First Impressions (A Terran Legacy Short Story)


First Impressions 

A Terran Legacy Short Story 


Captain Dannage is looking for a new security officer for his cargo ship, but the only option he has left is an ex-Special Forces agent with a dark past and a short fuse. Can he trust her? Is there any other choice? Not in his price range.

Shauna Arland has had a cloud hanging over her since her court martial. Now, she's got a chance at a proper job and a family if she can live long enough to save them.


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- Silicate III -

Michael Dannage squinted into the early-morning sunlight. The streets were still damp from last night’s rain. The damp wouldn’t last, not with the light glittering off the glass skyscrapers and the chromed tower of the space elevator.
Today was going to be a good day.
Dannage glanced over to where Luc shifted his weight from foot to foot. He’d known the burly blond nearly half his life. They’d first met when Dannage signed on with a mid-range Cargo haulier, the Curie, and had been fast friends ever since. Even so, he was sure anyone who cared to look would see nervous energy fairly radiating from the big man.
Luc turned toward him. “Are you sure about this, Cap’n?”
Was he sure? Not really. He’d heard stories about the Systems’ Defence Force wild-child. Everyone they’d asked agreed that she was dangerous. But they needed the help and were fast running out of other choices.
“Give me a better option,” Dannage asked as they walked out onto a small plaza.
Luc shrugged. “What about that spec-ops guy?”
“You mean the one who kept stroking his guns? Tell me that didn’t creep you out.”
“True. So, the ex-fighter pilot?”
“We need a security officer. Not another pilot.”
“The mercenary?”
“The short-sighted one?”
“Come on, Cap’n. Like you said, beggars can’t be choosers.”
Dannage bristled at that. He was not a ‘beggar’. Not yet anyway, not while he still had his ship, the Folly. The thought of his own small cargo ship cheered him. His little piece of the universe. His freedom. Shared with a select few.
 Water tinkled from a stone fountain in the centre of the small Plaza. At the far side of the plaza, sat a brightly coloured café. Tables under wide umbrellas. Only a scattering of people sat at the tables. A young couple at one table and a lone woman with a duffle bag by her feet sat as far from them as she could get.
Dannage pulled his flex screen from the pocket of his worn, old duster and unfolded it with a practised flick. The translucent, flexible screen flickered to life, displaying a short message. Nothing more than a location and time. Here and now. Well, a couple of minutes’ time and in the restaurant.
“Think that’s her?” Luc pointed to the lone blonde woman. She wore a simple sky-blue shirt and dark trousers.
Heh, she looked cute, a far cry from her file photo. Dannage paged his flex over to her bio. The photo in the top right was a military headshot. Blonde hair pulled back high and tight. Light brown eyes glared into the camera, challenging it.
Shauna Arland. She’d been SDF Special forces. Court-martialed, dishonourably discharged after some mission she was part of went sideways. Dannage had tried to dig into it, but the whole thing was top secret. After the court-martial, that was when things got scary. A litany of assault charges as long as his arm. Luc had gotten after-scene photos out of an old friend. It hadn’t been pretty.
But that had been more than a year ago. Stars, Dannage hoped the file was up-to-date.  She’d been watching them since they arrived. Dannage could feel the weight of her attention as they approached the table. Too late to back down now.
She rose, brushing the front of her shirt and extending a hand.
Dannage eyed her up and down. The word ‘petite’ sprang to mind. Or disarmingly pretty. She’d grown her hair out some since her file photo. Choppy bangs now framed a heart-shaped face. The bloodied and broken faces of her victims flashed through Dannage’s mind. What if she did that to him? Or one of the others?
Maybe the gun-nut wouldn’t be so bad.
He took her extended hand. Her grip was firm but not crushingly so. Perfectly calculated to match his own.
“Good to meet you, Captain Dannage.” She stood rigid, waiting for them to make the first move.
Typical military type.
Dannage dumped himself into one of the metal chairs, gesturing for her to do the same. Beside him, Luc sat pensive, watchful. His hand staying close to the pistol under his coat.
He hadn’t seen if she’d had a gun, but he hadn’t been looking. Damn-it.
Dannage laid his flex on the table in front of him. It still showed the after-scene photos. “Miss Arland, you have quite the reputation.”
Her eyes flicked down to the photos and when they came back up they were steel-hard. “Yes, sir. But was military, I can follow orders.”
