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Authors: Stephen Arseneault

Omega exile

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OMEGAExileBy: Stephen Arseneault

"When societal life becomes too easy, morals are often cast aside. Moral decay leads to corruption, which sets even the best intentioned of societies on a path that is a downward spiral towards destruction. If ignored, depravity and chaos will eventually rule the day. Only when defenders of freedom and right stand firm can the trend be broken. Take a stand and be counted amongst the free, for chaos is not all fun and games!"

S.A.

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Table of ContentsOMEGA 1 ExileChapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4Chapter 5Chapter 6Chapter 7Chapter 8Chapter 9Chapter 10Chapter 11Chapter 12Chapter 13Chapter 14Chapter 15Chapter 16Chapter 17Chapter 18Chapter 19Chapter 20Chapter 21Chapter 22What's NextChapter 1

For two thousand years, the Human-run empire known as the Alliance of Major Planets (AMP) brought peace and stability to the five galaxies surrounding the Milky Way. Advances in technology, and a strong set of fair laws, had allowed a peaceful expansion of Human ideals. Man’s influence had reigned supreme, trade had flourished, and all species had taken benefit.

The great expansion of Man followed the defeat of an android overlord, the Duke, who had previously ruled those galaxies for hundreds of thousands of years. Peace and freedom were Man’s legacy to the stars.

At its peak, membership in the AMP totaled more than two trillion citizens. Those citizens occupied twelve hundred established planets, ninety-eight hundred lesser colonies, and eight hundred massive security stations, all linked by wormhole portals allowing immediate and unlimited personal travel between them.

Life in the AMP was easy. No citizen had struggled for work, shelter, food, or care. Entertainment of the masses became king, and with that crown came a population that was all too eager to accept those who pushed the boundaries of societal norms. As morals declined, corruption settled in at the highest levels of government.

For years, the governors of the wealthiest, most prominent planets placed their cronies on the Council of Governance. The citizenry had gone about their daily happy lives, never realizing that their rights and freedoms were being stripped away at a slow and steady pace.

That all changed when a powerful group of governors pushed aside a weak Council of Governance and established their own alliance, putting in place their own code of laws. As the pace of local restrictions quickened, economies faltered, and riots became commonplace. The once-idyllic empire was now ruled by a dozen powerful families. Life in the AMP changed for the common citizen, and it was not for the better.

For decades, the Omega sector had been plagued with the occasional disappearance of entire colonies. Investigations were rushed, and the demise of the colonies brushed aside as "a mystery." Life and survival in the outer sector of the Triangulum Galaxy had become anything but easy.

In the ultra-wealthy Alpha sector, Omega was commonly joked about as a point of exile for those who butted heads with those in powerful places. After several high-profile exiles, the joke became less funny. Knog Beutcher, three-star veteran detective, a man of honor and integrity, struggled to balance what was right and fair with what would keep him employed at his prestigious Alpha sector job. His struggles had only just begun.

~~~

I prepared for a standard inspection search as I pulled theDauntealongside the ore haulerKilteddin, which had finally come to a complete stop. One of the newest haulers from the Betagen shipyards, the six-kilometer-long vessel was transporting iron and chromium ores to the space docks at Andreus IV. My long, sleek detective cruiser was immediately dwarfed against theKilteddin’s grand exterior as I set down in a docking bay just below the forecastle.

As I stepped out onto the deck, I was met by Alda Kondore, the ship’s manifest administrator. A Medorian, he struggled to reach a meter in height, and looked up at my two-meter-tall frame. "Mr. Beutcher, welcome to theKilteddin. I have prepared the manifest logs for your perusal. If you would like to follow me to our guest lounge, you may look over the logs at your leisure."

"I appreciate the offer, Mr. Kondore, but I prefer to walk the ship as I perform my investigation, or should I say inspection."

"If there is any way I can assist you, Mr. Beutcher," said Alan Kondore, "I am at your service."

I noticed a twitch in Kondore’s phony smile as he made his offer.

I held up my arm, with a holo-display of theKilteddin’s storage bay structure showing just above it. "I am most interested in the area underneath these two bays, Mr. Kondore. What can you tell me about it?"

