Debts Always come First
Ernesto I. Ramirez
The red and black starfighter appeared suddenly from Nowhere, the subspace used by sorcerers for FTL travel. It was so fast that the Space Station's alarms and defenses had no time to go off. Without any inconvenience the small ship had stealthily made into the SSC Kuttner's perimeter, quickly disappearing among the hundreds of docked ships waiting for Customs or cleared already by the Command Tower.
Private Math Ross, Sonar Officer for the SSC Kuttner Space Station, had barely noticed the red dot on his screen. He dismissed it as nothing more than a system's bug. Overlooking operations was Lieutenant Willem Fold. Math looked up to see if his superior officer had noticed what he had seen. He had.
"Damn sorcerers, they think they can come from Nowhere and make themselves at home just because they can. I keep telling Jusk to recalibrate the sonar and make it more sensitive..." It was not unusual for Willem to tense and become hostile whenever he found any sorcery at work. And who could blame him? After all, his neighborhood within Aldebaran 4's Capital had been blown up by a sorcerer back when he was a kid. Half the station personnel told similar stories. The differences from one story to the other varied depending on each individual background and the specific circumstances of one race perpetrating devastation on another: humans blasting worlds with doomsday nuclear weapons, sorcerers evaporating complete cities or fleets with complex rituals, were but a few examples. Ross was no different than the rest, he had his own story, but in his case Solom 6, his homeworld, had been assimilated by the Llirian biotechnology.
Yet Willem had a point, sorcerer's came and went from every mayor station and planet as if they were above any law different than their own, caring little for authority or tradition. They had learned how to 'phase out', as sorcerers called it, from real space into a place they dubbed Nowhere. For all the Star System Coalition knew, Nowhere was nothing but a fancy name for the same hyperspace everyone else used to for faster than light travel, but sorcerers did it better. They left no traceable signatures from either entry or exit points, didn't require for instrument recalibration as they 'phased in', allowing them join battle immediately. And more importantly, they found a way to make FTL travel available to the sorcerers' starfighters and medium ships. SSC Governments feared the menace their old allies could become, but were secretly relieved to have never seen a magitek powered capital ship.
Ross however, couldn't complain. The magitek that disgruntled so many had actually saved thousands of lives on his doomed homeworld when the Llirian terraforming machines arrived and assimilated everything, recreating the world in their master's image. Solom 6 has even been one of the worlds they had kept after the war ended and both, the Star System Coalition and the Llirian United Worlds, were forced to sign the peace accord.
Ross took his station and checked the logs, looking for the exact moment he thought the red dot appeared. He found what he was looking for.
The sonar had registered one particular vessel for about 5 seconds. A starfighter class Nightingale. Ross smiled to himself and erased the log before Willem or anyone else could inspect it. Only one kind of sorcerer used a Nightingale: Executors, the sorcerers' enforcers and Llirian hunters.
The red and black starfighter flew graciously among ships of a dozen worlds, both human and otherwise. Both arcane and conventional sensors did a thorough analysis of each ship in mere seconds and while its pilot searched for a place to dock, the computer saved all the data into its liquid crystal brain, a database and system created with thousands of crystal microshards, pulverized and mixed into an amniotic solution, each being a neuron for the whole system, making the ship's brain capable of storing and processing thousands of zethabytes.
Adeptus Lenna Myrov, Initiate of the 3rd circle of the Executors, flew her nightingale as if she was one with the starfighter. And for whatever account, she might have been so.
Nightingales were magitek's crown jewel. They were a mixture of human and Llirian technology made only possibly by arcane means. Inside, Lenna was deep in trance, immersed in amniotic liquid. She didn't move at all, for the fluid extended her consciousness into the ship's spirit and liquid crystal brain. In every sense, Lenna was the Nightingale. The lights in the cockpit changed in color as her contact's coordinates were confirmed. Within seconds, the gracious machine touched down on a landing platform.
Lenna remained in her closed cockpit. Even though the Nightingale's was already inside the environmental containment field and its systems had already verified the station's safety measures, Lenna's enviro-suit shields kicked-on for safe measure. As the cockpit opened so did Lenna's eyes to regard her surroundings with her own senses before she jumped to the platform below.
"Just like being back in Nova Mexico," the adeptus said unable to keep the distaste from her voice.