Dannage rocked back at the raw venom in her voice. “I understand that.” He paused to pick his next words. This conversation felt like navigating an asteroid field. “You were a decorated military officer, before… umm. Before the…”
“Court-martial,” Arland snapped, practically biting off the words. “You can say it.”
“Well, yes.” Dannage floundered, unable to get a grip. She scared and intrigued him in equal measures. “What happened there?”
Arland sighed. “It’s classified. But you already know that. Look, you won’t get better than me for the price you’re willing to pay.”
“Maybe,” Dannage conceded. “But it’s still a risk. And there are other options.”
“You mean Walker or Church?”
Luc’s eyes snapped to Arland. “How do you know who we’ve talked to?”
She laughed, a sound like the tinkling of bells. “It’s not like ‘gun for hire’ is a big industry. I know the players. And I know I’m better than either of them.”
“That’s not really a high bar.” Dannage’s lips curled into a small smile. He liked her. There was still something about her that struck him as dangerous, set the hairs on the back of his neck crawling. But he could see her on the Folly.
Could he trust her? That was the real question. If she was going to have his back, he had to be able to trust her.
“Cap’n,” Luc asked. “What you thinking?”
He gestured for Luc to step away with him. When they were a couple of paces away, he whispered to Luc, “She’s right. If we want another gun, she’s the best we’re going to get.”
“I still don’t like it,” Luc replied in equally hushed tones. “She might be good, but you’ve seen the reports. She could do that to us, and she’s good enough that there’s nothing we could do to stop her.”
Dannage raked his hands through his unruly curls, then wiped his palms on his trousers. Luc was right. Of course, he was. Luc was always right. Always there to temper Dannage’s passions. Well most of the time, anyway. But if it worked, Arland was too good a deal to pass up on.
He glanced over to where she waited, patiently watching them with those honey coloured eyes.
“How about a trial? We’re meeting with Channel once we’re done here. Should be routine enough, but you never know with Channel and he was super cagey about what he wanted.”
Luc considered the idea, looking at it from every angle. And Dannage could see the moment Luc came around to it. “We’ll try it. But I’m watchin’ her.”
They went back to the table.
“Miss Arland, we’d like to take you on, on a trial basis.”
Arland gave him a curt nod. “When and where?”
“Silicate IVc,” Luc said. “We’re going to meet a contact as soon as we’re done here.”
“Lead on,” Arland said.
As they walked away, Dannage hoped he didn’t regret this.
◊◊
Arland followed the two men into a small, private spaceport. She looked around. As ports went, it didn’t get much sketchier. It was the kind of place that tended to lose landing records. This was how far she’d fallen.
Despite their shady choice of landing spot, the pair seemed like good people. Although they were nervous around her. Dannage kept shooting her furtive glances, while Luc kept moving to keep her in his eye-line. She’d almost have pegged him for ex-military himself, but he didn’t have the eyes.
They stopped in front of an old Starlight Industries’ Franklin class cargo ship. The Franklin’s iconic, arrowhead silhouette still graced the Starlight logo years after they’d phased them out.
 Dannage gestured theatrically at the ship. “Arland, meet the Folly.”
“Pleasure, sir,” Arland replied, shifting the straps of her duffle and giving the scuffed old ship a once over. She was surprised something so old and battered could still fly. Maddix, her old commander, flashed into her mind. He’d been old and battle-worn, but still had a will of iron. A smile curled her lips. Back in the day, they’d built things to last.
 Luc clapped Dannage on the shoulder. “Come on, Cap’n. Launch window won’t last forever. And I’m sure Miss Arland doesn’t want to stand here all day.”
Dannage followed the bigger man toward the ladder that led up into the Folly’s hold. “You’re right. Let’s get gone.”
Arland carefully pushed off from the top of the ladder toward cargo webbing along the hold’s side wall. She’d seen Dannage and Luc push off into the artificial freefall of the hold ahead of her so was ready for it. Even so, moving from standard gravity into zero-g was disconcerting. For a moment she lost all sense of orientation.
“Arland, cabin five is free if you want to dump your stuff.” Dannage grabbed the handrail beside the bridge door, then tapped a control panel. “Jax, we ready to go?”
A lilting voice filtered through the overhead speakers, “Engines are ready when you are.”
With that, Dannage swung through the open door into the bridge.
Arland pulled herself toward cabin five. Luc’s constant scrutiny bored into the small of her back, like an itch she couldn’t quite reach.
