An Equal and Opposite Reaction

“Hello Mr. Aitken, so good to see you again.”

Here we go again I thought. It wasn't supposed to turn out this way, well it never is when things go wrong. Judge Karaca, AGAIN. If I didn't know any better I would think this had been arranged. Oh man I wish I hadn't thought that, now I'm going to be seeing conspiracy theories round every corner for the next month.

It had started oh so easy. I'd picked up a mission a couple of systems over. Ok it was to take 8 tons of Battle Weapons into a system that they were illegal in but that should not have been a problem. To tell you the truth it hadn't been a problem. I'd dropped out of Supercruise, lined up with the slot, got docking permission, dropped a couple of heat sinks and in. No scan, no “hey you stop”, no nothin'. So why was I in the dock facing Judge Karaca I hear you ask? Import Spot Check they called it. Not what I would call it, but the two opposing groups here might have a different perspective of the situation. Real funny too, even though I had other cargo canisters in there the went straight to the weapons. As much as I told myself that it had been just blind, dumb luck, the voice in my head had whispered, “Set up job.” I couldn't see how though. I had done work for that faction before, nothing even remotely close to this had happened before. I hadn't heard any rumours about them either. In fact no matter how unfortunate it appeared I still couldn't shake the feeling that I had been set up. I stood there looking at the Judge and tried to remain as impassive as possible. It could just be my ego not believing the reality of being caught red handed by a fluke randomly timed import check.

“Let's see, hmmm, smuggling Battle Weapons. Back to your old trade I see.” The dispenser of station justice said smugly.

And pigs grew wings and learnt to fly, my dark thoughts continued. I had to answer as he sat there barely containing the glee he felt at having caught me again.

“Times are hard Your Honor and we all fall back on what we are comfortable with in those times.” Complete line of bull but what did he know.

“Claiming poverty before this bench won't help you Mr. Aitken. This is a classic open and shut case if ever I saw one. You were caught dead to rights with the merchandise in your possession. Would you like the chance to say a few words in your defense and deny the charges?”

I couldn't even bring myself to answer and just shook my head.

“Very well. Fined 1,000,000cr. I won't throw you off the station this time Mr. Aitken but we will be watching you. We can't prove you were involved but less than 24 hours after you left this station last time a jailbreak occurred in the area you had been held in. Good men died in that, for lack of a better word, attack Mr. Aitken. You are free to go, I believe you know the way out.”

With that I was dismissed. I kept my cool as I walked down the small flight of steps. I held on to it all the way through their silly little maze of rooms, until I finally made it back to the station proper. I kept everything in check until I was in a little alley of the main walkway. Once there I swore at the top of my voice a string of words a Fed Navy Petty Officer would be proud of. I also beat the living daylights out of a trash can that happened to be there.

“Feel better?” The voice behind me said.

I spun round ready to lay into who every the heck it was. Then started to calm down.

“A little, yeah Gabe, just a little.” I replied as a gulped in air spent from my tantrum.

“Good. When you're ready we'll leave and go get a bite to eat, I know of a nice little diner where we can talk in peace.” My fathers old friend said.

“Alright, gimme a sec and I'll be with you.” What he meant was a place where he knew no one would be listening to our conversation, in person or electronically.

Intergalactic House of Pancakes, said the sign above the diner as we walked in through the double glass swing doors. We waited to be seated and in no time a waiter appeared, two menus under his left arm. With his right he gestured for us to follow.

“The usual table Mr. Wyndham?” He asked as he lead us deeper into the diner. Gabe didn't even answer as we walked past tables of fellow patrons. Finally we reached a corner booth that had a commanding view of not only the whole eating area, the door we had just come through but also the only other exit I could see, the kitchen entrance. Gabe saw me looking and nodding at our placement.

“We won't need it, we are as safe as house's here. I have know the owner for years, she and her husband are good friends. Before you ask, yes your dad was friends with them too.”

As soon as he said my father had been friends too, I relaxed, a little.