While the hangar bay looked safe, she still felt tense. Overriding her suit, Lenna strengthened her shields and pulled out her plasma boltgun. The weapon was half as long as most assault rifles and its magazine was only good for a couple of shots, but each shot carried a strong punch equal to a plasma cannon. Not exactly a legal or common weapon, yet the person hiding among the bay's boxes appeared to know its fearsome reputation and came out with her hands up.
Lenna recognized her as one of Kuttner's staff, a medical officer, if her tight green-white outfit emblazoned with a red symbol meant anything at all. The medical officer was about to faint, yet she let the show roll while her suit defenses made sure the good doctor was not playing bait for someone else.
"A.. are you Ishtar D'Rigel?" said the doctor quivering for her life, barely controlling herself enough to talk.
Lenna's answer was simple; she just powered up her weapon aiming straight for the woman. At that distance, even if fully shielded, the boltgun would rip her apart.
The doctor went pale and fell to her knees shivering lightly saying, "Fiery the angels fell! Fiery the angels fell!"
"Deep thunder rolled around her shoulders..." answered Lenna in a monotone voice, half a smile on her lips.
"Burning with the fires of Orc," finished the doctor weakly from the floor. "Damn you, are you happy now?"
"Come on Doc, that wasn't so hard, right?" Lenna holstered her weapon as she helped the doctor stand. The complete phrase served not only as a recognition code, but was also a magical rote that opened the doctor's consciousness to the adeptus in ways that criminal prosecutors would envy if they knew it existed. The doctor was her contact.
"You are Ishtar D'Rigel? The hunter-sorceress, right?"
Lenna nodded, a playful half smile on her lips, "Aye. That's my name, don't wear it out." And she wasn't lying. Ishtar D'Rigel was her sorceress name, chosen and forged by herself both though and deed. Sorcerers believed that names held power, but True Names can bend reality itself. True Names were only known to their owners and mentors after they left human society to become sorcerers. Knowing a sorcerer's True Name was a mark of trust as intimate as love. Lenna herself had only revealed her True Name once, many years ago.
Lenna studied the medical officer once more before extending her hand, "well my good doctor, I believe you have something for me."
Still trembling, the doctor presented a crystal chip before Lenna who took it. As the adeptus' fingers tips touched it, the information was transmitted to the nightingale's brain, which confirmed its veracity immediately. Satisfied, Lenna paid the good doctor, adding a bonus from her own pocket and let her go on her way. Lenna's masters had ordered her not to leave any lose threads, but the young sorceress was one to fulfill her promises and pay her debts.
Callahan's was a strange bar, accepting only gold as currency. It also featured an enormous fire in the center of the establishment where people by tradition threw their glasses after toasting. Lenna sat in the bar lazily stirring her drink, apparently oblivious to her surroundings. A couple guys had already decided to try their luck elsewhere after crashing against her cold exterior, having being ignored altogether. More than one had thought she looked sad. They were not far from the truth. Still, through her suit, linked to the Nightingale's brain, Lenna was fully aware of her surroundings, letting her to focus on her next objective.
D'keri K'su, a former Llirian fleet commander.
He was a Llirian extremist and ultra-conservative, supporting the war against humans to the point of ordering the destruction and assimilation of Solom 6 and another half dozen human worlds. The Llirian had escaped prosecution by disappearing a few weeks before the declaration of peace. K'su was currently linked to terrorists and pirate raiding parties. His allies targeted colonies, as well as merchant and military starfleets alike. Civilian or military, there was no difference to him.
Lenna's intel now linked K'su with T'kei C'si, a retired senior officer and resident of the SSC Kuttner for the last 6 years. C'si had left the Llirian fleet and found a place for himself among humanity. Now he was a mob boss with enough connections to silence more than a few politicians in both the SSC and the LUW. The sorceress did her own correlation between the two officers and was certain they were one and the same.
The doctor's data had given her enough information to take K'su to the War Crime Courts to answer for his atrocities, but she still needed some way to get him. The SSC Kuttner had a civilian government, giving her no jurisdiction in the area, forcing her to arriving without announcing her presence. And if she proceeded through the correct channels, the months of bureaucracy and C'si contacts would buy him enough time to go hide someplace else.