She caught herself on the cargo webbing hard enough her bag and jacket whipped around her. “What’s your problem?”  
“Why did you do it?”
Hells. She didn’t even have to ask what. She’d seen the way he looked at the aftermath photos. “They started it.”
“Well, you sure as all hells finished it. You could have walked away.”
She could still remember their jeering voices. Traitor, they’d called her. Murderer. If only she’d been able to tell them what really happened back on Augite III. If only she could tell Luc now. But that wasn’t an option.
For a moment she was outside that Michan bar, surrounded by jeering voices. Without thinking, her hand moved to the back of her head. There wasn’t even a scar now, but back then she’d felt hot blood.
“What do you want to hear? That I’m sorry for what I did, that I went too far? I’m not sorry, and those muppets deserved it!”
Luc’s voice remained quiet and calm, starkly at odds with Arland’s raging anger. “Can you walk away? If you had to walk away now. If we needed you to walk away, would you? Could you?”
Arland’s jaw tensed. “I’m was a good soldier. I can still follow orders.”
Before either of them could say more Dannage’s voice filtered through the overhead speakers. “Guys, we’re pushing off. Get up here.”
The small bridge’s gravity was set to standard. Luc moved to take the navigators station just to the right of where Dannage flew the small craft. Arland ducked to look through the copula as the sky around them darkened into the endless night of space. Stars twinkled into life as they broke free of the atmosphere.
“That one’s set up for scanners.” Dannage nodded to the rear console opposite Luc. “Have you seen Silicate IVc?”
“No, why–oh.” Arland’s voice dried up as, the Folly swung around, putting the remains of the small moon front and centre. It wasn’t more than a crescent. All that was left after the miners had finished with it was a perilously thin shell of rock, the city rising from its inner surface in a network of gantries and skyscrapers. She’d not seen it from space like this before.
“Where are we meeting your contact, sir?” Arland asked.
“The contact is Mr Channel. Guy has a bad habit of making things explode, but he’s always been on the level with us before. I’ll send the building plans to your console,” Luc replied, working his own controls.
Without taking her eyes off the rapidly growing habitat, Arland slipped into the stippled, plastic chair and waved the console to life. No login. If she was staying, that would have to change.
A wireframe of the moon sprang up, a callout highlighting the top floors of a skyscraper on the outskirts of the colony. She zoomed the screen in, the rest of the colony falling away to leave only the four, interconnected towers.
“We’ll be landing on the north-west tower, pad four,” Dannage said without taking his attention from the controls.
Arland looked up. The Folly was already dipping down between the taller spires. Navigation lights flickered around them, painting the small bridge alternately green and red.
After a moment, she returned her attention to the console. The meeting was taking place two floors up from the landing pad, on the south-western tower. They’d have to cross at least one of the walkways. Long, wide hallways. Little to no cover. If they had to fall back through them, it would be a nightmare. Luc and Dannage might not expect trouble, but that was why she was here.
The Folly’s superstructure popped and pinged as they descended into the city, slipping between the glowing spires toward the quad-towers. Arland moved up alongside Dannage to get a better view as they swung around the towers. The south-eastern one was only partially finished, the top dozen or so floors a skeletal frame encased in scaffolding. No flickers of welding torches. No signs of life at all. The construction site looked empty.
“Just once, I’d like to do this somewhere with actual walls,” Dannage complained. “Maybe even central heating.”
“Chance would be a fine thing.” Luc pushed up from his chair. “Come on, Arland. Best get geared up.”
She followed the burly man into the freefall of the hold. They pushed off toward the Folly’s weapons locker. Luc passed her a pistol and a pair of extra magazines. Arland cast a quick eye over the other weapons in there. A couple of compact assault rifles and a breaching shotgun.
“Ship-safe ammo?” She asked stuffing the magazines into her jacket pockets and checking the gun.
“Always,” Luc replied, slipping his own pistol beneath his arm.
She felt the rumble through the hull as the ship settled onto her struts, an almost bone deep reverberation.
“Let’s do this thing.” The captain pushed off from the bridge toward the main cargo door in the centre of the floor. At the press of a button, the doors ground open to reveal the rough crete of the landing pad beneath them.
Arland’s took a breath, pushing down the usual pre-mission nerves and preparing herself for whatever came next.