The administrator had an uneasy expression on his face. "That’s for ballast, Mr. Beutcher. This vessel is capable of setting down on a planet’s surface if a sufficient water dock is present."

I nodded. "I understand that to be the function, Mr. Kondore. I would, however, like to see and inspect this space. Believe it or not, we have found it to be a popular hiding place for smuggled contraband."

As we walked the half kilometer toward the ballast compartments, Alda Kondore became increasingly nervous. I laughed to myself at how bad the common citizen often was at concealing the fact that he was breaking the law. It was the cool and collected, hard-core criminal that I feared. A man in control of his emotions was a man who would take unanticipated and severe action when cornered. Three inspectors had recently found that out during the previous twelve months in the Alpha sector. One of them, Mar Hougis, I had known for twenty-seven years.

As we walked, a call came over my comm.

"This is Beutcher. If this is not an urgent need, I would prefer to return this call after my inspection is complete."

It was the dispatcher, Hela Gruend. He had been with the communications office for fifteen years. "Sorry, Mr. Beutcher, the Captain wants you to drop what you are doing and report to his office at once. He says it is important."

I stopped. "Tell the Captain I’m in the middle of an inspection. I will return as soon as I’m finished."

Hela pressed a button on his console that set off an alert on my holo-display. "Sorry, Knog, the Captain insisted that you come now, as in immediately. Inspector Hambrik will be following up with theKilteddin."

I let out a grunt in frustration. "You tell Hambrik to make sure he checks the ballast tanks under bays five and six!"

I looked over at Kondore and took notice of an expression of relief. The contraband, whatever it was, would be hidden away elsewhere or jettisoned into space long before Hambrik arrived.

I spoke into my comm. "Scratch that last thought, Mr. Gruend. Just ask Hambrik to be thorough."

I stepped close to Alda Kondore and scowled downward at his upturned face. "Looks like it’s your lucky day, Mr. Kondore. I have been called away. Just keep this in mind, though, as you move around whatever it is you are hiding. I am out here 24/7, I now know this ship, and I know your name. I’ll be watching for you, Mr. Kondore. Have a good day."

Shortly thereafter, I arrived in the Captain’s office. Captain Paq Wendell was a fair man. Now a bureaucrat, he had risen through the detective ranks because of his hard work. He was one of the few officers of the Detective Corps that I had respect for.

The Captain said, "Knog, have a seat. Coffee?"

I moved to a chair, "Yes sir on the coffee. I have been having trouble finding it in the stores. I’m running out of it on theDaunte."

As the Captain poured an extra-deep cup, he spoke. "Price of this stuff has gotten outrageous. I think these new alliances between the families have a few trade kinks to work out. I don’t know about you, Knog, but I have a hard time functioning without my morning shot."

I looked around the Captain’s office. His walls were covered with merit awards and news articles of some of the arrests he made as a junior detective. His favorite article was from the bust of a ring of smugglers who were sneaking Garronet carrots into the colony at Meloso Prime. A cargo bay had exploded due to a methane buildup from rotting carrots. A subsequent news photo of a star shower over the colony, caused by the carrots, sat in a gold frame that his coworkers had put together for him. The Captain was well liked, and his sense of humor only added to his popularity.

"The crew of theKilteddinwas smuggling, Captain. The administrator—"

Paq Wendell held up his hand as he handed me a cup. "I’m doing you a favor here, Knog. TheKilteddinbelongs to the Motlin Corporation. And the Motlin Corporation belongs to Governor Salton’s grandnephew Pietrus. You cause trouble on one of their boats, and you run the risk of a career-ending mistake."

The Captain moved back behind his desk and sat in his chair.

I blew the heat off the top of my coffee, "Captain, the Governor’s family should not be above the law, Sir. If their crews are knowingly running contraband, they need to be caught and brought before the courts."

The Captain set his mug down on his desk as he leaned back in his squeaky, high-backed chair. "The Saltons are the law now, Knog. They own the courts."

