The Willoughby Housing Exchange had been extremely popular among miners cracking the Daedulus Cluster in Croshaw. That was over a hundred and fifty years ago now. Since the HEX shuttered in 2863, the station slowly decayed. Longterm residents, unable or unwilling to leave, eventually died off and the station fell silent, just another hulk drifting in the black.
That was until the Souther Titans moved in. Blind Jack couldn’t believe his luck, finding a perfectly good station that only needed updated parts to bring it back online . . . or at least functional. Seemed like as good a place as any to have the pack hole up. They’d fixed it up smart too. Put in dead man switches to automatically cut the power, gravity and airshields if anyone but the Titans tried to take control. After years on the move, he had to admit, it was nice to find a place to call home.
Blind Jack Sticha and the rest of the Souther Titans set down on the various landing pads and quickly moved their ships out of sight. It was best to keep up appearances that the place was abandoned. They slammed the wreck of the hauler onto one of the larger platforms. Skivner and Leedy weren’t able to retrieve the manifest from the blast, but did a quick check through the hold. Thing was packed to the gills. That was the great thing about indie operators, they had to make each run count. Sure they’d put up more of a fight, but Jack didn’t mind a little scrap for his rewards.
That was just half of the haul too. Once they offloaded the merch, they’d break down the ship. Blind Jack would pick through the parts, keep a portion for upkeep on their own fleet, then sell the rest. All in all, they stood to make a nice little cut.
Blind Jack flipped on his suit lights as he trudged towards the HEX’s airlock. All the timers had tripped, so he needed to power the station back up. About halfway through the startup routine . . .
“Blind Jack Sticha” came over the general comms.
Jack paused momentarily then continued the startup procedure. The hidden power plants chugged awake. The lights in the airlock pulsed to life and the systems came online. His knee ached as he got back to his feet.
As the airlock cycled, he drew his pistol, a custom Coda pistol with compensators, and flipped the safety off. Whoever had called to him must be close. Leedy jogged up, weapon ready. The other Southers had heard it too.
“There’s no need for that,” the voice said. “We’re here to talk.”
Jack looked up at the security cameras in the airlock. They must be in the system. Jack holstered the pistol and motioned for Leedy to sling the rifle.
The airlock hissed open. Music echoed through the halls. Blind Jack pulled off his helmet and tossed it on the ground.
“Eyes up, kid,” he muttered. He yanked his gloves off and threw them by the helmet. “Anything go sideways, you paint the walls, hear?”
They walked towards the living area to find their two guests waiting. They were Human. One male. One female. Real nice flight suits. Male was visibly armed. Female wasn’t, but definitely didn’t look skittish.
Blind Jack casually walked over to one of their cargo containers converted to a cooler and pulled out a can of Smoltz. He offered it to the duo.
The woman didn’t move. The man smiled and shook his head. Blind Jack shrugged, popped the can and downed the whole thing in a long protracted drink. He crumpled the can and flung it into the darkness.
“So who the hell are you?”
“We’re listeners, really. Our employer sends us to ask questions and listen. We’re then entrusted to act accordingly.”
“Uh huh,” Blind Jack said with a glance to Leedy.
“But we aren’t bounty hunters or Advocacy if that’s what you’re worried about. Think of us more like professional colleagues.”
“So what do you want?”
“Not much. We’ve got two questions for you. The second is significantly more difficult than the first, but both need to be answered to our satisfaction or . . .” the man shrugged. “We will act accordingly.”
Blind Jack burst out laughing. His bellows echoed in the abandoned station. The man smiled. The woman didn’t move. The laughter finally died down.
“You walk into our den and make threats?” Blind Jack grabbed another can and popped it. “That’s a quick path to a short life, my friend.”
“I don’t do anything for myself,” the man stood and walked over to Leedy. The scrawny, tattooed outlaw stood tall and met the man’s gaze without flinching. “As I mentioned, we are representatives. All you need to know is that, for all intents and purposes, Damien Martel of the Four Points is asking the questions.”
Blind Jack Sticha coughed. Leedy looked over at his boss, whose demeanor had completely changed.
The Four Points were one of those syndicates that never seemed to die. They never dominated the criminal hierarchy, but somehow persevered for decades, maintaining a rep that was as calculating as they were ruthless. The leadership each represented a swath of territory, forming a council of Four that dictated orders down to their footsoldiers. Damien Martel was one of those Points.
“I see I require no further explanation,” the man said after one look at Blind Jack’s face. “Good.”
The man walked over to Jack and studied him for a moment.
“Were you responsible for the attack on Mr. Martel’s ship?”
“Do you want me to repeat the question?”
“What? No.” Blind Jack glanced at the woman. She’d circled into Leedy’s blind spot. “I ain’t heard about any attack.”
“Are you lying to me?” The man said, never breaking his gaze. His voice was even, devoid of inflection.
“Hell no,” Blind Jack looked right back. “My people are all here. All accounted for and nobody would make a move like that without me knowing about it.”
The man watched Jack for a few moments. Processing him. Finally:
“You Titans have an interesting set of tattoos,” the man said as he brought up his mobi and began to cycle through menus. “I never quite understood the appeal myself, but more so, could never just settle on a design I was comfortable living with the rest of my life.”
The man found a picture and held it up for Jack to see. It was a surveillance grab.
“Second question,” he pointed to the surveillance grab. Some scrap yard that Blind Jack had used to offload scrap in the past. Wardlow Rec or something. The man pointed to a woman in the frame; it looked like she was sporting Titan ink. “Do you know who that is?”
It took Blind Jack a second to recognize her.
“I’ll be damned,” he said with a fond smile. “Name’s Trin Liska. Been a spell since we ran with her. What’d she do?”
“Took something of value.”
Blind Jack nodded, filing that little tidbit away for future deliberation. He took another drink from his can.
“Last I’d heard, she’d linked up with Reza Malcolm’s ship. Horrible piece of shit called the Harlequin.”
“I want that ship.”
Blind Jack took his time thinking it over. He stepped past the man and took a seat in his busted up leather chair.
“Sure, I can help,” he said with a satisfied grin.
Thirty minutes later, the two syndicate hitmen left without incident and fully loaded with the Harlequin’s multitude of reg tags and everything the Southers knew about Trin.
Blind Jack was halfway through the case of Liberty Lake, sitting quietly and humming to himself. The rest of the Titans watched their boss, perplexed. Leedy finally spoke up.
“What the hell, Jack?”
“Speak your mind, Leedy.”
“Trin was one of us.”
“Was, kid.” Blind Jack settled back in his seat and popped another can. “She walked away. I told you before, we got no loyalty for quitters and besides, you’re missing the big picture.”
“If she got the attention of the Four Points,” a grin spread behind Blind Jack’s beard, “we talking big money.”
The Titans looked at each other. The prospect of a payout sparked that familiar fire behind their eyes.
“Strip your ships and travel light,” Blind Jack said as he slammed the next can. “Let’s go get paid.”