Perhaps I could call in some of my Naval contacts for an inside track on the auctions...No, perhaps it would be best not to call those in. I've finally got that woman out of my life. It would be best to avoid the risk of attracting her attention. I decided after sweating out too many Zho checkpoints that I am not really spy material. The worst part was keeping the unprintable sweating inside my skin. Had to keep that calm, cool, and collected look on the outside. It's one thing to do it over an honest biz deal. It's a different story when there's a half dozen Vargr Marines would just love to sweat anything and everything out of you at the twitch of their officer's tail.
Oh well, that's all thankfully behind me now. I'm free once more to just be an honest merchant in search of an honest profit. Now that I have some angles lined up, next item on the agenda is finding a ship to space out on. Pity old Captain Morn turned the ship over to that idiot son of his. Romy Morn wouldn't know a good deal if it came up and bit him on the ass. At least I had the satifaction of turning in my resignation to his father before the twit and his fart sniffing toady could fire me. Little shit still pissed over his old man promoting me to First Officer over him. Just because I was the reason the ship turned a profit at each stop. Oh well, not profit in worrying over him. He'll disappear in a mis-jump inside two years. He's too cheap for proper maintenance and only a fair ship's engineer. Couple that with his butt-kiss navigator, and they'll be space junk soon enough.
My semi-random stroll through the Downport has ended up in a retail center. No rush. I can take the time to admire the goods. Let's see...what Traders are currently docked and who could profit from my services. I've got a few KiloCreds tucked away. I might be able to buy into a Trader Captain down on his luck and pull him out of the hole. It's a risk, but the profits would be worth it.
"Hello Garek. Fancy meeting you here."
That voice! It belongs to HER! I freeze on the inside as my blood temperature drops a few degrees. Outside I don't twitch or bat an eyelash. I turn slowly. I wonder just what in the Nine Hells she'll look like this time.
She's a meter and half away. Tall, lean and wrapped in a Imperial Naval Officers Uniform. A quick glance shows that she's a Commander, in the Intelligence branch, and has an impressive set of fruit salad. The face is similar to other faces she has worn in the past. This one is free of scars and boasts a healthy tan. Burnished bronze comes to mind. The lips are currently set in a wry smile. They are at that nice halfway point between thin and full. The nose is a trifle large, but not wide. It shows no sign of having been broken (I saw that fight. She won, but her nose was broken for sure). The eyes are gunmetal gray and focused on me. Her hair is several shades darker than her tan and pulled back in a braid.
"Hello Kat." I keep my reply even, and my smile matches hers. I know this is her. The heartless bitch who recruited me and was my cold blooded contact during the war.
She smiles a bit more, "Call me Commander Thorn please. Kat's retired from the field. I just spotted an old friend and wanted to chat. Can I buy you a drink?"
I smile a bit more also. She's up to something. Has to be. "Sure, lead the way." What the Hell. She nearly got me killed a couple of dozen times. That's worth a few drinks. I quickly sort through the most expensive vintages currently available on Regina as she leads me toward a small bar.
My uneasiness grows as I notice that this place is well equipped with sound dampers and white noise generators. I've conducted biz in places like this before. Bug Stompers at each table, robo-severs, dim lights. This is a place for conducting Biz, not for having a friendly drink. She quickly guides me to a corner booth and doesn't even blink a fornicating eyelash when I key in my order. She keys in something I know isn't on the menu. For what a case of that stuff fetches in this corner of the Imperium, I could buy a top of the line air-speeder. She bloody wells knows it and what's even worse she knows I know it.
Then it hits me, like a combat boot in the stomach. No, she can't be one of those Thorns. A family with that much money and clout doesn't send it's kids behind enemy lines.
"It's fortunate that I ran into you, Garek. I've got a favor to ask you." Oh no...here it comes, the pitch. Well I was stupid enough to buy into it before. Gods and the Imperium and all that Stronium plated crap. The war's over and I'm not buying that set of goods again.
The waitron arrives and saves me for a moment. When it floats away, she continues. "My big brother has bought himself a new toy. He figures to cash in on potential postwar profits, so he picked up a Far Trader. Personally I think he's bored, but I would hate to see him throw good money after bad. I would you like you to keep an eye on him. Help him with the Biz."
Biz? Profits? Ship? I mentally give your head a shake. Careful there. This just another pitch. "So you want me to make sure he can make his payments?"
Damn to the Seventh Level! She nearly laughed over that.
"Payments? You still have that sense of humor Garek. Markarious bought the ship out right. I told you there was profit involved. I wouldn't try to steer and old friend like you down an occupied warren."
I feel the gears in the back of your head kick in. `Markarious'...`Thorn'...Think Man! You know that name. Outside I smile innocently and sip my drink (which would cost a dock worker three weeks pay). Inside, my heart drops down to pay my stomach a visit. Count Markarious Thorn, of `The Thorns'. Word in the Guild was he had spent the last four years touring the Marches and spending a lot of the family money. If he was her big brother...Money, when you gather enough of it, tends to attract more money. The Thorn fortune had hit critical mass several centuries ago.
"Really, do tell me more." The smile creeps a bit further up my face. His money, my talents, the possibilities...Inside ten years I would have enough Cred to set myself up with a small fleet of traders.
"His ship is the "March Hare." It's currently docked here at Downport. I've already spoken to him and his personal secretary. He'll be pleased to have you sign on." She actually winked at me. "I spoke of you in the most glowing terms."
"He's more of an executive than a trader, but at least he's bright enough to recognize that fact. Which is how I wiggled you into this job. Too bad about old Captain Morn."
I wonder just what I did wrong in a previous life. That comment about Morn means she didn't run into me by accident and this isn't just Biz. She's still your never to be sufficiently damned Field Controller. She's being nice about it and she knows that I know that she doesn't have to be. Oh well, if I'm going to be forced back into Imperial servitude, I might as well make a profit over it.
"I'll look the situation over. If there is promise for profit, I'll keep an eye on him."
She replies with that damn smile again. "Don't worry. Turning profit is one of the family commandments."
"And the others?"
The smile disappears as her eyes grow hard, "Patriotism and duty." The eyes lighten a bit as she slides a data crystal your way. "Here is the location of the March Hare's dock and the comm number for Sidney. He's the Count's personal Secretary." The damn smile returns, "You'll like Sidney."
She sets down her empty glass. "Thanks Garek. I'll stop by the ship before you space out."
Then she was gone. Just like before. She didn't really sneak out. She just distracted you and then walked away. Oh well, profit is profit. I'll give this Sidney a call, but first I'll call up the current peerage listing and do some studying.
Baroness Kyna really is a Commander in the Imperial Navy. I got the idea early on that nosing any deeper into her service record whould be a bad idea.
Her big brother is Count Thorn XXIV, the Duke's third son. Retired Imperial Naval Officer and a retired member of the Imperial Diplomatic Corps. He is currently wandering the Marches.
"Sidney" is a Bwap. I didn't even have to buy a Downport employee a drink for that. Overheard two of them talking about him. Every 't' crossed, every 'i' dotted. He apparently fits the old saying, "swims through red tape like a Bwap" perfectly. [It's an old saying among high admin/legal types].
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All rights reserved. Portions of this material are © Copyright 1977 Far Future Enterprises.
Portions of original material © Copyright 1996 Mark Urbin