Paq leaned forward and lowered his voice. "We have to face reality here. AMP is dead, and it is not coming back. The Saltons own the Alpha sector and all who reside here. You are the best at what you do, Knog, but you need to wise up and play the game, or at least pretend to, or your ass is going to end up out in the Omega sector with Calloway and Hollerhan. Heck, Calloway lost thirty-six years of pension because he couldn’t keep his mouth shut!"

I sipped at my cup of coffee for several seconds before responding. "I appreciate what you are doing for me, Captain, but I can’t turn my back on the law just to save my skin. The law, even under the Saltons, says that all cargoes must be inspected, and all items not listed on the manifests are considered contraband. If the Saltons don’t want me rousting their ships and crews, they need to change the laws."

The Captain rolled his eyes as he held up his hand. "Fine, Knog, you go do whatever you want to. Just keep in mind that your actions also reflect on those around you. Actions have consequences, even when you are doing the right thing. Just don’t be so pigheaded that you end up taking others down with you."

I set my half-full cup down on the edge of the Captain’s desk. "Is that all you have for me, Sir? If so, I would request that I return to duty."

The Captain scowled as he pressed the comm button on his arm pad. "Major Dentor, Mr. Beutcher is heading back out on patrol. See to it that he doesn’t have any Motlin ships on his schedule of inspections."

The Captain looked up at me as I stood. "We go back a long way, Knog. If you make my life difficult after we just had this talk, I will not be there to back you up if you get in a pinch. Chief Detective Jamia has already let it be known that she has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to perceived harassment of Motlin ships or crews. If she brings down the hammer on you, know that she will be swinging it hard."

I walked out of the Captain’s office with a poor attitude. So... this was it? This would be life under the Saltons? I had spent my entire adult life keeping order. It was a mission I enjoyed and a mission that I looked forward to doing every day. I would not be compromising my principles for some self-appointed dictator and his family. This was my sector and I played by my rules, the rules of right and the rules of common sense.

As I stepped back up into theDaunte, another call came over my comm. "Mr. Beutcher, your next assignment is to inspect a Hargrave salvage trawler. TheBelwitzis on its way to the Thalimus colony."

A salvage trawler heading to Thalimus? I wondered if this was what I could expect going forward. It was an inspection that would normally go to a detective who had not yet earned his first star. I looked down at the three stars on my shoulder patch and wondered, why had I earned them? What were they worth now? A pay bonus? They certainly had not earned me assignments out to Thalimus. It barely qualified as a colony anymore. A decade of riots had stripped it of all productivity.

I replied, "Thank you, Hela. I’ll be expecting a data packet with information on theBelwitz."

Hela was silent before his response. "I’m sorry, Mr. Beutcher. We have nothing on theBelwitzexcept its registry. She hails from the Gamma sector, Sir. The Morden family runs that now, and they no longer release ship records. You will have to wing this one, Sir."

I shook my head and offered the deckhand on Bay-8 of Security Station V an indignant look as the ramp-way pulled shut and sealed.

After a short taxi out into space, I brought Portal Transfers up on my console. "This is Beutcher, F4558992-34, sweep me out to Thalimus Colony, please. Authorization code is VX722-B0KK."

A transfer portal swept across theDaunte, leaving me fifty thousand kilometers from Thalimus and in line for an intercept of theBelwitz. I picked up my mug and stared at the empty bottom.

I grunted. "Well, mug, at least we still have our coffee, even though it is running low. How about I fill you up and we do a records search for theBelwitzfor public documents. I don’t like boarding a ship blind. And you, you couldn’t care less; you're just a mug."

Ship inspections could be a lonely job. I often found it would break the monotony if I had fake conversations with inanimate objects. With my third star, I had earned the right to bring my family aboard theDaunte. The ship was one of the newer cruisers in the fleet, and the accommodations were first rate, but deep space was no place for a family, especially when the criminals I chased were sometimes hostile. Besides, with a wife and eighteen Grunta offspring, theDauntejust wasn’t big enough.

A search for theBelwitzreturned 115 items of interest. One hundred twelve of those items were nothing more than transition logs when jumping from the Alpha to the Gamma sector, or when coming through to Alpha from the other way. The three search items of most interest were from prior inspections.

