Talia stayed in the shadows and pulled the hood of her cloak up before approaching the open airlock. The Chellios Captain stood off to the side, discussing business with a six-foot tall humanoid shaped robot. She looked at the machine’s shiny skin, and the imitation human face and then resisted the urge to shake her head. The fur balls had no damn idea what they were in bed with, but they’d learn it soon enough.
Cyberbot’s were as bad as the Chellios or Sladen for being aggressive, but they reserved it for those who wouldn’t convert when their worlds were annexed. However, that only happened when they wanted space and, for the moment, they were happy with their room. That could, she noted, change on the drop of a hat, and then the galaxy would be in for a world of hurt again.
The docks were bustling with activity as crews loaded and unloaded their illicit cargo as she walked past. Security cameras hung from the ceiling at regular intervals, and Talia raised an eyebrow. Interesting. Someone had gotten security conscious over the years, she thought, which seemed to go against the ‘anything goes’ attitude that Hurculos projected to the galaxy.
Either way, it wouldn’t deter her from the mission at hand, because eventually her face would be known all over the galaxy again, so it wouldn’t matter. Better yet, her, and her sisters, reputations would start to precede them, which would be a good thing. Perhaps, she thought, it would lead the ones who would hurt the weak to think again.
A chorus of inhuman sounds echoed off the ceiling and walls as she entered the main concourse. Beings moved around, some arguing, while others quietly shuffled towards the entrance to the shuttles. To her right, a large Androsion cut a swath through the crowd and she slipped in behind the spider. Talia passed a pair of Pac’ko, a small race that looked surprisingly similar to an Earth millipede, stood on several of their legs and argued loudly in their native tongue. She ignored them as she passed because the small worms were always fighting over something, generally petty, and making a large dramatic scene.
I get the feeling they want the attention.
The warrior entered the waiting shuttle and past a pair of security officers before moving to the rearmost row of seats. Talia dropped into the one of the aisle and her eyes constantly scanned the room as more beings entered and took their seats. Did any of them identify her during the walk from the ship? If someone did, the ride to the surface would be the perfect place to attack her.
She felt the slight shudder of the craft uncoupling from the station and then the slight push of acceleration. The next ten minutes would be amongst the longest of her life and that was saying something. All the cloak and dagger spook-type activities were enough to drive anyone crazy. How the little Veracek’s could stand doing it, she didn’t know, but they could keep the job as far as Talia was concerned.
Once she was satisfied no one spotted her, the issue at hand came back to the forefront. Where to find to Mector because the problem she needed to settle. While there would be upscale housing, the crab could be in any of them and it simply would take too long to search them. The best thing would be to spot the restaurants that were the one’s he’d frequent and hope to run into him.
With luck, she thought, it wouldn’t take that long. The shuttle’s front wall had a digital clock built into it, showing the local time. It’d be close to a normal dinner time on the surface, which would help in her task. If the Mector held true to form, he’d want to sit somewhere quiet and isolated when he could stretch out, and have meetings without any interruption.
Her eyes widened as something popped into her head that would perhaps make things even easier. The ship with the human cargo! Its Captain would be meeting with Kleno to receive his payment, which would be done discretely. The best way to pull that off on a planet like Hurculos? Easy. Meet in the quietest room of the most expensive restaurant, because it would afford them the privacy necessary to carry out their deal.
Why didn’t I think of that earlier? Damn, I’m getting dense in my old age! I think I need a bigger head!!
The shuttle slowed to land and her skin started to tingle as the warrior instincts bred into her kicked into high gear. Talia scanned the compartment for the thousandth time, her experienced eye looking for anything out of place. Idiots never learn, she thought, that sitting in the back gives the greatest tactical advantage.
On the front row, not even trying to hide was a man wearing a simple white tunic and brown pants. Beside him a blonde haired woman sat in the aisle seat, a deadly looking pistol in a holster on her belt. So much for trying to be subtle about things, anyone could spot them coming a hundred yards away. Who in the world, she thought, would either be so stupid or arrogant to make themselves that visible even in this den of thieves.
