Black Ghost

Rick Mantilla
Copyright Notice
© 2001 Rick Mantilla

Chapter One

The alarms rang out like they always did. Annoying the dren out of him.
Nothing new he thought. The ship was approaching the Valerra system. “Wonderful,” he muttered to himself. He set the coordinates for the planet Siecom and decided to go into a high orbit so as not to alert the control port and to avoid any recon ships. He wanted to avoid the problem that he had encountered the last time he was here. He made his way back to his quarters.

He laid himself down on his bunk the pain once again reeling from his left hand, it was getting worse. Now it traveled all the way up to his elbow, the numbness and the tingling, a reminder of a battle that just won't fade away. Its funny he thought, anytime he took a job the pain would quickly follow. He couldn't worry about his superstitions he had to concentrate, curious about what type of job awaited him and what he needed to do to get it done. He closed his eyes and focused on his breathing. It was the only way he could ease the pain. He lay there perfectly still concentrating. As it began to subside his thoughts raced in his head, a thousand memories began to flood in all at once pieces of his life or lack of it flashing rapidly. “No regrets…no guilt,” he whispered to himself. The battles, the blood spilled all in the name of survival. His. Not for some noble cause, he had already done that and paid the price for it. Now it was about him and what he had to do to get by. Being an outcast was something that he had become accustomed to. Being hunted by peacekeepers was nothing he worried about. He had been one of them…a BLACK GHOST. The elite peacekeepers used in covert operations. Masters in assassinations, torture, misinformation, and arbitrary “cleansing” of species. These special ops troops tended to work outside normal operational procedures more often than not. He bore their black mark on his upper left shoulder. Only a few ever get to this level of service. Recruited from peacekeepers born into service and put thorough a battery of psychological and military training, many die before they reach the cycle of ten. He was one of the unfortunate ones.

Black ghosts are the most feared troops in the peacekeeper core living a solitary life by a strict code never interacting with other troops. They always complete their missions no questions asked even at the expense of their own life, which is expendable for the greater good. Once recruited, the parents of the offspring are “re-assigned” and are never heard from again. Or they are gloriously “killed” in battle. He never knew them and his only memories are fading with time. If he tries hard he can remember the smell of his mother. It does not matter to him now if he ever found them. Like his hand he had become numb. Bored. Wasting his life traveling across the galaxy in a daze. You are in service until you meet your death or when you have reached a cycle when you are “de-ranked” when you are no longer of use. Then you live out the rest of your cycles volunteering for experiments ranging from an enhanced bio military weapons training to advanced breeding where they attempt to breed black ghosts within the ranks. No honors, no recognition. Just a life of brutal service where in the end you are born just to die.

His thoughts lead him back to the day when he betrayed everything that he believed in, the day that led him to use his pulse rifle on his comrades and commanding officers paving the way for his escape to freedom. He grew sick and tired of the carnage, the decisions that high command made, and his willingness to follow their orders. It was slowly killing him. For a brief moment he had a thought, a free one and he acted on it. He had been trained all his life to follow orders never questioning them. He always had thoughts; doubts and he always managed to suppress them, but not this time, not on this mission. It all happened so quickly that he does not remember much except the bodies of his commanding officers that lay dead in front of him. He never tried to feel for his enemies but he could not help but feel for his regiment and how he had to use them to gain his freedom. Better now that they die by his hands than to die for a foolish cause that high command may order them to embark. He thought he was being merciful trying to justify what he had done.

He was the first and only black ghost to ever break ranks to escape into a life that he had never known. Coming after him would be a priority on their list. Frell, it would always be on their list. But he knew their tactics and methods so he would always see them coming. But they did have resources…deep resources, which meant that they could buy all of the scum of the galaxy to hunt him down. That was his only concern. Being sequestered from the population was going to make it difficult to get help when he needed it. And if anyone ever found out what he was, he knew his death would be a long a painful one. No black ghost had ever been captured alive or dead so any number of species would love to be the first to claim this. He knew that the price on his head would be large and he would use this to his advantage, they would have to use other channels being discreet talking only to a few. His only chance would be to play a role in their game, to be a hunter, to build his reputation and make contacts in a filthy world that made living in a stomach of a budong a much more favorable place.

The alarms rang out once again signaling that the planet was approaching. He opened his eyes and looked up at the ceiling of his quarters. He looked at his hand and began to flex it, slowly moving each finger until he began to feel the blood flow through. The pain was gone, but the memories lingered. He sat upward with just a dazed look on his face as if he was just caught in a blast. He touched his shoulder and felt the cold armor that protected him…the armor that covered his mark, he thought about the mark for a microt, about what he was, what he had done, what he is now, and what he wanted. He was confused about everything. He pushed himself to get out of his bunk and made his way to the command deck.

Chapter 2

The Valerra system is composed of nine planets each with its own ruling house. They are all traders. The house of Necli on Siecom is the weakest. They have been trying for three hundred cycles to move up in their position among the houses. Lying, cheating, stealing, and murder are not uncommon among the houses but it seems to run rampant in this one. And it's just not the ruling houses it's all of the planets inhabitants. Every one of them living a life in which trading whether its information, pulse pistols, slaves, is all for the opportunity to move up in class. The more you have the higher you go. Living in a society where one's parents can kill their offspring if they feel that their wealth is a threat. The planets in this system seem content to fight it out themselves without bothering the other nearby systems. Nor has any other system expressed an interest in them preferring instead to use the resources available to them. If it exists and you are willing to pay the price you can probably get whatever you are looking for on one of these planets. Everyone comes here to talk business and to do business since these planets do little to attract attention and is just out of reach of peacekeeper territory. A perfect place to go if you want to lay low and make contacts.

Although each planet has its own military force, they do little to enforce the laws. But they do try to maintain the appearance of formality to keep face. The military commanders of each ruling house have been trying in secret to combine forces to overthrow all the houses in the system but because of disagreements and distrust little has been accomplished. The houses have been aware of the attempted coup and have hired mercenaries to assassinate suspected leaders and have paid other military figures for their loyalty. But the military does like to know who is on their planet and why and have paid informants who gather the information they require. Information is power and if they can use it to their advantage they will. However, those recon ships are another story.

The recon ships are pirates hired by the houses to spy. To see what the ships are carrying and if they pose a threat to them. The arrangement is that if any of the houses suspect that any ship is carrying what they considered “contraband” than the house has the right to keep some if not all of the contents of the ship including its passengers whom sometimes end up as slaves or are sold to the highest bidder. What ever the house does not want the pirates are free to keep which is usually the ship and what ever remains inside. The ships are either modified or sold for scrap which ever is the most profitable. The only ships that are allowed free passage are food freighters and medical frigates. They are identifiable by a special homing beacon that all of the houses have agreed upon. There is a representative of each house present to monitor the loading and unloading of the cargo to ensure that the cargo poses no threat. So far it's been very profitable for both the houses and the pirates.

He scanned to see if he had received any hails. There were none but a medical frigate attempted a long-range scan but the ship managed to jam them.
Great now they are using med frigates to scan. Things are going to go from bad to worse if any of the other houses finds out he thought. He maintained a high orbit until he would receive a coded signal that he would have to secure then enter the cypher key in order to decoded it. Until then he would begin to prepare.