Two of the inspections were for minor infractions. Crew members had smuggled aboard banned items in their personal gear. A Pelomoni skull, the smallest of the Alliance’s species, was found in a hygiene container, and a lizard-like creature from Deltan VII was kept in small box under a bunk. The Kexa, when cut in half, would grow into two such animals. They were voracious breeders and eaters. Within a year of their introduction on two new colony planets, the colonies had to be abandoned due to the destruction of their environments. Without foliage, oxygen levels on those planets had begun to fall. The third inspection yielded a result that caught my attention.

TheBelwitzhad been caught carrying five hundred liters of bleurgh. Bleurgh was a highly addictive intoxicant that had become popular with colony miners. It was often brought in by the owners of those mines as one of its side effects was that a worker would often stay on station for days on end. It had been outlawed in the AMP for centuries, but had made a comeback under the sometimes lax rules of the ruling families. I had often wondered if those families were not responsible for its return, as the market for it among the miners made its trade extremely profitable.

The prior search and subsequent arrest of theBelwitz’s captain had been dismissed over a technicality. A typo in the ship's designation code allowed a suspect judge to dismiss the case. Captain Jergem Meyers and his crew of five had been released, and the ship, with the cargo still aboard, returned. The arresting detective swore he had entered the code correctly; his demotion and loss of his first star said otherwise. If the captain was carrying bleurgh, I was going to bust him hard.

After a six-hour wait, theBelwitztransponder came up on my holo-display. She was six hundred meters in length, not overly big for a trawler. As she came closer, I broadcast an all-stop signal. TheBelwitzslowed to a halt.

I hailed the captain. "This is Detective Beutcher of the New Alliance security force. Please prepare your manifest logs for inspection. I will be coming aboard."

The captain replied, "We are carrying sensitive medical supplies to Thalimus, Mr. Beutcher. We have to maintain a clean environment. I’m afraid you will have to inspect the logs from your ship."

I almost laughed out loud. Who was this barge captain to try to pull something like that? I was a three-star detective, and my credentials had no doubt shown that on his console. Were the crooks getting so bold as to openly make such requests?

"Captain Meyers. I am coming aboard. Open the gravity wall of your docking bay. Have your logs ready for inspection when I board."

The captain was silent for a moment. "I am afraid I have to decline that request, Detective. We have a crewman with Duleria aboard, so I must maintain quarantine until we reach Thalimus Port."

I had to smile at the captain’s audacity. "Mr. Meyers, you are aware that I have full authority under the laws of the New Alliance to board and inspect that vessel. Please reduce the gravity wall on the docking bay so that I may land this cruiser on your deck. This time, Captain, I am insisting that you do so."

"We are having trouble with our open channel reception, Detective. I’m switching to a scrambled feed. Please enter ‘X447’ to continue receiving our broadcast."

This was something new. It was obvious that the captain wanted to talk in private. I entered the code with the anticipation of finding out what it was he wanted.

Meyers spoke. "Mr. Beutcher, I know this may look bad, but I am only trying to save both our jobs. I have always respected the law, Mr. Beutcher. I don’t want either of us to pay the price for what others have dictated that we do."

I replied, "Captain, open that docking bay, or I will be forced to shut down your core. You will then have no choice but to turn yourself and your crew over to me for a full arrest. TheBelwitzwill then be towed to Thalimus Port, where it will be impounded by the colony authorities."

The captain was silent for several seconds. "I will level with you, Detective. This cargo is property of Camwich Mines, a subsidiary of the Motlin Corporation. The story I told you about the quarantine is true. I have six thousand miners on this ship, and one of them has Duleria. If you come aboard, that infected miner will be logged in your public records and I will not be able to dock at Thalimus Port to unload the rest. The people who pay our salaries will be extremely unhappy with us if that happens, Mr. Beutcher. I’m pleading with you to please not do this."

I looked down at my empty mug. "Would you have any coffee over there, Captain?"

"I do," Said the captain. "The last port I was at was overloaded with it due to some arguments about taxes and transfer fees. I have a good stockpile of it aboard this ship."