“Before we get down to business, what would you like?” Gabe asked handing me one of the menus the waiter had left. I picked it up browsed through the six pages and had to ask.

“What do you recommend? And if you say pancakes old man I'll string you up.” I quipped at him.

“Spoil my fun why don't you?” Gabe half chuckled out. A little more serious he directed me on what my preferences would lead. “For you anything on Page 5 or 6, you'll like those.”

Silence fell as we both closely studied what we were about to eat, split seconds apart we closed the menus.

“The usual Mr. Wyndham?” The waiter asked. Gabe nodded. “Loaded Potato Soup, Eggs Benedict and a pot of tea.” Again Gabe nodded. “And for you sir?” The waiter turned to me.

“I'll go for Order 66.” I replied as Gabe once again nodded.

“Four Rashers of Bacon, three eggs Sunny side up with HypersPace Sauce, toast with butter and a mug of coffee.” With that he was gone. The more I looked round the more I started to relax.

“Just like your Father, a sucker for Order 66.” Gabe smiled. “Some of the most important decisions in the galaxy were made in this very booth.” He gave a small snort, “Well we thought so at the time, turned out a little different but there you go.” A faraway look was in Gabes' eyes, it slowly faded as he returned his focus to me. “Just like your Father, held in his temper until some inanimate object came close to hand and then BOOM.”

I let out a laugh. Yeah he had Dad bang to rights there. Many a time I saw a can or tool bounce of a wall as he worked on a stubborn piece of equipment.

“Which means I know why you got so riled up over this affair and it ain't the money.” He stopped and took a sip of water. So, so did I. “Waiting to see if I'm right uh? You got that Set Up feelin'. You'd be right too or at least the rumour has been going round this station.”

“Blast.” I sat back and let the last of the anger and frustration drain out of me. “Any idea who?”

“Nope. But that doesn't mean I can't start askin' round.” He stopped as the food was delivered. “Thanks.” We both said as one. Starting with his soup he turn to me just as I put bacon into my mouth. “Whats this I hear about you going back on your word about slaves?”

“Thurmph, murphum.” I said through a mouthful of bacon, holding up one finger I chewed hard and swallowed. “They were not slaves, they were Imperial Slaves.” Gabe gave a laugh.

“So that's how you justify it is it.....”

“Whoa, whoa old man, I am justifying nothing, I am telling you how it is. They are more indentured servants than slaves.” I could see him beginning to interrupt. “Uh uh, you let me finish.” Holding up the same finger I had earlier I continued. “You've been here most of your life, sure you and Dad went out in your ships exploring, trading, smuggling, I've read the logs, the pair of you hardly ever went near Imperial space. For the past ten years you have been retired, here, getting drowned in Federal propaganda, soaking it up like a good little sponge. It's not your fault, it's what they want you to do. So, as I said they are not really slaves, it's a name, probably one the Feds gave them. These “slaves” are working off a debt, they volunteer Gabe, who in their right minds would volunteer to be a slave. Anyway there are safeguards built into the contract, if they are mistreated or abused in anyway, the contract can be made null and void. I spoke to some of them as I hauled them and I had to make some expensive alterations to the December to be allowed to haul them, believe me Gabe they live better than you or I. The real slaves do exist and those I have kept my promise with, man even some of the Imps don't like real slavery. You do know there have been civil wars fought over this issue within the Empire....”

“Ok son I get it and I believe you. I didn't think you'd go back on you word and your right we get comfortable, we start to believe and never question what we are being told. Let's finish our food and go start askin' us some questions, ok?” Gabe looked at me and gave a wink, the old man knew I was telling the truth.

“Makes you wonder just who the slaves are.” I said, Gabe had started on the Eggs Benedict, so did not reply.

We finished eating and left through the same doors we had entered at. Gabe looked around as we stood at the edge of a main walkway.

“Live people serving you, no robots to record your chit chat, sure they could bug you but not there, no not in there. They know you now that you've been in with me, so you got a good place to go for those not-to-be-over-heard type deals. I'll introduce you to the owner sometime. She'll be thrilled to meet Bill's boy.” He gave a chuckle and then continued “I've got some contacts to get in touch with, you wanna come with?”