Working outside the law was the only option left. She twirled her untouched drink once more, staring deeply into the data crystal, despairing at the information. It looked to be impossible to take this man down by herself. C'si owned the White District, one of the few Llirian district with dock access, and had at least a hundred bodyguards at his disposal. In the White District, Lenna would stick out like a sore thumb, and even if she phased into Nowhere, the organic streets of the district might confound her senses making it hard to get to K'su himself.
If she couldn't find a way to get in, then she would need to flush him out... and as she thought, a sweet-threatening smile appeared on her lips. There was no time to waste.
Lenna accessed the Space Station's database with the Doctor's ID, making sure the trail could not be traced back to either of them. The adeptus studied the personnel registry, searching for specific traits and access permissions. She paused a moment as she glossed over a few candidates for what she needed. She only needed one.
Private Math Ross was perfect for what she needed, but something gave Lenna a sour sensation about the man. He felt wrong. So following her intuition she passed on to the next candidate and she was rewarded feeling more at ease. It felt perfect as she read the name, "Lieutenant Willem Fold".
It was close to the middle of the night cycle at White District when the alarms went off. Suddenly the night had become red lights and the silence became a screaming howl reminiscent of the days of war. The Llirians in the White district couldn't understand the meaning of such a ruckus; and most were shocked in place until the private's voice sounded from everywhere, "Ladies and gentlemen, at present we have found a complication in the station systems. Our engineers are already working on fixing it, but for your safety and security we would recommend you to move in an orderly fashion to the closest dock or life pod facilities and ready for emergency evacuation. Stay calm, you are safe citizens."
Realization set the Llirians into motion. They took their families and what valuables they could carry toward the district's dock. The Llirian's hive-like mind moved the group in a sequential manner, allowing them to evacuate far more quickly than would have done their panicked human counterparts in other districts of the station.
Lenna had counted on the Llirian hive-organization to keep the casualties low as she waited for K'su. Soon she saw the ex-officier rushing toward his private hangar along with his men. With a thought, she made the Nightingale descend toward the group and before they could react, she shot a couple plasma torpedoes into the waiting ship, turning it into a red fiery crescendo.
K'su's bodyguards tried to react and bring her down while their boss made a run for it, but Lenna's Nightingale liquid crystal brain was simply too fast and accurate for them. A single movement of her eye and the starship's system had targeted each one of the mob boss' bodyguards; another movement sent a barrage of plasma bolts vaporizing them all. A moment later the red and black starfighter glided in front of K'su, closing his path.
To his benefit, K'su knew when he had lost, yet he was not the kind to surrender without a fight. The old officer took his weapon to his blue egg shaped head, but instead of pulling the trigger, he could feel a strange force surrounding his body, attacking his mind. The ex-officer resisted but in the end his three fingered hand released the blaster letting it fall to the floor; with his body unable to move, he watched the starfighter land before him.
K'su knew well the Executors' reputation. This had to be a response to the Llirian hunters he killed a couple years ago. Not surprised to see a sorceress, he helplessly watched as she jumped out of the Nightingale Starfighter. She was shorter and thinner than he expected, with wavy blue hair. Her skin was like sweet white milk and was a beauty to behold. K'su knew he might not see another sunrise, the Secret Conclave was not known for their pity on his kind, but that didn't stopped him from imagining she would be his to torture one day. Yes, he could find comfort in that though. If she had been dressed in a grey-white business or executive attire she would easily have fooled anyone around here, but her tight red and black Executor's outfit showed her true nature. But what marked her as the real thing were her eyes: they were old, deep and wise, and both full of determination and barely suppressed anger. K'su looked into those eyes with contempt but all he saw reflected back was genuine.
The sorceress waited a moment too long, surely studying and disabling his secret defenses, either with conventional or mystical approaches, still to the naked eye she looked as immobile as a judgmental statue. Finally satisfied, she moved closer, throwing him to the floor with unnecessary strength.
"Commander D'keri K'su, in the name of the Secret Conclave and the Accord of the Spider Nebula, I, Ishtar D'Rigel, hereby arrest you under the SSC and LUW agreement for war crimes. Now you will answer to your victims, monster," said the Executor swallowing hard.
The old mob boss laughed, though she had removed all physical threats, K'su possessed a couple other weapon she could not control. His voice and mind were unaffected by Ishtar's mystical rote.
