"Both place and time were changed, and I dwelt nearer to those parts of the universe and to those eras in history which had most attracted me." -- Henry David Thoreau


            On the Orient Express, Fabian had once met this grotesquely obese woman, who farted when she talked, spat when she laughed, and ate with a frenzy. Cortez thought she was the most disgusting creature ever to pass themselves off as human. However, in the mess hall of the Bonadventure, a freighter on route to Avalon, the aborrant piece of flesh across from him would have shocked even that lady's crude sensibilities. Maybe he was her many times great-grandson; bad blood tended to multiply even when it shouldn't. To top it all was how the beast spoke. "O! Wat'cha go-na do een 'Lon way?"

            A translator would have helped; still, he would have been even more confused than he was. Fabian recognized it as English, perverted to some backwater planet dock jive. He remembered dealing with the smugglers in the East End in old London. Their tongue was crisp, to the point, and loved to add long words which to them added an certain exuberance. Those words which could turn a peasent into a lord still sounded silly on a cockney accent. In the end, Cortez figured it out. "What am I going to do in Avalon? I sell insurance."


            "Yes, in fact, you look like the sort of fellow who needs to plan for the future." Fabian flashed him that devilish grin. "Have you ever considered the necessity of having term life insurance?"

            "Uh..." the meathead was trapped, his monkey brain fathoming a way off the table.

            "Sir, one never knows when an air lock might burst! You need to be protected. With a comprehensive program, you can be sure that you'd be safe, should anything happen..."

            The slobbering block stood up. "Soiy, no entresed." Then the poor excuse for a merchant marine beat a discreet exit.

            Cortez finally had some quiet. As he picked at what this ship called "food," Fabian turned to his datapad. The old ghoul had already had some files transferred to him by his contacts throughout the Federation. He tried to be thorough; information on O'Reilly, the Diagram Group, certain police records, personnel files, newssheet clippings. All of it written down, copied to the datapad, and converted into Attic Greek. He didn't want anyone reading over his shoulder; he wanted to keep the body count to a minimum.

            It was a rather short trip to Avalon. One jump from Wilke's Star to New Paris, then from there to Avalon. Four days max. They could have shaved off another day had they gone straight to Avalon but the freighter had to make a drop in the intermediate system. If they hadn't, they probably would have _still_ jumped to New Paris; it was better to be safe than sorry.

            The research on the Hyperspace Communication Project came flashing before him and suddenly it made sense. The reason why the freighter stopped twice was the same reason a destroyer stopped twice. This alternate dimension may have provided the secret to intergalactic travel but transmitting messages from planets to travelling ships was impossible. Only a series of hyperspace beacons recorded where the jumpgates were located, without which a spaceship could find itself anywhere. Those beacons were not that powerful and could only be locked onto from a certain distance... if distance had any meaning in hyperspace. Ships had to stop every 48 hours or lose contact with their company or their beacon. However, with a communications network linking one dimension with another, not only could they keep in contact with ships in transit, but vessels wouldn't have to stop as much. Stranded or lost vessels could get redirection to the beacons. If it was feasible, the technology would be a very profitable venture.

            However, it was too risky for a corporation to fund on its own. So, with a contract  from Earth Fleet, the Diagram Group set to work at it. According to insurance records, the Group had managed to actually make a working prototype; whether it actually worked or not, who can say, but it was enough to make some executive sweat. Within a day of asking the Federation for a test trial, the main plant on Proxima Centauri had a nasty run-in with a piece of space trash. An old communications satellite fell from orbit and stayed intact long enough to hit the plant. Ten city blocks suddenly evaporated into a burning crater. Very tragic, but done with such delicious irony. Cortez was impressed; the perfect corporate hit. This disaster forced the Group to ask for more funds, but the Senate Appropriation Committee, faced with a shrinking R&D budget and a project that was already in budget overruns, refused to approve. In the end, Earth Fleet turned to the Ferret Works, which approved its already working system. The "mail beacon" would send a probe into hyperspace that would transmit at full power, allowing planetside HQ's to send communications to ships in transit. Still, the expense would limit it to military vessels only, was only temporary, and left Earth Fleet dependent on that corp to provide them with constant probes.

            The profit would be immense... and the Ferret Works were a subsidary of O'Reilly, Inc.