He made his way to the lower level of the ship to where the weapons storage bin was. He affectionately named her sat, Sperian Automated Transport. One of the few remaining ships in her class left in the galaxy that survived the Hundred Cycle War. She was in decent shape after what she had been through. These transport ships were used for rapid deployment of troops and were heavily armed. The ship had four levels including the command deck and a cargo bay that was large enough to hold a recon ship or two prowlers. He made some modifications on her but essentially she remained the same. When he gets to the bin, a massive door separating him and his prized possessions, his lifeline. “Please come forward for retinal scan.” He moves his head forward looking straight into the blue light. The scan proceeds as normal. “Scan complete. Identification verified. Welcome back commander.” The heavy doors opened up to reveal an arsenal of weapons. He already knew what he wanted. He grabs his pulse pistols; two for his holsters around his waist and two for the ones that he would carry on his shoulders. He reached for two plasma grenades, which could be put to good use, should he get caught in a tight scrape it would be his way out. He leaned over to his left and reached for his thermal sensor. A little gift from his days as a black ghost. Slightly modified but essentially the same, the sensor regulates body temperature, after all he was sebacean, but the added little feature is that it also masks heat signature making it impossible for anyone to track him by using thermal and infrared scans. He doubled checked his body armor to ensure that it was in good condition. It was one of his payments from the Zipeaga mining guild. They hired him to bring back a miner that had gotten too greedy and tried to smuggle out ores and metals. He knew a good thing when he saw it. The armor gives him excellent protection and so far it's the only one of its kind and he was never found another individual with this type of body armor. The mining guild told him that they found the armor while mining on Ajorka along with some other artifacts. He always promised himself that one-day he would try to track down its origins. He stopped to think to make sure that what he was taking with him was enough. One of his shortcomings was that he was extremely meticulous. Even his commanding officers told him that this was an asset and a weakness. He laughed it off when he thought this. The ship alerted him that the signal had been acquired and he made his way to the command deck.

Once on the command deck he made his way towards the communications console and began to enter the cypher key. “Cypher key accepted. Decoding signal. Standby for incoming message,” read the console. A voice cracked out, “…Ah my old friend so happy to see you again. I trust that your trip was uneventful?” “As uneventful as this conversation,” he quipped. “Same old Traynor I see.”

U'ave, the vilest in the house of Necli, always working an angle looking for the edge. He was not so concerned with bringing his house upward in status as much as he was looking to gain power over the entire system. This made him dangerous and someone not to be trusted. But he did have many contacts that have always proved useful. “Everything has been arranged. Shall we meet at our usual location?” he asked. “Fine by me. And U'ave, I'll know if the items that I requested are second hand so your price better be fair.”
“Traynor you know you can trust me. Have a little faith. I'll will see you in eight arns.” He took the ship out of high orbit and contracted the control port.

“Sperian transport permission granted. Please commence landing procedures and follow flight path to dock 4478. Welcome to Siecom.”

The ship began to its decent following its guided flight path. As the city began to emerge he saw that it had become larger. The whole planet was used up. Every piece of available land was either bought, waiting to be traded or was destroyed and in the process of being restored. Food and water were grown and recycled underground mainly because of the layers of the upper planet's atmosphere had been destroyed due to industrialization. He began to see beautiful buildings pierce the horizon as the city came into view. Ships and support pods swarmed all over the skies. He could see food and water being brought to the surface being loaded onto pods that would head for the docking bay and be loaded onto freighters under the watchful eyes of one of the representatives of the opposing house. He started to feel the filth cover all of him. He hated to feel this way but these people were a means to an end. His survival depended on them.

The long tunnel that was the entrance to the docking bays grew closer and he could begin to see the streets cluttered with people hustling about making their little deals. The ship made a sharp right turn and he looked up just in time to see the ship enter the tunnel. He could see the exit a long way off, a perfect place for an ambush he thought. His mind began to race with different scenarios that might happen and he came up with the four most likely. One: a ship could be waiting for him at the end of the tunnel waiting to fire once he emerged and was clear of it. If that did not happened then any number of ships that were landing or taking off would be able to fire on him. He was not so concerned with Sat taking on the blasts she could take it. What he was concerned about was the pulse blasts that would cause her to be pushed into a number of structures or people. On her current flight path she would have little room to maneuver. And if any of the blasts ricocheted off of her hull he knew that it could hit other ships. If he timed it right he would be able to veer out of the line of fire but a lot of people and things would be singed. Two: They would hit him once he was on the ground and he was out of the ship and on the landing deck. With all the noise on the deck, a sniper with a suppressed pulse rifle would be the way to go. He could to try to escape by blending in with the quickly moving crowd. He wasn't worried about being hit, his body armor would protect him…but not against a headshot. He knew that in these types of situations, snipers are trained to aim for the head the easiest and most visible part of the body. He had been to this planet before, landed in these same docks. There was no real advantageous position for a sniper to be. Its not unheard of mounting a sniper on a moving ship. This would be easy with all of these ships moving about. But this was way too expensive and attracts too much attention. But you never know how high someone is willing to pay to get rid of you. He had to play out the hand that was dealt to him. Three: When he landed and exited the ship the crowd would open fire on him. He knew that he could probably handled three of four of them but if he was caught in a crossfire or overrun then he was in trouble. In which case he would use this plasma grenades and if he was lucky he would be able to escape without killing himself. And lastly nothing would happen. He would soon find out.

The ship exited the tunnel and Sat was in a holding pattern until traffic ahead was cleared. Now is a good a time as any. He grew anxious. He looked out of the cockpit window trying to see if he could spot any ships that looked like they were in an offensive position. He saw nothing. Because of the holding pattern his only field of view was directly ahead he could not see to his left, right, below or above. “Twenty more microts then resume course,” the control port blurted out. “Wonderful” he replied.
Hurry up lets move, he felt way too exposed like this. Those microts seemed like arns to him. Finally the control port signaled that all was clear to proceed. She resumed her flight path to dock 4478. Still no signs of any ships. He looked out of the left side of the cockpit window and saw the crowds. The sound of the landing beacon went off signaling that the dock was approaching. He took one quicker glance out of the window and saw nothing. One down, three to go.

The ship entered the dock loudly, dust spewing in the air as the thrusters fought the gravity. The retro thrusters fired and Sat slowly began to lower herself to the pad. She landed with a gentle thud. Her engines shut down and the sound of coolant being sprayed on her hull and engines started. He saw the ground crew begin to scurry around her. He began a self-diagnostic on the ship and made his way to the landing ramp to inspect her hull wondering what to expect.

Chapter 3

Traynor headed to the landing ramp and hit some buttons to open it. The sounds of the huge hydraulic ramps coupled with the steam and pressure being released made for a deafening sound. If anyone were any good now would be the right time to strike while everything is in disarray.
Frell that's what I would do he thought to himself. As the ramp opened, he placed each hand on the pulse pistols that were on his waist, slowly unlatching the safety attachment to it. He lowered his hands so that he could place his fingers on the triggers; he wanted to be the first one to shoot if he did not like what he saw. As the noise subsided and the steam cleared he looked around. Moving his head in a methodical fashion he saw everything in less than 5 microts. He looked for snipers scanning the buildings, ships, and the crowd. He saw the three figures to his left that were quickly talking and exchanging credits and saw the crowd to his right that clamored next to a freighter that was auctioning off fabric and food, he saw the ground crew moving about. No threats. He could relax a bit. Two down, two to go. He started to walk down the landing ramp and stopped at the foot of the ramp and stood there purposely. He then proceeds to move forward then stopped and turned around facing the ship. He looked over at the crowd.

The Siecomians were funny looking people. Extremely short they had long arms that nearly dragged on the ground as they walked. They had broad shoulders, small waists with a large midsection. They had narrow faces and huge sloped foreheads. The females on the other hand were a sight to behold. Beautiful soft skin with silky long hair that draped nearly down to their waist. Some looked sebacean while others were clearly hybrids, slaves that have lived here for cycles. One thing was certain the Siecomians were very protective of their women. Its been said that the males will kill in an instant should they feel that their female was being looked upon and coveted.
Three down. “It looks like its going to be number four” he said this out loud as if he was disappointed. He looked at Sat she was beautiful. He moved towards the ship to begin the inspection. Traynor placed his hand on the hull as he walked around her; it was black, sleek, shiny, and clean. He could see the traces of the silver alloy that was embedded in her hull that made up her defense screen. He glanced at where her armaments were, neatly hidden. He smiled like a proud father as he continued to run his hand gently over her. Because of Sat's color and unique shape, it is nearly impossible to see her when she is coming at you head on. She was deadly when she wanted to be with three gun turrets, one at the front, rear, and center of the ship.