She watched the main entrance open and the beings in the front of the craft stood up. The man and woman walked out of the shuttle, neither one looking concerned for their well being, and into the hanger bay. As the aisles emptied, Talia found herself getting impatient at the speed with which the aliens were moving at.
They’re getting away, Talia. That’s one downside to keeping yourself safe though.
The warrior walked down the ramp, using a hand to keep the hood in place, while looking for the two slavers. Were they kidding her? Both were busy talking, neither one paying attention to their surroundings, as the started enter the concourse beyond. Cheikra, did they grow them stupid in human space? Anyone with half a brain, on a planet like this would stop talking and start watching.
Entering the busy concourse was like moving from smooth water into the rapids. Beings of all races moved around the concourse, which bustled with various little shops. Bars, each one seedier then the last, lined the streets as Talia moved deeper into the city. While she hadn’t been to Hurculos since her previous life, it appeared nothing had changed over a hundred thousand cycles.
Yells filled the air inside a bar as an argument started and she picked up the pace. Fights in places like this always ended the same, and Talia didn’t want to be anywhere nearby when the bullets started to fly. Not that anything short of an assault rifle would hurt her, but one bouncing off would draw unwanted attention.
A gunshot, followed by two more, erupted behind her and she let out a long sigh in resignation. It wasn’t unexpected, mind you, but the fact that beings would end another’s life over a bar argument told a lot about the value of a life. While most people would say the shooter had no respect for another person, and they’d be right, the deeper issue would be that he or she had no respect for himself or herself.
The humans continued down the concourse and the crowds thinned out to where bumping into others no longer happened. It wasn’t unusual for the throngs to dissipate as a person grew closer to the high rent district because most planets, including Hurculos, kept the area safe for the movers and shakers. Nothing made a planet look worse then to have their affluent residents, and visitors, killed on a regular basis.
She hung back a bit to make sure they didn’t realize someone was tailing them and then watched as the pair approached a very exclusive restaurant. A soft curse escaped her lips as Talia contemplated the next move. The slaves, obviously, were expected so the maitre d let them enter. No one would expect a Gahl warrior to be entering an establishment like that, so she could kiss getting past the maitre d goodbye.
Unless I use some trickery.
A small alley, which allowed the establishments to remove their trash, disappeared between buildings to her right. Perfect. It would give her the chance to get the thermoptics working and then make the short walk over to the restaurant. Maybe, Talia thought, luck was on her side for once.
An inky combination of dark and light combined inside the tight road. Overhead, multicolored signs lit up the night, with part of the illumination reaching the alley. While it was enough for the workers to see how to reach the refuse stations, it definitely wouldn’t be a safe place to stay a long time in, so she pulled the hood down and prepared to activate the camouflage.
And felt a knife press against her back.
Talia rolled her eyes. Really? Really? “It’s not for sale.”
“I’m not buying it, human, now turn around.”
She spun slowly in the ball of her foot and looked at the being standing before her. The Whickham stood slightly taller then her, its fur a brown with black covering the canine’s back. It smiled, as large white teeth gleamed despite the dim lighting.
“Now, give me your cloak.”
She placed her hands on hips and glared at the alien. “You know, I don’t remember you guys being this incredibly stupid.”
It growled. “Coming from a race stupid enough to sell it’s own into slavery?”
“You know,” She said softly. “Put the knife away and just walk away. I don’t feel like having to kill you.”
“It’s you who’s going to die if you give me that cloak,”
She pulled the hood back with a hand, letting her silver hair show. “Do I look human to you?? Take the advice and walk away,”
The knife flashed as it lunged for her, and Talia moved in a combination of instinct and training. Her hand snapped upwards, grabbing the paw and then twisting it hard. Bones snapped and the canine cried out as she spun to her right, with her left hand raised. It slammed into the alien’s chest, sending the air out of him in one whoosh before and stepped around and wrapped both arms around the canine’s neck. Brown eyes grew wide for a second before the warrior twisted her enemy’s neck brutally.
