By Michael Juschke
Copyright 2016 Michael Juschke
Cover design copyright 2016 Team Juschke
Thanks to my wife Julienne for her support, advice and corrections.
Thanks also to the various members of Critique Circle for their advice and corrections.
And thanks to Ashleigh Yates for proof-reading.
Thank you for downloading this free ebook. Although this is a free book, it remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be reproduced, copied or distributed for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own free copy at Shakespir.com, where they can discover other works by this author. Thank you for your support.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, governments, organizations, places, events and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Table of Contents
Jil Drv’Os checked the emitter barrel of her DRV-49r again and placed it on the table with the other overhauled components. Good enough, only her lab techs could get it cleaner.
She yawned, looked out through the thick window of her study, and smiled. The view of Lumi’nor drifting in space below was soothing, its night side shimmering with billions of lights. Another welcome relief from a long day with a difficult buyer.
Just a handful of apartments in the space city had a real window. The privilege of being the owner’s daughter. Father. Her eyes misted up, she took a deep breath and blinked it away.
The apartment’s lights died, doors hissed open on power-fail batteries, the ever-present hum of the ventilation stopped, and the room was silent. She froze, mind in overdrive.
The study lit up with blinding flashes coming from the bedroom, followed by muffled recharge whines of a laser gun. She threw herself into the corner next to the door, making more noise than she liked, and drew her small plasma backup. Flickering yellow light and crackling sounds seeped out from the bedroom. Armored boots thumped, the intruder no longer bothering to be silent.
She glanced around, blood pounding in her ears. Nothing useful as cover. Escape through the lounge door?
Not the best option. It was opposite the bedroom door; a sure way to get shot in the back. Better to stay low, wait for the attacker to walk in, and then sneak into the bedroom behind his back.
Scrap that. She didn’t know how many there were, and even a half-trained attacker would spot her before taking two steps through that door.
Cold sweat formed on her forehead. She gripped her gun tight, jumped up and bolted across the room to the open lounge door. Bolts streaked past her, striking the doorframe, sending molten bits of plastic burning into her face, and acrid smoke up her nose. She vaulted low, rolled to the left, pushed up and jumped behind the main seater unit. The thuds of the heavy boots sped up. Just one pair.
She glanced at the external door behind her and dismissed it. Too easy a target in the anti-gravity elevator, or the stairs. Without a nozzle camera on the backup gun, she poked her head over the top of the seater, aimed at the study door, and waited, trying to slow down her breathing.
On second thought, if the attacker wore armored boots, he was probably in full body armor. Impossible to kill with the underpowered backup gun.
Jil shifted her aim, fired several bursts at the study’s doorframe until the plastic caught fire, and a second barrage of bolts through the center of the door. Staying low, she scrambled towards the kitchen, lunged, rolled, came up to the right, and swiped her forearm across the hidden sensor. A section of wall popped open on battery power, revealing several weapons in its dim green light. She grabbed the heavy slug thrower and the Sizzler. Thumbing on the nozzle camera of the Sizzler, she pointed it past the doorframe and watched the lounge on the small screen in the back of the gun.
A volley of deafening shots streaked out from her study, setting the main seater ablaze in an instant. She gasped. Large plasma weapon! She pulled back from the kitchen door’s edge, stretching her arm to keep the Sizzler’s nozzle pointing into the lounge. A humanoid in full armor catapulted out from the study and took cover behind one of the other seaters.
She held her fire. The scraping of armor suggested the attacker was crawling to the left. She shifted her aim in that direction and listened. Thick smoke from the seater and the doorframe churned below the ceiling, growing lower, filling the room, eating air. A sudden clamor of armor; she pressed the trigger before she looked. A white-blue stream burst from the Sizzler, hitting the attacker mid-jump. The energy spread over the armor in an avalanche of sparks. He curled up and crashed to the floor. She fired again.
Jil dropped the Sizzler and jerked up the slug thrower. A lung-full of smoke choked her. Woozy, eyes burning, vision distorted with tears, she fired almost blindly. Cracking impacts suggested the heavy slugs were punching through the humanoid’s weakened armor.
