Authors: A. E. McCullough
Tags: #Science Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Fiction, #Speculative Fiction
As the two women moved into the gymnasium,
Stephanie’s mind replayed the events of earlier this morning. She had seen the
arrival of the two Coalition officers and a bounty hunter. The officers had to
be part of some sort of investigation committee. There was no other logical
assumption and it was something she had planned for but the bounty hunter, that
was not in the plan. Additionally, he had been accompanied by an android that
looked so similar to the one standing next to her student that it could be its
As she wrestled with the implications both arrivals
presented, two questions haunted her; how would they affect her mission and did
she need to contact her handler to see if he wanted her to advance the
* * * * *
Even as Roger Thomas, retired Admiral and chief
executive of Titan Avionics, took the call from his friend and the head of the
Saturn Sheriffs, he looked at the hard body of his step-daughter’s tutor with
longing. The parkour coach had nearly perfect curves with skin as white as snow
and ruby red lips. There was just something so enticing about the way she
moved, so graceful and effortless that it was nearly animalistic. He always
found it hard to concentrate whenever she was in sight.
“Admiral, did you hear me?”
Roger turned away from the departing ladies and
tried to recall what his friend had said but failed miserably. “Actually no I
didn’t, I was a bit distracted. What was that you were saying?”
Jeffery Kassinger took a deep breath to calm
himself before continuing. “The Coalition investigating officers have arrived.
From early reports and the files our contacts in the Coalition have
transmitted, the lead investigator is one Commander Alexander Cline. Nothing
spectacular about his career with one exception, he was a captain for almost a
year but was recently demoted. He appears to be the bookworm type, think
accountant with a silver oak leaf. His assistant is a blonde bimbo named Evans.
She appears to be an airhead who obviously only got her rank by her skills in the
Roger punched the corresponding data on his
computer. “I’m looking at their Fleet service records now. They shouldn’t be a
problem. Just keep them busy and flood them with data. Whenever they ask for
something, give it to them immediately but double or triple the amount of
information. Keep the truth buried under a pile of paperwork and everything
will be fine.”
Kassinger nodded. “Okay, next problem. That
reporter strichmädchen and her sidekick are here also.”
“Strichmädchen? I’m not familiar with that term.
What the hell is that?”
Kassinger paused and scratched his chin. “What
would be a good translation? Hmmmm…prostitute? Hooker?”
Roger shook his head. “That isn’t polite, even
from you, to say that about her. Unless you have some proof? Some revealing
Kassinger shook his head. “No, nothing like that.”
Carnal thoughts intruded on his attention and
Roger couldn’t resist the urge to punch up the cameras from the gymnasium.
Images of Stephanie and Kaitlyn stretching filled the monitor screens. Once
again crude thoughts about the parkour coach and his step-daughter intruded on
his mind. “Is that all?”
“Two last wrinkles. The Councilor and a bounty
hunter also arrived this morning.”
“The Councilor was expected. She’s scheduled to
visit our penitentiary on Aegaeon. Make sure our count is correct.” Roger made
the air quotes sign when he said the word - count.
Kassinger nodded. “Don’t worry, it’s covered and I
have the Thimblerig ready. I just thought you should know that she had arrived.”
Roger knew that a thimblerig was another name for
the classic shell game or three-card Monte con-game. It was a plan they had
developed just in case of this type of inspection. They both knew that ninety
percent of the incarcerated felons supposedly stored in the Aegaeon
Penitentiary were actually working as slave labor on their remote facility on
the dwarf planet Haumea. The only way to keep their cheap and disposable work
force a secret was to hide the fact. Since the felons were shipped to Aegaeon in
suspended animation and kept that way during their entire sentence, it had been
easy to divert the majority of the criminals to a secondary location. Once on
Haumea, they were unthawed and forced to work. All the while, Titan Avionics
was able to bill the Coalition government millions of credits for housing the
criminals. It was a brilliant and lucrative plan.
“Now, what’s this about a bounty hunter?”
