you want with it but do it outside of here!”
I did leave the precinct with the Porter robot in tow. I was venting my frustration.” Simply great, now what do I do with that thawing, stinking thing?”
A man in a brown head to toe Bioseal suit, drawn rain hood standing right there next to the entrance to the police station spoke directly to me. “Can you spare a few creds?”
“Seems the Non-Cit, Gal Drift problem isn’t as well under control as they like it to be.” I was not in a good mood, never liked Non-Cits one bit and outright hated GalDrifts.”
But I said. “I give you ten if you know what to do with a large piece of biowaste.”
“Waste is recycled according to its type and may present value.”
“How about a dead Andorian not exactly fresh anymore?”
Leaving ‘Simmi’s Cash for Everything’, I had finally managed to get rid of the Andorian and was even five credits richer. Simmi, a Shaill had paid me twenty-eight credits for the dead guy but paying the bum for this valuable local information and the robot rental ate the rest. Not that I minded. Sodiban Renow was finally history, at least to me and whatever his new owner would do with it I didn’t even want to know.
I stood there on the outside of ‘Simmi’s Cash for Everything’ with my hands in my pockets wondering what to do next. I was a frugal man for the most part, but after a hunt, I always wanted to blow off some steam, maybe find me some female companionship, preferably the real kind. Even though there were robots that left not much to be desired. While Virtu sex had its charms, to me it always felt cheating on myself, even though my senses told me everything was real.
The city of Blisterbahl-Green was spread out both below and above ground. Most of the above-ground part was under a transparent dome, but the Glitter and Glamour district was close to the spaceport and well below ground if I remembered correctly.
I decided to first eat something fancy, check into a nice hotel and see what the news had to say about the Nul situation. War against the Nul might affect my business or even mean re-activation with the Army if the things didn’t go well.
So, I flagged a taxi flyer and climbed in. It was not an automated bubble taxi as they were common at bigger cities, but a boxy Toyo-Benz with a live operator. The green pelted being, I could not think of the species said friendly. “Just arrived, Citizen? Where can I take you?”
“Yep, just arrived at Blisterbahl-Green. Can you recommend a good hotel? Not the most expensive, but not the super economy fifty beings to a room - sleep hall either.”
He laughed. “We don’t have sleep halls for sure like they have at some places with lots of Non Cits and Gal Drifts. Blisterbahl-planet management was elected by us to keep those at a minimum, and they do a good job for the last thirty-eight years they are managing things. How about the Super Tree Hotel? It’s both a tourist attraction and a favorite by business travelers as well as locals. It has accommodations in virtually every price class.”
“Sounds like a winner, get me there.”
“It’s on the far side of Lake Ocean, about ten minutes. Is that okay?”
The taxi took off and he steered it after only a few moments into a larger Verti lift conveyor that took us above ground and through an energy curtain past the dome. The rain pelted the Taxi immediately as it flew over the canopy of a dense jungle.
“Any news on the Nul and the war?” I asked.
“Strangest thing ever and I am eager to hear what the official explanation will be. Three days ago, the Nul contact the Assembly. Threatening to go to war if the Gray Nul is not turned over to them. Accusing us, I mean the Union abducting whatever a Gray Nul might be.”
The Taxi had reached the edge of the dark mass of vegetation below and was now over open water. I was leaning forward. “Gray Nul? Aren’t they purple?”
“Exactly. Not that there was any kind of official contact in the past, there had been quite a few hot skirmishes between them and our fleet.”
“Yeah, I remember news regarding some sort of fighting action just a little over a year ago. Didn’t the Nul attack a recently established colony of ours and a convoy of freighters?”
“Sure, remember that one. The Devi responded and the Nul intruders were destroyed. Fleet made it sound like a minor combat action, but I heard there were hours of fighting. Anything that takes hours of fighting when the Devi is there, can’t be minor.”
“I hear you. So, are we at war?” There were lights on the other shore of the large lake that were getting bigger.
“As I said, Sir. This is the strangest thing. It just came over GalNet Two. Admiral McElligott himself spoke and said that no hostile actions need to be expected between Nul and Union forces and that there was no immediate reason for concern. He apologized for being so vague, explaining that the Assembly Security council and fleet command are currently in direct contact with Nul leadership and as soon as they had sorted it out themselves would address the Union again.”
Against the dawning dimness of a new planetary day, the silhouette of a forest of gigantic trees became quickly bigger and revealing the source of the lights to be buildings of sorts, nestled
around the trunks of several trees, connected to each other with sagging brightly lit transparent tunnel bridges.
The taxi pilot said. “Well, here we are, Mister. The Super-Tree hotel of Blisterbahl-Green.”
So, the Super Tree was meant quite literally and was not just a brand name. Well a few days taking it easy and playing the tourist might not be a bad idea.
I said. “Who knows maybe I find myself soon operating a Battle walker again fighting Purple or maybe even Gray Nul.”
The Green pelted guy laughed again as he guided his Taxi next to a covered platform. “Army?”
“Used to be, did my twenty-two with the 455th Battle walker regiment out of Fort Bangor. If things go hot with the Nul, who knows they may re-activate me.”
“734th System Defense Artillery, also Fort Bangor. Always ferry Spatial Navy around. Nice to meet a fellow ground pounder. The trip is on me.”
“Alright, trip on you. Tip on me.” I swiped ten credits in his reader, gave him a nod and stepped on the off-white stone material the platform was made off.
Transparent doors slid open and I stepped into a plush hotel lobby that could have been just about anywhere in the Union and I doubted hotel lobby layout and elements had changed much in history. There was the typical subdued atmosphere of warm lights, the standard expressions of commercial luxury. Gleaming stone floors, plush green carpets. Polished brass, glass, and chrome. Beings of various species in small groups talking or lounging in plush looking vari form seats.
A Nowak, the human-sized distant cousins of the Holdians, covered with a green uniform and short, but dense brown fur wherever the uniform did not cover his body greeted me from behind the indirectly lit service counter.” Welcome to the Super Tree Hotel. How may I help you?”
“With nice but not too pricey accommodations for a few days for starters.”
“How about our Water level bubble deluxe room. Standard human appointed. Three night special for 399?”
“It has GalNet right?”
“Of course, avatar enabled GalNet in all our rooms and suites.”
“Alright then, sign me up.”
An elegant soft shape S-20 robot-guided me moments later to a glass and brass cylinder. That thing turned out to be an elevator cabin dropping through the lobby floor and sliding along a thin guide cable towards the water surface. The big tree that carried the hotel lobby had grown right next to the water’s edge. The dense forest behind it presented a dark wall. But there were sources of light between the dense foliage. I now saw big ball-shaped objects suspended by similar thin cables by the dozens at various heights.
The elevator stopped just a few feet over the water surface and next to a sizeable spherical object that appeared to be partially submerged.
A telescopic tunnel extended from the bubble and connected with the elevator. It took only a few moments and the robot led me through that carpeted transparent tunnel and into the sphere that revealed itself to be an extremely comfortable and nice appointed hotel room with a separate bathroom. Two-thirds of the walls were transparent allowing a view at water level over the large lake, with the lights of the city in the far distance on the other shore. The lower part of the transparent walls was underwater, and I noticed a large frog-like thing swim by. The bed was double king and looked very inviting to someone using the narrow bunk of his ship for many weeks.
I dismissed the robot, turned on GalNet and flipped to channel two after using the bathroom facilities. Since I traveled without luggage, I used the Auto Dresser of the room to put me into simple black pants and shirt outfit. I also had the thing give me a shave and my goatee a little corrective trim. With my black hair tied to a ponytail, freshly bathed, shaved and groomed I felt refreshed, only a little tired and very hungry.
GalNet2 simply transmitted an image of an empty lectern with the logo of the Union Fleet command below. An unseen commentator informed the viewers to stand by and he did so every two minutes or so. The content browser told me that the Admiral of the Fleet had spoken and the next address was not yet scheduled.
GalNet One always transmitted what went on at the Assembly, unfiltered and without comments.
So I selected GalNet 3. It was the first commercial channel and featured news and comments all day long. Ursup Maglar, the extremely popular Saurian anchor was speaking while the images behind him showed a Nul. Recognizable by the single cyclops eye, the vertical maw with the small sharp-looking pinchers to each side, the entire being looked as if it was made of bulging layers of rubber hoses of various diameter. It had two arms and two legs, but no apparent knee or elbow joints. The hands ended in two-fingered hands with one opposing thumb on each side. Despite a second thumb, the hands looked clumsy. I had seen images of Nul before, but I have never seen one for real. However, I always thought they all were purple. Yet this one appeared to be grsy.
Maglar explained. “This is Xon, according to very recently acquired information. Xon is offspring of the current Nul leader. Only within the past hour did we learn that the Nul were led by an absolute ruler, who is unlike the Nul everyone has seen, not purple but gray. Only one in hundred thousand Nul is born gray. Why the gray coloring is of utmost importance to the Nul is not yet known, but apparently, a grey Nul is groomed to rule the Nul.
This Xon was on his way to a place called Narl Gatu and due to important religious reasons had to take this journey sleeping or unconscious in some form.
Xon was kidnapped and an individual named Duke Donheer accused the Union to have done the deed.”
I had forgotten that I was hungry as I listened to the commentary. If that Xon was some sort of prince or son of the current ruler, no wonder the Nul were about to go to war. But the rest didn’t make sense. Why would the Union kidnap this Xon?
I kept on watching. Duke Donheer I knew was the operator of a Sin 4 death fight arena. As wrong it might be in terms of Union laws, to pitch being against being in a fight to the death. I had to admit, I always paid the extra premium channel fee to see the deathmatches. I was always a big fan of a fighter who called himself ‘Terror Hammer’. But he was either dead or had retired as the undefeated champion he was.
Maglar was not done. The channel just finished endorsing a product of interest to Klack and returned to the Saurian. “According to the Admiral of the fleet McElligott himself, an official message was received from the Nul government threatening with all-out war, should the gray Nul not be returned unharmed and without delay.
A DEFCON three alert was issued to all military units just a day ago. According to our sources, the Union military was as surprised about this as everyone. No one had ever heard about a Gray Nul. The intelligence community had no warning and assured the Assembly that no agency or agent had kidnapped any Nul, gray or purple.
Now today the Assembly received a second message from the Nul leadership, that everything is alright and that the Nul would not go to war against the Union, but still prepare to punish the really responsible ones.”
I got up, remembering that I was hungry. Whatever spooked the Nul was interesting, but I figured the real reason the Nul backed down was perhaps seeing the Union war machine starting to churn. It would not surprise me to learn that a certain other Admiral conducted a live-fire exercise that was observed by the Nul somehow. Whatever the reason might be, it appeared there was no war after all, and I was still hungry.
Slipping into a black dinner jacket, the Auto Dresser provided. I called the Elevator and went to find me a restaurant.
The food was excellent, the view spectacular as the restaurant was inside another suspended bubble, accessible via a slightly swinging transparent tunnel bridge.
Well-fed and quite content I had returned to my room, watched a larger greenish thing snatch a frog creature and was about to go to bed when my eyes fell on the plastic bag with the meager personal belongings of the Andorian. Room service had returned my own clothing cleaned folded while putting whatever I had in my pockets on a black tray sitting on the room’s desk.
There was a Data Brain jack. From my research, I knew Sodiban Renow did not use a PDD but used a brain implant that directly interfaced with his mind. The users and the technology were called ‘data brain’. I still looked at the brain jack and then it hit me. Sodiban was shot in the head, not just to kill him but to destroy the data brain implant perhaps?
Deluxe models could record or interface with a GalNet terminal.
I also recalled the postmaster’s questions about Nul peace. How did he know about that apparently even before even the Nul themselves? Why ask me?
Not my business! Why should I care? Sodiban Renow was a runner and the case were history.
I needed to sleep.
But once something is nagging inside your mind it’s impossible to turn it off, at least I couldn’t. I opened the plastic bag. The small green egg-shaped thing, apparently made of plastic and aluminum, was a Shiss Nit-something the Klack officer said. I searched GalNet and found it right away, the thing was a Shiss Nituzzuzh and basically the Shiss version of a personal data device. I learned that the Shiss version of a PDD could of course not interface with GalNet and facilitate instantaneous communication across Union space, but it was the product of a Tech level seven society and thus did have a variety of functions.
Since the Shiss society was also completely different structured than ours, not everyone could own a PDD. The Shiss were governed by a strict caste system and the lowest levels were barred from owning anything.
I learned how to open it and found that it was in perfect working order. GalNet informed me that a working Nituzzuzh, could bring five to ten thousand credits on the small item XChange as a collectible item. GalNet also offered several interface devices that would translate and decipher whatever was stored on it into the understandable standard.
Well what do you know, the little green thing was worth some money.
There was a mystery there I had no doubt, maybe the Andorian was running to Gullster’s Paradise on purpose.
Again, I told myself, that this wasn’t my business and there was no money in the secrets of a dead criminal.
Room service had brought me breakfast. Local planet time was maybe somewhere around late afternoon. Thick fog rolled over the lake surface and didn’t allow for much visual distraction. While holding a strip of bacon in one hand I had the GalNet terminal open and checked the Union-wide Runner list, published by the Justice providers Association.
“Mine and perhaps your future professional organization. You can do this independent. Any citizen can arrest or detain a Runner and thus earn the bounty, if the warrant says dead or alive, you can terminate a runner.
Or you go for the Walking Dead. The ones sentenced to death by the Union court and wanted dead only. After a while, you will find that there are quite a few benefits from belonging to an association. There are a few and I am a member of the biggest two. The just mentioned Justice Providers Association and the Headhunters League. There are a few others as well.