◊◊
The stink of ozone permeated the landing pad. No matter how much time he spent around ships, Dannage could never get used to the smell. Normally it wasn’t so bad on the open-air pads, but the bloody crosswinds that, now tugged his coat and hair, had forced him to burn the thrusters hard coming in. Typical, there was barely enough planet left to hold an atmosphere, but it was still windy.
Beside him, Luc and Arland checked their weapons. He didn’t like meeting clients armed, guns tended to complicate things. Stars, he’d normally insist Luc go unarmed. But after last time, Luc wasn’t going to take the chance, and frankly, Dannage didn’t blame him.
“Ready,” Arland called over the rushing wind.
“Let’s get this done.” Dannage led them into the building, thumbing his ship-to-shore com open as they walked. “Jax, keep the engines warm. We might need to make a sharp exit.”
“You got it,” the young engineer replied through the handheld com unit.
Inside, the tower was mostly finished.  Loops of cable hung from the ceiling and walls where light fittings had yet to be installed. A couple of empty doorways later and they were on the covered bridge connecting the western two towers. Floor-to-ceiling windows offered panoramic views over the city, skyscrapers stabbing up into the starry sky. Humanity pushing back the night to venture out into the endless black.
In the southwest tower, they climbed two floors up into the construction works. The combination of the skeletal framework and empty scaffolding gave Dannage the impression of standing beneath a giant spider. The thought made his skin crawl. Just meet Channel, hear him out and get gone. The sooner they were back in the Folly the better he would feel.
“Where is the muppet?” Luc asked, his hand moving toward his gun.
“I have a bad feeling about this.” Dannage pulled out his flex to check the time. Channel should have been here. Hells someone should have been here. Not a construction worker or security guard could be seen.
Despite the emptiness, it felt like someone was watching him. Like an itch at the small of his back. Arland’s ponytail bouncing as she scanned the shadows, calmed him. Just knowing he had a professional at his back helped his nerves. She had her pistol out but pointed down.
Arland’s head snapped up. “Down!” She lunged at Dannage, tackling him to the rough floor as a thunderclap echoed across the building and the column behind them exploded. Fragments of crete and steel rained down on them.
Arland rolled off him, firing into the darkness. “Get to cover.”
Dannage glanced between her and the half-destroyed column. Stars, what the heck? 
Another thunderclap. He flinched, covering his head, as a chunk of the floor exploded.
“Move, damn-it!” Arland grabbed his shirt and dragged him toward a half-finished wall, still firing into the shadows.
Blood roared in Dannage’s ears as he huddled behind the wall. This was crazy. What had he ever done to Channel to deserve this? They needed to get back to the ship. He didn’t want to die out here on this Starlight forsaken building site.
Beside him, Arland slapped a fresh magazine into her pistol as fragments of crete rained down on them. “When I say, go for the stairwell.”
Stairwell. Right. The sniper rifle boomed again, blowing more of the wall away. Hells. He had to get a grip. Take charge. He was the damn captain.
Stairwell. He cast about. Luc was still cowering behind a column pock-marked with lighter weapons fire. Was there more than one gunner? The stairs were a dozen metres behind away, although it might have been the other side of the system. They’d never make it with snipers covering the building.
“Captain,” Arland called. “We need to move.”
He knew. Movement drew his attention. “Arland!”
Black-clad figures rushed up the stairs in a tight formation, weapons out and scanning for targets.
Ah, hells. “Arland!”
She spun, firing before she could even know who they were. The men went evasive, their formation breaking apart as they moved into cover. The ship-safe rounds shattered harmlessly on the hard-shell of their armours.
Their rifles, bulky things as long as Dannage’s leg, barked. Arland shoved him down, snapping off a couple more shots and cried out in pain, tumbling into him.
“Arland?” He grabbed for her, pressing a hand over the spreading bloodstain on her flank. His hand went instantly warm and sticky.
“I’m good. Get to the damn stairs.” She forced the words from between clenched teeth.
Good? Blood oozed through his fingers. He felt the muscles in her side shifting beneath his hand.
She pushed him away. “Go!”
Dannage stumbled for the stairs, keeping his head down. Arland stayed at his side shooting as she went. Luc was a beat behind them, his own gun firing.
The stairs arrived more quickly than Dannage had expected. He missed the first step and only a death-grip on the bannister saved him from a tumble.  Weapons fire ripped into the roof around them.
At least they’d made it. They were past the assault team. Now it was a straight run to the Folly and-
He slammed into another armoured figure sending both into a tangled sprawl.