Kassinger glanced down at his notes. “He goes by
the name of the Red Falcon. According to his documents, his real name is Rote
Faulken and he’s supposedly on the trail of the thief called El Gato. I’ve
heard rumors about this thief. Supposedly he can break into anything and escape
without leaving a trace.”
That brought Roger’s attention back to the task at
hand and he clicked off the monitors to limit his distractions. “And this El
Gato is thought to be in my system?”
Kassinger nodded. “Aye aye Admiral that’s the
Roger raised his one eyebrow in thought. The scars
on the left side of his face from a close encounter with a thermal grenade
during the war prevented any hair from growing on that side and limited certain
facial movements. “Is there any intel on what this El Gato is after?”
“No, sir.” Kassinger paused before adding,
“However, I do have some good news.”
“Mörder has returned.”
Roger clapped his hands with glee. “Outstanding.
I’m assuming he completed his mission.”
“Yes, sir. Your problems with the JDL seemed to
have resolved themselves.”
“That is good news.”
After a brief pause Kassinger asked, “And the
bounty hunter? How do you want me to handle him?”
“Here’s a novel idea, arrest him.”
“I can’t. He hasn’t broken any local laws and he
has all the proper documentation in accordance with galactic law which allows
him complete access to the system.”
“Dammit.” Roger leaned over and typed in a few
commands to run a query through the core-net. Milliseconds later his answer
popped up. “According to my records, the Red Falcon is supposedly on the other
side of the galaxy.”
“It’s my guess that those are just planted rumors
to throw off his prey. From everything I can find he’s a legit hunter with a
decent capture rate. Hell, even his ship’s registry checks out. It’s probably
nothing more than a coincidence that he’s here at the same time as the other
three groups but I’ll keep an eye on him, just in case.”
“You do that.” Roger turned his head slightly so
the scars on his face were highlighted. “Remember what assuming cost us in the
Sheriff Kassinger unconsciously rubbed his
artificial knee as he felt the ghost pain once again. He’d lost the leg
seventeen years ago, yet he still felt the pain. The doctors all said that it
was psychosomatic but that didn’t make the pain any less real to the sheriff.
“Don’t worry Admiral, I will never forget.” He cleared his throat. “I could
have Mörder take care of him.”
Roger shook his head. “No, his skills are too
valuable to waste on a common bounty hunter. Set him the task of tracking down
this El Gato character. I don’t want that thief anywhere in my system.”
Roger disconnected the call and leaned back in his
chair to contemplate the implications of the bounty hunter and the thief
arriving in his system at the same time of the other three investigations.
There had to be a connection. Now he had to decide if he should inform the
* * * * *
Somewhere on the far side of the galaxy, a shadowy
figure watched retired Admiral Thomas’ entire conversation with delight.
One of the being’s four arms reached out and
touched the controls on the computer console and the image of Roger Thomas
shifted to one of the hundreds of monitors which covered the entire wall. A
fresh image of a hulking man in red armor entering some nightclub filled the
huge monitor in front of the mysterious being.
Even as two of the blue skinned arms began
manipulating the console controls and the image zoomed in to focus on Rote
Faulken as he entered the casino, his other two hands rubbed together in an
almost human-like gesture of pleasure.
Andrew Young looked down on the dance floor of his
casino and smiled.
Only seven years ago, he’d arrived on Titan with a
thousand credits and a new name. He’d quickly discovered that having a new
identity, no friends, a need to survive and no past was rather liberating.
Finding employment in a rundown casino, he’d quickly learned the trade. Within
a month had bought out the lion’s share of the casino and set out to make Mocha
Delights, the club he’d renamed after his new identity, to be the premier nightclub
of the Saturn System. With hard work and dedication, it worked. Mocha, as he
was now called, was nearly as rich as the executives of Titan Avionics.