            Looking over the personnel records of both O'Reilly and the Group, several names popped out at him, screaming for their corporate loyalty to be tested. Diagram Group seemed to be a very formal company, willing to do anything for the profit, and rather heartless about firing employees and hiring others from outside. Cortez smiled at the number of greedy sharks he could find in that cess pool.

            However, O'Reilly, Incorporated was a different matter. The antithesis of the Group, their CEO treated the megacorp like a family. With the police records, he knew exactly how they treated the "black sheep" in that family. Several turned up washed on shore; many never turned up at all. Only one or two names called to him there; older executives passed over for promotion by younger hot shots. Certainly they could be convinced; but even they would shy away from pure betrayal.

            Fabian needed to make some calls once he reached Avalon. Not here, of course. The Ferret Works' beacons wouldn't be up for another year, and without the Group's project, he wouldn't enjoy that luxury in this lifetime. Luckily, he had plenty of lifetimes to go, so he decided to rest.


            "So you want me to do WHAT?"

            The darkened comm screen eliminated this fixer from identifying Fabian. The voice hider added another comfortable blanket of anonymity. The device was set on a low deep voice, far different than his tenor pitch... the fixer probably guessed him for black. "I want you to get in contact with Aaron Malevant, a vice-present with O'Reilly, Inc. Tell him that you have associates that would like to assist him. Tell him that he's been unrightfully abused and that we'd like to help. Tell him you'd like to meet..."

            "ME? Talk to some suit from the Factor?! Are you NUTS?!?! They'd chop off my balls rather than talk to me."

            "Trust me, they're businessmen. Talking's all they know."

            "I don't know if this is worth my time."

            "I'm paying you... I believe I'm being very generous."

            "Yeah, but... O'Reilly has a nasty rep, man."

            "I'm sure you can handle it. Besides, I've already smoothed the way for you." Yes, some anonymous e-mails, bits of corporate newspapers... all of which were sent to M. Malevant in order to get his interest peaked. From his contacts, Aaron was ready to see a face; Cortez was damn sure it wasn't going to be his. "Simply give him a call. Tell him what I've told you. Tell him to come for a private meeting, Red Room, Von Eisenstein Shuttle Transit Station, 1445 hours tomorrow. You'll receive a datapad from me tomorrow morning. I'll transmit what information I need you to convey. Do you understand?"

            "Yeah, I understand. I just don't like it."

            "Discom." Fabian didn't give a damn if the middleman liked it or not. He had already gotten a senior plant manager from Diagram Group on his string. He had mentioned a couple things; the Group's acquisition of Tessier-Ashpool, S.A. and his hopes for the presidency of it. In the end, though, his request was so simple it was pathetic. Get his cheating wife to come back to him. Without her, he wouldn't have the look of stability that he needed to impress the big bosses. The voices told him to have some fun with this assignment; their sadistic chants growing as their planned perversions intensified.

            Cortez moved down to the floor into a seiza. He remembered the old meditation techniques that Sensai Ido had taught him. During the later days of the Miyamoto Shogunate, while Fabian had to hide from the ronin chasing him, he spent several years as a monk under Sensai's careful eye. Moving his hands and breathing in a rhythmic pattern, he was able to calm his mind, thinking of the calm and serenity of Mount Fuji on a cold November morning. Ah yes, it was all coming back to him.

            But was it his after all?


            Later that evening, he appeared at a quaint little townhouse, bordering the outskirts of Andersonville. Cortez was here to take care of the first favor. He didn't even bother activating the entry sensor; one swift kick and the door came open with a SLAM! Fabian heard scampering above him, but he ignored it, heading straight for the kitchen. Among the modernized appliances, he pulled at the stove, ripping it away from the wall. Now exposed was the high electricity connection which hooked up with the fusion reactor downtown. The ghoul took out a tiny device from his pocket, adjusted the dial on it, then pressed it against the connection. Two minutes.

            With a calm stroll, he walked up the stairs. Cortez could feel the fear and hear the hushed whispers behind the bedroom door. Fabian kicked open that door, too. WHAM! As he walked forward, the ghoul saw the baseball bat coming for his head. His hand grasped it with ease.

            Now he saw inside. The man, balding and very surprised, connected on the other half of the bat, naked from the waist up. The woman was in her nightgown, screaming at the top of her lungs. Fabian, still holding the bat, used it to swing the man against the far wall. He hit with a THUD! The screaming seemed to fade into the background for him, as Cortez grabbed the man, pulled him up, and threw him out the second-story window. His screams were fading as he broke the glass and plummeted to the street. The ghoul allowed himself a look outside. No, he was all right after landing on the bushes outside, probably with a few broken ribs; the man was still breathing.

