In the early days of the Avalon colony, a rash of unexplained sickness and deaths plagued the new city. No pathogens were found infecting the ground or air. No predators were seen outside the city walls. In 2114, a group of vigilantes set up a patrol of the town itself, stalking the night to discover the cause of the disease. When it was found, fourteen of the twenty humans who searched were dead, and a vampire had been discovered on their fair planet. The kindred followed man to the stars, and much like the rat and cockroach they emulated, they could never quite be eliminated.

            David Depual remembered when Avalon was lush, verdant, and the horizon was uncluttered with buildings in every direction. Of course, it was dull, banal, and thoroughly unattractive for his sort of business. After several attempts to get connections, he returned to Proxima Centauri disappointed. Back then there was no opportunity. However, a century changes a planet, and soon the disgustingly clean planet of Avalon was turned from an ag colony to the center of the galaxy. The transition was astonshing. Now, David was here again, and he remembered the image of the rat, with its ears against the wall. Opportunity had returned.

            As he walked out of the hotel, the orange light cast down on him from the street lamps, a walking monolith stepped out of the side door in front of him. Depual's particular friend, Cornelius Scipio, came out and walked toward his boss. Not master, only boss; the werewolf made a very fine companion but it was impossible for the shapeshifter to remain with him forever. Eventually he would have to say goodbye, but there was plenty of time before that happened. He looked at Cornelius and stopped. "You sure took your time."

            "You're not easy to find." the huge black man replied.

            Normally David would have smiled, but the old vampire was feeling pensive today. "Walk with me." It was not a question.

            As Scipio drew beside him, walking down the sidewalk, David rattled off his thoughts. "Our good friar is lying to us. There's no donation." Cornelius only nodded. The veteran preferred to be social only when it was necessary; much like himself, he mused. No wonder he made a good companion. "He must have another supplier."

            "No. Word on the street says otherwise."

            "Really? Then it must be something else." Cornelius nodded as David talked. "However, we should stop wasting our time with the brothers. Besides, they might get angry."

            "They have a _lot_ of vets."

            "That's why I hired you, Cornelius." Depual gave the werewolf a smile to ease him up; he seemed so tense lately. "Vets are good bodyguards."

            Scipio wasn't phased by the smile; he had his mind on other things. "What's the next move?"

            "We need to know who else is moving merchandise on the street. Call our contacts, give me some names. When you get them, we'll meet in that bar near Patton Base that I told you about."

            "Not safe."

            "Of course it's not safe, but that really doesn't matter. I can't just invite them to Chez Visconte's for dinner and cocktails, now can I? Besides, they'll bring their bodyguards, I'll bring you... it'll be a regular party."

            "Too big a risk. Meet with them seperately."

            "No, all at once, or not at all. We need to get our money back, Cornelius, and we can't wait and do it by the numbers." David took out a quarter-credit coin and started flipping it in his hand. "Besides, I bet you fifty credits that everything goes as smooth as lube on glass."

            "Hundred that it'll be a shitstorm with everything hitting the fan."

            "You're on." Depual answered and flipped him the quarter-credit coin. "Now get the meeting set up."

            Cornelius nodded and walked off. David continued down the sidewalk. He had to make a call.


            Fifteen minutes later he was at a public vidphone near the Treasury Building. The irony was enough to make him feel like smiling. He had to make sure to tie up some loose ends. Hooking a scrambler to his phone card, he made a long distance phone call to Proxima Centauri. There was a twenty second delay and then the picture came through. "What seems to be the matter?" Leonardo sat up in his chair.

            "Ran into a relative, father." Even though the line was scrambled, those Internal Security mages found their way past such things. It was best to stay on the safe side; say everything in code. "Thought you might know her."

            "Is she from the other side of the family?" Is is Black Hand or Sabbat?

            "Doubt it. Works for my brother." No, she's working with the Cialt Brotherhood.

            "What's her charming name?"

            "She goes by Macoure."


            "She looked the part."