His neck breaking sounded like a rifle shot.
Talia’s chest heaved as she held the corpse for several seconds before placing in on the pavement. Beads of sweat covered her forehead before they dripped to the ground. She wiped them away with back of a hand and then looked down at the fallen Wickham.
She shook her head sadly. “Why couldn’t you have listened?” She whispered. “Then I wouldn’t have had to kill you. Why is everyone so stupid??”
No one moving along the street noticed the battle, or at lease pretended they didn’t as she moved further into the murky half darkness. Talia sighed as she activated the thermoptic camouflage and the world appeared blurry as the warrior ran a hand over her face to finish the transformation.
She slipped out of the alley, a ghost moving invisibly amongst the living, and towards the restaurant. No one noticed the slight shimmer in the air or the small wind to caressed their skin as the warrior glided past. The two slavers were talking to the maitre d as Talia approached and then slipped past them into the busy room.
It took a couple minutes to move through the crowded area and not run into one of the multitude of beings. A waiter slipped past, a tray of food held over his head, and Talia followed him across the room. She wondered what the diners would think if they knew someone could spy on them, undetected, and learn about their illegal activities at will? They’d probably, she thought, crap in their pants and start running for the hills.
I’d pay money to watch a Mector run!
The proprietor was no stranger to the needs of his or her business customers. Doors to private dining rooms were on her right, left and then straight ahead. Two of the three doors were shut, while the last one remained open. That would be where the meeting would be at, because no one would close the door before the smugglers arrived and then have them open it again. It would draw too much attention, even on a lawless world like Hurculous to the goings on inside.
Mector, she’d learned through experience, weren’t beings to want to draw attention to them. If they hadn’t evolved from crabs, she’d’ve sworn they were oversized cockroaches given their hatred of being exposed. Talia nearly laughed aloud at how the filthy smugger would react when he found out their party had been crashed.
I’d give money to have a camera for this one!
Talia slipped through the door and into the room before quietly settling into a both across the room and then putting her feet up on the table. Nothing had changed over the hundreds of cycles, she noted, in how the Mector carried out business. Always picking the nicest place on any colony or station to carry out their business, and oftentimes sticking out like a sore thumb while doing so. Yet, the never got bothered or busted for their illicit behaviors more then a handful of times each year, which for their large population equaled noting more then a slight blip on the radar.
People, it seemed, were intimidated by the species and tended to ignore them, which infuriated Talia to no end. Why turn a blind eye to a race someone knew was bringing in illegal items, especially when the guilty party made no effort to hide? Sometimes it seemed to the experienced warrior that most beings were more concerned with being liked then doing the right thing. What all of them seemed to forget was the fact that doing right was the most important thing and not being liked. Popularity, she thought, was fleeting, while the knowledge someone did the correct thing lasted for a lifetime.
The smugglers entered the room, shutting the doors behind them, and then sat down across from the Mector. Talia looked the woman over with a wary eye. From the top of the woman’s head down to the tips of her toes, the smuggler screamed ‘soldier,’ which made the warrior sigh softly. While the man definitely was a civilian, she thought because no military in their right mind would allow someone to grow a beer belly.
How a civilian and a soldier managed to team up to trade slaves beat the heck out of her, because the cultures were so different. However, in this case if seemed to work and Talia wondered if the woman provided the muscle for the operation. The pistol, a .45 from the looks of it, definitely wasn’t a Fleet or Marine issue sidearm. If she had to take bets, the man would be the captain and the woman his first mate or security officer.
She’s definitely a competent one for sure.
Kleno looked up from his food. “I understand the transfer is underway?”
The Captain checked his watch. “It should be finished within two hours.”
“Did you achieve the requirements we needed?”
“Seventy percent male,” The Captain said. “Just as you requested.”