I thought for a second and then shook my head.

“Nah, I might a have a couple of people I can get in touch with too, we'll see.”

“Ok, this might take a little time so we'll meet at my apartment in 24hrs, ok.” He had already started to walk away. The plan of action was set, so I headed toward my ship, a new Asp, the “Oxen Craig”.

I had taken a break after the Ceos adventure and retired the “Bennachie” as I had intended. I had picked up the Anaconda “December” and started to wander aimlessly, trading where ever I found a decent profit. I eventually ended up in the Empire and stumbled upon a system looking for transport for Imperial Slaves to a not to distant system, paid well so I stayed for a little while. Once I had my fill of trading, which didn't take long I headed back to Shinrarta to drop off the “December”. I looked through the ships available, the Federal Assault Ship did draw my interest, but due to range and flexibility I ended up buying another Asp.

“And happy you'll be with it sor and we'll take good care of the ships you have stored here sor, yes we will. Good care” The old caretaker at Shinrarta had assured me. Old was being nice. That guy had to be into triple digits, easy.

I had a lot to think about as I headed for the hangar, not least a jailbreak, I had struggled to keep surprise off my face when Karaca had dropped that bombshell. I knew the Martian had want to drop off a message but had no idea the message was “get ready, we're breaking you out.” Gonna have to remember to talk that one over with Gabe. Of course the other thing was who to contact, well Robert and the newly met Mr. Smith were out. Heck for all I knew it was them behind me and others getting caught. It may have sounded silly to an outsider that my own son would set me up to lose a million credits, it made perfect sense for the world he and Smithy operated in. Charity Nascimento, damn it that woman was starting to creep more and more into my activities plus I might end up being in her debt for any information she might find. Plus she might have to ask Smith, who in turn could tell Robert and that might not be the best idea. And I might grow a rocket out my butt and not need a ship. Nothing was certain so I might as well try. Ok the not need a ship thing, yeah that's not gonna happen, one down. Whoever it was I contacted I was going to need privacy, which meant a secure connection, not one I couldn't be sure was being listened too.

I sat down and started to power the “Oxen Craig” up. Once everything was up and running I obtained clearance and left the station. Taking a note of what was around me on the scanner I plotted a jump, lined up and hit the FSD. Blasting out of hyperspace I let the “Oxen Craig” drink up the fuel it needed and then jump out again heading for the Apan system. It was a nothing system laying just over 30lys from Sol. It had a M class star and one icy body orbiting it about 2,500ls out. Namely a place no one had any reason to be. Simple. A place I could be alone and if anyone came in, what the heck for, I could jump out, wait a few minutes and jump back.

I had made up my mind who I should contact and was just about to open comms when the cockpit was bathed in red light. RATSIGNAL.

I patched into Rat Dispatch, noted the system the stranded commander is in. A check of Galmap and 3 jumps out. Aitken go, on my way. Jump, scoop, jump, unscoopable, jump, in system. I had received the friend and wing request while en route, now in system I see the hollow blue rectangle that is Cmdr Aurora Xerox. A flick of a few buttons and I am locked on to the beacon and ready to drop. The A5 FSD pushes the Asp I sit in toward the signal. A whine in my ears, the edges of my vision starts to blur and then BANG, my head is thrown forward as the “Oxen Craig” groans to a halt. Checking the scanner I see, nothing. Hmmm, I text and talk to Aurora and we both agree that I should re-enter SC and try a different approach vector, so I do. Nothing.

I get a comm from a follow Rat, Cmdr Vireaux, “One System out if you need any help Aitken.”

“Hold there Vir. I have a few adjustments to make and if that doesn't work I'll jump out and you jump in.” I replied. I got a “Sounds Good.” back.

I jumped out of system after my third attempt as Vireaux jumped in. I sat there and listened, frustration boiling up within me.

“No joy, just blow into empty space.” Vir reported to both I and dispatch.

“Thoughts?” came the question from Sigma who was this shifts Dispatcher.

