VELVET GLOVE, IRON FIST - Act I - Diedre Macoure


            Two days. It took two days to jump from that cursed system of Kalintos to the center of the rim, Circe. The Frontier Worlds Territory worked off a shoestring budget; their fleet was poor, customs non-existant, and the place only stayed free of Fed rule because they didn't care enough to take it back. It truly was a smuggler's haven, and although she knew these systems backwards and forwards, every time she came here, Deirdre Macoure put her life in her hands.

            Like a hole of light opening out of darkness, the metal box that pretended to be a spaceship, the Derision, jumped back into normal space. Macoure was weak from the fight. She had burned too much blood back at the firefight and already the hunger was setting in. However, she knew in the back of her mind, that this was _not the place_ to do this. Shaking off another shudder of the demon inside her, Deirdre flipped her navigation monitor on. Nothing happened. Again, within the cramped spaces of the pilot's seat, she flipped the switch. Blank. Finally a good steady kick brought a shower of sparks and brought the screen to life. Damn it, she thought, I need an upgrade. Those monks owe me BIG time.

            "Computer," Macoure called out to the empty ship, "bring up system map of Circe and triangulate present position."

            The maternal voice mocked her. "No record on file."

            "Come on, we were just here a few months ago!"

            "No record on file."

            Deirdre gave the computer bank another kick and screamed, "Damn it, WORK!" She closed her eyes to control herself. She needed blood; her fuse was low and her concentration was fading. With a deep inhale and exhale, she tried to remember that meditation technique Master Sho had showed her once. Macoure had done a brief stint in the Eastern Bloc systems; but it had seemed so long ago. After calming her mind, she kept her eyelids closed and said, "Computer, bring up index of all navigation data."

            There was a barely perceptable buzz then a click. When she opened her eyes, the index was on the screen in front of her. Deirdre took a flip through the files. No record for Circe, nor for half of the remote systems that she had been in. "Computer, where are navigation records 7364A-ZF through 7412C-FE?"

            "Erased for lack of memory." The motherly computer sounded like she was punishing her for not cleaning her room.

            Lack of memory? She had seven terabytes of storage on this crate. Macoure snorted out a breath of disgust. She REALLY needed this upgrade. "Connect up with navigation control, Circe Four, and coordinate a path to the specified landing coordinates."


            Macoure went back to work out. She had a lot of frustration to get out, and it would take several hours to get there anyway. Deirdre needed to be in control of herself before she landed among mortals.


            Colonial Marines GHQ was in the middle of the coldest, god-forsaken part of the most hospitable planet in the system. The headquarters was built like an old aircraft carrier; keeping most of their equipment underground. Not only did it prevent detection, it also kept their energy consumption low in order to heat the place. However, the repellor fields were fighting a losing battle against keeping the snow away from the landing areas. Already some of the cave entrances and tarmac pads were frosting over as the moon hung overhead. The Derision came into a choppy landing with fierce winds buffeting the shuttle as they came down.

            The automated ramp took the metal box on the pad and sucked it down beneath the surface of the permafrost. Beneath several layers of alluvial shale, the hole in the earth opened up into a vast ship bay and assembly area. All around, even at this late at night, there were troop formations, rusted troop ships being fueled or boarded, an infinity of old carts, hovertanks, guns, and fighters shuttled through the complex.

            To the untrained eye, one might think it was a flea market for old military equipment. To Macoure, it was a act of desperation. This was a military base, Deirdre wondered? It was a fucking museum!

            Once the Derision was dragged over and parked, she could see several individuals coming toward her ship. Lightly armed, dirty uniforms, and having a look that said they had been on manuevers for two months. Deirdre fingered the hatch mechanism and went outside to meet them.

            The minute she stepped out, the soldiers stopped. Macoure didn't have to read their minds to know what was on them. Her tight clothes on her trim body stopped these men in their tracks. Finally, their leader with some weird insignia on his kepi stepped forward. "Um, miss? Who are you?"

            "I'm the one getting your army out of the dark ages, Mister..."

            He took off his hat and smiled under his mess of dirty blond hair. "Chevron-Major Gren Petrarch, 3rd Colonial Marine Division."

            You've got to be kidding me, Deirdre thought. Chevron-Major? The minute you let civilians start picking military ranks... "Well, Gren, an irritating monk and a redheaded bartender sent me to fix you up."

            Petrarch's eyes bulged. "YOU'RE the gunrunner?"

            "Please, major... smuggler. One has to have some flexibility in this job."

            Two of the soldiers in back coughed to cover their laughter. "Well, miss..."

            "'Miss' will do. Now, if you don't mind, let me unload these things and get off this rock. I don't feel like sightseeing." She was hungry and as she could feel the power of this chevron-major in front of her... were-something... his pulsing veins were becoming too hard to resist.

            Petrarch made some quick hand signals to his men, and they rushed for the cargo entrance, wasting no time. Yes, she thought, these men were trained for some vicious combat; bugs will do that to you. In a few minutes, the crates were unloaded and the job was done. Now, Macoure thought, now it's time to get paid. However, first it was time to eat.