            "Hmmm, I remember a Macoure once. Went by the name of Deidre. Hanged out with the wrong kind of crowd." She used to be Sabbat. "But that was before we moved out of town." Before Gehenna; 20th century... old news. "Surely she's dead by now. You didn't get her first name?"  


            "Probably not the same person. An independant branch of the family, no doubt. Maybe it's her sister." 

            David was disappointed. Damn, he was hoping for something. If this girl was Deidre, she must have been a lot tougher than she looked. That meant she'd be trouble. However, if she was that much trouble, why would she smuggle? "Doubtful. Sorry to have disturbed you."

            "Any progress on your job?" Take care of the Cialt problem?

            "Not yet, but I expect to be offered a contract soon."

            "Good. Keep me updated. Discom." Then the screen when blank.


            There were other ways to get information on this mystery guest... and the Brotherhood. They wouldn't give up such a lucrative trade unless something else was about to take place. David wanted to know WHAT that was, and he had contacts of his own.

            A quick monorail trip got him to Cornell, one of the infinity of suburbs around the capital city. It had been one of the first cities to be absorbed by the urban sprawl. Many of its upstanding citizens departed to greener pastures leaving the place a dirty  hole. Where there was a hole, the rats would cluster. He walked calmly down the trash-laden streets until he found the place. A large pre-fab structure about as old as the colony and was thrice condemned. The Fed building inspectors gave up trying ten years ago. As he approached the building, an unseen camera whirred to life and a voice cried, "If you're not invited, you're not wanted, so FUCK OFF!"

            "Such language. It's a wonder you get any business." David scoffed the camera with a big grin.

            "Akkad, is that you?"    

            "One and only."

            The boarded-up door suddenly slid open like it was on rails. "Get in here, this neighborhood's dangerous!"

            David chuckled to himself and walked in. The first hallway was terribly dirty; condemned was a mild way of putting it. After he kicked away an overgrown cockroach, a second door opened and he walked into a electronic salesman's wet dream. The room was surrounded by monitors, electronic gizmos, cybermodems, and things so jury-rigged that the old vampire couldn't identify them. This data pirate was a good source of information. Although he usually dealt with him on-line, it was time he made a personal appearence. "Ah, the ever-elusive White Knight."

            The figure in the center of this electronic elysium took out the plug in the side of his head. As his eyes focused on the visitor, he shook off the confusion that comes with the transition from the net interface. "Ah, my favorite customer. I thought you stayed on Proxima."

            "One needs to stretch your legs, knight."

            "And why are you stretching now, Akkad?"

            "Need some special data."

            White Knight smiled broadly and pointed to himself. "You've come to the right place. What _special_ data do you want me to grab?"

            "The Brotherhood's shopping list."

            The data pirate's eyebrows lifted. "Cialt? No shit."

            "No shit."

            "Look, a-rab, I'm good but even I don't stick my dick in the wind."

            "I thought you were a modern-day knight. Saving damsels in distress, fighting wrong..."

            "Even Lancelot didn't do it for nothing. He got some queen poon-tang."

            "You're not getting any from me."

            He snorted a laugh. "I'll take your creds instead, Akkad."

            With a flick of his wrist, David pulled out a account card. "This do?" He flipped it over to the White Knight.
            The data pirate fumbled with it until he finally held it. "Five grand? You're on." He activated the monitors. "It's not skinriding, but it'll let you watch."

            David leaned against one of the pillars and sat back for the game. The knight jacked in and the screens clicked into the grid of the Galactic Net. Through the maze of data blocks and corporate e-scrapers, he dialed into the local net, then around the planet, then bounced off some other planet. Lots of quick jumps but nowhere near a data block. "What's the problem?"

            The speaker answered him with a boom. "If you're selling drugs, are you going to leave your files on the net?"

            "So you can't get it."

            "I didn't say that. The Brotherhood has the chapter houses throughout the Federation. Some even in the Frontier Worlds Territory. They need to call momma every once in a while. So they have to leave a line open to their central computer." Another flicker, somewhere in Van Diemen system, "I'm trying to open the pearly gates."

