Deidre Macoure stood in front of the Reverend Father, pondering the offer the Cialt Brotherhood had offered; truly it was the best opportunity she'd had in a while. Running guns might be a little more risky, but it was a faster means to an end. Besides, the  frontier might be a little rustic, but out there the Crusader teams aren't after her kind. It might be nice to have a change of pace... and some fresh blood.

            Still, he wasn't going to let this smug little cleric know that. She had to have the upper hand or the Brotherhood would be pushing her around for years. "As a rule, I try to avoid death sentences. But... if the first run is successful, I want a full upgrade of my ship in addition to usual fees."

            "What?" the abbot interrupted.

            "My ship is terribly ill-equipped for this sort of work. Destroyers and police corvettes, sure, I can out pace those, but the Fed keeps a large fleet out there. I don't want to have a cruiser jump on my ass!"

            "But a full upgrade? Do you know how much that would cost?"

            "Not as much as losing a few shipments. I have never lost one yet, have I?"

            The monk groaned. "No."

            "And I don't intend to. Besides, with this, I would feel a little more comfortable continuing our 'relationship'. If this is agreeable to the 'order', then I agree. If not, perhaps you could hire someone you don't normally associate with, and hope for the best. I hear, now and then, you can get at least a twenty five percent success rate working with were-creatures, provided you don't say the wrong thing and lose your head...."

            "Some of our brothers are shapeshifters." the Reverend Father reminded.

            "Yes, great in a fight, but not exactly the best pilots, are they? I personally have nothing against the furry guys, but they're not the most discreet... can't _talk_ their way out of a bad situation. I can, I have, and I will continue to protect your organization's dirty little secret. But you need to help me in return."

            The abbot sighed and nodded his head. "Of course, Emme Macoure. Very well. If you manage to get this shipment through, and come back in one piece, THEN I will fully upgrade your ship."

            "You care to shake on that?"

            The monk's eyebrow raised slightly. "Would it matter? If I say it, it is done."

            It was a stupid question, she realized. In this business, you either did something or you didn't. It didn't matter if you had signed contracts or not. "Where's the shipment?"

            "Pickup is in Phoenix system. Orbiting the fourth planet is a small abandoned base on its moon. Take the shipment to Kalintos 3, Drop City. There's a bar called the Red Eye. Ask for Chug."

            "Chug? Hell of a name."

            The abbot was not amused. "Those are your instructions. Good day, emme."

            Deidre didn't bother to stick around. She had already bled these brown robes for more than she bargained for. She only hoped she wasn't over her head.


            After paying off the mechanic, Macoure went for the jumpgate and left the capital system behind. Phoenix system isn't what she considered an easy run. About fifty years ago, some Technocracy leadership built a secret base on a system which was then on the edge of Federation space. Built themselves a massive fleet loyal to them alone with government money under the guise of the Bureau of Internal Security. Even after the so-called 1st Civil War was over, the base in Phoenix system still existed. It continued to be used and was now the largest military base in the Federation. Now with a full-fledged fleet construction yard and an entire legion planeted there on Phoenix Two, the place was one of the most secure in the galaxy.

            Now Deidre had to sneak into the system, pick up a load of illegal weaponry, and pray to whichever god will listen that she doesn't get blown up by a battlecruiser. Great.

            She took it easy on her newly fixed hyperdrive engines. A simple jump to New Paris, a lateral jump to Amelio, then a short little jaunt to Phoenix. It was a rather boring so far. Five days in hyperspace can make anyone, kine or kindred, jumpy, so she stopped at the New Paris system for a snack. The quiet, humdrum, almost suburban planets inside deserved a little shake-up once and a while. However, getting into Phoenix was going to be a trick. The jumpgate was guarded, the entire area was probably lined with long-range detectors so you could jump elsewhere in-system... so the only way in was from sneaking in from the outside. Not an easy job. A couple seconds wrong here and there and you could be drifting in the middle of nowhere quite soon.

            Macoure took the opportunity of the long voyage to practice her fencing. She had been lazy about it lately. Taking a simple bamboo sword from her sealed collection, Deidre activated the hologrammatic opponent. The image of a traditional fencing partner shimmered into existance, dressed in the white protective gear and mask. Nah, she thought, this image was set for basic level. She needed a challenge today, not just her usual reminder of the simple strikes and parries. The vampire cycled through the images; barbarian with two-hander, 16th-century musketeer, Maori warrior, knight in full armor, bug fighter. She finally stopped at the samurai in the silk robes. Dueling in Kendo was one of the simplest of fencing forms to learn but difficult to master. Deidre smiled. Yes, this is the challenge she needed today.

            She bowed to the ersatz warrior, which the computer recognized as the start sequence, and had the hologram bow as instructed. The samurai unsheathed his blade and held it in the traditional manner; Deidre did the same. Then they just stood there, waiting for someone to make the first move. The problem with Kendo is that you only get one move. If it's the wrong move, you're dead. Both of them were patient today as they circled around each other. The samurai made some fainting motions with his feet, but the old vampire wasn't falling for it today. No, you stupid illusion of light and force beams, you're not making me attack before I'm good and ready. Finally, she saw the samurai take a misstep, and Deidre plunged.