The biggest benefit is getting jobs. No needless browsing through many sites or going to the huge list of the Justice Department. The JPA not only lists government bounties but also corporate jobs. I always looked for jobs that were listed in the region I happened to be in first.
There were always jobs, small ones mostly of course.”
Someone once asked me if there would even be enough work for me. The Union is a very lawful society with good working police and court system.
Yeah, the Union was lawful, alright, but it was also very big and spread out over a vast region of space and had considerable footholds in two other galaxies. While some conditions for crime had been eliminated, there still was envy, greed, passion, love, and hate. As long as there were these basic, yet strong motivations crime would remain with society for a long time to come. Motivations that seemed universally present in almost all living, thinking beings. True a Pelongi would never steal or do anything to enrich himself beyond what was freely given but had no problem to kill someone who used the wrong words of respect addressing his mate.
A Vantax would not kill another being if his life depended on it, but had no qualms stealing the last credit from his dying father.
Union laws kept everything in check most of the time, Union police was amazingly effective and good, but there was always plenty of work of the likes of me. However, checking the lists of both associations there wasn’t anything big within five hundred light-years, lots of small bounties as always.
Well, let’s see what Blisterbahl Green had to offer in terms of carnal entertainment. I never claimed to be a saint, right? And Angels came in the bad variety too.
This time the taxi ride was provided by a robotic flyer. The vista while I flew back to the city was, due to a wall of solid fog, quite unspectacular. A message from Yellow Ribbon told me that I was now the owner of an SII-ACUR-45 and that it had been installed.
Another job or two and I would get rid of the Auto Chef as well.
There wasn’t any fog inside the cities dome and of course, there wasn’t any underground in the Glitter and Glamour district.
I gambled a little, surprisingly won seven hundred credits betting on a professional Tabil Tosser match, watched a game of Vacuu-Ball with other fans at a sports bar and then spend a large portion of the seven hundred on a very nice looking Chuckian with a heart-shaped face painting that showed me that there still was a difference between Robo sex and the real kind.
Completely content, all human needs taken care of, I was about to go back to the hotel and most likely getting ready to leave Blisterbahl II behind after another night’s rest.
I almost heard it too late, and I only was able to react because my field of vision was twenty percent wider than that of a standard human. Told you, I did have a few cyber enhancements. Someone approached me fast holding something ready to strike.
More out of reflex than conscious thought I stepped to the right and something very painful smashed onto my left shoulder. The sudden wave of blinding pain drove me to my knees. Even though this attack came out of the blue and my shoulder feeling like it had been shattered to a thousand pieces and I went down to my knees, I should have not been as careless as I was.
Before I could reach for my gun, a second blow hit me. I heard an angry voice through the fireworks of stars. “Go down already, you piece of shit!”
My cranium was protected by a skull-shaped thin plate of Ultronit underneath a subdermal layer wafer Siliconite and this was the only reason I was still alive and conscious. The blow to my head was still painful as hell, I rolled forward over my uninjured shoulder drew my weapon the old fashioned way, as I didn’t wear the gloves necessary to make the auto draw function and received a blow against my wrist, making me drop the TKU. Those weren’t simple street thugs, they had training.
But I got a good look at my attacker, or actually two of them. Both appeared human and both were armed with clubs.
I was not out on a hunt and did not have all my weapons on me, my TKU was somewhere near and out of reach, but I was not out of options and this wasn’t my first mugging. The razor-sharp Ultronit steel combat knife in my left boot was the fastest option and I slashed it across the wrist of the left man, as he swung again, while I tried to kick the shinbone of the other. The kick went nowhere, the guy was fast, and the knife did not reach the wrist, but sliced across the club wielders fingers. He screamed while I heard the loud barked shouts of someone further distant. “That man is getting mugged, Police! Help!”
Both attackers wore bio seal suits with rain hoods drawn around their heads. Their faces concealed behind flesh colored masks.
The uninjured one grabbed the still howling man by the shoulder and dragged him away. Everything had happened fast.
Still somewhat stunned by the blow against my head, I saw them disappear into the entrance of a bar.
My wrist felt as if it was broken, my right hand did not want to move and if I tried fiery pain shot up my arm. I saw my TKU and fished it with the left from the curbside as beings came running. A Klack bent into my field of view. “Police and first responders are on their way, Citizen. Are you hurt?”
“I believe I am.”
A Steel and Flesh team arrived. The Attikan police officer climbed off the back of his robot. The Attikan that somewhat resembled a Terran Hyena listened to the Klack. “This citizen was attacked by two masked men, just moments ago. They fled into the Golden Raindrop over there.”
The robot had scanned my CITI and attached an AutoDoc to my chest. This little marvel of Union engineering made a faint humming sound and I was almost instantly pain-free.
I swung my legs off the treatment table and thanked the attending med-tech, yet another Chuckian. She wore the eight-pointed blue medical services logo painted on her face and had her hair dyed in the same blue shade. “Thanks, doc. I feel as good as new.”
“Your shoulder was shattered, I had to replace it as well as the bones in your wrist and printed you new ones. That cranium implant saved your life no doubt, you still had an open wound and a concussion. You also had the onset of Tilian’s Disease. Very, very uncommon with standard humans, you haven’t been to an Andorian world lately or had intimate contact with one?”
“Well, I wouldn’t call it intimate. What is Tilian’s Disease?”
“A blood infection transmitted by the Andorian Skin Digger. You had several of them.”
I shuddered. “Dead man’s revenge. Teaches me, handling the body without any protection.”
She blinked. “You contracted those from a dead Andorian with questionable hygienic habits?”
“Never mind that. Say, there must be a Chuckian convention somewhere.”
“Naturally, there are many Chuckians here, our holy planet is only sixty light-years from here. We have one of our largest temples right here on Blisterbahl II.”
“You are the prettiest of them all. Ever considered showing me what you got under that face paint or maybe under that tight white dress?”
“Mr. Marifou, considering the company you keep, dead Andorians and Andorian Skin Diggers I see no chances of that happening.”
“That hurts. That really hurts, and there you are withholding the treatment that would soothe the pain.”
“Speaking of pain, you are not completely healed yet. I recommend you stay at least three more days and take it extremely easy. The wound I had to make to pull out that bone puzzle from your wrist, was very big and the tissue is still regenerating, the nanites aren’t done yet. So, come back in two days, let me check my work and evacuate the tissue weavers. Maybe by then, I could be coaxed to have lunch with you and tell you more about the Chuckian culture and why we paint our bodies.”
I closed my shirt. “I wanted to leave this place tomorrow, but now I will take your advice and be back the day after tomorrow.”
Outside the med clinic, I almost ran into a Petharian. These brutes, native to the Andromeda galaxy were among the strongest and most powerful beings. Rumors that they were the base organism the Y’All were built after, never really died.
Even though they were most likely the most loyal and dedicated Union species of them. This four-armed eight foot tall giant with eight yellow glowing eyes, a maw full of cone-shaped needle-sharp teeth wore a dark blue Union police uniform. The uniform covered most of his crystalline armored gray and red body. Very few species could match the raw power, their fighting skills, and their almost impenetrable armor skin. This one had the rank of a captain and he addressed me with his Petharian gravel chewing voice.” Mr. Marifou, I am Captain Pulzier of the 988th precinct. I would like to ask you more questions regarding the attack.”
“I already gave a statement to the Flesh and Steel team. It was Poly analyzed if I recall correctly. It was just a mugging attempt or something like that. I did flash a BICS around which was a stupid thing to do.
“Indeed, using a Bank independent credit strip in a Glamour and Glitter district is not the smartest thing to do, but this is Blisterbahl -Green and I want anyone to be able to use a million credit BICS, show it to everyone and not be mugged or in your case jumped with the attempt to kill.”
“I am working hard on the ‘do-not-make-mistakes’ problem I have, with little success so it appears, but why the investigation by a police captain no less, don’t you guys have a few detectives that can do that sort of thing?”
“We do, but the case is important. Your attack made the local news you see. The Klack calling the authorities is Y’Thjkit, the president of our Chamber of Commerce. He was just showing a group of investors and reporters around the Glitter and Glamour district when they saw you being clubbed.
Lordstar Accommodations Corporations has just invested one billion credits in the Super Tree Hotel and resort. Construction of a second Spaceport has begun a month ago and we believe the ‘Shaill Trail Park’ will open on schedule in two weeks. Planet management has asked me to make sure no stone is unturned in investigating that crime.”
I sighed. “I get the picture and I will do my best to help you out here. I wouldn’t mind seeing those Club swinging bastards before a Union judge or even better on the wanted list of fugitives.”
I picked up my weapon from the receptionist and asked. “Out of mild curiosity but who in the world wants to spend their vacation on Blisterbahl II?
While I could not read Petharian emotions, I was certain he was scolding me right now. “Do you know how many Shaill and Shail there are? The Shaill Trail amusement park is almost exclusively tailored to their needs. With olfactory attractions, Shaill style mold restaurants and so forth. We already have almost 12 million Shaill visiting every year and we hope to increase that number considerably. Besides the Shaill, there are the Chuckians. It’s a relatively small religious-based human society, but there are about three Billion Chuckians in the M-0 galaxy and they just dedicated their second most important temple right here and that means millions of pilgrims. That we have about half a million non-business visitors of other species might surprise you.”
“It does, but it explains the investments and the planet manager breathing down your non-existing neck. So, ask your questions then. I intend to recuperate over a nice dinner and a few cold beers as soon as you’re done.”
“I get right to it then. The weapons used in the attack were Morgan-Slayers, gravo-assist clubs. These things are expensive and while they are not illegal, they are not sold on Blisterbahl II.”
“Then someone bought them on GalNet and had them shipped,” I wrinkled my forehead “but you are right. Morgan Slayers aren’t cheap. Some law enforcement agencies and security companies equip their guys with those.”
“Indeed and no mugging or crime has been committed on this planet using these ever before. Mr. Marifou have you ever been on Blisterbahl II before?”
“Yeah, I have been here before, twice I think. The first time in ‘22, then in ‘25 on or about. I get around and don’t always keep exact dates. This is the first time I am ending a hunt here though.”
“That seems too long for anyone waiting for your return, but your business will make you enemies, I am certain. You would not think it possible that someone followed you and tried to get even for something?”
“That possibility has crossed my mind the second the club hit me, Captain. You’re right I am certain I have my share of enemies, but unless they are clairvoyant, they would not have known that I went to Gullster’s Paradise or decided to come here. I have no associates or maintain an office that informs someone about my whereabouts. My home is parked underneath your spaceport. I haven’t been to my home port of Gore II and place of registry in eighteen years.” But I had to admit the police captain’s questions started to make me think. “Say, the severed fingers. I hurt one of the guys real good, any visits to the clinic?”
“We put out a report request to all clinics and doctors of the planet and the system, right away but so far no one reported anyone with two missing fingers.”
“And the fingers?”
“Sorry, Mr. Marifou. It is me who needs to ask the questions and I can’t share any lab results with you.”
“Why not? I am the victim here and I cut them off. I like to know who they belong to. I am sure a virtual DNA model will give the world of origin and there might be clues on the fingers or in the blood where the fellow has been recent.”
“This is an ongoing and active police investigation and for precisely the reason you are the victim, we cannot share our investigation results with you. But for the time being, I hope you recuperate well and please don’t leave the planet just yet. Mr. Y’Thjkit insists you being a guest of the Chamber in the meantime.”
My tone became hostile. “You have no right to hold me here, I am a free citizen and have not committed any crimes.”
“Under the Crime investigation Assistance act of 4553, I can ask you to keep yourself available to further assist us with answering any questions we may have, for up to five days.”
“Just great! This is just great. I am the victim here. You do not share the results of your investigation with me, but you treat me like the perpetrator!”
“No Sir, but you are a citizen and as you know with citizenship comes not only a great number of privileges but a few responsibilities. Assisting police in investigating and solving crime is one such responsibility, as recognized in the CIAA. Five days aren’t too much of an inconvenience, especially since you are a guest of the Chamber of Commerce during that time.”
He shifted his massive bulk and was about to leave. “Don’t get the wrong impression, Mr. Marifou I am on your side as long as I feel you are straight with me. And I will be the first asking the judge for an off-planet arrest warrant if the perpetrators have fled this world.”
He used both his right arms to give me some sort of salute and left the clinic lobby.
The Chuckian med tech said. “Seems you aren’t very happy about staying here.”
“I don’t like to be forced to stay, that’s the big one, but the big bruiser from the Andromeda galaxy has me thinking. Maybe there is more to that attack than a mugging.”
“Well, maybe I can change your disappointment by staying here longer than you planned to. I am done in two hours.”
“I am much less disappointed already.”
“This is nice!” She said watching one of these frog-like creatures climb out of the water and stick to the slight curved transparent wall. “This is a Warkh. They come in all sizes and many colors.”
She had nestled her face against my chest while I played with a strand of blue hair. Looking up she slid a hand under the thin cover and touched me. ” This is nice too. You’re not so bad at all.”
“So why are you guys painting your faces and all that. you look and feel quite human to me.”
“Chuckian is a sect, a religion, silly and not a race or species. Even though I think most Chuckians are of human origin. Our founder Lucy Moore, a human Terran was originally a Disneyan but had a fundamental disagreement. It is our core belief that one must find his or her soul essential and then express it in external body art. I am a healer and I really love being a Med Tech. What would you express as a fundamental core expression?”
I was admiring her nice chest while she increased her manual stimulation efforts. “I never thought of it. I’d look silly with girls painted all over me. Ohhh...”
