Founder’s Landing, Day One, 2100.

The Cypress Club, Lush Life Playing

“It’s funny; all the big names just vanished all of a sudden.” Eddie’s eyes narrowed again. “Maybe they know something we don’t.”

I had to admit, it seemed likely. There was definitely something going on; these were some serious names Eddie’d been tossing around, and if anyone could see trouble coming it was them. For another thing, riots just don’t happen all that often in the Empire. Security frowns on them. But what could be behind it? I shook my head. “Above my pay grade,” I said. “I’ve got a job to do.”

“Ain’t that the truth.” Eddie thought for a second, then nodded. “I might know a guy. Why don’t you catch a nap in my office while I check it out. How late is too late?”

Best to err on the safe side. “2200. After that I go to Plan B.” I didn’t have a Plan B yet, but what the hell; maybe I could steal an orbital defense fighter or something. I’ve done stranger things to get a job done. That’s why I’d brought along the blaster. Clever plans are all well and good, but superior firepower can sure smooth out the rough edges.

It was just before 2100 when one of Eddie’s bar girls woke me. It wasn’t easy for her; it’d been a day and a half since I’d last slept, and three hours on a leather couch was not nearly enough. But she managed all right; thanks to her gentle ministrations, I was sitting upright sipping bad coffee before I figured out what was going on. Clever lady; I could use that kind of service at home. I told her as much when I tipped her and she laughed. It was a nice laugh.

I took a minute to hit the restroom; you never know when you’re going to get your next chance. I straightened my uniform hat and tie. There was a little lipstick on my collar; I figured it added color. Hell, the way my face looked, people would just think it was blood anyway.

I was getting too old for this. Maybe I should track down that bar girl for real, settle down, raise a dozen kids… I let my mind wander for a minute, half-dozing, then realized what I was doing and started walking. Daydreams are all well and good, but it was time to get back to work.

Eddie was in the main bar, watching the money pour in. He loves doing that; says it makes him feel warm all over. He noticed me, then waved me over to a side room I’d used before. I stopped one of the girls to order a coffee, then went on in.

Sonny Estevez was not the man I’d been hoping to see. He was talented and insanely lucky, but had zero common sense. Besides, he was far too nervous for my comfort. He’d once dumped an entire cargo of synthbots running from a Confederate customs inspection — the only faction in the whole cluster that doesn’t have a law against synths. Still, he almost never got caught, and that had its uses… but this job, I needed done by the numbers, and I didn’t have time to babysit. I scowled as I sat down.

Sonny didn’t notice my expression. He was too busy dancing to his own private soundtrack. I regarded him for a minute, then reached across the table and pulled out one of his earbuds. He stopped mid-drumroll, startled. I glared at him and opened my mouth to say something cutting when my coffee came in. “Fetch Eddie for me, will you, love?” I said, not turning.

“I’m flattered, but you’re not my type,” said Eddie. “You were going to ask me about backup, I think?”

“Now that you mention it, yes I was.”

“Fine. I’m your backup; I can use some cash.” He glowered briefly, then looked up. “Okay, you’ve got your coffee. Talk. Maybe start with money.”

It took about an hour, which was far too long. We were interrupted twice: once for a second round, and then again when a message arrived for me; at least one part of my plan was going smoothly. In between, we went over the plan three times from beginning to end. Eddie got it in one; his job was to ride herd on Sonny and make sure nothing slipped, for which he’d get ten thousand — half up front, of course. Sonny, however, took some persuading. “You want me to what? And then what?” he kept asking. His cut was also ten, but only because he wouldn’t do it for less and I was desperate.

Finally, Eddie stepped in before I snapped Sonny’s neck out of sheer frustration. “No, it’s simple, kid,” he said. “We pick up the package, then hop over to the District to pick up the passenger. After that, it’s to orbit and back on a joy ride and we’re done.”

“OH!”, said Sonny. Actually, no he didn’t; he said “OahOOOoohhhh! I geddit now! Fine! When we leavin’?” I could have killed him, but I had a job on so instead I finished my coffee. It tasted like dark roasted heaven, which for some reason really pissed me off.

“OK; let’s get moving. I’ve got to change, and — what’s that?” The face of Eddie’s fancy watch had started flashing. He glanced at it and looked up at me, his face gone gray. It made for an interesting light effect, but I didn’t get time to enjoy it.

“That’s Gino, out front,” he said. “It’s a raid!”

Can Our Hero evade the authorities yet again? And what will this do to his plan? Tune in next time to find out!

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