Taking in smoke and boiling air, her lungs burned like fire, breathing through her sleeve was useless. She needed to restore power to get the anti-fire running, and the air cycled, and she needed to do it now.
The main controls were on the other side, past the attacker. Was he dead? She squinted into the room, barely able to see. Against her will, her aching body took a huge breath, starting a wave of suffocating coughs. He better be dead.
With a grunt, she jumped to her feet and stumbled into the room. There he was. Did his arm just move? She stopped mid-step. Maybe it was just her bleary eyes. A raking cough made the room spin, she collapsed and crashed to the ground, gasping for air.
The red flashing light on the wall console was close, so close. She willed herself forward, on her arms and knees, crawling, dragging herself up on the wall, squinting at the blurry red splotch. The main power panel should be right below it. Her legs shook and buckled. Sliding down the wall, she slapped her hand against the panel.
Did it activate? Her head was too heavy to look.
Slumped on the floor, gulping smoke, Jil barely noticed the fine mist spraying into the room and onto her skin. The heat dropped. Breathing became easier. She lifted her head, looked into the blurry spinning room, and vomited.
Eventually her mind cleared. Her head was pounding, her body a mass of pain; she needed to get to sickbay. Dragging her arm, directing it to her belt pouches, she pulled out an injector capsule. The dotted code strip identified it as a painkill. She unloaded it into her thigh, a warm sensation spreading rapidly, the pain fading. She had to get moving, the attacker could still be alive, recovering.
Her legs did not obey. Reluctantly, she dug out and injected a stim, the chemicals filling her with energy. The letdown was a bitch, and in her condition might trigger a fatal shock. She’d better be in sickbay by then. She touched her wristband and set a timer for four hours.
Jil eased herself to her feet, trudged over to the attacker and knelt.
The charred armor bore the patterns of the Galactic Security Guild. Assassin.
Revenge hit for the safe-house rescue?
Unlikely. She had wiped all connections to the house and had acted in legitimate defense of the targets. The Guild Code forbade revenge hits for that.
Who would order a hit? Neither she nor her company had received recent threats.
Her breath caught. Where were the others?
Guild assassins always came in pairs or groups. She glanced around, jumped up, ran back to the console, and switched to the security display, widening the detection area. Only the dead assassin, herself and the neighbors in their apartments showed.
She touched her arm to the console’s sensor to unlock the programming mode so she could set the audible motion detection, but the system was already unlocked.
Only her personal ID chip implant could unlock it. Drv’Os Montol’s first space city had been Father’s pride, expanding their arms corporation to major shipbuilding as well. “Best security anywhere,” he had always claimed. “Unhackable.”
She pulled up the system logs. The last access was by– Father? How could–? Father! NO!
In two bounds she was next to the body, threw herself to her knees, pulled off the helmet and saw the lifeless, distorted face – of a woman.
Jil stared at her, in silence, streams of tears dripping to the floor, her chest unclenching, letting her breathe again, the terror over. Not Father. She had not killed Father.
She inhaled and sighed, her scrambled thoughts weaving back into order. What had she been thinking? How could she even for one second think that this attacker had been Father? Him, in Guild armor, and trying to kill her? Him? Killing her? Not in a lifetime. Besides…
She closed her eyes for a moment. Father had died in his office two weeks ago, she had seen the body. How could that have been faked? Well, actually… Not a chance. He would not have faked his death without letting her in on it.
She wiped away her tears, stood, walked to her blackened desk, pried open one of the drawers, and grabbed the scanner. She knelt and waved it over the body. It detected Father’s ID. She unclipped the chest armor, ignoring the smell of burned flesh, and scanned again.
There. The small capsule in the pocket of the partially melted undergarment. She shivered. It was Father’s implant. That was how the assassin had turned off everything. Father had unconditional access to her office and quarters.
But he was dead. His body and implants had been disintegrated, the dust scattered into space. Someone must have removed Father’s implant while his body was awaiting disintegration at the Dispersion Office. Someone was working for the Guild there. She needed to run background checks.