            Her blade plunged down, but the hologram shifted, and tried a counter-attack instead of blocking her shot. Shit, she thought, and rolled underneath the samurai's strike, twisting around to face him again. Damn, the computer WAS good today, or maybe she was out of practice. Deidre was sure that false move wasn't a faint. Oh, well, she smiled, he wouldn't get a second chance.

            As they were circling again, the warning buzzer sounded, its loud drone drilled into her brain. That split-second distraction gave the samurai the opportunity and he struck. Deidre barely saw it coming, tried to raise her blade in time, and then felt the WHACK of the hologram's sword on her shoulder. The beep confirmed it; the computer had beaten her. Shit, she thought, "End match."

            Macoure was certain the hologram _smiled_ at her before he disapated. Meanwhile, the warning buzzer was still going. "Damn it! I'm coming!" Deidre screamed, finally making her way to the pilot's console. She brought her hand down on the button, shutting off the annoying whine of the broken speaker. "Computer, that was a cheap shot."

            "Syntax error. The Derision is now at jump coordinates specified. Beacon for Phoenix system in one minute."

            "Error my ass. You just wanted to win."

            The computer said nothing and Deidre thought that was for the best. SHE didn't like to lose either. "Computer, set thirty second timer, start once we reach the beacon."

            "Confirmed." the motherly bunch of bioelectric conductors and isodyne relays replied.

            This was the trickiest part of the jump. She was hoping to bypass the jumpgate and the system detectors by jumping out at the farthest edge of the system. The problem is that you could too far or jump out into something you wouldn't like. Not to mention that hyperspace wasn't really measurable and to go out too far was to risk losing the beacon signal. Then you were as good as dead.

            "Computer, verbal readout."

            "Passing beacon. Beginning counter. One... two... three..."

            Deidre set down her practice sword and stared into the infinite mass of glowing swirls. That deceptive dimension held whirlpools, gravity wells, and storms of vast proportions for anyone who strayed from the path. Now Macoure soared where cruisers fear to tread; the unknown.

            "Nineteen... twenty... twenty-one..."

            The old vampire moved her hands over the controls to slow down the ship for the jump. She made one last check of the hyperdrive remote relay; all working normal.

            "Twenty-seven... twenty-eight... twenty-nine..."

            "Computer! Activate hyperdrive engines. NOW!"

            The reddish glow of day decended into night. Welcome back from the abyss, Deidre thought. She was in normal space. Now the real question was "Where the fuck am I?" She looked over at the navigation readout. The computer was still processing astrometric data and the color looked off. One slam to the side and the red returned to the screen. "Come on, come on..." she mumbled as the letters and numbers rolled onto the monitor. Macoure smiled as the information became clear. She had jumped out a thousand K-klicks from the sixth planet; JUST outside the system.

            "Whew," the vampire said, "okay, you fleet morons, try and find me now. Computer, activate energy conservation protocol."


            As Deidre set a course to take her to the fourth planet's moon, she was very careful not to release a full burn of her sublight engines. She didn't want any other detectors picking her before she made her pickup.


            The abandoned base was not hard to find. Deidre waited till the moon rotated the base onto its dark side to attempt her landing. Once the Derision was down, she made her way into the structures. It was pitch dark. She felt the blood stirring within her as eyes glowed with an eerie red. Now she could see without lights. The place was vacant but she found her way around by a sign that said "Cargo Bay." Macoure reached the air lock, cycled it open, and saw the prize she was seeking. On the floor of the cargo bay were a small pile of long crates, marked with the insignia of Tech Infantry. As she stepped into the bay, Deidre heard the whine of a charging plasma cannon. Shit, it was a trap. Although she should have been afraid, all she could think was that she'd make that monk eat that gun.

            "Who are you?" called out from the darkness. She didn't turn her head, making sure to conceal her red eyes from the stranger.

            "Deidre. What's your name?"

            "Shut up! I'm asking the questions."

            "Sure, buddy. You're the one with gun."

            "You don't listen well, do you?" 

            "Only when it doesn't matter."


            "You're either going to kill or not. What I say isn't going to matter, now is it?"

            "Depends. Who sent you?"

            "My priest. He said to make penance. I do a lot of sinning."

            "Penance? Which priest?"

            "A monk. Listen, is this going to take all night? I've got to go to the bathroom."

            The buzz of the cannon diminished and a switch was pulled. Suddenly, the cargo bay filled with light. Deidre had to shield her eyes and they readjusted to their normal look. Fifteen feet away, a rather tall man stood on a big crate, his body cloaked in an environment suit, his huge gun slowly moving down. Deidre studied him closer. The weapon seemed too large for a single man to carry without power armor. His helmet was off and she noticed the gold skull-and-crossbones earring. The guy was a veteran; she sighed in relief, friends of the Cialt Brotherhood. "Buddha, you gave me a shock!"