I was not one to outright break the law, but I was given discretion to bend rules while in the field; with three stars, my judgment would not be called into question. The quarantine problem the captain of theBelwitzwas having, if that was indeed his problem, was not a violation of any law. It was a protocol that the Thalimus port authorities, and most every other port in the galaxy, enforced for health safety reasons.

"Maybe we can work out a little trade, Captain. If you sell me some of that coffee, at a fair price, I will take your infected miner off your hands. My holding cells on this vessel are rated for quarantine."

The captain replied, "How do we make the transfer, Mr. Beutcher? If I allow you to dock, it becomes public record and the quarantine will be exposed."

I brought up the schematics of theBelwitz. "You have a dozen lifepods on there for your crew, Mr. Meyers. Blank out the transponder code on one of those, place your miner aboard, and set her adrift. I will pick up the miner. You can recover your pod afterward."

The holo-image of the captain’s face that floated in front of me had a smile. "I will happily give you two crates of our coffee store, Mr. Beutcher. I will pack them on the lifepod with the miner myself."

I held up my hand. "Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Mr. Meyers. I still have a ship inspection to report on. You send out the miner, I will come over for the inspection and the coffee. We both get what we need, and we can both be on our way."

The lifepod was jettisoned, and I allowed it to float in free space while I performed the inspection. I cringed as I let slip a single digit in my report log for where the pod had been found. TheDaunte’s logs would show the correct location, but those logs were not read unless an officer’s integrity was called into question over an arrest. Without an arrest in this instance, there would be no questions and theDaunte’s logs would remain sealed.

I brought theDaunteto a stop on the deck of theBelwitz. A smiling Captain Meyers came out to greet me with his manifest logs and two crates of high-grade Orientus coffee. Enough to last me for several months. The logs reflected one less miner in transport than had been there an hour before. The miner had been logged as having a burial in space after a natural death, an event that was not uncommon.

I again had a pang as I looked over the manifest logs of theBelwitz. Even though it was a minor transgression, it would weigh on my conscience. I abhorred any type of dishonesty; in the field, however, compromise was something that would allow all parties to continue on with their duties.

After reviewing the logs, I insisted on a full inspection and was granted access to all sections of the ship. The miners were well cared for, and no contraband was found. I gave the captain his clean inspection report, paid a fair price of 120 credits for the coffee, and began to board theDaunte.

I turned back towards the captain with one last question. "Mr. Meyers, you had a run-in some months ago for supposedly carrying a load of bleurgh. One of our detectives was demoted because of that. What can you tell me about that incident?"

The captain looked down at the deck. "I was not aware of the cargo my manifest administrator had loaded aboard at the last minute. He was on the payroll of the Motlin Corporation, who had contracted for the remainder of the legitimate cargo. At the time I was OK with not having to pay the extra wage for a company worker.

"When the detective came aboard and the container was found, I was terrified. I have a family to support, Mr. Beutcher. If I’m stuck away in some jail for years, they would have to turn to the streets for food and shelter, or even worse, to the government. I’ve run an honest ship for thirty-four years, and I will do it for that many more if I can. Retirement doesn't happen often in the New Alliance. If I want to take care of my family, I have to keep this ship moving."

I replied, "This is registered as a salvage trawler. Why would you be hauling miners?"

The captain shook his head. "Live cargo is not something I want to do, Mr. Beutcher, but contracts are hard to get, and I take what comes my way. Besides, with the slowed economies everywhere, salvage is not always in demand. I’m just trying to feed my family, nothing more."

I was a good judge of character, and the captain’s expressions told me he was telling the truth. I nodded goodbye, and the hatch of theDaunteclosed behind me. I slowly taxied back out into free space, first recovering the lifepod and the infected miner. Jergem Meyers then recovered the pod shortly after its second release.

As theBelwitzsped away toward Thalimus Port, I raised dispatch on the comm. "This is Beutcher. I’m transmitting my inspection report on theBelwitz. And I came across an unregistered lifepod out here. It had one occupant. A med scan says they have Duleria. I brought them into quarantine for transport to the proper med facilities. Sweep me back to SS5 for the drop-off, and I’ll be on to my next inspection."

