Vexxus hissed. Already the job had gone sideways, and that didn’t bode well. She shuddered to think what would happen to her if she failed. And the threat her insidious master promised, made her spine tingle.
Her ship had safely docked at a military outpost in the Awawar system. VanderMeer Hub. Some high security, rarely mentioned, installation on the back side of a icy dust ball. Not a place that she would ever visit on her own. But, she had a job to do.
It didn’t take long for her to notice things weren’t right. Perhaps it was the blaring wails of the klaxxon. Or the flashing red lights. Maybe it was the mass of people running around like a mound of disturbed ants. Whatever it was, she was pretty sure those events were not supposed to be happening.
Once inside the building she set her sights on a nearby security officer, some female. The rank pinned to her shoulders suggested she should know what was going on.
Samantha Thomas was relieved to be going back to her quarters. So much death, so many twisted and pained expressions; it was beginning to affect her. It was no surprise people were still running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Everyone was on edge too. Little misunderstandings turned into all out shouting matches all over the facility. She wasn’t sure what she did to piss off Chief Ramsey, but she was determined to discuss it with him first thing in the morning. Someone else can supervise this mess. It didn’t require someone of her rank. The prison was attacked, not the manufacturing facility. No one here knew anything important; and those that did are dead… or gone.
She exited her makeshift office and turned toward the building’s main exit. If it weren’t for the blaring alarms, she might have heard the approaching footsteps. Instead, the assailant was on her. She saw the glint of something near her right eye before she reacted. Ducking and sweeping her left leg behind her, she turned to face her opponent now rolling backwards from her back, a knife in her right hand. Grateful and shocked at the same time, she fumbled for her pistol.
“I don’t know who you are or how…” The stranger shifted the knife into her left hand. Twisting her body so her right shoulder hid the weapon, she charged. Samantha took a step back. Her mind raced as she tried to anticipate whether the attack would come high or low. If she thought she was ready she was wrong.
Like an ancient top the attacker uncoiled sweeping the knife up and over in a downward arc. Ms. Thomas backed up again and watched the blade pass inches from her nose. She barely looked up in time to see the woman spring into the air, twist her body to a near horizontal axis, and rotate her left leg along the same arc as the knife. The last thing she remembered thinking as she was dragged semi-conscious into a nearby closet was, “How did she do that?”
Vexxus leaned in, hand on the woman's throat, and spoke in a menacing whisper as she closed the closet door behind her, "what's going on here?"
Samantha tried to focus on her captor. She didn't want to completely cooperate but she wasn't stupid. Her life was in danger.
"A clean up operation," she choked out as she shook her groggy head. "Who are you and why are you holding me?"
The assassin eyed her carefully. After a moment she lightened her grip. A twisted smile bloomed over her unnaturally white and straight teeth.
"I have a job proposition for you rent-a-cop." she said, "Work for me, and I'll let you live, or you can continue irritating me and bring to an end your short miserable life. I'd rather have your full cooperation, over extracting any information and leaving your corpse in a dumpster. Your choice, luv."
"You have a strange way of advertising job opportunities." She looked around the small closet. Samantha's main thought was to escape. "Don't see where I have a choice. What's the job?"
"Information. First thing I want to know, is exactly what is going on here?"
"I told you already. It's a clean up operation. Someone thought it would be cool to pump Sarin gas into our environmental system and kill nearly everyone in the prison. We're cleaning up the mess."
"Sloppy," Vexxus mused. "Ah well. That's all vague. I want details. And I know you have some of them." she eyed the woman's comm.
Samantha was stumped. Why was this woman so interested in the murder of a bunch of prisoners? She must be in on it. No, that couldn't be it. If she were in on it she wouldn't be asking about it. Suddenly it dawned on her.
"You're a part of Uniting Qamadi," she blurted out. "You came to free Ron Lara. Well someone beat you to it. So let me go. I know you're whispering to prevent drawing attention. So if you don't let me go I'll scream."
"Will you now?" she smiled pressing the knife against her skin. "I'll tell you what, keep quiet and help me track this man down. Or, I could just slit your throat and hack your system. You came out of that office across the hall correct?"
Ok, she pushed, only to have a knife pushed back. She could scream and make life miserable for her captor, but she would be dead before any rescuer could arrive IF anyone heard her above the alarms. She felt bad about betraying her employers. They have been so good to her and her people.
"Ok, you win. Some mysterious guy, not unlike you, came here hours ago and killed everyone to break out one prisoner; Ron Lara, ex-leader of Uniting Qamadi. We're already tracking him down."
The assassin shrugged. "And did you find any leads?"
The loyal officer chose her words carefully. "The merc spoke in riddles. They went to a system named after 52 beers brewed by a dog and a fish and spoke to a German explorer who disappeared from Old Earth Australia many centuries ago."
"A mercenary? Anything you can describe about this particular individual?"
"All we know besides his strange character is that he wore military grade battle armor. His face and his voice was disguised."
"Strange. Strange how?"
"Strange methods, strange riddles. Sometimes it seemed as if his thoughts were scattered and he rambled on in madness before snapping back to reality. That's all I know, honest."
She placed a hand upon the officer's shoulder and spoke into a comm. "Broken Wilted Rose, I want you to run a search for a system who's name may be affiliated with the following parameters: 52 beers brewed by a dog and a fish, and i want you to do a search for a name of a German explorer who disappeared from Old Earth Australia."
"So are we done here? Can I go now?"
"We're DONE when I say we're done."
"There's nothing else I can tell you. What more could you possibly want?"