Vir piped up with the only suggestion that made sense to us. “We got to get another Rat in here to try, Aitken and I are having no luck and no way do we leave this guy to die.”

Dispatched reached out and a response was quick in coming from Cmdr. Spanielz.

“I'm available and ratted up, whats the pickle?” he inquired.

Before Sigma replied my cockpit went red once more. With cool efficiency Sigma turned their attention to the incoming plea for help. Vir had depart and I was one system out from the new call system.

“Aitken go and deal with this new one, Cmdr. Menk will be sending the friend request as soon as they can. I gave a roger and sat poised, ready for action.

The request came in and I jumped straight away, as I entered the target system the wing alert popped on so I quickly accept. Once again there was a whine in my ears and the edges of my vision start to blur, BOOM. There was the Imperial Clipper, floating powerless in space. Phwoosh and a limpet sped for the tube. “Transferring fuel” Betty flatly informed me.

“Hey Fuel Rat, thanks man you really save my butt. I'm headed for the Kaushpoos system. I hear the mining out there is turning a huge profit.” Menk happily blurted.

We chatted a little as I transfer enough fuel for him to reach Kaushpoos. With thanks and an offer to drop some cargo, which I refused, we departed in different directions. I intended to to get back to Apan and finish my interrupted personal mission but Rat Dispatch had other ideas.

“Looking at the Galmap Aitken you are the closest to Cmdr. Hoodlum, you should be 5 jumps out. Transferring info. now.”

A quick glance and sure enough I could not see a Rat anywhere close to Hoodlum, well there was one. Me.

“Route plotted, on my way Dispatch.” I hoped it wasn't another Clipper my limpet stock was down to 3. And 3 turned out to be perfect. Cmdr. Hoodlum was in a Eagle and the 3, while not filling his tank it was enough to get him to a system where he could refuel properly.

I kind of hoped I could get to my business as the 24hrs till I met Gabe was dwindling away. I entered the Apan system and checked the scanner, moving the range to max I saw only the star and icy body on the screen.

I scrolled through the names on the comm and highlighted the one I needed to contact. I paused for a second or two and shrugged, I had nothing to lose.

“Hello Aitken, what can I do for you.” Charity Nascimento asked from the other side of my screen.

“Hi Charity, it's a personal request you understand. I would prefer that this conversation went no further.” I could ask, weather it happened, well we would see.

“I understand Aitken and this matter will be treated with the utmost security.” She said reassuringly. We talked for the next 30 minutes or so, I told her the situation Gabe and I found ourselves in. She nodded, asked pertinent questions at the proper time and seemed genuinely interested.

“I haven't heard of any operations we are conducting like that in that area. Doesn't mean we are not, we are a rather larger organisation, I will certainly make a few discrete inquiries. Thank you for coming to me with this problem Aitken, I do like this development of our relationship. It shows we are starting to build a bond and that you are starting to feel trust toward us. I'll be in touch with you or Mr. Wyndham. Until then Aitken.” And the connection closed.

I sat there for a few minutes going over what we had just discussed, checked the amount of time I had left to meet Gabe and headed for the galley to make coffee.

“Sigma to Aitken. This transmission is to let you know that Spanielz was successful in rescuing Cmdr. Xerox. Thank you for your assistance. Rat Control Out.” The in cabin speakers blared out. I gave out a whoop and relaxed a little knowing that a troublesome case had been closed with the right result.

I sat watching the Icy body spinning below me as I once again pondered the current situation, I had little doubt that Charity would indeed find out something. The Silver Boys had turned out to be bigger than I thought, so surely then had a few connections this close to the heart of the Federation, coffee finished I had just enough time remaining to reach Gabes deadline.

“Frameshift Drive Charging”

After landing back at the station and after I had taken a few personal items from the bunk room of the “Oxen Craig”, I headed for Gabes apartment. Rounding the last corner an interesting sight appeared before me. Gabe was pinned to his front door by a rather large looking guy. Big Man had his left arm pushing on Gabes throat and he had his right hand pushed into Gabes gut, I guessed he had a gun in that hand. As quietly as I could I walked up behind Big Man and took out one of the personal items I had taken with me. The unlatching of the safety made an audible, schclick, that was only matched in volume by Big Mans gulp.