"Your sorceress name is not yours alone, right? D'Rigel. I knew a mage who carried that name. Don't need to deny it, I remember well. Killed the man, he pleaded pitifully, like all human do. He was little more than a beast when I finished him," said the Llirian commander, in the educated and calculated style of someone educated to rule.
The woman gritted her teeth and pulled her plasma boltgun, hitting K'su with it. She pointed the weapon to his head, breathing hard, feeling her finger slowly pulling the trigger. A single shot would blow most of him to pieces and make a half-meter crater on the iron floor.
"Good girl! You want me dead, I know it; I saw it in your eyes. It's fine. Just think in all the humans I killed. Think in how I tortured your D'Rigel. Come on, it will be our little secret. I sure won't tell." His tone was serious, yet his words mocked the sorceress, hoping to hurt and anger her.
After a long, tense pause, Ishtar put her boltgun to her side, instead he felt the woman getting closer and pinching his neck with a syringe.
"No. It won't be that easy," said the sorceress, her fury contained yet palpable in her voice as she injected him.
Suddenly K'su felt his body burn as if in flames; whatever the damned sorceress had injected into him, it now flowed through his veins like liquid fire, burning him from the inside out.
"Afterburn nanites. I believe you used the same method with my dear D'Rigel. I knew him well. He wouldn't give you the satisfaction even if it meant death. By the way it was nice of you to kill him afterwards. People never recover from this kind of torture," said the sorceress.
The commander contorted in the ground, his eyes meeting those of his tormentor, his gaze filled with a mixture of hate and pain, and something that brought the sorceress an smile, a plead for it to end.
"Sorry commander, unlike yourself I ran out of kindness long ago, and so has the Secret Conclave. Hope you enjoy the trip," said the sorceress as she grabbed the wretch he had become and hurled him inside the Nightingale.
Lenna breathed hard for a couple minutes, trying to recover her composure while her heart raced. For a moment she had been pretty close to killing K'su, and destroying all she had strived for. That had been K'su's desire, but she had the will to control herself. Killing K'su would have brought her some peace, but wouldn't have honored D'Rigel, not his other victims. The Secret Conclave's justice would do him honor. After all, she had taken D'Rigel's name so she would remember her debt to him. And debts always come first.
Now as she calmed herself, her thoughts turned to the Nightingale. She sealed the ship and made ready for the long way home. Lena calculated that K'su reinforcements or Kuttner's security would arrive in any moment, so the Nightingale lifted from the ground and left through the docking bay's energy barriers. Below she saw hundreds of Llirians distracting the overextended port authorities, who desperately tried to contain the problem.
As soon as she reached safe distance from the station, the Nightingale phased out into Nowhere, leaving the station without so much as a trace.
In the Command Tower, Ross and Willem were getting ready to finish their shift when the problem at White District began. The first notice they had of the situation where a dozen calls asking for permission to depart from the docks due to "Kuttner's system complication" and the "staff's order to go to the evacuation starship". But as much as they looked for, they couldn't found any contingency at all.
Time only increased the ruckus and they called for the Security Staff's assistance. A single red dot on the scanner's blinked for a few seconds and then immediately disappeared. Ross checked the logs once again and found the same energy trails of the Nightingale class Starfighter. Once again, Ross, remembering how the sorcerers had saved the last remnants of Solom 6 decided to erase the log and mark it as a space debris anomaly. Willem had been too busy to notice it this time.
As Ross finished the report, security staff appeared in the tower's bridge.
"Lieutenant Willem Fold, you are under arrest for abusing your charge and causing havoc in the White District," said one of the guards as both of them took the surprised Willem into custody.
"What? Hey Ross! Tell them I did nothing but trying to solve this situation! There must be a mistake!" said the lieutenant alarmed as the guards guided him out of his station.
Ross listened to Willem's cries but there was nothing he could do. He now understood better what had happened in the White District, like pieces of a puzzle falling in place. Willem had been right, a sorcerer recognized no other authority than his masters in the Secret Conclave, and an Executor would do anything to fulfill his mission. For a moment Ross was almost overcome with regret, but the moment passed, the White District needed him to fix the problem and there was no reason to regret his actions. His karma had been balanced, he owed the sorcerers no more.
"Sorry man, but debts always come first."