DON’T FEAR THE REAPER: CHAPTER 2 – THE REAPER MAN

Dexter Vex. You’ve been a very naughty boy.

I was reading the dossier on the man, his long list of crimes and offenses scrolling down the display of the holo-tablet. Murder. Assault. Piracy. Destruction of property. Theft. And plenty of counts of each to go around.

“So, you’ll take the contract?”

I looked up to the shadowy figure across the table from me. He hadn’t given me a name, which wasn’t exactly unusual in the reaping business – but he was even more uptight than the normal self-important corporate types. We were a study in contrasts – me in my slacks and leather jacket, and him in an immaculate, pressed business suit.

I took a sip of my Old Sol on the rocks and narrowed my eyes. “I ain’t decided yet. You say that this guy is headed into Kumo space?”

The man nodded, his clean-shaven features so smooth and flawless to the point of almost looking artificial. I tried not to stare, but…

Hittin’ the progenitor cells already, pal?

“Based on our last confirmed sighting, there was a trend in his fight pattern towards the Pegasi sector. Our psychoanalysts suggests a seventy-four percent possibility of him attempting to join the Kumo Crew.”

I flipped off the holo and looked to the side, letting out a long, frustrated exhale. Across the room, a bored-looking woman danced and gyrated on a brass pole. Just beneath her, a small group of thirsty scrubs had congregated, interested enough to watch her perform- but not interested enough to throw any credit chips onto the stage.

I must be hard up for work, meeting at a strip joint at ten in the morning.

I turned back to the suit and leaned forward. “So the job is to find a criminal in a den of other criminals. That’s a real trick, ain’t it? And it’ll cost you extra. A hundred thousand. Up-front.”

“Done.”

Jesus, that was quick. Should have asked for more.

I narrowed my eyes and held up the holo-tablet. “And if the trail’s cold, I call it a day. I ain’t going door-to-door all over Pegasi just to find the guy. And I keep the advance.”

The man only nodded and produced a credit chip with a glowing 100,000 on it, not breaking his slightly unnerving eye contact the entire time. “Of course. If he disappears, he disappears. We only wish to be reasonable.”

I looked around, and eyed the chip suspiciously. “A little too reasonable. What’s the part you ain’t tellin’ me?”

The man regarded me for a moment, and his plastic smile returned. “Only that you aren’t the first bounty hunter sent after him. Dexter Vex was one himself for many years before he turned to criminal activity. He knows all the tricks of the trade – an unfortunate fact for the many hunters before you.”

My eyes narrowed at the detail. “Yeah? How many?”

The credit chip was pushed across the table in front of me. “The number is irrelevant. Just know that the trail to Dexter Vex is one blazed by dead men. It will take the best to bring down the best.”

Well, that’s real smooth of you, working my ego like that.

I exhaled slowly as I stared down at the credit chip. “You’re good, you know that? And your pitch is pretty polished. Must have had this conversation several times already, huh?”

The man’s flawless, unblinking eyes bored into me. “The past is irrelevant. Now is all that matters. And for what my organization is offering to bring Dexter Vex to justice-” he gestured to the sullen-faced stripper pulling down one side of her g-string, “even she would take the contract!”

* * * * *

All that talk about about dead reapers, and you still took the job.

Inevitable Betrayal

The Inevitable Betrayal streaked through witch space, stars shooting past the canopy glass like tiny fireflies. The plastic-faced man had provided the coordinates of Vex’s flight path and the latest suspected position before he disappeared.

How many other hunters have been sent after this guy? And who the hell is even behind this?

I flipped the credit chip in my fingers and held up up. And who the hell just tosses out six figure sums like that?

Sighing, I pocketed the chip and focused on my destination. The waypoint was coming up, a seemingly random coordinate on a partially terraformed planet. According to the info on the system map, walking the planet’s surface could be done without special gear, but one would feel light-headed after a half an hour or so.

‘So I’ll make it real quick-like,’ I thought.

The planet itself wasn’t anything special – endless tundra under a sickly greenish star, a few isolated settlements, and no significant industry to speak of. It was a good stop for someone on the run. I touched down and put the Betrayal on standby, getting up and heading to the equipment lockers to don a utility belt. There wasn’t anyone else around, so I lowered the entry hatch and walked out to inspect my surroundings.