"You."she said, running her hand through the woman's hair and watching it cascade off her fingers. She tapped on the woman's comm. "I'm going to call you. You're going to answer. I'll ask if you learned anything new about... Lara's location. You're going to tell me what you've learned. I doubt a pretty young officer such as yourself would want to end a promising new career early."
Samantha thought about her family waiting for her back on Cartwright Orbital. This was supposed to be a simple clean up assignment. How did it go so wrong? She sighed.
The three candidates for the Alliance presidency have spent much of the past week delivering their campaign messages.
Incumbent president Gibson Kincaid, who seeks re-election, has demanded radical change to the constitution:
“To occupy the same league as the other superpowers, we need a single ruler with overall control. I ask that you empower me to lead the Alliance into a new era of strength and unity. That is my vision.”
An increase in commerce is the focus for entrepreneur Fazia Silva:
“The current president is driven entirely by ego, as are all career politicians, but it’s money that makes the galaxy go round. Only by investing in trade and industry can the Alliance truly grow.”
Councillor Elijah Beck has been critical of his rivals’ approaches:
“President Kincaid has little respect for our values, and Ms Silva wants to make it easier for her companies to increase profits. The Alliance deserves a president who puts the well-being of its people first, rather than their own selfish goals.”
Millions of Alliance citizens are expected to participate in this historic election.
Malcolm switched off the Galnet article as Kay brought the Krait out of supercruise.
“Faulcon Delacy Alpha Whiskey Sierra, this is an Alliance starport. Please follow Lawd 52 star control protocol and submit a docking request before approaching Leichhardt Enterprise.”
“Copy that control. Sending request now.”
“Docking request granted. Proceed to pad zero seven. I see you’re also requesting assistance from system authorities?”
“Affirmative control. We’ve tracked a dangerous criminal to this station. We could use some help pinpointing his location.”
There was a long pause before a new voice broke the silence.
“Commander, this is Captain Reynoso. If you have proof some scumbag has breached my security, I would like to see it. Engage autodocking procedures. I’ll be at your pad before your gear hits the deck. Control out.”
By the time Kay had killed the comms and engaged the docking computer, a wing of Chieftains had positioned themselves to escort them in.
“And you think that maniac was talking about here?” Captain Reynoso asked as he handed Malcolm back his data slate. The bounty hunter nodded forcing the captain to make a crossing gesture with one hand. He ordered his own data slate from one of three subordinate officers accompanying him with the other hand. “How long ago did this happen?” He tapped on the tab until a holo-com opened displaying another officer.
“Early this morning,” Malcolm replied. “We figure he has a five hour head-start on us.”
“Lieutenant, I want the guard around the environmental units doubled until I say otherwise, and I want it yesterday!” He didn’t even wait for a response. He closed the comm channel and brought up the dock’s security footage from earlier that day. “Call up your video again Commander. Pause it on the close up of the criminal in question.”
Malcolm did as he was told. As soon as the video stopped on the merc in the battle armor, Captain Reynoso brought his tab closer and closer to Malcolm’s until it beeped. A minute later it beeped again.
“Well I’ll be… it appears you are correct Commander. Your criminal offloaded a cryopod from a Chieftain on this very pad.” He projected his security footage in 3D so everyone could see it. “That occurred six hours ago. He left only an hour ago. It doesn’t look like he took the pod with him though.” He tapped on his tab again. “Station cameras say he spent those five hours… here. Oh no.” The Captain fell silent and tapped on his tab again, with more earnest this time; then he cursed. He called up an image of a short, chubby man with receding hair, leaning on an ornate cane in his left hand.
“What’s wrong? Who’s that?” Malcolm and Kay asked respectively.
“That is Lannius DeMarr, a smuggler by trade that controls most of the black markets within a 100 LY radius of Alioth. He did a stint in an Alliance prison some time ago for the murder of a man and his family. Had them all tied together and stuffed into one of the rear thrusters of his Anaconda. Would have gotten away with it completely if the deranged assassin he hired hadn’t used his ship. DeMarr pled to a lesser charge to avoid a trial. I see the slimy SOB hasn’t reformed at all.” The Captain turned and headed toward the exit like his boots were on fire. “Come!” he barked. Everyone followed.
It wasn’t long before the group stood in front of a locked warehouse. The sign overhead read ‘Technology Broker’. The Captain used his key to gain entry. Good thing his key and his sidearm were one and the same, saved him the time to pull it. One of the officers that was covering the rear entrance met them in the main office.
“Sir, you’re going to want to see this,” he stated pointing back the way he came and vomiting in a nearby wastebasket. The trio looked at each other before they headed toward the rear of the warehouse.
The moment they rounded a stack of cargo canisters they could see what the officer was talking about. Kay gasped and buried her head in Malcolm’s shoulder. He took a moment to comfort her before directing her back toward the main office. Captain Reynoso made his way to the front of what looked like human remains sitting in a metal chair. The lifeless head tilted backwards, unphased by the strain placed on the neck. Two large holes were drilled into the front of the skull above each eye. He took a wide route, being careful not to step in the large pool of blood surrounding the chair. Next to the chair was the cryopod. It’s pristine surface marred by streaks of blood that ran down its sides. Draped over the pod was the skin of whoever it was sitting in the chair.
“Now we know why he left the pod,” Reynoso stated as he crossed himself.
“And we know what happened to Ron Lara,” Malcolm added. “What I don’t know is why kill so many to break him out just to torture him to death here? And where have they gone?”