No. She unclenched her fists. Neither the Dispersion Office staff nor the Guild would have known those IDs existed. Father’s engineers had made them without knowing for what, only the immediate family had them, and only they knew about them.
Oh, dang! She stood up.
Father’s ID was active. Someone had re-activated it in the security system, and only she and her two brothers could do that. They were trying to kill her to take the Montol. Bastards. Bloody rotten, stinking, bastards!
She should have known her brothers might try. Why should they be immune, when there was that much wealth and power at stake?
She scratched her head. They?
Not Baby. Surely not. Her gaze went to the wall, but his picture was gone, melted. She had been a mother to him since he was six. Why would he want her dead? Baby did not want the Montol, he was a tech-head; he hated the management studies Father had forced him to take. No motive there, not even for the credits. Prime Executor of Drv’Os Montol had a large credits package. But the Board would never approve Baby, and he knew it. He did not have the skills. And he was not exactly short of credits anyway. Father’s will provided a generous allowance. No, not Baby.
That left Mar.
She shook her head. Mar? He did not even own a gun.
But, he was the eldest, had executive training, and Father had skipped him by making her Second Executor. Now the will had appointed her as Prime. Mar had argued with the Board, but they had confirmed her.
The security system chirped. Her head snapped around. In seconds she was at the screen. Someone was floating up in the anti-grav. Guild reinforcements? No way of knowing, but if they were, her apartment was a death trap. And the Guild would keep sending assassins until she was dead.
Leaving the bulky slug thrower and heavy Sizzler on the floor, she raced out of the apartment and jumped into the downward anti-grav shaft. Floating, she activated her wristband, linked with her security system, and brought up the motion tracker display. It showed the person in the up-shaft step out, walk into her apartment, stop, turn and sprint back to the anti-grav. Time for her to get out.
She got off at the next exit and headed to the Security Office. Half way there she paused. They could not protect her forever. The hit had to be canceled. She stopped and walked to the sidewalk tube. Her only chance was for Mar to call off the hit. It would buy her three months before he could re-hire them.
Why had she not seen the hit contract come through on the usual channels? Her software had flagged them in the past. A person-direct hire? No way. Few people knew how to do that, and even less survived it. Guild members valued their anonymity. Mar would have to already know someone well, a close colleague, a friend.
“He’s smarter than he looks, you know.” Father’s voice, whispering in her mind, spoken long ago.
She used Father’s ID to enter Mar’s apartment, headed to the bedroom and snapped on the light. “You bastard! Get up! Slowly!”
Mar’s eyes flew open, focusing on the gun.
“Jil, what…? I am, er, I am not dressed.”
“Good, then I do not have to frisk you. Get up.”
Mar eased himself up, pushed down the cover, and moved his legs over the edge of his bed. He paused. She waved her gun towards the wall. Mar stood up in slow motion.
“What’s going on?”
“To the wall, Mar. Place your hands flat on the wall.”
He walked the few steps across the room and put up his hands.
“Who is your Guild contact?”
“Don’t play games. You want me dead. Who’s your inside contact?”
“Dead? Are you insane?”
“You contracted a Guild hit, and it did not go through the standard channels. Who is your contact inside the Montol?”
Mar’s head and shoulders turned towards her.
“Don’t turn. Face the wall!”
“Who is your contact?”
“I didn’t order a hit, Jil.”
“Oh come on! You want the Montol. Forgotten already how you harassed the Board?”
His head began to turn, but moved back. “Yes, I want the Montol, but it doesn’t mean I’d kill you. You’re my sister!”
“Sisters are being killed all over the galaxy for less, trust me.”
“Not by me. Try Toj.”
“Don’t you pin this on Baby. He wouldn’t, and he’s got no motive.”
“And I do? Toj’s a few engines short of a starship, surely even an absent mother would notice that much.”
“Don’t you dare!” She checked her timer. An hour to live if she did not get to sickbay, and less if she went there with an assassin on her tail. “Enough games! Call off the hit.”
“Jil! I didn’t–”
“Call it off, now!” She stepped closer and shoved her gun into his neck. He stiffened.
