The freighter swung low around onto the final landing path, its gravity plating generating an inverse gravitational field that held it off the ground as it slowed to a stop.  The words Venusian Goddess adorned its blood red hull as it gently sank down into the landing berth carved into the ground.  It touched down and AI and Terran crewers instantly sprang to work, unloading the cargo.  Security Chief James Reynolds sauntered down the main ramp, happy to be on good old-fashioned dirt again and ready to spend some money at the bar.

A quick scan of his identicard, proudly proclaiming him to be an employee of Barlon Industries, got him past the landing berth security and he sauntered out towards The Strip.  Every spaceport had them, no matter what name they called them.  A place where spacers could come to get beer, women, or anything else they wanted, even on straight laced Pryde Rock they were bustling centers of monetary exchange.  The Strip off this spaceport was a mere five-minute walk away from his landing berth and he smiled as he walked out of the spaceport proper and onto the street full of bars, strip clubs, and less reputable businesses.

James turned into the first bar he saw, one that seemed to be empty, most likely because of the time of day.  He aimed for a booth in the back, feeling like drinking alone.  The waitress came and left, dropped a beer and left again, and James took a long quenching sip.  He loved a good drink after a long flight.




“How did you know he’d come here?” Benjamin asked and Jack shrugged casually.

“He always did go for the first bar he saw.  All he wants is a drink.  Never did care about anything else.  Let the others go to the places with better…decorations,” he noted with a meaningful glance towards Vanessa and Elsie.  “He just wanted to relax,” Jack finished and took another sip of his own drink.

“So which ones did you go to?” Vanessa asked slyly and Jack smiled innocently as she snickered unbelievingly.

“You’re still sure about this?” Benjamin asked, trying to bring the subject back on track, and Jack shrugged again.  “Intelligence can get us in whenever we want.”

“Only if you want to be caught,” Jack muttered on along the same argument they’d had for days.  “The Corporations know an Intel-made past any day.”

“You saying Intelligence is incompetent?” Ben asked as his eyes narrowed and Jack shrugged.

“Not incompetent.  Just infiltrated.  Trust me here.  Intel can’t do anything without the Corporations knowing,” he finished and took another sip of his drink.  “We used to be partners.  He’ll help me here.  Just watch my back,” he finished, looking over at Elsie and Vanessa and they nodded back at him as he unfurled himself from the chair, his ever-present rumpled black suit hanging limply around his frame.

He ambled on over to slide loosely into the other side of the booth, as James looked at him unhappily.  “Ah prefer tah drink alone,” James growled and Jack just smiled back.

“And here I thought you’d recognize your old buddy, Jack,” he whispered in a voice as lazy as his posture and then leaned forward closer to the single dim light over the table to give James a better look at his face.

“Sh…Jack?” James asked in confusion, then nearly spilled his beer all over the table as he recognized Jack.  “But you’re…but Ah thought…“

“Been there, done that,” Jack muttered.  “Heard the broken record.  I need help.”

“Sh…Jack…look,” James whispered nervously and leaned across the table, trying to keep his voice down.  “It’s been a long time.  Ah’ve got a new life now.  What are you doing here?”

“If you wanted a new life, you could have gone back to New Carolina,” Jack noted simply.  “Playing enforcer for Barlon isn’t exactly what I’d call a new life,” he added as he stretched out nonchalantly in the booth.

“You know that’s not what Ah do,” James hissed back.  “Ah’ve got a good job, running security on a freighter and protecting it from pirates!”

“And you really think that puts you outside the old game?” Jack whispered calmly.  “How many shipments have you taken to government shipyards?”

“Five or six,” James noted nervously and Jack smiled back.

“How many turned up short?”

“Ah… Ah don’t know what you mean,” James hissed nervously, his brow beginning to sweat.  “Ah’m honest and you know that!”

“But the people you work for aren’t,” Jack responded calmly.  “Did you know they’re working with the Shang?”

“What mahks ya thin thaht?  Workin with IPS now?” James drawled out the initials of Inter Planetary Security as his accent began to slur worse than normal.  “Ah neva woulda thought you’d turn govie.”

“I’m freelance,” Jack noted simply.  “The point is they are working with the Shang.  I and a friend need to get in on the Barlon Security rolls and you can help us.”

“No!” James hissed angrily.  “Yah know wha they do tah people who betray them!”

“Only if they’re caught,” Jack muttered calmly.  “We used to be pretty good at avoiding getting caught.”

“That was a long time ago,” James whispered, pulling his accent back under control.  “And we didn’t exactly walk out on all two feet.  Ah’m not going back to that.”

“There was a time when you cared,” Jack whispered and James shook his head.

“It’s not mah fight,” he returned, patting his left leg.  “Ah’ve paid my dues.  Ah just want to go home t’ the wife an’ kids, yah know?”

“Wow,” Jack whispered and leaned back.  “Never woulda thought of you as a family guy.”

“Like Ah said, new life,” James whispered back.

