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Chapter 26

In my life I have much to atone for. I did not become an assassin by design but my notoriety rests upon a false premise: Orion. I killed the killers. But those who sent the killers controlled the narrative. I became the patsy.

Admittedly I have used that notoriety to my advantage. Those who might wish to double-cross you, think twice about it if they think they’re dealing with a person that wiped out an entire colony. Tessa represented everything I hate about the corporations and their Regulator muscle. Ending her was instinctive. The fact that her death also throws a wrench in the corporation bio-weapons program is a boon.

I tell myself that I would miss none of this. For too long I have had to live with deals and compromises, navigating a delicate balance between those who needed to be killed and those who have the means to order the death of anybody. As an assassin I’ve always chosen the jobs that came my way. And money has never been the only criterion for me.

Movement snaps me out of my self-indulgent thoughts. I’ve been walking through the crowd, hood up, head down, the long overgarment covering me, hiding my gait. There is movement all around me, so whatever I picked up out of the corner of my eye has alerted a part of my brain that does not use thoughts, or words.

Surreptitiously I look up. Regulators! Lots of them, at least a dozen, bearing the black patch insignia of Captain Jackal’s division. Lovely. I watch them jostle through the crowd, a couple of them coming to within five yards of me. I have both my blasters at the ready.

Hands gripping them tightly in my pockets. But they just storm past, pushing people aside as if they are nothing but obstacles to be navigated through.

I get to Snug’s place, check carefully for any outside attention and then I cross the street, into the alley and through his front door. It has been left ajar and that alerts me. I feel more than see the crashing blow coming my way. A massive metal bat swung viciously with both hands by one of Snug’s stupid goons.

I duck. Spin. Kick the knee of his front leg.

Carbon And Dust - 30 Day Program by DAREBEE

I get to Snug’s place, check carefully for any outside attention and then I cross the street, into the alley and through his front door. It has been left ajar and that alerts me. I feel more than see the crashing blow coming my way. A massive metal bat swung viciously with both hands by one of Snug’s stupid goons.

I duck. Spin. Kick the knee of his front leg.

Carbon And Dust - 30 Day Program by DAREBEE

The metal bat, having completed its swing crashes harmlessly against the wall behind me at the same time as my boot connects with the goon’s knee. There is an ugly pop of cartilage tearing and he screams and goes down clutching his knee with both hands.

I step over his writhing body and coolly place the nozzle of the mini-blaster against the forehead of the other goon who has not yet taken in quite what has just happened. “You moved so fast-” he said eyes blinking with shock.

“Snug,” I say to the figure cowering behind the counter. “If you don’t have my ticket I swear I am going to redecorate this place with your brains.”

“I have it.” One trembling hand appeared over the counter, holding a digiplaque aloft. How quaint. I haven’t seen one of these for a long time, didn’t even know they were still in use. Rectangular, holographed. Marked with the itinerary ship’s name and holding the record of a passage, paid in full. “I have it,” Snug repeats and the hand holding the digiplaque is joined by the top of his head, and then his eyes.

“Stand up,” I bark.

He obeys. He seems less than pleased to see me. “I have it,” he says again pointlessly.

“Tell your goon to back off,” I bark again.

Snug nods and the big, meaty bloke backs off. I watch him go and help his buddy who is still groaning, off the floor. The goon I kicked is limping, badly. You just don’t mess with steel mesh boots. He leans on his friend and hobbles away on one leg.

“Me and you,” I turn to Snug.

“I didn’t know if you’d come back,” he says defensively.

“Theresa Fui Draconum is not the kind of person who leaves people alive.”

So, that was her full name. Interesting. Even more interesting that Snug knew what it was. I take a note of it and instantly make the connection. So very obvious in retrospect. Story of my life, I think and the thought mellows me. I smile at Snug.

“You’ve been eavesdropping on Regulator comms,” I say to him.

“Lots of chatter. They’re bringing reinforcements.”

My tight smile makes him back off.

“I never said anything about you. I really didn’t!”

I believe him. This place would be a deathtrap for all of us if he had.

“Give me the ticket.”

He does. The digiplaque is rectangular in shape. Micron-thin. Made of metal. These things are supposed to be impossible to counterfeit. I assume it’s the real thing, but …

“It’s real?”

“Real. Real.” Snug volunteers immediately. “Can’t get past first scan with a fake one. These things are so hard to get hold of right now.”

He’s right, they are. But he’s also building up the value. The cost.

“Have I got any credit left?” I ask.

“You have a little. But not much.”

Ok, at least in this he is honest. A little would have to do. I can get hold of more money when I get to Eden. I place the digiplaque in a pocket.

“Don’t think of blabbing,” I warn.

He blanches. Shrinks away from me to the very back of the wall behind the counter. I slip back outside.

Everything in my life breaks down into tasks. Tasks are governed by goals. Goals reveal my purpose. I have to get the ship to get to Eden. I need to be in Eden to disappear completely. There I have all the resources required to make the Red Reaper a thing of legend, more fairy tale than real. It is only by disappearing that I can reclaim my life. Finally be free of what I am.

I repeat all this in my head a few times. Just to remind myself of the stakes. I have already burnt through a mountain of credits to get to this point and my detour, thanks to Ellie and her father’s solution to the coming Xelium shortage, hasn’t helped.

My way to the staging area where ship passengers are processed is marked by Regulator patrols, more than a few of them of the Jackal’s division and the occasional commotion. The Hub always feels like a pressure cooker about to explode. There are just too many people in too little a space. Despite this I manage to almost get to where I need to without incident. Almost.

“You murdering bastards! Let me go!” The voice is familiar. And female.