Her name was Moona and she was just as talented as the other Chuckian girl, I spend almost seven hundred credits on, or maybe even a little more. It was late as we sat on the small table of my hotel room and enjoyed an opulent room service breakfast. She wore her tight white and blue medic uniform and had her hair and face paint done. I was still wearing nothing but a pair of boxers.
“I love real chicken eggs.” She proclaimed as she mopped up some egg yolk with a piece of buttered toast. “Earth chicken don’t do well on Blisterbahl II I was told, and that’s why they sell eggs, a credit each.”
I had already finished my steak and egg breakfast and raised my mug of coffee. “Well, who knows from what planet they have to be shipped then. Considering that, a single credit isn’t all that expensive. I bet that naturally sourced steak I just ate, traveled some distance too.”
“Yeah, I bet it did. I need to go now. I am pulling a night shift, but since you stuck here, you could pick me up after I am done tomorrow at Three Hour. We have breakfast at Gildo’s and I show you the temple and afterward, we go to my place and I make us a Chuckian dinner. I think you might also be interested in talking to my flat mate.”
Reminded that I was stuck on this steamy, wet world clouded my face, even though the prospect of another night or two with Moona would most likely entice me to extend my little vacation voluntarily. “Your friend?” My tone of voice sank.” So you are in a partnership of sorts?”
She smiled as she got up. “Would it matter? You are gone as soon as you can anyway. But no, Leeza is just a good friend and we share an apartment, Downtown, up dome.”
My spirits were instantly lifted, the prospects of a remarkably interesting evening had just been increased significantly. “Who knows I might even become a Chuckian and stay on Blisterbahl. What kind of inner self has she painted on herself?”
“Fat chance. You are a vagabond, I can taste the roaming spirit that drives you, but you’re a nice diversion for a few days. She isn’t Chuckian, but an Ebony Elfin. She might be interesting to you because she is the head crime scene investigator of the Union police precinct.”
“You are very good in bed, Moona and it turns out you are an intuitive and smart girl too.”
“I know.” She laughed and left.
Since I was stuck on Blisterbahl II for longer than I intended. I checked out Angel’s Wings and the new AutoNav. The Plato did a good job, I could tell right away. Because the new Auto Nav was a tad bigger than the old one, he had to adjust the console housing. He didn’t just cut and drop it in but machined and reworked the console surface. The Auto-Nav looked as if it had been there by design.
I called Yellow Ribbon and asked for Lun. “Hey Lun, “ I greeted him. ”You did a first-rate job with the installation, thank you. You wouldn’t be able to service the Serv-Matic? I can’t really afford a new one. I am stuck here for a few days.”
“I am glad you are happy with my work. As requested, I serviced your Pods too. The left one was fine and needed only a little TLC. The right one, however, would need a new lattice assembly soon. Nothing serious yet, but I recommend you have it replaced. We have a Serv-Matic specialist and we can take a look, no problem.”
“What’s my bill so far?”
“The fuel ran you 5025, the ACUR 16,000. The old Enroe paid for the install and the service on both pods. Bill comes to 21,025.”
“How much for a new lattice?”
“An even thou, but I tell you what. I do it for 975 credits and we service your auto chef for another 500.”
I thanked him and transferred 22,500 credits and added a nice tip.
He also thanked me and said. “The Chamber of Commerce is picking up your parking bill, for as long as you want to stay, and they threw in a detailing. We going to scrub and clean your bird if you like.”
“That would be very much appreciated.”
After I had dealt with that. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do until Moona would be off.
Leaving the spacecraft parking and service level, I found myself back in the spaceport concourse. A lit sign ′Genuine Miller beer’ caught my eye, there wasn’t much I preferred more than this old real Terran beer. I wasn’t on the hunt, so tox was fine. I would soon find out if it were indeed genuine.
The sign belonged to an open-sided spaceport bar, with bar stools and variform chairs around a small number of tables on the gleaming pour-a-stone floor of the spaceport concourse.
A space bus or passenger ship must have just left. The port concourse and thus the bar wasn’t too busy. There were two Shaill at a table, the stairs pushed aside as they used their hover-sleds. They both had opted for something green on disc-like plates. There was a Klack and a Saran on another table. One of the seven barstools was occupied by a bald Blue and the barkeep was a pelted blue being, I recognized to be a Thalian Ice Cat.
I learned a little over the bar and asked. “The Miller sign, is it just decoration?”
“Oh no, citizen. I am selling seventeen genuine Terran and Terran Colony beers: Miller, Budweiser, Spaten, Paulaner, Red Stripe, Dos Seki, Holstein, Coors, Samuel Ad...”
I stopped him. “A cold Miller then!”
The Thalian did serve me a genuine glass bottle, with the familiar label. Everything was spelled as it should be.
He also placed a frosted glass next to the bottle, but I didn’t bother with the glass.
I took a sip ... it was indeed the real stuff. I’ve been to bars all over the galaxy and once even at Terra’s moon itself. What was praised as genuine wasn’t always genuine? While it was against the law to do so, it was still a common practice and more likely the further out you went.
But this was the genuine stuff. I always liked beer, especially Terran style beers and of all the ones I tried, this was my favorite.
I had emptied the bottle and asked the Ice cat. “What’s the damage?”
“Five credits, Sir.”
That surprised me, even in a bar on Luna, I paid about the same. “Alright then, more of the same.”
The Blue had some sort of cocktail before him, and he pointed at the big visualizer while addressing the bartender. “Aren’t you going to show the Deathmatch? It’s about that time!”
The barkeeper shook his head. “Sorry, Citizen. The Deathmatch show is officially canceled. Duke Donheer was killed, by a pirate. Didn’t you see the show last week?”
The Blue cursed.”Alak No Tamen! Kulk be Kuluk! There goes one of my favorite programs. No, I didn’t see the last show. I was on a Space train trip from Andromeda, as you know. Trains don’t get GalNet while they are in the Anti-Light tunnel.”
I snickered. “And there I thought, the Blue were so sophisticated, cursing in Freezone squawk like a Jooltar.”
The Blue turned. “This Blue happens to be on his way back to N’Ger planet. There isn’t much in terms of Union sophistication, but lots of Jooltar.”
“Holy Mickey. That’s still a far way to travel and Blisterbahl II seems a tad out of the way. Isn’t N’Ger about as far as you can be in Freespace? I mean no Union traffic or service and lots of pirates.”
He sighed. “Yes, it is, but many Union companies still trade with Freespace societies. My company maintains a presence in the Union enclave on N’Ger. DeNoir, Solio, Barstow, Enroe, Nagel and us of course, SIIIM-EX to name a few. We all trade with the Karthanians first and foremost, several Oghr species of the Shattered Kingdom, the aforementioned Jooltar and a hundred others you probably never even heard off.” He took a sip of his drink and motioned the barkeep to get a refill. “You do know that we Blue are from the Andromeda galaxy, right?” He asked me.
I nodded. “Yes, I think you guys were among the first Andromeda Union members, right?”
“The very first and thanks to the ingenious Space Train one can make the trip across the Bridge in only four days, or from our core world New Koken to Pluribus in just under six days. That’s a trip of almost three million light-years, making the trip from Linda’s Harbor to N’Ger 12,500 light-years takes over a month because it isn’t Union space anymore. No space trains, no fast clippers. Just large corporate heavy-armed corporation convoys, that lumber slowly along. So, I am making this trip only once in a while, my brother and his family decided to be colonists and live on U-56730-III, a fringe colony just a space bus trip from here.” He received his drink. “Now I wait for the next connection that takes me to Three-Point’s system and Linda’s Harbor a corporate world so I can board the next convoy that leaves for N’Ger.”
“Well I am a traveling man myself, but I haven’t traveled much beyond Union space. Been to Sangris, that’s a non-Union system in the Coreward sector and moved across the bridge to Midway, never went all the way though.”
The barkeep had waited on customers he had at his tables and came back. “Donheer’s Death fight is gone, but they repeat the big event from earlier last week. The return of the Terror Hammer, that infamous pirate Black Velvet captured and fighting a real-life Stomper from Green Hell. If you love Death Fight, you got to watch the last one.”
Both the Blue and I almost simultaneous said.” We are going to, when does it start?”
The Barkeep checked his PDD. “Six Hour-Standard Union, GalNet 667 or in about 120 minutes. I am not streaming it here, fellows. That show is for adults only, it is controversial and offends as many Union citizens as it has fans. Not good for business.”
The Blue said. “Well, I am on my way to Three-Point by then.”
The Ice cat said. “The space-bus to Three-Point has GalNet service, just activate your privacy bubble, otherwise, the viewer will not accept the 667 selection.”
The Blue thanked the Ice Cat.
I purchased ten bottles of Miller, a big bag of salted Shakara nuts, a bag of pretzels and hoped the hotel room service delivered chicken wings. I didn’t have a nice relaxing evening, with GalNet in spectator mode watching something I liked for a long time.
Loaded with two big carry bags, I arrived at the Super Tree Hotel, didn’t pay attention much to anything and used the next available descender, selecting water level room eight.
As I reached the spherical room a moment later. And exited the elevator into the already extended connection corridor. I was stopped by the big Petharian Captain Pulzier. “Damned. Isn’t it enough you keep me here, now you come to interrogate me again? I have a good mind talking to OOCA about that!”
“Mr. Marifou, I am glad to see you and yes I will have a few questions. But I came here because Hotel management reported a break-in and a vandalized room sphere, and since it was the sphere you are occupying, I feel there is more to this than just a case of random crime. Not that we have many hotel room burglaries, this being the first one as a matter of fact.”
That did give me pause and I put the bags down on the floor. “Burglarized? I didn’t travel with luggage but left some of my usual hardware behind.”
The telescopic corridor made it difficult, but he motioned me to squeeze by and I went to the open room door.
The transparent wall featured several big holes and the place was flooded, with the same dark water that filled the lake outside. Pillows floated above the submerged bed. A Warkh, perhaps even the same Moona had pointed out to me sat on the headboard.
“That is some serious damage. The new Auto Dresser alone was over a hundred thousand, the Captain said standing right behind me. ” Whoever broke in were no amateurs either. They disabled the safety sensors that would register flooding. We also think they flooded the room after they went through it, to obliterate any possible evidence. Since no other room was burglarized even a dense Petharian like me begins to see a pattern here.”
“Whoever it is, is after me. I can see that too. But I cannot think of anyone who would have the resources to know where I am. Unless I have been followed for a while. The further out the easier it is to find someone, after all.”
“I hunt runners, Captain. The smart ones hide at the big places. Frank’s Planet, Pluribus, Petra and so forth. The amateurs and the not so smart ones think they can hide out here in the fringes, not realizing how easy it is to pick up their trail. I think someone is on my trail and I was blind to it because I didn’t expect it.” I turned. ” And I usually know when I am followed. You guys need a lot of practice, the Saran in the hotel lobby. The Klack with the same Saran at the bar.”
“I let them know you spotted them, but they were there just to keep an eye on you and make sure you are safe.”
“And check if I was engaging in any sort of activity that would allow you to take me in some sort of custody, right?”
He gestured over the flooded room before us. “Do you blame me? It might be a good idea you volunteer for protective custody until we figured out who’s after you.”
“Nope, Captain. I am staying as long as that CIAA has me stay to do my Citizen duty, then I am out of here. If someone is on my heels, I have a better chance to see who it is out there and take matters in my own hands.”
“I can’t hold you and you haven’t broken any laws, but whoever is after you aren’t playing games. As a police officer, it is my sworn duty to protect you, Sir. As the Captain of this precinct and responsible for this place, I want you gone the sooner the better. I have a feeling whatever trouble there is will follow you.”
The elevator had descended and a small thin-framed human in an immaculate business suit stepped out. “Mr. Marifou, I hope the police has explained to you that this has never happened before and we, of course, have a new room for you. Our adjustment manager will contact you in the morning to discuss reimbursement for any missing property.”
“Yes, the Captain explained it well.”
It turned out Moona was an excellent cook and one that took pride in doing it the traditional way. Using ingredients and preparing the meal from scratch, I was impressed.
I had spent the rest of the night in a new bubble room, this one suspended over dense foliage on the land side of the tree. I did not watch the Death Match as planned or did much in the way of relaxing. I had slept on the floor of the bathroom. Just in case the one-way transparency of the walls could be ignored by a sophisticated targeting sensor of a sniper. From the bathroom floor, I also had a good view of the entrance door and kept an eye on it. I did eat the nuts and the pretzels but of course did not touch the beer. Someone was after me there was no question anymore, what I could not figure out was, who it could be. I wondered who I pissed off enough to send someone after me, but gave up almost right away, there were too many.
Every one of the runners I had caught, delivered, or killed might have had a relative or friend with deep enough pockets to hire someone professional to go after me. That wasn’t something new or unheard of. As a matter of fact, this is how Brux ended his career. Shot by an upset life partner, waiting for him at the doorsteps of a police precinct after he delivered the runner. That happened eighteen years ago.
I cursed myself for forgetting about that, perhaps the most important lesson Brux had taught me, paying for it with his life.
I had been careless and dropped enough breadcrumbs lately for anyone with half a brain to follow me. I was the prey and I was the runner now. Running from an unseen, unknown hunter that could be anyone and anything. Whoever was gunning for me was doing it slowly. If they wanted me dead, they could have shot me in the back right there instead of using clubs.
Moona had shown me the colorful temple of the Chuckians, with huge stained-glass windows depicting Chuck, a colorful character in various situations welcoming face painted beings into a colorful paradise. I could not relax and kept an eye on everything, wondering who was and who was not not a pilgrim, tourist or local Chuckian. Of course, there were other means of surveillance. There was a vast variety of mini-drones freely available on GalNet and of course professionals had the money to get the latest and best. It was not difficult to secure a closed environment, such as a spaceship, a building, or a room against such spy gadgets, but here in the open there could be dozens and I wouldn’t know.