Sure enough, a ship had been here. The dirt was blackened with telltale blastoff scorches, and large imprints from the landing gear could still be seen. In the distance, I heard a sound so routine that I at first didn’t think anything of it. A stronger-than-usual breeze drifted across the blast marks, causing me to look up. Sure enough, a ship was approaching in the distance. I put my hand over my eyes to shield the from the sun as the dot in the horizon drew nearer and larger.

The hell is an Asp doing all the way out here? And at this exact spot?

My pulse quickened at the thought that I might have been in trouble – but even that didn’t make sense. No one else knew that I was even here, and the ship’s hardpoints weren’t deployed. The Asp was coming in as straight and simple as a rookie’s first landing, descending in a nice, slow line and gently settling on the dirt, kicking up a huge cloud.

Redhead Landing

I coughed and turned away from the windy storm of dust. The deafening whine of the Asp’s engines started to lessen as the pilot shut down the engines. For a moment, nothing happened as the wind died down and I looked back up. The entry ramp of the Asp opened with a slow whine, lowering into the dirt. For a moment, I felt a pang of regret for not at strapping a gun to my side – but how the hell could I have known that I’d have company out here?

Well, whoever it is, they mean business. I guess I’ll just have to see what’s going on.

In the distance, I could hear the sounds of boot heels on ship deck. A pair of legs became visible, and…

Oh, hello.

A slim, young, dark-complected woman strode down the ramp and made a beeline for me. Like myself, she was dressed ruggedly, eschewing a flight suit in favor of comfort. She didn’t say anything as she walked up, just eyeing me as warily as I was sure to be eyeing her. Finally, she stopped, pausing to size me up.

Tanith

Well, at least she’s easy on the eyes.

I hooked my thumbs into my pant pocket and tightened my mouth. One of us would have to say something.

“Howdy.”

A look of weary amusement crossed the woman’s eyes as she looked up at me. “Funny place to be poking around, stranger.”

I shrugged at looked at her ship, and then back at her. “Funny to land just to tell a stranger that.”

She looked over my shoulder and looked for a moment at the sleek, black Fer-de-Lance. Pursing her lips, she looked back at me.

“You a bounty hunter?”

I looked over my shoulder at the Betrayal and then back to her. “Maybe. Maybe I just like pretty ships. You an explorer?”

The young woman put her hands on her hips and looked up at me like a smartass. “Maybe. Maybe I just like ugly ships.”

We regarded each other for a moment longer. I gave her another look, checking for any telltale lumps on her person that might indicate a hidden weapon.

“Well, like you said, I’ve got some pokin’ around to do. Have a nice day, ma’am.”

I turned to leave, and I immediately heard her footsteps as she began to follow me. Her voice had taken on an edge.

“You’re looking for him, aren’t you? For Vex.”

I stopped and spun around, almost coming face to face with her. “Now why would a sweet young thing like yourself go and ask a question like that?”

Her eyes narrowed as her face hardened. “So you are a bloody bounty hunter. There’s no other reason you’d be here. And nobody but hunters fly ships like that, anyway.”

I folded my arms and looked down at her. “Sounds like you’ve been less than forthcoming, too. What’s your game?”

A look of distrust crossed her face. “No game. Just trying to find him.”

“Well, we’ve got that in common, at least. Sounds like this Vex is a popular guy.”

She didn’t say anything, so I turned and walk back to the dust-off site. There wasn’t much, just the charring and impressions in the soil. I stood around, seeing her walk up beside me in my peripheral vision.

“So what good does it do to even be here? We don’t have jack shit.”

I crouched down, examining a dusty brown cube that had been partially buried. It wasn’t large, being no more than a square foot – but it made me smile.

“Actually, jack shit is exactly what we have.”

She stepped beside me and crouched down. I unhooked a pouch from my belt and pulled out a small, handheld device. I used a small lab knife to cut off a sample of the cube and inserted it into the device’s chamber, pressing a few controls and then waiting.

The woman’s face screwed up as she watched me. “Is that – is that what I think it is?”

I nodded. “Standard biowaste disposal. It dehydrates, sterilizes, and packages human waste and turns it into a neat little cube. Most stations’ services take care of them for free and use the waste in their hydroponic farms – but sometimes they auto-eject when they’re too full.”