Hela Gruend replied, "Roger that, Mr. Beutcher. I will have a med team waiting at Dock-17. Hold your position for a sweep."

Twenty seconds later, theDauntewas swept through a portal back to the security station. I promptly moved to the assigned dock and unloaded my infected cargo.

Fifteen minutes later, I was ready for a jump to the colony at Jarvis IV, a farming colony on the boundary edge of the Beta sector. The colonies near Beta were governed by the Magnus family. As they were close allies of the Saltons, I expected no trouble.

Chapter 2

It had been two solid weeks of inspections without incident after my encounter with theBelwitz. As I finished up a routine inspection of a food transport, I received a call over the comm. It was Captain Wendell, and he had an odd smile on his face.

"This is Beutcher. What can I do for you, Captain?"

The Captain grinned. "I’m glad our little talk worked, Knog. I have Chief Detective Jamia here with me. We have a new assignment for you."

Jamia spoke. "Mr. Beutcher. I was recently informed of your use of discretion in dealing with a freighter called theBelwitz. I received a personal thank-you from a Salton family representative. Your use of good judgment has already saved them half a million credits of wages for miners who would have been stuck in quarantine. I have authorized the Captain to offer you a Citation of Merit, which will come with a generous credit award."

I replied, "Thank you, Chief. It seemed the only good call for a difficult situation."

Jamia nodded. "I appreciate the good attention it brought to our department, Mr. Beutcher. Given your record, along with this recognition, I have been asked to select a detective in good standing as a training partner and mentor for one of our newest academy cadets."

There it was; "Let no good deed go unpunished," as my father had always said. I had not been saddled with a partner since receiving my second star more than twenty-eight years before. I could only believe that my ingenious handling of theBelwitzmatter was coming back to plague me. The pang of discomfort over changing the digit in my report log returned.

Jamia continued, "If you had not already guessed I chose you, Mr. Beutcher. As an additional award, you are to be given the next two days off from duty. I would ask that you prepare theDauntefor a new crew member. Jonias Salton will be joining your crew when you return to duty. Your assignment station will eventually be returned to Alpha Prime, and more specifically, the run between Caliphus and Beta Campus."

The Captain said, "You hear that, Knog? Beta Campus! You will have a chance to see the wife more than once every six months!"

I held up my hand. "While I appreciate the kind gestures, Chief, I am afraid I will have to decline. I don’t work well with a partner. I’m not flexible enough when it comes to giving orders."

The Chief leaned in. "I’m afraid I must have misspoken, Mr. Beutcher. Somehow you misinterpreted what I just said as being an option. Now, I would suggest you go prepare your ship for another crewman, as Jonias Salton will be joining you in two days. Oh, and one more thing, Knog: you will want to do everything in your power to keep your new partner safe. If anything should happen to them, while on watch with you, I will personally fly you to Omega Station SS241, strapped to the wing of my personal shuttle. Do we have an understanding, Mr. Beutcher?"

The Chief did not have a happy face. I glanced at the stars on my shoulder patch and then back at the Chief and nodded.

"Good," said Jamia, "I’m glad we could come to an understanding. Sometimes a little restraint and patience can be a good thing. TheDauntewill be swept back here to SS5 for your time off. It begins immediately."

The Chief began to turn away and then looked back at the comm. "Oh, and Mr. Beutcher, know that the Captain and I now have personal stakes in this assignment. I expect complete, timely reports on any inspections and the training progress of our newest academy graduate."

As I began to respond, the Chief stood and walked away.

Paq Wendell spoke. "You pull this off, and we may be looking at that fourth star, Knog. You screw this up, if the Chief doesn’t send you to Omega, I will."

Before I could reply, the Captain cut the comm link.

In frustration, I stood and looked down at my mug. "Well, mug, just keep this between you and me, but I am not sharing my coffee with this Jonias. He can bring his own."

There was no cleaning to be done on theDaunte. I kept a tight, orderly ship. With two days to kill, I decided to spend some time looking up a few old faces that I knew on SS5. Betty Chocks, a Human, owned a small bar and pub; and Ogu Farr, a fellow Grunta, had gone on to own a salvage yard. I had known each for over forty years.