I had several top-notch mini drones in my arsenal of tools. All of them of course aboard Angel’s Wing.
But now in her apartment, I relaxed somewhat. I swept the room for bugs and was satisfied there wasn’t anything tracking me.
Moona pointed at my plate. “Care for a second plate of Moona’s lasagna?”
I nodded. ” Yeah, it is really good. There is still a difference between auto prep and real cooking.”
She grinned. ” Just as there is between auto sex and the real kind, eh?”
“You have figured it out.”
She helped herself as well to a little more. “So, if they after you. Why not wait for you in the room and do a number on you instead of tossing the place while you’re gone?”
I put a fork of the delicious mass, gooey with cheese between my teeth and was thinking. “You got a point there.”
“What would they look for? Do you have anything interesting or valuable in your luggage?”
“You have seen my room, girl. I don’t travel with luggage. I travel way too much to be bothered with that. What I need I carry on me or buy on the spot.”
“What about weapons and such? I did see some things in a plastic bag on your nightstand.”
“While I do have some good and decent hardware, I doubt someone would go through all that trouble getting it. It’s all available either at a weapons dealer or on GalNet.”
I reached in my jacket pocket and pulled the plastic bag with the things of the dead Andorian. “This stuff is of that dead Andorian, you know the one that also left me those Skin Diggers. It’s just pocket stuff. A brain jack, A few coins, casino chips and a Shiss PDD of sorts. This is certainly not anything someone would risk breaking in a hotel room for.”
She shrugged and watched me put it back in my pocket.
“So why keep it, if it is worthless stuff?” “It’s not exactly worthless. I think I can get fifty credits for the jack; the Casino chips are hundred each and good as cash-credits. That Shiss thing is good for five to ten thousand on GalNet. I started out doing hunts for bounties less than that.”
Moona’s apartment was on one of the higher floors of a sickle-shaped building that followed the inside curving of the huge transplast dome. From her dining room, you could look straight down onto lower buildings, a small, rectangular city park of well-groomed grass and normal-sized trees and a business and shopping area. The building was big and the windows only transparent from
the inside. I started to look at everything now as a potential target and could not deny a certain nervousness and uneasy feeling that kept slowly building in my stomach. I imagined that was how runners felt all the time. Knowing there was someone like me out there, looking to take them down.
A sound from the apartment door caused my hand to fall onto the but of my TKU.
She shook her head gently. “No worries, that is Leeza. This building has excellent security.”
A tall very dark-skinned thin woman came in. She had long, shiny black hair parted in the middle, high arched eyebrows over big, expressive eyes of a deep cobalt blue. I also instantly noticed the long-pointed ears to each side of her head peaking from between her long tresses. I had never met an Ebony-Elfin before, but form what I understood they were a lost Saresii colony, that had been re-discovered about six hundred years ago. That was, of course, amazing as all Saresii colonies had been considered destroyed for over a million years in a terrible war. Little to no information had survived about the nature of that war, but it had ended the First Age of Knowledge for the Saresii.
Unlike the Saresii, Ebony-Elfin had distinct male and female members. Like their all-female appearing relatives, the Saresii, they were known to have psionic abilities. In general not as potent and almost exclusively telepaths. This one was of exquisite and flawless, exotic beauty that send a shiver down my spine.
She was dressed in the local fashion, which seemed to be the Bioseal suit in various color schemes. A Bioseal suit was. as far as I knew just a spacesuit without the radiation shielding or insulation. Basically, a one-piece body encasement, that prevented biological contamination. Bioseals came with attached hoods or helmets, no one wore them, so it seemed. Instead, locals opted for water repellent coats with hoods and these hoods could be zipped or closed all the way to form some sort of mask with a transparent material over the eye openings. Her Biosuit was tight, a wide dark blue stripe down the center and white on each side of the body. Despite it enclosing her entire body to her neck, I had hardly seen an outfit sexier than that.
Moona laughed. “Stop drooling, Angel and finish your Lasagna, the way you ogle my friend I am most likely never going to cook for you again.”
Leeza greeted me with a smile. “Didn’t you tell me he is that bounty hunter and will be gone in a few days anyway?”
I grinned, “That’s me alright. I certainly never had nicer looking company in my life, but I am a rolling stone and right now someone is out to get me and I better find me an environment and neighborhood I know so I can fight back.”
The tall Ebony Elfin did the impossible, she made her suit even more appealing. She opened the sure stick zipper to her waist and sat down. “I have some of the Lasagna if there is any left.”
I had to concentrate on something outside the windows, not to stare at the partially revealed dark-skinned orbs, supported by something made of black and delicate lace.
Moona piled some of her delicious food on a plate before the other girl and said. “He is pretty good at making me happy, you should try him before he leaves.”
“I just might. Seems he is a breast man.”
I grinned broadly, forgetting my troubles for the moment. “This planet becomes more appealing by the moment; despite the fact I am the one being hunted.”
Leeza was eating and said. “Normally I would not reveal department secrets or tell anyone about what we have found, but Captain Pulzier said it would be okay after he dropped me off.”
I forgot the two beautiful ladies across the table from me for a moment and reminded myself to be professional once more. “That makes me feel a lot better. I didn’t want to get you girls in trouble and frankly, it restores my faith in the system.”
He did make one request though and come to the precinct. He wanted me to assure you that you are not under arrest or anything, but he wanted to make sure we share the information with the real Marifou.
Leeza held up her Union police issued PDD. ” I scanned you Mr. Marifou just to make sure we talk to the real one and not someone trying to get a beat on you.”
“I am glad you are thinking in these lines.”
“We might be considered the Fringes, but we aren’t all that naive.”
He also wanted you to give him details on Sodiban Renow and your chase after him. The captain thinks there might be more to the Andorian than originally thought.”
“It seems he also has cursed me somehow. First, I can’t get rid of the stiff, then Andorian Skin Diggers and now he might be the cause of all this?” But it could be an explanation, not that I could figure out yet exactly how, but my troubles only started recently, so instead of considering everyone I ever hunted, why not start with the most recent one.He had no one that wanted his remains.”
“Not true, there were several requests for his body, right after you left the precinct. None of the requests could later be traced to anything other than public GalNet terminals. What did you do with the body?”
“I sold it at ‘Simmi’s Cash for Everything’. He even gave me 28 credits for it.”
“How did you find Simmi’s? He is too tight to pay to be listed with Info bots. Besides, while he doesn’t break the law as far as we can tell, he prefers the shadier clientele in general.”
“A GalDrifts or a Non-Cit bummed me for credits outside your police station. He even showed me the way.”
“Panhandling is strictly prohibited all over Blisterbahl II. It’s a local ordinance but Union police is enforcing it and we have no Gal Drifts.”
That made me hit the table surface with my flat hand. ” Damn. I am the king of fools. I keep making mistakes. I was even thinking about that when he asked me for creds. But what would he want with dead Mr. Renow?”
She flashed her bright white teeth in a wide smile. ”If we can answer that, Mr. Marifou I think we know why someone is after you. The captain thinks it is not you they are after, but the stiff or something the stiff saw, knew or owned.”
I got up and helped Moona in her raincoat. “I never met him; he was already dead when the Sheriff of Gullster’s Paradise brought him to me. He never spoke to me.”
“But they may not know that, whoever they are.” The pretty police scientist said an added. “Let’s swing by that old fence, maybe he remembers what he did with the body.”
“If he does, you know?” I was hinting at her possible psionic abilities.
“And violate our sacred PSI laws? No way, Mr. Marifou.”
“I know about those laws of course, but I had no idea they are sacred.”
This time there was almost an angry flash in her eyes. ” They are sacred to Saresii, Ebony Elfin, the Leedei and pretty much anyone with psionic abilities. The Psi laws are what made us Elfin join the Union without hesitation. Do you know how ingenious they are? Can you imagine what real privacy means to a race of telepaths?”
Moona rolled her eyes smiling. “It’s her favorite subject.”
I shook my head. “I never really thought of it. I am just glad we have them, I guess. Psionics aren’t really on my mind a lot. I guess because I don’t have them maybe. I do check the HPI if possible, of those I hunt. The lower the better, I almost fell victim to a telekinetic Arilou.”
Both women followed me into the Inter Building transport. Moona said. “Taxi port.” and we were moved towards the roof. Leeza still in lecture mode, zipped her suit back close. “The Heidelberg Psi Index, an ingenious development from a species, Earthers or Terrans I believe, who are not uniformly psionic gifted or have been exposed to the phenomenon for a very long time. A series of quite accurate and simple tests, measure the psionic abilities and give them a value that then relates to an index.”
“I know that much. I have an HPI of one hundred and ten. Putting me safely in the Non-talent group of citizens.” I said. “Everyone is tested upon entry into Union school.”
“I’m even lower than that, “Moona said. “Eighty-Eight, I couldn’t read the mind of a Neeezz, those are small annoying stinging insects that plaque this world and the main reason for Bio-seal suits.”
We reached a level near the Apex of the dome. Four other identical inward curved buildings touched each other at the Zenith.
There was a lobby with a transparent wall and double doors, that led to a small ledge and I estimated a drop of over one thousand meters to the small green park below, with a small pond at its center. At the moment the doors were closed.
This lobby, obviously a place to hail and board taxis, was identical to similar rooms in the other four buildings.
Leeza had her PDD out and called for a cab, while Moona stepped close to the transparent doors. ”I love these Talon Curve towers, believe it or not, ‘Mr. Fugitive Retriever’ but all five towers are pretty much sold out in terms of condominiums and the few rental apartments never stay empty, despite the steadily climbing prices. That’s why Leeza and I share accommodations.”
“I am not complaining. You could share the place with a Kilonian or a grumpy Botnaar, so I am quite happy it’s an Ebony-Elfin.”
I was just saying that when I noticed a dark green Nofret-500 with a Taxi sign virtually shooting from the distant below, almost colliding with a bright yellow robotic cab that was just approaching most likely summoned by Leeza’s call.
The doors of the Building transport slid open at the same time and two men with drawn Neuro-Rippers stepped out. Both wore dark brown Bio seal suits, same-colored raincoats, and the hoods zipped up all the way. I could only see their eyes behind the clear lenses of their flesh-colored masks that featured printed human faces.
“Mr. Marifou, unless you want to take a long dive into that pond below, you hand us the Nituzzuzh.”
Behind us, the Yellow Robo taxi simply abandoned its approach in favor of the dark green piloted one that had approached the Taxi stand.
The doors opened because the approaching Taxi had triggered them.
Even though Blisterbahl-Green was a domed city, a steady breeze had caught my hair and that of Leeza.
Moona stepped to the side. “Sorry, Angel the money they offered was just too tempting. I really like you Leeza, but I rather have my own apartment. I can afford it now.”
She held out her hand. ” The Shiss PDD, I know you have it. I saw it on your nightstand in the hotel.”
“Moona, you can’t be serious.” Leeza burst out. “You never get away with this. How do you even know these men?”
“Who do you think they came to see, with the wounded hand?”
“Enough!” Barked the one to my right. I was certain I had heard that voice before. I tried to put a face to it, but right now I was not thinking much else, but trying to get out of the situation.
“I don’t have it. I didn’t even know what it was until I checked GalNet. I sold it on the XChange.”
“Liar!” The other one said. ” We checked all offers for Nituzzuzhs on the Small Items XChange. None was offered anywhere within 200 light-years. Hand it over or I cook her brain first and then yours. These Kermac Rippers are made for maximum pain!”
Leeza said. “Don’t give it to him. They already decided to kill all of us. Even you stupid Moona. They never going to let a witness live!”
“I can’t give it, I left it on my ship with all my other things. I planned to blow this planet as soon as possible.”
Despite her face paint, I knew she believed her former friend and yelled. “You try to cross me?” While pulling a small Walther Laser.
In the process of doing so, she was caught by the invisible nerve stimulating waves of a Kermac Neuro ripper. I knew every single nerve in her body was signaling excruciating pain to her brain, she died screaming and in utmost agony.
Showing that the highly illegal weapons were set to maximum intensity. Even with my Auto draw gloves, I could not hope to shoot one before they could kill me first. I also had the taxi pilot to consider, not knowing what weapon he could bring to play.
“No more delays or games. The Nituzzuzh now!” One of them commanded I wasn’t even sure which one.
“Alright, I give you that frisking thing. All you had to do was ask me and I would have sold it to you, I have no need for it.”
I was not planning to give it to him. Not that I had a particular attachment to the pretty Ebony-Elfin other than physical attraction, or was I interested in the Shiss thing if it came down to my life. But I despised the two cowardly arses. I hated myself for being so stupid and trusting that face painted bitch and for not blowing this planet right after I cashed in. In other words, I was as pissed and as irritated as can be.
No matter what, the Elfin girl did not deserve to die screaming her lungs out while every nerve in her body burned with overloading neuro-electrical impulses.
I pulled the thing out of my pocket and tossed it between the two on the ground. The left one did not bend over but bent his knees while keeping the weapon aimed.
The other one smashed the breakable cover over the Emergency door controls and pulled the now exposed bright red handle. A robotic voice warned. “Vehicle dock safety systems now disabled.”
The other waved his weapon. “Both of you to the ledge, the fall is pain-free and the impact that kills you very fast, you saw what the Ripper does.”
I followed his command, getting close to the edge.
She protested with fear in her voice.” You are killing a Union Police officer, there is no place you can hide they will not get you! They are already on their way!”
“The more the reason to wrap this up fast, besides, you are bluffing!”
“I am a Telepath, you idiot! “She said. “I know who you are, and I called for help!”