“So, what’ll happen to that new life if the Shang win the next war?” Jack asked simply and James’ face went taut.

“Who says there’ll be one?” he finally hissed out after a long silence.

“If they get the upper hand again, there will be one,” Jack returned intently.  “What do you think they’ll do if they conquer Pryde Rock?  What’ll happen to your family?”

Damn you,” James hissed angrily.  “Leave them out of it!”

“I can’t,” Jack whispered back.  “Because the Shang won’t and you know it.  I’m sorry.  I really am.  But we both know Shane wouldn’t have been.  I learned a lot from him.  So did you.”

“Damn you,” James repeated sadly.  “Why can’t you find anyone else to help?” he pleaded.

“Trust me, I’ve tried,” Jack returned.

“What about Erik and Vihon?” James asked slowly.  “They’re in Barlon too.”

“Too high up.  I can’t contact them without going through too many lines.”

“But I’m easier to talk to,” James muttered and Jack nodded simply.

“We’ve got company,” Jack muttered as three men whose attire and walk screamed ‘enforcer’ strode into the bar and moved over to the bar.  Jack leaned back in his seat, further away from the light so they wouldn’t get a good look at his face.  He watched them out of the corner of his eye as they looked like they were asking the bartender for information, flashing a picture of some kind, and then stiffened as the old man pointed at the booth where Ben, Elsie, and Vanessa were sitting in.  “Vanessa,” he whispered as he brought his hand up to cover his mouth calmly, hoping she was actually listening for his voice.  “They’re onto you.”

“Lehme guess,” James drawled as the enforcers walked towards their targeted booth while stuffing their hands inside their jackets.  “Intel covers?”

“I was hoping they’d hold out long enough to get under something that would work,” Jack muttered darkly and stood up loosely, stretching nonchalantly.  They would see him stand up of course.  If he tried to stand up too sneakily they’d get suspicious after all.  He yawned and turned, seeing Vanessa stand up smoothly and face the men as they pulled guns out of their jackets.

“You’ll be dead at this rate,” James muttered and Jack nodded normally before starting to walk towards the rapidly developing situation.

“Sit back down,” their leader ordered and she stopped in place, looking perfectly cowed as they walked closer.  “Sit down,” the leader ordered more forcefully and she nodded shakily before turning to sit back down.  She kept turning, speeding up as she spun around, and her right foot shot up to kick the gun out of his hand.  It flew into wall with a resounding crack and the enforcers froze for a second.  It was their undoing.  Vanessa’s foot came down on the floor and she shot her left leg up, in between the leader’s legs, lifting him off the floor.

He’d barely started crying out in pain when her left arm lashed out and ripped the gun out of another enforcer’s grip.  She squeezed and it snapped in half as her left leg came back down to the ground.  The last enforcer had just enough time to turn his gaze back to her and see her right leg snapping up towards his own pistol.  His hand shattered and the weapon bounced off the ceiling as he began to cry out in pain.  He didn’t have time to finish it.  She planted her leg back on the floor, spun around it, and brought her left leg up and over, catching his head in the side with a kick.

He stopped making noises as suddenly as he died, except for the sound of his body hitting the floor.  The lead enforcer had finally managed to cover the family jewels, or what was left of them, with his hands by the time she planted her left leg down and spun around with her right one.  The bottom of her foot met his nose as it was coming down and it shattered as her kick drove it back and up into his brain.  His head snapped back as only the dead can snap and he fell to the ground lifelessly.

The last enforcer had enough time to take a step back in fright, trying to escape the unholy terror that had killed his buddies in less than a second.  His only chance for survival lay in her letting him go.  Unfortunately for him, he was all out of luck.  Two hands grabbed his head, one cupping his chin and the other holding tightly to the back of his head.  They turned his head around hard until it audibly snapped, and then released him to fall to the floor.

“Can’t let you have all the fun,” Jack muttered and turned away from the falling body before walking up to the barkeeper.  He pulled his wallet out of his pocket and dropped several large bills on the counter.  “You don’t know who we are and your memory of what we look like is fuzzy but you’ll do your best.  A few of your statements will be wrong though,” he finished with a smile and the barkeeper placed his hands on the bills before nodding simply.  “Let’s go,” Jack ordered and Elsie and Ben stood up gingerly to follow Jack and Vanessa.  Elsie paused and pulled the picture from the leader’s pocket and looked at it before showing it to Jack.  It was Ben in his all his glory.

“How’d they know?” Ben whispered shakily and Jack shrugged.

“I told you they had Intel infiltrated,” he whispered back and stopped for a moment to look at James questioningly.  The man shook his head slowly before standing up.

“Fine,” he muttered.  “But only ‘cause it’s the Shang.  And ya owe meh.”

“No problem,” Jack whispered calmly and walked out of the bar with the other four in tow.

 “How did you move like that?” James whispered after moving close to Vanessa and she smiled back.

“Clean living and a glass of milk every day,” she responded innocently and James looked from her to Jack with a scowl.

“I hate mah life,” he whispered slowly.