The artist walked down the alleys of Dockside and remembered the day that she met Lian.
Sho ran through the doors and into the room. Across from her the docking bay doors were opening, sliding away to reveal the hold of the Salvager, also decorated for a party. A girl a bit older than her stood in the gap staring at her.
“Who are you?”
Sho just stared back at her. The girl was about normal height, but shorter than herself with long brown hair. Her eyes had an inquisitive look about them and were slightly tilted. Right now they were narrowed in suspicion.
“They told me that there was a girl on this ship but that she was dumb. Is that you?”
Sho stepped closer to her. There was something about this girl. Something that made her instantly dislike her. She didn't answer her question, just stared at the strange girl more.
“I guess it is then. Great. I get stuck at this stupid party for who knows how long and the only person my age is a dumb mute. Wonderful”
Sho ignored the girl and looked past her at the people walking in. There were the other members of the crew that she knew and loved.
It was going to be a fun party.
* * *
Sho sat beside her mother on the bench, curled up against her. She loved the warmth, the feeling of safety, of being next to this person who she knew she could always trust.
“So who are the new people?” her mother was asking Nan, the cook on the other ship. Nan and Sho’s mother were good friends, having come into the crews at the same time.
“Well, they wouldn’t say for certain, but based on how spoiled Lian is I’m betting on rich merchants who fell out of favour. Possibly even the Neybars; they supposedly had a daughter, and they were just disbanded for defying the Expansion Council about ship sales”
“Mother?” Nan knew that Sho could talk, and she was one of the few who Sho felt comfortable talking around. Everyone else was busy, so she felt that it was safe to talk.
“Yes Sho darling?”
“How can they disband a family?”
“Well honey, they can disband their company, take away everything that the family owns”
“But that’s not disbanding the family. How can they disband a family? You can’t just make people not family anymore”
Nan smiled sadly “Sho, you are wise beyond your years. People have been asking that question for as long as they have been disbanding families, but it hasn’t changed anything. What they do is make sure that the family never gathers in large groups again. They send the children to foster homes, split the parents up in different prisons or on different colonies, things like that”
“But why don’t they just find each other again?”
Nan looked at her mother warily as if unsure how much to say.
“Well sweetie” she continued “They make it so that they can’t leave those places. They keep tabs on where everyone is, and if they try and go to the same place the computer says no. And so they can’t leave”
“Well, if they disbanded our family then I would listen. I’d come find you mother”
“Don’t talk like that Sho! I don’t even want to think of them disbanding us”
“But it’s ok! I’d come find you”
“I know that you would try my darling, but sometimes you can’t do something no matter how much you want to. Now” she continued as Sho yawned “I think it’s time that someone went to bed”
Sho would have said something about that but she saw Lian coming over. She didn't want to talk in front of the strange girl.
“Come on Sho” her mother said, folding her up in her arms, and carrying her off to her room.
The artist stopped, and sat on a nearby bench. That was her last happy memory of her mother. And her first unhappy memory of Lian. There were many many more of the second.
She got up again and continued walking. She needed to see Lian, needed to talk to her about what was going on.
Needed to ask her for help.
The sniper waited by the doors of his railcar. He could feel it slowing beneath his feet. Finally it stopped.
The doors opened onto a tiny platform. There was no room to dock at the actual platform; not even an Arcernment agent merited that much in Dockside where every moment was money lost and every action had three different reasons behind it.
Money, prestige, and revenge. These were the motivations behind Dockside. Not behind the city itself, but behind every single thing in it.
Then again, those were the motivations behind most actions across the solar system. It was just more obvious in Dockside.
The sniper sighed and stepped out onto the platform. With a jolt it began to slowly retract towards the ceiling. Apparently being an Arcernment agent didn’t even rate you a moderately good booth.
He stepped off the lift and onto one of the catwalk’s that spanned the entire station. He stalked along it, scanning the traffic below for any signs of the artist, or of other Arcernment agents. Today was one day that he did not want to be followed.
Seeing nobody he went to the delivery center and pulled his identity card from his pocket. It was blank, just a flat square of white plastic with one corner cut off and a hole in the other corner. He spun it around and inserted it in the slot.