            Bat in hand, he faced the screaming woman. "MOVE!" Fabian yelled, and the recalitrant wife ran as if the hounds of hell were lapping at her. If she only knew that Cortez once had Cerberus as a pet. Of course, that was an Irish setter. Walking calmly down the steps, he tracked the wife as she ran out the door. He checked his watch; 45 seconds, plenty of time. The wife was screaming bloody murder in front, so Cortez took the back door. Walking outside, jumping the short fence, and calmly walking on, Fabian counted the remaining time left. Five... four... three... two... one.

            The device on the power feed had finally built up a sufficient overload. In a burst of light, the house was decimated by a miniature plasma explosion. Cortez never turned around. Without a house, the wife would have nowhere to live. With her lover in the hospital, she couldn't depend on her to support him; besides, he had a wife. After she discovered her frozen assets, she'd return to her husband. Woman was a very practical creature; in the end, the mother of a race is essentially a survivalist.

            One job finished... one more to go.


            The next evening, he found himself fifty miles away at the Von Eisenstein Shuttle Transfer Station. It was the oldest spaceport on Avalon, and despite its rather sturdy, though utilitarian 21st Century design, the historical place was already far surpassed by its larger cousin north of the capital city. He thought of Union Station in old St. Louis; very similar concept, pioneers with money going mad with design. All their hope for prestige would probably be turned into a dammed shopping mall. So much for progress.

            Fabian smirked as he read the paper. Under the dirty dreadlocked hair and the unshaved chin, the ghoul was all attention. He had another datapad in front of him, just in case he wanted to send a personal message to the fixer. Cortez had an earpiece on; a sensor to listen in on the conversation. The fixer was sitting three seats away from him in the Red Room, a rather pathetic excuse for a bar; most of its red decorations were hanging in tatters due to unfixed water damage.

            Finally, Aaron Malevant came in the room. It could BE him; no one else stood out so much as a suit in the wrong part of town. All around Cortez were junkies of one sort and janitors of another. The place was a dive, but its central presence next to the capital, and all those Light Infantry running around, forced it to be a _respectable_ dive. The corp sat down and Fabian tuned in for the game.

            "Well, you got me down here, I'm late for my golf game... so this better be damn good."

            The fixer was trying to play cool, but Fabian could sense his hesitation, his heart pumping faster... it was almost laughable. "I'm glad you accepted."

            "Who the hell are you?!"

            "I'm not important, but I represent some associates who are interested in helping you."

            "Helping me? Hell, I'm a vee-pee, what the hell can you offer me?"         

            "Anything, M. Malevont. As a gesture of good faith, they are willing to solve a minor problem that you might have. Anything spring to mind?"

            "Are you serious?"


            The corp sighed. "All right, since I'm down here... why not? The exec V.P., Babbage, he's been really ragging on my ass for that foreign investing project that I'm working on. Damn it, I've been working on it for a year and that fucking mage thinks he knows more than me just because he waves his hands. If Babbage brings that proposal to the old man in a couple days, to scrap my plans and concentrate on the Ferret Works deal, I can kiss my career goodbye. So long Avalon, hello St. Michael's Star. I don't want to go to the ass-end of the universe. If only I could show up that damn cock Babbage, I might be able to show that old man who know shit around this company." Aaron took another drink. "Can your _associates_ handle that?"

            "I'll see. You'll have your answer in two days."

            "That's all you can say?"

            "It's really not up to me. But you'll know in two days."

            "Thanks..." Malevont stood up and went to leave, "I guess."

            Fabian got up at this time and went to leave. The fixer said a few other trite things, but eventually the corp had had enough. Suspicious little bugger, wasn't he, thought Cortez. Finally, on the way out, he brushed against the suit, passing off the bug to plant on him.

            He didn't see what the fixer did. Fabian would contact him later. For now, he had to think. Even now, his voices were starting to close in on him like a vise. Wouldn't be so much easier to kill them all? Why are you working for Modred when you could be running this galaxy? He had to find a place to concentrate and make some decisions. The next few days were crucial to his plan.



Click to go to the previous act in the storyGo back to the Table of ContentsClick to go to the next act in the story

Text Copyright © 2000 by Marcus Johnston.  All Rights Reserved.