Without drawing attention to myself I raise my head a little, peer from beneath by hood. Regulators. A group of them, in 4x4 formation. Black insignia at their throats. Great! In their midst, they are dragging a body, legs flailing. Arms bound tight. I catch a glimpse of familiar hair, a face. Ellie.

Damn it kid.

I stop dead in my tracks. Just ahead the staging area beckons. Digiplaque holders get VIP treatment. There is a lounge with dimmed walls to wait. One of the holographic displays overhead announces the flight to Eden is leaving in an hour.

This trip I have had the worst of luck. An hour. I can’t draw attention here, so my pivot is gentle. I take care to regulate my step with those around me. I turn around and follow the glimpses of the Regulators ahead long enough to gauge their direction.

Then, melting through the crowd I get to the backstreets and the back alleys and break into a run.

Rounding the first corner I cannonball into a massive bulk of a man carrying something breakable. I know it’s breakable because, as you can guess, by the time I pick myself up from having bounced off him, whatever he was carrying lies in broken glass shards all around us.

“Hey!”

“Sorry,” I make to take off again and a massive hand wraps itself up around my wrist.

“Hey!” he says again which may be either anger and surprise or he really has a very limited vocabulary. Either way I have no time to find out which it is. I turn on him. He’s holding my wrist really tight because he expects me to try and pull away, but I pivot instead on my right leg, my back now moving towards him and my elbow comes down hard on the inside of the arm holding me.

Carbon And Dust - 30 Day Program by DAREBEE

He lets out a cry and the grip relaxes enough for me to pull my wrist loose.

“Sorry,” I hiss and the cold tip of my blaster touches the base of his neck, exactly at the throat. “Try that again and there’ll be songs about you to match the Orion mounds,” I hiss. The reference makes him blanch. He squints at me, actually seeing me for the very first time and then his face blanches.

“Hey,” he says softly - clearly he’s turned that into a multi-purpose word. I have no time to exchange tips on communication theory. I shove him back and watch him fall, the will to fight clearly gone out of him. And I am off. Running fast. Jumping over every obstacle placed in my path.

Carbon And Dust - 30 Day Program by DAREBEE

I catch up with the Regulators about a kilometer away but I am already too late. There are just two left now and Ellie is nowhere in sight. I cut in front of them and they instantly recognize me. They try to bring up weapons but I am already too close for that. Stupid decision on their part, really.

The first one gets my knee. It’s a full thrust to the stomach delivered with the entire force of my run. It lifts him off his feet.

Carbon And Dust - 30 Day Program by DAREBEE

The plated armor he is wearing takes most of the blow but enough penetrates to crack the soft bone and cartilage in the sternum. It makes a loud enough sound even for me to hear it and he goes down like he’s been poleaxed.

The second fumbles his weapon draw. It snugs in his holster and he panics. I crack his clavicle, breaking the collarbone and immobilizing him.

Carbon And Dust - 30 Day Program by DAREBEE

He lets out a howl and falls to his knees, arm dangling uselessly to the side.

“Where’s Ellie?” I ask.

He looks perplexed.

“Ellie, the girl you had. Where is she?”

“Captain Jackal,” he says. “He wants to see her. We’re taking her to him.”

There’s something in his voice that suggests I should be afraid of that but I don’t know enough to be afraid.

“Where?”

“Huh?” he’s playing dumb. I pistol whip him across the face breaking his nose and badly lacerating the skin.

“Where is Captain Jackal,” I say.

He looks at me through eyes, now red with blood. “RIM Corp,” he whispers, “We are taking her to our HQ.”

My next blow knocks him unconscious.

RIM Corp. Damn! I need to buy myself some time. I need to buy Ellie some time. I search the two Regulator bodies. One of them is carrying a transmitter. I am hoping it’s on the correct frequency because I only have this shot.

“Red Reaper, calling Captain Jackal. Red Reaper calling Captain Jackal. Over.”

Silence . Then, just as I had given up on receiving a reply, I hear the crackle of an incoming voice: “Red Reaper? Really?”

“In the flesh,”

“Well, well,” the glee gives it away. Captain Jackal can barely hide his emotion. “That really you?”

“Tessa thought so,” I say.

As expected he pauses, processing this. When he speaks next he sounds perplexed. “My sister? Tess?”

“Your late sister,” I correct.

“You’re lying!”

Now I am the one who’s confused. I assumed Ellie and the others were picked up at Dock 17, with all those bodies surrounding them. Clearly this is not the case. I tell myself to solve this one later. Now I need Captain Jackal to listen.

“Check out Dock 17 - DNA scan. You’ll find some interesting smears amongst the red dust piles.

“No!”

“Her Chimera-creating days are over.”

“You’re going to pay for this!”

“Fui Draconum,” I say, “really?”

“It’s an old family name.”

“Clearly. And not many people speak Latin anymore.” The Classics are not of much use in space.

“I will kill you.”

“Maybe. You still have the girl?”

“Why?”

“As long as you have her and she’s in one piece I am prepared to bargain for her.”

“What do you offer?”

“My life, for hers. In one hour.”

“Deal!”

Rarely have I heard so much pain, death and venom in a voice, distilled into a single word. Maybe our good Captain truly loved his sister. A little Chimera-producing team. I crash the transmitter underfoot. These things can be tracked.

I am running once more. Just as fast as before.

Carbon And Dust - 30 Day Program by DAREBEE

I know what I’ve done. I’ve bought Ellie some time. As long as Captain Jackal thinks he may have to give me proof of life before I hand myself over he will keep her alive and intact. Of course, I have no intention of giving myself up.