The giant crab leaned back. “My superior will be happy to know that. Another contractor’s due in anytime and didn’t get the proper mix.”
The Captain shrugged. “I’m a businessman, and that means catering to the customer.”
Talia pulled the Glock out of a cloak pocket and set it in her lap.
Kleno slid a portable computer across the table. “This amount has been deposited into your anonymous account.”
The Captain looked at it, scowled, and then let the woman see it.
“This is only half of what we agreed upon,” She said.
“The rates have changed due to unforeseen difficulties.”
The Captain tapped the tabletop. “I don’t care what your ‘unforeseen difficulties’ are, you promised me a certain amount of money. This doesn’t even cover my expenses.”
Kleno did the best imitation of a shrug that a massive crab could be expected to pull off. “That is the sale price.”
“And do tell,” the woman said, “Why has the price dropped in half when you’re short manual labor types?”
The Mector chewed on his dinner before swallowing and then grabbing a glass of wine to wash it down. “We’ve got additional concerns that might impact our business.”
“I don’t see how your concerns effect my bottom line,” The Captain said.
“I’m concerned that Talia De’Zahna might be on our trail, so we’re going to law low.”
“That’s fine, but what about the money? You promised three hundred credits a head, but are paying my one hundred fifty.”
Talia sucked in a deep breath and sighed sadly. Three hundred credits was all it took for a human to commit one of the biggest act of cruelty against their own race? While greed had always ruled the galaxy, it seemed the humans took it to a new level. The slavers of old, she thought, had more honor then this bunch did.
“I’m not worried about De’Zahna,” the woman said. “Get her away from her sisters and she’s just another person.”
“Who killed the entire Wraith race,” Kleno reminded her.
“With her sister’s help. If I saw her, the only thing that bitch would be seeing is her heart in my hand after I cut it out.”
Ok, that’s it, time to end this little soiree.
“You know many have tried and failed, kid.”
The woman’s head snapped around as the Captain’s face paled. “Who said that?”
She killed the camouflage and smiled as all three of her enemies gasped. “Well, this is something you don’t see everyday, a civilian, a former soldier, and a Mector at the same table. It’s almost worthy of a picture, if I do say so myself.”
The woman reached for her gun until Talia brought hers up.
The warrior clicked her tongue. “I don’t think you want to do that, kiddo. The last person I warned didn’t listen and ended up dead.”
Kleno closed his eyes and sighed in resignation. “De’Zahna, is there any possibility of us making a deal?”
“It’s all about the money with you guys. I’m surprised, Kleno, that your race made it this long, because you’re really, really dumb.”
The Mector sighed. “Insulting me won’t get you anywhere.”
“I never expected it to,” She looked at the two humans. “And you guys, what a pathetic looking bunch. You think you’re so good, so bad, and in reality are nothing but pitiful and weak children.”
The woman just growled.
Talia smiled. “Oh, nice sound! I’d call it a bear, but I don’t think a Chellios is in the room.”
The Captain shook his head. “You’ve got one big mouth on you.”
Talia shrugged. “Oh, come on guys, I’m just trying to lighten the mood…spread the cheer a bit…”
Kleno looked at her. “What do you want, Talia?”
She made a theatrical display of thinking. “Well let’s see her, first off, I’d like my stocking to be full at Christmas…”
“Quit prattling!” The woman snapped.
“Aw, am I getting on your nerves? I’m sorry, thought you might find it funny.” She shrugged. “Since you want to be all serious and all, kid,” Talia looked away from the woman and turned her attention towards Kleno. “I want to know who’s the next person up, and where are the humans being taken.”
The Mector chuckled. “And just what makes you think I have a superior?”
“Ah, come now, Kleno, and I thought we were becoming such friends.” She snapped her head around to look at the woman. “Don’t bother trying to transmit, because I’ve jammed all the communications.” Except mine, of course.
“I don’t have a superior, it’s all me,”
Talia shook a finger at the Mector. “Now, now, Kleno,” Her tone sounded like a mother scolding a child. “I’m twenty thousand years old. I stopped falling for that line by the time I was two.”