Betty had been a waitress at the pub when Ogu and I were in the academy. Ogu and I had frequented Security Sam’s often, and the three of us had become fast friends. Betty had gone on to marry the owner, who later passed away. Ogu dropped out of the service a year out of the academy to pursue salvage.

When I walked into Sam’s, Betty was behind the bar cleaning. "So, they let anybody behind the bar nowadays?"

Betty smiled as she came out from behind the bar for a hug. "Knog, how’s Getta and the kids?"

We talked for most of an hour about our families before the topic turned to the New Alliance. "I don’t know what’s in store for us, Betty. The managers at the security force have turned into a bunch of yes-men for the Saltons. They just saddled me with a new partner who is somehow related. These stars don’t seem to mean anything anymore."

"There are a lot of unhappy people out there, Knog. Every day I overhear some new conversation about taking matters into their own hands. The criminal elements have gained a lot of followers. If you don’t play by their rules, they can be just as ruthless as the Saltons’ people. I had a longtime patron last week that was dragged out of his home, beaten, and questioned before they let him go. Those were people from the security force. The local boss here then had his men do the same to find out what he was asked about. He is packing all his things and his family to move out to some remote colony."

I shook my head. "I’m not sure where it is he is going to go. The colonies are no better. From most of what I have seen, they can be much worse. I saw a new security report two days ago that mentioned the disappearance of another colony. This one on the outskirts of Theta sector."

Several minutes later, Ogu Farr walked in and sat on a stool at the bar. Pleasantries were exchanged, and the conversation quickly turned back to the state of the alliance.

"I’ve had several lean years at the yard," said Ogu. "Wasn’t moving much of anything, but that has all changed in the last couple of months. I sold almost a quarter of my stock during that time. It seems someone is buying ship parts like there is no tomorrow, and they are paying premium."

Betty nodded. "You mention Theta. I had a guy in here the other day blabbering about a new shipyard they were building out there. He had about four too many shots in him at the time. If they are building one, I have to wonder how they could possibly compete with the Betagen docks. Betagen can turn out a kilometer-long hauler in four days’ time. With the economies on most worlds being sour, I have to wonder why anyone would be building ships, let alone a shipyard."

Ogu looked at me. "Knog, you hear anything about that from the corps?"

I replied, "Other than that security report, I haven’t seen anything else that mentions the Theta sector. Nobody talks with me at the office whenever I come in. I don’t know of any reason that I would be avoided other than everyone is just looking out for themselves now. If you make a bad or contentious bust now, they start calling in everyone you know for questioning. It’s getting to where nobody wants to make an arrest for fear of having to go before the briefing board."

An argument could be heard outside of Sam’s. The three of us walked to the door just in time to see a woman arguing with a station guard. After a heated exchange, she pulled a blaster and fired a bolt into his midsection. The neatly pressed uniform of the guard exploded outward as we ducked back into the restaurant.

"Wow!" said Ogu. "The crazies have finally reached SS5. I come across a blaster like that in my salvage every once in a while, but that is the first one I have seen in the populace for eight or ten years."

I moved back to the door in time to see the Igari woman rallying a dozen friends to her aid. All were equipped with blasters of their own.

As Ogu came up and squatted behind me, I held up my hand. "Stay put. I think this fight is only getting started. This hall will be crawling with guards in about three minutes. If they see us peeking out of here, we will be dragged in for questioning when the fight is over."

I looked out at the Igari guard whose remains now lay scattered about the hallway floor. SS5 was Igari space, with fully 90 percent of its inhabitants the same species— a meter and a half tall, with medium gray skin and hairless heads. Their normal facial expression was what others would consider a scowl. Though the Igari I knew had always been friendly and law abiding. What we had just witnessed told me that their demeanor had changed.

When three minutes had passed, just as I had predicted, the station security forces began to arrive. The initial five turned into fifteen and then twenty. I poked my head out just enough to get a good look down the hall where the woman had gone. From my position, I could see several Igari hiding in wait for the guards to come their way.