As he approached the rear of the ship, Traynor saw two burly figures; one he recognized immediately, the other he never saw before. He was a fellow hunter that he had run into on several occasions. He continued to walk around the ship moving on with his inspection trying to ignore them, but he could feel their eyes hovering over him. “Traynor Dekksin!!” one of them shouted out.
Great why don't you just announce me over everyone's comlink he thought to himself. Traynor had no choice now but to acknowledge them. “Who wants to know?” he said sternly. “Its me, Cosa!!” one of the burly figures shouted back. Traynor just looked at him and smirked. Both figures moved towards him. Traynor slowly lowered his right hand to his holster and placed his hand on the pistol as if to rest on it while moving his left hand over the hull as so not to attract attention to what he actually had in mind. “How are you my brother?” Cosa said enthusiastically. “I'm not your brother Cosa.” Traynor snapped back. Laughing, “Come now. We are all brothers when it comes to this line of work. In fact this ugly thing next to me is my younger brother, Odosa. I'm teaching him the business.” “So you are the one that my brother speaks of so lowly of. An honor to meet you.” Both figures laughed Traynor just looked annoyed. “ I take it that you are here to start a job. Tell me, do you have room for one more? Things have been kind of slow for me.” “Looks like you've been feeding yourself pretty well” Traynor replied looking at Cosa. “ Can't be that slow.” Cosa laughs rubbing his stomach, “ In this business you need to keep up your strength you never know what may happen.” “ From the looks of it you could stand to eat a little bit more” Odosa replied. “ I'm alright besides I like to look at my feet every now and then just to make sure that I still have them” Traynor deadpanned. Cosa looked at his brother's face and saw that he was angry he immediately steeped in, “ In all seriousness, things have been very slow for me and I could use a little help. Traynor, you have been my competitor and my friend anything that you can throw my way would be greatly appreciated.” Traynor laughed, “ Friend? We've been competitors but never friends. And you know that I work alone. If things are so bad why take on a partner?” “ Partner? Oh yes of course my brother. Well you see I have gotten myself in deep with one of the houses and…” “What couldn't pay the bill for your food?” “No traynor really, its serious this time. You know the casinos and me; I just can't resist the game of chance. This time I ended up on the wrong side of it. I would not be asking you if it was not serious.” “ Is it your debt or your brother's?” “ No mine. I figured if I taught him the business he might be able to help me out. He has nothing to do with this. They are going to take my ship and everything else I own unless in five solar days I can come up with ten percent of what I owe to show them good faith.” “ So why don't you sell your brother?” Traynor snapped. Cosa's voice grew angry, “ Look I hate to beg you, but if that's what you want I will. I can't afford to loose everything I have.” “Why don't you just work off your debt to the house? I'm pretty sure they would like to have someone like you on their payroll.” “ No I tried that. They said that would rather have their money. Besides I know that there are others that they would like to hire on a more permanent basis.” Cosa stared coldly at Traynor. “ Yes it would be a lot easier for us if there wasn't such a demand for a particular group of hunters” Odosa stated flatly. “ Look I'm sorry but you know I work alone. I hate the extra cargo that comes with taking on a partner. I'm sure you'll find something if you look. It's a big system. Good luck.” Traynor turned around and started back to the landing ramp, “But Traynor…” Cosa stammered. Turning around but not stopping, “ I said good luck” and he continued on to the ramp. Odosa moved towards him as if to grab him by his shoulders, and was abruptly stopped by Cosa. “ Call me if you change your mind” Cosa shouted at him.

He's in trouble. Only a fool would place a bet so large that he can't cover it. And Cosa was a fool. He was the most inept hunter that Traynor ever met. But he always got by. Traynor knew that the house would take more than just his ship, a whole lot more. Cosa knew that too. Sebeaction slaves were hard to come by. He wondered how much of a price Cosa would fetch. He did not want to do anything for him. Traynor walked to the base of the ramp and turned to see the trading going on, and then made his way back up the ramp. What he saw made his stomach turn. He had a couple of arns to kill before he met up with U'ave. Maybe if he lay down for a bit the pain in his stomach would fade. He hated how he had to pretend he was one of them. He hated the greed.

Traynor boarded the transport pod and headed to meet U'ave at the usual place, a bar on the western part of the city where everyone goes to when they want to talk about serious business. It's a place where money and information is exchanged. The trip took about half an arn from the docking bay if the pilot didn't take you on the extended tour to all the gaming parlors. “ Make sure that we head straight to Attan's, no detours.” The pilot nodded his head yes and mumbled something under his breath. Attan's was just another bar in a different system, like the hundred others that he had been to. But Traynor had a connection with this one. It felt like home to him. Since he never knew what a home was it was the closest thing that he was going to get. It was Attan that helped him get his first job, one that did not pay well, but it was a way in. And he had helped him buy Sat. Well, not really. The delvian that owned her was someone that Attan did not like so he rigged a card game. Traynor paid him what he had and worked out the rest in trade. He did not trust him, but the same could not be said of Attan. He trusted Traynor explicitly. But both of them knew that business was business and if Attan needed him for a job that he would have to pay like all the rest. If Traynor showed him any type of favoritism or kindness, he would be considered weak and a liability in the eyes of his retainers and fellow hunters. The two of them knew what type of relationship they had and never spoke about it or crossed the boundaries.

The sun began to set as the pod started to land and the he would soon begin to see the real scum come out from their hiding places. He paid the pilot and began his short walk to the bar. As usual people came up to him trying to lure him to the gaming parlors with promises of free alcohol and women while others tried to push off different types of goods. He walked by them ignoring them as he made his way to the entrance of the bar. That's where the street hustlers would stop dead in their tracks knowing that anyone who heads to Attan's had better things to do than to be bothered by petty street vendors. Traynor stopped at the entrance of the bar and looked at the doorframe looking for the spot where all the notches were. The number of notches was even on both sides of the frame. Attached on the left side of the frame was a box that he opened up revealing a small but sharp knife. He took the knife out of the box and began to crave another notch on the left side of the frame then placed in back the box. He rubbed his fingers over the newly carved notch and looked at it briefly then went inside the bar.

He passed through the doorway into a small hallway that was nearly pitch black. The only light that penetrated the darkness was that of the holes that were on the ceiling obviously caused by patrons who finished their business transactions with a pulse blast. He stepped over a few bodies in his time but he never once thought about who they were or the life they led. They were just in his way. But Traynor would always glance at them as he passed by just to make sure that they were cold.

As the entrance of the bar grew closer he began to hear all different types of voices, talking loudly, laughing, shouting most of them drunk. The music grew louder as the steps that he would have to climb down to get to the bar approached. The air began to smell. Not a foul odor but that of alcohol mixed with cold filtered air that was being piped in through the vents. It was a sweet fragrant smell that he liked and that was familiar to him. Traynor was home.

Attan was at his usual spot behind the bar working to quickly fill the drink orders. You could see that some of the servers were growing impatient by their expressions on their faces. He was a tall delvian, lean and muscular for a man his cycle. His face was covered with distinctive wrinkles that creased his blue face anytime he would show emotion. He was an imposing figure and had a reputation of being a fair man, when he wanted to be. Anyone coming into his place looking to start trouble and better think twice. All the real players knew that his place was a haven to do business. Anyone foolish enough to disrupt “business” was dealt with permanently. Attan had three rules; that you settled your bill before you left, take any trouble outside, and the bar received a transaction fee, the cost of doing business in his bar. Everyone was happy to oblige. Attan looked up from behind the bar just in time to see Traynor come in. They both exchanged a look.