            After a couple more planetary net jumps, suddenly a glowing hole appeared, and the White Knight dived through. A new grid appeared and hundreds of little blocks surrounded him. In the center was a glowing icon with a crossed plasma cannon and a golden cross. They were inside.

            "Now what?"

            "Now _pray_ that we get lucky." The data pirate started tapping different data blocks, shifting back and forth so fast that David's eyes could barely keep track. Damn, WK was good at his job. After a minute of shifting back and forth, he suddenly dived into a data block and a list of files were brought up. Shifting his illusionary hand across the list, he started copying them as quickly as possible.

            A warning light flashed beside him. Depual jolted. "What is that?"

            "Damn it," the speaker cried, "they've got a chaser on me. I've got about thirty seconds to download before they fry my board." A little counter appeared in the corner of the monitor, counting down from thirty. "Here goes nothing."

            Everything seemed to speed up, except the counter. As the readout approached zero, the last of the data block was transferred, and the White Knight jacked out. Everything went black. The pirate shook out the confusion of the net and popped a BLAM disk from the console in front of him. The smile on his face was worth at least another grand. "I got it."


            Near Patton Base, the bar was getting crowded. Cornelius looked edgy; David leaned back as he scanned through the datapad. The data he had gotten from the Cialt data block was amazing. Through these files, David was getting a picture of the entire Brotherhood's distribution network. The Reverend Father had not been lying; all of the connections had been nicely switched over to local affiliates. As he scanned through, he found credits transferred to one Deidre Macoure. Hmmm, maybe she DID survive Gehenna, much the same as he did. Whoever she was, Deidre was getting a hell of a lot of money for just drug running. There was a note attached. He shifted to it, something about collecting shipments? Contact TI? The message seemed garbled.

            "Here they come," Scipio announced quietly, and David looked up. From the door came the first caravan of the new drug lords in town. It was almost like a parade. Hmmm, he mused, maybe they could make it an annual event; the Scum Festival? Nah...

            As the heads of the families began to file in, Depual noticed some drunk pouring splash all over some suit. Damn, he looked pissed. The corp's bodyguards were dragging him out all ready. Funny, that suit looked familiar...

            "Are you going to stare or can we do business?" the second drug lord asked.

            David shifted his glance to his new friend, dressed in the outrageous white leather suit. "Of course. My friend has invited you here to discuss new business arrangements."

            "Arrangements?" The third hood replied, finally shifting down in his chair. "Who the hell are you, man?"

            "We worked for the Brothers," David began, "as did you all. For a while, it was a good deal, now it's gone. Now instead, I think we should make a truce, make some pacts, and concentrate on keeping business good. A war doesn't help anyone. Agreed?"

            There was a murmur of agreement among the crooks. A phone beeped; that damn suit again. What was he doing in this part of town? Depual continued. "We provide some of the rarer stuff you can't get on Avalon. Fairy lace, phenol barbituates, the works. AND, we can provide it to you beneath what it would cost yourselves to bring it in."

            An argument between the suit and some other guy got louder. It distracted David and he saw both men's bodyguards start to draw. Cornelius saw it and yelled, "GET DOWN!"

            The vampire dropped to the floor. Suddenly weapons discharged everywhere at once. The drug lords dropped beside them. White suit started screaming. From where he was at, David only got a sketchy view of what was happening. Plasma beams passing everywhere. Suit suddenly standing up; no shots were touching him. All of a sudden, he shoots his arms forward and then a terrific BOOM! flooded the bar with light.

            "WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?!?!?!" white suit screamed.

            The suit was racing for the nice hole he had put in the front of the bar. In fact, the ENTIRE front of the bar was open to the night. Sirens started blaring in the distance, coming closer, screams of pain surrounded them. "Shit, it's the PO's!" first hood yelled. Police, David thought, great.

            "Let's move." Cornelius told his boss, as the flames around them started catching to the ceiling.




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