Qus Loran remained alert as he made his way down the dark and dirty corridor. The few lights still working in this part of the station flickered on and off overhead, barely illuminating the narrow passageway that was littered with waste—both material and human. But Qus didn’t mind the periodic darkness, because he really didn’t want to see his surroundings any better.
The smell was already enough to deal with.
As he cautiously made his way forward, he was forced to step over a woman’s body lying on the floor. She was seated with her back against the wall, and her legs were splayed open wide—extending far enough out into the passageway to partially block it. He saw that she’d vomited down the front of her shirt and concluded it was probably a drug overdose, but Qus couldn’t tell if the emaciated woman was dead or not.
If she were still alive, he knew she wouldn’t be much longer lying around here unconscious. Any part of Harrakan Station could be dangerous if you ran into the wrong people, but even most of them avoided this particular section of the largely lawless outpost.
Qus used his foot to push the woman’s legs off to one side—moving them out of the walkway—and then he knocked some empty boxes down on top of her. If she was still alive, maybe now she’d stay hidden long enough to wake up…before someone else with less altruistic ideas came along and helped her sleep forever. If Qus wasn’t in such a rush he would have gladly done more to help, and the guilt he felt for leaving her like this was real, but there just wasn’t time.
Dr. Sa had done some remarkable work with the cerebral implants, but Qus knew he could only remain off the grid for a few more hours. At that point, the fake monitoring records the device was sending back to Sector would become suspect. Qus would have to reinitialize the authentic feed soon, and he needed to be far away from the station before that happened.
As he turned around to continue on his way, he saw a pair of men approaching in the distance—every flash of the overhead lighting charting their progress as they drew closer. Qus slouched down and tried to appear harmless, attempting to pass himself off as just another one of the lost souls that lived and died in this mostly forgotten hellhole.
Normally in situations like this, Qus would present himself as a tough target—one that was best left alone, and definitely not worth the effort. But he’d travelled to Harrakan Station undercover, and desperately needed to retain his anonymity…for many reasons. Unfortunately, when he chanced a glance up at the faces of the two men approaching him, Qus saw in their eyes that being poor and harmless was only going to make this situation worse.
“Well, well. What do we have here?” one of the them said.
“I’m more interested in what he has on him,” his partner replied. And then he glared at Qus. “Spill out your pockets…or I’ll spill out your guts.”
Qus noted that both men were fairly large, and the one on the left carried himself like someone with at least a hint of fighting experience, but it was the mouthy one that pulled a metal pipe out of his long coat and stepped in closer.
“Now, you piece of shit. Or I’ll decorate that wall behind you with your brains.”
Ah well, Qus thought to himself.
I really tried…
Qus stood up straight—adopting his full height. And then he smiled down at the much shorter man. “We wouldn’t want that now, would we?”
“A smartass huh?”
He swung the pipe, but Qus stepped aside and pushed it all the way through its arc, thrusting it forward even harder to smash the second man in the throat with it. Then Qus twisted back around and elbowed his attacker in the face—knocking him away, and giving himself more room to maneuver.
As both of his would-be assailants staggered backward, Qus pulled out his stun baton and flipped it on. The loud, crackling hum immediately drew their attention, but it was far too late for either of them to do anything about it.
Qus dropped them both with two quick jabs.
“So much for keeping a low profile,” he muttered under his breath.
He took a moment to drag their unconscious bodies into a smaller side corridor, and then hit them both with the baton again.
That should keep them out long enough for us to get off the station.
And then, even though he was dressed in worn-out clothing, and doing what he believed to be a rather excellent impersonation of a drug-addled lowlife, Special Inquisitor Qus Loran straightened his jacket, and then pushed his hair back into place before continuing on his way.
Another twenty meters down the hall, he finally found the room he was looking for. Most of the paint had long since faded or been scraped away from the metal sign above the door, but Qus could still make out the numbers, 228. He pulled down on the heavy metal crossbar to unlatch it, and then pushed the hatch open.
He stepped through it to find a gun in his face.
“Benjamin. Is that any sort of greeting?”
“What took you so long, Qus?”
“I stopped to make some new friends. They are sleeping it off now.”
Special Inquisitor Ben Malik grinned as he lowered his weapon. “I see. So now you understand why I chose this place.”
“You mean it wasn’t for the décor?”
Qus walked over to examine a man strapped to a chair in the middle of the room.
“He’s an obese little fellow, isn’t he?”
“Working for a corrupt Regent must pay well,” Malik replied.
“Yes, but which one? Have you gotten anything out of him yet?”
“Not yet. But I think I’m close. I was just about to wake him up again. Would you like to do the honors?”
“I don’t mind if I do.”
Qus leaned over the intravenous feed attached to the captive’s arm and tapped a button on the small control panel. The man snapped awake instantly.
“What the—? Oh…”
“Welcome back,” Malik said. “Now. Where were we? Ah yes, you were just about to tell me who hired you to plant a surveillance device on the employee from Evan’s Moon.”
“I already told you, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m just a janitor at the Pleasure Factory on Level Two.”
Qus shuddered. “I don’t even want to know what he cleans up there.”
“One of the dome employees came to your place for some recreation,” Malik said. “And you tagged him with a military-grade monitoring chip—one with full audio and video capabilities.”
Malik leaned down and pushed his face to within inches of the man’s. “Where did you get it?”
The janitor gulped, and then stammered, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I swear!”
“Not bad,” Qus said. “I almost believed him.”
Malik backed away from the chair and raised his TAC pistol, gesturing toward the man with it. “Yes, except for the part where I traced DNA found on it back to him, and then uncovered an extremely large deposit in his local account. That’s where his story becomes much less convincing.”
Malik looked over at Qus. “What do you think? Right leg, or left?”
“I always go with the left,” he replied offhandedly. “But that’s just me.”
The janitor’s eyes went wide as Malik shrugged and pointed the gun at his kneecap. “Left it is…”
“Wait! Wait!” the man yelled. “It was Timmons! Hilod Timmons! But I don’t know what he was after. I swear!”
Malik leaned forward to tap the button on the IV and the man fell unconscious again. “Sometimes the old methods are still the best,” he said. “I’ll send someone out to collect this piece of garbage and make him disappear for awhile. I doubt he’ll be missed.”
Malik noticed a look of recognition on Qus’ face as he backed away from the chair. “You know this Timmons he was talking about?”
“Only by reputation. He’s the head of a powerful criminal empire in the Stanol system?”
“Stanol?” Malik remarked. “That’s practically on the other side of the galaxy.”
“It is odd,” Qus replied. “And why would someone so well placed be sent on a grunt mission like this?” He pulled out his pad and entered some information.
“Well, it’s more than we knew before,” Malik said. “And it gives us someone else to investigate. I suppose it helps us a little.”
Qus looked up from his pad and smiled. “It helps us much more than just a little, Benjamin. Two months ago Timmons was convicted of murder, and sentenced to a hundred year stint in a penal colony.”
Malik’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Then how the hell did he end up on Harrakan Station? Or anywhere near Prima Sector for that matter?”
“It seems that he recently received a pardon.”
“For murder? Only a Regent can issue…”
“Indeed.” Qus grinned, spinning the pad around to show him a copy of the document. “It was signed by Lars Borek, Grand Regent of Rand Sector.
Malik smiled as he holstered his pistol.
“Gotcha, you son of a bitch.”