Her black eyebrows raised. “You gotta go when you gotta go, huh?”

I shrugged. “Something like that. And since you asked – yeah, I’m a bounty hunter. If you know Vex, you probably don’t need me to tell you why I’m on his trail.”

The woman’s eyes narrowed defensively. “I know was kind of man Vex is.”

A minute or so passed in silence, and the young woman nodded towards the device in my hand, a sour look on her face.

“So – you’re rooting through human shit? Seriously?”

I looked up, giving the device time to analyse the sample. “It’s a part of bounty hunting that the holovids never show. Standard practice is for the client to pass along as much info about the target as possible, including DNA readout.”

“So?”

I held up the device, its readout still cycling. “So that’s what I’m doing here. If it’s his, the intel was good and I’m on the right track. If not…” I shrugged “…then I learn about what other pilots are eating, I guess.”

The dark-complected young woman put her hands on her hips and looked at me skeptically. “Even if it is his – what good does it do you? It’s not like you’ve got a nice, neat wake trail to follow.”

I looked up at the darkening sky, and then back down to her. “You’re right on that one. But I will have a selection of shitty ones. It’s just a matter of narrowing down which one to follow.”

The handheld bio-analyser finished with a pair of staccato beeps. I looked down, waited for the results to pull up – and smiled. Tanith walked over to me, her eyes curious. Chuckling, I ejected the sample and magnified the results.

“I knew a man who had a dog-” I held up the scanner for her to see, Vex’s face all over it. “-and Bingo was his name-o!”

The woman rolled her eyes and turned around, walking away from both myself and the open container of biowaste. I purged the results and held out my hands.

“Where you going? Sick of me already?”

The young woman turned around, mild disdain in her face. “I’ve known you for five minutes, and I already need a drink. Just hold on. I’ll be back in a minute.”

I shrugged and turned back to the Inevitable Betrayal. I had to scoot, but if the young lady wanted a drink, what harm could it do?

Glancing over my shoulder, I caught a glimpse of a pleasingly-shaped pair of lumps under her dungarees as she ascended the ramp into her Asp.

No harm at all, I thought. No harm at all.

* * * * *

Shit!

I’d known I wasn’t going to be the only one looking for Vex. After my conversations with Caia and the Inquisitor it was obvious that Vex was likely to be popular – even if he was unlikely to be well liked.

What I hadn’t expected was to bump into a bona fide, motherfucking bounty hunter, way out in the arse end of nowhere. I mean – seriously, what were the chances?

Dear Past Tanith,

The Inquisitor did warn you there were going to be other people looking for Vex – weren’t you paying attention?

Sincerely
Future Tanith

P.S. Moron!

As I walked back up the ramp and into the Redhead I was seriously considering just dusting off there and then. But what good would that do? Until I left atmo and could jump, that great, black penis extension was going to have the legs on me. And if he thought I was running there was a very real possibility he’d give chase.

No, I was going to have to be a bit smarter than that.

Plus, I was going to need to know what he knew. An experienced hunter like that would have been tracking Vex for a while and, hopefully, would have more information than me. He’d already shown me that Vex had been here – it never would have occurred to me to literally root through shit.

I was at least partially curious what other little tidbits he might divulge while he still thought I was a complete idiot with a pretty face.

I smiled to myself. This should be fun!

I grabbed a hip flask – well I had said I was going for a drink – and headed back down the ramp; pausing briefly at the top to engage the security system I’d rigged. The standard biometric locks on ships are far too easy to crack, so one of the first things I’d retrofitted to the Redhead’s network was a secondary sensor that detected if someone was trying to override the primary and, if they were, delivered enough current to make a grown man impotent for a week.

The hunter was prowling around the scorch marks where Vex’s ship had landed. He looked up as he heard me clumping down the ramp, and grinned at me.

“And here was me thinking you were just using that whole ‘I need a drink’ excuse to deprive me of your company.”

I shook my head. He obviously thought he was really amusing, and I knew that the worst thing I could do was show that I actually was amused.

“I was going to, but then I realised there’s no one else to drink with on this rock. And drinking alone is for anti social loners.”

I paused, and shrugged. “Then again, so’s drinking with strangers.” I stuck out my hand, “Tanith,” I said. “Tanith Low.”