He walked over to the bar accidentally bumping into two tavleks that were drunk. One of the tavleks stopped and waited for Traynor to turn around but he ignored them and continued to the bar. The Tavlek mumbled something at him, and then fell onto his knees, fell forward, landed and his face and passed out. His friend helped him to his feet and they both left the bar. One of the servers, Elantras, a sebacean, and an ex-smuggler smiled at him when he approached the bar. Squeezing his left arm, “Hi Traynor. Welcome back. Come to take me away from all of this?” “And take you away from your adoring subjects?” he replied looking at the table where some Siecominans were getting rowdy waiting for their drinks. Attan placed the last drink in her serving tray while she planted a kiss on his left cheek and whispered into his ear, “ Its good to see you again.” Saying that she picked up her tray and was off to serve her impatient guests. He turned around and looked her over as she walked away. Frell, she is beautiful. “ I don't know why she picked you” Attan said in a surprised and disappointed tone. “ Hey, don't look at me. I haven't done anything to encourage her.” “Uh-huh…you don't have to Traynor.” He began to feel uncomfortable with what Attan was saying so he tried to move onto a different subject. Before he could ask for a drink, Attan had already placed on in his hand. He took a sip of his drink and looked around the bar. Based on what he saw took another sip; this time a longer one. Aged to perfection he thought to himself as the last drops hit the back of his throat. “ He's been sitting at his usual spot for a bit.” Attan said without looking up. “ For how long?” “ I don't know. I had to go to the docking bays and unload a freighter that came in with supplies that I needed. When I came back he was here. But Elantras has been here all day.” Attan motioned her to come back to the bar. She nodded her head and looked at Traynor and smiled. She was only to happy to return growing tired of being groped by her raunchy guests. She playfully brushed up against Traynor when she got to the bar. Attan just rolled his eyes. “ How long as he been here?” Attan asked as he looked at this patron suspiciously. “ He came in about a half an arn after you left. He sat down and ordered as usual. Not long after that he began to do business with his regulars and he has not stopped ordering since.” She placed the serving tray on the bar top and then frowned. “ What?” Traynor asked. “ There was someone that he was with but I did not recognize. They were speaking for quite awhile. I didn't see him come and I did not see him leave.” Attan looked at Traynor, “ She knows everyone that comes into this place. If she doesn't know him then he's not a regular.” “ Well might as well get this over with. I'm tired.” Traynor replied. Attan just looked at him.

He began to walk over to where U'ave's table was. He usually liked to pick a spot in the bar where his back was up against the wall to see what was going on, but mainly so that he would not get shot in the back. As Traynor approached U'ave looked up and smiled. He put away what to Traynor looked liked money and technical diagrams. “ Ah Traynor, good to see you again. Sit. Sit. Can I get you something to drink?” Traynor raised up his left hand showing his drink. “ Well I mean after you've finished that one.” “ Yeah, sure.” He took a seat in front of U'ave and placed his drink on the table, U'ave watching him closely. “ I have the items that you have requested. They are on a freighter called the Takayi at docking bay 3744 awaiting your inspection.” “ Good once I take a look for myself and I like what I see than I will pay the agreed price. If not then one of us is going to be very unhappy.” Traynor replied tilting his head back finishing his drink. “ Traynor, everything is a negotiation…” chuckling, “ Life is a negotiation.” “Maybe. But negotiation is about power, leverage. About who has the advantage. No one ever gets what he or she wants when negotiating. You only get what you really want by taking it.” Replied Traynor. “ Hmm. Interesting point.” Motioning to a waiter, “ I'll have to remember that for the next time. Waiter!! Another ocono for my friend here. As a matter of fact make that two.” The waiter nodded.

The waiter returned with the drinks and started to place one in front of U'ave, but before he could place the drink down on the table, U'ave grabbed the drink out of his hand and drank it one long gulp. Traynor just looked at him. “ Better bring him another one. And quick before he tries to say something intelligent.” U'ave let out a hearty laugh. “ You know what? Just keep them coming.” Traynor said to the waiter throwing several gold coins onto the waiter's tray. “ Thank you sir.” replied the young delvian waiter and placed the second drink in front of Traynor.

“ But enough small talk,”
this is small talk? thought Traynor. “ Lets get down to business.” Traynor took a sip of the ocono and looked at U'ave as if to say go on with it. “ I have something big…very big that's going to pay you very well indeed.” Traynor finished his drink and looked over to where the waiter was and signaled to him that he was ready. The waiter brought over two more drinks. “ How big?” Traynor asked. “ Big enough that the retainer came to me over a cycle ago and now that the opportunity has presented itself the retainer wants to use your services exclusively.” U'ave took a sip of his drink this time. “ Who else knows about this?” “No one just me. The retainer knows that I can get things done in a quiet fashion. And that you and I do business quite a bit and maintain a somewhat open line of communication.” “ Let me get this straight? The retainer contacted you over a cycle ago, been paying you all this time waiting for the right opportunity all in the hopes that you may be able to contact me?” Traynor said angrily finishing his drink. “ What and if I get paid is no concern of yours” U'ave said sternly. “ YES IT IS.” Replied Traynor loudly, slamming his glass on the table. Attan and Elantras and some of the other patrons looked over at where they were sitting. “ It makes it look like that I work only for you. And I don't. I work for whom I want and when I want. Is that what you told the retainer?” U'ave just glared at him. “ You lying filthy trat! You did say that. You've been making money off of me…off of my name!” Traynor said loudly. “ Now Trynor…” Uave stammered. Attan whispered into the waiter's ear and placed two drinks on his tray and he left for the table. Traynor regained his composure, “ Lets negotiate. Those items on the Takayi, I'll pay half the price that we agreed upon regardless of the condition.” “WHAT? You must be drunk,” U'ave shouted back. The waiter approached and placed the drinks on the table. “ Compliments of the house,” he said and went back to the bar. Traynor quickly glanced over to Attan who was looking intensely at the both of them anxiously waiting to see what may happen. Traynor focused his attention back to U'ave who began to feel uneasy. “ Half and then I will decide if I still want to hear what you have to say.” “ Fine its agreed. And I know you want to stay and hear me out. If you didn't than you would not be sitting here right now.” He was right. Anyone will to spend money a cycle in advance before any actual work was done was someone who had nothing to loose and everything to gain and would be willing to pay any price to get what he needed. Traynor couldn't resist. “ Go on.” U'ave slyly smiled. The music began to grow louder and both of them reached for their drinks at the same time. As U'ave began to talk a group of people entered the bar shouting and laughing heading to the table where the other rowdy bunch were. Traynor and U'ave paid no attention to them. U'ave continued to talk, Traynor closely listening to him hanging on his every word that came out of his mouth. The music and the crowd grew louder but to both men it was just background noise something to tolerate. As U'ave finished Traynor looked at him in disbelief, “ You want me to go after WHAT?