“I can’t call it off, I didn’t hire them. Trust me, I didn’t order a hit.”
A small tremor ran through her outstretched arm. He sounded genuine. A whiff of his sweet deodorant tickled her nose. Brushing stray hair strands from her face, she stepped backward.
“Turn around.” She had to see his face, read his eyes.
Mar took his hands from the wall and held them out to the sides. As he turned, he brought them down to cover his privates. Jil tightened her jaw muscles, but a soft giggle escaped.
“What?” he asked.
“That.” She nodded towards his covered crotch. “I have seen it before, you know.”
“Um, yeah, when you were ten or something.”
“No. Remember the urge to swim on Kirsa IV last year, when you and Father had no wear? All afternoon…”
“Oh! Yeah.” He grimaced, one eyebrow raised. Same old Mar.
Stop. What was she doing laughing with him? This was not a family reunion.
“Enough. You have motive and opportunity. You met with Father on the day he was found. You had time at the Dispersion Office to take the implant. You had access to enable it in the system before passing it to the Guild. And don’t tell me you can’t kill. You killed my Klir’Din.”
“That was an accident, the airlock safety was broken. You know it was an accident. I didn’t–”
“I said, ‘enough!’” She waved her gun towards the coms unit. “Call the Guild and cancel the contract.”
He looked to the floor. “I can’t.”
“Mar! You have to. If you don’t…” The words caught in her dry mouth, she swallowed hard. “The only other way to void the contract is… Mar, don’t force me to.”
He continued to stare at the floor.
“Mar, no.” A bead of sweat trickled down her neck. “Don’t make me kill you.”
He looked up, right into her eyes. “Do what you have to, but it won’t void it. I didn’t do it.”
She took a deep breath, exhaling slowly to steady her swaying arm, and lifted her gun to point at his head.
She let her arm drop. Mar blew out his breath; his shoulders slumped.
“Sorry, Mar. I was convinced it was you.”
“The truth in your eyes.”
“Ha! I used to find that annoying; always calling out my lies when you were little.” He paused. “Glad you still have it. Can I put some clothes on now?”
Jil laughed. “Sure.” She put the gun back in her belt, and looked up to the ceiling to give Mar some privacy, but still able to notice his movements.
Mar’s wardrobe opened as he approached. He grabbed his undergarments and bent over to put them on.
“NO!” he screamed, looking past her. Jil’s gun was out of her belt before her gaze had moved from the ceiling. Mar jumped forward, barreling low into her belly, ripping at her arm. The gun went off. A yell, maybe two. She hit the floor hard, dazed and almost unable to breathe with Mar’s heavy body limp on top of her.
“No! Mar! No!” She struggled to wriggle free. A shape slumped on the floor in the doorway caught her eye. She paused.
“Hey Sister,” he said with a pained half-smile, followed by a wet cough, a large charred hole smoldering below the top of his right shoulder.
She scrambled out from under Mar. Seeing the blast wound burned through Mar’s neck made her gag. Swaying she got to her feet and turned back to the door.
“Hold it right there, Sis!”
Baby was holding a small laser in his left hand, pointed at her.
“Baby? What are you doing?”
“I hate it when you call me that. The name is Toj. Toj, Toj, Toj.”
“Baby, what…” So much venom in his voice. Why was… no… that was just… hell.
“Say Toj,” he yelled, waving his gun. He coughed hard. “Or I’ll kill you!”
Insane! Baby was insane. Totally insane. How could she have missed this?
“He’s smarter than he looks, you know.” Father’s words hit her with terrible clarity; he had said it about Baby, not Mar.
“Say it, Sis.”
Gun? Motherfragging son of a ritchid! She had no gun, no backup for the backup. She had to talk him down somehow. She had talked down disturbed buyers, and insane warlords, she could get out of this one too. Trying to control the growing jitter in her body, she took a slow, quiet breath.
“Yes. Okay. Toj, can you please put that down? You are scaring me.”