He tucked his scanner under his arm. “Matt Lehman,” he replied, shaking my hand.

What the hell kind of a name is that?

I smiled at him. “Nice to meet you, Matt. I’ll be honest – I was pretty relieved to find that the person already down here wasn’t just going to kill me and steal my ship.”

Matty smiled back, “I’ve only stolen one ship in my entire life, and that was for a very noble cause. Besides, what would you have done if I’d tried?”

I pretended to give it some serious thought. “Well, I expect I’d have panicked pretty hard, maybe cried and begged a little. You know, the usual.”

Yeah. You’re just a helpless little girl, aren’t you Tanith? I paused. “Do you think I should get a gun?”

“Do you know how to shoot?”

“Not really.”

“Then don’t. There’s no point having a weapon if you don’t know how to use it. It’d be as much a danger to you as it is to them.”

I nodded. “Good advice, thank you.”

Matt shrugged. “No charge.”

He looked at me for a moment longer, a look on his face like he was trying to decide something, and then went back to his circuit of the old landing site. He walked to each of the scorch marks, tapping a data slate at each one. Then, he bent down and took a small sample of the burnt earth to pop in his analyser. After watching him for a few minutes I broke the silence.

“What are you doing, if you don’t mind my asking?”

I already had a pretty good idea, but nothing makes people open up as much a feigning ignorance. And Matt clearly liked the sound of his own voice.

“I’m plotting the thruster layout of Vex’s ship. He’s obviously flying something pretty big, and I’d rather it didn’t come as too much of a surprise when we finally meet.”

I nodded and adopted the look of someone who was impressed, and trying to hide it.

“Uh-huh. I can see why that’d be important.” I said, but Matty was already ploughing ahead with his explanation. He scooped up a small lump of blackened dirt in his hand and sniffed it.

“Still smells like fuel. Smart money says he’s running on dirty drives.”

I raised my eyebrows, “Dirty drives?”

He dumped the dirt onto the ground and wiped his hand on his pant leg, looking up at me. “Yeah. Some pilots rig the maneuvering thrusters with black market afterburners. The ship turns faster, but doesn’t use the fuel as efficiently as main thrusters. A little always fails to burn and sprays out. Hence the name.”

He looked in-between the thruster marks and frowned. Walking the distance to where the center of the ship would roughly have been, he kicked the dirt a few times with the toe of his boot. Narrowing his eyes, he shook his head.

“Looks like that wasn’t the only fluid that this guy was losing. This might be easier than I thought.”

My eyebrows raised. Easy? Nothing is ever easy with Vex.

Out of both feigned ignorance and genuine curiosity, I walked up to Matt. For the first time, I could see the meter-long, dark greenish stain in the dirt.

“What’s that?”

He nudged the discolored soil with his boot. “Reactor coolant. A whole goddamn pisspot full.  You can’t run for long with a leak like that- hell, he probably had to override some serious safety coding just to take off.  He needs a full-service repair bay, and soon.”

A satisfied look spread over his face as he turned to face me. I put my hands on my hips and tried my best stupid-but-cute-girl face. “That’s good, right? It means we can catch up.”

The reaper nodded, the satisfied look giving way to bravado. “Looks like he landed for an emergency patch job, but couldn’t hide his little secret.”

OK Tanith, he’s clearly rather pleased with himself.  Time to turn on the innocent charm.

I gestured back at his ship.  “And what about you? Is that ship of yours hiding any secrets?”

Matt didn’t answer right away, just smiling knowingly and glancing at the black Fer-de-Lance behind him. “Fighting fair is for Authority.  Let’s just keep it at that.”

“Ohhh, that’s kind of edgy,” I gushed, looked up at him through my eyelashes.

Tanith Sweetie,  there is such a thing as laying it on a bit thick.  Just so you know.

Matt looked at me suspiciously – trying to gauge if I was mocking him, but all he saw in my face was wide-eyed innocence. He shook his head.

“It’s fairly standard, actually.  No reaper wants to engage their target with second-rate gear. Finding them doesn’t do you any good if they turn around and atomise you.”

I looked at him, genuinely puzzled this time. “‘Reaper’?” I asked.

He looked at me, surprised. “Bounty hunter,” he explained. “In most systems they call us reapers.  It’s a little romanticised, but whatever helps the image, I guess.”