“You don't want to do that.” The voice, that I had knew would come, from behind me said. “You'll be dead before you can turn and get me.” I risked a quick glance over my shoulder and sure enough in the doorway a few doors down and to my right he stood, he and a semi automatic rifle with a laser sight.

“Ah but your friend here will be dead before that happens.” I replied. Not a classic stand off but one non the less. Big Man with a gun in Gabes gut, I had a gun pressed into the base of his head and I had no doubt that I also had a red dot from the laser sight on the back of my head.

I was just about to try talk my way out of the situation, some hope I know but I had an idea, when I heard what sounded like a thump and a body hitting the ground. I looked over my shoulder and it was confirmed. The door behind the Rifleman had opened and a monster of a guy had put him to the floor with a meaty fist.

“Ah, my insurance just turned up.” Gabe quipped. Big Man took another gulp and took the gun out of Gabes gut and handed it to him. I put the safety back on to my gun and returned it to under the jacket that was the other item I had taken from the ship.

“Insurance?” I asked.

“Yup, allow me to introduce you to my grandson, Timothy, but we call him Tiny.” Gabe said as he put the safety on the gun he had just been given and handed it butt first to me. I didn't usually carry a gun and now I had two of the things. Tiny came over to the three of us with the Rifleman under one arm and the rifle in the other hand.

“Hi, you must be Aitken. Grandpa has told me a lot about you, you seem kinda cool for such a short guy.”

“Thanks, I think.” I said looking up at the giant of a young man. Why does everyone I meet seem to be so dang tall I thought to my self. Perhaps it was was the other way round. I was just lacking in height.

All of us trooped into Gabes apartment, I kept the Big Mans gun and Tiny had the rifle trained on the pair as we started to ask the inevitable questions. They were either very good actors or they were telling the truth that they knew nothing. Someone had contacted them trough the Bulletin Board. They never saw anyone and had no idea who was behind the job to give Gabe the frightners. Tiny watched over the two thugs as Gabe and I talked it over in the kitchen area. There was no argument over their fate, Tiny gave them a swift kick in the rear as they both were shown the door. That was one mission they would have to “abandon”.

With the hired thugs gone we sat down to talk and plan our next move.

“What did you find out Aitken?” Gabe asked, he was still in the kitchen area while Tiny and I sat in the lounge.

“Nothing but I made contact with someone I know and it might pan out with something.” I replied as the smell of the newly brewed coffee wafted into my nostrils.

Gabe appeared in the doorway a cup in each hand, Tiny didn't drink coffee, these tall guys could be weird.

“What about you Gabe any leads?” As if I had to ask, someone had sent those thugs, so Gabe had upset someone.

“I had my suspicions before but that attack sealed what I was only unsure about. Everything started out normal at the last pad I was at, but as soon as I started talking about smugglers, the atmosphere changed quick.” The old man stood there head slightly bowed as if trying to conjure up the memory of a few hours ago. His head came back up as he continued. “You know when you catch a kid lying about watching adult holos. No one wanted to make eye contact. I put it down to maybe they had let a smuggler get through and were worried about their jobs but nah it was more than that.”

“What was the number of the landing pad?” I asked as Gabe warmed up to his deduction.

“Number 37.” He replied nodding.

“That's the one I landed at .” I put in.

“I got a couple of guys I know who work in that area Grandpa, why didn't you say what you were doin' and you could have saved all that bother out there.” Tiny spoke up for the first time in an hour. Gabe and I looked at each other and gave a shrug. 'Yeah one of them owes me big time, I got him hooked up with this cute little blond I know, anyway give me an hour, no better make it two and if I'm not back come lookin'” He toss me the assault rifle, “Man I love this spy stuff.” and was gone out the door.