She and I stood close to the ledge, the hover taxi was at least five meters distance, besides, it had its doors closed. There was nothing in its smooth surface to grab a hold. “Take my hand! Let us die together.” I said trying to sound defeated. I held her hand as tight as possible, then I jumped!
I was over the ledge pulling her with me and we fell towards a grizzly death. At least that how it must have appeared to these goons.
I was human as I told you for the most part, and that I did have some cybernetic implants. Nothing flashy or illegal, but having a personal gravo adjuster implanted, made it easy to adjust to the many different gravitational conditions and equalize the strength and agility advantage so many beings had over us humans.
I turned the Gravo adjuster with a mental command, to five percent negative, and instead of falling we were slowly rising. In all this, she hasn’t screamed.
My grip on her wrist must have to hurt her bad because my muscles were bionic enhanced and I was basically three times as strong as a standard human, but I dared not to soften my grip. A crushed hand could be fixed. There was nothing left to be fixed after a fall from this height. Dangling from my left arm I still felt the weight of a grown woman, no matter how slender she was.
My right hand brushed over the auto release of my holster and the TKU jumped into my gloved hand. Nothing could have felt better. The TKU dialed to the Max, I fired. Four grams of Uranium heated to ten thousand degrees plasma state slammed through the floor of the Taxicab at near light speed. The TKU was one of the few weapons that still had recoil, and it drove me against the upward drift. Whoever sat on that Taxi’s driver’s seat had himself a new bumhole that reached all the way through his cranium and the roof of the taxi.
I increased the up-drift as fast as I could to kill the other two. But both were gone.
Meanwhile, the damaged taxi was drifting upwards and would soon hit the zenith of the dome. The gravo adjuster was not a flight belt, that would give us lift and directional maneuver capability. It only adjusted the effect of gravitation on my body. The wind while not terribly strong had moved us too far from the ledge to reach it.
I pulled her up to get a better hold and said.” Sorry, but the only directions I can do is up and down.”
“Down we go then. I am a good telepath but not a telekinet.” She said wrapping her arms around my neck. We didn’t have to go down far, two police flyer arrived, one hovered directly beneath us and the other went for the out of control Taxi.
Sitting on the roof of the flyer, we were safe and in no time back on solid ground.
The massive Petharian Captain himself climbed out and stemmed all four of his arms into his sides. “You should be glad we Petharian don’t scare as humans do. Seeing you both jump and fall like that!”
She brushed the windswept hair out of her face. “They got the Nituzzuzh.”
The Captain looked up and grunted. “What I can’t understand, is why the safety fields have not engaged. Kids and old beings are using that Taxi port.”
She said. “They shorted the controls I think”
She then looked at me.” I guess this Angel really can fly.”
I found myself a little later, back in the police precinct and sitting in the spacious office of Captain Pulzier. Because he was a Petharian, it was most likely necessary to accommodate the BaPhy Two giant with a larger room.
While the visitor chairs were Variform, the rest was quite obviously designed with Basic Physical two in mind.
He had deposited me in his office and asked me to wait a moment or two, promising that he and Leeza would be back shortly.
Holding a disposable cup of coffee in my right, I looked around and recollected the recent events in my mind. His desk was untidy and had several damaged PDDs, bits and pieces of writing utensils. stacks of pseudo paper and several cups, mugs, and similar containers of coffee and Petharian food.
There were pictures of Petharian in Marine Uniforms and pictures of Marines in Destroyer suits on the walls. A Union Marines flag on one side of the office. It came to no surprise to me, Petharian most likely every single one of them had either served the Union as a Marine or relations to one. To them, being a Marine was a religion and not just a branch of the services.
He had a framed picture of Admiral Stahl behind his desk, wearing a battered destroyer suit, holding a tattered Union flag in one hand, a smoking TKU in the other, while standing on a mount made of twisted war machines and resting a food on a dead ugly looking alien. A reddish sun was rising behind the man who was looking with raised chin into the distance. Quite obviously an idealized, image of materialistic patriotism. To find this image of patriotic kitsch here was to be expected. I would have been surprised to not to see it somewhere in the Petharian's immediate environment. To them, the eternal Warrior was more than a mere human being. I knew for a fact that the immortal Admiral had on numerous occasions railed and adamantly spoken against this over the top hero worship, but all it ever did was cement the Petharians believe that he was Narr, the incarnation of the Universes Warrior spirit and the only god in Petharians Patheon, well other than Stahl.
I knew this only because the Saurians were almost as nuts about Stahl as the Petharians.
While the image made me associate things and bring up fond memories of my best friend and mentor Brux. My mind was trying to find an explanation, some kind of connection.
I went on the Andorian’s trail like I started any other hunt, by finding the Bounty on the JPA list. His last confirmed whereabouts were Maritime planet. Made wiser by experience I studied the target in great detail.
Sodiban Renow, Raw Mineral trader for Sunders & Brown Mineral and Ore Dealers Inc. had fallen in love with Meria Kulow.
Unfortunately, his brother also had fallen for the same woman. That she was working as the executive assistant of old Carl Sunders, the 11th and managed to get Marigor Renow, his brother promoted to Vice president, called off the already proposed wedding and moved in with Marigor blew a gasket in Sodiban’s mind. He killed his brother, tried to frame him with the theft of a freighter load of Boron but he wasn’t the criminal he thought he was. Meria of all people discovered his frame job and the murder.
Sodiban managed to escape the authorities. He had a substantial amount of credits in an untraceable independent Credit Cube. A Connector most likely got him a fake identity and a trip off-planet.
I got on his trail at Maritime, a popular vacation planet where he used a little self-defense laser to seriously hurt a dealer at the Golden Dreams Casino. There he managed to escape again, just ahead of the authorities. Since he was a wanted person at that time he could no longer travel, even with a fake CITI, as his Biometrics were now spread across all Union planet checkpoints. Leaving a world was easy, as most planets spaceports did not check CITI data at departure.
Landing and getting past Spaceport controls was considerably more difficult. So, he had to rely on Connector arranged travel and seek out small Class E or lesser classed ports with lax, little or no CITI controls.
To an experienced hunter, it was not hard to find out where he might have gone. Thanks to the wonders of Instant GalNet communication, I was able to eliminate a few places and picked up his trail thirty light-years from Maritime at a little known red star system, with not much else, but mining operations on several of its rock core planets. He hitched a ride on an ore freighter and so I kept tracking him until he somehow acquired the D20 and I followed him to U-56730. You know what happened from there on out. Yeah, he was a Data Head, and maybe he saw something or knew corporate secrets Carl Sunders didn’t want to come to light. I had cases like this before. But none of Renow’s business associates, bosses, not his family or his former flame had any interest in his fate when he was alive and none when he was dead.
He had spent his last days on a remote fringe world and was shot by a local sheriff after trying to break into a Union school to use the CITI machine. There was nothing that would indicate this level of professional criminal interest in him or in extension in me. What bugged me was the Shiss PDD, why would a Data head use an inferior Shiss device and why was it so important to put that much effort in getting it back?
My thoughts were interrupted as Leeza and the Petharian entered.
“I am sorry to have kept you waiting.” The Petharian said. “We made sure the peeps cannot leave the planet.”
She pulled a PDD out of the pocket of a light blue lab coat she was now wearing and said. “We also had to deal with the remains of that traitor, I considered a friend.” That the betrayal came to her out of the blue was obvious by her facial expression. “I trusted that Lorkni!”
“A Lorkni is something bad?”
“A filthy rat-like thing that poops in other nests. It...”
The Petharian cleared his throat or something, it made a sound as if someone were throwing big rocks down a steel pipe. “Please, Lieutenant, get on with it. You can exchange cultural info another time.”
“Oh, sorry!” She tapped on her PDD. “The fingers you severed belonged to a human of Terran Asian descent. Further analysis points to someone growing up on Kyoto-Pol planet in the Pleiades cluster, also known as Terra’s backyard as the first colonies of Earth were established there.
The individual is male and fifty-six standard years of age. I found the man was a user of tobacco products and has been exposed to very bright sun for a very long time. The individual was treated for skin cancer about fifteen years ago. Said man had spent the last years on a very dry place and there were traces of a fine powdery substance under its fingernails. The substance identified as a mixture of silicates and other common minerals or in other words powdery soil dust.”
I gasped. “That rotten son of a bitch. Shin Tsuro right?”
She nodded. Indeed, and he was one of the men who wanted to kill us.”
I knew I heard that voice before. “Rotten son of a Lorkni.”
She nodded approvingly and said. “The postmaster and apparently duly elected sheriff of Gullster’s Paradise. We checked his file. He is the Postmaster and that is the real shocking part of this. Postmasters are usually chosen because they are of good character and very dependable and trustworthy”
“Maybe Gullster’s star cooked his brain, or he took a sip of whatever they sell to the Takkians.”
“We checked into that, and they do sell between five hundred and thousand bottles, of Gullster’s Takkian Brew a month. Picked up by the monthly post ship slash frontier space bus.” The Petharian said.
“But why is he here, what has the Andorian or me to do with anything?” even though I was starting to guess the answer. I hoped the Union police officers had a better answer.
The Petharian continued to speak. “We don’t know, but we should be able to speak to him soon. No passenger ship leaves without detailed passenger checks. This is Blisterbahl II and we know where to look.”
He got up, “Well I think we no longer need to keep you here, Mr. Marifou. The bad guys have what they wanted and we will have the bad guys soon.”
I got up. “That’s good news. Nothing against your lovely planet, but I had seen enough Warkh and fog to last for a while, besides, I have a business to run.”
I got up and left. He was either just a dense cop with no real interest in the affair since it pointed to reasons beyond Blisterbahl and his precinct, or he was not willing to share whatever he uncovered or suspected. While I was not certain what was on that Shiss PDD or how the sibling murdering Boron trader fit into the story. I knew it was valuable enough for them to follow me, risk serious criminal charges and invest considerable resources to retain that thing. That the device was of Shiss origin and Gullster’s Paradise not far from Shiss space was no coincidence, I was willing to bet my last credit on.
Leeza squeezed my hand. “It was nice meeting you, Angel. Take care out there and if you are in the neighborhood, why not stop by. I might not have my face painted or know how to cook, but I think we had fun last night.”
“We certainly had, Leeza. You got me thinking about quitting and get settled, honest to Mickey.”
I waved her, passed the CITI control barrier and boarded the people mover to get to Angel’s Wings.
“I can see you roll whatever you have for eyes, citizen, but she did make me think that way. Not all that soon though.”
First I had to get some vacuum under my keel and then I needed to decide if I went after that piece of Lorkni dung and his friend, who took something that belonged to me, even if I had no need for it, or if I was professional about it and forgot the thing. There was a lucrative bounty on a Vantax of all beings, 100,000 credits. Suspected to have fled all the way across the Bridge to the Andromeda Galaxy. Always wanted to go there anyhow...
I had myself convinced that this was the smart thing to do. Leave it alone, you got paid. You are still alive and whatever was going on was law enforcement stuff.
That isn’t how I operate. Mistake or not professional or not, that Shiss poop shoveling arsewipe and his cowardly friend needed to find out what it meant to be hunted by Angel T. Marifou. I would not take a contract for a billion credits until ... well yeah maybe for a billion I would. But not a credit lower.
I was just about to turn around when I saw Lun climbing of the port pod of a nice looking Starfang Viper, parked at the next bay. “Hey Lun!”
“Oh hey, Mr. Marifou. Everything should be fine with your Auto Chef for a while at least. Our specialist cleaned the printer head and replaced the divider-selector of the dry freeze material retriever. That thing was stuck and must have caused some very unusual re-consti meals.” He handed me back the manual access fob, I had given him.
“Oh, it did trust me. What do I owe you?”
“Nothing, Chamber of Commerce took care of your bill, Sir.”
“Don’t sir me, Lun. Say if one would have to get off the planet in a hurry and not necessarily with a good CITI how would I do that?”
“Sir, I am a Union citizen.”
“I know and I am too, I am a bounty hunter. Guys like you usually know more than anyone official.”
“Well, it would be pretty easy actually. They do check incoming freight for Stows’ but not outgoing. I imagine you could be comfortable in a large container. If you have your own ship, just touch down and take off anywhere near the new spaceport construction site, mostly robots. Lots of material shuttles going back and forth from orbit. No real controls at all. No landing or parking fees, folks do that all the time.”
I swiped a hundred credits tip in his receiver. “Thank you, Lun.”
The Petharian captain was probably a good Marine and got the civilian job by recommendation. Maybe he went to police school but never learned to think out of the box. The two culprits were long gone!
“If you after someone,” The Plato said. “I would imagine he time it with the departure of one of the big Gulliver freighters. It is one thing trying to dodge landing fees and stay local, perhaps to slip past Union police then doing the same while there is a fleet battleship in the system deploying Wolfcraft fighter patrols.”
“Ever considered a career as a Justice provider, Lun? You wouldn’t know when one of those freighters going to leave?”
“Not that such a career might be attractive, Citizen but I am very happy at Yellow Ribbon.”
His maw almost split the lower half of his rough-cut head in half and had no visible lips, but I was certain he was amused when he said. “Yellow ribbon has access to the traffic sensor grid of the system and we are always informed when those big ships arrive or leave. There are only one of these monsters here now. Robinson Freight Services, the RFS-Brummer, an open deck, type four Gulliver. This one made landfall. They are still unloading a big prefab piece of terminal or something, then stack it with crates, wood, excavated dirt and whatnot. Perfect for a smaller craft to hitch a ride, I would imagine. Not bound to leave until eight hours tomorrow.”
“That other spaceport, is it far?”
“Fifteen hundred klicks at the other end of the continent. The town and the future port is right at the shore of Algae Swamp, more a vegetation soup than an ocean really.”