‘Yes, life is good,’
Mocha thought…right up
to the moment he spied the red armored figured walking through the doors to his
nightclub. It was as if the proverbial other shoe dropped and he knew that his
life was about to change again. Only time would tell if it would be for the
good or bad. Moving over to his desk, Mocha tapped the com-link button to notify
his cooler – the title given to the head bouncer.
Mere seconds later, Pridgen answered. “What’cha
“The red armored warrior that just walked in…”
“I see him.”
“…send Lashandra and Tinya over to distract him.
See if they can get him into the back room quietly. I doubt it but try. If not,
have your men ready to grab him but be aware that if he is who I think he is,
you will be in for one hell of a fight.”
Mocha moved over to his private bar and pulled out a
dust covered bottle of Scotch. Pouring himself two fingers worth, he stepped up
to his huge picture window to watch the upcoming festivities.
* * * * *
When DJ walked into the casino, his combat senses
kicked into overdrive.
It wasn’t just the multitude of people or the
blaring techno-music or the flashing neon lights or the numerous cameras posted
all over the place. It was a combination of all these and more which screamed
at him to be wary.
DJ found that Mocha Delights was indeed much more
than a casino.
The bouncers only briefly tried to stop him from
entering and eyed his openly displayed weapons. Copying a trick he’d seen Iaido
perform numerous times, he flipped out his bounty hunter credentials and moved
passed without a word. Only one bouncer tried to stop him but his buddies
pulled him back as he continued forward without acknowledgement.
He only halfway noted that the dance floor to his
left was completely packed. So much so, that if someone passed out they
wouldn’t immediately fall. Personally he couldn’t stand the techno-funk music
which was blasting but the younger generation seemed to enjoy it, including his
daughter. The one thing that he was happy to see was that the proprietor had
built in a dampening field right at the edge of the dance floor. He could
barely hear the rhythmic thumping of the heavy bass or the screeching of the
guitars but he could clearly see the scantily clad ladies and outlandishly
dressed men gyrate to the music since they were less than ten feet away.
Turning his head to the right was the entrance to
the actual casino. It seems that Mocha had also put in a dampening field
generator at this junction also. From his vantage point, he could see craps and
poker tables, slot machines and several other gambling devices which he didn’t recognize.
Even though part of his cover was that he’d won the Aetós in a crap game, he
wasn’t much of a gambler. Sure, he’d played poker with his buddies back in the
Corps but that was more to pass the time and for camaraderie than to actually
gamble. He always figured that he worked too damn hard for his credits to lose
them in a game of chance.
Dead ahead of him was the section he most looked
forward to, the bar. Even though it was crowded, the mass of bodies parted at
his approach. Sliding up to the bar, he unclipped the lower bar of his helmet
and placed it in a special compartment on his belt for just such an occasion.
This exposed his chin and mouth which would allow him to eat and drink without
revealing himself. DJ found himself grinning as he realized how clever Iaido
had been with the helmet and guessed that the Master Chief must’ve had a hand
in redesigning it.
A slender blonde with big blue eyes and small but
perfectly round breasts came over to him from behind the bar. “Hey big fellow,
what do you need?”
“Draft or bottle?”
DJ snickered. “Draft of course.”
Judging from the look the she gave him that was
the proper response. He guessed that many yuppies tried to impress her with
ordering exotic drinks but not knowing how to properly order them. No beer
connoisseur would purposely drink a Draught Guinness from a bottle when draft
was available. And if she was any good as a barkeep it would take almost two
full minutes for her to pour the ancient stout.
He couldn’t help but start a countdown timer with
a flick of his eye when she started pouring his beer. And exactly one-hundred
and eighteen seconds later, she finished pouring his pint. Nearly perfect. A
perfect pour would take one-hundred and nineteen point five-three seconds.
He caught himself scoffing at that knowledge. He
always found it amazing how he can remember trivial facts like that but would
forget names and dates. He remembered Kaitlyn’s birthday but that was about it
when it came to dates. He couldn’t tell you the date he was married or divorce
or even the day he was incarcerated. Of course there was one other date he did
remember, the day he was released from prison.