After it was all said and done and when the smoke cleared and the gunfiredied
down, in the hindsight that is annoyingly 20/20, he knew that he should have why did he not see it coming this time around? It was like some sort of big joke on the part of the cosmos, and he was the fall guy. The one consolation was that he was skilled enough to deal with these little deviations from the plan. It was a good thing, too. If he hadnt he wouldve been gunned down or blasted into space dust a long, long time ago.
A small yet sturdy ship cruised through Mars orbit, headed for a space station
hanging in space above the red planet. Traffic in Mars orbit was usually pretty heavy, but this ship was nimble and fast enough to avoid getting caught up in the normal hustle and bustle. Stenciled across the bow in red letters was the name Lucky Shot, and if anyone knew their ships they would recognize the ship as a heavily modified Lightspeed-class vessel. It finally pulled up to the station, named Red Mercy. The Terra-and-wings crest of the Terran Union had long been blasted away in the fighting for Martian independence, and now it had been replaced by the three black stars in a golden ring that marked it as owned by the Stellar Syndicate. The station still had burn marks and dents in its armor from the fighting, but it still floated in space and thats all it took to have people doing business. The Lucky Shot turned and backed into a dock. Once the doors had been sealed and the dock reestablished pressure , a freelancer named Kale Sorrel stepped out and looked around. For an outlaw like him, this place meant business.
Kale was here for a meeting, and he elbowed his way through the bustling crowds
to make his way to the stations only bar. The station overall wasnt in the best of shape. Since it was run by a criminal syndicate and rented out to whoever could pay the bills, most of the tenants were less-than-savory characters. They didnt care so much about looking nice as they cared about saving every petty credit they could. Automatic doors didnt work anymore and were jammed open, lights flickered, the air smelled recycled, and the security was terrible. You either kept your hand on your wallet or it would be nabbed by one of the dozens of pickpockets and muggers on the station. But the bar was certainly a degree lower than the rest. The lighting was almost completely gone, the bar itself looked a little filthy, the air recyclers were utterly failing to get all the smoke tobacco based or otherwise out of the establishment, and there were several bullet holes in the walls. And the booze cost too much. But this was where his newest potential employers wanted to meet him, so Kale walked in and found an empty table, ordering a beer from a waitress who looked like she was more than over the hill. When he got the drink he could tell right away that it was watered down to the point where he could debate, with a decent chance of winning, whether or not it could be considered a beer anymore. He waved the waitress away and sipped his water-beer as he scanned the dark room.
Over at the bar were two men, plainly dressed yet still looking more sophisticated
than the rest of the rabble in the place. Their clothes didnt have any burn marks, grease stains, bullet holes, or knife slashes in them, unlike pretty much everyone else including Kale. They were leaning close together, hunched over their drinks. Kale caught them throwing discreet glances his way and looking at a picture. Kales guess that these were his contacts was confirmed when they stood up, walked over, and sat down across the table from him. They threw the picture on the table in front of him and Kale looked down at it. It was a picture of him alright. It looked like it had been taken a few years ago. The scar on his neck from the Chimera Corporation job wasnt in the picture, and neither was the thankfully still-rare grey shooting through his black hair, but it was him.
So, youre the Captain of the Lucky Shot? asked one of the men. Kale noted that they were both rather young, probably not much older than twenty standard, and wondered what they really wanted from him.
Yes, thats me. Kale Sorrel, humbly at your service, Kale said with a wry grin,
raising his glass of water-beer in a mock salute. He took a sip as the man nodded, but the mans partner spoke up.
Wait a second, youre named after rabbit food? the kid asked.
Kale put his glass down and looked at the kid with his best what the hell? look.
Whats a rabbit?
Um, never mind. You wouldnt know, being a spacer. Look, we should get down to business, right? he said in a rush.
Exactly. What is it that you boys want from me? Who do you work for?
We represent the Beta Colonies, Captain Sorrel, said the first one, who Kale
dubbed Boss in his head. The Beta colonies were the second-oldest cluster of colonies on the asteroid belt. We normally are law-abiding citizens of the Union, but recent events have forced us to pursue . . . less than legal means of attaining what we need.
And what, exactly, do you need? Kale asked, keeping his minor impatience out of his voice.