“Doesn't say much but when he starts you can't stop him.” Gabe remarked as I tried to hold in the laugh I felt building up. Thankfully Gabes comm unit gave a beep and he walked over to it.

“It's for you.” He told me as he gave me a wink and sat down.

“Hello Charity, did you find anything out?”

“Yes and no Aitken. Something is going on for sure. I know it's not us, as I arrange this type of op. often. Who ever is arranging this is high up in that station, you need pull to put a sting operation through other Stations Boards.” She paused to look at some notes she must have taken. “If you are looking for the individuals who could pull this off, try the Controlling Faction, government of the station and the judiciary. Hmmm Security Services could do it but I haven't heard of them doing so. First time for everything, right. I'll do a little more digging and get back to you if I should find out a name. Ok.”

“Great, that's what I was hoping to hear. Thanks Charity.”

“You're welcome, we try to look after our better operators. Alright Aitken I'll be in touch.” With that the screen went dark.

“Who is “Us” and “We”.” Gabe asked.

“Just the people she works for. I've done a few jobs for them in the past few months.” I said turning in the chair to face Gabe.

“You're avoiding the question young man, please try and give me a straight answer. I am not one of those frontiers men that you try to hoodwink.” He was being more serious than I had seen him for a while. I really did not want him knowing my business and well, I did not want to face his disappointment.

“Charity Nascimento is my liaison to the Silver Boys of Crom.” I stood up and waited for Gabes response.

“Well, you mean the same Silver Boys who have their finger in just about every shady deal that goes on in the bubble.” He looked at me waiting for a reply, I nodded. “Well done Aitken, getting in with that organisation isn't easy and they seem to trust you, well as far as crime syndicates trust that is.”

“You are kidding me, you approve?” I asked a little stunned and sat down again.

“Heck no I don't approve but if you're going to be a crook or scoundrel or smuggler or whatever it is you get up out there. You might as well do it for what I hear is the best and more importantly, a well connected group of crooks.”

“Uh, did not see that coming.” I blurted out.

“Happy to see I can still surprise you. Think she'll find out anything more?”

“On that I have no doubt Gabe. What about Tiny?” I asked in reply.

“Same. That young man has contacts that even I don't know. He may look big and dumb but he's not and his dumb look means some don't take him serious, that can lead to them slipping up.” Gabe said with some pride in his voice. I had a funny feeling someone had foolishly tried to put one over on Tiny and paid the price fairly quickly.

Gabe poured more coffee for us both and we waited. After the first hour I checked the assault rifle and the ammo mags we had taken off the Rifleman. Six mags total, plus what I had in the two hand guns. Not enough for an assault on Space station but enough, I hoped, to scare a few pad workers into talking. If that made me a thug, so be it. I could only guess but Big Man and Rifleman would not have been paid a million credits if they had succeeded.

After an hour and a half Gabe started to fret. He need not have worried as five minutes later Tiny walked in. Grinning from ear to ear.

“Well come on you big ox, what did you find out?” Gabe said hiding his concern behind mock irritation.

“Easy Gramps, gimme a sec to catch my breath.” I liked his style, Gabe would drive you nuts if you let him. Tiny went into the kitchen area and came back with a glass of water, he sat down taking a sip. “Got a name.....” The comms unit gave out a bleep, Gabe walked over and answered it.

“It's for you again.”

“Hi Aitken,” Charity greeted me. “ I have a name...”

At the same time both Charity and Tiny spoke one word, “Baxter.”

Gabe gave out a groan and I knew why.

“I take it from Mr. Wyndhams response that he knows of Mr. Baxter.”

“Yes Charity,” I replied, “he is the Chief of the Post Authority. Stickler for rules and regulations, I find it hard to believe he is behind this....”

“You would be correct Aitken. He may not be the Kingpin in all this but he is involved and more than likely knows who is pulling the strings.” Charity interrupted.

“Ok, I got ya. Thanks Charity I owe you one for this....” Again she interrupted me.

“No Aitken it is us that still owe you for all the work you have done for us.”

“Pffftt, you paid well for that, let's call it even then.” She look a little chagrin but seemed accept the compromise.