◊◊
Pain knifed through Arland’s side every time she twisted. Thanks to her military medical nanites, the bleeding had already stopped. It would still take a while for the muscles to re-knit. Time she didn’t have if she was going to get Dannage and Luc out of this and back to the ship.
She was right behind Dannage, while Luc held rear-guard. They’d made it down into the building proper. But they weren’t out of the woods yet. It wouldn’t be long before the fire-team followed them. She popped the empty magazine from her pistol, letting it fall to the floor as she pulled out her last reload.
Dannage let out a cry of alarm, spilling into the hallway in a tangle of limbs. Another armoured figure pinned beneath him.
The man reacted instantly, leaving his bulky rifle and going for a knife. Its matte black blade devoured the light. Stars, these men were good. The armour looked like Executive Operations?
She leapt at them, shoving Dannage aside and slamming the hard edge of the magazine well into the narrow gap between the armour plates at Executive Operator’s wrist. He grunted out in pain but kept hold of the knife. She twisted his arm to the floor and pounded her pistol into his wrist.
Pain flared through her scalp as he hauled her back by her ponytail. Dropping the pistol, she grabbed his wrist and twisted, throwing her whole body backwards. Bone cracked and Operator bit of a scream. He writhed beneath her, going for the knife again. Arland lashed out, her boot connecting with his chin with a solid crack.
Luc helped her up. “You good?”
She nodded, gasping for breath. “We should keep moving.” The pistol’s handle had cracked where she’d hit the Operator. Stuffing it into her coat, she grabbed the heavy assault rifle.
The rifle’s stubby magazine was full. Before she could check the weapon further, footsteps sounded on the stairs. She spun and raised the rifle as the first Executive Operator, one of the five who had followed them down from the construction site, descend into view.
Hopefully, the rifle had armour piercing rounds. Arland pulled the trigger. The gun kicked hard. Even braced, the recoil was enough to make her take a step back.
Bullets slammed through the lead Operator’s hard-shell and he stumbled back clutching at his wounds.
Odds were all the Executive Operators would have nanites like hers. But seeing the lead guy tumble back bleeding from half a dozen wounds gave the rest of the fire-team pause.
Arland ran after Luc and Dannage. The next set of stairs was just around the corner, then the walkway back to the tower they’d landed on.
“Come on.” Luc fired his pistol from the corner, waving Arland to join them.
She heard the metallic tinkling behind her a half a second before the grenade went off and threw herself forward. The concussive blast hit her like a freight shuttle, sending her tumbling. For a moment, she had no sense of up or down. Her head rang from the blast. Then the floor slammed into her knocking the breath from her lungs. She bounced, the world spinning around her before she came to rest against a bank of picture windows, the glass cool against her back.
By some miracle, she’d kept hold of the rifle. She flicked it to full auto and pulled the trigger. The rifle roared, catching the first two Operators off guard. The remaining pair darted into cover.
From her right, Luc’s gun barked. “Arland.”
Not trusting her legs, she rolled onto her side. Luc and Dannage hunkered into the shelter of a doorway as another Operator came up the stairs. How many of these ass-hats were there?
She fired a single shot. The Operator’s head snapped back in a wash of gore and carbon plate.
The next Operator pushed his dead colleague aside and fired his own rifle. The shots went wide, slamming into the floor-to-ceiling window. The glass crazed, but held together. Arland returned fire, catching the Operator in the shoulder.
She rolled back to the first two Operators as one pulled another grenade from his belt. Arland’s shot took him in the arm and he dropped the grenade.
Dannage and Luc rushed back to help her up.
“Hells!” the other Operator cursed loud enough to be heard through his helmet and kicked the grenade.
It exploded halfway down the hallway.
The blast slammed into them and the windows gave way.
Air rushed past Arland, the cityscape blurring around her for a second, then the roof of the walkway slammed into her back.
Dannage landed beside her and rolled over, groaning. “That’s going to hurt in the morning.”
“Hurts now,” Luc said from her other side.
Arland laughed, then winced at the pain in her ribs. At least the three of them were alive. Now, back to the ship before Executive Operations reorganised. She pulled herself up, casting about for the rifle. Adrenaline still buzzed through her head, her heart tripping. She’d not expected to feel the rush of combat like this again.
Operators appeared at the window. Arland snatched up the rifle and fired. Her hurried shots went wide, but it was enough to push the Operators back from the opening.