“I can imagine. How would I get there?”
“There are plans for a monorail and a vac-tube connection. The Monorail reaches the park already if I am not mistaken, but not operational. I think you could take a Taxi flyer. Oh, and there is a Community connector doing the trip twice a day.”
I wasn’t keen on using a Taxi. For one I didn’t know if any other Taxis were working for them. While I knew that one of the goons was the Gullster sheriff, the other was still an unknown to me but appeared to be someone who knew the local conditions well and had obvious connections.
“There is the old freight road, automated truck trains and the locals that live out there still use it.
“Is there a way out of here for a small Speeder?”
This spaceport had more holes than a Kermac T-cruiser after meeting up with the Devastator. While the north end of the corridor and the People mover ended up at the spaceport terminal with all the necessary controls, the south end of the corridor, after about eight klicks ended up in the open at a freight transfer field with stacked containers and crates. Robotic cargo handlers and drones that were impervious to rain, fog and the sweltering sauna conditions flying everywhere with bright lights and yellow warning flashers. However busy and efficient they were,they were simple minded and completely ignored me or my Silverhawk-Monoflash.
The field was separated from a paved road and the natural vegetation of this world by a ten meters tall physical fence, not even a force field barrier. The gang of wet S-10 robots removing moss and climbing plants from that fence, most likely doing that chore over and over again, also ignored me after my speeder slipped past the opening gate halves to let a ground effect train pulling seven sleds loaded with containers out onto the partially overgrown road.
Currently, there wasn’t any rain falling, but the moisture in the air was so thick that my repellers worked at full to keep the windshield clean.
I had raised the folding canopy over the drivers’ compartment. The second it had snapped into the receiving ring, the soft transparent plastic had become rigid, forming a transparent half-sphere bubble over me and the small driver - passenger compartment.
Lun, the Plato had given me instructions after I had uploaded a map of the planet. Behind me was the spaceport and the domed city of Blisterbahl-Green. In front of me, the Duro-Crete road piercing the almost solid wall of dark green vegetation. It was according to that map and Lun going straight towards the soon to be opening ‘Shaill Trail Park’, and the 1500 klicks distant town of ‘Misty Heaven’ where the Blisterbahl development cooperation was building the planet’s second spaceport. Why they did not simply expand the one they had was not clear to me, but I never claimed to know much about these things in the first place.
I wanted to surprise the suckers and figured that they had an eye on the sky since they had to wait for the Gulliver to leave.
He was much smarter than the average guy. I would be hard-pressed to hunt a guy like him, Lun that is. I’ve noticed the Wolfcrafts myself, I did not know they were part of a battleship’s fighter contingent. If there was a Union Battleship in the system, there wasn’t anything bigger than a molecule slipping past the heliopause without them knowing.
Their sensors tracking anything in real space or quasi for at least twenty or maybe fifty light-years.
“I said it before, I was Army my friend, but I can tell you there isn’t much more professional and efficient out there than our Union Navy. The scanner and sensor operators of that Union battleship would not only know the type, registry, and transponder data of everything inside their sensor horizon but what the pilot had for lunch.
On the other hand, parking your ship with powered down engines on the freight deck of a Gulliver, paying the captain the freight charge perhaps stating that your TL engines need to be replaced or something, was a perfect way to leave a system completely un-noticed.
Union engineers and robots most likely constructed that twenty-meter wide band of glistening wet Duro-Crete through that Jungle.
It was almost like passing through a dark green tunnel. At one point I passed another gang of robots, that at the side of the road cut and trimmed encroaching vegetation.
The Shaill-Trail-Park was, so a sign informed me was an upcoming amusement attraction tailored for the needs and entertainment of Shaill.
I rushed by a busy construction site with bright floodlights and an army of beings and workers.
According to the interactive map, I had traveled about eight hundred klicks already and made good time. I would arrive well ahead of lift-off and thus find time to find them and figure out what to do exactly.
A Dura plast sign informed me that there was a rest stop ahead, A tavern by the name of “Cool Steam” promising cold beer, hot food, locally sourced mold for Shaill and license-free hard Tox.
There out of the wet, greenish haze of steamy jungle air an island of lights emerged. The colorful advertisement lights surrounded by diffusing halos and fist-sized flying things.
I wasn’t going to stop, but the sight of three dark green Nofret-500 with Taxis markings parked among other skimmers and flyers made me stop.
Perhaps it was just a watering hole for taxi pilots, and perhaps there was no other connection between that guy who’s nuts I roasted than the same type of taxi, but in situations like this, I trusted my instincts.
It wasn’t raining, but the sweltering steamy heat hit me like a wet fist wrapped in a wet towel, as I got out of my Monoflash. The building was about thirty meters removed from the edge of the actual road and was two-story high. One of the many lighted advertisement signs told me that, this was also a hotel with the added feature of seven latest model Sex robots. Two of them of the human female variety.
The entire building appeared to be nesting inside an alcove of foliage and snake-like branches. I also found out what Neeezz were. While my outfit looked like standard leather pants, blacktop, and a leather jacket. I was a spacer and my everyday clothing was also a functional space armor suit. Able to be sealed in moments, with a small emergency supply of liquefied oxygen, rad shielding, and thermal insulation. It was thankfully also Neeezz proof from the neck on down.
Somehow, I doubted this joint would attract much in terms of the expected tourist trade. Double-checking my weapons, not wanting to sweat any more than necessary out in that thick soup of moisture, heavy plant odor and buzzing things, I quickly stepped over something with lots of legs crawling across the roads surface and went inside.
Behind the sliding doors was a strong air curtain that probably kept most of the flying things out and the cool air-conditioned and reasonably dry air in.
I had been in many places just like it.
The atmosphere was of subdued light, that came from several colored advertisements, shaded lamps over the bar and a few tables.
A row of four virtu-tronic Tabil Tosser game boxes, two of them in use. A public GalNet terminal. There was a row of booths on one side. Two doors, one on each side of the long bar. One with the sign Hotel and Dining room over it and the other with the universally known icon for multi-species hygiene facilities.
My arrival had been instantly noticed.
The four beings at the Tabil Tosser boxes had stopped playing. Six rough-looking beings at a green-topped table no longer paid much attention to the game they were playing and the bartender, the first thin and somewhat sickly looking Quadiped I had ever seen, put his hands on the counter staring at me, as if he was not sure if he should welcome new business or maybe ask me to leave. To the left of the bar stood a tall beautiful blonde human woman wearing, a very revealing outfit, made mostly of feathers and golden chains. I recognized the motionless, woman with the blank expression instantly, it was DeNoir’s LOLA. The Lifelike Organic Love Android made famous in countless jokes, sleazy stories and of course the similar famous LOLA commercials on the Adult entertainment channels of GalNet.
I wasn’t even sure what I was looking for, the Taxi pilot I was associating with this place was certainly not here.
A sudden movement to the right of me made me duck. This time, it wasn’t unexpected or from behind. A Morgan slayer swooshed through the space my head had occupied a heartbeat ago and made a sizeable dent in the metal frame of the door behind me.
The attacker now staring into the muzzle of my TKU, did not try to swing it again. With the left, I brushed back my jacket seam and pulled my back up weapon, a sophisticated H&K Missile pistol, a tiny servo motor loading, a Uranium Tungsten tip micro missile with the characteristic little hum and click.
“Guys and gentle beings. I got enough hardware on me to level this joint to its foundations and kill every living thing in a radius of half a mile. So let’s do this over again.”
One of the beings by the Tabil Tossers, a Stangit from the looks of it, was the first who moved. I wasn’t sure if he was reaching for something with his long hairy arms, but I didn’t want to find out. The micro missile hissed at supersonic speed across the room and shattered the lamp above his head. “Drop it, whatever you got.”
The Stangian primate dropped a Neuro Ripper of all things with an angry grunt.
“As I was saying, folks. Let’s start over again. I am a thirsty and perhaps hungry traveler stepping into this cheerful establishment. You all smile to greet me friendly and you, Quadiped will ask me what I would like to drink.”
It now had become very quiet.
The man with the Morgan Slayer was about the built and size of one of the men that jumped me in the Glamour and Glitter district, he was humanoid and from the built, the hint of greenish shade in his complexion and hairless appearance, I suspected him to be of Herman’s Word. A place with almost two gee natural gravitation. The human Terran colonists had adapted over the hundreds of years they had been exposed to that gravitation and the skin staining flower dust of that world. “So, you are the one that decided I needed a massage, Morgan slayer style.”
“Listen, traveler.” The Barkeep had found his voice. “We don’t like foreigners armed with guns and TKUs waltzing in here. We just minding our own business.”
“But you are okay with locals that carry illegal Kermac Neuro rippers or trying to bash someone’s face in with a Morgan?.”
“If the police come, they will get a good description. You took a shot at Mikli.”
“Since one of you roasted the criminal Med Tech of this town, I am not so sure you want police in here.
Most of you can go back to your entertainment choices soon, but I want to know where a certain off-world man could be found, you know the sunbaked joker from Gullster’s Paradise? He isn’t from here either I think. But he hangs out with that slayer swinging gentleman to my left.”
The man from Herman’s World spat on the floor. “I am not telling you anything. You can’t prove it was me who clobbered you in town or that it was me who shot your Chuckian friend, the one that sold you out.”
Something hard poked me in the crotch. “Drop your guns, bounty hunter!”
I looked down, a Holdian was pointing a Shrap-accelerator right between my legs. Everyone always thought these small rodent-like beings with their whiskers, black button eyes, fluffy tails, round ears, and soft shimmering fur were as cute and adorable, as innocent as a stuffed plush cuddle toy.
I never shared this sentiment, and if there were one species in our lovely wonderful and diverse Union I true despised, it was Holdians! Why? Because I always overlooked them, underestimated them and like everyone else never thought of them as the source of anything evil. Even though their society had one of the highest crime rates among Union societies.
“I said drop them, shooters. spaceman. No med tech will be able to fix what I am about to blast!”
The Shrap gun was real, the weapon firing razor-sharp bits of tungsten steel at a very high velocity and from this range would most likely pierce my space armor.
I dropped the weapons.
The Holdian snickered. “Wise choice space scum. Come on guys let’s show him a good time here at the Cool Steam.”
The muscle packed, bald head from Herman’s World, poked me with the blunt end of his slayer. “High and mighty bounty hunter, eh? Well after we are done with you, they need your DNA to identify what’s left.”
A similar bruiser got up from the game table. From the looks of it a Tripe-Strong, this one male with slightly more hair than his slayer wielding friend. “Haven’t had me a nice workout, he’s a big boy he can take some.”
The barkeeper had jumped over the bar holding a slayer as well.
The rest of the bar was on their feet and were closing in.
I kicked the Holdian, I had to admit with a dark sense of satisfaction and flung the small being right into the face of the approaching barkeep, ducked once again under a hefty swing of the bald-headed brawler, but could not completely evade the fist of the Triple Strong that scraped along the side of my jaw and made me see white flashes.
I was sure a Bandrupo would have felt that uppercut, but this wasn’t my first bar fight and if I managed to get out of this one, most likely not my last. I returned the favor by kicking the Triple Strong in the family jewels and was rewarded with a resounding scream of pain.
While I successfully ducked under the third swing of the slayer swung by the now angry man of Herman’s world, I could not completely evade his elbow that made my ears ring. I had to take care of that mace swinging bastard.
I stomped hard on his foot that made him forget about his mace or me, at least for a moment. I didn’t want to kill anyone, but I had to get the upper hand fast. They were simply too many.
But another roundhouse, with enough force to make the Triple Strong stumble a few steps back, ignoring the now advancing Quadiped. Gave me enough time to open a quick release pouch on my belt and drop a handful off Cling’ N’ Bangs.
I think I dropped all twenty that I carried. These black marble-sized balls would cling to any moving target, except the pouch wearer and explode with a concussive force of a strong fist blow, emitting a blinding flash and a cloud of powdered Torch berries. Six or seven of them had found the Triple Strong. The things going off almost at the same time took the strong fellow off his feet and the most irritating and burning pepper dust took him and several of the others effectively out of the equation.
A loud bang and something impacting into my stomach, knocked me off my feet slamming back against the door frame. The little Holdian, with a bleeding face and limp arm, had fired the Shrap gun. My Rhinoskin shirt had saved my life. The nasty metal shards had not penetrated the Ultronit mesh of my space armor, but the kinetic energy had swiped me off my feet and made me almost lose consciousness and all my lunch I had earlier. The AutoDoc in my right leg pocket imminently reacted and injected pain killers and stim drugs into my bloodstream.
Of course, this was not the hundred thousand credit AutoDoc, of the Union Armed forces that could not be sold to Civilians anyway. With nanite tissue repair and all that; just a commercially available one. What did I tell you about personal equipment? Right, you are. The best you can get is a wise decision.
Down on the floor, I saw a beautiful sight indeed, my TKU. Close enough for the auto draw function to work. The weapon jumped into my hand and roared, a fraction of a second later, burning a furrow of singed pelt across the Holdian’s head and right between the ears.
He cried in pain and dropped the Shrap gun.
I got up, not so fresh despite the AutoDoc and spat a loose tooth on the floor. Those patrons remaining on their feet had stopped moving.
Now I noticed that some of the accelerated shraps had missed me or had perhaps bounced off the Ultronit and pierced the Hermanite at several spots. There was a big black stain on his right pant leg and there was blood seeping between his fingers he held against his stomach.
I took the AutoDoc out of my pants and pressed it against his other leg. ” Someone call for help and you Barkeep find the First Aid kit you supposed to have around here, quick!”
I put a tourniquet fashioned from the man’s belt over the bleeding wound.