There have been pirates attacking our supply transports and even the colonies themselves for several months now, said the second one, now dubbed Rabbit, or whatever the hell it was Kale was supposed to be food for. The Terran Union Space Force promised to help us, but time and again theyve let us down, mostly because theyre so busy dealing with the Martians and the other rebellions. We need weapons to defend ourselves, something the Union isnt going to give is.
Thats where you come in, continued Boss. We know youve run everything
that can be run past the authorities, and we want you to get us this equipment. Boss slid a datapad across the table to Kale, who picked it up and scanned the contents. He let a low whistle.
You boys want some serious hardware, dont you? he said, looking up from the pad. Most of this is military exclusive stuff. Some of its the best the Union itself can buy. Can you actually pay for all this?
Were serious about this, Captain, said Boss. We cant afford any more losses. And we can pay for it. Trust me. Check your account, and youll find that youve already been forwarded five million credits just for meeting with us. Kale quickly pulled out his own personal datapad and accessed his bank account. Sure enough, there were five million credits in there that hadnt been there yesterday. These guys were for real.
Not bad for colonists who spend their time mining space rocks. When do you
want the stuff delivered?
Twenty standard days from now, answered Boss. We know you have contacts near here, and we know you can make it to Beta from Mars orbit in a week, so that leaves you a few extra days to deal with any complications that you come across.
Kale kept his poker face on, but he really wanted to narrow his eyes suspiciously or something. For a bunch of colonists they knew an awful lot about him and his ship. Add that to the facts that they had managed to contact him discreetly and had millions of credits, and they were definitely not normal miners. Still, who was he to turn down all that money? Besides, he was confident enough in the speed of his ship and his own skills that he felt he could escape easily if it turned out to be a rotten job. Its something hed done before, after all.
Alright then, boys. You have yourself a deal. All of the gear you want will be
delivered to the Beta colony cluster in twenty standard Terran days. Its been a pleasure doing business with you.
Just make sure you succeed, Captain, answered Rabbit as the two colonists
stood up. The colonies are depending on that shipment. With a nod to Kale the pair turned and walked out of the bar.
Kale shook his head in amazement. Hed expected at least a short rough patch
after the last job had gone bust, but he was already five million credits up with more on the way. Fantastic! Kale took a long gulp of his water-beer, relishing the taste for the fact that hed soon be able to afford a much better brew. But just as he put down his glass, three men squeezed into the booth across the table from him. Kale took one look and let his hand slide down to his belt, pressing a small black button on it before one of the three spoke up.
Hands on the table where we can see them, freelancer, the man said in a voice that sounded more like a growl than any noise human vocal cords could produce. He was a hulking example of humanity, looking like an animal Kale had once smuggled to a private collector. A gorilla? Yeah, that was it. His size alone, alongside his (slightly) smaller companions, wouldve been enough to get Kale jumpy. What really set Kales internal alarm system off was the fact that all three were wearing the orange and red jackets of General Hakim, a local drug lord. Gorilla-man was wearing the collar tabs of a Sergeant. Kale always found it funny when drug runners and pirates tried to act like they were in the military. But as stupid as it was, Kale still put his hands on the table. The jumped-up ranks were stupid; Kale wasnt. Oh, it had been such a good day so far too.
Hello, boys. Hows the boss? Hakims doing alright I hope? Kale said, not
letting it show that he was desperate to stall for time.
Oh, you know how it is, freelancer, grumbled gorilla-man. He makes a deal
with you, you dont follow through, he gets annoyed, and sends us out to handle the problem. Ill ask this once, do you have the money? Kale cursed Hakim under his breath.
No, I dont have the money, Kale finally said. And even if I did, I wouldnt
give it to you. I told Hakim that-
You were contracted to make that shipment, scum, gorilla-man snarled at him. Not only did you fail to deliver the drugs to Hakims contacts on Terra, you didnt even return the shipment so someone else could do the job you failed to complete.
I said that I told Hakim that the drugs were crap. Nobody would take them, not even independent dealers who are desperate to make a credit. One guy puked his guts out after sampling the stash. Somebody in your labs has been skimming credits off the top and been making shitty goods for his own profit. Its not my fault that I had to destroy the goods, I spent so much time trying to sell them that I had a Terran anti-smuggling squad on my tail and had to get rid of it.