“This way,” Dannage called over the rushing wind. “There’s an access-hatch back here.”
Arland backed up along the roof, the wind tugging at her hair and jacket. Her gun remained trained on the shattered window. At a guess, she had half a clip left, not nearly enough to take them all. Another Operator appeared at the window, firing down at her. Arland threw herself back as heavy rifle rounds tore through the roof of the walkway. She returned fire while scrambling backwards, but the rifle was too big to easily aim while running.
Luc’s pistol joined the cacophony as two of the black-armoured Operators dropped down onto the roof with them.
“Come on,” Dannage called.
The armoured men advanced on them. The rifle was down to its last round and Luc had to be on the last mag for his pistol. For all the good it would do them. There was no way to stop both these two, never mind the inevitable reinforcements.
Behind her, Luc dropped through the access hatch into the walkway.
Arland sighted up on one of the Operators, they were a little over fifty meters away. Equipment pouches bounced against the matte black carapace of his hard-shell. Peering through the rifle’s scope, she could pick out the red flashing on the left Operator’s grenade. Taking a knee, she lined up on the grenade, took a breath and squeezed the trigger.
The round crashed through the grenade, sending the Operator tumbling back. Half a second later, the grenade went off in a wash of shrapnel and fire.
The crack of her rifle was echoed by a second shot from one of the Operators.
Pain lanced through Arland’s shoulder and chest. The impact of the shot spun her around into an ungainly sprawl, the rifle tumbling from her grip to disappear over the edge of the walkway.
Damn, she’d like that rifle.
She couldn’t catch her breath. Voices, maybe Dannage and Luc’s, sounded very far away. Everything felt very far away, even the pain. Her head rolled, giving her a view out over the towering city. And beyond, to where the stars waited in the night sky.
A smile curved her lips. It had been good to be back in the fight. And if this was it, she was glad she’d been able to get Dannage and Luc away.
Hands grabbed her under the shoulders, lifting her. Pain from her myriad wounds tore through her like fire, before her vision darkened for the last time.
◊◊
Arland snapped awake, gasping for breath. She cast about looking for a weapon. Where was she? It was a small compartment with a single gurney in the centre and a bank of, currently blank, monitors on the far wall.
“Easy.” Hands clamped onto her arms pushing her back onto the gurney.
 She lashed out meaning to roll off the bed, put it between her and her attacker.
“Arland. Arland! It’s me.” Dannage grabbed her shoulders and pulled her around to face him. “We’re okay. You did it. We got away. You’re safe.”
She’d survived, they were all safe.
“Where-” Her voice faltered.
“On the Folly. We made it back to the ship and got the heck out of dodge. All thanks to you. That last shot was amazing.” He perched on the side of the bed.
“Does this mean I get the job?”
He smiled. “Stars, yes. You took a bullet for me. Twice. Doc says that last shot collapsed your lung, you nearly died.”
Arland touched her chest where the bullet had struck her.  She’d been shot before. Still, news like that was enough to shake anyone. Still, she was a professional and it wouldn’t do to have Dannage worry. “It’s what you pay me for, sir.”
“I’m no ‘sir’,” he replied, his back to her as he pushed out into the freefall of the cargo hold.
“Of course not, sir.” She relaxed back on the bed and smiled. This small ship and her odd-ball captain felt right. They felt safe.
This was something worth fighting for.
◊◊
The Executive Operator pulled off his helmet and eyed the figure in front of him. The man was of average height and garbed in a mid-grey suit that complimented his complexion. Everything about the man was perfectly average, carefully curated to blend in. He’d never seen a Spook before, not in real life.
“Did you complete the assignment?” the Spook asked, keeping his back to them.
“As instructed, sir. The three of them escaped and ran for the Slipway,” the Operator said. “I lost two good men.”
“And you’ve been well compensated,” the Spook snapped.
That they were, more than four times their usual rate. It didn’t stop the Operator’s skin from crawling every time he had to deal with this banal man.
“Why do all this?” he asked. “You just spent a fortune for us to… to scare a bunch of traders.”
The Spook’s head tilted to one side as though he were listening and when he spoke his voice had the cadence of a recital.
“We are approaching a fulcrum around which fate of humanity will turn. The right people in the right place can make all the difference.”


Michael Dannage, Shauna Arland and crew of the folly will be back in Slave Mind, coming April 2019.


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