The offered First Aid box was faded and its manufacturing date made it almost fifty years old, but it was still sealed and the things inside looked as new as on the day they were packed.
The AutoDoc recommended applying pressure to the gut wound until help could arrive.
The Triple Strong said.” Help is on the way.”
And then he added. “The man you are looking for, he loaded his Viper Intergalactic onto the bed of a freighter. The RFS Brummer will leave at One hour thirty tonight.”
“Wasn’t it supposed to leave tomorrow at eight-hour?”
“Yes, but Robinson Freight Services is a business and someone paid the captain and the company a bonus if they left as soon as possible.”
I checked my PDD. It was already thirty minutes past seven-hour.
“Keep pressure on that,” I commanded and got up.
I made it with fifty minutes to spare.
I stopped for a moment at the top of the road that emerged from the jungle and was now descending to an oceanside valley.
There, at the shore of an ocean, bathed in brilliant bright light from many thousand floodlights, the enormous construction site of a future spaceport. Humongous machines moving mountains of dirt, unfazed by a dense curtain of rain. Robots stomping through mud and water carrying raw materials to the containerized nanite factories who in turn fabricated Duro Crete and other things needed to complete the massive undertaking.
The huge eight thousand-meter Gulliver freighter could not be overlooked. It had made planetfall and landed next to the construction project in the ocean. The waters didn’t even reach to the actual hull.
Gulliver freighters came in many different configurations. There were tankers, ore freighters or in this case an open deck freighter with an enormous flat cargo bed to transport very large items. Such as space stations, orbital forts, other space ships, entire settlements or in this case a multi-level prefabricated spaceport terminal, complete with command and control tower.
It had already been unloaded and was in the process of being lowered into the prepared enormous Duro Crete cavity.
Stacks of containers had already been loaded on the deck, with a stream of more being added.
The Detroit Brand Viper Intergalactic, an elegant and fast bird of 68 feet did barely register and was almost completely hidden by the growing stacks of large brown containers.
That bastard would slip out of the system just fine like that, the fighter jocks in their fancy Wolfcrafts would not even paying particular attention to a Union freighter leaving a Union planet. I had runners use similar schemes and tricks before, those were the more successful ones.
Following the descending road, I was stopped by a modern hard light gate projection that glowed semi-solid yellow, while bright red letters informed that this was an access restricted site.
As modern as the gate was, the shiny wet Guardsman Mark IV that kept his sensors on the gate and the traffic was an older and thankfully less intelligent model. Simply sneaking in behind a cargo train would not work here, but what would work for the murdering son of a gun from Gullster’s and his Viper might just work for me as well.
Not that I had much time to waste, I was cutting it close.”
I left the Monoflash behind and rode concealed under a heavy cargo tarp, hugging a load of barrels past the robot and onto the construction site. Thankful for the fact that it wasn’t a Sentrymaster 900 or even an SII Doberman.
I rolled off the cargo bed and found myself in front of a bright yellow painted office container. A Shaill was arguing with a brown pelted Stangian about some sort of Tee-Exx 644 connectors that should have been delivered and were needed to attach some sort of cables and service lines to the just delivered terminal before it could be lowered completely.”
While the Shaill, appeared to have some supervisor position and the Stangian tried to explain why the big piece was still sticking halfway out of the hole, I used the moment to slip past them and inside the container.
It smelled of coffee, something very moldy perhaps the Shaill’s lunch and damp clothing. A central hip-high holo tank displayed the yet to be completed spaceport. Some sections were solid while other areas of the project were ghostly transparent and had a reddish tint. The spaceport terminal shown in green was just as the real one only halfway in the big hole, held there by tractor beams, Artigrav cranes and cushion fields.
I slipped into a yellow and green bio seal suit, that was hanging on a hook by an open locker. Added a yellow raincoat with the construction companies’ logo on the back. Out of a whim, I grabbed one of the rugged construction-grade PDDs, switched it to clipboard mode and headed back out.
Sneaking the other way around the container, I almost collided with a Botnaar, wearing his version of the same things in yellow and green. He stopped and wanted to say something when I yelled at him. ” Did you find those Tee-Exx 644? The manifest says they were sent with the terminal.”
“Now you too, Sir? Why is it with your supervisors? When we...”
“Never mind that now. We’re losing time here. Have you double-checked the freighter?” “The freighter? It was unloaded hours ago. There was nothing left on the deck.”
“I better double-check. If they have been overlooked and ride back into space we going to be fekked.”
He growled.” Couldn’t hurt to look, I suppose. I called a drone. The Brummer is about to lift off, so you better be off by then.”
A Cargo drone with a partially open personnel cage was whisking me through the night and up past rain-wet walls of that soon to be space bound man-made mountain.
I had the drone drop me off, about 200 meters from the now mostly concealed Viper. There were still drones in the air bringing more material. I still had some time I hoped.
Drawing the TKU but holding it concealed, I went closer. The Viper had its boarding ramp open and in the light cone that came from the inside, I saw Shin Tsuro, the sheriff and postmaster of Gullster’s Paradise.
There was no other way to approach, so I tried it head-on. Hoping he would mistake me for a construction worker or freighter crewman.
“Ah, you came!” He greeted me. I was a surprise that he appears not only recognized me already but expected me. He continued to speak. “I wanted to pay you a bonus for your excellent service. I hate to leave loose ends.”
Ah, that made sense he was thinking I was the man, I left bleeding on the floor at the Cool Steam tavern. A loud siren drowned every sound followed by a voice giving a ten-minute warning and giving crew and robots the command to check the cargo deck.
I got closer, Tsuro pulled what appeared to be a credit cube out of a pocket. “Hurry up, Kartan. I don’t want to be caught on an open deck when this monster lifts off.”
Keeping the TKU behind my back, I had to step into the light and he instantly recognized me. His face fell and he hissed. “You!”
I swung the TKU around and aimed at him.” I wanted to take you in alive and see you hanged, but...”
The Credit cube in his hand spat something and whatever it was stung my nose. I instantly lost muscle control and dropped to my knees.
That shows you, my friend that all those stupid Virtu-shows where the villain talks too much have it right, I had my gun out, identified the sucker long before he had seen me. I could have simply shot him right there and then.
He laughed, “Mr. Marifou the tough headhunter. You are nothing but an amateur. I told them you would not be a problem and I was right. Now you going to ride this monster into space, paralyzed. I wonder what will happen first. Will you freeze or suffocate to death? I wanted to tie loose ends by rewarding my local helper, but you’ll do simply fine in his stead.”
“You wanted to kill me?” A new voice came out of the dark and the Hermanite stepped into the light.
The man knelt next to me, without taking his eyes of the postmaster of Gullster’s Paradise and pressed my AutoDoc against my arm. ” That’s yours. You saved my life with it.”
He held out his mace. “I knew there was something weird about you offering me more credits if I would come.” He swung his Morgan Slayer shattering the hand with the fake credit cube. “Now I going to beat you to a pulp!”
Tsuro yelled in pain.
The loud siren drowned every sound once again and the voice gave the Imminent lift-off warning.
From the open boarding ramp, a Shiss appeared and fired an energy weapon. The man from Herman’s World fell backward with a fist-sized hole burned through his chest.
Whatever I was paralyzed with had been mostly neutralized and I felt the weight of my arms again.
The Shiss died after a bolt of my TKU had vaporized most of his head. I wanted to shoot Tsuro, who same stumbling to his feet.
An articulated gun mound at the underside of the Viper swung around, that made me abandon my immediate goal to end the life of that miserable son of a bitch and jump, avoiding by mere inches the withering stream of metal liquefying energies and find temporary shelter behind the wall of transport containers, which to my great relieve were filled with dirt and soil. Not that I had any idea why someone would want to ship containers full of dirt of planet, but the fact had most likely saved my life. The dirt was not only adequate cover, but I assumed shielded me from targeting sensors as well.
I dialed my TKU to the max and dared to glance around the metal corner. The chin gun of the Viper was moving as if to look for a suitable target.
The siren sounded the lift-off warning and the booming voice announced: “Secure Cargo deck for departure.”
My first bolts slammed into a now established energy shields, the first bolts I wished I had a Mark eight or something bigger. Even civilian grade shields would be far too strong for my TKU to overcome.
What did I tell you about personal gear, my future yet to be met a friend? Never substitute for the cheap stuff. No, I don’t mean my SII TKU Mark 5, that gun wasn’t cheap and is the best I can get with my weapon permit. No, I am talking about the H&K. Yes, it is awfully expensive and doesn’t have the same kick, but it is precise and can be used with a wide variety of micro missiles. I pulled the missile pistol, selected shield breakers and send all eight I had available into the shield, hoping they would be enough to create at least a temporary weakness or even a gap. Utterly useless to military-grade shields but thankfully I did not notice the purple shimmer that would have indicated a ParaDim shield.
These little marvels of latest Union military technology impacted into the civilian shimmer shields of the Viper creating force fields of their own. Unable to sustain their fields for more than an eye blink against the much stronger ship generators, they weakened the shields sufficiently for my TKU bolts hammering through and into the death and destruction dealing swivel gun under the chin of the Viper.
The shields had reestablished themselves, but the swivel gun was out of action.
A giant like this Gulliver could only take off very slowly, as its size displaced tremendous volumes of air and anything more than snail’s pace would create storms of biblical proportion, but I had to be off the deck soon nevertheless.
“Drop your weapons, human and get up.” A voice behind me commanded.
I turned, there stood a Shiss warrior holding an Mercu-gun leveled at me. Shiss Mercury-Nuclei guns fired Mercury loads of nuclei bundled in matter slugs at near light speed. These MN-slugs came in various calibers and delivered tremendous kinetic energy and had enough punch to fell and kill a Nul. Shiss lizards were known for their fast reflexes. I didn’t want to test mine against his and put my weapons down.
The lizard hissed more than he spoke. “Humans are so weak and so easy to overcome. I will never understand how you ever managed to get on the Galactic Stage without being squashed by others.”
A second Shiss had walked up. “You are but a Red Throat. Obey and perform, understanding anything is not required.”
Like the first Shiss, this second one spoke everything with a hissing quality, but he was not visibly armed, and his exposed throat fold was yellow. “We still have a little time before this magnificent freighter reaches an altitude that makes any further conversation rather difficult.”
I was surprised by the almost friendly attitude of this Yellow Throat. The Horizon was slowly tilting and would eventually become vertical. This, of course, was an illusion of perception as the freighter’s arti grav convinced my senses that I was standing on a level surface, while the entire ship was slowly rotating to an upright position and then rise into the sky and eventually leave the planet’s atmosphere and everything else behind.
“So I guess this is some sort of intelligence operation I stumbled upon?”
“Yes, Mr. Marifou you have done exactly that. We successfully used that little world and the services of Mr. Tsuro for many decades now. He made an open gesture with all four of his arms. “While there are no open hostilities between Union and Shistthah you understand the necessity of us being informed about things.”
“I understand, but why telling me all these things?”
“You mentioned to our associate that, all we had to do was make an offer and you would have given us the Nituzzuzh.”
“As a bounty hunter you get around and maybe in return to keep your eyes and ears open for us, we would be grateful. We Shiss might not be able to compete with the Union in many aspects, but I assure you we could make you are a very wealthy bounty hunter.”
There was no way I would sell out to the Shiss or anyone for that matter, but I decided to play along, mostly because there was a Shiss with a Mercu-Slug carbine pointed at me. I rubbed my chin. “I am not entirely opposed to such an idea, but I want to know why you went after me in the first place.”
“The Nituzzuzh of course. It ended up in the possession of someone that should not have had it in the first place. It contains vital information. I am sure you know that we are mortal enemies to the Nul.”
“Yeah, everyone knows that. You quarrel with these purple brutes for quite a while as I understand.”
“Indeed, for longer than there is a Union. Our long conflict has been a stalemate as you humans might say. Neither side gaining much and while there are always skirmishes, there hasn’t been an open war for centuries.
He glanced at the still tilting horizon, perhaps to gauge the time left and appeared satisfied that there were at least twenty minutes left before the Gulliver was completely standing on its aft, and then begin its climb into space.
I relaxed my stance. “I am not an expert on Galactic History but that was talked about in Union school. Hasn’t the Union-Klack corridor cooled that conflict down even further?”
“It has and the fact that Union Nul relations have been on the verge of open conflict for quite some time was always of great interest to us.”
The scene was suddenly lit by bright floodlights. A loud voice commanded. “Union Police. Drop your weapons, and surrender.”
The shields of the small spacecraft completely collapsed exposed to more potent energy weapon fire.
With a thunderous crack, the Mercu-Slug weapon of the Red Throat spoke aimed at something and a frightening four-armed monster with gray and red skin, wearing a partially burning police uniform came running at great speed. The armed Shiss was frantically adjusting something on his weapon, I dove for my TKU and fired, the Mercu-Gun cracked once more but is deadly discharge aimlessly released into the air above the Petharian by a headless Shiss, my weapon still dialed to max had vaporized everything above his upper shoulders.
The Yellow Throat Shiss was throwing himself upon the Petharian with all four arms furiously clawing at the remaining uniform and its wearer. The Shiss giving testimony just how vicious and terrible warrior fighters they were, was dispatched with a single backhand blow of the completely unharmed Petharian.
In all this, I could not see Shin Tsuro, but I expected him to have found shelter inside the Viper.
The Gulliver freighter had not returned to space, mainly because the shipmaster had been arrested for accepting a bribe to transport a wanted criminal off-planet. While it was technically not illegal to provide transport to Shiss, as there were no open hostilities, having armed members of a civilization considered unfriendly aboard and circumvent planet controls, was a criminal act, he and his crew would have to answer quite a few questions for certain.