“And just what makes you think, if I have one, that I’ll tell you?”
“You know, if you don’t they’ll be a nice lump of coal in your stocking…”
“You’re not funny.”
“Kleno, you Mector have no sense of humor.” Her voice turned cold as ice. “If you don’t tell me, then I’ll just eliminate the captain and his friend over here.”
The woman reached for her gun but stopped when Talia snapped her hand up and aimed the barrel at the mate’s head.
“You do know they’re expendable to me?”
“I’ve never seen someone who wants to play the role of ‘The Grinch’ so much in my life. If you tell me who your superior is, and then accompany me, Kleno, this’ll all end.”
Kleno was silent.
She looked at the humans. “You do know how mister sourpuss over there works, don’t you? Oh, his race is very good at smuggling, I’ll give them that, but when the chips are down, they’ll kill you and your crew to cover their tracks and then disappear. So, if I were you, I’d start wondering if he’s really worth the trouble.”
The two humans looked at Kleno.
The Mector sighed before eating another fork full of food. “You know, Talia, exaggeration seems to be your style.”
She laughed. “I know, but I do it so well.”
The woman looked at her. “Is that true? What you said?”
Talia looked at her, raised and eyebrow and then shrugged. “Pretty much. Your friendly ‘associate’ over there,” She waved the gun at Kleno. “His race are like cockroaches. Once the light comes on, they scamper. Now, if he had his way, you would be dead right now. In fact…” She narrowed her eyes. “Drop that weapon on the floor, Kleno and keep your claws where I can see them.”
The Mector sighed and then complied.
Time for them to start spilling their guts.
“Ok, time to start talking. Kleno, who’s your contact, and I’m not going to keep waiting. If you don’t answer,” She leveled the pistol with his head. “I’ll put a round in your head and figure it out on my own.”
“I don’t think so,” Kleno said. “Shoot me and you lose your link to the chain.”
“Frankly, at this point, I don’t care whether any of the three of you leave this room alive. However, Scrooge, I doubt security could do anything with me if I did shoot you.” She looked at the nails on one hand. “What you have to ask your is, ‘will she really do it?’ And I suggest your look at my distant-and recent-past for the answer.”
Kleno sighed. “You’re not bluffing are you.”
Talia rolled her eyes. “Do I look like I am? Now, here’s how this is going to go down, Kleno, you’re going to contact the next person up and tell them you need to meet them here.”
“He’s likely to refuse. What if I take you to him?”
“I’m not the Easter Bunny. He’s coming here where it’s public.”
“You certainly have a way with words,”
“Well, I am a genius.”
She opened one channel for Kleno to call out on and let the processor monitor it for any code words or hidden messages. If the Mercon tried something funny, she thought, it wouldn’t take much to go back into hiding and take down whoever came within seconds of their arriving. While they weren’t known for being super bright at times, the professional smugglers wouldn’t risk their lives for no reason.
The com call flowed through her mind as Kleno worked to contact his superior. It took several seconds for the connection to be made and another being to answer. Interesting, she thought, another Wickham. They weren’t known, at least during her previous life, as being a race that got their paws dirty with the slave trade. If a dealer needed drugs, weapons or computer parts, then they were the carrier of choice.
I’d like to know when they decided to scrape the bottom of the barrel.
“Traner,” Kleno said. “We have an issue with the next shipment that needs to be discussed.”
The canine growled slightly. “Are you sure it can’t wait for tomorrow? I’m busy.”
“No, it can’t. The issue is up the up most importance.”
Way the throw it on heavy, crab.
“Fine, I’ll be there in twenty.”
Kleno killed the connection. “Done. What do you want now?”
She smiled. “We’re going to sit here and get acquainted. I want to know how you two,” She waved the gun at the humans. “Got yourselves into something this seedy. Especially a former Alliance solder. And don’t hold anything back either.”