Chapter 4

“ I think you're drunk,” Traynor said as he sat back in his seat. “ You can't be serious?” “I can assure Traynor this is real. So serious that you can name your price, whatever it will take to get you to accept the job.” Name my own price? Never thought I would ever see the day thought Traynor. “A leviathan? The retainer wants a leviathan. Why?” “Wormholes. Know anything about them?” Traynor nodded yes. U'ave continued, “The retainer needs a leviathan to complete a scientific research project that is currently on going. It's a vital piece of research that is missing.” “Still tells me nothing. Why a leviathan?” “Are you familiar with how wormholes work?” “Yes” “Are you familiar with what a leviathan is. How it works?” “YES,” said Traynor growing annoyed. “Good than it will save me some time explaining. The retainer believes that the leviathan is the missing key that would solve all of the technical problems. You see my good friend; a leviathan has this uncanny ability to starburst and reappears again in a different part of the galaxy. Granted it is used as purely a defensive weapon but the retainer believes that because of this ability, the technology may be adapted to stabilize wormhole travel. And because it's a bio-mechconoid it may provide answers to why the hull integrity of the test ships are failing.” “You seem to know an awful lot of information. Why was the retainer so eager to divulge so much sensitive information to you?” “I have already given you more information than I should have. Lets just say that the retainer and I have a common interest.” Traynor signaled the waiter to bring two more drinks. Name my own price and go after a ship frell finally some good luck heading to my direction. But it still didn't feel right to him. “Finding a leviathan shouldn't be too hard, may take me some time. May take me a very long time.” “NO not just any leviathan, the retainer wants a particular one.” Traynor looked at U'ave with his mouth slightly open, “Huh?” replied Traynor. “Have you seen any of the wanted beacons?” Traynor shook his head no. He paid no attention to the beacons. A majority of them were from peacekeepers that often used bounty hunters. They paid well but were not an option for him. Traynor took a sip of his drink. “There is a large leviathan ship called Moya. It is the perfect specimen. It is this ship that you are to go after…should you accept the job,” U'ave said sure of what Traynor's answer would be. Traynor knew what leviathans were but he never tracked one down before nor was he sure that he would be able to. “Is there any cargo on board?” “Well, yes sort of. There are three passengers and they all have bounties on them. As a bonus you can keep any cargo you find onboard as well as collect the bounty on them if you wish, all the retainer wants is the ship.” “Do you know anything about them?” “All I know is that there is a luxan, a hynerain, and a delvian on board. Other than that your guess is as good as mine,” U'ave said looking away. Traynor finished his drink and paused. It was a real good deal and it would keep him busy for a while. He didn't care about the passengers or if there was any cargo on board. “What's your percentage?” “None. I'm not taking my standard twenty five percent,” U'ave said, “As I stated before we have a common interest. Well what do you think? Are you going to take the job or not?” “I'll take it, but my price is three times my normal fee plus a twenty percent bonus…” “For what?” “For graciously putting me on your payroll for the past cycle. And I want all of it up front.” U'ave extended his hand to seal the deal, “And,” Traynor continued, “I want your fee to go to the bar.” “Deal,” U'ave replied as Traynor shook his hand. “There's one more thing,” said U'ave. He reached down into a pouch and took out a small rectangular object with some inscriptions on it. “Take this. Once you find the leviathan, activate it by pressing the button. Your coordinates will be transmitted automatically. A representative of the retainer will meet you to collect the ship.” He handed the transmitter to Traynor. He looked at it then placed it in his pocket. “You do understand that this will take some time. Leviathans when they starburst can't really pinpoint their coordinates so they can end up anywhere in the galaxy.” “It is already understood. Take the time that you need and do what you must.” “Meet me at the docking bays in the morning. I'll pick up my items and we'll settle then. And I'm counting every last bit I'm not leaving until I'm sure that it's all there.” “Of course.” Traynor finished his drink and stood up, “Thanks for the drinks.” “Your welcome,” U'ave replied looking at Traynor. With that Traynor turned around and walked to the bar. U'ave picked up his drink and looked up to see him walk away. “Soon…very soon,” he said to himself smiling as he took a sip of his drink.

“Everything go well?” Attan asked genuinely interested. “Very well,” replied Traynor almost managing a smile. “Are you smiling?” “You'll be smiling soon enough too.” Attan looked confused. “Have any plans in the morning?” Attan shook his head no. “Meet me at docking bay 3744. I'm settling with U'ave.” “Great thanks,” Attan replied sarcastically. “Relax you're not going to help me load Sat with my supplies,” Traynor said chuckling. “I have a list of items that I need you to get. Besides you need to pick up your cut.” “My cut?” “Trust me. You'll be smiling.” “Why don't you give me the list now.” “No, not yet I need to check on some things I need to be sure.” He always used Attan to get the hard to find items. If U'ave thought he got items very quietly than Attan was nearly invisible. He turned around and looked at where Elantras was. She was waiting on tables flirting with her customers hustling to make her tips. “You going to say goodbye?” “No. I'll see her when I get back. She'll understand.” “You make your mark on the doorframe?” “Yeah I did.” There was a long and awkward pause between the two men, finally Attan spoke, “Well get me your list so I can work on it. I need you to come back to finish the mark on the doorframe. This place is ugly enough as it is, I don't want that doorframe looking uneven now.” Traynor looked at him and nodded his head. “Goodnight.” “I'll see you in the morning,” replied Attan sounding like a reassuring father. He turned around and left. Elantras looked up smiling after hearing a comment made by one of her patrons. She looked all over the bar looking for him, but he was gone. She could hear the people at the table giving her their drink orders, “I'll be right back,” she replied coldly staring at the steps that led to the doorway hoping to catch a glimpse of him. She didn't.

He breathed in the night air as he left the bar. He stepped aside so that some other people approaching the bar could get by. His mind was once again racing, thinking about what he had to do next. Worried about all the different problems that he may face trying to track a leviathan. He was always thinking, a luxury he never had when he was a black ghost. He always thought things out, never acting on instinct. He saw too many people die who acted on instinct. This is why he never acted on Elantras. He could never tell what may happen with her. Frell he was tempted but he never liked being unsure. But Traynor couldn't worry about that now. He had to look for any information that the ship's data banks had relating to leviathans. He walked to where he would be able to pick up a transport pod back to the docking bay and felt his stomach begin to turn. He felt the same way he did when he landed on Siecom and walked down the landing ramp, but this time his head hurt. He did not know if it was all the thinking, the alcohol or how he felt doing business with U'ave. He had to take the job; the money would help him out in for a while. Still the greed got to him. Maybe how he felt was a combination of the three. Traynor could not worry about how he felt now; he had too much to do. He could sleep off whatever he felt once he was on the ship.

HUNTER!” a voice shouted out from the shadows. Traynor quickly turned around, his hand placed on his right holster and began to draw his pistol his finger on the trigger ready to fire at the voice he knew that was now directly behind him. But it was too late. All he saw was a flash of an energy blast that hit him squarely on in his chest, burning a hole through his armor. The powerful blast threw him backwards causing him to hit the ground skidding. When he stopped he lay there on his back moving his legs and twisting his body from left to right in intense pain. Traynor managed to lift his head and faintly see the figure that had shot him but his thoughts concentrated on the pain. He never felt a blast so powerful in his life nor had his armor failed him before. He struggled to take the armor off but it was no use. The armor began to fuse with his clothes, with his skin. The pain was unbearable, he was numb, and he continued to struggle with the armor that had saved his life so many times before. He heard two voices as he fought to stay conscious but someone would make that decision for him. The next thing Traynor felt was a sharp blow to his head. Then everything went black.

He opened his eyes briefly and saw nothing but the night sky. He quickly rolled up his eyes behind his head and closed them in the state between consciousness and unconsciousness once again hearing voices. “You have him?” “Yes,” she replied. “Is he bleeding?” “I can't tell! I can't get the armor off. Frell it's still hot!!” “All right we'll take care of it inside. Help me move him quickly.” Traynor blacked out again.
Chapter 5

Traynor awoke to a sharp pain in his chest. It wasn't as strong as he felt before but it hurt him nonetheless. He opened his eyes and found himself in a room. He looked down to his chest and saw that his clothes were off. He instinctively reached with his right hand to touch his mark on his left shoulder, more concerned with this that the bandages and medicine that covered his wound. He looked around the room to see if it looked familiar. He was still groggy but it slowly came back to him. The furnishings the bed all belonged to Attan. He was in one of the spare rooms behind the bar. He looked across the room and saw his clothes. With some effort he got out of the bed and moaned as he stood up and moved to get his clothes. He looked for his pulse pistols, comlink, and armor but they were nowhere to be found. He put on his clothes and proceeded to look for Attan.