He doesnt believe you, and quite frankly I cant blame the General, said the
Sergeant, cutting Kale off. Freelancers arent to be trusted. General Hakim hoped
otherwise, but he plans to work with someone higher up in the social workings of the Fringe. You rats arent worth the air you breathe, and were going to make sure you dont screw anyone else. The gorilla-man began reaching for his pistol, as did his lackeys. Kale held up his hands, as if about to plead for his life. But his eyes flickered over to look behind the thugs, and he looked back to gorilla-man with a smile.
The thug to gorilla-mans right went down without a sound as a bullet smashed into his head like a hammer hitting a watermelon. Blood and brains splattered over the Sergeant. But the thug, for all that he was thug, wasnt a rookie. He drew his weapon and turned in the direction of the attack along with his lackey, both probably figuring it would take time for Kale to get his hands off of the table and onto his gun. But Kale
didnt have to reach for his gun. He raised one arm, straightening it suddenly and with a twist of his wrist. A metallic twang sounded from somewhere in his jacket sleeve, and a small dagger popped into Kales hand. Another flick of Kales wrist sent the dagger flying into the side of gorilla-mans neck. The Sergeant, gurgling disgustingly, dropped his gun and clutched at the blade as if pulling it out would save his life. Instead, he slumped backwards, slamming into the last of Hakims thugs. The size of his now dead leader worked against the man, who suddenly found himself pinned to the wall and struggling to free his gun arm. Kale stood up, reaching for his pistol to finish the fight, when he heard the cough of a flechette gun and the surviving thug and the corpse trapping him were both shredded by a storm of metal shards.
Kale took his hand off his still-holstered gun and reached up to wipe the blood
splatter off his face. Sighing, he sat down in his seat and counted to three before turning and looking up at his two rescuers.
Thanks for the rescue, guys. But Bask, must you always use the blender? he said in an exasperated voice. Jana, the petite red-headed co-pilot of the Lucky Shot, holstered her pistol and gave her companion a look that said I told you so. Bask, the tall tough guy of the crew, merely rested the blender on his shoulder and shrugged.
It worked, right Boss? he said in reply. You hit the button for a fast response, and the flechette gun kills things the fastest.. And it keeps the rabble in line. The gunman gestured over his shoulder towards the rest of the room. Kale glanced past his two crewmen and noticed that, yes, everyone was keeping their heads down. Some of the more hardened types were obviously putting away drawn weapons, but that briefly displayed arsenal seemed to only be a precaution on their part in case the fighting spread.
Yeah, whatever, Kale grumbled. Just be careful where you splatter the bad
guys next time, alright?
So, Boss, Jana began, did you get us some work? Something better than drugs, I hope. Jana hadnt approved of selling drugs that would probably get sold to kids and had only gone along with it because the crew was in such desperate need for money and supplies. Kale sometimes thought she was a bit too much of an idealist to be a freelancer, but she wasnt so bad.
Yeah, weapon smuggling. Weve already got 5 big ones in the bank, and plenty more coming once the job gets done. And we wont have to go anywhere near Terra to do it. Ill fill you in after we get out of here. I dont want to be around these three any longer than I have to.
Kale stood up and began walking out of the bar, his crew following him. The
bartender didnt take issue with the fact that Kale hadnt paid for his drink or the cleanup. There were some fights that you just shouldnt start and a confrontation with freelancers willing to blow people away was one of them. Twenty minutes later and the trio were back onboard the Lucky Shot with Kale and Jana prepping the ship for takeoff. Bask went to his quarters; he had no business piloting a Lightspeed-class ship.
Disengaging from the docking hatch, reported Jana as she flipped a switch.
Kale heard a distant thunk as the ship was released from Red Mercy and began drifting away from the station.
Okay, we are now at a safe range, said Kale, his finger hovering over the
ignition button. Next stop is Pioneer City, Mars. Firing engines in three, two, one,
Kale tapped the ignition button and the ships thrusters blazed orange exhaust. With the speed that gave the ships class its name, the Lucky Shot rocketed away from the space station and down towards the planet, carrying it Captain and crew to their next job.