“We'll see. I take my leave Aitken, till next time. Fly safe.” The screen went dark.

“What now?” Gabe asked.

“First, good job Tiny.” I clapped the young giant on the shoulder, he beamed like a buffoon. “Next I go and visit Mr. Baxter.”

“And us.” It was a statement that Gabe gave forth and one I had to put down.

“Sorry old man but I do this alone. I will be leaving this station at some point, Tiny and you will still have to live here, best I do this by myself. Ok?”

“Dammit Aitken I know that makes sense but we can help you.” The eldest man in the room complained. All I could do was shake my head. I handed the rifle over to Tiny.

“Hide it away son, I don't think you'll ever need it this close to Sol but one can never tell.” With that I headed for the door. I still had my own handgun and the Big Mans too, plenty of fire power for what I had in mind.

I hopped on public transport heading for the Port Authority Offices. The journey was not a long one, relatively speaking, I wasn't going to Sagittarius A* after all, just to the far end of the station. I walked off at the Port Authority Station looking like just another pilot on his way for travel or trade information. Or at least I hoped so.

“State your business with the Port Authority please?” A computerised voice asked at the front door.

“Trade and travel information on the surrounding systems please?”

“Level 3, Room 312. Authorised to enter.” Again the computerised voice with it's unfeeling tones replied. I entered through large glass swing doors that seemed to be open all the time. A stroke of fortune I hoped would continue.

I made my way cross a small hallway to the elevator controls and hit up. I entered the elevator and press the button for Level 6, the top level. Oops, my finger slipped. As the doors opened I saw a desk before me with a middle aged woman of about 50 sitting behind it. She glanced up.

“How may I help you? Do you have an appointment with Mr. Baxter?”

“I'm so terrible sorry to interrupt you but I seem to have lost my way.” I said with all the bravado I could muster. She stood up and gave a wane smile.

“What and where is it you are trying to find out or been misdirected too.” Now that see was standing I took the chance. I pulled the handgun out from its shoulder holster and waved her away from the desk.

“I'm looking for the Office of Snivelling Dogs. I do believe their second in command is called Baxter.” Again I waved the gun at her and in the direction of the only other door that could be seen on this level.

“Oh my, what is the meaning of this, this outrage?” She demanded. I said nothing but continued to wave the gun in the direction of the door.

“Oh very well!” She exclaimed and went to the door. I quickly stepped behind her as she opened it. “There is, I hesitate to use the term, a gentleman to see you Mr. Baxter.”

I gave her a slight push in the back and she was in the room a second before I was, the door closed behind me.

“Hands in plain sight please Mr. Baxter, we don't want you activating the hidden alarm. I mean we could be interrupted and we do have so much to talk about.” I said politely.

“Who the devil are you and what is the meaning of this?” Baxter demanded in a commanding voice.

I bid the lady to sit down switched the gun to my left hand and with my right I drew out the second gun and pointed it at Baxter.

“Who I am is unimportant Mr. Baxter and the meaning of this is, well to point it bluntly, you have been found out. I would like the name of the brains behind this scheme. Your entrapped operation can be exposed if you would prefer that.” Again I spoke in a polite voice, it seemed to fit the setting.

“I have no idea what in blazes you are talking about.” He protested. I gave a shake of my head.

“Mr. Baxter, I tell lies for a living and can spot them a mile off. You sir are a terrible liar.” I flicked the safety off and cocked the gun. “I just need the name of your superior and I leave you in peace.”

“Dammit all, I knew we would get caught.” He spat out in a deflated tone.

We spent the next five minutes bargaining our respective positions. I assured him that if he gave me the name or names I would not put out word that his station was framing innocent traders so as to increase their profits from captured goods and the fines that were levied for smuggling. Of course I didn't tell him I HAD been smuggling. Where's the fun in making it easy for him. I uncocked the gun, engaged the safety and slid both back into their respective holsters. I thanked both of them for the information and apologised for spoiling their day. Then I left, quickly.