He opened the door and made his way forward to where the bar was. The place was empty not opened yet for business. Traynor wondered what time it was and knew that it was sometime midmorning but he could not be sure. He saw Attan carrying some crates that were no doubt bottles of alcohol and placing them on the bar top. He looked up and smiled when he saw Traynor. “Looks like you're doing ok. Some piece of work that armor of yours. You had us worried for a while.” “Us?” “Yes me and Elantras.” “Where are my pistols?” “I have them they're locked up. I also have that transmitter.” Traynor looked at him surprised. “Yeah I saw that. Did you see who shot you?” “No. As soon as I turned around I got hit. How did you find me?” “Elantras did. She went after you when you didn't say goodbye. She saw you get hit on the head, shouted out your name then they ran off.” “They?” “Yes. She did not get a good look at them but she said that there were two of them. After they ran off she came back to get me and we pulled you into the bar.” Traynor winced in pain as he sat down at the bar. “Thanks. I owe you.” “Yeah you do.” Traynor smiled as best he could to deal with the pain. “Where is she anyway?” “She went out to get some more medicine for your wound. I still don't know what she sees in you,” Attan said shaking his head. “What's that mark on your shoulder?” He looked at him and replied somberly, “It's just a scar,” trying to change the subject, “Frell, what time is it?” “Two aryns before midday.” “FRELL ME. I was supposed to meet U'ave at the docking bays.” “I took care of it. He was trying to reach you on your com but it was burned. He contacted me and asked if I'd seen you and I told him that you came back to the bar and had a few more drinks and you were sleeping it off in the back.” “Think he bought it?” “Nope. He said to contact him when you're ready.” “Where's my armor?” “You mean what's left of it. It's here behind the bar locked up with your pistols.” Attan hopped over the bar and bent down to remove a floorboard that revealed a small vault built into the ground. He punched some keys and it opened up. He handed Traynor the armor and placed his pistols and the transmitter on the bar top. Traynor looked at the armor relieved that it had worked, but he was surprised and upset. Surprised at the amount of power the blast had. He rubbed his hand over the hole that used to be the chest platting and was still not able to understand how. Upset that it was now useless to him. “I'm going to take it with me,” he said out loud. “There's one more thing,” Traynor continued, “My thermal sensor.” “Sorry that was burned too. Funny thing though, we found it near the center of the armor close to where you were hit.” Traynor could not understand that. “It might have been all that heat that the armor produced after you got hit. It may have been attracted to it. I wouldn't be surprised if your body temperature went up. Frell your armor was hot and we had a hard time getting that thing off of you. It was like it did not want to leave you,” Attan said while opening up the crates. Traynor stood up and leaned on the bar top and began to put on his pistols, shoulder holsters first. “Why don't you rest up for a couple of arns?” “Can't have too much to do and I'll still need you to work on items on my list.” “Sure as soon as you get it me.” “Like I said as soon as I check the information that I need you'll have it and I'm going to need them as soon as possible.” Attan nodded. “Once I contact U'ave I'll com you. I'll need you at the docking bay. I should have the list then. Do you remember the bay number?” “Bay 3744.” “Right,” Traynor replied fastening the notch on his belt on his waist making sure that his holsters were securely fastened. He grabbed the transmitter and placed it in his pocket grimacing in pain. “I'll contact you in a few arns,” Traynor said as he turned and walked away from the bar heading towards the exit.

Traynor boarded the transport pod for the ride back to the docking bays. He closed his eyes still feeling pain throughout his body. But he was trying to concentrate on the events that had just occurred. It was obvious to him that someone had wanted to get rid of him. He tried very hard to make the image that he had in his mind of the figure that he saw clearer, but it was no use. It was a waste of time. Traynor then tried to focus on what he could remember from the moment he arrived on Siecom. But nothing stuck out. He closed his eyes tighter hoping to see if he could remember anyone from the bar. Then it hit him. The drunken tavleks that he had run into at the bar. He immediately opened his eyes and looked around and found that the pod had just landed at the docking bays. He paid the pilot and walked towards the bay where the ship was. He made his way up the landing ramp to the command deck. Traynor began to search the ship's data banks for information on leviathans. Once the search was complete, he went over all the information that he had procured, then completed his list for Attan and contacted U'ave and they both agreed to meet in four arns. He contacted Attan and told him to be at bay 3744 in six arns. Traynor then made his way back to his quarters for some rest and a fresh change of clothes.

Traynor opened up one of the containers and looked over the strobe grenades that U'ave had gotten for him. He liked strobe grenades, they were cheaper than plasma grenades, and the effect was just as good. Once they explode the emit intense flashes of blinding white light effectively stopping an enemy in its tracks making it easier to capture them or to finish them. He opened up another container that was filled with tannot roots, which he would use to recharge his weapons as well as those from the ship. The other containers contained spare parts and tools. “Everything in order?” U'ave asked. “Yes,” Traynor replied. With his head still inside the container Traynor asked, “And the rest?” “I have it right here,” U'ave replied steeping aside to reveal twelve containers filled with Traynor's payment being closely guarded by two of his bodyguards. “I take it you're feeling better after you night of drinking.” “Frelling wonderful,” replied Traynor sensing that U'ave wasn't buying it. “Hey you!” Traynor yelled at one of the ground personnel. “Give me your scanner.” He handed the scanner over to Traynor and he proceeded to scan the containers for explosives, tracking devices and anything out of the ordinary. “Traynor, come now…” U'ave said incredulously. Traynor only looked at him. He completed the scan and all was clear. “When will you be leaving?” “As soon as I restock the ship with supplies I'll be off this planet.” “Is there anything else that you require?” Not from you Traynor thought. He shook his head no. “Very well. You may contact me should you need anything else.” Traynor took out his money and paid U'ave half the agreed price. “Good bye Traynor, good luck.” He said this sounding relieved and walked away to pick up a transport pod being closely followed by his bodyguards.

Attan arrived on time as usual. He walked over to where Traynor was and stopped to look at the containers. “What's all that?” “My supplies and my payment.” Attan's widened his eyes, “I take it that the large stack is your payment.” Traynor smiled, “I have the list for you,” and he handed it over to him. Attan looked it over and uttered out loud, “No problem.” He looked at the second item, “No problem,” the next item, “I kind of figured you would need that,” and frowned when he looked over the last one, deep creases in his face appeared, “This one may take some time and its going to be very expensive. It's going to have to be modified to fit and honestly I don't think that it can be done.” “Fine just see what you can do. There's one more thing,” he said as he looked over his shoulder towards the Takayi, “See what you can find out about this freighter. Now give me a hand moving this and loading it onto my ship.” “You said I wasn't going to do any lifting?” “I lied. Besides don't you want your twenty five percent?” “My WHAT?” “Your fee for the bar.” “TWENTY FIVE PERCERNT? Which one do you want to move first?”

Traynor was in the command deck and looked over the specifications intensely making sure that the torch would be able to fit into his raptor. The raptor was the second and final payment from the mining guild. The miners used a one-man transport module to mine very difficult terrain. He was concerned with the speed not the weight of the equipment that we would carry; he would be able to compensate for that. “Traynor?” Attan's voice coming over the comlink. “Go ahead.” “I've got all the items that you requested. But the tridelium torch is going to take time.” “How long?” “Two days to fit your specifications. But there's another problem.” “Wonderful. What?” “Because you have to modify the torch, the power cells needed to generate power are proving to be an obstacle. The cells to be compressed and converted into cartridges that you'll have to insert in order to power it. The torch is being made smaller so the heat dissipation is a concern. You can only use on cartridge at a time to power it.” “Is that going to cut into the torch's cutting power?” Traynor asked with concern. “No because your power cells are compressed. Essentially, you are getting three times more power than a normal sized tridelium torch, but in a shorter time frame.” “That explains the heat.” “Exactly,” Attan said. “How soon were you planning to leave?” “Two days, why?” “Compressing the cells takes a lot of time. If you plan on leaving in two days I can only get you four cartridges.” There was a pause as Traynor thought, “Its going to have to do,” he replied. “Anything on the freighter?” “Yes, but I would rather not talk on the comlink.” “Understood. In the meantime I am going to restock the ship with provisions and work on recharging the gun turrets.” “I'll get in touch as soon as it's ready and bring it and the rest of the items to the ship,” Attan said as he faded out over the comlink. Traynor sat back in his chair and looked over the specs once again making sure that it would fit. Once satisfied he turned his attention to the information he gathered on leviathans from the ship's data banks and pulled out a star chart. He looked it over carefully and began to double-check his coordinates looking for his starting point. Smiling, he put the chart away and headed down to the cargo bay to begin recharging the gun turrets and restocking the ship with supplies.