Dear Tanith

You could have worked that out for yourself you know.

The wind started to pick up, kicking up dust and swirling it around.  The sand stung as it hit my face and after a few moments I lowered my goggles against the unrelenting barrage.  Matt looked up at me.

“I’ve got everything I need here.  But I’ve got a few more scans to run from inside the ship.” He grinned at me. “If you’re still worried about drinking alone, you’re welcome to join me.”

* * * * *

Holy shit!

Tanith’s eyes bulged as the entryway door to my Fer-de-Lance slid open.  The flowing, sculpted interior lines of the ship had become an everyday thing to me- but they were a sight to behold for the uninitiated.

I turned to her, holding out my arm and smiling. “Welcome aboard the Inevitable Betrayal.”

The young woman regained her composure, walking casually ahead of me, though her head was still on a swivel.

“Inevitable Betrayal? What kind of a name is that? Doesn’t seem very auspicious.”

I hesitated, lifting an eyebrow. “You want to hear the story?”

Tanith ran her hand along the cream-colored wall, finding her own way into the main living quarters.  She took a look around the room and smiled sweetly back at me.

“Not really.  Watching a real bounty hunter work is a treat, though.”

Her eyes were full of admiration and just a trace of flirtiness, so I smiled and jerked my thumb up towards the bridge.

“Well, we ain’t going to find this guy by blabbing.  C’mon.”

* * * * *

“So, how does this work?”

I was hunched over one of the bridge’s auxiliary terminals, typing in commands.  Tanith was a few feet behind, a quizzical look on her face.

“Remember when I told you about finding the shitty wake signals?  That’s what I’m doing. Scanning upper atmo for anything that could be be one, and seeing if it lines up with a probable course towards a station where you could fix a reactor coolant leak without drawing too much attention.”

She peered over to the display, shaking her head. “That – that’s not anything I’ve ever heard of.”

I shrugged, letting the scans do their work. “No, and you can’t exactly buy it off a shelf either. Custom setup, you see. Some parts from a surface mapper get added to a wake shift scanner, some interesting code changes are made to the firmware – and whole new worlds open up in terms of what all you can track.”

Tanith took a step back, her eyes narrowing.  “And just how did you get that set up?”

Again, I shrugged, grinning over my shoulder at her. “I know a guy who knows a guy…”

She settled into a chair, the leather of her jacket creaking.  “…who knows a guy, sure.”

For a minute or so, she didn’t say anything, just slouching in the co-pilot’s seat and staring out the bridge at the desolate tundra ahead of us.  Eventually, she looked down, and ran her hand over the black leather of the chair’s arm.

“This really is a nice ship, commander,” she said softly.

I glanced over at her, hesitated a moment, and nodded.  “Thanks.  She’s the culmination of about a decade of effort.”

She lookup up.  “And that’s how long you’ve been a bounty hunter? A decade?”

I chuckled and continued scanning the atmo for signs of a recent high wake.  “That’s how long I’ve been a pilot, period.”

“Oh.  What about before then?”

I looked down at her, still lounging in the co-pilot’s chair. “Are you always this curious about the pasts of strange men you just met?”

“I’m a people person.”

“Right. Before then, I was in the Imperial navy. Nothing glamorous, just a bored kid who wanted to get away from home.”

A distant look crossed Tanith’s face as she looked away. “And how did that work out?”

I shrugged. “Went from bored at home to bored in a space station. I was a dock technician for six years and hated every second of it. The only thing I got out of it was the realization that I wanted to be a pilot. So I enrolled in Pilot’s Fed academy the second I got out.”

The young woman looked back towards me, her gaze slightly intensifying. “And the reaping? Was that by choice, too?”

I hesitated, unsure of how much I should reveal to a stranger. “Yes and no.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning you can’t always choose what you’re good at. But you can choose what you do with it.”

“And it turns out that you’re good at killing?”

I chuckled bitterly. “No. I’m lousy at killing. But lining up another ship in my sights and pulling the trigger? Turns out I’m a pro at that.”

An amused look crossed her eyes. “So, you’re bad at killing but good at blowing up spaceships? Isn’t that a bit of a paradox for a bounty hunter?”