The elevator doors opened on the entrance level just as the alarm sounded. Blast, I sprinted toward the doors that were swinging shut and squeezed between two that were barely open. Slowing to a walk I mingled with the crowd on the main causeway and headed for my next destination.

I stopped first though at a Coffee Bar. It had been a long day and I needed a little pick me up. Across the street was a rather elegant restaurant and I played my game of people watching. I noticed that it seemed to be those who thought of themselves as the “Upper Class” that were coming and going. So I had some outrageous made up ideas about them in my head. I got one or two funny looks from other customers as I gave out a snort or a giggle.

Then I saw them, I was hoping I had got it right. I was betting that Baxter had no way of contacting them at this time of day. I could only hope. I gave it another five minutes, well I wanted to finish the excellent coffee I had been served. Leaving a tip I headed across the causeway for an interview that I hoped only I knew about.

The Maitre'd was not willing to believe me when I said I was expected but 500cr seemed to take away the doubts. It certainly was a nice place, a little too ostentatious for my liking but I wasn't overpaying for the fare. I saw who I was looking for and made my way there.

“Hello Mr. Aitken, so good to see you again. Please take a seat. You haven't been introduced to my wife yet, have you?” I slipped into a vacant chair and nodded to the lady across the table.

“No I haven't Your Honour, pleased to meet you ma'am.” I again was on my most polite behaviour.

“And to what do I owe this unexpected pleasure Mr. Aitken? Although I do have a feeling I could hazard a guess. You really only have yourself to blame. I can't prove it but I am certain you had something to do with that jailbreak.” Judge Karaca replied smoothly.

“Hmmm.” I replied. I had forgotten to ask Gabe about that, oh well it could wait.

“You really must try the steak Mr. Aitken. It's real meat not that synthetic stuff you get out on the outer edge.” A waiter had come over a minute after I had arrived at the table. Just a coffee please, yes a cup will do. I doubted they even knew what a mug looked like. “Please do continue Mr. Aitken.”

“I know of the little entrapment, sting operation you have going on and I'd like you to end it.” My coffee appeared with a dainty jug of cream and a small bowl containing sugar. “Thank you.”

“Oh, I thought you were here about your million credits. Well this does leave me in a rather difficult position.” He paused and dabbed at his lips with a napkin. “You see Aitken, I can call you Aitken. I believe it's how you like to be addressed. Not only is it having the desired effect of reducing smuggling into this station, the gains are helping keep it ship shape as you pilots would say and repair the damage to the jail.” He returned to his meal. “Yes a rather difficult position.” He said between forkfuls.

“Not my problem Your Honour. My problem is you are breaking Federal law to achieve your aims and more importantly to me, interfering with my business and thus my profits.”

“Don't tell me about law young man, I have been practising it since before you started breaking it. I presume that if I don't cease these operations you'll let it be known what we are doing?” No flies on His Honour I see.

“That and a little more, I'll put it out there that you are setting up innocent traders too.” He stopped eating and looked up at me.

“That would be, how do you pilots put it? Oh yes, dirty pool.” Again he dabbed at his lips with the napkin. “Hmm, a very tricky turn of events. I don't suppose a bribe would work? No silly question, you didn't go through all this cloak and dagger stuff just to be bought off.” Yup Ol' Karaca was not that crass after all. He continue to look at me as if expecting me to solve his problem for him. I had no plans to drop dead, so I couldn't help him.

“Very well Aitken I'll call off the dogs, you drive a hard bargain.” He motioned for the waiter and asked for coffee,cheese and biscuits, when asked his wife agreed with his choice. “I will warn you though. We will search your ship every time you dock here. Even if we don't suspect you.”

“Fair enough, there are other stations and I can always pay someone to take cargo in for me.”

“That's what I like about you Aitken, resourcefulness. It's a quality the younger crooks seem to be missing.”

“Well it has been a pleasure doing business with you Your Honour.” I said as I stood up to leave.

“I wish I could say the same Aitken but you win this round.”

“Thanks for the coffee, it wasn't bad.”

With that I left.

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