Riding a police cruiser, I had returned to Blisterbahl Green. I was told they would take care of my Monoflash and after a shower and using the services of a Police station auto dresser. I found myself once again in the Captain’s office. He also had changed and once more was wearing an immaculately clean and damage-free uniform. The Petharian handed me a mug of coffee, ensured me that it was Terran style and for human consumption and then motioned to Leeza to fill in the blanks for me
The Ebony Elfin forensic police scientist smiled at me and held up her official police PDD. “This is GalNet linked and will verify my identity and authority. There are no means known to Union science that can be used to fake or alter such a verified ID.”
A melodic voice chirped. CITI scan complete. Heronn, Leeza, Union citizen. Union police lieutenant and science officer, Blisterbahl-Green 988th precinct. Status: active.”
She held it before the Petharian and the voice spoke. “Pulzier, Craak. Union Citizen. Union Police Captain, Blisterbahl-Green commandant 988th precinct. Status active”
She motioned me to remain quiet and held it against me. ” Marifou, Angel T. Union Citizen. Private Fugitive Retriever and investigator, licensed. Gore II. Status: Active”
She still held the device and said. ”You can do the same thing with any PDD. A police PDD, of course, will give more detailed results if needed. The data of your CITI must be the same as the data stored at CITIZEN BASE and three other back up databases. Changes to these databases can only be made by Union court order and three different, independent Data specialists.
I kept listening because she seemed to make a point with that demonstration.
She explained. “This system works remarkably well, and no case of a successful forged CITI has yet to be reported.”
Still, I didn’t want to interrupt.
She acknowledged this with a nod and continued. “No access to a real CITI has always been the best deterrent against spies and foreign agents.”
She didn’t pause long enough for me to comment. “While a CITI can’t be faked as you know. A genuine one, however, could be issued to anyone with unrestricted access to a CITI machine.”
“But I always thought that even the theft of a machine would not be enough to create a citizen identification tag implant?”
“And right you are.” She agreed, “You need the machine, the properly registered location, and two authorized operators.”
I nodded. “Because these machines know where they are and become inoperable if removed. So, what has all this to do with the corrupt sheriff and more so with me and the dead Andorian?”
A new person entered the room just as I was asking this question and the chrome skinned man in civilian clothing, but with the unmistakable air of a military spook and with an exposed and activated ID badge identifying him as Counterintelligence officer. “I can answer these questions, Mr. Marifou and because you performed a great service to the security and welfare of the United Stars of the Galaxies, you more than earned the right to know details about a still active and classified investigation, I am Special Agent Harrington of NAVINT.”
“That would be greatly appreciated, Mr. Harrington. I hate loose ends and this affair has more than a few.”
“Sodiban Renow, was framed. Carl Sunders, the heir of an incredibly old, renowned ore trading business was near bankruptcy when it was rescued so to speak by the ′Invisible Color’, as the Shiss secret service is called.
A great intelligence asset indeed. Old business with contacts across the Union and with freighters that, as ore freighters do, lumber along in slow pace, but usually completely unchecked. Especially if they do indeed haul ore and minerals while their true freight of information and intelligence assets remains undetected.”
I nodded. “It is a less known way of getting off a Union world, but the better Connectors always know a bulk freighter skipper that is willing to take on a passenger or two.”
He nodded. ” Yes, especially since it is not against the law to provide transportation that way.” He then resumed his explanation. “Anyhow things started to develop for the ‘Invisible Color’ when they were able to recruit Meria Kulow, an inactive Union teacher.”
“A Union teacher is authorized to use and operate a CITI machine, right?”
“Indeed, Mr. Marifou and so is a Postmaster.”
“So, I hunted an innocent man?”
“Yes and no, Mr. Marifou. The man you hunted wasn’t innocent, but he also wasn’t Sodiban Renow, but his brother Marigor.” The agent brushed over contact and activated a field screen, that showed a news headline. ‘Carbonized remains of Marigor Renow discovered in his office. Brother becoming the main suspect.’
“Some things make sense now, other’s do not,” I said and asked. “Why the stunt at Maritime?”
“The dealer was attacked to make sure Sodiban would be convicted in absence and no longer be listed as Citizen. If we understand the details correctly, Invisible Color wanted to use a Bounty Hunter of their choosing to report Sodiban to be dead. He was then clear and free and could assume a new identity using the CITI machine. The machine and more so the system compares the presented data and will not issue a CITI that is identical to another active CITI. They didn’t count on you being on his trail and following it to Gullster’s.”
“Come to think off, the Ore freighter that took him out of the Limpo-Red system, was a Sunders & Brown freighter.”
He nodded. “There are details we are not prepared to share, but it appears the Shiss have set up shop on Gullster’s Paradise and wanted to use the School CITI machine to manufacture real IDs for agents and operatives of theirs. The postmaster and Meria Kulow being the ones authorized to use the machine.”
“So why did he die? Why was Marigor Renow shot? And why were they after his body.”
“We are still investigating and putting things together, but we are pretty certain you startled them with your visit. They did not know how you found Marigor Renow, or if there are more of you coming after him. You collecting the bounty successfully closed the Marigor and Sodiban chapter and thus ending the risk of other headhunters looking this way. His usefulness was not as important as their cover. They shot him through the head because Marigor was not a data head like his brother.”
“How did they manage to convince the police scanners that I had Sodiban?”
Leeza explained. “A dead body does not have brain wave patterns; they only checked the CITI which matched. Probably retrieved from the original body before they burned it.”
I said. “Well, that leaves only two things unexplained to me, before I blow this planet.” I held up my index finger. “One, what is the significance of the Shiss PDD?” My middle finger
followed. ” And two, what is going to happen with Shin Tsuro. If he is going to be hanged, I make it a point to come back.”
“Shin Tsuro?” The Special Agent asked. “I presume he is soon to be completely decomposed. As for the Nituzzuzh, we are still looking for it.”
The Petharian said. ”He was seen falling off the edge of the freighter’s deck. No one is going to survive that.”
“I wasn’t supposed to survive the drop from the Taxi dock either!”
Leeza put her hand on my shoulder. “I was there, I felt his fear as he fell and would have found him if he survived. His mind is known to me.”
“Just out of curiosity, how come you are here already, Mr. Harrington?”
“I am assigned to the USS Brassado, the battleship that is in the system.”
I got up, tipped my hand to my head, and said. “Well, all this spy stuff isn’t paying the bills, I am heading for Union Core.”
Leeza kissed me on the cheek. “Should you be in the region, do drop by.”
“I just might.”
Dead, yeah right. I didn’t believe Shin Tsuro to be dead if they paid me. Either he managed to escape, or he struck some sort of deal with the Counter spook service. While I had my money on the second possibility, either way, wasn’t good enough for me. That sunbaked goon would not have the last laugh.
“Now, my friend here is your next lesson. This time the prey is much more cunning and just might even have government help. I needed to find out if he did accept a deal.”
That chrome skinned Intel officer was way too fast on the scene for being there by accident.
I went straight to the next public library and to the desk of the OOCA, I knew I would find there.
“Well, I am sure this is one thing I don’t have to explain to you, right? Office of Citizen affairs? Ah well, I might have to explain it anyway, since you might wonder what I would do in a Library. Any Union colony of this size has a public library. It has to do with the Freedom of Education and Information act stipulating that every Union citizen must have access to free info and all tools to further his or her education. The libraries have as you know, or as you should know at least one librarian who is also an Office of Citizen Affairs officer.’
In the case of the library of Blisterbahl Green, it was the size reduced Avatar projection of a Bandrupo. The only vaguely human-shaped being was very friendly and after it had greeted me, I came right to the point. “I am here to complain about the post office employee of Gullster’s Paradise. The postmaster has shot and killed an Andorian and has been apprehended by Union police on Blisterbahl Green for unrelated espionage and clandestine activities. As a citizen, I demand to see the police report.” I transferred a copy of the signed incident report, Tsuro had given me.
I had the great fortune that this was a Bandrupo. While any librarian would have taken my complaint and sent it to appropriate entities, a Bandrupo was not only the largest known planet-bound life form and of mountain size. While their size limited them in many ways, there was hardly a species taking the concept of citizenship more serious.
“One moment Citizen Marifou. I am in contact with the Investigation Department of the Union Post Office and Police headquarters. You are correct, there are inconsistencies. Your complaint has created an official OOCA investigation.” The Bandrupo gave me a case reference and promised a follow up as soon as possible.
I grinned as I left the library. That would stir up things nicely. If they thought I was an uninformed joker who would take the word of a spook, they banked on the wrong ideas. As I mentioned, I am a lawful Union citizen. Captain Pulzier quoted Citizen rights and duties, well he had to learn that I paid attention in Union school.
I decided to visit the knowledgeable Plato one more time, just to make sure I covered the other possibility, of Tsuro being on the run on his own that is.
Leaving the world on a construction material freighter was out for a while, but there was always a way if you had the money and found a good connector. Maybe Lun could point in the right direction. After all, he had done so before.
I needed to check on my Angel’s wing anyway as I wanted to see if the police had delivered the Monoflash for me as they had said they did.
Sure enough, the Monoflash was sitting there before my ship. The speeder was crusted thick with dead bugs and sported a thin coat of slimy green algae.
Before I had a chance to use the call box and ask for Lun, the canopy of my Monoflash folded back and I stared into the business end of a Shiss blaster. “I don’t have time for pleasantries, Mr. Marifou. I need to get off-planet and you will provide that service. Open that ship of yours, now!”
He waved the ugly, but quite potent Mercu-Nuclei based weapon with an impatient move.
“So, you didn’t fall to your death after all.”
“Neither did you.”
“Fooling a telepath might come in handy for me. You wouldn’t share how you did that?”
“You can’t fool a telepath, but you can hide from them and your own Intel service was providing me with the necessary tools, I just didn’t see much future in cooperating with them. Playing both sides was fun while it lasted, I have nothing to lose, Mr. Marifou. You will open your ship and get us out of this system, with all of your limbs or not.”
I pressed my hand on the Cargo hatch release and the AI recognized my biometrics. “Alright, alright. I told you before I do this for money, all you had to do was make an offer. It would have been far less costly to you than all this.”
“Take me to Shist-Taa and you will get paid. Now drop your weapon belt. Slowly. I will be able to fire no matter what you do.”
I did and he picked it up.
“I am going to load my Monoflash, leaving it here would cause suspicion. Something neither one of us can afford with Wolfcrafts and a Battleship in the system.”
He waved his gun. “Hurry up.”
“So why are you after me in the first place?”
“Because I had to improvise when you showed up. I knew the second you landed why you’ve come, but that dim wit had something in his pocket that didn’t belong to Sodiban and I didn’t know Marigor had in his possession when I shot him and handed his corpse to you.”
“I just had a feeling there was more to that Shiss poop behind your place.”
“Hurry up! Quit staling!”
The Monoflash was in its cradle and moving up in its compartment.
He had to come closer as I was lowering the boarding ramp. I could see he was hesitant to let me in first. The melodic chime of an arriving people transport across the corridor and the parked ship made him turn and I jumped.
He was much stronger than he looked. It took all my augmented strength from keeping him aligning the Shiss weapon for a clear shot.
It was my fortune that he had chosen this for humans unyielding weapon. Had he kept his Neuro ripper or something else more compact than the Shiss blaster, I would have been dead already.
He groaned.” You are strength augmented!”
I did not answer. That he had similar enhancements was self-evident. While he tried to bring his ungainly weapon into play, I found enough room to pound my fist into his bearded face. The second punch drew blood and made him alter his strategy. While I welcomed the crimson deluge from his nose, I was disappointed that he wasn’t knocked out or dazed at least. He did, however, take one hand of the Shiss weapon and tried to gauge out my left eye. I managed to deflect the
finger jab, he skillfully followed up with an underarm blow to the side of my head that made my ears ring. But I wasn’t out for the count just yet and buried my knee in his groin, which finally showed some real progress in the form of a loud howl. He was a tough customer, but his stubborn insistence on holding on to the big Shiss weapon played in my favor, as he once more tried to use both hands to get it under control. Freeing my right hand long enough, to hammer the base of my fist with everything I could muster into his already bleeding nose.
While I held the Shiss weapon on its business end he staggered on rubbery feet back, one hand raised to his face, his other reaching into a leg pocket.
I did not want to know what he was about to pull into the open. So with both hands around the barrel of the Shiss carbine, I swung it like a club against the side of his head.
The man from Gullster’s was driven to the side by the force of the blow, and collapsed on the black-coated hangar floor, making a gurgling sound before his body went limp.
“Good job, Bounty hunter.” a high-pitched voice said.
I turned, and there stood the Holdian and again someone aimed a weapon at me. “Remember me?”
The Mercu Blaster roared and only the feet of the rodent remained. ” Yes, and I don’t care what your role in all this was.”
Well, that was the end of that. The police of Blisterbahl Green had egg on their faces as I marched their presumed dead postmaster and Shiss collaborator right through the front doors of the police headquarters while Avatars of Union Post investigators were present.
I took delight in the Petharian’s and Leeza’s embarrassment and accepted their apologies and the flaky explanation of the intelligence officer, knowing his days with NAVINT were numbered. No one messed with the Union Post Office, no one!
The Shiss device held important intelligence for the Shiss empire.
It had to do with the abduction of that Gray Nul, and some startling developments in Nul Union cooperation.
I for one decided to find me a runner contract of someone trying to lose him or herself in one of the core worlds. The more crowded the more difficult the better.
Or perhaps that runner that went all the way to Andromeda was still on the run…
“Remember what I said about runners that seek the fringes? Forget it. The easy ones aren’t always what they seem.”