I didn’t answer immediately as I checked the scanner sweep progress. C’mon, you piece of junk. There’s got to be something up there. Quit making me look bad in front of the lady.

“Maybe I misspoke. I just-” I turned to face her, my brow furrowing. “-well, I reckon there ain’t any rule that says you have to like what you’re good at.”

Tanith nodded her understanding, her eyes momentarily appearing much older than they were. She reached into her jacket pocket and produced a flask with a faded rodent logo on it. Rising from the chair, she walked over and extended her arm, offering it to me.

“Well, that’s something I think we can agree on. Drink?”

I looked at the silver flask, and then at her. Shrugging, I accepted the flask and took a swig. The liquor inside was – different. It tasted vaguely like tequila, if tequila was made with piss instead of agave. It settled into my stomach as a warm feeling spread inside me. Despite myself, my face twisted into a grimace.

“What the hell is this?”

A peculiar look spread over Tanith’s face, her eyes boring into me. “Just a little something I made myself. I never travel without some on me. Sorry if it isn’t the top-shelf Achenar Blue you’re probably used to.”

The feeling of warmth inside me intensified. Something about that drink was off. My stomach was clenching a little, but-

I tried to smile as dashingly as I could even as the aftertaste turned sour. “Well, it’s a real kick in the ass. You always offer a drink to strange men you just met?”

She took a step closer, a smile curling her lips and a piercing look deepening in her eyes. “Only the cute ones.”

Well, if that shit of yours wasn’t messing with my guts so damn bad, I’d be mighty pleased where this is headed. “Well that’s real-”

The strength in my legs gave out and I had to clutch the terminal for support. The warmth from the drink became a numb, tingly feeling that spread to my throat and legs. I tried to speak, but my words came out as gibberish. My arms gave way, and I collapsed onto the bridge deck.

Oh, Jesus. Oh, fuck no.

A cunning look crossed Tanith’s face as she stood over me. “Like I said: cute- but not terribly bright. Never accept a drink from a stranger. If you were a woman, you’d know that.”

She hunched down and mockingly pinched my cheek. “But you’re not, are you? You’re a big, strong, invincible man so there’s no need to be careful. Especially around a little lady like me, right?”

Tanith stood up and put her jacket on. Outside the canopy, the dust storm was really kicking up, and the young woman pulled her hood over head and lowered her goggles again. My vision was darkening, and my breath was coming in short, hard gasps. It was all I could do to look up at her.

The young woman looked back down at me, a mocking grin playing over what I could see of her features. “Don’t worry, it’s nothing permanent. Just a mixture of Tarach Spice, MEJ, and a few muscle relaxers to help you stay put. Chemistry is a fascinating subject, don’t you think? You’ll pass out in a minute and wake up with a stiff neck. If your lungs don’t quit from the muscle relaxers, that is. I’m always a little sloppy on the ratios.”

The grin widened, and she reach down to pat me on the cheek. “Unfortunately for you, I’ll be long gone by then.”

With a supreme effort of will, I was able to regain some control of my lips and tongue.

“Fu… yuuu…”

A look of mocking concern crossed Tanith’s featured. “Sorry sweetie- not going to happen. You’re not exactly my type.”

She stood up and put her hands on her hips. “And since guys like you are also professional stalkers, I guess I’ll have to make sure you’re staying put for awhile.”

My eyes widened. Jesus fuck, it’s that time with Kyndi all over again.

Tanith turned to the scanner terminal and inserted a data disk that she had produced. “And there it is. The only wake your little toy was able to put together. Thanks for that.”

She silently downloaded the data and turned to leave, pausing to look over her shoulder. “It’s nothing personal, you know. You want Vex dead. I want him alive. You chose the wrong job, reaper man. Sorry about your bad luck.”

With that, she walked out. I sunk all the way down to the bridge deck, the last of my strength gone. Before everything faded to black, I allowed myself one last thought:

Bad luck? This ain’t my first rodeo, kid. But if we cross paths again, it’ll damn well be yours.

* * * * *

I strolled back through the Fer-De-Lance’s main corridor, humming a little tune to myself.

‘Well, that went about as well as could be expected’ I thought to myself.