Chapter 6

“Where is the owner of this establishment?” shouted the general as he entered Attan's accompanied by six of his soldiers. General L'oray Outha, commander of Siecom's military forces, was a shrewd and capable man who had risen through the ranks to gain his current position and commanded the military longer than any of his predecessors, began his inquiry. “I'm right here,” replied Attan as he approached the general. “How can I be of service?” The general replied, “I' am investigating reports of an incident that occurred three days ago outside of your bar. I would have been here sooner but I had more pressing matters to attend to.” “I'm not aware of anything happening sir.” “Really?” replied the general in a tone of disbelief. “I have received reports that a male sebecean was involved in an altercation and was shot. Interestingly enough, I checked all the local medical facilities and they have no records of anyone who was treated with that type of injury that night.” “General,” Attan replied, “Under the provisions of the license that was granted to me in order to open this establishment, I must report all violent incidents that occur inside and outside my bar to the proper authorities and I can assure you sir, that there have been none.” That was what the general needed to hear from Attan. As far as he was concerned the investigation was over. “Very well then, should you come across any information regarding this contact me immediately.” “Of course general,” replied Attan graciously. “Where is the magistrate's brother?” asked the general. “At his usual table. I'll have the waiter bring you your drink,” replied Attan looking over at where U'ave was sitting. “Good. I have business to attend to with him,” the general said as he walked over to where U'ave was seated, while two of his soldiers remained behind guarding the doorway.

“I take it all went well general,” U'ave replied looking at the general as he approached the table. “Of course,” smiled the general as he took a seat in front of U'ave. “Excellent. I will transfer the usual amount into your account by the end of the day.” “You are too kind U'ave. If your brother only knew what you were doing for him to keep him as magistrate of the house.” “My brother is blind as he is stupid. I do what I must to ensure the survival of the house. Just as you do to keep your position, other than to collect your money, why are you here?” “I am investigating an alleged “incident,”” replied the general. “And what did you discover during your investigation?” asked U'ave. “That I no longer wish to investigate it,” the general said taking a sip of his drink. U'ave laughed, “I'm going to need more men like yourself when the time comes.” “What do you mean?” U'ave continued, “Things change. How long do you think I can keep my brother in power? The magistrate of the weakest house in the system content at being mocked by the houses, many people have grown weary of this and demand change.” “Do you wish to strip him of power?” asked the general curiously. “Power? What power. The things I have done to fend off threats to keep him where he is…he has no power, only what I give him.” “I see…”the general replied cautiously. U'ave sensed how uneasy the general was, “No need to worry general, I have to intentions of improving my position. I am perfectly content with what power I have and am satisfied with the people that I surround myself with that help me with my agenda. And you?” The general looked directly at U'ave, “Content is not the word that I would use. Ecstatic is more like it.” Both men let out a loud laugh that caught the attention of Attan. “Good,” replied U'ave.

The general quickly turned his attention to a different subject, “And Dekksin?” The pirates hired by the house and under the command of the general had run into Traynor the last time that he was on Siecom. The ships opened fire on Traynor after his refusal to stop and identify the cargo he was carrying. Traynor had always adhered to the law in the past, but he had grown tired of the so-called inspections and had decided on his own to change the protocol. Traynor had managed to cripple one of the ships that fired upon him before landing on Siecom on the outskirts of the city without authorization from the control port, which had managed to track the ship briefly before loosing it and sent the last known coordinates to the general who in turn dispatched a security detail. When the detail arrived they fired on Traynor, standard procedure when an unauthorized landing has occurred. They engaged in a firefight and Dekksin killed one soldier while wounding two others. The bloodshed would have continued if it not had been for U'ave contacting the general over the comm. The general knew Traynor's reputation as a bounty hunter and was aware of how closely he worked with U'ave. He was always concerned that Dekksin would replace him as head of the military, but nothing could be further than the truth. “Clam yourself general, he is here conducting business as usual.” “What he did the last time he was here was unacceptable and he was warned of any future transgressions,” the general replied angrily. “Dekksin has proven to be useful and very profitable for me, the house and yourself. He is of no threat to you.” “But he should….” “I understand your need for retribution general,” U'ave interrupted, “that will come in time. But for now do as I ask and let him go about his business.” “I take it he is working for you?” asked the general. “No, not directly,” chuckled U'ave. “He has been hired by a retainer who has placed a very large bounty. Lets stop talking business and drink and enjoy the rest of the evening.” The general nodded his head in agreement. He sensed that U'ave was involved in something big. The general had learned along the cycles not to trust anyone, especially U'ave, seeing how he manipulated and betrayed friends and family in order to gain profit. L'oray did regard the magistrate as somewhat of a friend who had given him advice along the way as he moved up in rank. But he knew not to trust anyone. The general did not know where to place his loyalties, which would be based on whomever would make him wealthier. For now he would have to wait to see what would develop.

Chapter 7

Attan pushed the cargo container containing the tridelium torch along with the other items up the landing ramp while Traynor pulled. “Just be thankful that this is the smaller version of the torch,” Attan said as he and Traynor struggled to get the containers into the cargo bay. When they finally managed to get into the bay, they placed the containers along side of the raptor. Traynor began to open them up to take a look at its contents. “It's all there, the torch, the body armor, four cartridges, the demo paks and the…” “What's the time delay on the paks?” “Ten microts,” Atttan replied catching his breath. Traynor took out a long metallic box that was hidden among the containers in the bay. “Here,” Traynor said as he handed the box to Attan. “Payment for my items.” Attan took the box and opened it up, counted the currency and looked puzzled. “It's more than what I told you.” “No its not. You're forgetting about the information I asked about the freighter.” Attan closed the box and held it under his right arm. “I almost forgot,” he replied. “The Takayi arrived four days before you did,” Traynor grew curious, “Go on.” “The funny thing is that the freighter did not register with the control port when it arrived. It registered with the port the same day you arrived. Judging by the port's arrival log…” “Hold a microt. How the frell did you manage to get an arrival log?” Traynor asked. “You know what?” he continued, “I don't want to know.” Attan couldn't help but to laugh out loud. “The log has the Takayi arriving exactly the same time the port had your ship in a holding pattern because of the so called traffic.” “So they were stalling. Why?” “I don't know. It's possible that they were buying time,” Attan offering an answer albeit an incomplete one. “When you were with me at the bay where the freighter was docked, did you notice any ground crew?” Traynor asked. “No I didn't” “Neither did I. Was there ever a crew assigned? What did the log show?” Attan looked at him, “I didn't look at that…FRELL! Come to the bar later this evening. I'll have what you need.” Attan turned around and abruptly left the cargo bay. Traynor was left alone to store the cargo and try to figure out what was going on.