“Yes!” he shouted. “I thought I’d never hear you say that when I saw your burned apartment and the body. Thought the bitch had ignored my instructions to capture alive. But here you are. You said it, and now I will kill you.”
“You want to kill me over your name?”
“No.” He raised the gun towards her head. His eyes narrowed.
She had to keep him talking.
“Then why Bab… Toj? Why? Haven’t I always been there for you? I love you like a mother–”
“Mother? Don’t you dare compare yourself to her, you selfish, patronizing bitch. You’re not a mother, you’re a smother. ‘Baby do this; Baby remember that; Baby do not go there; Baby you cannot buy this. Hi, this is my brother Baby.’ Always Baby, Baby, Baby. Yet when I actually needed you, the Montol was always more important.”
Bloody hell. She was supposed to talk him down, not rile him up. She cast her gaze around without him noticing. She could not see her gun. Nothing in easy reach to use. She had to keep him talking.
“Toj! I… I am sorry. I will never call you Baby again. I’ll sign over your allowance trust.”
“Shut up! Do you think I spent years dreaming about killing Father and you to just lay down and die without finishing it? Do you think sleeping with that warrior bitch was fun? Do you think it was easy figuring out how to frame him?” He nodded towards Mar. “I hate you, hate you, hate you!”
She swallowed hard, her stomach in knots. She had to take him down. He was badly injured and using his left hand, he would be slow. If she lunged at him mid-sentence she could catch him off-guard, elbow his temple, knock him out. A muscle in her back spasmed, hot waves washing over her body. Her legs felt like jelly. It took all her willpower to stay standing. The stim!
She would be slower than him. Her only chance was him dying before he could shoot. Keep him talking!
“How did you know I was here?”
“You’re so clueless, aren’t you? Hacked Central Security, of course. Got access to all the cameras… Nice viewing late at night…” He grinned. “Figured you’d blame Mar for the attack, given the trail I laid, and the cams confirmed it. Goodbye.”
“Toj! Wait, there’s something you need to know.”
Toj raised his eyebrows. “Shoot.”
“You know how Father didn’t give you control over your inheritance? He didn’t trust you. If I die the trust dissolves and the credits go to the Veteran’s League.”
“Lies! I’ve seen the will. Father loved me. The trust goes to me when you die, and so does your share. And Mar’s too.” A heavy cough raked him, his eyes closed and the gun drooped.
Jil lunched, arm stretched to grab it. Her legs collapsed, sending her sprawling to the floor well short of her target, a loud crunch suggesting her nose had broken, then a gunshot deafened her ears.
The room was silent.
Heavy boots thudded nearby. She rolled over and looked in the direction of the sound.
A Guild Assassin was leaving the room, Baby’s head was a charred mess. Bile rose in her throat.
“You are not killing me?”
The assassin stopped and turned.
“No,” the helmet’s voice synthesizer rasped. “My job was to protect you.”
“What? From whom?”
“One of our own, primarily. You took down her brother at the safe-house. We realized too late she had gone rogue, I could not get to you in time.”
“The safe-house? How–”
The assassin turned back towards the door.
“Why kill my baby brother?”
“Your father’s protection payment upon his death,” he said without stopping. “We cannot contract against you, and must protect you if we find you in danger.”
He pressed the emergency call button near the door, a slow beep indicating activation, then he was gone.
Jil stared at the empty door, her gaze blurring, drifting. It landed on Mar’s body. Dead. Because of her. Because she came here, had thought him guilty. He had saved her. Innocent.
“I’m sorry. So sorry.”
Uncontrollable tears flooded her eyes, her mind floating in images of Mar, Father and Mother, hiking, playing games, hunting. Mother at camp, roasting dinner.
Running footsteps approached from somewhere; arms grabbed her.
Thank you for reading this short story.
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Other works by Michael Juschke
Michael Juschke lives in Perth, Western Australia. He has Bachelor Degrees in Electronic Engineering and Computer Science, and has been working as an IT professional since 1997. He has been a fan of Sci-Fi since his primary school days, and has a keen interest in all things technology, science, and space. Apart from writing, he enjoys reading, cooking, photography, and building projects of various kinds.
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