The FDL really was a beautiful piece of engineering. I’d worked on a few of the stock Zorgon Peterson ones back at Johan’s, but this was one of the Saud Kruger custom jobs and it was stunning. I loved my Asp, but if there’s one word to describe the interior, that word would be “functional”. This was not functional – this was an interior designer’s wet dream. Leather and polished composites gleamed at me under the tastefully warm interior lighting.

I had been intending to wreck the main drive coupling; stop Matt being able to take off until he could get someone to bring him a replacement part. But the more I looked at this gorgeous piece of engineering the less inclined I was to do anything that permanent to it.

Dear Past Tanith,

You will seriously regret this decision. Trust me.

Sincerely
Future Tanith.

I still needed some information before I did anything, though. The scanner terminal on the bridge hadn’t been connected to the main computer – smart precaution. If someone knows what they’re doing they can leave data in their wake that disables a following ship’s FSD. Most ships that have been retrofitted since 3296 have the wake scanner installed as an isolated module.

I stopped amid ships and accessed one of the main data terminals. The master computer made a few bleats about ‘unauthorised access’ but the Betrayal’s security system was mostly stock and after a few minutes of industrious tapping I’d installed myself with admin privileges. First thing I did was download all of the information about Vex that Matty had on him. He obviously hadn’t been kidding when he’d told me that it was important to know your prey; there was a lot of data there. I downloaded it all to my slate to look through later, then deleted it from the Betrayal’s data storage. He almost certainly had a back up, but I couldn’t spare the time to go looking for it and on the off chance he didn’t this would really piss him off.

There was also a file that was simply called ‘Kyndi’ which Matt seemed to access a lot. Out of curiosity I opened it myself and had a look.

Kyndi

Well hello there!

Now that was a woman who could make you do all kinds of stupid.

Out of curiosity, I downloaded the rest of the file. If it was worth knowing your prey, it was probably worth knowing the predator too.

Next, I removed Matt’s biometric records from the security system. I couldn’t change the registry – the pilots fed uses some seriously hard crypto on that; so Matt Lehman was still the registered owner. The computer just wouldn’t recognise that he was Matt Lehman. Petty, and he’d fix it soon enough- but nevertheless it would be profoundly annoying for him.

And finally, because I couldn’t help myself, I left him a little surprise.

Now how was I going to disable this ship without turning it into scrap?

I took the access corridor down to the main engineering level. The power plant sat there, humming away. Now, you do not play around with the power plant on an interstellar class ship while it’s live. Period. The very best you can hope for is that it will irradiate you into infertility. The worst case is that you accidentally short something and all they find is a pair of gently smoking shoes.

What you can do though is play with the cooling system. Take out the governing module for the cooling system and the ship will think that the plant isn’t getting enough coolant. The emergency systems kick in and the ship refuses to power up any of the main systems. It’s a small enough component, and it’s easy enough to bypass, but it takes a while to work out exactly what’s causing the problem.

I pulled out the multitool that I had stuffed in my belt and removed the access panel to the coolant control. Everything was in the same place as on a stock Fer-de-Lance. Saud-Kruger may have overhauled the interior, but the guts were still all Zorgon-Peterson. Not bothering with the mini-terminal, I carefully detached the coolant governor, watching the warnings flash on the terminal screen as the reactor dropped itself down to trickle output. The lights around me dimmed as the emergency systems came online.

I tossed the compact white module in my hand and caught it, smiling in satisfaction to myself as I pocketed it and replaced the panel.

Chuckling to myself, I pocketed my multitool and headed for the access ramp. As I walked back through the dust storm towards the Leggy Redhead, a little internal voice piped up.

Dear Tanith:

Is it perhaps a mistake to backstab a man who hunts people down and destroy’s them for a living? Vex probably would’ve just killed him and been done with it. That’s part of why he’s still alive, and a lot of other people aren’t.

Concerned about your decisions,

Future Tanith

Scowling, I dusted myself off and walked into the bridge of the Leggy Redhead. Even as I was warming up the engines, the voice wouldn’t go away. Matt’s Fer-de-Lance sat in front of me like an ominous black sliver of death. It would be so easy to just deploy hardpoints and destroy it…

Dear Future Tanith:

We’ve had this talk before. You’re not a killer; we both know you’re not going to kill a defenseless, unconscious man. Now quiet down and let me work.

Love,

Present Tanith

Redhead Jumping

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