“Hurry up will you?” the waiter said to Elantras who was working behind the bar. “Attan is much more faster than this.” She stopped dead in her tracks and slammed a bottle of alcohol that she had in her left hand. “FRELL YOU! If you think that you can do a better job then you do it!” she shouted out and walked away from the bar. “All right! All right! I'm sorry. Its just that I've been running all over the place tonight and I just can't seem to get ahead.” “I know, I'm trying,” she replied walking back to the bar. She placed some more drinks on the waiter's tray and he walked away in a hurry. Traynor couldn't help but smile when he looked at her. She had this look, this mannerism when she got upset or was frustrated that he found extremely attractive. “Need some help?” he said as he approached the bar. “Yes,” she said with a sigh of relief, “Yes I do.” He reached for a glass that was on the bar top, then for the bottle of ococno that was in her left hand. He continued to look at her as he opened the bottle and poured the drink into his glass. He placed the top back on the bottle and put the bottle on the bar. He took the glass and raised it to his mouth and took a sip. He smiled when he was finished. She stood there shaking her head and biting her lower lip smiling, “Thanks Traynor. And all this time I thought you were a nerfer.” “Where's Attan?” “We ran out of rasklak so he went to the back to bring some more crates of the stuff. He should be back in a few microts.” “Uh… thanks for the other day,” he said shyly. “Your welcome. Besides you still owe me money from the bet you lost.” “Is that it? Is that why you helped?” She stopped and looked directly at him, “YOU should know better.” Upset at what he said she started to walk towards the other end of the bar. Traynor quickly grabbed her arm before she left. She jumped, startled by his touch surprised at his reaction his show of affection. “I'm sorry…all I can offer you now is my thanks,” he said lowering his eyes then his head. She placed a hand on his face, “For now?” “…For now,” he said softly looking directly into her eyes. Shaking her head, “…I don't know why I put myself through this.” He looked at her not knowing what to do or what to say. His feelings and thoughts meshed, he couldn't think. He did not what he was feeling and if it he should let in. She placed a kiss on his cheek, “Hurry back.” she whispered into his ear and went off to do her work not looking at him.

Attan made his way forward carrying two crates of rasklak fighting the crowd for some space. “Well, you were right,” handing the crates over to a waiter who happened to walk by. “There was no crew assigned to the Takayi and there still isn't. Looks like our guests want to keep their arrival a secret.” “It's not them,” Traynor replied. Attan looked confused. “Who has the authority to view the port's arrival and crew assignment log?” “Other than the control port officer the only other person is…U'ave!” “Consider your source compromised. It's a sure thing that he knows that you were looking for information.” “You don't know that.” “How many blue plants do you know that can talk and own a bar?” Traynor deadpanned. Attan ignored his sarcasm, instead choosing to focus on the waiter who entered the bar. “What did you find out?” Attan said. Traynor turned around and saw it was the young delvian that had served him. He turned around and faced Attan. “What? Do you think that talking blue plants can only own a bar?” Traynor smiled. “I looked for the ground crew as you requested, I did not see any.” “Had to be sure,” Attan said cutting in, “Go on.” “Two tavleks approached the bay and made their way to the freighter.” “The tavleks that were in your bar,” Traynor said to Attan. “Wait, I'm not finished. There was someone else on board. I was too far away to hear what was being said to the tavleks.” “The tavleks say anything?” Traynor asked. “Something like “we don't have to worry about the rasklak,” then they laughed and went on board.” “Good work. Thank you,” Attan said. The waiter nodded and left to prepare for his busy night ahead of him. “What do you think?” Attan asked. “I don't know. It doesn't make sense. Why bother to broker a job, than try to kill me. It just doesn't fit.” “You think he's setting you up?” “No it's not his way of doing business. For him it's about power. I'm nothing to him except a tool to get things done.” Traynor laughed out loud as he said this. He never realized that U'ave and everyone else that he had done business with were using him. He always felt that he had the advantage over all of them but now he wasn't so sure. “What?” Attan asked. “Nothing…forget about it. U'ave is making sure that no one gets near whoever's on board.” “Want me to send him again?” Traynor shook his head no. “It's to dangerous. U'ave knows that you were looking around. I don't want anything coming back to you.” Traynor turned around and looked over at the usual table were U'ave was sitting. He began to feel the pain again in his left hand. He felt it go numb. “What's next?” Traynor turned back and faced Attan. “For you? Nothing. Just go on running the bar. And STAY OUT OF THIS.” “Traynor it's a setup, back out now.” He knew that he couldn't do this. If he did he'd be lucky if he got a job picking tannot roots. “I can't,” Traynor replied as he turned around and left the bar deciding to go to the bay where the mysterious freighter was. Attan looked at him, his eyes expressing deep concern. He knew Traynor was right he had to stay out of this he had too much at stake.

Traynor made his way to the bay where the Takayi was docked. He knew this was a gamble but one he was willing to take. He looked around and saw cargo containers several stacked four and five high. He didn't see any ground crew but he did notice a figure near the back of the freighter. He thought the figure might be scavengers that try to pry apart a ship's hull then melting it down and selling the metal. They sometimes manage to sneak on board ships taking their cargo and ripping out anything of value. Part of the ground crew's job was to keep them away as well as to attend to the ship's needs. As he approached the rear the figure grew closer and it looked familiar to him. Suddenly the figure turned around. It was a tavlek. Traynor drew both of his pulse pistols and began to fire. The tavlek fired his gauntlet and missed instead hitting the side of the freighter. Traynor dove to his left behind some containers. He got up from the ground and pressed his back up against a container with his pistols still drawn, he stood there for several microts trying to figure out what the tavlek was going to do next. He poked his head around the container, the tavlek fired again this time hitting the container forcing Traynor to dive and roll to his right to avoid the second consecutive blast that the tavlek fired. The freighter's landing ramp began to retract and the engines came on. “NO… WAIT! … STOP!” the tavlek shouted as he ran towards the landing ramp in the hopes that he would be able to grab it before it was fully retracted. When Traynor came out of the roll he was on one knee and fired both pulse pistols at his enemy hitting him in the back. The tavlek went down after the seventh shot. The freighter's engines powered up to full and he could feel the heat as well seeing the bluish-green light that the engines emanated. “Wonderful.” Traynor ran over to where the tavlek lay, picked him up, and flung his limp body over cargo containers. He ran trying to find cover leaping over containers just in time landing hard on his left arm. The engines roared as it lifted off spewing debris in the air, throwing empty containers in all directions. He could feel the heat as the Takayi left the docking bay. Lying on his stomach he looked over his shoulder but quickly shut his eyes the intense light hurting him that was coming from the ship's engines. Once he felt the air cool around him he opened his eyes and looked up and saw the Takayi was some 500 metras away. He stood up and moved towards the tavlek and drew his pistol and began shouting at him “…WHO'S ON THAT FREIGHTER? WHO SENT YOU?” But it was no use the tavlek was dead. He picked up the gauntlet that had fallen off his arm and threw it screaming in frustration. He looked at the body briefly then dragged it over to an empty container and dumped it inside and closed it. He grabbed his left arm and headed back to his ship.

A member of the ground crew demanding payment greeted Traynor. He quickly paid and proceeded to the landing ramp. He stopped and turned around, “HEY YOU,” he shouted back. Traynor walked over to him and said something. He took out some money and paid him. The crewmember nodded his head and left. He turned around and walked to the landing ramp. As he walked up the ramp it began to retract. Once inside he made his way to the command deck.

He signaled the control port for permission to leave and waited for their acknowledgement. “Sperian transport, permission granted. Thank you for visiting Siecom and we hope that your stay was enjoyable. We look forward to seeing you again.” The engines turned on and she lifted off and proceeded to leave the planet. Once the ship left orbit, Traynor sat back and grabbed his left hand and began to massage it trying to stop the pain. He looked out the cockpit window and wondered where she was and how long it was going to take to find her. He entered the coordinates and waited for the ship's computer to confirm them still rubbing his hand. After a few microts they were confirmed. He headed for the Uncharted Territories.


“But he insists that you are the only person he can give it to sir,” the slave said. “FINE!” said U'ave upset that he had to get up from his dinner. “Who from the other houses would send me something here?” nearly spitting his food out of his mouth. “I don't think it's from any of the other houses,” the slave replied. He got to the front door of his home muttering, “…they know better than to send things here. I don't conduct business in my home.” He opened the door and saw the large cargo container. He threw some coins at the courier, “Quickly GO!” He opened the container and jumped back and gasped at what he saw was inside. It was a body of a tavlek. He closed the container and tried to regain his composure. “Melluk!” he shouted at the slave. “Yes sir?” “Get rid of this!” pointing at the container his hand shaking. “Of course,” Melluk replied. He went back inside and sat down to continue his meal. He refilled his glass of ocono and took a sip. He sat back in his chair staring blankly at the plate in front of him. He lost his appetite.