As the guards organized and began to move down the hall toward our position, I moved back inside the doorway. Betty and Ogu moved back over to the bar and took up stances that implied they were not interested in whatever was going on out in the hall. I stood in the middle of the bar in indecision. This was not my fight, but I was an officer of the security force, and I was armed.

As I raised my hand up to my blaster, Ogu spoke. "Stay out of the fight, Knog. This is an Igari problem."

I looked back over my shoulder. "I am sworn to uphold the law. Too often we just sit by and let things happen when it’s our duty to assist."

As I began to turn back toward the door, an Igari guard stepped out in front of me. "Freeze! Move your hand away from that blaster!"

I began to explain. "I’m a detective. I'm on your—"

An ion bolt from a blaster ripped into the guard, blowing open the right side of his rib cage and tearing his right arm from his body. The newly dead guard dropped to the floor.

The hallway erupted in blaster fire from both directions. I gathered Ogu, and we moved to behind the bar beside Betty. Two Igari guards fell in front of the doorway as the fierce battle ramped up. The blaster fire then went strangely silent for several seconds before starting up again in the direction of the guards. I moved out from the bar and again poked my head just far enough out the doorway to see down the hall. The remaining guards were being pushed back in our direction.

Ogu was again crouched just behind me. "What’s happening?"

I replied, "The guards are getting their asses kicked is what’s happening. Their team captain doesn’t know what he is doing."

As I struggled to see what was happening, without fully exposing myself, I felt the cold tip of a blaster against the back of my neck.

A woman’s voice spoke. "Stand up slowly and give me your weapon. You make a move, even a twitch, that I don’t like, and I will open you up with a twenty-megajoule bolt."

As I stood slowly and turned to face her, the woman looked over at Betty. "You try anything from over there, Human, and it will be the last thing that you do."

Betty raised her hands where they could be seen.

The Igari woman in a gruff voice spoke. "What are you Gruntas doing here?"

I replied, "I was just having lunch with friends. What’s happening out there?"

A second Igari took the blaster from my hand as the woman continued, "What’s happening is not your business, Grunta."

She looked at the three stars on my shoulder patch and gestured. "My uncle was a three star back in the AMP. I know you must have earned those at about the same time, which tells me you are probably a decent person. He will be here in a moment. He can decide what to do with you."

The fighting just down the hall from Sam’s came to an end when the last two guards surrendered their weapons, an action that was punishable by death in the New Alliance. For the guards, it would mean the chance of living for at least a short while longer.

The Igari woman spoke as an older Igari turned the corner into the restaurant. "Shieka, I told you to stay back! You are too valuable for the movement to lose."

The Igari looked at the stars on my shoulder. "On my station we only had two detectives with three stars. That was before the New Alliance thugs took over SS6. Out of respect for you, I am going to give you a choice. Join us here today, renounce the New Alliance, or I will blow a hole in you the size of that bar stool over there."

I replied, "There are three here on SS5 that have achieved the rank that you and I have. Two served their time with honor, while one advanced recently through political means. Would my word here make a difference?"

The Igari placed the tip of his blaster against my chest. "How did you know that I was once a three star?"

I smiled, as much as a Grunta could smile. "Your niece mentioned it only moments ago. I don't believe that you are leaving me with any choice, so, squeeze the trigger or let me go."

The old Igari smiled. "Guts! I like it when a detective has the guts to say what he means."

The blaster fire picked up again down the hall. Another Igari poked his head in the doorway and spoke. "Karna, they have heavy rifles and shields. We are starting to lose people!"

The Igari woman looked at her uncle and then back at the other Igari and said, "Withdraw!"

The old Igari poked the tip of his blaster against my chest. "The time is coming where you will have to choose sides, Detective. Think hard about where you stand."

The Igaris turned and scampered down the hall as the rest of their fighters disengaged the guards and fled. The hallway, along with Security Sam’s restaurant, was soon filled with SS5 security forces.

Twenty minutes later, Paq Wendell was standing in front of me. "You had a weapon. Why weren’t you in the fight?"

Ogu stepped up behind me. "They stormed us and confiscated his weapon before he could draw."

Paq looked at Ogu with suspicion before looking me in the face. "Is that true, Knog?"

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