            "Sorry, can't be too careful." The tall man jumped down and walked over to her. "You here for the cargo?"

            "That was the idea." Deidre looked him over. It was good-looking, had that Irish look about him, but wielding that huge gun meant he had some strength, probably werewolf. Pity.

            "What's your last name?"


            "Good. The Reverend Father sent you."

            "Yeah. Now are you going to help me move these guns into my ship?"

            He pointed to the far side of the bay. "There's a loader over there."

            "Oh, come on. Cute, strong man like yourself can't help out a working girl?" She flashed him her puppy dog eyes and a bright smile. Macoure felt her essence reaching out to him; adjusting his emotions, radiating helplessness.

            The werewolf actually blushed. Deidre couldn't help herself from giggling. The tall brute finally relented. "All right, you play lookout, I'll move it."

            "You're too kind."

            "Shit." he replied, walking to the loader, "what else I got to do?"


            Getting out of system was easier than getting in. After all, the military mind doesn't look for people breaking out of secured areas, do they? After a sling shot manuever around the dark side of the fourth planet, she skidded through the jumpgates without a peep from the two watchdog battlecruisers. Then the real boredom kicked in; Phoenix to Ashdown, Ashdown to St. Michael's Star, then she was ready to cross the border, adjacent to the Kalintos system. Deidre skirted around some hyperspace beacons, hoping that a border ship wasn't in hyperspace to receive them. However, after another seven days in transit, she reached the Kalintos system unharmed.

            Kalintos Three was an incredibly rocky world, freezing cold with huge polar caps, with the only temperate zone being directly on the equator. They had done some terraforming, but most of the grass was still no more advanced than moss. Drop City was the planetside shuttle connection with the orbital station. She decided to bring the Derision down to the surface in order to off-load the cargo easier and with fewer questions.

            Once she landed, Deidre hated the place already. It had the smell of rotting leaves in the air (the terraforming process was not a pleasant one), the buildings were squat and bland, and the entire town was no larger than fifty thousand. Truly, Macoure thought, this _was_ the back of nowhere. Why would the bugs fight over this?

            The Red Eye wasn't hard to find; the bar was close to the transfer station she landed at. Inside, the place was rather small, but it was comfortably filled, even during the graveyard shift. Well, when in a bar, talk to the bartender. Deidre managed to find a seat at the far end of the bar and looked over the place. The place had pre-fab furniture, the adobe ceiling was leaking, and the patrons didn't seem like the most polite of guests. An airlock at the front door kept out the rotting smell but most people brought it in off their clothese anyway. There also seemed to be an overabundance of Tech Infantry and Colonial Marines (the Frontier Worlds equivilent of the T.I.) regalia covering the walls.

            Out of the crowd came over what looked like a large floating cat. The creature had a tube in its mouth and its rear balloon-like area lifted it closer to her. "Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhh, woooo-man. Lie-ka drink?" the thing purred.

            "Sorry, wrong species." Macoure scoffed.

            The cat floated off, looking hurt, leaving her bewildered. She was still staring at it when the bartender came over to her. "Never seen a K'nes before?"

            Deidre turned to face him and was even more shocked. The bartender seemed to be out of place. His mop of reddish hair framed a weird pair of glassed, one lens tinted over his left eye. His clothes were nice and his short-sleeve shirt revealed a bar code tattooed on his arm. Apart from his odd appearence, the thirty year old had a certain animal magnetism that demanded you looked at him. "Uh, no. Not really."

            "Their border's not that far from here. Purfang there always tries to pick up some human female. He never succeeds but he always keeps trying. Guess he's a hopeless romantic." The tender smiled brightly, eminating the feeling that you should trust him. "Now, what can I get you?"

            "You know everyone who comes through here?"

            "Yep. Eidetic memory."

            "Good. Then I need some information."

            "Pretty lady like yourself coming _here_ for information? You must be desperate."

            "I need to find someone named Chug."

            "Chug? What a stupid name. I've never heard of them."

            "Sure? You could really help me out." Deidre reached out to him, trying to pass her essence over to him, trying to weasel Chug's location out of him.

            The bartender waved his hand in front of his face and Macoure felt her magic backlash against her. It was like receiving a mental slap. "Don't pull tricks in my bar, lady." he replied, "I might not getting friendly. Now why do you want this... Chug?"

            "I've got a package for him. I..." Deidre stopped as the bartender's eyes shifted to the door. She turned to look and saw two figures coming entering the bar's air lock, both dressed in black, and looking like the space pirates you always read about in the vids.

            "Shit. Lady, see the door over there?" the bartender pointed to an opening with a sign that said Employees Only, "Go in and stay there."

            "Who..." Macoure tried to ask.

            He interrupted. "Don't ask, just do it! NOW!"

            Just then, she heard the bar airlock cycle open.




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