On that card was everything; his height, weight, blood type, allergies, medical history, kill history, action history, training, specialties, who he reported to, eye colour, and likely what he had eaten for breakfast that morning. But the reader would not be seeing that. It would be reading the card and being told that this was a high ranking Arcernment agent. It was being told that it was to answer any of his or her questions as quickly and as correctly as it could. It was being told not to trust him ever with anything and to always cross check his requests with the central computer first.
It was also being told that he had a package waiting.
It spat his card back out. He took the card, flipped it over, and turned until the arrow on it spun to point ahead of him. He then turned and walked in the opposite direction. Each time he came to a turn he went the way that the arrow did not show until he reached a small locker bank. Two sets of numbers flashed on the card. The first set told him which locker to look at. He chose the one below. He ignored the second set and instead punched in one of the ten thousand codes that they had seared into his brain.
The locker popped open and he pulled the satchel out from inside it. The satchel contained his pistols and knives likely, as well as whatever he had been assigned. It would also contain the sonic grenades and body armour that he had asked for. His rifle would be disassembled in the briefcase that he pulled out next.
He slung the bag over his shoulder tucked the briefcase under his arm and activated one of the sonic grenades. He primed it for a timer and set it inside the locker the motion sensor facing the door. He would have five seconds to close the door before it measured the distance. After that if it changed distance from the object in front of it anytime in the next ten hours it would go off.
The sniper had never worried about the employees getting hurt; they only checked the locker at midnight, Earth standard time. And the only other people who could open that locker would be the ones who had Arcernment codes and had been following him. Those he did not mind hurting at all.
He found the second closest women’s washroom and stepped inside to assemble his weapons. He laid a thin sheet out on the ground before pulling everything from the bag. He placed the itmes on the sheet so that they would not touch the ground. He did not want to leave any trace of his passing or what he had done here.
A large and warm trenchcoat, common to the people of Dockside who frequently had to take long cold space trips, or at least make a cold shuttle transit. His would have pockets for grenades and pistols. Four holsters, two to go under his coat and two for his hips. A suit of Mark IX body armour in a dull grey. That body armour could stop anything short of an artillery round; the sniper knew that from experience. Eight wickedly sharp and serrated knives along with sheaths for them. Four sonic grenades, small round balls about half the size of an old fashioned computer mouse, and the watch that allowed him to set them. hat he strapped on right away. Six pistols, two Excalibur-III’s, common enough to not raise comment, two Lastchance-IV’s small holdouts that he would place in his boots, and his favoured military issue Model-237’s which could, if used properly, punch through a body and keep going to kill someone else. They all used standardized ammo, although in different clip sizes. There was also a small pile of extra clips for the guns.
Before putting anything on he opened the briefcase to make sure that it was in fact a rifle case. it was. He inspected the parts, made sure that they were all looking good, working well, cleaned and oiled. They were. Satisfied he snapped the case closed and turned to put his gear on.
First he buckled on the armour. It took a moment, but then collapsed in, molding itself to his body. The sensors in it would tell him when he moved and move with him. It wasn’t his favourite thing, but he may have need of it in the days to come.
He buckled the hip holsters onto his belt and pulled on the shoulder ones, sliding the Excaliburs into the belt ones and the 237’s into the shoulder ones. He tucked the holdouts into his boots, one each, right next to a knife. The other knives went at his elbows, two on his waist, one down his neck, and the other across his chest.
He placed three of the sonic grenades in his belt pouches and filled all the others but one with extra ammo clips. The remaining ammo clips he scooped back into the satchel. He pulled on the trenchcoat and slid a sonic grenade into one of the pockets. Lastly he slung the satchel on his back and picked up the rifle case. He felt ready. It was a good feeling.
He picked up the sheet by one corner and placed it in the toilet. It would dissolve in a few seconds. He flushed anyways to be sure that it would not be seen by others.
He unbolted the stall door and stepped out. The women who saw him began to make a fuss and shout at him but he ignored them and walked out. He would just be seen as another creepy man in a city full of them. And if he did get tracked down by the authorities, well, he would show them his card and they would have no choice but to let him go.
Of course that would spread rumours. Authorities would talk, and people would ask about the man with all the weapons, which would not do.
He wished that he had all these weapons then. As he pushed through the crowds of people his mind started to drift.
With an effort he snapped it back to the here, the now. He would not be distracted. Not on today, his last day, his last chance.
He looked both ways down streets that were crowded despite the early hour and set off towards the docks. He did not react when a shadow detached itself from a doorway and started after him.