            Within an hour, she had entered Circe Four and left just as quickly. The computer may have had to rely on the net relays to give her the system data, but the Derision knew the hyperspace routes. Deirdre took an irratic route to an unoccupied system, then shifted back towards Van Diemen system, therefore avoiding the Federation's net of hyperspace sensors. They meant well; eliminating smuggling in order that they didn't have to raise the citizen's taxes. Change that, she thought, eliminating _stupid_ smugglers. There was always a loop hole, whether it was laws, security systems, or a tricky situation.

            After staying five seconds in Van Diemen system (just long enough to jump again), she shifted to Wilke's Star, and since no one wanted to stay on that cloudy rock for long, took another jump for New Paris. She had plenty of fun the last time she had visited that suburban hole of a system.

            Stopping by the lunar station outside the third planet, she jumped an orbital shuttle down to the surface. Security was lax up on the older satellite stations, unlike the main orbital one hovering around the L-5 point. Once down on the ground, finding the right hotel was not a problem. She could afford some of the finer things in life and she was going to enjoy every minute of it. The sun was only two hours away so Macoure worked fast. Fixing the thick drapes and calming her nerves, she finally closed her eyes and slept peacefully as the killing sun kept comfortably out of sight.


            The next night, she awoke hungry. The need for blood sounded like a gong ringing in her ears. However, Deirdre wasn't stupid. If these laid-back people were rumbled by an unexplained blood-letting, they'd move fast. She opened up the hotel computer, one of those tourist programs that had voices that were a little too chirpy and little painful on the ears.

            "Hi! Welcome to the..."

            "Computer, delete audio." Something beeped and the irritating sound stopped. A menu appeared and she pushed the button for the map. Soon enough, she got the world map that she wanted. Eeegh! The place was so uniform in its city placements it was sickening. However, there tended to be one place that was off slightly, on the other side of the world. Maine City. Perfect place to get dinner.

            Macoure made sure to take the high speed train instead of the suborbital. It took longer, true, but it also allowed for her to arrive when it was still night. Once she got there, it was the height of the party hour. All she had to do was follow the bars and catch the drunks coming out.

            After tasting a little from a couple drunks, Deirdre began to get a little tipsy. Funny, she had almost forgotten what it was like. However, she couldn't keep doing this. She had to get back to the hotel on her own, so she had to get some untainted blood.

            Then this guy passed by, suited up like some mafioso or corporate middle management, and styled a huge mustache that made him look French. Ah, she thought, that's my meal ticket.

            Following him down the street, discreetly, of course, they made their way to this huge hill that stuck out from the center of the city. The man walked into the park and started walking up the hill. He seemed oblivious to everything else, but there was too much light and a few witnesses walking around. No, Deirdre thought, wait until he gets up the hill, then fill my belly.

            She followed him up. He moved to look behind him, but she just moved into the shadows, where he couldn't see him. Finally, he kept going up this stone circle at the top. Macoure took position next to a nearby tree. Before she could go and enjoy her meal in peace and quiet, another person stepped out from behind one of the stones. What is this, she thought, some sort of corporate meeting in the back woods? Who was this guy? After watching them talk, she was finally able to catch the conversation.

            "Me and my associates..." Mustache tried to speak, but the black-suited Latino wasn't hearing it.

            "Enough! Yes or no."

            "Then it will have to be no."

            Latino snorted in disgust. "They were wrong about you." His fingernails lengthened and turned into claws. "They said you were intelligent. They said you wouldn't be foolish enough to refuse. Now you must die."

            "NOW!" Mustache shouted, and with a rattle of machinegun fire out of nowhere, tons of holes suddenly blew into the black clothing. With a shift of his coat, a pocket crossbow appeared in Mustache's hand, aiming a wooden bolt right at the Latino's heart.

            "What do you..."

            "Shut up!" Mustache screamed back, "You've shown me your strength, now I'll show you mine. I don't want to kill you, but I've shown you that I can. I just want to be left alone."   

            Macoure just watched in fascination. No, she thought, whoever this schmuck is, he's not going to be able to stop him with that puny crossbow. She needed to find out what was happening here, and the Latin lover didn't seem like the talking type.

            "You have no choice." With a shout, the Latino leapt into the air. Mustache fired, but missed. The Latino knocked him to the ground as he landed on him. Deirdre knew that he'd kill Mustache; she had to do something. Still, machinegun boy was lurking out there somewhere. Shit, she thought, reaching for the monofillament blade, what the hell?

            As Latino was raising his claws for the final strike, she rushed out with celeric speed, activated the laser, and aimed for her target. The black suit cried out, "You fool! Now you're food for the..."

            The Latino never finished his sentence before her red beam of light rushed past, cut through his neck, and severed his head from it. Black suit's body collapsed on Mustache as she finally stopped. The businessman finally pushed the body off him and got a better look at who rescued him. The look on his face was one of shock. Then again, she thought, if someone was beheaded in front of me, I'm sure I'd be freaked too.

            Still pointing her sword at him, she smiled as she said, "Strange company you keep. Better watch yourself next time."

            "How did you..."

            "I followed you up the hill. What was going on here?"

            He blinked and then replied. "I was trying to find you, Deidre."

            The sound of her name lowered her sword a fraction. Now it was HER time to be shocked. "How do you know my name?"

            "I know many things, emme, and I want to make a deal."




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